Skip to main content

It Takes Two to (Uncomfortably) Tango

If you want to know why Carole Keeton Rylander showed up with an incomplete political map for the Texas Senate at the last Legislative Redistricting Board meeting, it helps to know that the map was, at one time, complete. But it was full of pairings and duets that West Texas Republicans couldn't stand, and so the comptroller decided to come in with a map for only 27 of the 31 Senate districts.

If you want to know why Carole Keeton Rylander showed up with an incomplete political map for the Texas Senate at the last Legislative Redistricting Board meeting, it helps to know that the map was, at one time, complete. But it was full of pairings and duets that West Texas Republicans couldn't stand, and so the comptroller decided to come in with a map for only 27 of the 31 Senate districts.

Even that was late. Rylander's folks shot their version to the official redistricting wonks only 30 minutes before the LRB meeting. She and the other four LRB members then had to wait for her printouts to arrive late at the meeting. She blamed the wonks at the Texas Legislative Council instead of her own aides, and then unveiled a map that didn't include plans for 122 of the state's 254 counties.

The compete map, when it was complete, paired Sens. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, and Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, in a district that stretched across the Panhandle and North Texas. Bivins didn't like that one, and was the first politico to reach the stage at the end of the LRB meeting to have a peek at the map Rylander finally presented, making sure it had been fixed.

The original would have created another Senate seat with three big cities that don't seem to want to be in the same sack: Midland, Odessa and Laredo. That seat would have forced Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, to run in Republican territory. She did her fair share of carping about it, but the plan died largely because of the reaction from Midland County. Big shots in that area liked earlier plans that put their city, Odessa and Amarillo into the same district. It's safe to say some of the comments we heard comparing the two plans had distinctly racial overtones.

The map pulled a trick from plans presented earlier by the Republican Party of Texas, taking Bell County out of Troy Fraser's Senate District 24 and moving it into David Sibley's SD 22. Both are Republicans. Sibley's not coming back–he's running for lieutenant governor. Fraser does hope to come back, and he considers Bell County one of the chief reasons he beat a Democrat in that district in the first place. He was, um, quite unhappy. The plan also irked supporters of Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, by stretching his district over to Abilene. That was relatively minor, however, compared to the reactions Rylander got from the Panhandle, the oil patch, the Border, and the Hill Country.

The Rylander posse apparently decided at the last minute that it would be better to present an incomplete map than a doomed one. The revised plan should be out by the time you read this, but at our deadline, it had put aside all but one of its big problems. Bivins' district would run south to take in the Midland-Odessa metro. Duncan would still run to the west. Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, would get back some of the southwest Texas territory he has now.

But Fraser still has problems with it. Bell County remains in the Sibley district, and Fraser would have to win in a district that runs to Wichita Falls. The death of Sen. Haywood, the incumbent there, was unexpected. But as they watched his long battle with Parkinson's Disease, his colleagues and foes in the political world quietly planned for his departure from politics. Their assumption was that he would not be able to run for reelection (After the end of the legislative session, Haywood told his hometown paper that, contrary to conventional wisdom, he planned to run for reelection).

That conventional wisdom is probably why he was paired with Bivins in that first map. And in fact, one of the last calls he received was from Comptroller Rylander, who phoned the senator the night before he died to tell him that she was pairing him with Fraser in her Senate redistricting map. Her aides said he seemed fine with that idea.

Ringing a Bell

The Bell County idea was almost universally attributed to GOP consultant Ted Delisi and to his mother, Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple. Start here by saying they don't accept the credit or blame for it, and we'll go to the reason they got fingered: Ted is in the middle of the GOP map-making team, pulling all-nighters with number-crunchers and others to cook up the plans presented by Republican members of the LRB. Moving Bell County into what is now David Sibley's district would put Rep. Delisi in a Senate district without a senator. She could jump into the race to succeed Sibley and wouldn't have to wait for her current senator, Fraser, to move up or out.

Rep. Delisi says she has no problem with Fraser and would never, ever run against him. She now says she has no interest in running for the Sibley seat, either, but admits that that is a quickly evolving idea. She had been telling reporters who asked that she would certainly have to consider running for an open Senate seat if one presented itself. Put Bell County into the Sibley district, and there you go. But she and others underestimated Fraser's desire to keep Bell County. Put him in a district that runs to Wichita Falls and you're forcing him to run in a slew of counties where he's unknown. And there are some well-financed candidates to the north who want to be in the Senate.

Rep. Delisi says Fraser and others never reacted when the state GOP and others introduced maps taking Bell County away. The argument on their side is that none of those previous proposals had a snowball's chance in Sonora. Rylander's map has some throw weight, and that's why the reactions to it have been so strong. But Delisi says she would have to have an outpouring of support–"They would have to march down Congress Avenue to the Capitol"–to convince her to run for Senate now. Whatever the original intent, and whomever the author, she says she's no longer interested.

Beginning Numbers

Rylander's plan was one of three laid out for the Senate. Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff put a plan up for public consumption several days early. It doesn't pair any senators, but it changes districts in a way that he said would probably result in a partisan split of 18-13 in favor of Republicans (the current Senate has 16 Republicans and 15 Democrats).

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst laid out a plan he said could result in 21 Republican senators. That would be enough to completely control the 31-member Senate, which operates on the basis of a two-thirds majority for procedural stuff. But it's a stretch: Even GOP number-crunchers say it's difficult to draw a fair map that creates a super-majority for their party. The Dewhurst and Rylander plans are identical in some respects. For instance, they both move Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, out of Hidalgo County. They both would make it difficult for Sen. Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi, to return to office. They both would pair Dallas Sens. John Carona, a Republican, and David Cain, a Democrat, in a heavily Republican district. And both would use the territory created by that pairing to build a new Anglo Republican seat to the east of Dallas.

On the House side, only two maps were presented. House Speaker Pete Laney is sticking with the plan approved by the House in May. That plan would give the Republicans a small House majority, by Democratic estimates. Republicans in the House say it could leave the lower chamber in Democratic hands and could buy Laney another term as speaker.

Attorney General John Cornyn presented a map based on the GOP plan defeated by the House in May. By his estimate, it would give Republicans 88 to 90 seats in the 150-member House. Some Democrats say it would give the Republicans more than 100 seats. Cornyn's plan creates 18 duets and two trios, putting 42 House members into races against other incumbents. In the process, it would create 22 new open seats in the state House. A major arguing point: The Cornyn map puts 25 members in Harris County. The Laney map puts 24 there, which gives rural Texas an extra seat.

The committee will let people have a chance to cuss the plans on July 16. They'll vote out a plan–or at least they plan to do so–on July 24. And then, by every single account, the results will go to the courts, which will make a final decision on the maps to be used in next year's elections.

They Do It, But Do They Have to Do It?

The judge agrees with the Lite Guv: The state's school finance system isn't unconstitutional, the cap on local school property taxes does not amount to a statewide property tax, and the Legislature is the best place to get your problems fixed if your problems involve state money for public schools.

The ruling from state district Judge F. Scott McCown shouldn't have much effect on legislative plans for a soup-to-nuts study of school finance, because the legislative leaders didn't think the system was in legal trouble anyway (they don't think it's working particularly well, but they weren't convinced it had degraded into an outright violation of the law). But it's interesting in its instructions to the lawyers who were suing on behalf of the wealthy school districts.

Their central argument was that the state's $1.50 cap on local school property tax rates would become, in effect, a state-imposed tax when enough districts were charging that amount. But McCown's ruling said, in part, that not enough of them are charging that top rate. And he went on to say that even a large number charging the full rate wouldn't do the trick: To have an illegal state-imposed tax, he wrote, a large number of districts would have to be in the position of having no choice but to charge the top tax rate. That came with a number of qualifications.

Among other things, McCown said, schools in an unconstitutional system would be unable to provide accredited education for anything less than the $1.50 tax rate. Here's an underreported little bombshell: He added that districts giving partial tax exemptions to homeowners or other taxpayer groups would be, in effect, charging less than the cap rate.

Translation: To get an unconstitutional rig, a school district would have kill all of its property tax exemptions and still find it impossible to provide an accredited education to each kid in the district for less than the state's capped tax rate. The reason? Because a 10 percent homeowner exemption in one district is unequal to a 10 percent exemption in another district. If one district has less property value to begin with, its 10 percent break doesn't go as far as a richer district's 10 percent. Until those are cleared out of the way, McCown wrote, the districts still have some local control over taxes. And if they have local control, it's not a state-imposed tax rate.

Oh, and one other thing: They'd have to audit their spending to make sure that all of the $1.50 was going to accredited education and not to, say, sports or band.

McCown said the matter should be handled by the Legislature, which brings you full circle to the interim study promised by Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and House Speaker Pete Laney. They'll announce the members soon and have proposed to take the current system apart to see what works and what needs to be remodeled. They called for that study, in part, to show the courts that the Legislature was working on the problem, and in part, to let some steam out of the lawsuits that were then expected (and were later filed) by the rich districts. They didn't want to add school finance to the list of budget worries they confronted during the legislative session.

Phone Banking for Worldpeace

John Worldpeace, the Democratic Houston lawyer running for governor, says he has constant access to a phone bank that can make 180,000 calls every day. Right now, he's using that to carpet Houston, Marble Falls and part of Austin with calls blasting his primary opponents, Marty Akins and Tony Sanchez Jr. In the automated calls, Worldpeace (that's his legal name) cites Sanchez business deals that he says have gone badly and says they illustrate why Sanchez shouldn't be in charge of the state budget. In an interview, he added: "I think everybody knows a Hispanic doesn't have a dog's chance of winning the governor's race"... "I've worked with Hispanic people a lot and it's a patron system–it's kind of a plantation mentality." Worldpeace recently made a round of calls in Houston promoting an Akins appearance by saying Akins would answer questions about why he wasn't in the military and why he gave to Republicans until after the 1998 election cycle. Worldpeace is blunt about his opponents (you can get the full load of it at www.johnworldpeace.org), saying they are both Republicans and ought to run in the Republican primary against Gov. Rick Perry.

Journalism 101

Bob Mann, a longtime political operative and sometimes journalism professor, pitched a story on his current boss to the newspaper at the University of Texas and walked the reporter through an event that became the centerpiece of a feature story. His boss at the moment–and the subject of that feature story–is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Marty Akins, a former UT quarterback. Mann is an adjunct journalism professor at UT, but has no role at the Daily Texan (the campus paper).

The newspaper's story became a story itself because it quoted Akins saying he visited President Lyndon Johnson at the White House while Akins was at UT, and saying LBJ praised him for his courage in choosing to room with three Black football players at a time when that was bold. As we pointed out a couple of weeks ago, LBJ left office in 1969 and Akins started at UT in 1972. And the Fort Worth Star-Telegram checked the details about Akins' roommates in a report that raised questions about whether it was his idea or his coach's, and disputing his claim that he roomed with running back Earl Campbell. The Dallas Morning News added the bit about Mann's involvement, saying he had edited the story that contained those questionable facts.

Now Mann says the writer, a former student of his, showed him a draft of the story. That's a violation of a long-standing rule and/or tradition at the paper against letting anyone outside–including professors–get a preview of what's going into the paper. Mann says he gave it a cursory look but didn't edit it or even read it closely. He says he did pitch the story to the paper and did show the young reporter around at a reception at Akins' ranch near Marble Falls. He even passed the story around to reporters after it came out.

But, he says, the factual errors in the story belong to the newspaper and not to the campaign. Specifically, he says Akins never said he flew to the White House, but met with the former president at the LBJ Library on campus. And he stuck with the story about rooming with African-Americans (although Akins has said he was wrong when he said Campbell was a roommate). As for his own involvement, Mann says he keeps his campaign business and his job as a part-time professor at UT separate and didn't breach the ethical wall in this instance. He says, essentially, that he was acting solely as an aide to Akins on the story and never used his position as an adjunct professor to get something into the Daily Texan.

A Financial Switch-Hitter

So what does the Akins campaign really want to talk about? They want to talk about the political history of Tony Sanchez Jr., who claims to have given money to George W. Bush but not to other Republican politicians. That's notable because Sanchez might run for governor as a Democrat and, like Akins, is battling a history of helping candidates from the other party.

Sanchez and his family have given piles of dough to Bush, starting with his 1994 campaign for governor against Ann Richards and continuing through last year's presidential contest. He also gave to former Gov. John Connally, a Democrat who switched and became a GOP presidential candidate.

But most of what the Akins campaign points to as contributions from Sanchez come from the political action committee of the bank he founded. The official name of that political fund is the International Bank of Commerce for the Improvement and Betterment of the Country PAC. That PAC has given to Republicans like U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Dallas; U.S. Reps. Henry Bonilla of San Antonio, Sam Johnson and Pete Sessions of Dallas, and presidential candidate Bob Dole. There are as many Democrats as Republicans on the list, but the Akins gang says it's disingenuous for Sanchez to say he's a pure Democrat. The Sanchez gang says Sanchez doesn't direct the PAC's contributions. Akins' folks return that volley with their contention that more than half of the PAC's money comes from Sanchez and his family.

A Peek into Some War Chests; Political Notes

They don't have to file until about the time you read this issue, but we're getting peeks at a few of the campaign finance reports. It's hard from the early numbers to believe stories that the economy is tanking. On the other hand, who would announce lousy results early?

Former Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, without holding a fundraiser or sending out fundraising letters, raised upwards of $750,000 in June. Abbott, who's running for lieutenant governor, pulled in a $200,000 contribution from Houston builder Bob Perry and another $100,000 from Albert Huddleston of Dallas. Those went into the bucket with a number of smaller, but still large, contributions from folks like Red McCombs of San Antonio, Trammell Crow of Dallas, Mort Topfer of Austin and Virgil Waggoner of Houston.

Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, says he raised $300,000 toward his race for land commissioner and will show a mid-year cash balance of about $140,000.

Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, will report contributions of $228,000 for his race to succeed his old boss, Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco. Half of that–$115,000–is a transfer from Averitt's House account.

This used to happen in the schoolyard, or at least in the cinematic version of the schoolyard. Before a fight, the first combatant puts a block on her shoulder and dares the challenger to knock it off. In the present case, the first kid is named Carole Keeton Rylander, and the block is in the form of a $3.1 million bank account. Rylander considered running for lieutenant governor in 2002, but decided against that idea. She announced in May that she plans to run for reelection as Comptroller of Public Accounts, and raised a whopping $1 million during the month of June for that campaign. She says she has another $774,500 in pledges, which would put the total at $3.8 million. So far, no Democrat (or Republican) has volunteered to knock the block off of her shoulder.

• Nobody is jumping up to be recognized on this next one, but we checked around and it looks like there could be anywhere from three to seven candidates in the race to succeed the deceased Sen. Tom Haywood. Gov. Rick Perry will call a special election within 20 days, probably putting the contest on the Nov. 6 general election date. Among the possible candidates we've heard about: Reps. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls; Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon; Ron Clark, R-Sherman; Wichita Falls businessman Craig Estes; former Wichita Falls Mayor Kay Yeager and Denton County GOP Chairman Richard Hayes. In the wings, if the district is redrawn to include Parker County: Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and car dealer Roger Williams, also of Weatherford.

• Put a discount on that rumor about Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch, if you've heard he might be leaving. He says he's not thinking about that and isn't up for reelection until 2004 anyhow. There's a good chance that six of the court's nine seats will be on the 2002 ballot, what with the regular reelections, federal appointments and retirements. Enoch's settled for now.

• An Arkansas state senator who is a distant cousin to U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, is running for Congress, but will do it without DeLay's endorsement. Gunner DeLay told Roll Call that an endorsement in a three-way GOP primary would put Rep. DeLay in a hot seat, and said he never expected to get his famous relative's support at this stage.

• The back-to-school tax break set for August 3-5 will save taxpayers $39.6 million, according to the state comptroller's office. That will lighten state tax collections by $31.2 million, and local tax collectors will miss $8.4 million in sales taxes. This is the third time the state has held a sales tax holiday. The two previous breaks lowered tax collections a total of $69.6 million.

• Clarification (a weak form of correction): We listed a mess of things that, according to Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, are driving medical costs in the state budget–and therefore driving the overall size of that budget–without mentioning a large item that he, in fact, included in his comments to us: Medical care in prisons. Those combine with medical costs from other areas like education and insurance and Medicaid (we won't pretend our list is complete this time) to make up an already large and growing portion of the state budget.

Political People and Their Moves

The new honcho at Texas Tech University will be Dr. David Smith, president of the school's Health Sciences Center and the former head of the Texas Department of Health. Smith will be interim chancellor while a permanent replacement for John Montford is found. Montford, a former state senator, is rumored to be considering a lobbying job with SBC, the San Antonio-based phone company... Jerry Valdez will leave the Texas Department of Economic Development at the end of the month and will next surface in September, when he opens an Austin PR and lobbying firm. That'll be affiliated with Fort Worth-based Linda Pavlik and Associates. Valdez has worked for TDED director Jeff Moseley for almost eight years, dating back to Moseley's tenure in Denton County government... Gov. Rick Perry named Colleen McHugh, a Corpus Christi lawyer who's been on the board at the Texas Department of Public Safety, as the new chair there... Perry named Massey Villarreal of Missouri City to chair the General Services Commission; he appointed Villarreal a week earlier... Here's some outreach: Perry named a personal injury trial lawyer, Gina Parker of Waco, to the state Commission on Licensing and Regulation. She also does general practice law, and used to be a prosecutor. Perry also named William Fowler IV of Buda to that board. He's also a lawyer... Jose Villareal of San Antonio is the new chairman of the board of the National Council of La Raza. He's been a board member of that advocacy group for Hispanics since 1996... Assistant Attorney General Drew Durham is leaving the Attorney General's office to work in the private sector. He worked for John Cornyn in that office and as a division head for Cornyn's predecessor, Dan Morales... Deaths:Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls. Parkinson's Disease robbed him of inflection and gesture, but not of intelligence or wit. He fought it all the way, never letting up, and died in the middle of a week in which he had set a full public schedule. The memorial service at the Texas State Cemetery is set for Monday, July 16, at 11. Haywood was 61.

Quotes of the Week

State District Judge F. Scott McCown, in a footnote to a ruling in which he said school finance litigants should probably do audits to show where tax money is being spent, "including overhead and such things as, heaven forbid, football. Contrary to popular belief, though perhaps it should be, football is not protected by the constitution or required by state law."

House Speaker Pete Laney, a slow-talking West Texan, after a transcriber asked him to slow down his presentation at a redistricting meeting: "First time anybody's asked me to do that in 30 years."

Rep. Tracy King, D-Uvalde, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News on what would happen to him under a redistricting map authored by Attorney General John Cornyn, a Republican, "I can't win that seat. I don't think a saint could win that seat if he is a Democrat."

Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on that same map, which would put three incumbent Democrats in his county in one district: "I think this is just an example of the Democrats getting from the Republicans what they've foisted on Republicans for years."

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, after he and the other four members of the Legislative Redistricting Board presented proposed political maps: "Everybody only wants their fair share of undue influence."

Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, knocking Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander's office for pushing local tax appraisers to show higher property values (and thus, higher tax bills) resulting from a good local real estate market, in the Express-News: "I wouldn't take as Gospel everything that comes out of Austin."

Former Bill Clinton aide turned Democratic pundit Paul Begala, quoted in USA Today on the amount of politics in George W. Bush's White House: "If they're being political, I say, 'Good.' The truth is, trying to take the politics out of government is like trying to take the math out of physics."

Now that this issue is in print and on the Internet, Texas Weekly is taking the annual two-week summer break. We'll be back with the issue dated August 6.


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 5, 16 July 2001. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2001 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.


Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today