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Getting On Down the Road

Gov. Rick Perry will uncork a sweeping transportation proposal within the week that will include high speed rail lines connecting some of the state's biggest cities, leasing of highway right of way to companies that want to build pipelines and fiber optic networks and cellular towers, the use of state money to supplement tolls on roads that can't initially pay their own way, and a new notion about how to build, operate and pay for all of it.

Gov. Rick Perry will uncork a sweeping transportation proposal within the week that will include high speed rail lines connecting some of the state's biggest cities, leasing of highway right of way to companies that want to build pipelines and fiber optic networks and cellular towers, the use of state money to supplement tolls on roads that can't initially pay their own way, and a new notion about how to build, operate and pay for all of it.

Swim or sink, this is Perry's bid for a visionary idea that will define his governorship.

Perry's staff briefed legislative leaders, lobbyists, and newspaper editorial writers and editors in advance, on the condition that they'd keep their traps shut until the official rollout of the plan (we weren't included and aren't bound to any deals), which was scheduled for Monday.

The governor and his policy folks have talked about high-speed rail both for passengers and freight, and he's started mentioning the general idea in stump speeches this year. Put an emphasis on freight: This is largely an attempt to get trucks out of the way of cars, to lower pollution from emissions and to keep things moving. Put the freight on a train or on another road and the cars are free to zip along, the goods keep moving and the emissions can, possibly, be cut or at least moved out of cities that are already in trouble under the federal Clean Air Act.

Perry's folks are also talking about lower speed commuter lines, and about putting it all along transportation corridors that are likely to bring in enough money to fund the projects. The busiest corridors now include I-35 between San Antonio and Dallas, and I-10 between San Antonio and Houston. We heard two versions on this and we'll share both: One would put the new traffic along existing corridors, while the other would still connect some of the same cities, but along new routes. Put your money on the second option, but don't be surprised if they end up with a mix.

And then there's this big, vague idea about specific plans. Perry wants to cast a net for proposals, telling the world that Texas wants to connect these points with those points and is open to ideas. Whoever has the best idea at the most reasonable price gets to build it or at least to take part.

That could mean, for instance, allowing a company to propose a high-speed train carrying standardized containers and paying for it with a mix of private and public money. That could include traditional toll roads, or truck-only roads, or express highways with fewer stops to interrupt traffic flow. One proposal that's been knocked around would allow development of hubs outside of urban areas where freight could change hands without forcing so many big trucks onto local roads.

How would they pay for it? With the so-called Mobility Fund created by the last Legislature. That fund is essentially a revolving credit account that lets the state shift from a pay-as-you-go system of paying for roads to a bond-it, build-it system. The state's big highway contractors like the steady flow of income and projects that comes with the current system. But the state can only build 36 percent of the transportation stuff it needs under that system. Borrowing to build could speed transportation development. The reason for the "creative" approach: There is no money to pay those kinds of debts, and budgeteers predict a squeeze next year between rising costs and slowing revenues.

Related, sort-of: Federal transportation officials are murmuring about cutting estimates of what's in the federal highway trust fund, supposedly because of lower-than-expected gasoline tax revenue. Anything like that would cut into the state's highway allotment from the feds, which would in turn limit options for new infrastructure.

Surprise Grabs Attention, but Money Holds It

It's far from over, but the momentum in the governor's race has shifted from Dan Morales back to Tony Sanchez. Morales grabbed the limelight with his surprise entry into the race and held it for a couple of weeks by actually adding some content to the contest. But Sanchez responded quickly with a massive television buy, with efforts to lock up the ground troops his campaign has been trying to nurture, with his sudden emergence as a candidate who actually appears before non-political groups, and did we mention the massive television buy?

Morales got stuck in a debate debate. That's a standard and boring exercise that has come to signify, at least in state races, that a candidate doesn't have the money to compete with paid media and will instead rely on what the hacks call "free media." If you're demanding debates, you're asking the public and the press to assist you in putting together an event that few want to attend, to listen to, or to watch. That said, Morales popped out a couple of television spots, one of them a humorous jab at Sanchez. The gist: "If we were Tony Sanchez, we wouldn't want to debate Dan Morales, either."

Morales' ads, cleverly put together by his two brothers, don't have much gunpowder behind them. He's going on television in Beaumont, the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, Laredo, and in limited amounts in San Antonio, Austin and on the Texas Cable News Network. Morales has the advantage of being relatively well known; he can reintroduce himself and start gigging his opponent right away.

Sanchez, meanwhile, is buying statewide TV time at the rate of about $700,000 a week. His current round of spots, all of which are biographical, are hard to miss. They're professional, slick, and even some Republicans admire them. Unlike Morales, Sanchez has to establish his identity and then go after his opponent. He's got a bigger chore. But he's got the wallet to get there, unless Morales comes up with some serious money in the next couple of weeks. Give the advantage, for now, to the rich guy.

A footnote: One of the two ignored candidates in the race, John WorldPeace, filed suit in Houston to stop debates from going on without him in the mix, and objected to Spanish language debates in the race that don't make some accommodation for candidates who don't speak that language.

Outraising the Incumbent

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is now battling a prominent preacher as well as state Rep. John Shields, R-San Antonio, in his bid for reelection to the Senate. John Hagee, a well-known televangelist, put out a letter calling Wentworth "the most aggressive pro-abortion politician in Texas." That's a swipe at Wentworth's pro-choice stance, which has long been a sore spot with socially conservative Republicans in his district.

That's a tough race for Wentworth, who was outraised by the challenger in the last six months of last year. Wentworth pulled in $41,821, while Shields raised $199,430. Shields' total includes $50,000 from Dr. James Leininger, $2,000 from the law firm where Wentworth works, and $100,000 from car dealer Red McCombs, who is the candidate's father-in-law. Also listed, but not included in the total, is a $50,000 pledge from Austin banker David Hartman and outstanding loans of $81,000. Wentworth is hollering that his base of support is broader. But, so far, it's not as deep.

Wentworth's report included a $2,500 contribution from the Texas Association of Auto Dealers, the trade group for McCombs and other car dealers. On the expenditure side, it includes some $25,000 in contributions to charities and other groups that, while laudable, don't necessarily help in reelection bids. Wentworth gave to organizations like Boys Hope Girls Hope, San Antonio Charity Ball, Comal Public School Foundation, Fiesta San Antonio, KMFA (a public radio station in Austin), Mcnay Art Museum and the White Museum, National Jewish Medical and Research Center and the UT Health Science Center, and West Texas A&M University, which was collecting money for an Anita Perry scholarship, the Rotary Club, and the library, the zoo and the Craft Center in San Antonio.

Wentworth was holding a fundraiser as we went to press that his consultants said would bring in $250,000 or so; the actual mileage, which could vary, will be in the next report. Since Wentworth is in a contested primary, that report is due February 11.

Voter Ennui, by County and Ethnicity

One item floating around that AFL-CIO convention earlier this month was a Get Out The Vote packet that included estimates of how many Hispanics and African-Americans fall into the category of "unregistered potential voters." That's the Democrats' starting point for a new wave of minority voters who could overcome Republican margins in statewide races.

In the top 15 counties in Texas, there are 942,729 Hispanics of voting age who aren't registered to vote. The lists put together by the Emory Young & Associates consulting firm include a page with seven counties where 338,321 Black adults are unregistered to vote. The idea? Sign them up and get them to the polls, and Democrats win some elections. The problem, which might or might not be surmountable, is in getting non-voters to change their ways and to do so quickly. The primary elections are less than two months off, and the general elections are ten months off. That sounds like a long time, but they're trying to get the better part of 1.2 million people to get involved in politics.

The Hispanic voters are listed in these counties and in these numbers: Harris, 303,193; Dallas, 206,181; Tarrant, 74,023; Bexar, 72,070; El Paso, 70,576; Hidalgo, 66,098; Cameron, 44,470; and Webb, 22,021. None of the other counties listed had more than 20,000 potential Hispanic voters in them. They were Nueces, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Lubbock, Brazoria, and Montgomery.

The African-American voters on the potentials lists were in Harris, 133,749; Dallas, 95,376; Tarrant, 38,660; Bexar, 21,458; Jefferson, 18,322; Travis, 16,298; and Fort Bend, 14,458.

Don't Expect a Big Jump in New Voters Right Away

The Democratic effort is aimed more at the general election than at the primaries in March. The Tony Sanchez campaign, which is expected to be the money behind the minority registration and turnout effort, has already begun doling out cash to legislators and organizers to produce support for the Laredo businessman in March. The amounts we're hearing range from $275,000 to $500,000. It depends on who is talking and on what city they're talking about. But for example, there's a story going around that various minority senators and representatives from San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston have gotten big checks to turn into voter turnout in the primaries. The money goes to the local personality who can then dole it out to various political captains and sergeants and privates back home in return for work getting Democratic, and more specifically Sanchez voters to the polls.

Sanchez aides won't connect particular numbers with particular lawmakers, but confirm they're beginning an aggressive voter turnout effort. And they say they'll mount a bigger effort—probably more connected to those "potential voter" estimates—in the general election. That's based on what has become a well-worn but untested theory for the coming elections: Are there enough untapped minority voters in Texas to turn the Republican tide back in favor of the Democrats? On a spreadsheet, there appears to be a lot of unharvested support. In reality, only the non-voters know what they'll do in March and November. Republicans are betting they'll remain non-voters. Democrats are hoping they'll become the magic variable in this year's elections.

The Medium is the Mailbox

Television ads get all the attention because of the short attention spans of the editors who oversee what political reporters do (that was a jab, folks, from someone with both jobs). But campaigns talk to voters in ways that don't get so much attention. Mail, for instance. And the campaigns are much less willing to share what they dump in people's mailboxes. That's partly because political people are trained paranoiacs. And it's partly because mail is one of the best places to go negative on an opponent. Some consultants and candidates think negative mail works better than negative television, and believe people are more likely to read hard-hitting mail messages than warm and fuzzy stuff. The Sanchez campaign, for instance, won't agree to show us their mailers. But their reason is revealing: Campaign manager Glenn Smith says he doesn't want to waste two hours every day of the campaign explaining everything that's going on. Sounds like a pretty extensive program, huh?

Cutting Back the Burn Rate

Republican kibitzers descended in force on attorney general candidate Greg Abbott after his campaign finance reports came out. Their whine? That the campaign is raising money too slowly and spending it too rapidly.

Campaign manager Mona Taylor says the campaign stayed on full throttle until it was clear they didn't draw a primary opponent. Anyone who disagrees with that strategy, she says, can ask Tony Sanchez if he was surprised by Dan Morales' sneak attack in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The Abbott camp has cut monthly expenses by $32,000, Taylor says. They've pared the paid staff down to five employees. Some of the consultants still on retainer got their monthly rates chopped, and several more were let go, at least for now. Taylor says nobody got dumped for bad work and said many of the temporarily dropped political workers could be back on board when the AG's general election race between Abbott and Democrat Kirk Watson heats up later in the year.

The Abbott campaign spent $193,682 on payroll and related expenses for 15 employees during the last six months of the year. Add in another $140,346 attributed to contract labor and to consulting, and you arrive at the content of the complaints. Those expenses accounted for nearly half of the $740,941 Abbott spent during the period. He raised $1.2 million at the same time, or about half what Watson raised and was pledged during the same period.

Pensions, Property Taxes, & an Enron Angle

Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, says he'll be on television for about ten days with a buy concentrated in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. He's running for land commissioner against former Sen. Jerry Patterson, R-Pasadena, and says the TV won't start until early voting is going. It'll be accompanied with some mail, and he says he'll spend around $1.4 million in the process. Part of that is his own money. George loaned his campaign $500,000 after the last reporting period ended. Patterson says he'll use radio and mail for the fight and doesn't plan to waste money on television. He says only about 600,000 Republicans will vote in the primary and that there is no reason to run ads for the 20.5 million Texans who won't be in that group.

Meanwhile, the two are quibbling faster than anyone outside of the Democratic governor's race. Patterson says George was the majority owner and CEO of a Dallas company, Baker GRFX, that is a couple of years behind in its property taxes. George says he had nothing to do with the company's management when the taxes went overdue, and a company official (it's now in bankruptcy) agrees with that. Patterson points out that the first overdue taxes date from 2000, when George was still in the driver's seat. Patterson also says George would be a risky candidate for the general election because of a pending pension lawsuit that's set to go to trial in late spring. If it does, and if George loses, the GOP would have a damaged candidate to send to the November elections. The case accuses George of cheating employee participants in the sale of another company several years ago by taking more than his share of the proceeds. He says it's bogus and in any case should be left to the courts.

On the other side of the fight, George says Patterson has an Enron problem, since his accounts include a $5,000 contribution from that discredited company's political action committee and $10,000 from former Enron CEO Ken Lay (who also hosted a Patterson funder). George's reasoning: The General Land Office was one of the losers in the Enron collapse and will be suing the company over that. Since he took money from the company, Patterson has a conflict of interest, according to George. Patterson says he won't do anything about it right away—not while George is warting him about it, anyway. He does say he'll do something with the money after the primary and says no Enron conflict will be in place by the time of the elections in November.

Gay Bashing Gay-Bashers

Candidates who are ahead in fundraising and who lead in the polls usually don't attack their opponents, but Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, is on the warpath. And he's doing some gay bashing in response to what he says is gay-bashing from his opponent, homebuilder Ed Harrison.

His latest press release touts support from all but one of the state's Republican senators and brags of his five-to-one fundraising advantage over Harrison in the race. The boasts are based on cumulative numbers; in the most recent period, Averitt raised $275,398 while Harrison raised $99,526. The Harrison total doesn't include a $100,000 loan he made to his campaign, apparently on the last day of the year (the date on the report had a typo in it).

The Averitt missive also claims he outpolls Harrison by 50 points when voters are asked what they would do if they "knew that Republican candidate Ed Harrison moved seven months ago from Dallas County into Senate District 22 to run for public office..." and that Averitt "has lived in the district for more than 20 years."

Then the Averitt piece gets down and dirty, questioning a poll by "liberal East Coast pollster Arthur Finkelstein" that was mentioned in a recent Harrison press release. Harrison's finance reports don't include payment for such a poll, which Averitt suggests is a reporting violation. If you're tracking little ironies, Finkelstein is known among political hacks for popularizing the use of the liberal label by Republicans attacking Democratic opponents.

Then there is this: " is blatantly hypocritical for Mr. Harrison to be openly bashing homosexuals—as he so often does on the campaign trail—while paying thousands of dollars to an out-of-state pollster whose lifestyle he obviously abhors."

Time magazine outed Finkelstein six years ago, according to the release. Harrison, according to Averitt's campaign, has been blasting Averitt's vote on the state's hate crimes law by saying it gives greater protections to homosexuals than to everyone else. The words in the Averitt press release are put in the mouth of Amy Collier, a campaign spokesperson. It was prepared by his political consultants at the Fort Worth-based Eppstein Group.

Political Notes

Lite Guv candidate John Sharp picked up an endorsement from the Texas Association of Realtors. The Texas Hospital Association gave a nod to Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for attorney general. The PAC affiliated with the Texas Medical Association added some new candidates to their endorsement list in the House, all of them Republicans: Carter Casteel, in HD-73 in Central Texas; Dan Branch in HD-108 in Dallas; Wayne Smith in HD-128 in suburban Houston; and Debbie Riddle in HD-150 in Houston. That PAC also did a dual endorsement in the GOP primary for one of the spots on the Texas Supreme Court, saying it likes both John Cayce and Dale Wainwright.

• Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander is running against Democrat Marty Akins in the November elections. And she'll have one of his former teammates at her side. Akins, a former University of Texas quarterback, once said he roomed with Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell. He didn't, and apparently, they're not that close: Campbell will be co-chairing Rylander's campaign.

• The business lobby is intensifying the fight with the state's doctors. The Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce put out a ten-point program to toughen regulation of doctors by the state's Board of Medical Examiners. The group wants stricter penalties against doctors who break the rules, and they want the state to post lists of offenders on the Internet where anyone can have a look. The head of the trade association, Bill Hammond, is fast to say that most doctors and other medical professionals are good guys, but he also contends that more people die every year from medical mistakes than from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDS. TABCC wants the medical board refashioned so that a majority of members aren't doctors.

Political People and Their Moves

Texas Education Commissioner Jim Nelson is leaving at the end of March to take a job that pays more and probably has fewer people breathing down his neck. Nelson, an attorney, will move to Dallas to work at Voyager Expanded Learning, a private education firm. That gives Gov. Rick Perry a perilous opportunity to appoint someone who can either heat or cool the debate over education heading into the November elections. It's too early, probably, for a bona fide short list, but a few names popped up in the wake of Nelson's announcement: Austin lawyer Sandy Kress, who helped President Bush push his education plan through Congress; John Stevens, head of the Texas Business and Education Coalition; Dallas County Judge Lee Jackson, a Perry friend who's leaving his county job; and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a social conservative who would break a long succession of Anglo males (Williams is African-American) in the state's top education job... The search committee looking for a new executive director at Texas Parks & Wildlife recommended Robert Cook, an agency insider who has been acting director since the first of the year... Stefanie Sanford, the technology wonk in Gov. Perry's policy office, is leaving next month to become the senior policy officer for the Gates Foundation's new Washington, D.C., office. That's the foundation set up by Microsoft founder Bill Gates; they're working up a new set of goals, and Sanford will work on the education and library pieces of that.... Kirsten Voinis, a former reporter who's been doing press work for Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, for the last seven years, is going out on her own (now that Sibley has resigned, his staff has been answering the phone "Senate District 22"). As you read this, Voinis has just started a public relations consultancy. She'll do a mix of political, public policy and corporate work... Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston adds Kalunda Wambua, a graduate of the LBJ school at UT who has been working for a consulting firm for five years, and Loi Taylor, a University of Houston grad, to his Austin office... Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, hired Arturo Lopez as a senior policy analyst. Lopez worked in the House for Reps. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, and Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas... Harris County Judge (and former Rep.) Robert Eckels is adding a law firm gig to his full-time job at the county. He told the Houston Chronicle he won't draw a salary or benefits but will get paid when he refers business to the firm (Looper, Reed & McGraw) or when he's called in for advice... Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb, left a Bowie County Democratic Women's meeting in Texarkana feeling a little woozy the other night. He went to the hospital, where they looked, contemplated and installed two new stints in a couple of narrowed arteries. At our deadline, he expected to be back to normal after the weekend.

Quotes of the Week

Dallas City Council member Laura Miller, responding to an accusation from Rep. Domingo Garcia that she offered to pay him off in return for his support in the runoff for mayor of Dallas, quoted by WFAA-TV: "I wouldn't buy Domingo a cup of coffee, let along do something like this."

U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, defending the role of his wife, Wendy Lee Gramm, on the board of directors of Enron Corp., in The Dallas Morning News: "When all the facts are known, people will find she did nothing wrong. But this thing is going to be around for a long time."

Bill Hammond, head of the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce, on state plans to double unemployment insurance taxes to cover an $800 million shortfall in the state fund for out-of-work Texans, in the Houston Chronicle: "It's not that large of a tax. For most employers it's a substantial percentage increase, but in terms of actual dollars it's not that large."

Dr. Lee Anderson of Fort Worth, head of the state's Board of Medical Examiners, in a Dallas Morning News story on complaints that the board is too lenient on doctors charged with sexual misconduct: "I'm beginning to think that someone who is exchanging prescriptions for sex is an imminent threat to the public welfare."

Seguin resident Eddie Miller, telling the San Antonio Express-News why he's seeking the Republican nomination for an unusual job in Guadalupe County: "I just want to be the last inspector of hides and animals in Texas. I won't take any pay or ask for a truck or an office or anything."

Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 29, 28 January 2002. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2002 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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