Skip to main content

Changes at the Starting Gate

The Tony Sanchez Jr. campaign has its first casualty. The not-yet-declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate hired a veteran migrant political worker—Robin Rorapaugh—as his campaign manager earlier this year. But Rorapaugh, who started here before moving to Florida to work on campaigns there, is heading back to the Sunshine State.

The Tony Sanchez Jr. campaign has its first casualty. The not-yet-declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate hired a veteran migrant political worker—Robin Rorapaugh—as his campaign manager earlier this year. But Rorapaugh, who started here before moving to Florida to work on campaigns there, is heading back to the Sunshine State.

The official line from Sanchez headquarters is that everyone is being reevaluated as the campaign moves from the exploratory stage to the real stage. Rorapaugh says she wanted to help the campaign get set up, and now that that's done, she's outta here. She is probably on her way back to Florida, where she owns a home. And she's knocking down rumors that she might help assemble a U.S. Senate campaign for her old boss, former Attorney General Dan Morales.

Glenn Smith will run the campaign for now. Smith, who's been working as a consultant for Sanchez for several months, is taking the job on an interim basis while Sanchez decides who'll run his political operation. Smith has been working mostly as a corporate consultant for the last several years, but cut his political teeth as a reporter, then as an aide to Bill Hobby and Ann Richards.

New Faces at the Incumbent's Shop, Too

Former state Rep. Mike McKinney is still on the list of five people who might be the next chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry but isn't a lock. McKinney, then a Democrat from Centerville, was a Perry buddy when both were mere House members. He later headed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. His name is the most often-mentioned as a potential replacement for outgoing chief Barry McBee. Expect an announcement this week.

McKinney is a doctor, but might cause Perry problems with other doctors because he's also the president of the Texas division of Centene Corp., a St. Louis outfit that owns health plans across the U.S. Texas doctors, you'll remember from your homework assignments, are currently at war with health insurers, and Perry is in hot water with doctors after vetoing a pet bill of theirs which would have penalized HMOs and health plans that are slow to pay medical providers. Other Perry moves:

Perry and his folks are moving other chairs around as well:

• Former Texas prison director Wayne Scott is on the short list for an appointment to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, an assignment that would let him remain in Huntsville (where his wife works in the prison system), pay him a salary, and allow him, apparently, to continue to draw the retirement pay he's entitled to after umpteen years in the prison system.

• Assistant Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor's name has been floated as a potential candidate for the open commissioner's slot at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. Connor was the agency's general counsel when Barry McBee was chairman of that board.

• Finally, a couple of judicial names are making the rounds. District Judge Sam Medina of Lubbock is a potential nominee to the empty seat on the Texas Supreme Court. That spot was opened by the resignation of Justice Greg Abbott, who's running for lieutenant governor. Judge Sue Holland of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals told Perry she is resigning as of September 2. That will be Perry's first appointment to that nine-member panel, which is to criminal law what the Texas Supreme Court is to civil law in the state. Among the early names floated: State District Judge Vicki Isaacks of Denton, a George W. Bush appointee who is also the spouse of Denton County District Attorney Bruce Isaacks. Judge Isaacks lost to Mike Keasler in the 1998 primary race for a spot on that same appellate court.

Meanwhile, in the #2 Position on the Ballot

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst's late appearance at a fundraiser for the Johnson County GOP cost him some support and at least one of his highly touted grassroots endorsements. Jeffrey Judd, the Republican Party chairman there, says Dewhurst wooed him early in the race for lieutenant governor, at a time when Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff was the only other candidate on the Republican side.

Judd said he was impressed at the time by the efforts Dewhurst was making to talk with local party activists around the state. He frankly liked him better than Ratliff in a two-man race, and when Dewhurst iced the cake by agreeing to headline the Johnson County GOP's annual fundraiser, Judd decided to endorse him.

They put the calendar together, moved the date of the fundraiser to accommodate Dewhurst's schedule, and that was that, until the day before the July 12 event. A Dewhurst aide called Judd to say the boss' schedule was tight and that he wouldn't be able to stay for the whole event as originally promised. They fiddled with the start times of the fundraiser. When the event started the next day, Dewhurst was supposed to be on hand for the first event, a small gathering of hosts who contributed $100 each for the privilege. He finally arrived 15 minutes after that event ended, and gave a speech to the full crowd of about 200 people who each gave $30 to attend the fundraiser. "He offered no apology at all, and that really, really made me change my opinion about him," Judd says.

Between the time of Dewhurst's early entreaties and the fundraiser, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott got into the race. He did the Johnson County fundraiser the previous year. Judd likes him, and admits he might not have endorsed Dewhurst in the first place had the field then been what it is now. In the wake of it all, he's written a letter asking the Dewhurst campaign to stop using his name on the list of endorsers. He says he's now supporting Abbott (although he says he probably won't give him a formal endorsement before the GOP primary in March). A spokesman for Dewhurst says the whole mess was a staff mistake on their part and said the campaign has apologized to Judd.

Gil Coronado, the San Antonio Democrat running for lieutenant governor, reported adjusted gross incomes (with his wife Helen) of $153,704 in 1998, $166,898 in 1999, and $216,639 in 2000. They paid taxes during those three years of $27,505, $32,166, and $48,587, respectively. Hey, they wanted you to know. Coronado challenged his opponent, former Comptroller John Sharp, to release his tax returns as well. Sharp told reporters he'll do that, but not until later in the contest.

• Among the names on Abbott's list of supporters: Former Speaker of the House Gib Lewis, a Democrat who served in the House with Sharp, who's running on the other side.

Unfiltered Speech, Electronic and Otherwise

The Texas ballot won't be lacking for rich, self-financing candidates this year. But only a couple are publicly running in earnest (several are in the wings), and very few are paying for advertising of any kind. Now that the elections are only seven months away, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst has decided to run a second major flight of television commercials. Dewhurst, who started his first run of ads at the beginning of the summer, is back on the air. His troops won't describe the particulars, other than to say that they're running the same spots they ran earlier this summer and that they purchased time designed to reach "97 percent of Republican primary voters."

• Democratic gubernatorial candidate Marty Akins bought a full page ad in the Texas Observer, a publication whose readers might reasonably be expected to be skeptical of a former University of Texas football team captain. He didn't include a phone number or web address, but listed a string positions he'll take during the campaign and as governor, saying he's pro-choice, thinks people should be able to sue their HMOs, favors audits of state agencies and of "entertainment and incumbent self-promotion marketed as consumer information." He's in favor of capping credit card fees and interest rates, opposes school vouchers, wants clean air and water plans and an end to self-policing by industrial polluters, wants pay increases for teachers and cops and other government employees, and favors campaign finance reform and expanded prison rehabilitation programs.

And Now There's a Race in the #3 Slot

Kirk Watson is a trial lawyer from Austin who says he can easily defend everything in this sentence that might seem pejorative to his foes and to voters. If he can do that for the next 15 months, he might be the state's next attorney general. Watson is a popular mayor credited with negotiating the perilous straits between Austin's active neighborhoods and activists on one hand, and the city's businesses and developers on the other. Both sides give him high marks, but he's got to figure out how to sell his local successes on a statewide stage. And he'll have to walk around the minefields Republicans have planted around those two labels in a quick description of him.

Austin? He points out that national business magazines laud the city as a great place to do business, and says most of the people he meets elsewhere in the state either lived in Austin themselves at some point in their lives or have family members who did. And, he says, they love the place. While he's been mayor, the city has been lauded as a business Mecca, particularly by the high tech industry, and the city's reputation as the People's Republic of Austin, he's hoping, has receded.

Trial lawyer? He says people who use the title accusingly mean to paint lawyers as anti-business, and he says his record as mayor and as head of the old Texas Air Control Board dispels those accusation. At the same time, he contends Texans "are looking for and will want a strong, credible lawyer who will represent their interests." He points to defense work he's done for, among others, Texas Tech and Baylor Universities.

Watson is running against one of the GOP's best-positioned candidates, Attorney General John Cornyn. Cornyn is a favorite of the state's tort reformers, who'll relish the chance to run a straight-ahead race against a Texas trial lawyer. Expect a fair amount of lawyer- and Austin-bashing before this is over. And if you're just here for the spectacle, this could be most interesting. Both candidates are popular in their parties, and both are smart and articulate. It'll be expensive (Watson predicts it will cost at least $6 million to challenge the incumbent, and Cornyn starts with a pile of money on hand).

Watson starts by not talking about Cornyn, saying he wants to introduce himself before he moves on to why he's running and what he thinks would be different with him in the office. But he hints at one point of attack in a line he used with us and, apparently, with other publications: "The law is not Republican or Democratic, not urban or rural, or about who gave you big contributions."

Watson's announcement forces his resignation as mayor of Austin, but he'll get to remain in place until his successor is chosen, probably on November 6. That's because he's running for a statewide office. City officials running for spots in the Texas House or Senate forfeit their positions instantly. A mayor who jumps into a House race automatically resigns the city job, and is barred from doing further official work for the city. The first part is true for statewide candidates like Watson, but not the second: He gets to do all that fun mayor stuff until a new mayor is elected.

A Peculiar Ending for Three Fixtures of the Texas Senate

The Texas Senate fired three well-known aides for "poor management" and "potential intimidation." Kathy Staat, the director of Senate Media Services and an employee of the upper chamber since 1974, Barbara Schlief, a Senate photographer for the last 22 years, and Shelley Smith, who also works in that division, were all let go. The firings followed an inquiry into complaints from former employees about unspecified (at least publicly) incidents of harassment.

Call and ask about it and you climb the food chain in a hurry; our questions were referred straight to Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff. He said the decision to fire the three was Senate Secretary Patsy Spaw's, but said she talked to him first and that he agreed with her. Ratliff wouldn't say specifically what triggered the firings. He stuck to general comments about "poor management, potential intimidation and possible harassment." He said he was not aware of any legal action being pursued by the former employees whose complaints led to the firings. And he said Spaw had talked with some 30 former and current employees of Senate Media before acting. At our deadline, the three were still trying to get copies of the report that resulted in their firing.

Better Start Checking Old Report Cards

If you combine the dog days of summer with a job opening in a high place and a template for a rumor, you'll get a mess of new rumors. Our case in point: Texas Tech University's Board of Regents is fishing for a replacement for John Montford, who's going to work for Southwestern Bell's parent company. It's a high-paying job, and there's precedent for putting an elected official in the slot, since Montford's rap sheet included terms in the Texas Senate and as Lubbock County's district attorney.

Add in two more elements. First, redistricting has endangered the immediate career plans of a mess of Democrats, including a couple of high-level politicos from West Texas. Second, there has been a persistent rumor that the Texas A&M University System wants to hire U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, making him a chancellor and making some other lucky Texan a United States senator. The Gramm story in particular seems to have opened the flood of rumors about who might succeed Montford.

Now that that's all in place, the names floating around include House Speaker Pete Laney, a Tech alum whose future in the tall chair is clouded by a Republican-dominated redistricting map. Another mentionee is U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, another Tech alum whose future representing an increasingly Republican area is questionable. Then there's a real wildcard, in Railroad Commissioner Charles Matthews. Why is he a wildcard? Matthews did help set up a pipeline safety center at the school, and raised some money for it, but he didn't go to Tech.

A Heartwarming Story of Alums Working Together

This would have been impossible two years ago, but Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald somehow got John Sharp and Garry Mauro to co-host (with several others) a reelection fundraiser for him. Mauro and Sharp, fellow Democrats and former A&M classmates, were in the first and second positions on the 1998 Democratic ballot, but hardly acknowledged one another during that election cycle. But former Comptroller Sharp is McDonald's former employer, and former Land Commissioner Mauro has a tie to the 30-year-old judge that's comprehensible only to Aggies: Both were yell leaders at Texas A&M, and both were elected in spite of the fact that they weren't in the hallowed Corps of Cadets. They are referred as civilian students, or, if you're hard core, as non-regs. That funder is at the home of singer Marcia Ball in Austin, although McDonald is judge of the next county to the right.

Candidates on Parade

Former Comal County Judge Carter Casteel says she'll definitely be in the race for Texas House. She had said earlier this year that she would run under any condition except one: She didn't plan to challenge Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-New Braunfels. But redistricting, as she had expected, moved her home territory out of Kuempel's district and into another, and she's running. The 58-year-old lawyer is now in HD-73, where the incumbent is Rep. Tracy King, D-Uvalde.

• Tim Taft, a judge on Houston's 1st Court of Appeals, plans to run for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals against Tom Price. Corpus Christi lawyer Guy Williams plans to run for that court, too, against Paul Womack. All four of them are Republicans. But there are some Democrats who want to be judges, too, in spite of the fact that none of the 18 folks on the state's two high courts are from that party. Margaret Mirabel, the only Democrat on Houston's 1st Court of Appeals, plans to run for Texas Supreme Court. She'll be trying to win the position emptied by Greg Abbott's resignation. She will probably have to run against a short-term incumbent; Gov. Rick Perry gets to appoint someone to serve until the November 2002 elections.

Glenn Hegar Jr., an Aggie, a Waller County farmer and an attorney, will run for the House in HD-28, a district without an incumbent. Todd Smith will run that campaign. Put Tom Butler of LaPorte on the list in HD 128, another open seat. He's Hispanic, in spite of his father's last name. Allen Blakemore signed on as his general consultant.

Working on a GOP Majority

A group of 14 House members formed a group called the Republican Majority Council and has sent out fundraising letters to folks who might want to help them "present a unified Republican front" against Democrats who want to "retain control of the Texas House, in spite of a numerical Republican majority." The group's initial pitch asks for contributions of $1,000, and urges readers to visit the group's website ( A week after the address on that letter, there was nothing on the website but an "under construction" notice.

The chair of the group is Dianne Delisi of Temple. Its vice chairs are Geanie Morisson of Victoria and Talmadge Heflin of Houston. They don't come right out and say so, but the letter from the group implies that they want Republicans to stick together against Democrats in the House. That strategy's been pushed by Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland, who hopes to be the next speaker of the House. This group plans to recruit candidates, raise money and "develop a positive, conservative message."

Fun with Fundraising

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, had to move a mid-August fundraiser at the last minute. She had scheduled the gathering for the Adams Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas. But that hotel chain is being boycotted by the NAACP. Johnson put out a written statement when we asked whether there had been a change of address. She says she has "had generally positive relations with the Dallas Adams Mark Hotel," but adds that she's a life member of the NAACP and "can't overlook the very serious issues surrounding the treatment of African-Americans at lodging establishments." She moved the event to another hotel.

Flotsam & Jetsam

• Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston, is just fine, thanks, after prostate surgery. Just before the surgery, his doctor said Lindsay appeared to have "an early, highly curable cancer" and said he expected the senator to have a full recovery. The post-surgical news was good, and Lindsay expects to be back to normal within a couple of weeks.

• The AFL-CIO will be in the middle of the debate over immigrants in Texas and has started a website for that purpose ( That has distinct political implications at a time when office-seekers are expected to be keying on Hispanic votes. One of the battlegrounds in that fight for votes is over what to do with and about immigrants who want jobs, licenses to drive, health care, and other benefits of living in Texas. The union take on this is that immigrants should be able to get on a track to citizenship that includes, naturally enough, the right to organize at work.

• State Revenue in Distress, Part 1: Gov. Rick Perry joined about 40 of his colleagues signing a letter telling Congress to back off on the moratorium on Internet taxes. It's not a mass political suicide note—the governors say they just don't want a congressional barrier that keeps the current system's inequities. It's a short letter: "If you care about a level playing field for main street retail businesses and local control of states, local governments, and schools, extend the moratorium on taxing Internet access ONLY with authorization for the states to streamline and simplify the existing sales tax system. To do otherwise perpetuates a fundamental inequity and ignores a growing problem." The states are trying to design a system that keeps out-of-state sellers who are not required to collect sales taxes from poaching on in-state retailers who are required to collect sales taxes.

• State Revenue in Distress, Part 2: Hey, guess what? Car dealers aren't crazy about that new tax on out-of-state vehicles coming into Texas. The $225-per-vehicle tax was set up to cover some of the costs of the state's clean air program, and if you live in the middle of the state, who cares? But if you live next to another state, like Oklahoma, or if you do big volumes of business, like an auto auction house in, say, Dallas, it's not a popular idea. The dealers have sued, and that'll stall implementation of the tax. It was supposed to raise $92 million in the first year, and $165 million a year once it's fully up and running. The dealers say the tax is discriminatory; a similar levy in Florida already lost in court.

Political People and Their Moves

Ricardo Castañón is the new Texas regional director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. He had been with the Border Environment Cooperation Commission in El Paso... Take "assistant" off the front of Michael Behrens' title—he's the new executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation. Wes Heald, who's been the chief for three years, is retiring. Behrens has been with the agency for 30 years... If this is surprising, you haven't been watching: President George W. Bush named Pat Wood III, the former head of Bush's Texas Public Utility Commission, to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Bush picked Wood for a place on FERC earlier this year. Current Chairman Curtis Hebert of Mississippi resigned; Wood will take over on September 1... Bush named former Brownsville Police Chief Benigo Reyna to head the U.S. Marshalls Service... Gregory Coleman, the state's solicitor general, is leaving the Attorney General's office to join the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Houston. No replacement has been named... Chief of Staff Libby Martinez is leaving the offices of Sen. Eliot Shapleigh after three legislative sessions there. She's an El Pasoan, like her boss, but says she'll remain in Austin... Bobby Ray Inman, the former National Security Agency chief and CIA deputy director, is taking a faculty job at the University of Texas at Austin. He'll have the same endowed chair at the LBJ School of Public Affairs once held by the late Barbara Jordan; he'll teach and do research there... Former U.S. Rep. Pete Geren, D-Fort Worth, is going to work in the U.S. Department of Defense to work on military reorganization. He quit Congress, in part, to get back home to Fort Worth to be with his family. This will move them all to Washington, D.C... Deaths: Pat Cole, friend and mentor to a slew of people in and around Texas government, from lobbyists to bureaucrats to elected officials. Cole, a speech pathologist, was director of health and human services policy in Gov. Ann Richards Administration and co-founded the Austin Speech Language and Hearing Center. She was 60... CORRECTION: We muffed the spelling of David Godbey's name in this section of our August 6 issue. Godbey, a state district judge from Dallas, has been recommended by the state's two U.S. senators for a federal judgeship in Dallas.

Quotes of the Week

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, as quoted by The Dallas Morning News, on the last presidential election: "There are so many variables at play, I don't think we're ever going to know the answer. The answer is that the system worked its way out in such a way that George W. Bush is the president of the United States and everything else is essentially historical reinterpretation."

U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, on rumors that he wants to be the nation's next chairman of the Federal Reserve Board: "I hope Alan Greenspan lives forever."

Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about his consideration of a run against Gramm: "A governor's race is much easier for me in terms of my family than all the decisions you have to make when you go to Washington. I'm from Austin. My family's in Austin. It's just not near as intrusive on your lifestyle." He later told The Dallas Morning News: "I am not weighing anything but potentially a race for the U.S. Senate, period and end of paragraph."

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, who announced he would run for election to that statewide post, then announced his withdrawal from that race, then decided, finally, to seek reelection to his Senate seat: "I promise this will be my last political announcement this year."

Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, the guy who signed shortstop Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million contract, quoted by the Associated Press: "Baseball has some real issues. Teams and the league are losing a lot of money. We're going to lose a small amount of money, but there are teams that are losing huge amounts of money. There has to be some slowdown in the escalation of salaries."

Dutch whorehouse owner Andre van Dorst complaining to The New York Times about new regulations: "The bureaucrats are busy making rules and they know nothing about the business."

Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 8, 20 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

Texans need truth. Help us report it.

Support independent Texas news

Become a member. Join today.

Donate now

Explore related story topics