Skip to main content

Plan 9 From Outer Space

The United States Department of Justice ducked behind the hedgerow, telling the federal judges in charge of Texas redistricting matters that the Bush Administration won't have anything to say about the state's maps for the Texas House of Representatives until the end of November.

The United States Department of Justice ducked behind the hedgerow, telling the federal judges in charge of Texas redistricting matters that the Bush Administration won't have anything to say about the state's maps for the Texas House of Representatives until the end of November.

And the meaning of that? The Legislative Redistricting Board's plan is no longer the map to beat. In fact, the lawyers on the Democratic side of the road tell us that the DOJ announcement keeps the court from even considering the LRB's map and forces the court to start from scratch.

They can build from what the parties propose or they can cook up a completely new plan, if that's what they think is best. And the Justice Department would be hard-pressed to intervene

It also makes it almost impossible for DOJ to come back at the end of the month and approve the LRB map, since that would jam the election schedule and probably anger three federal judges.

The Justice Department already approved a Senate plan, and the court just wrapped up its hearings on that. The conventional wisdom, which we would point out is not a prediction, is that the Senate plan will remain more or less intact when the judges are finished. At least that's the way candidates and consultants are playing things. A couple of state senators moved last month to make sure they will be eligible to run in the districts they prefer, and those districts exist only on that LRB map. We're not making a prediction about the map, but they seem confident to pack up and move.

The hearings on the House maps will start this week. Congressional district hearings ended a couple of weeks ago, and that wraps up the scorecard. We've heard people guessing that plans for some part of this could be ready in a week, or in two months. A bit of history: The plans used ten years ago came out on Christmas Eve. That doesn't mean it'll happen again, but the rumors were similar then and now, and the judges used all of the time available to them a decade ago.

Chasing the Probable Senate Lines

The chairman of Kim Brimer's exploratory state Senate campaign is Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, the senator who currently holds the seat. Harris is running again, but has moved into a different district because of the new political maps drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board. That leaves the Harris district empty, and Brimer, a state representative from Arlington, is among the interested politicos. The list of folks on his conquistador committee include U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth and a number of current and former state legislators from that area. One, former Sen. Bill Meier, was on the other side of a famously mean and nasty contest with Harris several years ago.

And the list includes Charles Moncrief and Tex Moncrief, who have been warring with Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, over family fortunes. Sen. Moncrief has been eyeing Harris' old district as a landing spot if the LRB maps remain in place. His own district is heavily Republican in the LRB plan and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, moved from her old district to run in what used to be Moncrief's. Harris moved into her old district, leaving his spot open. We've seen some polling that suggests the old Harris district would go to a Republican against almost anyone but Moncrief.

Insert your own mental asterisk here and refer back to it later: Nelson and Harris have moved their residences so that they're in the new districts. Moncrief hasn't. The courts often waive residency requirements in the election cycles that follow redistricting, but it's not a requirement.

And if they don't waive residency for next year's elections, candidates who weren't in the right spot on November 5 won't be eligible to move to more favorable political climes.

The Few, The Proud, The Off-Year Voters

The people who actually showed up to vote for the 19 newest amendments to the state constitution were in particularly good moods, apparently: They approved everything. Major local bond issues seemed safe around the state, too.

Turnout stunk. The Secretary of State counts 12.1 million voters in Texas. The amendment that attracted the biggest number of votes (Prop. 5, about donating fire equipment to underdeveloped countries) drew 833,308 votes, or 6.9 percent of the total.

Only two votes were tight. Only 50.8 percent of the voters okayed that tax exemption for green coffee and cocoa in Harris County; 52.7 percent okayed a tax exemption for some travel trailers.

As expected, Harris County drove the vote. The state's most populous county has 1.8 million voters in it, or about 15 percent of the total. But turnout was higher there—in the 16 percent range—because of a contested and interesting mayoral race, and the state issues got a boost. As an example, 34.7 percent of the total votes on Prop. 5 came from Harris County voters.

A Potential Opponent for an Apparent Winner

Whoever wins the runoff for Tom Haywood's seat in the Texas Senate is in for a challenge almost immediately. Former Weatherford Mayor David Deison (pronounced DIE-sun), a sometimes business partner of former Rep. Ric Williamson, is looking seriously.

Whether he finally gets in will depend on what the courts do with redistricting and on the strength of whoever wins the runoff to serve the rest of Haywood's term. Deison, 61, is a CPA and investment manager. He doesn't live in the current SD-30, but lives in the district as it was drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board. That map survived the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Justice, and is now in the hands of a three-judge federal panel.

Potential obstacles: Several groups endorsed candidates in the special election and might be committed before the new race begins. Craig Estes, the Wichita Falls businessman who finished first in that six-man race, might be able to elbow Deison and other Republicans out of next year's contest, depending on how his numbers look in the runoff. On the other hand, Wichita Falls isn't as dominant in the LRB plan and a candidate from another part of the district, like Weatherford, could prevail. While he's sorting through the tea leaves, Deison has hired Jeff Norwood of Anthem Media to do electronic media and Olsen & Delisi to handle direct mail.

Estes came within 984 votes of winning the special election without a runoff. And in a twisted bit of logic, an outright win might have made him more vulnerable to a challenge. The numbers in the six-way race came out this way: Estes, 47.2 percent; Greg Underwood, 23.2 percent; Kirk Wilson, 16.2 percent; Harry Reynolds, 8.7 percent; Doug Jeffrey, 3.1 percent; and Rick Bunch, 1.5 percent.

Underwood was the only Democrat on the ballot. Bunch is an independent. The four GOP hopefuls combined drew 75.3 percent of the vote. If the runoff numbers stuck just like that, Estes would look stronger in some ways than he does with an apparently narrow victory. And it's still at least theoretically possible that the first result will be the last. In a special election for a San Antonio Senate seat after the death of Greg Luna, the second-place finisher dropped out of the runoff and Leticia Van de Putte joined the Senate. That could happen here if Underwood concedes.

Second Time's a Charm?

He's not the establishment's favorite, but Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, is looking at what he calls a "freebie"—a quick special election to replace Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. Garcia, one of the contestants when Kirk won the job, says he's putting together an exploratory committee to look at the race. He'll decide by December 1, he says, and the filing deadline is December 19. The race is a month later. Win, and he's mayor of Dallas. Lose, and he's a state representative. Thus, it's a freebie.

Garcia says that and the demographics make the race attractive. The Anglo vote splits four ways if all of the candidates talking about running actually make the race. Garcia is the only minority candidate in the mill right now. If he thinks a coalition can be built, he'll run.

Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die?

Former Attorney General Dan Morales says he'll announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate in about a month. He still has not formed a finance committee and has not started raising money for what looks to be a hotly contested primary race in four months. But he says he's got an idea where his money will come from and isn't worried about it. He does not intend to self-finance a race, he says, but he is unperturbed at the idea of raising enough money, $1,000 at a time, in spite of the late start. And he says he has not been collecting pledges or doing any overt fundraising.

In the meantime, he's filed legal papers in state court in Austin asking for depositions from three of his former employees and a private attorney. If the court goes along, Houston attorney John Eddie Williams Jr. and the three employees—Javier Aguilar, Henry Potter and Jorge Vega—would be forced to give sworn depositions about what happened in the attorney general's office while the state's tobacco lawsuit was pending.

He says in the filing that the depositions might lead to a lawsuit against one of the four or against someone else for "false statements made" over the last couple of years about Morales' conduct of the state's case against the tobacco companies. That lawsuit resulted in a $17 billion settlement for the state, but conservatives have hammered Morales for the percentage he paid to the outside attorneys who handled the case. They've also harangued him for bringing attorney Marc Murr into the circle to get paid, after several lawyers and former Morales employees said they weren't aware Murr had done anything to help. If he didn't help, the argument goes, he shouldn't be paid.

Morales also wants to offer up his own sworn deposition as part of the deal. If things go as he and his lawyers hope, the whole proceeding could clear the air about how Morales handled the tobacco lawsuit. His political opponents have been running a whisper campaign for more than a year suggesting he could be indicted for trying to pay a lawyer who didn't do any work and for trying to personally benefit from the settlement. Morales says that's bunk and says the depositions would prove that. One of his attorneys, former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins, contends that there is no case against Morales and that, if there was a case, it would have been filed by now. "This is not the Microsoft case. It's a simple fraud case. Why would it take four years?" he says.

The filing accuses Potter of denying and downplaying Murr's involvement in the case and arguing against paying him out of the proceeds. Lowering Murr's pay would increase pay for the other outside lawyers, and Morales claims Potter has a financial interest in one of the firms that would benefit.

Morales says the depositions would force some of the principals to put their hands on the Bible and tell the truth, and contends that would clear the rumors and gossip that have attended the award of the tobacco settlement. If he's correct, it could also eliminate the biggest obstacle on his return route to public office and clear the way for a Senate bid next year.

Notes on the Statewides

U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen will jump into the race on November 26. And you can take the words Dallas Mayor off of the front of Ron Kirk's name. He resigned and will soon announce his candidacy for Senate. Victor Morales is still in the wings, and former UT footballer Ed Cunningham remains the only Democrat who is officially in that race.

• TEXPAC, the political arm of the Texas Medical Association put out its first two big endorsements, saying it will support Democrat John Sharp for lieutenant governor and Republican Greg Abbott for attorney general. Sharp also picked up the endorsement of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. Sharp is running against Land Commissioner David Dewhurst; Abbott's only announced opponent is Austin Mayor Kirk Watson.

• Add a third political novice to the list of Democrats who want to be governor. Bill Lyon of Waxahachie told the Associated Press that he intends to run and told them he'll promote higher pay for teachers, an update of state property tax laws and try to do something about the shortage of health care workers in the state.

Fundraising Makes Strange Bedfellows

From the Department of Strange Faxes comes this: The Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce is having a fundraiser that is billed as a roast of Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff. Among the roasters are House Speaker Pete Laney and Sen. Rodney Ellis, who aren't necessarily the people you would expect to see on TABCC's guest list.

The group endorsed Ratliff's bid for election to that post before the end of the legislative session. But he dropped out the race, opting to seek reelection as a senator, and left them without a candidate. He says he wasn't aware that the event was a fundraiser, but says he'll do it anyhow.

The roasters can start there, but they've got their own beefs. TABCC whacked lawmakers recently with a rating system based on selected votes. They concluded that the Texas Legislature isn't business oriented enough for their taste. Ellis got a 47 percent rating from the group.

A number of Laney's loyalists in the House got swatted; loads of them got bad marks from the group, and some members, especially along the Texas-Mexico Border, have been encouraging their local chambers of commerce to withdraw from the statewide group. Now the speaker is helping the association raise money for BACPAC, its campaign finance fund, apparently in the hope that it won't be used to knock the same House members who earned poor grades from TABCC.

• Land Commissioner David Dewhurst was listed as the headline act for a fundraiser for Rep. John Shields, R-San Antonio, but he won't be there. Shields switched races and says he wants a spot in the Texas Senate. That almost certainly puts him in a race against an incumbent—Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth. And that almost certainly put Dewhurst, who wants to be the Senate's presiding officer, in a bind. He called Wentworth to say he's for him, and called Shields to say he's backing out of the event. Dewhurst apparently signed up thinking he was backing a House member's reelection bid.

• The money that goes into the accounts for a speaker's race can't be used for many of the things you might suppose. It's good for campaign expenses, travel expenses and meals of the business variety. But candidates can't contribute campaign money to speaker candidates and speaker candidates can't contribute speaker money to campaigns. The game we'd all like to watch is cloaked, in other words. You can't look at, say, Pete Laney's speaker account and see how much money he's directing to supportive House members. You can't see, in the Tom Craddick or Brian McCall or Ed Kuempel accounts, whether they are promoting financial support for House candidates (incumbent or not) who'll support them when it comes time to elect the presiding officer of the House.

That's why the numbers reported by those candidates at the first of the month were so small. Craddick raised $59,000. McCall reported about $48,500 in contributions. Kuempel scooped up $6,000 and Laney reported about $11,000. Pat Haggerty filed a report saying he had raised no money.

• Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, claims to have raised $395,000 for his Senate race since June—he aims to have a half million in the bank at the end of the year. And both the Texas Medical Association and Texans for Lawsuit Reform have endorsed him. He's running for the seat now held by his former boss, Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco. Sibley, and Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, have both endorsed him (the newly drawn district will probably include some counties that are currently in Ogden's realm).

A Matter of Priorities

The Bryan-College Station Eagle and The Battalion, the student newspaper at Texas A&M, had different priorities when identifying Dr. Mike McKinney in their stories about him punching/getting punched during a crowd ruckus at the end of Texas A&M's loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock.

In both papers, he was first identified as the father of A&M football center Seth McKinney, and then and only then as the chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry. Papers elsewhere in the state waited until later in their stories to note that McKinney has a son on the team.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Texas already has a law allowing schools to set aside time to pray. That provision, passed by the Legislature in 1995, goes like this: A school district may provide for a period of silence at the beginning of the first class of each school day during which a student may reflect or meditate.

The Virginia law that passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court sets aside a minute for prayer, reflection or meditation. Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, says he'll be trying to change the Texas law to match the Virginia law. That would add three elements that aren't there now. First, it would require a full minute be set aside for prayer or reflection or whatever a student wants to think about. Second, it would add the word "prayer" to the state's law. And third, it would make the moment of silence mandatory instead of leaving that option to local school districts.

Wentworth says flatly that most Texans would probably prefer open prayer in public schools, but since the U.S. Supreme Court won't allow that, the Virginia law is the next best option.

• Henry Cuellar's deal with the University of Texas System is off. UT officials had been calling around to see if state leaders objected to putting the former state rep in the system's legislative shop. But they and Cuellar, who recently resigned after less than a year as Secretary of State, decided to pull the plug. He is moving back to Laredo and reopening his law practice and his customs business there.

His next actions? First, he plans to support and vote for Gov. Rick Perry, although Perry's a Republican and Cuellar is a Democrat. Cuellar was once an ally of Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez Jr., who is seeking the gubernatorial nomination from the Democrats. He's not sure if he'll actually get out and campaign for the governor, but he's not opposed to that idea.

Second, Cuellar will run for the U.S. House if the map works for him and if U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, runs elsewhere. At last peek, the maps gave Bonilla the choice of running in a Republican and predominantly Anglo Hill Country district or moving back into a new district that just happens to look a lot like the area he represents now. It's more Hispanic than the Hill Country version, but also more has more Democrats than Republicans. If Bonilla is not in the district that has Laredo in it, and if that district looks like something a Laredo politico could win, Cuellar says he will run. That could mean a primary in March between Cuellar and Rep. Richard Raymond, who has also expressed interest in Congress if the well-financed Bonilla is out of the way.

• District Judge Jim Parsons of Palestine will run for Texas Supreme Court. He's a Democrat, and says he'll be running for the spot that opened up when Justice Deborah Hankinson decided not to seek reelection next year. Parsons has been a district judge since 1996 and ran unopposed in 2000. He's a former president of the State Bar and serves on the Texas Judicial Council.

Dale Wainwright, a district judge in Harris County, is jumping into that same race, but as a Republican. Then-Gov. George W. Bush appointed Wainwright to be a judge in 1999 and won election to a full term in that seat last year. He was a lawyer at Andrews & Kurth before that—one of his co-workers was Priscilla Owen, now a Texas Supreme Court justice and a pending appointee to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

• You've considered WorldPeace. Now there's Courage for Congress. John Courage, a San Antonio teacher, says he'll run against U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. He's a Democrat and says he'll run on education, health care, Medicare and Social Security. His announcement doesn't get specific, but those will apparently be the subjects he wants to talk about.

• It probably cost more than this to generate an official opinion on the issue, but the City of Gilmer is out $443.77, or half the cost of the golf towels it gave to legislators on Upshur County Day earlier this year. AG John Cornyn says Upshur County can't reimburse the city for half the cost of the towels because the county wasn't in on the decision to buy the swag in the first place.

• CORRECTION: The state's annual sales tax holiday is tied to the beginning of the school year, but covers apparel and not school supplies, contrary to what we wrote. A legislative effort to include those supplies, as well as items like backpacks and bicycle helmets, failed.

Political People and Their Moves

Mike Morrissey, the former Legislative Budget Board staffer and aide to Lt. Govs. Bob Bullock, Rick Perry and Bill Ratliff, is leaving Ratliff's shop to become the director of budget for Gov. Perry. Morrissey replaces John Opperman, who will narrow his focus to education budget and policy. That'll put Opperman into position for one of the next legislative session's key issues: School finance. Ratliff hasn't named a replacement to watch the state budget for his office, but might leave that to the next Lite Guv, since Ratliff is running for reelection to the Senate and not to his current post... Dr. Eduardo Sanchez has officially taken the wheel at the Texas Department of Health. His predecessor, Dr. Reyn Archer, resigned a full year ago. Sanchez is a family practice doctor and got his public health experience at the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department. Perry appointed George McCleskey, a Lubbock businessman and attorney, to the board that governs the health department. He replaces J.C. Chambers, also of Lubbock, who resigned. Perry also tapped Dr. Mario Anzaldua of Mission, who was already on that panel, to chair it... Governing magazine named Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, as one of nine Public Officials of the Year for his efforts in health and human services legislation, particularly on welfare and Medicaid reform and children's insurance... Two workhorses in the office of Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, are on the way out the door. Rick Svatora and Jeremy Warren are leaving to start a public affairs shop that will work on everything from issues to campaigns. They've got an unnamed client lined up to start with, and will be out of state government in a matter of hours... Frank Newton, dean of the law school at Texas Tech University, is resigning to take over the Class Settlement Charity Foundation in Beaumont. That outfit gives computers to low-income students and was funded with $400 million in unclaimed benefits from a suit against Toshiba. The move puts him in the same pond as Wayne Reaud, a wealthy trial lawyer whose offer to endow the Tech law school with $12.5 million was spurned by Tech's regents. They didn't want to name their school after a trial lawyer for that amount of money, and Reaud balked at their suggestion that they'd consider the name change for a donation in the $25 million to $30 million range... U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and her husband Ray have adopted a second child. Houston Taylor Hutchison is four months younger than Katherine Bailey Hutchison, adopted earlier this year. The parents say they always planned to double up, so the kids could grow together.

Quotes of the Week

Perry chief of staff Mike McKinney, on his part in a brawl at the end of the Texas Tech/Texas A&M game in Lubbock that left a gash on his face that took eight stitches, in the Bryan-College Station Eagle: "They were coming up into the stands. They were on the goal posts and jumping in the stands and it was like the Alamo, they were coming up over the wall... I grabbed my binoculars and said, 'The next one that comes up gets it.' Then somebody, I didn't see who it was, knocked the fool out of me... I'm a 50-year-old man. It's not like the guy hit somebody that needed hitting."

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, after federal court hearings on the Texas Senate maps approved by the Legislative Redistricting Board (where Ratliff was a dissenting vote): "Being ugly and unfair and partisan are not legal reasons to throw out a redistricting plan."

Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, railing in the Austin American-Statesman about redistricting plans that put him in a Republican district with Dee Kelly Jr., son of the well-connected attorney and political player: "Representing almost 700,000 people is serious business. Senate District 12 is not a toy for your boy. You need to earn your stripes, not just purchase your title."

Wasatch Beer spokesman Greg Schirf, defending an ad turned down by a billboard company that asked drinkers of Polygamy Porter to "take home some for the wives" and "when enjoying our beer, please procreate responsibly," in the Salt Lake Tribune: "We've exhibited much worse taste than this."

Provisional President Daniel Miller of the Republic of Texas, a separatist group, in the San Antonio Express-News: "We share a common heritage and a common bond with the United States. Many of the people who emigrated here to Texas are from the United States."


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 20, 12 November 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 biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.


Support public-service journalism that gets the context right

Yes, I'll donate today