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September Primaries, Sans Voters

When Ann Richards was governor of Texas, two Republicans with political genes wanted to challenge her. But George W. Bush and Rob Mosbacher didn't want to slog through a bloody primary fight that would leave the winner too scarred to beat Richards in November 1994. They held a meeting on Mosbacher's turf, with a gaggle of reporters waiting outside. When they came out, Mosbacher said he would support Bush's gubernatorial bid. He later ran for mayor of Houston. Bush went on to beat Richards and their voter-free primary became a model for Texas politics.

When Ann Richards was governor of Texas, two Republicans with political genes wanted to challenge her. But George W. Bush and Rob Mosbacher didn't want to slog through a bloody primary fight that would leave the winner too scarred to beat Richards in November 1994. They held a meeting on Mosbacher's turf, with a gaggle of reporters waiting outside. When they came out, Mosbacher said he would support Bush's gubernatorial bid. He later ran for mayor of Houston. Bush went on to beat Richards and their voter-free primary became a model for Texas politics.

That is not to say that it always works. In 1990, the Democrats and the Republicans fielded seven major candidates for governor. If you include also-rans and pipe-dreamers, there were more than a dozen wannabes that year. But politicians, as a type, are deeply risk-averse. And holding a primary in some guy's office is a lot less harrowing than banging it out on television and door-to-door and risking your reputation in televised debates and intramural warfare. It's cheaper, too.

Fast forward to 2001. Tony Sanchez Jr. doesn't want a serious primary. John Cornyn doesn't. Neither do David Dewhurst, Greg Abbott, Marty Akins, John Sharp, Gil Coronado, Kirk Watson, David Bernsen, or anybody else on the list of possibles. That's why the Democrats and the Republicans have both been trying to arrange things so nobody gets beat up.

Democrats fumbled their first attempt to get Akins out of the governor's race. He had all but agreed to run for land commissioner when someone blabbed to reporters and others. Bernsen got wind of it, didn't want a new competitor, and called to chat. Akins felt betrayed, and ended the episode. He said in a press release that "... the political establishment has been trying to get me out of the race. They have asked me repeatedly to consider the race for the U.S. Senate, for land commissioner and for comptroller." He went on to say he was running for governor. Period.

That was on August 28. Three weeks later, Bernsen announced for General Land Office. Akins called Sanchez and Sharp and others within two days to say he would be running in the only high-profile statewide Democratic primary race that hadn't drawn a candidate: He'll oppose incumbent Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander. In 1998, he and his wife contributed to Rylander's campaign against Democrat Paul Hobby, loaned her the use of a plane and served on her steering committee. Publicly, Akins said his switch would be good for party unity and all that. Privately, folks close to him said the money wasn't exactly pouring in and that it was clear Akins was getting rolled. His exit leaves Sanchez as a prohibitive favorite over Houston attorney John Worldpeace in the primary.

Something to watch: Sharp, the former comptroller, works for a firm that specializes in tax work for companies, and the firm supports the incumbent. Akins is counting on a unified Democratic ticket, and presumably will call upon Sharp for help. Something else to watch: Another Rylander backer/beneficiary is Ben Barnes, who's been playing kingmaker in Democratic politics this year, helping put together a ticket. Barnes tried and failed to get Akins into the land race last month; the Akins camp says he wasn't a player in their candidate's move to the comptroller race.

Akins' move takes away the second of three major primary fights on the Democratic side. Coronado has already said he'll probably leave the Lite Guv's race to run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. That leaves the U.S. Senate match between Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales. The political leprechauns are already at work, trying to talk Morales out of the contest. Last time we checked, he wasn't interested in getting out.

The Price of Indecision

Had Land Commissioner David Dewhurst moved quickly, he probably could have kept most other Republicans out of the primary to replace Phil Gramm in the U.S. Senate and would have been well on his way to the federal post he has talked about for years.

His main competitor for that post is Attorney General John Cornyn. Cornyn might be a better politician than Dewhurst, but he doesn't have the personal treasury that the wealthy Houstonian has. In a federal race where contributions are limited to $1,000 per person, Dewhurst's ability to self-finance would be a huge advantage. But his vacillation gave Cornyn time to out-maneuver him.

A number of Republican strategists that we've talked to thought Dewhurst would jump in a day or two after Gramm announced he wouldn't seek reelection. He could have elbowed everyone else aside, in effect telling the political finance community that they could take him on, but only at great expense in a cycle that promises to be much more expensive than normal. He could have argued for unity, telling the GOP to support a ticket with him running for Senate, Gov. Rick Perry running for reelection, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott running for lieutenant governor, and Cornyn running for another term in his current post.

Cornyn and anybody else who wanted a crack at Gramm's chair would have to raise money and support in the shadow of a candidate who can spend pretty much whatever he wants–a candidate who has in hand all the money required for a race for the U.S. Senate.

Instead, Dewhurst dithered. He did polls. He methodically talked to other senators, members of the State Republican Executive Committee, friends, supporters, and consultants. Walking in his footsteps, you would be told one day that he was definitely running for Senate. The next day, you would hear reliably that he was telling people that he would stay in the lieutenant governor's race, leaving the Senate to Cornyn and working a deal that would move Abbott to the AG position vacated by Cornyn. Then you would hear–again, reliably–that he was running for Senate.

As a consequence, Cornyn had room to gather promises of financial support and to get his plans laid out for a run at U.S. Senate. He delayed his announcement after the terrorist attacks, but he's definitely running for Senate. Abbott was, at our press time, on the verge of quitting the Lite Guv's race to run for attorney general. He wanted to be attorney general in the first place, but didn't want to run against Cornyn, a friend who, more importantly, was a popular incumbent. Conservative Republicans unhappy with Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff–a moderate–recruited Abbott to run for that job.

Gramm's departure put Abbott in an awkward position. Republicans seeking an orderly ticket wanted him to move, partly to keep Dewhurst in place and clear the path for Cornyn. Publicly, Abbott said he wanted to remain in the Lite Guv race–if Dewhurst was getting out to run for U.S. Senate, there would be no reason to change. But Dewhurst's intentions weren't clear. Abbott finally decided to switch, and called state senators and others to let them know what he was up to.

As he was doing that, Dewhurst's position changed again. Dewhurst had announced to the press and everyone else that he was interested in the U.S. Senate race. The days of uncertainty over what he might do attracted others to the lieutenant governor's race.

Nobody has announced anything, but Harris County Judge Robert Eckels has sniffed at it, as has state Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo. Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams has been mentioned, too. There's an outside chance that Dewhurst could get a new opponent even if he doesn't change races, because the conversations about it have exposed perceptions of flaws in each of the candidates. (For instance, Republicans who were trying to talk Abbott out of that race and into the AG's race persisted in saying he wasn't catching on and hadn't impressed some of the same people who recruited him in the first place. That might be hooey from folks who wanted him out of the race, but now they've hurt their AG candidate.) Some of that same kind of stink has attached itself to Dewhurst.

We promised not to attribute this, but it would have been a quote of the week: One politico summarized all the jockeying it as a "whirling mass of aspiring people unhappy with their jobs."

Still Some Noise on the Line

Even if what the two parties are doing falls into place, there is still some potential for contested races. For instance, if David Dewhurst does decide to run for U.S. Senate, he gave John Cornyn nearly two weeks in which to marshal support. But there are others still looking.

While U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, has been telling his supporters that he'll seek reelection and not the Senate seat, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, is still actively looking. He sent us a memo sheet from a poll of 589 GOP voters in Texas (taken September 17-18, and carrying a ±4 percent margin of error). It puts Cornyn in the lead in a multi-candidate race (at 20 percent), but Barton (at 14 percent), Bonilla (at 12 percent) and Dewhurst (at 11 percent) are all within nine points or less. In a two-way, according to Barton, Cornyn starts with a lead of 33 percent to Barton's 20 percent, which the congressman contends is within striking range. (Dewhurst has done polling, too, and isn't sharing the results. But some folks familiar with the numbers say they differ dramatically from Barton's results.)

Barton says that after positive and negative things were said about each candidate, he gets a lead of 56 percent to 22 percent over Cornyn. He doesn't offer examples of what the negative things were, however, so it's hard to tell what kind of Mojo he put on his opponent.

Barton's pollsters, Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Virginia, conclude that Barton could win a GOP primary for U.S. Senate if–a big if–he's able to raise enough money.

A Stain on a Winning Sweepstakes Ticket?

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson was the big winner when Cornyn jumped to the Senate race. Cornyn was arguably the best-positioned incumbent on the GOP ticket when Watson got into the race against him. There was reason to hope that Phil Gramm would get out of the way and that Cornyn would put on his climbing shoes, but it was a gamble.

Greg Abbott won statewide election to the Texas Supreme Court, but has never run for one of the top-of-ticket offices. He also looks, now, like he was pushed out of the race he was originally signed up for. That'll wear off when this changes from a game for insiders into a game for voters, but that's the feel of the move from lieutenant governor to AG. Abbott had been saying he'd wait and see what Dewhurst would do. After all, why leave a race when the opponent might drop out? As it stood at our press time, Abbott had made a final decision and nobody seemed certain about Dewhurst.

All of that makes Watson's job a lot easier. And donors don't have to worry about angering an incumbent. Now, Watson's big problem is fending off other Democrats who see the opportunities now that Cornyn is out of the way.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, looked at the race during the legislative session. He decided not to take Cornyn on, but he's looking again now that the seat is open. Former Attorney General Jim Mattox is still lurking out there, making noises about a race. Watson has to convince the buzzards that he's alive. His first stab came right after Cornyn began "exploring"–Watson claimed to have raised nearly $1 million. Now he's putting out a letter claiming the support of a number of Democratic Party leaders, like House Speaker Pete Laney, former Gov. Ann Richards, and former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. He makes a point in the letter you'll hear in various forms from a lot of candidates over the next 13 months: "So far I have no primary opponent, which means we can save this money and raise more for the general election; that's helps everyone on the ticket."

Staying Put

In the midst of all the political noise, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs took her name off the rumor list by announcing that she'll seek reelection in next year's elections. In the written announcement–she didn't assemble a rally or a press conference–Combs delicately pointed out the improvements she's made at the Texas Department of Agriculture, noting some efficiency and marketing successes. Her predecessor, not mentioned, is Gov. Rick Perry. No one else from either party has entered that race.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, is now officially on the fence between Senate and House, and is openly considering a race for Speaker of the House. He's the first we know of to say so in print.

We noted previously that he's looking at the redistricting maps and considering a run for the Senate seat that would be open if the courts approve what the Legislative Redistricting Board recommended. If that Senate map prevails, Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, says he would run in the district that was drawn for incumbent Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. She, in turn, says she would run in the district drawn to clobber incumbent Fort Worth Democrat Mike Moncrief. And Brimer is looking at the Harris seat that would be left open in that game of musical chairs.

In his letter to House members, Brimer says the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. shook him and outraged him. He notes that President Bush "has challenged us to continue on," and goes from there to a section on his "present political crossroad and future plans."

Brimer says he will make a decision on whether to run for Senate or House (and thus, speaker) by December. He writes that redistricting lines ought to be clearer by then. Whatever he does, he says he'll approach it in a "positive and definitive manner."

Brimer's letter doesn't explicitly say he's running for speaker of the House. The exact wording: "I am currently seeking another term as state representative and possibly a candidacy for House speaker." There's a strict statute that says you have to file papers saying you're a speaker candidate the minute you seriously start talking about it. But Brimer hasn't filed and says he doesn't think he is required to do so, given what he's said and written up to this point.

The only candidate who is officially declared–and properly papered–is the incumbent, Democrat Pete Laney. A half dozen or so Republicans are looking at the race, but until Brimer took out his pencil, nobody had committed the idea to paper.

Texas Senate: Family Favorites, Shopping for Opponents

Pat Haywood, widow of Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, endorsed Craig Estes to replace her husband in the Senate in a November special election. In a written statement, she said Estes met with Sen. Haywood a couple of days before he died, asking the senator to groom him as a replacement. Haywood told Estes at the time he would run for reelection, but Mrs. Haywood said her husband was "honored and pleased" with Estes' visit. Kirk Wilson and Harry Reynolds are the other two candidates in that race (though the filing is still open). Political consultant Lee Woods, who worked with Haywood, is also running the Estes campaign. Woods said Estes is also getting the endorsement of the Texas Farm Bureau's Ag Fund. The winner of the special election will run again for a full term next year, but will get to run a reelection campaign. That second race will take place in a newly drawn political district, so the candidates will have to campaign in new territory starting in January.

• Former congressman and Texas Railroad Commissioner Kent Hance, now a lobbyist, has been trying to recruit a Republican to run against Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, but apparently hasn't found anyone willing to take on the incumbent. Hance supported a low-level radioactive waste plan that Duncan helped kill. And he was apparently working on a workers compensation issue that Duncan and other Republican senators opposed. Duncan was trying to wipe out a legal ruling that allows employers to require employees to waive their rights to certain benefits as a condition of employment. Hance was on the other side. Duncan says he's talked to several people in Lubbock who've been approached by Hance, but said he's not aware of any primary opponents yet. One who definitely is not interested, in spite of rumors: Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock. He says he hasn't talked to anyone about it and isn't interested. He likes and supports Duncan.

A Rumor Becomes a Fact

Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, announced he'll run for land commissioner instead of seeking another term. He told reporters that a newly drawn Senate district–favorable to Republican candidates–isn't the reason for the switch. But he also said he'd be lying if he claimed it had no influence on the decision.

Bernsen says he has long been interested in coastal issues, which are centerpiece programs at the Land office. He's also been in the middle of the Senate's water fights and said at his announcement that he hopes to find a way to take care of urban water needs without hurting rural areas. He's been on the rural side of that fight since he was elected to the Senate in 1998.

Bernsen said he thinks a Democrat can still win in his district, and there's just enough question about that to make Republican candidates a tad nervous. Former Sen. Michael Galloway, defeated by Bernsen in 1998, wants to come back. Dr. Martin Basaldua of Humble is running. He's the vice chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. And some Republicans in the district have encouraged Rep. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, to run. On the Democratic side, watch former U.S. attorney Mike Bradford. Rep. Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, had been mentioned as a possible candidate, but aides say he'll seek reelection to the House.

An Underwhelming Response

Responses have begun to trickle into state offices from a mailer sent out at the beginning of the month by U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston. He sent a mail piece to everyone in his current district who would be moved into another district in the two redistricting plans drawn by Attorney General John Cornyn and by Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff. It asked his constituents to write and protest being taken out of Culberson's district where–according to Culberson–they've been voting since 1965. If either plan goes through, Culberson warned his voters, they could be represented by either U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, or Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Culberson's district has 772,147 people in it and must lose about 120,000 of them to be the right size. The attorney general's office has received mail from a grand total of 106 people who were apparently prompted to write by Culberson's mailing.

Political Notes

Randy Lee, who works for Stewart Title Co. in Austin in a job that includes lobbying the Texas Legislature, will run against Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, in next year's Republican primary. Lee grew up in Taylor and has owned a home of his own there since 1985. He hasn't lived there, however, prompting the Krusee camp to call him a carpetbagger. To which Lee answers: "I don't have to leave my hometown or my state to attend my high school reunion."

Lee has moved his family back to Taylor and says he would keep his job with the title company if elected. Only about a third of his work is legislative, he says–most of the time he's selling title insurance. If he wins, he'll leave the lobbying to others and work solely on title sales and other duties. If the political maps drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board hold, Williamson County will get a new seat in addition to the one held by Krusee. Lee says he's running against the incumbent because Taylor is in that district and not the new one.

• Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, won't be challenged by local attorney Dan Branch, and says that was never really a risk. A persistent rumor that Branch would challenge the incumbent apparently stemmed from Branch's interest in the seat if Carona bailed out. He's not bailing, and at a breakfast with supporters, Carona introduced Branch and endorsed Branch's bid for a seat in the Texas House.

• Former Plano City Councilman John Roach Jr. did a switcheroo, saying he'll run for the Texas House against Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, instead of running in an open seat in Collin County. The Madden district has more Plano people in it, he told the local paper. His dad, John Roach Sr., will also be on the ballot. The former judge will run for Collin County district attorney. If nothing else, they should be able to save money on yard signs.

Political People and Their Moves

Ken Anderson, a Dallas lawyer and former general counsel to the Republican Party of Texas, is Gov. Rick Perry's new appointments director. Anderson was the deputy appointments director for a couple of years when Gov. Bill Clements was in office and was a Clements appointee himself, to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. And he is campaign treasurer for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He replaces Dealey Herndon, who recently decided to leave after eight months... Michael Hammond, dean of the music school at Rice University in Houston, is on his way to running the National Endowment for the Arts. President George W. Bush intends to appoint him to a four-year term. Hammond, a composer and conductor, has a title on his resume that you wouldn't expect: He's a faculty fellow in neuroscience at Rice... Bush appointed Richard Land, who has Texas ties, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Land, now with the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, used to be vice president for academic affairs at The Criswell College in Dallas... U.S. Sens. Hutchison and Phil Gramm of Texas recommended U.S. Magistrate Jane Boyle as the new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, and assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Orwig as the new U.S. Attorney for the Eastern district. Boyle was a prosecutor before becoming magistrate. Orwig has been a prosecutor for 12 years. Both live in Dallas. The appointments go to President Bush and if he approves, on to the Senate... The University of Texas System hired William Shute, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, as the new vice chancellor for federal relations. Shute is a lawyer who has worked in Congress and as a lobbyist. He replace Mark Franz, who announced earlier this summer that he would be leaving UT to work in Washington for a new San Antonio-based law firm... Called up: Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. And Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, got called for a short-term gig in the Texas Army National Guard and might already be back by the time you read this... The Texas Department of Agriculture has a new Rural Economic Development division, and Ag Commissioner Susan Combs tapped Robert Wood to run it. Wood had been a deputy assistant. He'll oversee programs like the Texas Capital Fund that were moved to TDA from the Texas Department of Economic Development.

Quotes of the Week

President George W. Bush, as quoted in Newsweek: "When I take action, I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive."

U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Georgia, talking to The New York Times about proposals to give more authority to law enforcement agencies in the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks: "Before we begin dismantling constitutionally protected safeguards and diminishing fundamental rights to privacy, we should first examine why last week's attacks occurred."

Grover Norquist, chief of Americans for Tax Reform, on calls from his other groups to slow down and scrutinize new law enforcement proposals, in The New York Times: "I've heard some politicians say we need to pass this this week. That's code for, 'If anybody read it, it wouldn't pass.'"

Rev. Jerry Falwell, talking to Pat Robertson on the 700 Club about the terrorist attacks: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way–all of them who have tried to secularize America–I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen." Falwell, a couple of days later: "In the midst of the shock and mourning of a dark week for America, I made a statement that I should not have made and which I sincerely regret. I want to apologize to every American, including those I named."

Houston lobbyist Dave Walden, in a Houston Chronicle story on an argument between Walden and City Councilman Carroll Robinson, who later accused Walden of threatening to kill him and his family: "I haven't received this many congratulatory calls since I had my daughter. I think at the end of the day that he was a little shocked that there's actually somebody out there who doesn't think being a public official gives you some sort of special status to run over people."

Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 13, 24 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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