Message Slip Number One: Sen. David Sibley, the only Republican candidate for lieutenant governor with any legislative experience, dropped out of the race. He said, essentially, that his heart wasn't in it, but the way he said it was to point out that campaigning for a Senate seat is kind of fun, and campaigning for statewide office isn't the same. The Waco lawyer hasn't announced his next step, but he's got lots of options: Get out of office and get rich as a lawyer/lobbyist with close ties to the top executives in Washington, D.C. (Crawford, Texas, happens to be in Sibley's district, and he and President George W. Bush are friends), and Austin (after some initial jousting, Sibley and Gov. Rick Perry worked out an alliance that still holds). Sibley could run for reelection. He's been mentioned as a possible justice for the Texas Supreme Court, which has suddenly become a launch pad for statewide campaigns and federal appointments. He's been mentioned as a federal judicial appointee, and in fact, took the test for such a position before withdrawing his name so he could run for Lite Guv. Sibley's announcement leaves former Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst on the GOP side, and former Comptroller John Sharp and former U.S. Selective Service Director Gil Coronado on the Democratic side.
Message Slip Number Two: Barry McBee, the chief of staff to Gov. Perry, said he plans to leave on September 15. He said he doesn't have a particular destination but could end up doing anything from government work to lawyering. McBee was Perry's chief of staff in the Lite Guv's office and his number two at the Agriculture Commission. He was also executive director of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission. Perry is looking for a replacement. That arrangement was quirky and led to speculation about everyone's motives and fates. If Martha Stewart had been in charge, she'd have left no loose ends for the lobby and press to speculate with. You'd have an announcement with a resignation, a destination/reason for the resignation, and a new hiring, perhaps with a nice lilac bow on it for that homey touch.
Message Slip Number Three, with attachments: The GOP-dominated Legislative Redistricting Board passed a GOP-dominated redistricting plan for the Texas House and Texas Senate. No surprise there. But they did it in a ham-handed way, angering at least half of the Republican incumbents in the Senate and adding dramatic points to the procedure that were probably unnecessary.
Enough of that: Now it goes to the Department of Justice, then to court. We talked to lawyers, experts and whizbangs about it, and they can argue this thing round or flat. Republicans and some Democrats tell us the maps are defensible in court and could be left as is. Others see some problems with lines that minimize or exclude minority voters (it's a matter of opinion, obviously), and there are some deep fault lines over questions familiar to folks who've been watching this: Should Harris County have 24 or 25 representatives? Is it an oxymoron to call something a Republican Minority district? Is rural Texas getting hosed by mapmakers or by people moving to cities? The question for the lawyers is whether any of those questions are answered in the maps in an illegal way, subject to challenge.
The first signs will come from the U.S. Department of Justice, which has to "pre-clear" the maps. That's a determination of whether the federal government thinks the plan comports with the Voting Rights Act. If they like it, they won't join challengers of the plan in court.
There are a number of court fights already underway, and without killing the party by going into the legalistic hoohah, suffice to say this: What's at stake in this round is venue. The various sides are warring over which federal court and which state court will hear the Texas redistricting cases.
The Leading Non-candidate for Speaker
Virtually everyone agrees that the new redistricting maps would put the Texas House in Republican control. The arguing is over who would be sitting in the big leather chair and swinging the big hickory gavel. If the Republican margin of victory was slim, it's possible that House Speaker Pete Laney could remain in power. That would depend on two things, and you can rate the probabilities yourself: Democrats would have to stick together and vote for Laney, and Republicans would have to be cut into enough factions to give the Democratic speaker a dozen votes while denying any particular GOP member enough strength to challenge him. In other words, Laney can survive if House Republicans don't coalesce behind one particular candidate.
Another scenario, and you've seen this before, would have House Republicans sticking together and agreeing to vote as a group once they've decided, in caucus, who to support. Say, for the sake of argument, that there are 87 Republicans in the 150-member House after the next elections. If a speaker candidate won 44 votes in the GOP caucus, and the Republicans agreed to vote as a bloc once the thing went to the floor, that candidate would carry the day. Then he, or she, would have to figure out how to hold things together after being elected with the solid and sure support of only 44 members.
Supporters of Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, first floated the caucus idea to us, and it's hard to fault their logic. Assume that more than one Republican will run for speaker in a GOP-dominated House. Assume Craddick has more Republican support than any other Republican, which would force that Republican (like Democratic speakers in the last 20 years) to get support from House members in the other political party. Voting as a caucus would negate those votes and amplify Craddick's Republican support. The other GOP candidate(s) wouldn't find it as easy to capitalize on what have come to be known as ABC, or Anybody But Craddick, votes.
But there's another way for Craddick to win, and it's unfurling right here in the dog days of summer. Nobody but him is running. Craddick hasn't surfaced as a full-fledged candidate, but his surrogates are all over the place running his race for him. Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, hit the phones immediately after the LRB finished voting on a map to try to drum up Craddick votes. Outside groups are on the Craddick program. Remember that story last month about the head of the Texas Eagle Forum—Cathy Adams—planning a 'Craddick for Speaker' function at her home?
And buried down there in the middle of a campaign press release, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he would stay out of a race for state Senate and stick to the House: "I'm particularly excited about the opportunity to work with the new Republican majority we'll have in the House, and about helping my good friend Tom Craddick seek the Speaker's chair."
Toss aside for a second the question of whether Craddick ought to file the legal paperwork for a speaker's campaign (we asked a couple of weeks ago, and he said he isn't running but will file if he does). The fact is that nobody else has filed, and nobody else has friends and surrogates working as hard as Craddick's. Some of that is deference to Laney. Craddick and Laney—chums in college and among the handful of longest-serving House members—are now political enemies. There's nothing to restrain Craddick from offending Laney. But while he's marching, others are walking on eggshells.
While others dither, Craddick advances. You can, if you scratch hard enough, come up with the names of eight other Republican House members who have pondered a speaker contest loudly enough to be overheard: Kim Brimer of Arlington, Warren Chisum of Pampa, Toby Goodman of Arlington, Tony Goolsby of Dallas, Ed Kuempel of San Marcos, Ken Marchant of Coppell, Brian McCall of Plano, and David Swinford of Dumas. They're interested without being visibly active, each apparently waiting for someone else to start the land rush. In the meantime, Craddick is gaining at least the appearance of momentum.
Candidates on Parade
A cautious bettor would assume that the winner of the special election to replace the late Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, will have an edge in the 2002 elections. That might be right. That might be wrong. That probably played into the thinking of Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, though. He considered the race, and then decided against it. He doesn't live in the current Senate district. That means he's not eligible to run in the special election. But if the district drawn by the LRB survives the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Justice and the courts, he'll be in the center of the district that has belonged to Wichita Falls. The governor set the special election for November 6—the same date voters will get a look at a slew of constitutional amendments and, in some cases, local political races. (The filing deadline for that race is October 9.) Wichita Falls is in the old district and the new one, but the rest of the map is dramatically different, and whoever wins the special will have a lot of new turf to cover in the 2002 race.
Car dealer Roger Williams pulled out of the race before he ever really got in. He kicked the tires, said he was exploring it, and then dropped out and said he'd support King. A mess of people are still looking, including public officials in Denton and Collin counties who don't live in the current district but who do live in the new one. And Wichita Falls is weighing in: Craig Estes, a businessman based there, is the only candidate who has actually announced his candidacy.
• Austin Mayor Kirk Watson has stopped looking at the land commissioner job, which will be an open seat in the 2002 elections, and has turned his attention to the attorney general's job currently held by Republican John Cornyn. Watson can't announce he's in that race without giving up his mayoral post, but there might be a twist. It might be legal to announce he's resigning early and that he's thinking about seeking another public office without automatically resigning as mayor. Watson couldn't be reached, but some of his friends think he'll say something within the month.
• Former Sen. Mike Galloway, R-The Woodlands, is considering an attempt to win back his seat. He lost to David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, in 1998. But the district drawn by the LRB is more sympathetic to Republicans than the current district, and includes only half of Bernsen's home county of Jefferson (where some locals are in uproar over giving up territory for a Houston Senate seat). John Doner is Galloway's consultant, and points out that Galloway won his last GOP primary although he was outspent by the challenger. They're hoping that keeps other Republicans out of the contest.
• Dee Kelly Jr., after talking about it for months, formed an exploratory committee to look at a run for the state Senate seat currently held by Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth. Kelly, son of the prominent Fort Worth attorney, will run as a Republican and starts his pitch (on paper, anyway) with an odd bit of sloganeering: "Dee Kelly Jr.: Young Family Man Who Works For A Living."
• Dallas lawyer Dan Branch is among those mentioned as a possible candidate for Texas Senate. He would apparently run, if he runs, as a candidate in the new district where Sens. David Cain, a Democrat, and John Carona, a Republican, are paired. Branch ran for the U.S. House in the early 1990s in a pack of 13 candidates. U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Dallas, won that contest.
• Dr. Robert Rankins, a Republican from McKinney, will run in the new House district on the northern half of Collin County. In addition to being a physician, he's a former cop. He's hired Allen Blakemore of Houston as his general consultant.
• Bob Deuell will run for state Senate in a district that sits immediately to the east of Dallas. The Greenville doctor fell short in a challenge to Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, in 2000. But the redistricting lines drawn by the LRB take Cain out of the district and leave the portions where Deuell carried the day. He says he'll run in the open seat, and has hired a couple of the consultants who worked for him last year: Hans Klingler of Arnold & Associates, and Mike Hendrix. Hendrix lined up a couple of other candidates who are making second or third attempts to get into office. Ron Walenta, a Dallas business consultant who lost to Democratic Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt in 2000, says he'll run again. The LRB's rendition of that House district is much more Republican than the current district.
This Seems to Start Earlier Every Cycle
Homebuilder Ed Harrison, who lost to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, in both 1994 and 1996, will run for state Senate in 2002. The towels are already snapping in that race.
Harrison, who says he now lives in Midlothian, will run in the redrawn district currently represented by Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco. The biggest county in that district is McLennan, where Waco is the county seat. But in recent elections, Republican turnout has been stronger in Ellis and Johnson counties and Harrison is hoping that will give him an edge.
He'll likely face Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, a former aide to Sibley who got into the running almost two months ago. Sibley was briefly a candidate for lieutenant governor, and Averitt got into the Senate race when the incumbent decided to move up. In his announcement, Harrison said he lives in Ellis County and that his wife "served a local school board for years." Averitt's camp says Harrison is still registered to vote in Dallas County and still has a residence on the tax rolls there.
Harrison's folks say he lives in Midlothian and is building a house in Ovilla. That's a small town in Ellis County, and the site of the private religious school where his wife was a board member. Harrison has a letter hitting mailboxes in the district saying he's against an increase in the gasoline tax (Averitt proposed one last session) and against giving "special rights to groups based on their sexual orientation," a reference to the hate crimes bill. That last item puts Harrison in opposition to Averitt, who voted for the bill, and to Gov. Rick Perry, who signed it.
Last one: Harrison paid a fine to the Federal Election Commission after breaking campaign finance laws in his race against Frost. He borrowed money from his business for the campaign, and paid it back with interest from contributions. That would be fine if the business wasn't a corporation. The loan was technically a corporate contribution, and those aren't allowed.
• Speaking of towel snaps, there's a print ad for Jerry Patterson making the rounds that sideswipes Rep. Kenn George, his opponent in the GOP primary for land commissioner. George looked at the comptroller's race for several months before switching to land when Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander said she would stay put. But on his campaign finance report, he left a blank in the space for "Office Sought (if known)." Patterson's ad says, "Does Kenn George even know what office he's running for? Don't support another fill-in-the-blank politician."
Think that's Early? Horserace Polls are Already Here, Too
It's early for polls to mean much, since most candidates haven't done any real marketing and aren't well known. But a poll now can give you an idea of what each candidate will have to do between now and Election Day. Austin political consultant Jeff Montgomery polled Democratic primary election voters (he'll poll Republicans in the next round) to find out whether they have any idea who they will vote for in March.
Understanding that none of the candidates he's asking about have run a single television ad in this election cycle (most have never run one at all), Montgomery says Laredo gazillionaire A.R. "Tony" Sanchez Jr. has a lead over Marble Falls millionaire Marty Akins and Houston attorney John Worldpeace. The 1,031 respondents—each of whom voted in at least one of the last two Democratic primaries—gave Sanchez 24.2 percent of their support, Akins 10.1 percent, and Worldpeace 5.1 percent. The biggest vote-getter? Undecided, with 54.5 percent.
Some interesting numbers can be found inside the big numbers: 54 percent of the Hispanics polled favor Sanchez. Most Anglo voters—60.2 percent—were undecided. Most voters, Montgomery said, hadn't heard of any of the candidates.
He also polled former Comptroller John Sharp against former U.S. Selective Service Director Gil Coronado. Sharp, who has been on almost every statewide ballot since the mid-1980s, got 62.1 percent of the vote to Coronado's 13.2 percent. Among Hispanics, Sharp out-polled Coronado 55.9-27.7.
• Here's a nice example of intramural warfare. Andy Taylor, the former first assistant to Attorney General John Cornyn, is still working on redistricting matters for Cornyn now that Taylor is back at the law firm of Locke Liddell Sapp in Houston. And in that capacity, he filed a motion in state court in Houston on behalf of Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar, asking the court to knock down efforts by another state official, Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, who was trying to get the Houston court to drop the case. And it goes on to say that only Cornyn, who is also the author of the redistricting plan they're fighting about, has the authority to speak for the state and that Laney should be knocked aside as a party to the suit and be given status as a "friend of the court." That's got less clout.
• The Texas Supreme Court knocked down the Republican Party's attempt to take redistricting away from a district judge in Austin. The GOP argued that Judge Paul Davis didn't have the authority to hear it. He disagreed. They went to the Supremes, who said he can go ahead with a September trial.
• Problems sleeping? Can't get redistricting out of your mind? Need something to relax with? The transcript of the House's May 7 floor debate on redistricting is finally available. It's in the supplemental House Journal for that date, runs to 154 pages, and is available on the Internet for lawyers and other geeks. The address is www.capitol.state. tx.us.
• In a fundraising appeal, Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, says the House's version of redistricting would have evaporated his district and left him without a place to run. He says he can't promise, because of such uncertainties, that he will certainly be back as a House member. (It's a joke: He's running). And he says all things are subject to change: "Just asked the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce about Lt. Governor candidacies." (That group supported Bill Ratliff, who dropped out.)
Flotsam & Jetsam
• Land Commissioner David Dewhurst put his name on a fundraising letter for a conservative think tank—the Texas Public Policy Foundation—that walked into that gray area barring corporate contributions to candidates. TPPF doesn't endorse candidates—that would cost the group its non-profit status—and says it had Dewhurst write the letter because they thought that would raise a lot of money. Dewhurst was already a candidate for lieutenant governor when the letter went out, and the first section of the fundraising plea details his personal biography. The Houston Chronicle, which broke the story, said that section repeated themes from Dewhurst's recent TV campaign. Earlier this year, before he announced his candidacy, Dewhurst appeared in a series of clean air commercials paid for by an affiliate of the Greater Houston Partnership. That group said they wouldn't have run the spots if Dewhurst had already declared as a candidate, but said they were safe last spring.
• Texas ranked last among the states last year in immunization rates for children, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. The CDC report says 69.5 percent of the 1.5- to 3-year-olds in the state had received the full complement of seven vaccinations. That was a drop from 74.7 percent in 1999, and means the state ranks 50th in the U.S. The percentages are based on a telephone survey.
• Credit this item to PoliticsOnline.com, which is where we heard about it: Someone out there is selling seven-inch cardboard models of President George W. Bush that you can carry around with you. The pitch at www.PocketPresident.com goes along these lines: "When you have the President in your pocket, there's almost nothing you can't do!" The money goes to the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, but the gag was put together by a comedian, Bill Shein, who used to write for America Online.
• Sometimes, spin is just too unpredictable. Lookit this one: The Texas Lottery is touting the federal tax cut as a boon (that would be an added boon, come to think of it) to lottery winners. The feds are dropping the tax withholding rates, which means the Lottery will keep less of the money the winners are supposed to get.
Political People and Their Moves
San Antonio businessman Raymond Hannigan is a leading candidate for a Perry appointment to the board of the Texas Department of Health. Hannigan is former president and CEO of Kinetic Concepts Inc., a hospital bed company that was founded by Dr. James Leininger, a major GOP financier and a favorite target of Democrats. Hannigan ran a pharmaceutical company owned by Eastman Kodak before that. He's a Texas A&M alum and has served on a couple of the school's advisory boards. He's not as politically active as his former boss, at least financially: Texas Ethics Commission records indicate only two contributions to state officials in the last couple of years. One was to Perry, the other to Rep. John Shields, R-San Antonio... Janie Cockrell will be the new director of the institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In non-bureaucratic language, that means she'll run the prisons. Gary Johnson left the job to become the agency's executive director and then appointed Cockrell. She started as a prison guard 25 years ago, and was most recently the agency's deputy director for security... Carol McGarah, director of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and a wizard on water law and water politics in Texas, is leaving government for the private sector. She'll continue to work for Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, until Labor Day, when she'll start lobbying and working on environmental issues at Public Strategies Inc... Former press corps regular Jim Moore is opening a new public relations shop. The former TV reporter is half of Mechling & Moore, which will concentrate on corporate accounts... Recommended: U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison are telling the president he should make federal judges out of State District Judge David Gobley of Dallas and U.S. Magistrate Alia Moses Ludlum of Del Rio. Gobley is up for an open position on the federal bench in Dallas. Ludlum, if she is appointed, will get a new court created to handle growing dockets of drug and immigration cases... Appointments: Gov. Perry named Gilbert Herrera of Houston to chair the General Services Commission. Herrera is an investment banker and consultant. Perry's first choice—Massey Villareal—turned down the job because his company contracts with the state... The Guv named two judges: Carter Tinsley Schildknecht of Lamesa will replace George Hansard, who retired, on the 106th Judicial District Court. And Taylor County Judge Lee Hamilton of Abilene will leave that post to take over at the 104th District Court. Billy Edwards retired from that one.
Quotes of the Week
Broadcaster Bob Schieffer, on Face the Nation, on who he looks up to: "In this age when our sports heroes are so spoiled, our elected officials fail to inspire and the corporate code for advancement is driven only by the bottom line, it is good that we can look to animals as our role models. They are today's rarity—loving, loyalty, hard-working and almost never duplicitous. And for the record, I have always admired beagles."
GOP Chairwoman Susan Weddington, on the current Democratic Speaker of the Texas House: "The only decision left for Pete Laney to make is how Texans will remember him—as a tenured statesman who gracefully exited the state at the appropriate time, or as a bitter, past-his-time politician who would stop at nothing to maintain his political power." Laney, replying, in the Austin American-Statesman: "It's the first time she's even insinuated I'm a statesman."
Tom Vinger, official mouthpiece of the Texas Department of Public Safety, in a John Kelso column in the Austin paper whining about troopers who wrote a slew of tickets at an auto show in Round Rock: "News flash. That's what we do. DPS writes tickets. We don't write the laws."
Attorney General John Cornyn, explaining the Legislative Redistricting Board's race to approve plans nobody had time to examine: "The public can try to keep up with it as best they can, but at some point, we have to get the job done."
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, giving Cornyn its highest honor: "The James Madison Award was created to honor those whose appreciation and respect for the public's right to access government information have been demonstrated by exemplary actions, words and deeds."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 6, 6 August 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.
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