Skip to main content

A Quiet End to a Bipartisan Protection Racket

When he was governor, George W. Bush took great care of his bipartisan reputation, sometimes bewildering his fellow Republicans by refusing to get involved in races against incumbent Democrats in the Legislature. Not only did he not campaign, most of the time, against Democratic House and Senate members, Gov. Bush didn't contribute to their opponents' campaigns. It was a practical necessity. To do otherwise would have undercut the legislative leaders—Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and House Speaker Pete Laney—who were in the best positions to turn around and undermine Bush.

When he was governor, George W. Bush took great care of his bipartisan reputation, sometimes bewildering his fellow Republicans by refusing to get involved in races against incumbent Democrats in the Legislature. Not only did he not campaign, most of the time, against Democratic House and Senate members, Gov. Bush didn't contribute to their opponents' campaigns. It was a practical necessity. To do otherwise would have undercut the legislative leaders—Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and House Speaker Pete Laney—who were in the best positions to turn around and undermine Bush.

They both put it this way at the time: He stayed out of their way, and they let him succeed.

He also didn't contribute to organizations that funnel money into the campaigns of individual Republicans, although he did sometimes attend their fundraisers. But Bush's needs are different now, and so are his tactics.

One of the best known of those general Republican PACs—and one of the most successful over the years—is the Associated Republicans of Texas, or ART. The president sent ART a $250,000 check from the "Governor Bush Committee" on the last day of last year. That went unnoticed by politicos and reporters who were digging through reports of active state candidates and not through the filings of the former governor who moved on, mostly, to federal fundraising and filing.

This is like finding a rich and generous uncle you didn't know you had. Bush's end-of-year Texas report lists no contributions and no loans. Lots of people thought he had long ago emptied everything but the presidential account. But expenditures from the state account totaled more than $1.5 million. That included the money for ART, another $250,000 to the Republican Governors Association, $1 million to the Republican National Committee, and $10,000 each to a select list of statewide Republican officeholders: Gov. Rick Perry, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, and Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs.

Three Supreme Court Justices up for reelection each got $5,000 (the limit in those races) from Bush's state campaign account: Chief Justice Tom Phillips and Perry appointees Wallace Jefferson and Xavier Rodriguez.

Not on the donation list: Attorney General John Cornyn, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, and former Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, a Bush appointee. Cornyn is running for U.S. Senate and didn't particularly need more money flowing into his state account; Bush can't give state money to the federal race. Dewhurst is running for lieutenant governor, Abbott for attorney general, and there are hints that they'll get their contributions after the primaries.

Why ART? The organization has targeted a number of legislative races in pursuit of its goal of a Republican majority in the state's congressional delegation. The group was founded on that idea, and since the state Legislature is the place where redistricting maps originate (though not necessarily where they are completed), that's where ART's money has gone. If they can win the Legislature, they can draw the maps for Congress. The group is also pushing for a Republican speaker of the House, which puts them in conflict with Laney, a Bush friend who's visited the president in Camp David.

The word we get from Washington, D.C., is that Bush and his political folks aren't playing in the speaker's race. But they do want a majority in Congress and the money for ART is a nod for the work the group did on redistricting. ART was one of the main funnels to pay the lawyers who argued the cases that resulted in the maps that should allow the GOP to elect a legislative majority in November.

Biz is All GOP, with a Loud Exception

The Texas Association of Business and Chamber of Commerce went against type and endorsed Democrat John Sharp in the lieutenant governor's race over Republican David Dewhurst (after which, we're told, Sharp delivered a couple of bottles of champagne and offered to baby-sit or buy groceries for staffers at the trade association). The real story is that it amounts to a slap at Gov. Rick Perry, who beat Sharp in the Lite Guv race four years ago and who would rather have the Republican in the upper legislative chamber.

But for TABCC, the endorsement makes some sense. It gives them something to point to when they're accused of being a Republican front group—they endorsed a Democrat, after all. It removes a lever from their nemesis of the moment, the Texas Medical Association.

To dramatically condense the argument, the two groups are banging heads over medical bills and whether and how to control them. TMA already endorsed Sharp, and now that TABCC has gone along, he'll have to mediate instead of taking sides if he's elected. If Dewhurst is elected, he's probably inclined to agree with the business group anyway, so the betting here is that they didn't suffer much for spurning him, even if Dewhurst is the eventual winner.

The trade group has 15 voters on its political action committee board, and the vote for Sharp was, we are reliably informed, 10-5. The board was faster with some of its other business, endorsing John Cornyn for U.S. Senate over his primary opponents and, presumably, over his general election opponents as well. They endorsed Perry, attorney general candidate Greg Abbott, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs. They skipped the land commissioner race. That's notable because the group gave one of the Republican candidates in the contest, Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, a perfect score when rating legislators after the last session. The board apparently also had advocates for his opponent in the GOP primary, former Sen. Jerry Patterson, and they voted to stay out of the race for now.

That business group threw in with Scott Armey and Jeb Hensarling, Republicans trying to win hot primaries in the Dallas area. In the state Senate, they gave one of their very few Democratic endorsements to Barbara Canales-Black, who's running against Juan Hinojosa for an open seat in South Texas. She's from Corpus; he's from McAllen, and the winner will probably fix the next redistricting map to consolidate power for his or her city. In either case, it's unlikely that a Republican could prevail, so the endorsement from TABCC isn't all that strange.

The group endorsed in several contested GOP Senate primaries, picking Kyle Janek, Tommy Williams, Kip Averitt, Kim Brimer, Jeff Wentworth and Craig Estes in each of their races. All but Wentworth would be new to the Senate; Estes won a special election to fill the seat left open by Tom Haywood's death, but the Senate hasn't met since he joined. Their full list of endorsements, including a mess of Texas House races, is online at www.tabcc.org.

Hospitals, and an Unlikely Pairing

The Texas Hospital Association gave its nod to Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson, who is running for election to the post Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to hold. THA's political action committee, called HOSPAC, also endorsed Mike Schneider, a Houston appellate judge seeking a spot on the state's high court. Both men are Republicans.

• Put this one in the file marked "Politics, Strange Bedfellows and...": Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff, a former congressman knocked out of office almost 18 years ago by a college professor named Dick Armey, is among the luminaries endorsing Scott Armey (son of Dick) in the race for Armey and Vandergriff's old seat...

And Still More Endorsements

TABCC wasn't the only group tossing out endorsements over the last few days.

The Texas Farm Bureau's AGFUND stayed out of all but a few statewide races, endorsing Democrat David Bernsen and Republican Kenn George in the land commissioner primaries, and Wallace Jefferson and Xavier Rodriguez in those two Supreme Court races.

They endorsed a long list of "friendly incumbents," and then they made some picks in some hotly contested open seats. They like Hensarling in CD-5, Brimer, Janek and Canales-Black in three Senate races, and they broke with most other trade groups in another, endorsing Ed Harrison over Kip Averitt in the race to succeed David Sibley. Averitt announced a large group of farm and agriculture people who support him to offset that piece of news. Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, also got an AGFUND endorsement.

The National Federation of Independent Business, or NFIB, was more selective, staying out of statewide races for now. That group, which represents small businesses, only tapped candidates in three Senate races and in 14 House races. Of those, only two are not incumbents: Charles Anderson, a Republican running in HD-56 in Waco, and Wayne Smith, a Republican in HD-128 next to Houston.

Greg Abbott won the support of the Rural Friends of Electric Cooperatives. That's the political action committee associated with the electric coops... He sent out just as big a press release for his endorsement by the Plano Police Association, a group with 250 employees. That same group announced an endorsement of John Sharp in the lieutenant governor's race... Abbott is also crowing about a Houston Bar Association poll that had him beating his Democratic rival, Kirk Watson, by a 3-to-1 margin. Abbott is a Houston lawyer; Watson is an Austin lawyer... The Texas Association of Realtors endorsed Sharp over Dewhurst in the Lite Guv race. Sharp used to be a member, and still has a license to trade real estate.

John Cayce, running for an open seat on the state Supreme Court, has rounded up endorsements from the Independent Bankers Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Home School Coalition. Elizabeth Ray, who's in the same race, has support from several groups, including the United Republicans, and the Texas, Harris County and Fort Bend County GOP PACs.

• Rep. Kip Averitt of Waco, running for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of his former boss, David Sibley, will get the help of most other Republican senators at his next fundraiser. Thirteen returning Republican senators (or, we should say, senators who hope to return) and one of the retirees will host a funder for him. The retiree is Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown; Sibley endorsed Averitt early and is listed as one of the sponsors of the Austin event.

• The Texas Dental Association doesn't endorse candidates, in spite of what Houston House candidate Corbin Van Arsdale says in his press releases. The group did give him $500, but didn't endorse him or anyone else. They just don't do that (and they're polite but emphatic about it).

• Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Humble, won a thumbs-up from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. He's got a primary opponents—Michael Sullivan and Joe Stunja—but the winner gets a bye in November.

• Mike Lawshe, running in an open seat just northeast of Dallas, is the favorite of the Texas Hospital Association. That's a three-way primary and the winner will face a Democrat, Lehman Harris, in November. The other two GOP names are Jodie Laubenberg and Tommy Hooper.

Oh, You Meant That Enron Stock

Our phone started ringing as soon as people saw the item last week about Tony Sanchez and his Enron stock. His campaign said he never owned any. Au Contraire, dude. We took them at their word, but a look at the personal financial statements Sanchez filed with the state of Texas (a requirement of him and other regents at the University of Texas) says otherwise. Sanchez's reports show he sold more than $25,000 worth of the company's stock in 2000. Aides, who said last week that he doesn't own stock in the company and never did, now say that they misunderstood our question; their candidate does not own stock in Enron Corp. at this time.

New Reasons for Caller ID

John WorldPeace, the Houston lawyer who's trying to win the Democratic nomination for governor by making automated, mean-spirited calls to every voter in the state, has a new idea. He said in a recent email to political reporters that he'll program the machines to make five million calls in an attempt to knock Dan Morales out of the running "by reminding voters that his wife is an ex-stripper." Those calls, WorldPeace says, will start on March 4.

Last summer, WorldPeace said his strategy was to make negative calls (at that time, about Tony Sanchez) early enough in the campaign to give voters doubts about Sanchez. Later on, he said, he would switch to positive messages about himself. So much for that. His threatened campaign against Morales' wife is scheduled to start eight days before Election Day.

A spokesman for Morales would say only that such calls would mark "a major devolutionary step in American politics." It's generally, but not always, out-of-bounds to drag candidates' families into the spotlight. The test is usually an official one: Does the relative have something to do with the campaign or with the office being sought? WorldPeace, in his email, says Texans don't want someone with Mrs. Morales' background living in the Governor's Mansion.

Funny Money

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst didn't cut his budget by 25 percent, as he claims in his ads, and taxpayers haven't seen that kind of savings. A few budgeteers know that his first budget request, sent to the Legislature, was 21.5 percent lower than the last budget request sent to lawmakers by his predecessor, Garry Mauro. And those same staffers know that the Legislature ignored both requests.

To get to the 25 percent number, you have to stand on your head, as one of our math teachers used to say: It would take a 27.5 percent increase in Dewhurst's request to equal Mauro's request. All of those numbers are in the legislative appropriations requests, or LARs, submitted by agencies for legislative approval. LARs aren't actually budgets, but a step on the path to writing budgets. Agencies submit LARs to the Legislative Budget Board, which holds hearings and decides what's needed and what's not. The LBB drafts a budget, changing much of what the agencies asked for, and gives it to the Legislature. The Legislature holds hearings, yells, screams and argues, and then writes an appropriations bill. That bill is what nearly all budget people call the budget. Everything else along the way might be important to somebody in the system, but it's all just fodder for the final product.

The Legislature didn't cut as deeply as Dewhurst suggested, and at the end of each year, he gave money back. But did he spend as little as his own staff proposed? Nope. He spent less than the Legislature gave him, but more than he said he needed in his LARs. Actual spending dropped less than 4 percent from Mauro's last official budget to Dewhurst's first one, according to state records.

The Dewhurst campaign came under fire for the fuzzy numbers during a debate with John Sharp at the Texas Association of Business and Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. A few days later, Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm said Dewhurst should pull the claim from his ads. His campaign aides say he'll stick with his numbers.

Good Pedigree, Good Backing, a Bit Nervous

Dallas Republicans pulled out the brass for a fundraiser for Jeb Hensarling, getting his former boss, U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, to headline an event at the home of one of his current bosses, Sam Wyly of Dallas. Another Republican of note, Jim Francis, faxed out invitations in the form of a memo that said it would be "devastating to President Bush and a huge embarrassment to Dallas" to lose the CD-5 seat to a Democrat. It calls Hensarling the front-runner, but says there are "several other credible candidates in the race" and says he needs help. Francis' note singles out Phil Sudan, a wealthy Houston lawyer who moved to Dallas solely to run in that congressional district. Sudan, who spent $4 million or so on his last race—an unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen two years ago—started this race with only one advantage, but it's a big one. He doesn't have to hold any fundraisers.

Help From Dad & Other Washington Types

If you've been told, as we have, that U.S. Rep. Joe Barton isn't helping his son win a congressional seat, don't you believe it. Brad Barton who moved back to Central Texas to run for a newly created district that runs from suburban Houston to suburban Austin. His latest fundraising pitch is a letter from his dad, telling supporters that they're not running against each other, and that he's doing everything he can to help his son. Ahem. This next could be a gimmick, or could be designed to keep their deals separate: Barton the elder is asking people to write, "Dad said to say hi" on the envelopes they use to mail contributions. It also wiggles a little bit about Brad's current occupation, saying he "now works for the venture capital and real estate development firm that built the American Airlines Arena in Dallas." That would be Ross Perot Jr.'s company, which isn't mentioned by name.

Barton's campaign is getting more out-of-town help, and at an out-of-district venue. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia is the headliner at his fundraiser in Austin next week.

Related: If they'll poke around in their files, the federal tax reform group that's been running ads mentioning the younger Barton and his tax reform pledge will find a two-year-old letter from Peter Wareing, taking the group's tax pledge in an earlier congressional race.

Americans for Tax Reform ran ads in that CD-31 race mentioning Barton in the same breath as other luminaries, like George Bush and Ronald Reagan. Wareing aides say the candidate's earlier promise stands, even if the group can't locate it.

South Texas TV, Candidate Polls, Miscellany

The television war is underway in that contested open-seat race for Senate in South Texas. Barbara Canales-Black has jumped onto the screen with a 60-second spot that touts civil rights work done by her grandmother and her great uncle, marks her as a businesswoman and lawyer, and says she'll work on health care, education and jobs. A spokesman says she intends to be running media of some kind for the rest of the campaign (she already had mail and radio sallies underway).

• Chris Bell's pollster says Bell is leading in the race for the congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston. According to his own poll, Bell is the best known of the four candidates in the race (he is coming off of an unsuccessful but high-profile run for mayor of Houston). He's also leading fellow City Councilman Carroll Robinson, former Rep. Paul Colbert and attorney Stephen King. Undecided voters made up 27 percent of those polled. The poll was done in mid-January, before any of the candidates really had time to make much impression, good or bad, on most voters.

Ben Bentzin, an Austin Republican running for state Senate, has a twist on Internet sites for candidates. You can go to his site at www.benbentzin.com and see some stuff, but you have to sign up to get inside. And if you sign up, the campaign sends you an email with a password in it. The password gets you inside the site and, no doubt, onto some kind of mailing or emailing list. Bentzin, who's challenging Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, is a former Dell Computer employee.

Going Nekkid

The newest workers' compensation numbers in Texas are horrible, but improving. A state study says 35 percent of Texas employers carry no insurance to compensate injured or sick workers. As high as that is, it's an improvement. According to the Research and Oversight Council on Workers' Compensation, 39 percent of employers "went naked" in 1996, and 44 percent went uncovered in 1993.

Texas is one of the few states that doesn't require employers to carry workers' comp insurance. Larger companies are more likely to carry the coverage (you're more exposed to lawsuits if you don't carry the insurance), and that means only 16 percent of the state's workers aren't covered for work injuries. The study also says employers are sensitive to rising costs, but that hasn't revealed itself in the subscription numbers. More employers are taking comp insurance even though the price is going up.

Political People and Their Moves

Kathy Staat, the longtime director of media services for the Texas Senate, filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Human Rights over her dismissal. She lost her job over a complaint that some members of her staff sexually harassed other employees. Her lawyer told reporters that similarly situated male supervisors get off the hook under the same circumstances... Former Texas Sen. Hugh Parmer, a Fort Worth Democrat, is the new president of the American Refugee Committee. Parmer, who ended his legislative career with an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate, worked in the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Clinton Administration... New at the Tony Sanchez campaign: Holly Woodrow, from PSI in Austin, who'll be deputy press secretary, and Dana Peterson, a migrant political worker last seen doing Get-Out-The-Vote work for New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (another staffer on that campaign was Ana Lee Sanchez, daughter of the Texas candidate)... What do Bo Derek and Anne Sewell Johnson of Austin have in common? Both are on the list of people President George W. Bush intends to appoint to the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts... The National Association of Home Builders named Arlington GOP Rep. Kim Brimer its "state official of the year"... Gov. Rick Perry reappointed Judge Roger "Jeff" Walker of Arlington to be presiding judge in the 8th Administrative Judicial Region. And he appointed Donna Stockton-Hicks of Austin to a panel we didn't know about: The Texas Poet Laureate, State Musician and State Artists Committee... Retiring: Richard J. V. Johnson, the publisher of the Houston Chronicle, after 46 years at that paper. We'll say here the best thing we can say about a publisher: In our time at that paper, he protected his reporters and editors. He's 71 and will remain as a consultant to the paper. Cheers... Deaths: John Terrell, a former lobbyist best known for publishing the Official State Mileage Guide (and for fighting with then-Comptroller John Sharp for cutting his business by computerizing the guide and saving the state the subscription costs). Terrell was 88...

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, quoted by The New York Times on the subject of contributions he received from Enron Corp.: "I got $3,500 over 10 years, but our friend, Kay Bailey Hutchison, she got $99,000. Heck, I'm the chairman of the committee. That wasn't a contribution. That was an insult."

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, telling that same paper about becoming chief of an oversight committee at Arthur Andersen: "The reason I got involved is that Andersen is in big trouble and they were looking for someone to sprinkle some holy water on them."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John WorldPeace, in one of his many e-missives to political reporters: "The reality is that all the below listed reporters are White racists who are determined to keep a conservative White male as Texas governor."

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News on the subject of corporations that avoid state franchise taxes by reorganizing themselves as legal partnerships: "We need to act on this next session. We need the money. You lose $100 million one year and $150 million the next—pretty soon, you're talking about some real money."

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate John Sharp, attacking Republican David Dewhurst in a forum sponsored by a business trade group: "If you cut your budget by 25 percent since you've been in the land office, I'll eat that table you're standing in front of. It didn't happen."

Henry Cisneros, telling the San Antonio Express-News that his voter registration/turnout foundation isn't connected to the Tony Sanchez campaign even though it was subletting space from a Sanchez relative who is also the campaign's lawyer: "Effective this moment, effective today, we will relinquish that space because we are independent of not only the Sanchez campaign, but any party."

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, quoted in Roll Call after Missouri Sen.-turned-Attorney General John Ashcroft spent $8,000 on drapes to cover statues of naked women in the room where he holds his press conferences: "I thought Missouri was the Show-Me State."


Texas Weekly, Volume 18, Issue 31, 11 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.


Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today