Skip to main content

He Did What?

Say this for him: Dan Morales can keep a secret. He's been saying for months that he was considering a race for U.S. Senate, and nobody we know of asked him if he was looking at any other offices. When he shocked the bejeebers out of everyone by filing for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he changed the outlook for everyone at the top of his party's ticket.

Say this for him: Dan Morales can keep a secret. He's been saying for months that he was considering a race for U.S. Senate, and nobody we know of asked him if he was looking at any other offices. When he shocked the bejeebers out of everyone by filing for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he changed the outlook for everyone at the top of his party's ticket.

That's just the same thing he did four years ago by deciding not to run for reelection as attorney general, a move that took the only Hispanic off the party's statewide ballot. He was also the best-known Democrat in office at that time, and probably the most popular. Some blamed his decision for the narrow losses suffered by then-Comptroller John Sharp and Houston businessman Paul Hobby.

It's no longer enough, if it ever was, for Tony Sanchez Jr. to run as a successful Hispanic. Ethnicity no longer distinguishes the Laredo businessman in the contest and he'll have to give voters a reason to choose him over his more experienced opponent. Morales will force Sanchez to be a better candidate.

Morales is better known, and by most accounts, continues to show well in polls (most started him in first place in the Senate race, for instance). If you ignore money, you have to handicap the former AG as the favorite in the race. If you put money back in, Sanchez has all he could possibly need and Morales has an unknown amount. He indicated in 1998 that he was leaving office with roughly $1.2 million in his campaign accounts; other Democrats speculate that he has up to $3 million to spend on a primary that's about nine weeks away. That amount, if it's accurate, is enough to make him competitive. Morales starts with an edge even if he can't match a billionaire dollar for dollar.

Morales can use money left from state races in a bid for governor. Those funds are notoriously difficult to convert to a federal race because of the stricter campaign finance laws on the federal level. Candidates for non-judicial Texas state offices can accept contributions of any amount. Congressional candidates are limited to $1,000 per person per election.

Money plays in another way. In a federal race, a candidate has to raise money from a mess of people who can each give a limited amount. That requires broader support than a state race, where a relatively small number of deep-pocketed contributors can pony up most of what a campaign needs.

A Morales win in the March primary would mess with the recipe other statewide Democrats have been working on for the last year. The Sanchez candidacy is built, rhetorically, on the idea that Hispanics in Texas don't register to vote at the same rates as other Texans, and that they don't vote once they're registered. That part of the puzzle could be solved as easily by Morales as Sanchez.

What would be different is this: To the extent that he is funding a statewide Get-Out-The-Vote operation for his campaign, Sanchez is an invisible contributor to every other candidate on the Democratic ticket. Candidates like Sharp, who is making a second run at lieutenant governor, and Kirk Watson, who's running for attorney general, benefit from those new voters without dropping a dime. Without the Sanchez financing in November, the outlook changes for other statewide Democrats.

Morales' departure from the U.S. Senate race opens the door for Ron Kirk and Ken Bentsen, neither of whom has ever been on a statewide ballot. Victor Morales is the only candidate among the Democrats who has run statewide, and his appeal was strongest in 1996, when he was a fresh face on the ballot, a good story for reporters and an alternative to Phil Gramm, who was coming off a disappointing campaign for the presidency and induced some voter fatigue. Kirk and Bentsen have to appeal to new voters, but they don't have to go around a proven statewide candidate to make the sale.

A Ghost in the Machine?

The Morales story has a shadow, not quite visible, but nearly tangible: It belongs to Democratic political consultant George Shipley. What's up with that? Well, Shipley is among Sanchez' outside advisors. He has always worked in the past for Morales, among others. And Shipley has been the strategist and voice for the private lawyers hired by then-AG Morales to sue the tobacco companies.

Morales, as AG, also hired Marc Murr to work on the tobacco suit. But his associates have said they weren't aware Murr did any work, and political opponents contend Morales tried to set up a deal that would have personally benefited him after Murr got paid. Morales says that's baloney, but it apparently became the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney, and those political opponents have kept the story alive by saying (for better than a year) that indictments are imminent. In November, Morales tried to force his former colleagues to give federal depositions in that case "to prove" his innocence, he said. That didn't work, and the issue is likely to come up in the campaign.

We mention that, in part, to describe the radioactive ground where Shipley is standing. One of the people Morales wanted to question is John Eddy Williams, one of the tobacco lawyers Morales hired as AG and who in turn hired Shipley for advice on the tobacco litigation and settlement. Williams is no longer an ally to Morales and Shipley has been working for the other candidate. But we didn't get a chance to ask: Shipley was out of town when we tried him, and didn't return calls.

Sanchez said on filing night that he was surprised when Morales switched to the governor's race. The two hadn't talked about it and Sanchez said he wasn't aware of any bad blood between them. He said he'll stick with his game plan, and said he is confident that most of the Democratic stalwarts around the state are already committed to him. He's certainly got the jump.

The first spin from that campaign, in the form of an email to supporters, noted that Morales "once again changed his mind" to run for governor and notes but doesn't detail rumors about his motives for taking on Sanchez. It also says the Laredo businessman will take him seriously.

So will the GOP. It's too early to know the answer to this, but at first glance, a Morales victory in the Democratic primary would be better news for other Republicans on the ballot than for Gov. Rick Perry. Morales and Perry came up at about the same time. Both did time in the House, and both were elected to statewide office in 1990, Perry to agriculture commissioner and Morales to attorney general. Morales is, as previously noted, a better-known candidate than Sanchez and a more experienced campaigner. Perry, at first blush, would probably prefer to run against a tenderfoot.

Other candidates on the GOP ticket will look at the Sanchez money. If other Democrats are counting on the benefits of big spending on turnout by Sanchez, other Republicans are dreading it. If Sanchez got knocked out of contention in March, GOP candidates from John Cornyn to Carole Keeton Rylander would have one less thing to worry about.

The Tale of Two Henrys

In our last episode, former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar had considered running for his old seat in the Texas House but had decided against the idea. It would put his political career in reverse gear, he said, and he wanted to concentrate on rebuilding his law practice. He said he might campaign for Gov. Rick Perry, the Republican who appointed him, but otherwise planned to lay low.

That was that. And then, on the last day, he filed to run for Congress against a national Republican favorite, U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. Cuellar, a Democrat, was apparently encouraged by several Democratic and Hispanic members of the Texas delegation to Washington, D.C.

Cuellar hurt himself on his home turf of Laredo with his support for Perry and his feuding with Sanchez (starting when investigators hired by a Sanchez lawyer went around the Capitol asking questions about Cuellar's sexuality last year). But at the same time, Democrats from Laredo to San Antonio want the congressional seat back in the hands of a Democrat instead of a rising Republican star. Some of them think Cuellar, warts or not, is the best shot their party has at the incumbent. And it gives him a road to rehabilitation with the people who were upset.

Nice Names. Do They Have Any Money?

The race for U.S. Senate turned into a crowd magnet, with five candidates finally signing up on each side (this is after Dan Morales dropped out, mind you). At least three–Republican John Cornyn and Democrats Ken Bentsen and Ron Kirk–are expected to have serious money in the game. Others could pop up, though. Ed Cunningham, a former football player who became a sports agent, has been trying to drum up money from a network of players and their families. Their most recent fundraising period is over, but the candidates don't have to file reports with the Federal Election Commission until the end of the month.

Those are the deadlines for federal candidates, but you'll get a look at money in state races earlier than that; the deadline for year-end reports in those races is January 15. Even then, it can be hard to tell who's for real and who isn't; some candidates are only now raising the money to finance their primary fights, and candidates who got a walk in the primaries have even more time to put together treasuries.

Candidates running in districts that are completely inside one county don't have to file with the state party, and some of the races are slow to update. If you look at the Internet sites for the parties–probably the best single place to get information about filings–some races are incomplete. For instance, Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, is running for Senate in SD-10. On the state site, he appears to be unopposed. In fact, he got a primary opponent and a general election opponent for that open seat race. The counties don't have to have that information in the hands of the state parties until January 12, so chances are good that watchers will be stumbling over new names for several days.

The Republican listings can be found at http://www.texasgop.org. Once you're there, click on Election 2002 Candidate Filings in the upper right-hand corner. The Democrats list their candidates at http://www.texasdems.org. Go to the upper right corner and click on Elections 2002.

House Democrats Take a Dip

It's typical to lose 40 to 50 members of the House in a redistricting year. Some quit. Some get beat. That always has an effect–there is usually a speaker' race close to a big turnover year, for instance. This time, the Democrats start underwater. Last session, 78 of the 150 House members were Democrats, and only 64 of them are trying to come back. That's not fatal or anything, but it is 11 votes short of the halfway mark, even if each of them makes it back to the House. Among the late dropouts: Rep. Bob Turner, who considered running for the House and for the Senate, decided to do neither; and Dale Tillery, a Dallas Democrat who was paired during redistricting. Both are committee chairs.

House Speaker Pete Laney got an opponent on the last day of filing–Judy Strickland, a State Board of Education member from Plainview. She called Laney a friend twice in the press release announcing her run, and said she's running so the area will still have a strong legislative presence when Republicans are in charge next session. Laney said he's not ready to concede that.

Better a Late Kumbaya Than None at All

Henry Cisneros is taking the other side of the fight, but Rep. Mike Villareal, D-San Antonio, still has some buddies. He's holding a reception in a few days that lists as "Honorable Guests" U.S. Reps. Charlie Gonzales and Ciro Rodriguez, House Speaker Laney, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolfe, Sens. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, Rep. Pete Gallego, and most notably, Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo. Villareal was paired with another House member in an early version of redistricting. He acted on that preliminary map, saying he would drop out of the House and run against Elizondo. That ruffled some feathers and when the final map came out and he jumped back into the House race, Cisneros took the side of his new opponent (who also happens to be a Cisneros relative). Elizondo, let off the hook, is supporting Villareal.

Morales Wasn't the Only Switcher

John Carter, who gave up a state judgeship to run for Congress, is getting the endorsements of most elected county officials in Williamson County and city officials in Round Rock for a race in a district that runs from suburban Austin to suburban Houston. The newly created CD-31 attracted eight Republicans and a Democrat; most handicappers think the winner of the Republican primary should have a relatively easy go of it in November. But the primary could be interesting. Among the contestants: Brad Barton, son of congressman Joe Barton; and Peter Wareing, who ran a costly but unsuccessful race for a Houston-based seat two years ago. The Democrat, David Bagley, is from Caldwell, which isn't one of the districts three population centers.

Phil Sudan, another wealthy Houstonian with an expensive loss under his belt, was expected to be in that race, or in the race for the Houston district left open by U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen's decision to run for U.S. Senate. But Sudan uncorked a surprise and filed in CD-5, which has been in the hands of one Dallas resident or another for decades. It stretches to the south a good ways from Dallas but comes to rest three counties to the north of Sudan's home turf. It's legal, but it's odd. He'll face three Dallas candidates and one from Scurry in the primary. The winner will face one of three Democrats in a race that includes former state appeals court judge Ron Chapman, who now lives in Cedar Creek.

Two senators who considered congressional bids will stay put. Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, waited and waited but finally decided to run for reelection in SD-2 (that freed Chapman, who didn't want to run against a friend, to run for Congress). That sets up a rematch with Dr. Bob Deuell, a Republican from Greenville. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, got a cakewalk: no opponents. Sens. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, and Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi, decided against reelection bids. If every incumbent seeking reelection succeeds, only six senators who served last session won't be back.

The empty Bentsen chair in Congress will bring the expected fight on the Democratic side: City councilmen Chris Bell and Carroll Robinson, former Rep. Paul Colbert and Stephen King all signed up to run. The winner of that funfest will face Tom Reiser, the sole Republican, in November.

This Never Happens in Court, of Course

Two judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals got their wires crossed and somehow filed for the wrong spots on the ballot. It's not a big deal unless you're a naturally suspicious person, but technically speaking, Cathy Cochran should have signed up for Place 2 on the ballot and Paul Womack should have signed up for Place 3. The two managed to sign up in a way that didn't put them in the same race, which is the way they wanted it. But they raised questions from some folks about whether they had blown their legal rights to call their campaigns "reelections." That's important only because election laws are so weird. But we checked the rumor and it's bogus. The two judges are on the bench now and can have signs that include the word "reelect."

Cochran, a recent appointee to the court, finds herself in a four-way primary in March; the winner will face Democrat J.R. Molina in November. Womack is running against David Richards, a visiting appellate judge, and Steve Mansfield, who used to be on the criminal appeals court.

• Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs got out of the gate with an endorsement from former Texas Ranger pitcher Nolan Ryan. He was once touted as a candidate for the job; he'll be her honorary chairman. Ernesto DeLeon, who lost the Democratic primary for Ag commissioner four years ago to former Rep. Pete Patterson, showed up again. That came as a surprise to Rep. Tom Ramsay, who thought DeLeon was planning to stay out this year. Ramsay is giving up his House seat to make that race; the winner will face Combs in November.

• Add another candidate in that open seat district east of Dallas. Tommy Hooper, a CPA and former school board president, is running in HD-89, which includes Rockwall County and part of Collin County. We've mentioned the other two Republicans in the race, Mike Lawshe and Jodie Laubenberg–now you can add Lehman Harris of Rockwall, a Democrat, to the mix.

While We Were Out

The Texas Ethics Commssion waited until the holidays to announce its long-awaited decision on whether court clerks can be paid by private law firms while they're working for the state. The opinion says the clerks can't take outside pay by virtue of their positions. In other words, law firms can't pay them a bump simply because they work on the state's highest civil court. There's still some room to work with, apparently; Chief Justice Tom Phillips said he'll work with Travis County prosecutors to try to find a way to satisfy the new ruling and the clerks. The clerks make under $40,000 a year while they're working for the court. That's well above the average Texan's salary, but well below the average first-year lawyer's average pay.

• Texans for Public Justice, the do-gooder group that's been giving the Texas Supreme Court grief over briefing clerks, among other things, got a $50,000 grant from the Washington, D.C.-based Arca Foundation. That foundation, founded by one of the heirs of the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, has given the Austin group a total of $225,000 over the last few years. They also said they're getting $50,000 from a foundation run by international investor George Soros.

• While we're on the subject of money in envelopes, the Campaigns for People group that lobbied the Legislature to reform the state's campaign finance laws got a $50,000 grant to work on judicial campaign finance reform. The check is from an organization called Open Society Institute and Justice at Stake; the object is to get a grass-roots campaign going for judicial campaign finance reform.

• The Texas economy is worse than the number-crunchers thought it would be, but they still don't want to call it a recession. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander cut her growth estimates by one-half of a percentage point, but said the state isn't sinking and continues to outperform the national economy. She also acknowledged that a recovery is farther away than expected.

• Rep. George "Buddy" West, R-Odessa, folded up his speaker campaign and endorsed Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland in that race. Publicly, he said that was the best way to ensure a speaker from the oilpatch. Privately, he told some colleagues that Craddick's supporters back home had put together a strong "shut up and get in line" campaign that he just couldn't oppose.

• While we were on break, the staff of the Texas Senate, or at least some of it, beat the staff of the Texas House in an annual football game noted for grudges and boasting and all of the normal hard feelings you would hope for in a deal like this. The 27-13 win was the first in five years for the aides in the upper chamber.

The Busy Holiday Appointment Machine

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Sandee Bryan Marion, judge of a probate court in San Antonio, to the 4th District Court of Appeals. She's replacing Justice Tom Rickhoff, whose resignation took effect at the end of the year... Perry appointed Frank Rynd of Houston, an associate judge, to serve as judge on the 309th District Court. The governor named Jeffrey Brown of Houston to the 55th District Court. He's an attorney at Baker Botts. Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson got the nod for a district court job there. As he moves to the 277th District Court, his assistant, John Bradley, won the appointment to Anderson's old job as D.A.

Perry named Lance Bruun and Larry Leibrock to the board of the Department of Information Resources. Bruun is a Corpus Christi lawyer; Leibrock is associate dean for technology at the business school at the University of Texas.

President George W. Bush was naming names over the holidays, too, saying he intends to nominate Jane Boyle of Dallas as the U.S. Attorney for the state's northern district. She has been a U.S. Magistrate there since 1990, and was a former assistant U.S. attorney before that.

Bush tapped Matthew Orwig to be the next U.S. Attorney for the state's eastern district. He's been an assistant in that U.S. Attorney's office since 1989 and was a lawyer in Lubbock before that.

Political People and Their Moves

David Beckwith returns from Washington, D.C., to do some of the talking for the John Cornyn Senate campaign. Beckwith worked for Dan Quayle and for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and was dispatched by the White House to come help in the Texas contest to replace U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm... Nick Voinis, press secretary to Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, is leaving to become the spokesman for the David Dewhurst campaign. Dewhurst is running for Lite Guv on the Republican ticket (Ratliff decided to try to win back his seat in the Senate). Voinis worked for Hutchison (with Beckwith) and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander. Ratliff's deputy press secretary–Mary Jane Wardlow, a former Bob Bullock aide who also has worked for Dewhurst and Rylander–will move up... Juli Branson is leaving Rylander's office to write speeches for U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta. She worked in Washington once before, as an aide to U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio... Bryan Collier is the new director of paroles in the Texas prison system, replacing Victor Rodriguez, who left to run the McAllen Police Department... Hanna Liebman Dershowitz, general counsel to Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, during last year's legislative session, is the new legal director of Texas Appleseed. She'll work on the state's new indigent defense law, part of the criminal justice package she helped Ellis pass last year... Robert "Sam" Tessen is the first executive director of the state's Office of Rural Community Affairs. He had been the honcho at the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, and used to work in a rural health operation that has now been folded into ORCA... Federal judges have lifetime gigs, if they want them, but U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall of Dallas would apparently rather be a (much better paid) lawyer. Appointed by the other President George Bush almost ten years ago, Kendall will leave at the end of the month to work for Provost & Umphrey, a Beaumont law firm long affiliated with Democrats... Dallas County Court-at-law Judge David Gibson quit his job when given the choice between that and a disciplinary action from the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission accused him of improper conversations with a lawyer representing someone in his court, mixing talk about the case with talk about political fundraising for Gibson. He denied all that in a press release, but said it would have been too consuming to defend himself... The same commission took a voluntary resignation from David Christian, a Brazoria County JP accused of sexually harassing one employee and having a consensual affair with another, and of falsifying charges against a political opponent. He admitted no wrongdoing, and agreed never to sit as a judge in the state again.

Quotes of the Week

John McCarthy, former bishop of the Catholic diocese in Austin, as quoted in the Austin American-Statesman: "We do have this scene going on right now of where you mix politics and religion, with disastrous effects. If you have a person who has the power to tax you, to imprison you and to jail you, and that person thinks he has a direct line with God, you have a problem."

U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk, hearing that former Attorney General Dan Morales had decided to run for governor instead of senator: "My life just got better." Gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez Jr., reacting to the same news: "We'll stick to our game plan and see what happens." Attorney General candidate Kirk Watson, watching the switcheroo from the sideline: "Life changes!"

Paul Ballard, executive administrator of the Texas Permanent School Fund, which made $105 million selling out its Enron stock before that company went into its death spiral, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman: "That stock became so volatile in November, it became a lottery ticket."

Republican Attorney General candidate Greg Abbott, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "There is no legal requirement to return that money, but to be above the appearance of impropriety, I am going to return the money I got from Enron three years ago."

Former Dallas Observer columnist Laura Miller, now a candidate for mayor, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram why she won't talk to the publication that employed her for seven years: "It is ironic and everyone recommends I talk to them because I know the ones that won't talk are the ones they really spear. I understand all that, but I think that if I can't trust them at all why would I talk to them?"


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 26, 7 January 2002. 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.


Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today