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Texas Uber Alles

A magazine ad for Land Commissioner David Dewhurst features a boast about his efforts to defend the Homeland, along with a photo of a German Air Force officer in front of an American flag.

A magazine ad for Land Commissioner David Dewhurst features a boast about his efforts to defend the Homeland, along with a photo of a German Air Force officer in front of an American flag.

Dewhurst, a former officer in the United States Air Force, bought the four-page spread in Texas Monthly to advertise his campaign for lieutenant governor. As the magazine and the ad were closing on their deadlines, Gov. Rick Perry named Dewhurst to a panel that's supposed to find out what Texas should do about terrorism and security. So, Dewhurst's media consultants—the California firm of Dresner Wickers—added that assignment to the advertisement.

It includes this text: "As chairman of the Governor's Task Force on Homeland Security, David Dewhurst encourages you to support President Bush and the brave men and women of our Armed Forces as they fight to eliminate terrorism and work to restore confidence in our economy."

To the left of that text is a man in a blue uniform in front of an American flag. His collar, his nametag, and his silver wings all bear the insignia of the German Air Force, which in fact does a lot of pilot training in Texas. By the time the campaign discovered the problem, the magazine had already been printed and mailed to Texas Monthly subscribers. A Dewhurst aide attributed the photo to a mistake by a graphics artist, and said the person had been "dealt with."

The picture of the German officer is embarrassing, in part, because of Dewhurst's own service in the Air Force, but also because the land commissioner is the top official on the Veteran's Land Board. That could potentially hurt him with a group that starts, theoretically, in his corner. Dewhurst has started four nursing homes for veterans and increased loans to them.

But that's not where Dewhurst's opponents initially sunk their teeth: They went after his boast about the Homeland Security panel. They immediately started chomping at the Republican for, as they put it, capitalizing on the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

They also knocked his use of an old Texas phrase that's been used for years in his opponent's stock speeches. Dewhurst's version: "If we always do what we've always done... we're always going to get... what we've always gotten."

And the version most often used by former Comptroller John Sharp, as it appeared in the first line of the introduction to his 1991 performance review of state government: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." Sharp is the only Democrat in the race for lieutenant governor. Neither candidate has drawn an opponent for the March primaries.

Dewhurst is only the second Texas politician to buy one of the relatively expensive Texas Monthly spreads. The first was Bob Bullock, who advertised in the magazine during his 1994 Lite Guv reelection campaign. Several trade groups and state agencies have purchased ads on policy or program questions, but Dewhurst and Bullock are the only two politicos to finance such spreads.

Which Game Were You Watching?

That's gotta sting: Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander raised $75,000 at the Texas-Colorado football game as former teammates of Marty Akins escorted her from suite to suite during the game. Akins is the Democrat in that race. Rylander's escorts included Randy McEachern, Doug English and Alfred Jackson, and aides say former UT running back Earl Campbell has told her he'll help her campaign. The four played on the team when Akins was quarterback. Jackson also has ties to Rylander; his company has a money management contract with the comptroller's office.

Want to be a Patriot? Send $50,000

George W. Bush's "Pioneer" program raised a bazillion simoleans for his presidential campaign by getting people to tap their own networks to raise money for Bush. Each could only contribute $1,000, but they could get the Pioneer title—along with whatever cache that brings in Republican political circles—by raising $100,000 on Bush's behalf.

A rule of politics (and everything else, probably): Copy What Works.

It won't carry the $100,000 pricetag, but Attorney General John Cornyn will employ something like the Pioneer strategy in his campaign. He told a small gathering of trade association executives in Austin that he'll be asking people like them to raise $50,000 or more for his U.S. Senate race and that the folks who hit the mark will get the sobriquet "Patriot."

His minions say the campaign came up with the moniker before September 11, and that Cornyn doesn't intend the name to hook into those events or the war that has followed in any way, shape, or form. But, they add, they're not changing the name. Cornyn has been talking to small groups around the state about the program and will roll it out in a more public way in the next few weeks.

Higher Taxes for Somebody

If you've got a business in Texas, and if your business has a reasonable pile of capital assets, you probably have the privilege of paying a big franchise tax bill to the State of Texas. And you probably have talked to your shysters and your beancounters about cutting into the size of that tax bill.

For a growing number of Texas businesses, the lawyers and accountants have recommended a reorganization that exempts the business from paying those taxes, either by pulling the charter, or franchise, out of state and making some other relatively painless changes, or by reorganizing the taxable corporation as a non-taxable partnership. Those changes cut into state revenue.

That isn't new or newsworthy, in and of itself, but it's one of the first things legislators will talk about if and when they need more money. And that's what they're talking about. Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff says so. And unexpectedly, so does Gov. Rick Perry.

This is important now because the state's next fiscal train wreck, if you want to call it that, is already under construction. Start with a comptroller who is telling people that there is no recession in Texas—not now, anyway—but that the state faces a need for another $5 billion or so at current spending rates. That's the $5 billion deficit you keep hearing about. During boom times, the budgeteers talk about revenue growth exceeding spending growth, and they don't talk about holes. Now they're worried that spending will outrun revenues, and they're gitchy about it. As bad economic news increases, they get even more nervous. They temper it a bit by saying the state is only in the second month of a two-year budget cycle, and that there is plenty of time for things to go bad and then improve again before the budgeteers have to sort it all out. True enough. But there's more.

Lawmakers started on a nasty list of interim studies after the middle of the month. There are legislators looking at the state's tax structure. They'll be taking apart that franchise tax puzzle mentioned above. Another group is looking at spending needs in health care. Health costs are the fastest-growing part of the state budget. And another panel is disassembling and reassembling the state's school finance system, a perennial mess. They're trying to figure out how to mend the current system before its increasingly large problems get big enough to be considered unconstitutional.

Ratliff stacked up the list of problems at the annual meeting of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, then talked about the unfairness of the business taxes in Texas. The implication was pretty clear: Texas will probably need more money, and the companies that are avoiding franchise taxes will be among the first targets when the revenuers going looking for that additional dough.

Perry didn't hear the first part of that before agreeing with the second part, and that's how he got mildly tagged for talking about new taxes. He did duck a particularly artful question from a San Antonio reporter: "If the business tax system was made fair, would it bring in more money for the state?" That's what all those hearings will decide.

Four Tenderfeet on the High Court

Texas Supreme Justice Deborah Hankinson confirmed rumors that she will leave the court, freeing another position on that panel. She said she has had chances to leave for what she called "other government opportunities" but wanted to finish what she's started. She plans to serve out her term, meaning that Gov. Rick Perry won't get to appoint someone who could then run as an incumbent next year. It means, too, that the court won't be as green as it might have been. Two justices—Al Gonzales and Greg Abbott—already left and have been replaced by appointees. Justice James Baker will leave at the end of the term next year, and you can now add Hankinson.

Other judges' futures are uncertain (or at least unannounced): Chief Justice Tom Phillips hasn't said whether he has decided to stay on the court or move on to a more lucrative law practice. And Justice Priscilla Owen has been appointed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but not confirmed. If the U.S. Senate says okay to her appointment, she'll move on and leave a fifth opening on the court.

Hankinson says she made the announcement now because it's time to either start a campaign or get out of the way. She doesn't know what she'll do next, and says she doesn't have any promises or hard prospects in the way of attorney jobs or federal or state appointments.

Within hours of Hankinson's declaration, state district Judge Elizabeth Ray of Houston said she'll run for that place on the court. Ray had been in the contest for Baker's seat, but had opposition there in the form of Houston appeals court Judge Mike Schneider. Both are Republicans.

Democrats are scooting around, too. Appellate Judge Linda Yañez of Corpus Christi has expressed interest in the Baker seat. And you can add William Moody to the list. He's a state district judge in El Paso and is considering a challenge to Wallace Jefferson, a Perry appointee who hasn't run for the office before but will be trying to win a spot in next year's elections. Moody has signed with Montgomery & Associates to work on his race.

Jefferson and Xavier Rodriguez, the latest Perry appointee to the court, will get to run as incumbents. As more seats open up, don't be surprised if you see challengers and other candidates moving from place to place as each tries to find the best way to win a spot on the state's top civil court.

Burning Down the CASA

Remember the environmental cleanup rules shot down at the Railroad Commission earlier this summer? Well, they've died a second death. Commissioner Tony Garza oversaw development of a software package that would take in all of the information about a particular spill and write a customized cleanup plan to take care of it. The industry didn't like it for a variety of reasons and the idea died in a messy meeting that busted the usual coalition of Garza and Michael Williams versus Charles Matthews.

Garza brought the idea back, sort-of, in the form of a plan called CASA (Computer Assisted Site Assessment). He wanted to use the program that was already developed and allow oil operators to use that software to write a remediation plan that would then be submitted to the commission. The difference? The new plan would be voluntary. Nobody would be forced to use, or to buy, the software. But Garza couldn't get a second for the proposal, and he and Williams—who were allies a few months ago—blasted away afterwards in press releases. Short form: Garza says the commission is doing too little about oilspill cleanups and says the backlog of those cases is growing. Williams is calling for "real" reforms and said the computer software was "faulty" and unsafe to use in its current form.

Garza's reply: It would only cost an additional $9,000 or so to get the kinks out of the software. Williams return volley: The contract to write the software has expired and another contract would have to be written to fix it. And he cited the problem with the original Risk Based Decision-Making proposal: Some of the oilies that should have been involved in the process weren't involved. And they won't like the results now any better than they did the first time.

The Wichita Horse Race & Other Political Tales

The contest to finish the term of deceased Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, is chugging along in spite of a notable lack of talk outside of the district. Races for open seats have been especially hot in the last several years, but the special election to succeed Haywood has been quieter than most. Credit redistricting and the fact that the district is expected to be significantly different by the end of the year. Still, the winner will get to run as an incumbent and that counts for something.

According to Republican Craig Estes, he's in the lead. He paid for a poll from Baselice and Associates of Austin that shows him in the lead and on his way to a runoff. Greg Underwood, the only Democrat in the race, is running a handful of percentage points behind Estes in the poll. Two other candidates in the race—Kirk Wilson of Denton and Harry Reynolds of Sherman—remain well behind. Keep the source of the poll in mind as you read the numbers: Estes, 28 percent; Underwood, 25 percent; Wilson 7 percent; Reynolds, 6 percent; Rick Bunch of Wichita Falls, 4 percent; Doug Jeffrey of Vernon, 2 percent; and Undecided, 28 percent. Baselice surveyed 300 voters on October 22 and 23, and the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.8 percent.

• She's been talking about it for months, but Sherry Boyles is ready to take the plunge: She's officially announcing (after our deadline but before most readers will see this) her intention to run for Railroad Commissioner. Boyles, a former executive director of the Democratic Party, now heads the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Her announcement will make her the first Democrat in the race to challenge Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams, a Bush appointee from Midland. Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, has said he might be interested in running for that office as a Democrat. Boyles' steering committee includes Jim Wright, the former speaker of the U.S. House and one of the most prominent Democrats in Moncrief's hometown.

• Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, will run for the House, but will leave to the mapmakers the decision over which House she'll run for. If the map is right, she'll run for Congress. Right, in this context, means that most or all of Johnson County is in a congressional district that does not also have an incumbent Republican in it. She won't run against U.S. Reps. Joe Barton or Kay Granger, for instance. But if the district is drawn to include Johnson County and no incumbents, she's in. That would almost certainly mean a race against either Chet Edwards or Charlie Stenholm.

If the congressional maps that come out of the courts and the Department of Justice don't include a district that works for her, Wohlgemuth will run for reelection to her seat in the Texas House.

• Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, has drawn another opponent. Randy Robinson of Dripping Springs is the second Republican to step up to challenge the incumbent. Melinda Ballard is already in the hunt as a Republican, and a law student named Patrick Rose is running for the Democratic nomination there. Green, one of the youngest members of the Legislature, was elected in 1998. Robinson, the newest contestant, is a financial consultant and rancher.

Redistricting Tidbits

• Use this for a trivia question five years from now: When is a member of the executive branch a legislator? When she or he is serving on the Legislative Redistricting Board. The Texas Supreme Court gave the members of that panel legislative immunity from depositions on how they pulled together the maps that were approved, 3-2, by a panel of people who supposedly had never seen them before. The ruling also rescues the aides to those elected officials who did most of the collaborating on the maps before the votes were taken.

And then top that trivia bit with this one: If an attorney general tries to act as a legislator in drawing a map on his own, is he a legislator? Nope, the court says that argument—posed by AG John Cornyn—is a clear violation of the separation of powers.

• Cornyn told the justices on the Supreme Court that he wanted them to throw out a state district judge's map and use his. His idea was that the Legislature failed to draw a legal map, and that he, as the state's lawyer, was the next in line of authority to draw a map.

Two problems with that. He was simultaneously telling the court he was willing to accept an earlier Davis map that was more Republican, because it was the product of a hearing in court. That willingness to accept the judge's first map undermined his argument that his own work should be considered more legitimate that the judge's second effort.

And there was a point where Cornyn and Smith more or less agreed, without saying so. Smith said that if Davis' map was tossed, the federal court should skip the plans offered in state court and draw their own map. Cornyn said that if his map wasn't used, the feds would be better starting with nothing. That common ground was where the Texas Supreme Court landed. They tossed Davis' plan, rejected Cornyn's argument, and said the state had nothing to offer the state by way of a starting map.

• That district judge, Paul Davis of Austin, officially shut down his proceedings. He said that the federal court is the place to go for redistricting. He could have legally kept going, but said the time constraints would have made a hash of it. He's out.

• That brings us here: The federal judges can start from scratch, or they can start from the existing map. Republicans argue that the existing map favors Democrats and that a new map that used current law as a starting point would continue—without good reason—that Democratic dominance of the state's congressional delegation.

Starting fresh opens some possibilities. The judges could take elements from maps submitted by the litigants. They could get out their crayons and start on a blank sheet (or computer program). They can draw themselves, or they can commission a political cartographer. Ten years ago, the maps came in on Christmas Eve, just a week or so before the filing deadline for the March primaries.

• The U.S. Department of Justice's decision to approve the Senate map drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board gives that map a little throw weight. Maybe. At the least, it gave senators something to consider: That's the only legislative redistricting map that's passed muster outside of the Pink Building. Justice hasn't announced a decision on the House plan, and the state doesn't have a congressional map for the feds to consider. Only the State Board of Education map, which has won court approval, is close to finally settled.

John Hannah Jr., one of the three federal judges hearing the case on congressional redistricting and set to hear the next case, on statehouse plans, was the Texas Secretary of State—the state's top elections officer—during the last redistricting row. We don't have a clue how it will translate into what he does, but it's safe to note that he knows his way around the maze of deadlines and election loopholes and potholes. He knows the tricks of timing and the election calendar as well as anyone involved in the case. He's also the only one of the three judges who served in the Texas Legislature. Hannah and Rep. Tom Craddick, who led the Republican tribe during redistricting earlier this year, were members of the House's "Dirty Thirty." That was the name given the reformers who forced Speaker Gus Mutscher to give up his reign in the early 1970s.

Political People and Their Moves

Former Secretary of State Henry Cuellar is in line for a legislative job at the University of Texas System. The top legislative post there is currently occupied by Tom Scott, who hasn't announced his plans and who didn't offer any comment when asked about a Cuellar hire. When Cuellar abruptly left the secretary of state job a few weeks ago, he said he wanted to land in another elective office (he's a former legislator) or in a university (he's got a Ph.D.) ... Don Rogers, who has been the executive director of the Texas Association of Community Schools for the last ten years, will retire in June. He'll be replaced by Harold Ramm, who is now superintendent of the Belton ISD... Now that former Rep. Ashley Smith, R-Houston, has become a part-time high-level aide to Gov. Rick Perry, he's giving up his post as treasurer on the David Dewhurst campaign for lieutenant governor. That spot will be taken by attorney Howard Wolf, an Austin partner with Fulbright & Jaworski and a close friend of the land commissioner's... This is quite belated, but if you missed it like we did: Gov. Perry appointed Cathy Cochran Herasimchuk of Houston to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She replaced Sue Holland, who resigned from the Court at the beginning of September. Herasimchuk started at the beginning of this month. She ran for the court in 1994 and finished out of the money. She told Texas Lawyer she'll run under her maiden name on next year's ballot, and won't accept contributions "from anyone other than my husband"... Perry named M. Adam Mahmood of El Paso to the board of the Department of Information Resources. Mahmood is a professor and researcher at the University of Texas at El Paso... Perry picked Pamela Pitzer Willeford to chair the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She lives in Austin. He also appointed six new people to the board, including Neal Adams, a Euless attorney; Marc Cisneros of Corpus Christi, a retired general and former president of Texas A&M University-Kingsville; Jerry Farrington, chairman emeritus of TXU in Dallas; Lorraine Perryman of Odessa, a PR consultant and former mayor there; Curtis Ransom of Coppell, president of CERP Foods; and Lubbock Mayor Windy Sitton... Deaths: Charles Earle, father of Travis County's district attorney and a familiar face at the Texas Capitol, where he spent his retirement years as one of the "squirrel guards" who watch over cars parked there. He was 84.

Quotes of the Week

Tony Jackson of the U.S. Postal Service, quoted by The New York Times in a story on anthrax: "Dogs used to be the worst thing we worried about on this job."

Gov. Rick Perry, telling the Austin American-Statesman that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned school-sponsored prayers should be reversed (after Perry took part in the kind of event banned by that ruling): "They took it out. They can sure put it back in."

Samantha Smoot of the Texas Freedom Network, quoted in the Dallas Morning News on Perry's foray into the school prayer issue: "You get short-term brownie points for appearing religious. It isn't until later that voters start thinking, 'What if it isn't my god they're worshipping, or my prayer?'"

Attorney Dick DeGuerin, relating his IRS problems to the Houston Press: "If a lawyer's required to give a list to the IRS of everybody who's paid him money and why, that destroys that freedom that a person would have to think, 'I can level with a lawyer and tell him everything and that's not going to come back and bite me on the ass.' This issue is important to all lawyers and citizens. It strikes at the very foundation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution... I'm going to fight it all the way."

Federal Judge Sam Sparks, ordering the State of Texas to pay attorney's fees he's ordered in the Hopwood college discrimination case: "Like many postmodern books, this case has no real ending and certainly no closure. In the end, the taxpayers of Texas are one million dollars poorer, the undersigned is almost 10 years older, and nothing has changed for the plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit way back in 1992. Who the winners are this court will never know."

Max Shumake, an East Texan telling the Dallas Morning News about a proposal for a new reservoir: "Right down there is where my great-great-great-grandfather is buried. And you're telling me that they want to put that under water, so people in Dallas can keep watering their sidewalks?"

Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 18, 29 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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