The suicide hijackings in New York City, Washington, D.C., and in rural Pennsylvania put an abrupt stop to what had been a suddenly busy political season in Texas. What seemed important on Monday was no longer worth attention by mid-morning on Tuesday.
Politicos in Texas put announcements and speculations and partisan yelping aside while the country sorted out the attacks on the East Coast.
State officials stepped up security at the Capitol and other state buildings in Austin. Some agencies went to skeleton crews and shut down field offices. Just about everyone who had scheduled a fundraiser or a public appearance cancelled it. For instance: The Young Conservatives of Texas canceled a protest of a Texas appearance by former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, saying this is "a time for unity rather than division." Reno's appearance itself was later canceled because of the attacks.
Gov. Rick Perry declared a limited statewide disaster to spotlight price-gouging problems that cropped up in Texas and gave Attorney General John Cornyn the go-sign to do something about it. Cornyn's office said it got more media calls about the anti-gouging campaign than about any other issue since he took office. The public called, too. The AG's office logged 400 telephone complaints to the Austin headquarters in the first two days after the attacks, most of them concerning price gouging at the gasoline pump. That number doesn't include email, mail and complaints that went to field offices instead of headquarters. The media interest was out of proportion to the actual problem, but reflected interest in the national story and its local impacts. The biggest problems with high prices were around airports, at hotels, with rental cars and especially at gasoline stations.
Perry also granted a 30-day reprieve to Jeffery Eugene Tucker, a convicted murderer who was scheduled for death by injection. The wheels of justice had halted along with everything else and Perry said Tucker's death should be put off until the courts were functioning normally.
But Other Parts of Government Kept Going
In the midst of confusion over whether and when things should restart, Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff went ahead and released the homework assignments for interim committees.
And Texas Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor decided to proceed with public hearings on insurance coverage of mold damage in homes. The issue is whether insurance companies in Texas should be allowed to delete coverage for mold from homeowners' policies.
One of the groups involved in that debate is called Homeowners for Better Building, a group of homeowners who aren't happy with their builders and/or their insurers. You can get a fuller look at their plea for continued mold coverage (and on other subjects) on their website at www.hobb.org. They weren't happy that the Houston hearing was not postponed. Their president, Janet Ahmad of San Antonio, sent reporters an email notice that said, "The insurance commissioner is holding the hearing despite the disaster that dominates our lives and the news."
But Montemayor wants to resolve the issue quickly. Several big insurers want to omit that coverage from standard policies and say they're getting hammered financially on mold claims. The homeowner advocates shout that the insurance companies shouldn't be allowed to duck just because they were insuring something that turned out to be a problem. Montemayor, stuck in the middle, originally gave his staff an October 1 deadline for a recommendation on what to do. Now he's moved that deadline up to the end of next week and said he'll make a decision quickly.
Planning for the Next Session—and Elections
When Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff dropped his bid for reelection and said he didn't want to do the things he would have to do to win that particular statewide race, it was clear that he was a man who could cause trouble for other statewide candidates, particularly those in his own political party. Some of the players in that same party were out recruiting Greg Abbott to run against Ratliff while Ratliff was still in the race. Now Ratliff is running for his Senate seat, Abbott is in a contested race for Lite Guv, and Ratliff has spit in Republican Gov. Rick Perry's punch bowl.
Ratliff announced a special Senate committee that will study prompt payment of medical professionals by insurance companies and HMOs. Perry's veto of the legislatively approved prompt pay bill three months ago has the governor in trouble with doctors all over Texas. Perry said his insurance commissioner could take care of it with rules. And those rules have, in fact, been approved: Insurance honcho Jose Montemayor announced them right after Ratliff announced the Senate study. The governor's staff, offered a chance to comment on the issue's rebirth, didn't.
Ratliff added one more special committee which will look at state employee compensation, pension and benefit issues. That includes several senators and two public members, Gary Anderson of the Texas Public Employees Association and Fort Worth car dealer Roger Williams.
He also put standing committees to work on a variety of things that will come up during the next legislative session. One panel will be looking at prison rehabilitation, prison recruitment and pay, management of private prisons. Another will look at school performance, including charter schools, and at the new teacher health insurance program. The Finance panel will pore over the state tax system and look at questionable local tax issues in North Texas and elsewhere. A group of senators will reconsider state laws for special districts, including water districts around Texas. Another will recommend new and redrawn judicial districts, and still another will take a close look at how the Texas Department of Transportation is doing its job. The full set of interim charges is available online at the Senate' s website.
A Small Win for Congressional Democrats
Republicans downplayed it, but you could tell the 8-1 Texas Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Democrats' preferred congressional redistricting venue stung them. The result: Court fights will begin with a Democratic judge in Travis County instead of a Republican judge in Harris County. The difference might be profound, and it might be negligible. But we can tell you that both sides thought the venue battle was an important fight until the ruling came down. Now the Democrats are crowing, quietly, and the Republicans are saying it's no big whoop. The governor's office dismissed it as a preliminary procedural issue. The Republican Party said only that the ruling is disappointing. The attorney general's office said all it wanted was to make sure that whatever court ended up with the case had the legal authority to hear it. And the Associated Republicans of Texas, the group that filed the case in Houston, said the final say will go to the federal courts anyhow.
The issue was whether the first valid lawsuit on congressional redistricting was the one filed in Houston or the one filed in Austin. The Austin case was filed before the legislative session even began, and before the state had its mitts on the new Census information that forms the basis for the new maps. But that lawsuit was never protested, so it remained on the docket. The Democrats filed an amendment toward the end of the legislative session, and Viola!, their lawsuit became timely. The Republicans filed later and argued in court that the later Democratic version was still too early. The court, made up solely of Republicans, didn't buy it.
The court's opinion, written by Justice Nathan Hecht, said neither suit was ripe at the time they were filed. But the Travis County court had the dominant jurisdiction, and that'll be the location of the first round of the congressional redistricting fight. The Legislature didn't approve any congressional plans; the courts will start by looking at eight different maps, deciding where to start, and going from there. The federal courts have put an October 1 deadline on the cases, so this is on a fast track.
Lt. Gov. candidate Gil Coronado says he will probably switch to a race for Congress, and it won't really matter whether the incumbent stays or goes. U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, has his eye on the U.S. Senate spot now occupied by Phil Gramm. Gramm won't seek another term and Bonilla is among the politicos considering a run in that open race. If Bonilla jumps, Coronado says he is about 90 percent sure he would jump into the race for Bonilla's seat.
And if Bonilla decides not to run for Senate? Coronado says that's a good question, and says he would consider running anyhow. "I just want to be of service to the Democratic Party," he says.
Coronado was running against former Comptroller John Sharp in the Democratic primary for Lite Guv. Sharp's the only other declared candidate on that side of the partisan divide. Coronado, a military veteran and the former head of the U.S. Selective Service, said he won't make a final decision or even think much about the switch until he and everyone else has had more time to cope with the terrorist attacks back East. But he said he'll hold a series of meetings with people who've encouraged him to seek the congressional seat and announce something after that.
Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar won't run for that seat in the U.S. House. That should swamp rumors that he wants a shot at the Bonilla seat. Bonilla's district covers a giant swath of South and West Texas, reaching from San Antonio to El Paso County. Bonilla's a Republican, but the district is full of Democratic voters. (It's the opposite of the district held by Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall; it's more or less safe to assume that each of the two seats would flip to the other political party if the incumbent dropped out.) Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, says he's often thought about running for Congress but won't make this race. He doesn't want to hop to another job so soon after taking his current post earlier this year. He's the state's chief election officer and dismisses the Congress rumor by saying he won't be in the contest, "but I promise it will be a clean, well-run election." That leaves several folks still in the speculation game from both San Antonio and Laredo. It's been a Laredo seat in the past and they want it back, but San Antonio is the biggest city in the sprawling district.
An alert reader with a good bead on history wrote to note the three Hispanics who have served in the U.S. Senate. Some Texas Republicans have said they'd like to elect the first one, but they must mean the first one from Texas. New Mexico has the distinction of electing all three of the pioneers. The first, Octaviano Larrazolo, a Mexican native who lost three elections as a Democrat before switching parties and winning New Mexico's governorship and then a U.S. Senate seat. The other two—Dennis Chavez and Joseph Montoya—were Democrats.
If for some reason you weren't sure what AG John Cornyn had been planning, take a hint from the written notice that his press conference would be delayed indefinitely because of the attacks. It said Cornyn's "announcement of his candidacy for United States Senate has been postponed."
On the other side of the political spectrum, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk is officially still deciding. But behind the scenes, he's got the paperwork ready for an exploratory committee (that would allow him to start raising money) and he's talking to consultants and political allies about what the contest will require. Bottom line: It would be a stunner at this point if he decided not to run.
Former Attorney General Dan Morales has said he'll run but hasn't filed any of the paperwork required before he can raise money for the contest.
On the GOP side, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst is still holed up, considering his options. He is looking at either running for the U.S. Senate nomination, where he would face Cornyn and probably some others in a GOP primary, or remaining in the race for lieutenant governor.
The other candidate in that race, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, has been telling anyone who will listen that he's staying in. But he has also left the door open a crack and could, if everything falls just so, switch to the race for attorney general to replace Cornyn. Dewhurst and Cornyn supporters would like to see Abbott do that before Dewhurst commits to one race or the other; Abbott supporters see no reason for their guy to do anything until Dewhurst is off the fence.
Leading or Leaving?
Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, is considering a Senate run but says through an aide that he hasn't ruled out a run for Speaker of the Texas House. Some of his friends in the House rightly or wrongly take that as a sign that he won't be in the running for the top job in the lower chamber.
Nobody but House Speaker Pete Laney is officially in that race, but several candidates are working behind the scenes to assemble enough votes to play should he come up short. Brimer has been a regular name on the list of wannabes, along with GOP Reps. Warren Chisum of Pampa, Tom Craddick of Midland, Toby Goodman of Arlington, Tony Goolsby of Dallas, Ed Kuempel of New Braunfels, Ken Marchant of Coppell, Brian McCall of Plano, and David Swinford of Dumas.
Laney, now in his fifth term as speaker, wants another two years. But the partisan numbers in the House will almost certainly shift in favor of the Republicans after the next elections. If that shift is large enough, Laney could have trouble repeating. Republicans, meanwhile, are tussling internally over how the next speaker should be elected. Partisans want the GOP members to decide among themselves who should lead, then vote as a block to keep the Democrats out of the selection process.
Democrats, and some Republicans, want the entire House to be in on the election, as it historically has been. That would tilt the board toward a candidate with combined support from Democrats and Republicans. But it would be harmful to the candidacy of Craddick, the leading Republican in the race. His supporters have been arguing for a GOP Caucus vote to decide the contest.
The Rungs on the Other Ladder
Brimer hasn't done anything to squelch speaker talk, but the gyrations of Tarrant County senators have caught his attention. He's got his eye on the Senate seat currently occupied by Chris Harris, R-Arlington. But this is a redistricting year, and he wouldn't be running against Harris.
A number of senators in and around Tarrant County think their current districts were left unrecognizable in the maps approved by the Legislative Redistricting Board. Some of them are cranky about it. And at least two would rather pack their bags and move than leave their fates to the cartographers. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has said she'll move into the district where Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, lives. Harris has said he'll move into Nelson's newly drawn district. Moncrief says he's considering all options, including: 1) Stand and fight in the newly drawn and decidedly Republican district where he lives now; 2) complete the three-way by running in Harris's new district, and 3) run for Texas Railroad Commission or some other statewide office.
While Moncrief is pondering, Harris and Nelson have announced their plans and started shaking hands. That leaves the Harris seat open, sort-of. And that's attracted the attention of Brimer and of another Arlington Republican, Kent Grusendorf. Brimer's not yet committed. Grusendorf says his final decision depends on the courts. If the apportionment plans drawn by the LRB hold fast, he's likely to run. If the courts do their own scribbling, he'll wait and see what new political order appears.
Grusendorf and Brimer are communicating, according to both sides, but it's too early to know whether they'd run against each other for the seat. In the meantime, Ron Wright, an Arlington city councilman who also works for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, is sizing up Grusendorf's seat in case the incumbent jumps out to run for Phil Gramm's seat.
If you're really looking for wildcards, watch Wright's boss. Barton is considering a run for U.S. Senate, which would open up his seat in the U.S. House. Barton ran in the special election in 1993 to succeed Lloyd Bentsen in the U.S. Senate. He finished third in a 24-candidate field, barely ahead of another congressman, Jack Fields. Win or lose, a Barton departure could attract a bevy of candidates to the House race. The bizarre shape of his current district shares territory with half a dozen legislators, some of whom might be eager to move up.
Torn Between Two Houses
Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, wants to run for Congress and will do so unless the maps shut her down. Right now, that would mean a run against U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. But various maps put her in the districts held now by U.S. Reps. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. Wohlgemuth won't run against a Republican incumbent, according to her political consultant, Todd Smith. But she would run against either Democratic incumbent, and would run if she's in an open seat. That last bit is a possibility if Barton moves into the U.S. Senate race he's got under open consideration. Wohlgemuth, a pilot, flew Barton around during previous races; they're friends. And Granger is hosting a fundraiser for the state representative in October. (An unsettled question: Is that a state fundraiser or a federal fundraiser?)
Wohlgemuth would stay in the Texas House if there's not a good shot at the U.S. House, according to Smith. She has all but ruled out a run for the state Senate, although her state senator, David Sibley of Waco, has decided not to seek reelection. That makes some sense, in this context: If the Republicans win control of the Texas House in next year's elections, Wohlgemuth has a good shot at a leadership position. In the state Senate, she'd probably be less powerful than in the House.
• Former Rep. Bill Siebert, R-San Antonio, is considering a run for U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla's seat if the incumbent decides to run for Senate and not for House. Siebert got beat in the Republican primary last year by Elizabeth Ames Jones, after media reports questioning whether he (and Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio) should hired lobbyists at City Hall while also in the position of representing the city in Austin. Siebert is in the tire-kicking stage. Whether he runs depends on what Bonilla does and whether he thinks the lobbying stories will haunt a new candidacy.
Flotsam & Jetsam
• The Texas GOP went to El Paso for a state meeting, talked about how they want to reach out to the Border in general and to Latinos in particular, and then approved a resolution opposing amnesty for undocumented immigrants. It was toned down before the vote, but the ironies weren't lost on anyone. What originally said, "refuse to reward illegal aliens with amnesty" was struck from the resolution as was a sentence that included a swipe at "the political bipartisans who are scrambling to win the votes of Hispanics and other amnestied illegals." The final version's words were much softer.
The GOP's high officials also talked over a resolution blasting Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson. The resolution chided Brown for sexual harassment of a former employee who he groped during a golf lesson in the office, and urged him not to seek reelection. But GOP Chairwoman Susan Weddington killed it with a point of order, saying the rules keep party officials out of primary races. And they spiked a resolution urging U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm to serve out his full term. One party official said Gramm is famous for doing whatever he wants and it wouldn't have had any effect.
• Go to the website of the Laredo Morning News and one of the main attractions on the home page is a link to what the paper calls the "Tony Sanchez Resource Page." It lists stories from the paper dating back to 1997, and a link to the Democratic gubernatorial candidate's official campaign website. Another link on that paper's home page takes you to the day's news stories, but there are no links to websites of other candidates in that or any other political contest.
• Mike Sullivan, who wants to be the new state representative from HD-127, wants to make sure two words get added back to his residency claim. He's the only candidate who lives and works in the district, he says. We only got the living part in last week's newsletter, and the incumbent, Joe Crabb of Humble, apparently still lives in the district. Both men are Republicans.
• Put Reggie Gonzales in the race for the Texas House. He's running in HD-128, which is an open seat under the plans drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board. If you look up that number in the current map, the seat is held by Rep. Fred Bosse, D-Houston. In the LRB map, it includes parts of Pasadena, Baytown, Deer Park and La Porte. Gonzales, a Republican, is a municipal judge in Baytown and a truant officer for the Houston school district.
Political People and Their Moves
Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff appointed Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, to chair the subcommittee on agriculture. Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, held that position until his death earlier this year... Ratliff also added two members to the Senate's subcommittee on Border affairs. Sens. David Sibley, R-Waco, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, will be on that panel during the interim, while it's studying "strategic economic initiatives" and clogged Border crossings between Texas and Mexico... While we're on the subject, Ratliff and House Speaker Pete Laney named special committees to study hot issues during the interim. Separate from the Senate-only studies already mentioned and the House-only studies not yet announced, are several joint panels that include public members and legislators from both houses. A big one—a group to look at the school finance system—was named a week ago. Add a panel on long-term care, another on so-called "special funding" at state colleges and universities and still another to study private activity bonds. They capped it with a panel that will look at health care costs, the fastest-growing item in the state budget. Details and committee members are listed on the House's Internet site... The Texas Department of Public Safety, a week after picking a new chief for the Texas Rangers, announced Captain Earl Pearson will be assistant chief... Appointments, federal division: Dallas banker Edward McPherson will be chief financial officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture if the U.S. Senate approves President George W. Bush's appointment... Morris Winn, most recently the main human resources guy for Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, goes to a management post with the Environmental Protection Agency... Nancy Cain Marcus of Dallas is being tapped as the U.S. Alternate Representative to the General Assembly of the United Nations... A couple of the president's appointees are finally on the way to the Senate after their names were announced in mid-July. One is Benigno Reyna, the president's choice to head the U.S. Marshals Service. Reyna has been chief of police in Brownsville, and has been the head of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLOSE) since 2000. Reyna took the chairmanship at TCLOSE after then Marshall Police Chief Chuck Williams—whose racist remarks in a deposition came to light during the presidential campaign—stepped down... The Senate is also getting a look at Bush's pick for Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dallas lawyer Robert Jordan. Jordan is a partner in the Dallas office of Baker Botts.
Quotes of the Week
President George W. Bush, defining a new and elusive enemy: "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."
U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, telling The New York Times why he won't resign early to let Gov. Rick Perry appoint his successor: "The only way you get to be a senator from Texas is the hard way. You've got to win it. You've got to earn it. Giving people stuff is not the same thing."
Gov. Rick Perry, as quoted by the McAllen Monitor: "It should be every Texan's desire that children on either side of the Rio Grande are healthy, that they are educated, that there's a job waiting for them when they get out of their technical institute or their community college. That ought to be our vision."
GOP consultant Royal Masset, arguing in The Dallas Morning News that money isn't everything in politics: "Usually, it's really the best candidate who can raise the most money, not the money that puts a candidate in. If they make mistakes—whether it's Claytie [Williams] or [Michael] Huffington—they'll lose no matter how much they spend. It just makes their ignorance that much better known."
Judith Estrin, co-founder of Packet Design, an Internet company, on the changes in her industry in Northern California, as quoted by The New York Times: "What happened over the last couple of years is the Valley lost its association with being the place where you were in love with technology and innovation and became the place where you are in love with getting rich."
NFL quarterback turned game announcer Terry Bradshaw, a possible candidate for governor of Louisiana, on the subject of another jock—Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura—in an interview with radio host Don Imus: "I am a lot smarter than that guy."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 12, 17 September 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.