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A Victory for Congressional Democrats

The three federal judges deciding which political maps will be used next year are making Texas Republicans nervous. The map for congressional districts—the first one out of the chute and the least important in terms of future politics in Texas—is a lot closer to what the Democrats wanted than to what the Republicans had hoped for.

The three federal judges deciding which political maps will be used next year are making Texas Republicans nervous. The map for congressional districts—the first one out of the chute and the least important in terms of future politics in Texas—is a lot closer to what the Democrats wanted than to what the Republicans had hoped for.

You could hear it in the commentary from officeholders and party types. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, weighed in to say the court protected incumbent Democrats and didn't add a seat for Hispanics, and he concluded that the state's congressional majority would remain with the Democrats. Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm called the plans fair. GOP Chairwoman Susan Weddington said the plan moved the scale toward Republicans, but she called it a small step and clearly was biting her lip. U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, also lined up with a moderate response.

Neither set of politicos wants to gloat or scream too loudly—they don't want to pop off while the federales still have their mitts on the other two maps. But you could hear the Republicans grumbling and the Democrats exalting. The Washington, D.C., contingent was loudest, but they're not as worried about offending the judges who are through with the federal business. Texas Democrats in the nation's capital said the Texas map and its unexpected lack of GOP strength are a boon to Democrats trying to win a majority in Congress. U.S. House Republicans wanted gains in Texas to offset losses elsewhere. But the new map gives all of the Texas Democrats in Congress a decent chance at reelection.

From our seats, it looks like the judges' map would produce a 16-16 tie in the Texas delegation, or a 17-15 Democratic advantage. It protects incumbents, for the most part, although two new seats added in northwest Dallas County and in Central Texas, lean to the GOP. Right now, the Democrats have 17 and the Republicans have 13. Texas gets two new seats for growing faster than other states. The 16-16 assessment is based on results in the comptroller's race in 1998. That very close contest went to a Republican. Break it down in each of the new districts and the Republican won half of them and the Democrat won half. Six of those races were decided by margins of less than ten percent and in those tighter contests, the Democrats won three and the Republicans won three.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, better known as MALDEF, is still deciding whether to appeal the results to a higher court. The plans drawn by the judges don't create new Hispanic seats. That's the fastest growing population in Texas and advocates for Hispanics have been fighting to get a new congressional district. Some of the other plans put one of the new seats in South Texas; the judges left things as they are now, with 21 Anglo-dominated seats, 7 dominated by Hispanics, and four seats where no group has an outright majority. In two of those, Blacks are the biggest ethic group. Hispanics are the largest in the third, and Anglos in the fourth.

The Senate map to be released by the judges anytime between now and Thanksgiving is expected to lean to the Republicans, but not by enough to give them full power in a legislative body controlled by the "two-thirds rule." Most important votes in that body will continue to require support from senators of both parties. The House should also go to the Republicans, but the question is, by how much? The narrower the majority, the better the outlook for the Democrats now in control of the lower chamber. The next Legislature will almost certainly tinker with redistricting again. If Republicans can't get clear control this year from the courts, it will delay or defeat their efforts to get a GOP majority cemented into the political geography of the state.

1) Stop Music. 2) Grab Chair.

Most of the new congressional districts contain large chunks of the districts they replace. That's not automatically good news for incumbents, but at least they'll be defending familiar turf. Only one incumbent—U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis—will find himself in a district with fewer than half of his current voters in it. He has 45 percent of his old voters, 27 percent who used to be in Martin Frost's district and 23 percent who used to vote in Kay Granger's district. Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett got a district that was fully contained in his old district. And one of the new districts got almost two-thirds of its turf from one place: 63 percent of the voters in the new CD-32 in northwestern Dallas County were plucked out of U.S. Rep. Dick Armey's district. That's from heavy growth: Armey still has 64 percent of his current voters in his new district.

The district drawn for U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, could be the exception. He kept the core of his district—93 percent of the old district is in the new one—but he gained some possibly enemy territory. In his old district, Carole Keeton Rylander beat Paul Hobby in the last comptroller's race by getting 51.5 percent of the vote. In his new district, she got 53 percent of the vote. That might not be fatal, but it's not good news for the incumbent.

The new Central Texas district is tailor-made for someone like Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and he's looking at it. He'll make an announcement, he says, in early December. His headline sounds like he opened a birthday package: Ogden Pleased with new Central Texas Congressional District."

State Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Carrollton, would like to run for Congress in the new district drawn in northwestern Dallas County. That's an open seat and he was on the phone quickly after the federal judges revealed their plan. But Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, is talking about moving from his own CD-5 to the new CD-32. That would crimp Marchant's plans and could open the way for a Democrat in what is now Session's district. They're working on it, and Marchant is all but certain to run if Sessions stays where he is now. A Sessions move would make a Marchant campaign difficult. What's more, Jeb Hensarling, a former aide to Phil Gramm, will probably run in whichever district Sessions skips.

Ignore the rumor that Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, will run for Congress in that new seat. Let him say it: "I am not interested in running for Congress now or ever." He'll remain in the contest for Texas Land Commissioner.

Steve Holzhauser, the former state rep from Victoria, wanted to run for Congress. But the open seat district that had been proposed evaporated. Holzhauser lives in a district with an incumbent Republican (U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside), and Holzhauser now says he won't run.

Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, has been considering a congressional run for several weeks, but hasn't decided what the new map will mean for her. She wants to run in a district that includes her home in Johnson County. That entire county is in U.S. Rep. Joe Barton's district in the new map, and Wohlgemuth has said all along that she won't challenge a Republican incumbent. That said, Barton hasn't said where he'll run, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area is rife with rumors about congresspersons moving from their new districts into more comfortable ones. Wohlgemuth is waiting for things to settle before she decides what to do.

Some of Chris Bell's friends are pushing him to run for Congress in CD-25. The current occupant is U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, who is running for U.S. Senate and leaving the post open. Bell, who finished third in the Houston mayoral race earlier this month, ran for Congress once before, when he lived in Amarillo (against Chip Staniswallis). The district drawn by the courts could work for an Anglo Democrat, and Bell is telling folks he might be interested.

An Election with No Oomph

The special election to replace the late Paul Hilbert, R-Spring, in the Texas House will be in May. Gov. Rick Perry had the option of putting the election there, or calling a fast special election that would take place in December. The May race will be mostly meaningless. The primary for the seat will be in March. By May, the party candidates will have been chosen and will be on the way to the general election in November. The winner of the May race will get six months in the Texas House and the right to use the title "Incumbent" in the November election.

Predictions, No, Conventional Wisdom, Yes

Still to come, any minute now: The maps for state Senate districts. We don't have any more clues than you do what those maps will look like, but we'll share the betting line. Democrats and Republicans will be surprised if there is much difference between what the Legislative Redistricting Board drew for the Senate and what the courts approve. They think the principal difference in those maps, if there is any difference at all, will be some remodeling to the east of Houston. Jefferson County residents in particular split a seam when they saw what the LRB had done to them. That map—which was put in place on a 3-2 vote—puts half of Jefferson County in one Senate district and the other half in another. The worst thing about it, from the standpoint of Jefferson County, is that neither seat is likely to go to a candidate from that locale. More likely, the county would be represented in both districts by senators from Houston and its suburbs. And there was testimony that the Republicans drew the map that way solely to get a new seat for their side. That's normal enough and even legal, but it didn't sit well with the Beaumont crowd and they were loud in their disapproval.

If the judges tinker, chances are good that changes would be friendlier to Democrats than to Republicans. Left alone, that map would turn what is now an even split into a Senate with a Republican advantage. A runoff election next month will determine whether a Democrat or Republican takes the 16th seat. Based on the results in the first round, the Republican should win that race.

• Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, got a boost from the White House in his bid for the state Senate. Karl Rove, the president's political guru, was in Waco for a Texas Federation of Republican Women convention and blessed Averitt while he was there. Averitt is seeking David Sibley's seat in the Senate; his former boss is leaving and he wants the job. Rove made the endorsement even though Averitt has a primary opponent: Homebuilder Ed Harrison also wants the Senate job.

Doctor, Can You Relieve My Bellyache?

Every single doctor in the state of Texas is about to get (or has already received) a letter from three comrades who also happen to be members of one of the two main tort reform groups in Texas. The doctors want to talk to their fellow physicians about Gov. Rick Perry's veto of what's known as the Prompt Pay bill. They're also hinting that attacks on them are the equivalents of attacks on Perry.

Quick History: That was a legislative priority for the Texas Medical Association. The tort group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, wanted to axe a section that would have allowed doctors to sue people and companies that got too far behind in paying their bills. TLR wanted to insert arbitration into the process instead of lawsuits. The Legislature said no and passed the bill. TLR went to Perry. Perry vetoed the bill. Doctors got mad and are still mad and Perry and TLR, for separate reasons, want the docs to stop being angry. Whew.

TLR has sent letters to every doctor in the state from members who are doctors, including James Leininger, Thomas Arnold and Darius Maggi. The letters say, in essence, that the two groups should be working together and that TLR's efforts to kill the bill as it was passed was a good thing for docs. They say in their letter that attacks on TLR and Gov. Perry by "some TMA members and staff" were a mistake. They say TLR doesn't have any problems with the prompt pay bill itself—just with the arbitration provisions. And they say everyone should have been talking when the bill was in the mix last legislative session. (The TMA version, in short form: TLR shanghaied the legislation at the end of the session without first going to them or the sponsors and trying to get things settled early in the process.) The pitch of that letter, and of others sent to docs who are prominent at TMA, is to get the two groups to sit down and hash it out. In other letters, though, the group bangs on TMA for not meeting before now.

Dick Trabulsi, a Houston businessman who heads legislative stuff for TLR, says the fighting isn't helping either group. And he says TLR just wants to work out the mess. Separately, some business lobbyists have accused TMA of working too closely with trial lawyers on some legislation, and have been pounding their chests for war. For the record, Trabulsi says TLR doesn't want any part of that.

Mob for Senate

Victor Morales, the schoolteacher with the pickup truck and the populist appeal to the Little Guy, says he'll make the race for U.S. Senate. That makes five on the Democratic side. Morales and Ed Cunningham say they're in, and three more are a step behind, saying they will announce soon: Former Attorney General Dan Morales, U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. Morales snuck up on a field of candidates in 1996, knocking off two Democratic congressmen and a former assistant attorney general before giving U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm a scare in the general election. He lost to Gramm, then ran an unsuccessful race against U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in 1998.

Bentsen hasn't made a formal announcement, but told a gaggle of reporters that he intends to run and that he won't suffer the same fate as other Texas congressmen. In recent history, most of them lose when they run for statewide office. He says he's more familiar with federal issues than his opponents, and says his name identification is better than anyone in the race, save Dan Morales. He contends he is twice as well known as Kirk. Some of that name brand came from his uncle, former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, but Ken Bentsen says his numbers are all right even when people know he's not his uncle.

Part of his purpose was to erase some of the conventional wisdom. He says, for instance, that he would be running even if earlier redistricting plans had been more favorable to him (he was paired with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee until the final plans were issued by the federal court this week). And part of it was to show he's got some support. His campaign chairman will be Jack Martin, the founder of Public Strategies Inc. and a former close aide to Sen. Bentsen. The younger Bentsen said former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby will also lend his name to the campaign, and said he'll have support from a lot of the old Bentsen/Hobby political network. Still, some top Democrats are urging him to stay put.

And there's a new candidate on the Republican side of the ledger. Lawrence Cranberg, a former professor at the University of Texas at Austin, wants to be the first physicist in the U.S. Senate. He said in a press release that he won't raise campaign funds, opting instead to campaign through the Internet, the media, and public service groups. He's got a website: www.lawrencecranberg.org . Cranberg will face Attorney General John Cornyn in the March GOP primary.

Money-Raising and Rumor-Squashing

It turns out that a candidate for speaker of the Texas House can take contributions from other House members. But it depends on the original source of the money—it cannot have come from a political action committee—and on how the contributor's political accounts are structured.

If the giver's campaign account isn't set up as a special PAC, and as long as the money being contributed didn't come from the wrong kind of sources, it can go to a speaker candidate. That's a relatively new opinion from the Texas Ethics Commission. As far as we know, nobody has used the loophole. In part, that's because most candidates have their money in PACs, or don't separate money raised from committees from money raised from individuals.

While we're on the subject, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has a letter circulating that asks his fellow legislators to call him when they hear the kinds of wacky rumors that attend a race for speaker. He's a candidate, and like everyone else in the race, doesn't want rumors about him to gain strength before he can knock them down. "Inevitably you will hear things that raise your curiosity about different candidates for Speaker or even particulars about the workings of a possible speakership." He wants them to call and ask. There's another Craddick fundraising letter making the rounds, too. It asked people to come to a private reception in San Antonio and was signed by Red McCombs, Tom Loeffler, Jim Leininger and George Hixon.

Political Notes and Other Miscellany

Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, says his name does indeed belong on the exploratory committee for Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, but not as chairman. He also admits that he encouraged both Brimer and Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, to consider running for what is now Harris' seat in the Texas Senate. But Harris, who moved to an adjacent district where his reelection chances are better, says it would be dangerous for both reps to run and says he threw in with Brimer because Grusendorf never asked to use Harris' name.

And if he asks now? Harris says he's not sure what he will do if Grusendorf does that. And what's dangerous about both pols running? Harris says the area would lose one veteran legislator in the primary—one of them would have to lose, after all. And it might lose a second one in the general election. Harris says the district is competitive and that a Democrat could win it; that's part of the reason he moved to the next district. Harris says he would be happier if the two House members would decide who'll run for Senate and agree that the other will stay in place. Grusendorf announced his own committee, which includes Fran Chiles and SBOE member Richard Neill.

• Houston attorney Mark Cole says he'll make the race for Texas House in HD-134. That's the seat currently held by Rep. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who is leaving that job to run for Texas Senate. Cole, who lives in West University Place, is a Republican. That district, if it stays like it was in the map approved by the Legislative Redistricting Board, is also home to two incumbent Democrats. The federal court hearing redistricting has said it will produce a new map in December.

• Take Melinda Ballard out of the race for the Texas House. Ballard is known as The Mold Lady because of her successful ($32 million, on appeal) lawsuit against Farmer's Insurance for not covering damage to her home. She had planned to challenge Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, but has decided not to do that, and says she'll redirect her efforts into an insurance watchdog group. Tangent: Green picked up the endorsement of Texans for Lawsuit Reform

• As expected, Dan Gattis announced he'll run for the Texas House. He's jumping into HD-20, which in the most recent maps was an open spot in Williamson County, north of Austin. He's an assistant district attorney in that county and has been involved in GOP politics there.

• The question's already moot, but Attorney General John Cornyn says you can't be a member of the Texas House of Representatives and an assistant county attorney in the state. The Texas Constitution bars legislators from holding any other profitable public post (except notary). The question was posed by Harris County Attorney Michael Stafford, who wanted to hire Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Humble, as an assistant. Crabb wanted the job at one point and even suggested that his wife could replace him in the House. But he changed his mind, didn't take the job, and intends to run again.

Chase Untermeyer says he won't run for reelection to the State Board of Education next year, clearing the way for someone else from Houston. Untermeyer is a George W. Bush appointee who ran for a full term in 2000. But because of redistricting, that term will be a two-year version instead of a four-year version. And when SBOE members convene in 2003, they'll draw straws to decide which of the newly elected members got two-year terms and which ones got four-year terms. Two others have expressed interest in the seat. One is Terri Leo of Spring, who ran in 1996 and fell short; the other is Doug Cannon, a Houston businessman.

• Judge David Richards of Fort Worth will run for a spot on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He was on the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth until earlier this year; he now works as a visiting judge. He'll run against Judge Paul Womack, who is seeking reelection to the state's highest criminal court, in the GOP primary.

• Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs doesn't have an opponent yet, but she says she has more than $1 million in the bank for her next political race.

Political People and Their Moves

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Tony Sanchez Jr. is going through campaign managers faster than Texas Tech goes through goalposts. After seven weeks as co-manager of that campaign, former TV reporter Jim Moore got the boot. The campaign told him they wanted to divert his salary to building up field operations around the state. Earlier this year, the campaign fired campaign manager Robin Rorapaugh, a veteran Democratic consultant. The campaign didn't name Moore's replacement and Sanchez' aides won't comment on Moore's departure... The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association gave one of its top honors to House Speaker Pete Laney for forcing the City of Austin to take care of general aviation as the city closed one airport and opened a new one. Laney shepherded legislation requiring the state to establish a Central Texas airport open to the general public... Former Texas Film Commissioner Marlene Saritzky has landed a new gig as communications director for Business 2.0, a business and tech magazine that's part of the AOL Time Warner megacorp... Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander hired Scott Scarborough to take care of the state's money. Really. He'll run something called the Texas Treasury Safekeeping Trust Company, which manages $26 billion in state money. He had been at UT Tyler... Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry named three new regents for the University of Houston, including Houston businessman Michael Cerno, Austin attorney Raul Gonzalez, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court, and Houston architect Leroy Hermes. Each got a degree from UH... Perry named Kent Adams of Beaumont and Alan Dreeben of San Antonio as regents for the Texas State University System. Adams is an attorney; Dreeben is a wine and beverage distributor. Perry also reappointed Pollyanna Stephens of San Angelo to that board... The Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services has a new director. Thomas Chapmond was chosen from a group that also included former Sen. Chet Brooks, and state district Judge Scott McCown of Austin. Chapmond has been at the agency since 1993... President George W. Bush tapped Edward Fitzmaurice of Dallas to be on the National Mediation Board. Now a lawyer, Fitzmaurice is a former airline pilot... Deaths: Former U.S. Rep. Bob Eckhardt, a liberal who represented Houston in the state Legislature and then in Congress, after a stroke. A union lawyer, he co-founded the Texas Observer, and wrote the Open Beaches Act in Texas and the War Powers Act while in Washington. He was 88... Fred Ebner, a Republican activist in Austin who ran unsuccessfully for state and city posts. In 1998, he lost a race to Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, that was apparently the first face-off in Texas between openly gay candidates from two parties. Ebner was 77... Bill Braecklein of Dallas, a former state representative and senator who also did stints as a state and federal prosecutor. He was 80.

Quotes of the Week

From the unanimous congressional redistricting decision written by three federal judges: "...indeed, no incumbent was paired with another incumbent or significantly harmed by this plan."

Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, telling WFAA-TV of Dallas why he's supporting Ron Kirk of Dallas, a Black, over other candidates, including Hispanics, for U.S. Senate: "I just don't want to see us gravitate to a point where one group—in this case, Hispanics, because they have growing political clout—edge out some other group that has a place at the table as well."

Erin Foster, president of something called the Hays County Water Planning partnership, in a story on development in the Austin American-Statesman: "I'm a Realtor, and I'm here to tell you that you can't sell a house that doesn't have water."

Rep. Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, in a Valley Morning Star story on her political plans: "You put a big piece in your paper about me seeking reelection or I won't talk to you again."

Choose your poison. Look at these front-page headlines from Texas newspapers on Monday, November 12, each on the same basic story: Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "2000 Vote Review Mixed"... Austin American-Statesman: "Who won? Study of Florida vote favors Bush"... Dallas Morning News: "Review of Florida Ballots offers no clear answers"... Houston Chronicle: "Statewide Fla. Recount may have won for Gore"... San Antonio Express-News: "Recount would have gone to Bush."


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 21, 19 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.


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