Land Commissioner David Dewhurst stood up a big room full of veterans who were waiting to hear him speak last week. He was supposed to talk at the morning session of the Veterans of Foreign Wars mid-winter conference. But he left a crowd of about 1,500 former warriors sitting on their hands.
Officially, they weren't miffed about it. But several of them were motivated to call reporters to make the snub known. A number of people pointed out that this is one of his main constituencies and that he is seeking the lieutenant governor's job and might need support. Unlike some groups, veterans actually vote. Worse is that the incident reinforces Dewhurst's reputation for canceling at the last minute and for running late for events. This wasn't the first crowd he promised and then let down.
The group always invites the land commissioner, who heads the Veteran's Land Board that handles land programs for veterans, and also invited Gov. Rick Perry. Perry made it, but Dewhurst, who was scheduled to close the thing before lunch started, was running late, according to the VFW's Glen Gardner. Gardner–who should be counted as one of the folks who said this was no big deal–says Dewhurst was supposed to speak last, but Perry and some of the other speakers finished more quickly than expected. Even if Dewhurst had been on time, there would have been a gap before his speech, because the program was already tapering off and the crowd was thinning.
Gardner says he was warned in advance that Dewhurst would be late, and he doesn't think of Dewhurst's tardiness as a slight. He says most others at the VFW took no offense, and adds that Dewhurst spoke to about 600 people later, at a dinner during the same conference.
The trade group for doctors is telling candidates to ignore a questionnaire from one of the state's leading business trade groups, saying the questions are biased against doctors and in favor of HMOs. The questions were sent by the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce to all of the candidates for the state Legislature. The board of that trade group's political action committee will meet within the week to figure out who should get its support, and in some cases, its money. Privately, doctors say they thought they were close to bridging the chasm between them and various business groups and the governor's office. This exchange, they fear, cost them several months of work.
"We respectfully ask that you not (their emphasis, not ours) respond to this brainless set of double-edged philosophical questions," the letter says. It's on the letterhead of TEXPAC–the political action committee of the Texas Medical Association, and signed by a couple of doctors who serve on the PAC's board. One glitch: The letter urging candidates to ignore the questionnaire–at least the three copies we saw–is dated after the deadline for turning in the answers to the questions. By the time they got the cautionary note from the doctors, most candidates who were inclined to answer had probably already done so, and mailed in their completed forms.
The questionnaires are 22 pages long, and the 13 healthcare questions take up three of those pages. Some of the questions that apparently lit up the doctors: "With the FBI naming health care fraud the #2 directive behind terrorism, would you support strong legislation that would penalize fraudulent providers in our health care system?", "Would you oppose legislation that allows competing physicians to circumvent federal anti-trust laws by allowing them to form physician 'cartels' that could potentially drive up the cost of health care?" TABCC's Bill Hammond says the questionnaires weren't skewed on anyone's behalf, and said he was surprised the docs told candidates to toss it in the trash.
The Knee Bone's Connected to the Thigh Bone...
The Texas GOP has won several awards for its website, and now it's being lampooned and copied all at the same time on a website linked to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez. At a website called www.EnronOwnsTheGOP.com, a group calling itself "Texas 02" is spearing Texas Republicans while ignoring the company's smaller but significant contributions to Democrats.
The new site lifted its design straight from the party of the people being skewered and even mimics the GOP's links from the home page to stories deeper inside.
In the text, it slaps GOP candidates and officeholders in Texas who have any ties to the politically radioactive company. Where the real site (it's at www.TexasGOP.org) says "Republican Party of Texas", the parody site sticks the now infamous Enron "E" in the middle of the first word of the GOP's title, and then superimposes it on the party's elephant logo.
This is an early version of the coordinated campaign from the Democrats and they didn't go out of their way to erase their fingerprints. The creative work is being done by longtime Democratic operative Kelly Fero, who has worked for both Sanchez and John Sharp (as well as working years ago for Dan Morales). Sharp's running for lieutenant governor for the second time, and Sanchez and Morales are competing for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
The Texas02.com domain name is registered to a David Romanos Jr. of Laredo. Another domain–TonySanchez.com–also lists Romano as its administrative contact. That's the address for the Sanchez for Governor campaign. And Fero, the administrative dude at the new parody site, has Texas02.com in his email address. One more connection while we're ferreting around: Romanos' email address is at Sanchezog.com. That's the Internet home of Sanchez Oil & Gas, owned by the gubernatorial candidate and his family.
A spokeswoman for Sanchez says her candidate has never owned any Enron stock. Asked if he owned any indirectly–through an investment fund, for instance–she promised to look it up.
In other Digital News...
Peter Wareing, a Republican running for Congress, used to have a moustache. It was right there in the middle of his face when he got his picture taken with then-President Ronald Reagan. And when he got his picture taken with his wife, President George W. Bush, and U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison, he didn't stop to change ties.
But if you looked at his most recent campaign mailer, you'd think he was one clean-shaven, tie-toting politico. The folks who did the mailer for him digitally shaved off the mustache–matching the way he looked then to the way he looks now. And they cut the picture of all those Texas politicos to fit their layout. It's not unusual to crop a photo to fit a layout, or even to use the pieces in different spots.
The picture was trimmed to show Wareing with Bush. Another version was cut to show him with the senators. But they went further to make the pictures look different, using digital retouching so he appears to have been wearing a green-striped tie in one photo and a red-striped tie in the other.
A group called Young Republicans for Texas is trying to make a big deal out of the digitizing, but it's not clear who put them up to it. It's worth noting that U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, is one of the group's board members and that his son, Brad Barton, is one of the eight candidates chasing the Republican nomination. Barton's campaign spokesman said they were enjoying the fuss, but said he wasn't aware of any involvement from the Barton camp.
Separately, Barton put a television spot on the air in Bryan, but not in the exorbitantly expensive Austin and Houston TV markets that bracket the district. The district runs from suburban Houston to suburban Austin, and buying in the cities is the only way to get TV ads in front of those voters. Wareing's ads, up for at least a week, include a TV buy in Austin. Barton got a boost from a group called the American Tax Reform Association, a Washington outfit that put up an ad in Bryan noting that he and George W. Bush were among the notables who signed the group's no-tax pledge.
The Election Calendar
Absentee voting is about to start and, in some races, the axiom of treating early voting like Election Day is going to be critical. Look, for instance, at the Texas A&M University schedule for spring break. If you're a candidate, like Brad Barton, for example, who wants and needs the student vote in the primary, you have to get it early (Barton hasn't lived in the district for years, but returned recently to seek the new congressional seat there, hoping his Aggie roots will offset his newcomer status).
The students (who typically aren't great voters, anyway) will be even less of a factor if they're out of town filling up on sand and beer when the polls open. Similar non-political stuff could have an impact on the political calendar; you can informally track the strategies by watching the dates of the political mail you get. The first voter deadline for this year's elections is coming up: February 11 is the last day Texans can register to vote in the March 12 primaries. Early voting starts on February 25 (although counties can opt to start on February 23–the Saturday before the official start date).
The final list of candidates hasn't been posted yet, but the Texas Secretary of State probably has the most current (and certainly the most official) version. It's online at this almost impossibly long address: www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/candidates/index.shtml. If you're reading this online, just click it. That listing includes what the state knows about major and minor party contestants, and while there will still be a change here and there, it's close to being a final list.
Not So Special Elections
The state is now having two mostly meaningless statehouse elections in May. One winner will fill the term of the late Rep. Paul Hilbert, R-Houston, who died last year after a long illness. Winning that race will only be of limited usefulness, and then only if the winner is the same person who takes office next January. Three Republicans are running for Hilbert's post in March and the person who wins there will likely be in the Legislature next year, since no Democrats are in the race. If the winner there also wins in May, he or she will have seniority over the other freshmen in the House next year.
The governor also put the election to replace retired Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco on May 4. Filing won't begin until April, but Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, has already said he'll run in the special. That'll come after his March primary contest against Ed Harrison; Harrison can't run in the special election because he doesn't live in the district as it is now drawn. He lives in the new one, but not the old one.
Alternatives to the Status Quo
Houston lawyer John WorldPeace sends daily and sometimes more frequent rants to political reporters in Texas, keeping himself on their minds and in the papers to a greater extent than other similarly situated candidates. By similarly situated, we mean to say severely under funded candidates in high-profile state races. But these guys are in the same space on the ballot once occupied by a Mesquite schoolteacher named Victor Morales, so give them a moment.
WorldPeace has employed two emerging technologies to get the job done: telephone calling machines and the Internet. And because of the cost of traditional media, most other political candidates–including some of the rich ones–are at least looking at those things.
Still, some lesser-known candidates are having trouble breaking through all the noise to gain support for their causes. And they're getting on the phones to talk to reporters and to try to edge in.
Take, for example, Bill Lyon. He's running for governor and is having a hard time being heard over Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales–not to mention WorldPeace–in that contest. Lyon jokes that if you say his name real fast it sounds like "billion." He's on the Internet at www.BillLyon2002.com.
Or Dr. Bruce "Rusty" Lang, a Dallas physician who notes in campaign materials that he was once illegally employed (too young) in the mailroom of The Dallas Morning News. Like the others, he's on the Internet: www.RustyLangForSenate.org.
Lawrence Cranberg sends "Cranbergrams." He's a retired University of Texas professor who says we need a physicist in the U.S. Senate. He's online at www.LawrenceCranberg.org.
We told you last week about the governor's road proposal, but he added some details to it in his announcement. He wants to build, ultimately, 4,000 miles of new transportation corridor, up to 1,200 feet wide and accommodating six lanes of traffic, six rail lines and enough right of way to run wire or pipeline or whatever the builders think would be the best–and most profitable–use of that land. If your math is as slow as ours, that comes out to about 145 acres of right of way for every mile of this thing. Perry said the main method of finance would probably turn out to be tolls on the roads and on the rail, and charges for the utility easements along the roads. The price tag: $175 billion.
The state is making a package of financial tools available–all but one of them already in law. The Texas Mobility Fund, which would allow the state to use highway money to pay bonds instead of devoting it to the pay-as-you-go system, will be a minor part, he says. The state won't incur any debt or liability in the projects, which would be built by private companies and conglomerates that prevail in a proposal/bidding process. Regional transportation authorities would oversee the projects. They would be allowed to accumulate debts and liabilities that wouldn't bind the state. But to do that, the state Legislature will probably need to fine-tune something that slipped by when the transportation bills were passing last session. The state's transportation gurus are already talking about all this stuff, and think the first project could be out for bid in a matter of months.
Make a note here in case the federal government follows through on proposals to cut the amount of highway money going to Texas and other states. The feds are looking at cutting $9 billion from the federal highway trust fund's annual allotment to states. Texas would lose $600 million to $750 million under that proposal. But here's the weird part. The federal cut would be based on lower gasoline tax revenues. Fine. But where? Gasoline and diesel taxes at the state level haven't dropped.
In Texas, during the four months starting in September and ending in December, those fuel taxes (and a couple of smaller taxes that get thrown in the formula without having much impact) produced $926.53 million in state revenue. That's up 2.2 percent over the same period during the previous year. That overall increase includes a drop in diesel fuel sales; taken alone, gasoline taxes rose 4.2 percent over the same period a year ago.
Dragging the Sack in San Antonio
Sen. Jeff Wentworth lagged behind his opponent in fundraising during the last half of the year, as we wrote last week, but he ain't dead. Wentworth moved what is usually a November fundraiser to late January and says the event raised over $300,000 for his primary battle against Rep. John Shields, another San Antonio Republican.
He's got a flyer that says Shields passed only 10 bills into law during eight years in office while Wentworth was passing 77 and notes that 75 percent of the money the challenger raised last year came from two people (his father-in-law, car dealer Red McCombs, gave him $100,000, and Dr. James Leininger, the conservative financier from San Antonio, gave him $50,000).
Shields is using some of that money to pay for radio ads in San Antonio that bash Austin. That's not unusual in a legislative race, but the new district lines for that Senate seat pull in a big chunk of Travis County, and include about 95,000 Austin residents. It's not running, as far as we can tell, on the northern end of the district.
While we're on the subject, we misread the name of an institution Wentworth supports with campaign funds: He gave a contribution last year to the Witte Museum in San Antonio.
Trimming the Coattails
Who said all those Republican political hacks were headed for Washington and wouldn't look back? In the race to replace Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, in the Texas House, every candidate wants to claim a connection with the most famous person who owns a house in the district. That would be the guy with the new ranch in Crawford. One candidate had pictures of George W. Bush on his website. Another–the one who got the attention of the folks who used to live in Texas full-time–erected billboards with pictures of the candidate shaking hands with the president. One of the other campaigns apparently called Washington to ask if Bush was endorsing Walt Fair. He's not, apparently. Fair's campaign got a call from a lawyer with the Republican National Committee, and now the campaign is pulling down about 20 signs. Fair wasn't alone: Another candidate in the race had a photo of Bush on a campaign website. We're told that all of these grievances have now been remedied.
Endorsements and Political Notes
This one's not about party–it's about Corpus Christi. Barbara Canales-Black, who's running for the Senate seat left open by Carlos Truan's retirement, won endorsements from a mess of public officials, including some Republicans. Including, in fact, Rep. Gene Seaman, a Republican, is sticking with the local candidate. Rep. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is also in the race, but if someone from the southern end of the district wins the seat, most analysts think Corpus will never get it back.
• Attorney general candidate Greg Abbott picked up an endorsement from the Texas Municipal Police Association, a 52-year-old group that claims 8,200 members...
• The Dallas Firefighters Association endorsed Ken Bentsen over former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.
• The Texas Hospital Association's political action committee endorsed Wallace Jefferson, one of two Perry appointees seeking election to the Texas Supreme Court.
• All in the family: Brewster McCracken's father-in-law, former Sen. John Montford, a Democrat who now lives in San Antonio, mailed personalized fundraising letters on the fledgling politician's behalf. One of the plugs: "He is not aloof or inaccessible. He will return your calls." What a concept.
• Dr. Michael Burgess, running for Congress against the son of the man he wants to replace, grabbed endorsements from a handful of state legislators whose districts overlap the congressional district. Burgess is running against Denton County Judge Scott Armey in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound. Armey's the favorite in that race, but state Sens. Chris Harris and Jane Nelson, and state Reps. Myra Crownover, Todd Smith, and Vicki Truitt have all thrown in with Burgess. That's a six-candidate primary race in an overwhelmingly Republican congressional district.
• Corbin Van Arsdale, a Republican running for the Texas House in CD-130 (that's in suburban Houston) picked up endorsements from the Houston Police Officers Association and from the Texas Dental Association. He's running against Bill O'Brien, a veterinarian, and no Democrats signed up.
• In the interest of follow-ups: The folks in the Texas Federation of Republican Women are still arguing over whether some of that group's officers should have lent their names to General Land Office candidate Jerry Patterson for a mailer with a logo that looked, to some, like TFRW was endorsing him (it had the group's name, but wasn't their logo). The loudest complaints were from Dallas–home territory to Kenn George, who is running against Patterson–and the antagonists on both sides plan to meet this month. At issue is whether the group's name ought to be used in contested primary races. It's a mess, but Patterson says he's not planning to send apologies to anyone for noting the endorsements or using the letterhead that started the fuss. And there is proof that these sorts of arguments are circular. Apparently, there's another rule about revealing the results of votes before everyone in TFRW officialdom has gotten word. In this case, the Dallas folks had a resolution blasting the folks who endorsed Patterson. Now that bunch has come back around to say that the Dallas gang didn't follow the rules in notifying members before talking publicly.
Political People and Their Moves
Alfred Hurley, chancellor of the University of North Texas System and president of UNT for the last 22 years, will retire at the end of August. The list of possible replacements includes a former economics prof named Dick Armey, who's giving up a post in Congress... Chris Hughes moves from Entergy to a joint venture between that company and Koch Industries, where he'll try to explain and lobby for pipeline and trading projects. He used to lobby for Continental Airlines... The new executive director of the Texas Women's Alliance is Kym Olson Hricik, who had been the legislative aide to Railroad Commissioner Charles Matthews. That conservative, mainly Republican group is holding a conference on terrorism and homeland security on February 23 in Austin. A week or so earlier, on February 15, the Texas Women's Political Caucus, a mostly Democratic group, will have its fundraiser in Austin... Annette Burrhus-Clay is the new executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, replacing Sherry Boyles, who is after the Democratic nomination for a place on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burrhus-Clay has been the deputy director of the organization and worked on sexual assault problems for two decades… The Texas Department of Health has a new legislative liaison. Jayne Nussbaum, who has been working in the agency's consumer health protection division, will take over governmental relations. She replaces Gloria Moreno, a former legislative staffer who retired from TDH last fall... Medical notes: Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb, is recovering nicely from the insertion of three stents (not stints, as we and others wrote last week) into some clogged veins. Beats having a heart attack... Brooke Leslie Rollins is Gov. Rick Perry's new policy director. She had been his deputy general counsel and before that, was a lawyer with Hughes & Luce in Dallas. She replaces Victor Alcorta III, who is leaving for the private sector... Appointments: Gov. Perry named five newbies to the Texas Board of Medical Examiners, the agency charged with sniffing out and spanking errant doctors in the state. They are Dr. Elvira Pascua-Lim, a Lubbock psychiatrist; Patricia Blackwell of Midland, who'll be one of the public members; Dr. Roberta Kalafut of Abilene; Dr. John Pate Jr., an El Paso surgeon; and Dr. Saleh Shenaq, a professor of surgery and neurosurgery at Baylor's medical school in Houston... Perry named Darrell Brownlow of Floresville to the Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District's board of directors. Brownlow, a geologist, lost a House race two years ago to Rep. Ignacio Salinas Jr., D-San Diego... This'll make the state's lawyers even more argumentative: Texas Lawyer rated the state's law schools on the basis of rankings and comments from recruiters for the state's top law firms. Their list, which they say was put together unscientifically, is an attempt to figure out which school's grads have the edge when looking for work. It doesn't measure whether one school's lawyers are better than another's alumni. The list, beginning at the top: University of Texas, Southern Methodist University, Baylor University, University of Houston, St. Mary's University, Texas Tech University, South Texas College, and Texas Southern University.
Quotes of the Week
Peter Tyler, chairman of the Sierra Club's "Sprawl Committee," as quoted by the Houston Chronicle on Gov. Rick Perry's plan to promote a huge road and rail program: "The last thing we need in Texas is 4,000 miles of New Jersey Turnpike."
Houston businesswoman Kathy Hubbard, quoted in the Texas Triangle after an event featuring gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez: "He's not a barn-burner, but I would say the barn got warm."
A headline from a press release announcing new hires at Stanford Research, an Austin-based political research firm: "Despite presence on Internet, local firm continues to grow."
President George W. Bush, at the annual Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington, D.C. (reported by the Washington Post): "We just received a message from Saddam Hussein. The good news is that he's willing to have his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons counted. The bad news is, he wants Arthur Andersen to do it."
Bush told the crowd at that same dinner that "a year ago I couldn't have told you that Mullah Omar was the head of Afghanistan. I bet that sucker wishes I hadn't found out."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 30, 4 February 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 biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.