Underneath the talk about how things are going for the new management in Washington, D.C., there is serious turbulence in the new management that was left behind in Austin. And the "Under New Management" sign that figuratively hangs over the Texas Capitol will remain in place for almost two more years.
It's not true that George W. Bush took everyone in the Texas GOP's first string to Washington. But it's true that he took a lot of them, and continues to mine the state for talent he wants to add to his seven-month-old administration. That leaves thinner ranks back home. His departure also put Rick Perry in the governor's office without a voter mandate that would take some of the bumps out of a first term. When confronted by cranky lawmakers, he can't point behind him at the public that wanted to put him in the office he now holds. He got there fair and square and all that, but he doesn't have the same clout with denizens of the Pink Building that goes with being an elected governor. For the next 15 months, Perry will be trying to win his own mandate so he can get four more years in the Mansion and lose that unofficial but palpable "interim" in front of his official title.
The lieutenant governor wasn't elected by the people, either, and isn't running for election (to that job, anyway) in 2003. If you put it in the worst light for a minute, that makes Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff a lame duck without a mandate. He was just settling into the job when the session ended. Ratliff says he doesn't want to do the things he says are necessary to getting elected statewide, and is expected to announce a bid for reelection as a state senator in the next few days. That would leave an experienced hand in the body of the Senate, which would put some stability into an unstable mix. But the top job will go to a rookie. Only one of the four candidates has legislative experience, but he's a Democrat and even if he won, he'd be trying to steer a Republican Senate.
On the other end of the Capitol, House Speaker Pete Laney, the only Democrat among the state's top officials, has said he'll seek another term in the House and a sixth term at the dais. That's feasible, perhaps, if the courts undo what the Legislative Redistricting Board did last month. But it would require the courts to knock down the plan approved by that board and draw something much more amenable to Democrats. Much, much more amenable.
The plans drawn by the LRB could put more than 100 Republicans in the 150-member House. The High Priests of Statistics say the GOP number would be more like 90, but that's a difference without distinction for this argument. Say the House has 60 Democrats and 90 Republicans. A Laney reelection would require absolute solidarity from his own party and 16 defections from Republicans. He could come close on the Democratic part of that formula, but you can bet those Republicans would be getting some cards and letters from the political activists and financiers out there in Radioland.
Odds are pretty good that a new speaker will be elected at the beginning of the next legislative session, and he (we're not aware of any female candidates at this point) will become the third leg of a wobbly tripod of new management.
This will keep the political science folks writing and analyzing for years. The turbulence began when President Bush left the state and set off a round of succession games. Follow with a legislative session hobbled by redistricting and the first shift in partisan control of the Legislature since Reconstruction came and went. Run it through an election cycle that breathes life into the redistricting maps and puts a bunch of new people in office, and top it with a set of new and untested managers.
Ruling the Senate
Time is a great healer in politics, but little time has passed since the LRB drew its Senate maps and there are a number of overheated, very angry Texas senators out there. Republicans, even.
We mention healing at the top because these things have a way of blowing over; legislative bluster usually doesn't result in action. Still, it's unusual to hear grousing from Republican senators who were counting on the LRB to act like Republican senators instead of like a panel of statewide officials.
If they could do it today, those senators would wrest control of the Senate from the lieutenant governor. The underlying presumption is that Land Commissioner David Dewhurst—a member of the unpopular LRB—might be the next Lite Guv, and cranky senators don't want him in their business. Former Comptroller John Sharp is a Democrat; the Republican Senate surely wouldn't want him bossing them around. Former Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, a Republican, and former U.S. Selective Service Director Gil Coronado, a Democrat, don't have legislative experience, giving senators a reason to elect a majority leader and run things from the floor.
That's one rationale behind announcements from Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, and Bill Ratliff, D-Mount Pleasant. Bivins, recently rumored to be a short-timer in the Senate, toured his new district last week to introduce himself to the people he'll represent after the reelection he now says he'll seek. Ratliff will soon announce his own reelection plan. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, and Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, have discussed swapping districts and maybe pulling Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, into the deal so they can all come back. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, jokes that his once dreaded plan for a Senate map could get 27 votes now that colleagues have seen the alternative.
An Overwhelmingly Republican Map
As it turns out, there are two kinds of partisans when it comes to redistricting. There are the kind who want to protect officeholders already in place and add to the total. And there are the kind who want to get the largest numbers possible, even if it means replacing their own incumbents. The LRB's map leans towards that second group, which is why some Republican officeholders are worked up, and why activists and finance folks in Dallas and Houston and elsewhere are so happy with the maps.
It's probably safe to predict that redistricting will bring in up to a dozen new senators and 45 new representatives. The LRB map would ensure that most of the incoming tenderfeet are Republicans. Here's an often-ignored fact of redistricting: The big turnover comes in the first election after the maps are rejiggered. Fewer and fewer seats turn over in each election cycle after that. What's more, the Legislature elected in 2002 will probably fine-tune the lines during the 2003 session, and the result will be a map friendly to those brand-new—probably GOP—incumbents. Barring the unexpected, Republicans should win big in 2002 and consolidate their gains in 2003.
Officially, Republicans say they can win 91 seats in the House and 19 seats in the Senate with the LRB's map. Those numbers might be conservative. One way to measure is to use the average results for Republican and Democratic statewide candidates in the 1998 elections as a guide. A straight reading of the numbers on that basis says Republicans have an advantage in 98 House seats and 20 Senate seats. But that year included George W. Bush's big win over Garry Mauro, so Republicans think a discount should be applied to get accurate predictions when Bush isn't on the ballot. Do the count again, giving each party credit for districts where more than 55 percent of 1998 voters chose their side, and the tally is 90-44 in the House and 20-8 in the Senate, both in favor of the GOP. Do it again, this time at 60 percent, and the tallies are 74-31 in the House and 12-3 in the Senate.
Put it another way: Under the LRB plan, the GOP has at least 60 percent strength in 74 House seats and 24 more lean their way. The Democrats would have to take 24 seats from the Republican column to get a majority of one vote in the House. In the Senate, 12 seats are at the 60 percent or better level of strength, and eight more lean strongly to the GOP. A note: The percentage of industrial strength GOP seats—those with more than 65 percent Republican voters—is smaller in the Senate, with seven, than in the House, with 47. The mapmakers stretched more to try to get a meaningful majority.
The Continuing Redistricting Quibble
House Speaker Pete Laney officially doesn't like the LRB map. You knew that, since he voted against it, but he's spelled out his disapproval in a formal dissent that says the LRB plans cut into minority voting rights. That seven-page dissent contends the LRB map is "especially unfair to minority votes" and will result in "fewer minority faces in the House chamber when the Legislature convenes in January 2003." Not surprisingly, it touts the plan passed by the House, a map that would give Democrats a better shot in more seats than the plan approved by the LRB. He challenges Attorney General John Cornyn's assertion that the LRB map would increase the number of Hispanic districts to 34, saying the number of districts with registered voters with Spanish surnames would actually drop to 26 from the current 27. The House plan, according to Laney, would have increased that number to 28. Laney's dissent goes through several examples where he contends his map is superior, and then gets to what some lawyers tell us will be the crux of the Democrat's challenge to the LRB plan. It says it's unconstitutional to put 25 seats in Harris County. Some lawyers think a successful challenge on that point (the census numbers say Houston is entitled to 24.46 seats, and that's the kind of split hair that makes lawyers rich and courts plentiful) would open the entire issue for redrawing.
Cornyn gave Laney's dissent a higher profile than it might have had by calling it a personal attack. He said the speaker "has chosen to unduly politicize what I view is primarily a legal process."
Private Pay for Public Lawyers
Here's a problem: How do you privately subsidize public employees in an ethical way? The state's appellate courts historically hire briefing clerks who have already accepted jobs with private law firms. Depending on where the clerk is working, that can include supplemental pay or hiring bonuses paid by the firms. The problem is that some of those same firms practice before the courts where their future employees are working.
The Legislature kicked it around and passed a bill that the Texas Supreme Court didn't like. Justices there talked Gov. Rick Perry into a veto. Now the matter is before the Texas Ethics Commission, on one hand, and the Travis County attorney's office on the other. And the court and County Attorney Ken Oden are at odds over whether a proposed solution would allow the clerks to be paid by the firms. The court says yes. Oden says no.
But early this year, Oden offered to sit down with Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips and some private lawyers for a "family discussion" to work out a solution to the mess. In a letter to Phillips, he mentioned a "lawyers on loan" program for prosecutors' offices, which looks like he was thinking about similar programs in his own offices.
Oden says it wasn't the same thing, and says he suggested a sit-down with the justices to try to depoliticize the issue. After all, everyone on the state Supreme Court is a Republican, and Oden is a Democrat. The issue was raised in the first place by Texans for Public Justice, a group that has few public supporters in the state's judiciary, especially among Republicans.
And he says he was interested in the "lawyers on loan" program because it's considered legal and he was looking for ways to solve the problem—not for some kind of private subsidies for his own office. Dallas prosecutors use attorneys from civil law firms on criminal cases. That, Oden says, is legal because the firms have no business in criminal courts. That same thing isn't true for the Supremes, since that is a civil court and the clerks have post-clerking deals with civil firms.
In his letter, Oden says he'll abide by whatever the Ethics commission does, and says the whole problem would be solved if the commission signs off on the "present system." But he says now that even a change in the law would leave an appearance of a conflict of interest. "I'm trying to not be a pawn on either side of the political game that's going on," he says.
Coming Soon to TV and the Mailbox
It's time to start watching news stories and headlines as the raw material for political advertising instead of as part of the inside game of state government. And the spigots are opening. We'll point out items with political import as they arise, but here's a quick accounting of the most recent dribbles:
• Tony Sanchez Jr. telling the Dallas Morning News that a money laundering investigation at his Tesoro Savings and Loan shouldn't be campaign fodder. Gov. Rick Perry, the next day, told reporters that he found the story interesting and that nothing like that will be off limits if Sanchez announces for office. Sanchez was cleared on the legal end, but the politics are touchy: It's fair in politics for adversaries to tell people to ask him about the matter so he'll have to explain it repeatedly.
• Another Dallas Morning News story describing a memo directing employees of then-Comptroller John Sharp to compile a list of the state's 500 biggest taxpayers. The memo was written within a week after Sharp lost the lieutenant governor's race and two months before he went to work for a company that advises big taxpayers on how to reduce their taxes. Sharp said it was a routine request and blamed an aide. His Democratic primary opponent, Gil Coronado, jumped up to suggest the former comptroller had taken secret information for use in private business.
Coronado shot back quickly to get a second-day story on the topic, saying Sharp "in less than three years has built a nice nest egg for himself, including purchasing a million-dollar house in an exclusive Austin neighborhood." He said more was coming and announced a press conference (after our deadline) in which he planned to offer up his personal income tax returns for the last three years and ask Sharp to do the same. Coronado said he would also officially ask the comptroller's office to give him a copy of the same information given to Sharp in late 1998. He already knows this, but that tax information is private and the state isn't allowed to give it out. State employees aren't allowed to use it for private purposes, either, which is what the fuss is all about.
• The chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, Michael Williams, pulled down a controversial set of oil spill cleanup rules that were proposed by his fellow Republican and Bush appointee Tony Garza. Short form: The environmentalists were with Garza, but the oilfield folks went bats. Williams, who's up for reelection next year, backed down and the rules can't go forward. He doesn't have a declared opponent yet, but if he gets one, this is a rare instance of a RRC issue that's understandable and interesting to average voters.
• A Houston Chronicle story on Democrat Marty Akins quitting the GOP in a huff after then-Gov. George W. Bush appointed someone else to the Texas Railroad Commission post Akins coveted. The story detailed Akins' support for Republican candidates in the 1998 elections, and also noted what's been pointed out here and elsewhere about Sanchez' generous support of Bush starting in 1994.
Undeclared, but Not Unpolled
Here's more from Montgomery & Associates, the Austin consulting firm that has been trickling out the results of a statewide poll of Democratic primary voters. (A matching poll of GOP primary voters will be coming out later this month.) The firm picked the names of potential candidates from news reports and conversations with other consultants
• Cecile Richards (daughter of former Gov. Ann Richards) would beat Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, 43 to 13 to 10, in a three-way race for land commission. In a two-way race, Watson would beat Raymond 33 to 21. Watson is expected to announce for Attorney General by the end of the month.
• Watson would start that AG race in third place if Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, were in the race.
• Democratic activist Sherry Boyles and former Sen. Hector Uribe would start close to even in a race for Railroad Commission. Neither is a declared candidate.
• KaLyn Laney, daughter of the House Speaker, would beat former Rep. Hugo Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, in a Democratic primary for agriculture commissioner, 35 to 21 percent.
Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the Republican primary, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is in the water. Hutchison started the year considering a run for governor against Gov. Rick Perry. She backed off after several weeks of heavy speculation, largely because some of her supporters, and several of Perry's supporters, convinced her the speculation was undermining either candidate's chances in the 2002 elections. Solidarity and all that. She hasn't reneged on the deal, but the rumors are cropping up again, in this form: Doctors and car dealers, two groups angered by Perry vetoes at the end of the session, are whispering their support for a Republican alternative. Hutchison apparently isn't acting on it, but she's not shutting down the conversations, either.
• A spokesman for Attorney General John Cornyn says that Scott Sims, a lawyer with that agency, won't run for a spot in the Texas House of Representatives next year. That odd mix of election politics and state employees started when Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said Sims worked on the Legislative Redistricting Board maps and drew a seat for himself. We called Sims at the state office to check on his personal political plans, and an agency spokesman called back to make the political announcement that Sims won't be a candidate. Weird.
While we were on that track, we called another AG employee who's been mentioned as a potential candidate. Jill Warren, who ran as a Republican for an Austin seat in 2000, called back her own self to say that she won't be on the ballot for House or anything else in 2002.
• Rep. Tom Ramsay, D-Mount Vernon, is mulling a run for either land commission or agriculture commission. Ramsay says he'd prefer to stay in the Texas House, where he's been since 1993. But the Legislative Redistricting Board's map for the House pairs him with Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris. If that holds, he says, he'll be forced to look around for something else, and he's looking in particular at the Ag job currently held by one of his former House colleagues, Republican Susan Combs. Ramsay is still hoping the courts will un-pair him with Homer so that both can run for reelection, and he tags the whole thing this way: "I'm not calling anyone, but I'm not denying any interest when people call me."
• Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, says he is leaning toward a campaign for reelection to the House, but will look at the county commissioner's race if the redistricting lines are right and the planets line up. Our item last week on his fundraiser prompted a call or two from folks back home who said they thought he was running for the county job. He says he is running for state representative, but did leave the political door ajar just in case he changes his mind. Several candidates are looking at the county job, he says, but he says he's unaware of anyone looking at his post should he switch races.
• South Texas lawyer Aaron Peña says he's not dropping out of the race for chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, but he is putting that contest on ice for now. He says he's been asked to head the Texas New Democrats, a state group backed by the Democratic Leadership Council. He'll concentrate on that business for now. That said, he's leaving open the possibility of a run for Democratic Party chairman at the party's state convention next year. "It doesn't mean I'm not going to run, but I'm going to work on this right now."
• Remember all the hoo-hah about whether the Rhode Island-based Gtech Corp. ought to be allowed to continue as the operator of the Texas Lottery? All that business about how some other company ought to be allowed to run the show? Well, they finally opened the contract for bidding, collected the bids, and selected what is known as an "Apparent Successful Proposer." That's the company that, if negotiations go all right, will get the contract to operate the lottery. Guess who won.
• Here's a confident politician: Land Commissioner David Dewhurst has promised to get in front of a bunch of supporters and rope a calf. It's good one if he gets the beef, it's a bad one if they find him a wily critter to catch. Send your camera operator to the Fort Worth Stockyard on September 8 for a photo. That's an education event put together by the Texas Eagle Forum.
DEPARTMENT OF REPAIRS: That group's president, Cathie Adams, spells her name the way it appears at the beginning of this sentence and not the way we spelled it last week.
Political People and Their Moves
The Tejano Democrats voted against their current leadership and elected a new slate of officers led by Juan Maldonado, former mayor of San Juan, and Mary Bowles-Grijalva of El Paso... Walter Hinojosa, the legislative and political director at the Texas AFL-CIO, will go on leave in mid-September so he can be the labor liaison for the Tony Sanchez Jr. campaign for governor. He'll be dispatched to get out the labor vote and to try to get the AFL-CIO endorsement for Sanchez early next year... Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry went ahead with what he had under consideration last week, naming Raymond Hannigan of San Antonio to the Texas Board of Health. Hannigan drew pre-appointment criticism for his ties to Dr. James Leininger, a generous and conservative Perry supporter who is a regular foil for Democrats. Hannigan was CEO of Kinetic Concepts, the hospital bed company founded by Leininger. Perry also named Dr. Amanullah Khan of Dallas to that board... Raul Romero of Houston is resigning from the University of Texas System Board of Regents. No replacement has been named... The National Federation of Independent Business' Texas office hired Malaise Murphy to work on grass roots and marketing. She worked for then-Gov. George W. Bush, and then for a software company... Investigated: Pauline Gonzalez, the longtime district clerk in Hidalgo County. The FBI scoured her office, her car and her home for evidence in what appears to be an investigation of forum-shopping in the courts there. No charges filed. No indictments, either. Just an unusual Friday afternoon in South Texas... Booked: Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, after an altercation with the owner of the private school where Coleman's kids were enrolled. Coleman says Harsh Kumar got in his wife's face during a meeting. He stepped in and, by his account, shoved the man onto a couch; by Kumar's account, Coleman hit him. The state rep has been charged with a Class A misdemeanor, and says (1) the disrespect for his wife deserved a response, and that (2) his own response was the wrong one... Deaths: Lou Tower, former wife of former U.S. Sen. John Tower. She helped him jump from the faculty of Midwestern State University to the Senate, where he replaced Lyndon B. Johnson in 1961. She was 81.
Quotes of the Week
Marc Levin of Austin, who helped prompt Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal to investigate whether public hospitals are breaking the law by providing care to illegal immigrants: " We must ask whether Texas taxpayers have an obligation to provide free health care to all of the citizens of Mexico, or even for all the world's citizens...Why shouldn't Texas taxpayers' largesse simply be used to open a public hospital on the other side of the border and save Mexicans the trip?"
Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, after attributing complaints about redistricting maps to "spin and whining", putting the onus on Attorney General John Cornyn in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News: "Some of the districts we drew were based solely on his legal recommendations, and so I am counting on him to defend his plans ably in court."
Republican Betty Lovell of Amarillo—mother of Republican Sen. Teel Bivins—telling that paper why she decided not to hold a fundraiser for Cornyn after seeing his maps for her son's district: "If he were going to favor the Permian Basin over the Panhandle, we'd let them help him."
Henry Cisneros, denying the latest rumor in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News: "It would sooner snow in San Antonio this August than I would be a candidate for the Senate in 2002."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez Jr., in a Dallas Morning News story on 17-year-old charges that his now-defunct Tesoro Savings & Loan was involved in illegal money-laundering (Sanchez was cleared), on what might have been different: "I guess the criteria would be that you know that this guy's a gangster, this guy's a murderer, or this guy's a really bad fellow. I'm sure you have the right to say, 'Look, take your business elsewhere.'"
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Worldpeace of Houston, on that contest: "This is going to be the damnedest governor's race in the history of the United States. I will make you the same and only promise that I made to my wife before we got married: I promise not to bore you to death."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 7, 13 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.