State District Judge Paul Davis is halfway done. He's drawn a congressional redistricting map that is now the starting point for other judges on the state and federal levels, and he'll begin hearings right away on maps for state Senate and House elections. That congressional map is the first with anything like an official seal of approval on it. The Legislature didn't pass a plan and the Legislative Redistricting Board didn't have jurisdiction on congressional plans. If it doesn't run into another judge with a crayon, Davis' map could actually be used to elect the next congressional delegation from Texas.
Here's how it shakes out. The Republicans have 13 members in the Texas delegation now. In the best case under Davis' map, they would hold 19 or maybe 20 seats. To do that, they'd have to knock off seven Democrats and hang onto a seat that puts U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, in Democratic territory. The Democrats, now with 17 members, should gain two of the open seats on the map, but they lose one member in a pairing and have six more members on the bubble.
Davis created one pairing, putting Houston Democrats Ken Bentsen and Sheila Jackson Lee in the same political plat. That leaves three seats open. The first, CD-29, is a Harris County seat with a population that is 60 percent Hispanic and 18 percent Black. It's about two-thirds Democratic, according to the last statewide elections. The second, CD-31, is very similar to the district currently held by U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. It might be open and it might not–keep reading.
The third open seat on the Davis map, CD-32, takes in all of 18 counties and part of two more. The biggest population chunk is in Williamson County, but the district goes south to Aransas County, then up the Gulf Coast to Matagorda County before heading up to the counties west and north of the state capital. The district is 64 percent Anglo, and voted Republican in the last elections. Former Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi is among the candidates considering a run for that seat.
On the face of it, Davis' plan creates 19 Republican seats and 13 Democratic seats in the Texas congressional delegation. That's based on results of that 1998 comptroller's race, which was the closest on the ballot and is as good a benchmark in the sloppy business of predicting future elections as any.
Several U.S. Reps. go onto the "concerned" list, if Davis' map is the basis for the next elections. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, is now in a Democrat-leaning district that would tilt to the Republicans. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, would see his GOP-leaning district go more firmly into the GOP column.
Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, would be in a district that leans to the Republicans instead of to the Democrats, as the current district does. Houston Democrat Gene Green's district would flip from a Democrat-dominated plat to one that should be Republican territory; the old one voted 3-2 for Democrats on the statewide ticket in 1998, while the new one voted 3-2 the other way.
Dallas Democrat Martin Frost's current district favored Hobby over Rylander by almost 3-to-2; voters in his new district took Rylander's side by four percentage points. Some Metroplex Republicans floated the idea of moving Rep. Pete Sessions into the newly drawn Frost district on the theory that he could run strongly against Frost and that the district left behind would be a GOP seat, perhaps one that state Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Carrollton, could win. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, would be in a marginally Republican district, but he's in a marginally Republican district now, and the new district, like the old one, is dominated by his home county. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall, has enjoyed Republican support for years, but would have fewer rural Republicans and more Dallas Republicans in his district under the new plan. That's not good news for him, but it's been a GOP district for years.
Dreamers and Schemers
It's early, and Judge Paul Davis might change his redistricting map or get overturned on appeal, but there are a mess of people looking openly at congressional races that might be on or near their home turf. Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, is looking at a Hill Country district that currently belongs to U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.
Bonilla might be better off moving to a new southwest Texas district that more closely matches the district he's got now. If he moves and the maps don't change, Hilderbran is in. If Bonilla doesn't move, Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, is interested in the district. The single biggest chunk of people in the district is Webb County–Laredo is the big city–followed by a slice of San Antonio. Those two counties together account for half of the district's population. But it includes all of 29 counties and parts of two more (Bexar and El Paso). Most of the residents of the district–70 percent–are Hispanic. And in the last statewide elections, Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander lost to Democrat Paul Hobby 57 percent to 43 percent in that district while she was eking out a narrow statewide victory.
Bonilla's new district starts in San Antonio and goes to the North and then to the West. He gets to choose between remaining where he is, which would mean running in a more solidly Republican district than what he's currently got, or moving into the newly formed CD-31, which is very similar to the district he has now. It's more Democratic, to be sure, but it's also mostly Hispanic.
The new district, while distinctly Republican, is more Anglo. The old district voted for Bonilla, but also favored Hobby over Rylander in that benchmark race by 54 to 46 percent. The new one gave the race to Rylander by a 3-to-2 margin. The old district was 66 percent Hispanic, and the new one is 19 percent Hispanic. That, in a nutshell, illustrates the dilemma for Hispanic Republicans in Texas: Does the support come from color-blind Anglo Republicans or from crossover Hispanic Democrats?
A note: The difference in size between the smallest and largest districts on Davis' map is 14. Courts have generally allowed a difference of up to 10 percent, or about 65,000 people, and most political maps take full advantage of that leeway. Davis didn't.
An Unexpectedly Quick Exit
Secretary of State Henry Cuellar's sudden resignation leaves Gov. Rick Perry without the highest-placed Hispanic and Democrat in his Republican administration.
Cuellar said on a Tuesday that he'd be out of the state's top appointed post by Friday, and he was packing boxes and moving out within hours of his resignation letter to Perry. That prompted several rumors ranging from salacious to mundane. Internal battles were at the middle of most of the explanations. He's been warring for some time with the number two official in that office; Geoff Connor, the assistant secretary of state, was named by Perry–and not by his boss, Cuellar–to that spot, and disagreements between the two have been one of the dominant themes of Cuellar's term.
He raised Republican hackles when he said he would work with a voter registration campaign headed by former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. Some Republicans think that effort is intended to benefit Tony Sanchez Jr. in his race against Perry. They weren't happy. And there have been other flaps along the way, but none that would explain why Cuellar would leave so suddenly, without any notice, and without a definite announcement about his next gig. Perry's aides denied rumors that the governor had pushed Cuellar out. Whatever happened, they seemed genuinely surprised to find their top election official leaving a month before an election.
Officially, Cuellar said he's considering a contest for elective office and said he didn't want to appear to be doing that while still in control of the state's elections. But that was vague and oddly timed, coming a day after his home congressman, Henry Bonilla, announced he would seek reelection instead of running for Senate. Cuellar doesn't plan to challenge any of his local incumbents in the statehouse or Congress, and there aren't any open seats. He's also a lawyer and has a doctorate in government, so he's got options. He told friends and supporters he's not sure what he'll do, but he might go to the private sector and might consider any jobs in academia that arise.
No Longer a "Secret" Contest
Here's a question: Why in the world would someone start running for Speaker of the Texas House now, with at least 15 months to go before the election? And an answer: Because somewhere between one-fifth and one-third of the voters haven't been selected yet, and it pays to get their support early.
Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, opened the floodgates by making his candidacy official. That's not a lot more than rhetoric and paperwork at this point; Craddick's candidacy has been an open secret for months. There were rumors of his "imminent" announcement during the legislative session that ended in May. The same is true with other candidates, but the official Craddick announcement flushed out Republicans Edmund Kuempel of Seguin and Brian McCall of Plano. Kim Brimer of Arlington already had a toe in the water–he said a week before that he's thinking about a race for speaker at the same time he's considering a race for the Texas Senate.
Then there's the guy who holds the seat now. Speaker Pete Laney is running for a fifth term. Laney's fate rests with the courts and then the voters, first because of redistricting and then because of elections. If Democrats can eke out a majority or at least a very large minority of the seats in the Texas House, he's got a shot. If they can't, and he can't, then we'll see the first speaker's race since 1993.
Among the Republicans, Craddick probably commands the most firepower in the Republican primaries next March, and that's the rationale behind his early entry into the race. It's reasonable to figure that 40 to 45 new House members will be elected next year (that's a wild guess based on turnover in previous redistricting election cycles). That's 30 percent of the electorate in the 150-member chamber, and it's easily enough to swing the next speaker race. Each candidate for speaker will try to help every potential new House member on the theory that a friend now is a voter later; Craddick, because he's been directing GOP House races for years, has an edge over the others in his party. He can offer his own support, and that of his financial backers, to folks who think he should be the next speaker. That's the reason to get in now, instead of waiting for final redistricting maps and party primary elections and all of that.
Once he got in, his GOP competitors had no choice. McCall said he would have waited, but wanted to give Republicans some choices and wanted to give them reason to wait and think it over before committing to someone else. He and Kuempel each praised President George W. Bush's bipartisan legacy and pointed out the president's alliance with Laney. That's cute: It makes it harder for Republicans to hit Laney because they might be dissing the president in the process.
Laney isn't leaving the game to the Republicans. He's got a crew out collecting $100 contributions from lobbyists and others who want "to support the speaker's reelection bid." That's small money, but it requires everyone to sign up. And most of them are signing up, if only for protection.
Everybody for Everybody
Craddick surprised some House members by making a bipartisan bid for support. In his pitch to the public and to House members, he said everyone in the House should have access regardless of party or anything else. That's contrary to his reputation with some Democrats, who note his support for Republicans in contested races against incumbents from their party. It's also contrary to conventional wisdom: Some Republicans have assumed Craddick would try to win among Republicans and then try to leverage that into a straight-party vote that would put him in the chair. They took the bipartisan line as evidence he has abandoned or at least broadened his strategy.
McCall wrote separate letters to Republican and Democratic House members, but included a "question and answer" sheet. Among other things, it says he won't play in contested races involving incumbents of either party. And in the packets for Democrats, he included a pledge card asking them to give him their "second." That allows the Democrats to support Laney but to also pledge support to McCall, if they want to, should Laney's bid for reelection falter. In a press release announcing his candidacy, Kuempel took a swipe at his own party's more fervent members: "As House Speaker, I will be a George W. Bush Republican, not a Newt Gingrich Republican."
Amendments: A Medley of Bonds & Tax Breaks
At the best of times, constitutional amendments generate yawns. Turnout averages between 6 and 8 percent of registered voters. This year, with terrorism dominating the news, there's potentially even less interest in constitutional amendments that deal with taxes and the business of government.
Nineteen constitutional amendments are on the Nov. 6 ballot and proponents are having a hard time getting out their messages. Political stories have been relegated to the inside pages of the newspapers. Secretary of State Henry Cuellar set up elaborate electronic town hall meetings at community colleges and universities statewide, but the crowds are not knocking down the doors.
Voters in Houston are most likely to show up at the polls and they run the chance of tilting the election’s outcome. As many as 30 percent of registered voters are expected to turn out in Houston where Mayor Lee Brown is running for reelection, five council seats are up for grabs, the city and county have $1.4 billion in bond issues and an anti-light rail referendum also is on the ballot.
In Dallas, voters may be drawn to the polls to decide whether to authorize $14 million in financial guarantees if the city is chosen to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. A special election to fill the seat of the late state Sen. Tom Haywood may generate some interest in the Wichita Falls area.
The November elections were expected to draw voters in Austin but that's no longer the case. Mayoral candidate Gus Garcia, seeking to replace Mayor Kirk Watson who is running for Attorney General, has not drawn a competitive opponent.
Texas voters are being asked to approve just over $3.5 billion in general revenue bonds. That includes $175 million to build access roads to colonias and $500 million for housing and cemeteries for veterans. Politicians along the Border are actively campaigning for the colonia bond package while others are predicting that the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have made any project that benefits veterans sacrosanct.
The bulk of the bonds would create a $2 billion water fund to pay for supply, quality and flood control projects. Another $850 million will go to repair or build state office buildings. That includes about $90 million for prisons and Texas Youth Commission facilities and another $33 million for hospitals. Forty five million dollars had been earmarked for the Texas Historical Commission to renovate county courthouses, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed that line item.
Also up for voter approval is a highway mobility fund. The high-profile proposal has bipartisan backing. Both state Sens. Elliot Shapleigh of El Paso and Florence Shapiro of Plano, politicians of dramatically different stripes, are behind the move. The business community is mobilizing to push for its passage. It would be a first for Texas because it would shift highway construction from its traditional pay-as-you-go to selling bonds to finance the projects, allowing the state to spend money on toll roads, and presumably accelerate road work. Supporters are reminding voters that in major cities, drivers spend about 40 hours a year stuck in traffic. The Legislature has to wait for voters to nod before it can appropriate money for the fund. Once that happens, the Texas Department of Transportation puts its wish list to work.
Proposition 6 is a "what-if measure" to protect Texas from getting into the same dilemma that dealt Florida a black eye during last year's presidential elections. The amendment clarifies the governor's power to call a special session when the presidential election outcome is in doubt and appoint presidential electors.
Also in the electoral vein, Proposition 9 makes an election unnecessary when a candidate runs unopposed. In May 2000, Denton County spent more than $12,000 on the contest to fill the seat of the late state Rep. Ronny Crownover, R-Denton. The only candidate was his widow, Myra.
Fixing Problems and Helping Friends
The constitutional amendments include sweeteners that help specific groups. Real estate companies, particularly those that own warehouses, are likely to be the biggest winners. Proposition 3, which would authorize an ad valorem tax exemption for raw cocoa and green coffee held in Harris County, is more about warehousing than about cocoa or coffee. The New York Board of Trade won’t designate an exchange port for coffee unless ad valorem taxes on the coffee are waived. New York, Miami and New Orleans are the three existing exchange ports and Houston wants to add its name to the list. Houston claims it will more than make up for the $300,000 a year in lost tax revenues in added jobs and economic activity. The coffee could be shipped to any Texas port but the taxes would be waived only on the coffee stored in Harris County. The catch: Because the cocoa and coffee are traded while they are in storage, the merchandise typically stays in a warehouse for at least two years before it's shipped to a coffee processor. The winners collect the rent on that specialized storage space.
The property tax Texas collects on inventory, whether it's coffee or cars, has long riled the business community. Business lobbyists say it has created a thriving warehouse industry in states bordering Texas. None of our neighboring states tax inventory that is sitting idle.
This year, in addition to green coffee and cocoa, San Antonio-based Texas Warehouse Association wants to exempt goods that are kept in warehouses throughout Texas for no more than 270 days. There is a similar exemption on the books but it applies only to goods moved out of state after being kept in storage in Texas for up to 175 days. Under Proposition 10, the goods could be held in state and moved in state. The warehouse group has pushed similar legislation every session since 1995.
The catch is that even if voters say yes, it's not a done deal. The accompanying legislation stalled this year after getting caught in a political crossfire between Speaker Pete Laney and bill sponsor Rep. Tom Craddick. Legislators would still have to write and pass a bill, and that won't be easy.
There was a similar situation two years ago when the bill exempting leased vehicles from taxes failed. But voters approved a constitutional amendment and two years later, the bill was resurrected and passed with supporters reminding opponents that the voters had spoken.
A similar scenario is likely to develop in 2003 if the amendment passes. The key with Proposition 10 will be creating a firewall between retailers and manufacturers, on the one hand, and warehouse owners on the other, so that the exemption does not become an enormous and expensive loophole that would deal a serious blow to the tax base. And no one is quite sure how to build and protect that wall from seepage. The fight over the school property portion of the tax has already been resolved. A compromise was worked allowing school districts to opt out of the tax exemption and collect the levy.
Folks in the Mission-Harlingen area also are hoping for an ad valorem exemption. They want to give winter Texans a tax break. Proposition 14 would exempt from property taxes trailers that are smaller than 400 square feet and are not permanently attached to the land. But the exemption won't be as generous as the Valley folks had hoped. The legislation passed only after its authors agreed that the winter Texans would continue to pay school property taxes.
Voters rejected a constitutional amendment in 1999 that would have allowed state employees to be paid if they serve on local government boards. The proposition is back this year but in a more limited form. Proposition 11 applies only to teachers and school administrators. Supporters say many of them run for local office without realizing that they can't be compensated for their time. Proposition 4 also is similar to two constitutional amendments that failed two years ago. In 1999, voters said no to requiring the Adjutant General and the Health and Human Services Commissioner to serve at the pleasure of the governor, rather than for two-year terms. Opponents said regular review of state officials' performance is a good idea. This year, the amendment deals only with the firefighters' pension commission that manages the retirement of about 10,000 voluntary firefighters and emergency medical personnel. The amendment, which is backed by the firefighters, would extend the commissioner’s tenure from two to four years to coincide with the governor’s term. –Michele Kay
The Silent GOP Primary/Scorecard Update
The Republicans at the top of the ticket are finished, for the moment, with their moving around and we can now catch up on the results of their jockeying, just for the record. Attorney General John Cornyn will run alone, apparently, for U.S. Senate. U.S. Reps. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, and Joe Barton, R-Ennis, officially say they'll attempt reelection. Land Commissioner David Dewhurst finally dropped the other shoe and said he'll run for lieutenant governor and drop his consideration of that Senate race. Former Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, as previously reported, will run for attorney general, and that should be that. On the Democrat side, there could still be a primary in the U.S. Senate race: Austin sports agent Ed Cunningham, former Attorney General Dan Morales, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, and U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, are among the tire-kickers.
Political People and Their Moves
Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, decided to call it quits and set off a round of announcements, beginning with Rep. Kyle Janek, R-Houston. Also in that race, if the Lord be willin', the creek don't rise, and the redistricting lines don't change: Gary Polland, the Harris County GOP chairman, and possibly Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, and Dan Patrick, a well-known Houston broadcaster who has expressed interest. Patrick would have to change his legal name to match his nom-de-microphone. And Howard says, as he has been saying, that he is running for reelection and won't consider anything else until he gets a look at the final redistricting lines. That said, if the Senate district is something he thinks he could win, he'll run for Senate... Robert Howden, the communications director for Gov. Rick Perry, is getting promoted to a new post with a long title. To wit: Special Advisor for Community Affairs. That apparently means he will be Perry's liaison to cities, businesses and others. They'll name another communications director presently, we're told. Perry also promoted Ray Sullivan and Chris Britton. They'll be deputies to Chief of Staff Mike McKinney. And Stefanie Sanford gets an added title. She handles technology policy for the governor and will now also be the deputy policy director in that office... We goofed and forgot to mention that Ken Anderson, who just signed on with Gov. Perry to sort through gubernatorial appointments, has been campaign manager for both U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Texas Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas... Robert Black, who's been working on the Greg Abbott campaign from a consulting post at Allyn & Co., is moving over to the campaign offices. Black will handle communications duties on Abbott's campaign for attorney general... The Texas Hospital Association named Gregg Knaupe their new veep of federal relations and policy. He was a legislative aide, went off and got a law degree, and has been working at Davis and Wilkerson. Rick Lopez will head HOSPAC, the political action committee affiliated with THA. He had been a legislative assistant to Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston.
Quotes of the Week
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, scolding talk show host Bill Maher for calling past U.S. military actions "cowardly": "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."
The same quote, from the White House web page's edited but official transcript: "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."
Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, on the current economic outlook and its effect on the state budget: "It is highly unlikely we will have a recession in Texas. A slowdown, yes. But nothing we weren't already aware of, and nothing we can't withstand."
Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, quoted by the Associated Press after Gov. Rick Perry picked him to lead a task force on security: "In the last two weeks I have been having young ladies and older ladies walk up to me and say, `What do you recommend? Should I stockpile water? Do I need to go buy gas masks? Tell me about vaccines against air viruses."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 15, 8 October 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.