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A Hoopla Deficit in Texas Politics

The standard line on early voting in Texas is that you have to treat it like Election Day. Scads of chads are punched before the official voting day in March, and candidates can win or lose a race well before they get to what has conventionally been the day of decision.

The standard line on early voting in Texas is that you have to treat it like Election Day. Scads of chads are punched before the official voting day in March, and candidates can win or lose a race well before they get to what has conventionally been the day of decision.

But few state candidates had their ads up and running in time for the first week of early voting, mainly because it has become a luxury available only to the richest contestants.

Dan Morales' television has been limited by his budget. He made token buys of television time a few weeks ago–as much to ride the press coverage of the ads as to get the ads in front of viewers. His opponent, Tony Sanchez, spent more than $6 million in January, with the lion's share of that money fueling a statewide saturation campaign on television.

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, who's giving up that job in an effort to become lieutenant governor, was also up on television early. He ran a series of ads last summer, long before voters tuned in. That boosted poll numbers, if nothing else. And higher poll numbers can be discouraging to potential challengers. Dewhurst drew one opponent, Tom Kelly, for the Republican primary. But Kelly is unknown in statewide politics and apparently doesn't have the means to match Dewhurst's personal spending in the race. Dewhurst spent more than $950,000 during the last six months of last year, with a good portion of that landing on TV screens around the state. In January alone, he spent about $580,000 on TV time.

Two candidates who could really use a boost with early voting–Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Ken Bentsen and Ron Kirk–aren't going the television route. Those two are running ahead in the money in their race, but they're behind Victor Morales in the polls and neither has the kind of name ID with statewide voters than he has. Morales was the novelty candidate of 1996 and won some fame for it. He ran a congressional race since then, but state voters still remember him and he's beating the two more seasoned pols–just like he did in 1998. Unless there is a dramatic change in the polling numbers, Kirk and Bentsen are essentially running against each other to win second place and a spot in a one-on-one runoff with Morales in April. It's not a certainty that the one with the bigger television and radio and direct mail presence will be the winner, but that's the way to bet.

A saturation campaign like what Sanchez is running costs more than $1 million a week. Candidates often look at how much they have and buy backwards from Election Day. That has its risks, though. In 2000, the early vote accounted for about 31 percent of the total (it was marginally higher in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary, but it was close). If you don't advertise until the final weekend, you miss your shot at nearly a third of the electorate. In a race where nobody has any money, that advertising vacuum probably accrues to the benefit of the candidate with the highest name identification, and in the Senate race on the Democratic side, that's Morales.

Republican John Cornyn has several opponents, but none look serious enough to do damage and he doesn't plan to spend any money on television during the primaries. There aren't any primaries in the races for attorney general or for comptroller in either party.

In the races for land commissioner, Kenn George–another candidate who is largely self-financed–is running limited TV now. He'll add Dallas, Houston and Austin for the last ten days to two weeks of the campaign. The suburbs of each of those cities make most of the difference in a Republican primary in Texas. His opponent, Jerry Patterson, won't run television in the primary.

Public Schools: Less Money from the State

Property values in Texas rose 11 to 13 percent last year, in spite of the recession, and that means the state won't have to spend as much on public education in the next budget as previously thought. But what's good news for the state is bad news for local school districts. When property values rise, the state's share of public education costs drops. But overall costs don't drop, and local districts have to make up the difference. In theory, that extra money comes from the rise in local property values.

The state's boon could be as much as $900 million, though it's probably safer to estimate it in the $600 million to $700 million range. About $270 million of that would go, automatically, to school facilities funds and to programs set up to relieve property tax pressures on local districts. The rest would eventually find its way back into the state's general revenue fund.

That money could be used to help fill an expected hole in the next state budget, unless it arrives too early. If surplus money finds its way into the state's hands during the current budget cycle, it could be spent on a list of "contingent appropriations" set up by the Legislature.

Translated from the original Budgetese, that means this: State lawmakers put together a list of things they want done if the money becomes available. There are politically attractive items on the list, like a state employee pay raise and more money for junior colleges.

But there is also the specter of a shortfall in the next two-year budget. State budgeteers squint at the numbers and say the difference between what the state is bringing in and what it would spend to meet current promises is in the $5 billion to $6 billion range. A half billion dollars is a relative drop in the bucket, but it's a start. And if money comes into the state's hands after the end of the current budget cycle, it'll go toward the next budget.

If it comes in before the end of this budget, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander will find refereeing an argument between fiscal conservatives who want to save the money and state employees and junior college people, who want money and can produce votes.

The betting line at the moment is that the property values (which get settled officially in June) will produce something at or above $600 million. The Texas Education Agency normally sends all of that money to school districts and then collects the state's booty in the form of refunds a year later. But the Legislature lets TEA cut its $270 million at the beginning. That means that much less will go the schools next year, and they'll have to refund the difference a year after that. Simple as biochemistry, right?

Even while that money is relieving some of the state's budget pressures, it could heat the political kettle. Just eight years after George W. Bush bashed Ann Richards for letting the state's share of education spending slip, that spending is on its way to a new low. School property taxes are at the bursting point in many Texas school districts, and voters in some regions are already incensed that state government is hitting local property taxpayers harder every year for money to pay for schools all over the state. They think the state should pay more. If the property value estimates hold, the state's share of the tab for public education in Texas could drop to 40 percent or below (it got as high as 47 percent while Bush was in office and the economy was soaring). That will probably increase the volume on already loud squawking about the way public schools are financed in the state.

Now They Can Be Nervous Before a Bigger Audience

Voter guides and the questionnaires that precede them can mess up a candidate's day. Campaign managers get palpitations over them. And we're unaware of a candidate who can successfully answer every question put forth by every group on the candidate's own side, much less the narrow and booby-trapped questions put up by the opposition. Lots of campaigns just ignore them, or write letters to the sponsoring groups stating the candidate's version of what needs to be said and sidestepping (and ignoring) the questionnaires in the process. But some questionnaires get answered, like the one put to Republican candidates by the Harris County GOP. The party has listed all of the answers online, tabulated so you can compare all of the candidates in a given race.

Senate 17 Heats Up

In a district with relatively few Democrats, Gary Polland and Kyle Janek each accuse the other of being too liberal, and they're tangled up in an argument over Polland's financial reporting. Short form: Polland, the former head of the Harris County GOP, transferred the money from his chairman's account to his Senate campaign account. That's legal. The rub, for some, is that the chairman isn't required to detail the sources of the money. The Senate is required to do that. And Polland did, listing four contributions totaling more than $52,000 from his chairman's account. In the process, Janek argues, he moved money into his Senate campaign without letting anyone know the original sources of the cash. If he dances with the ones that brung him, the argument goes, nobody will know who he's dancing with.

Janek is also asking what's in a second Polland committee that hasn't filed a report that's available to the public. Polland says there was a clerical problem in that filing and that the second account doesn't have any money in it anyhow. What he's raised is all in the report that is already public, he says. That total is about $350,000, including $50,000 he loaned his campaign. Janek's two comparable reports show contributions totaling about $450,000.

Polland's return volley touts the support Polland is getting from Gun Owners of America, several Houston law enforcement groups and some elected and former elected officials, including Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, defeated mayoral candidate Orlando Sanchez, and national figures Dan Quayle and Jack Kemp.

Meanwhile, the Justice for All crime victims group is blasting Polland with radio ads about some of the people he's defended in criminal court cases. Polland, an attorney, does some criminal defense work, and the radio spot uses several cases where he got people out of their legal jam only to see them go out and commit, well, the kinds of crimes you'd hear about in a political radio ad. The message: Polland got them off the hook and they went out and made a mess of things.

Energy Czar

Texas Railroad Commission candidate Sherry Boyles, who faces Paul Looney in the race for the Democratic nomination, wants to merge the agency with the Public Utility Commission, rename it, and regulate the energy and power and telephone businesses in Texas with three elected commissioners. She would limit contributions to those elected officials to $5,000 in an effort to control the influence peddling. The idea isn't a new one, having been proposed in legislation a few times over the last several years. And it was proposed earlier in this election cycle by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, whose own oil and gas businesses are regulated by the railroad commission.

The main objections come from the industries being regulated. The oil and gas folks, on one hand, and the telephone and electric folks, on the other, want to leave things as they are. And the utilities aren't crazy about elected officials setting rates and policies. They complain that in other states where elected officials are in charge, those regulators tend to rule in favor of consumer/voters even when the facts of a rate case favor the utilities.

One set of bills a few years ago would have taken the merger idea another step by combining the two agencies and then making them a division under the state's comptroller of public accounts. The idea was that the comptroller, who already oversees tax law and tax courts in Texas, already had the setup to handle complicated administrative cases. Plus, the current comptroller, Carole Keeton Rylander, and her predecessor, John Sharp, were both railroad commissioners before becoming the state's tax collector.

Correction: The Texas Department of Insurance is up for Sunset Review by the Legislature in 2005. We put the wrong year in an item last week. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Debates, Money in the Mailbox, and Guns

He had to look like a flip-flopping 'fraidy-cat to do it, but Tony Sanchez got his way on the gubernatorial debates. He said from the beginning that he would do one in English and one in Spanish, and that's what he ended up agreeing to do. Just a few days after throwing up his hands and saying he would never get caught alive in a debate with Dan Morales, Sanchez changed directions and agreed to show up for a forum in Dallas. They'll be held back-to-back on March 1, unless something weird happens. It could: John WorldPeace, the Houston lawyer running a ruthlessly pesky telephone and email campaign for the Democratic nomination, is suing to stop the Spanish-language debate on the grounds that it disenfranchises him and voters who don't speak the language.

Meanwhile, all of the candidates except for Sanchez agreed to appear at two other televised debates, one in Laredo and another in Beaumont. And there might be one more place where everyone, including Sanchez and Morales and WorldPeace, all show up. Valley Interfaith delegates are holding their "accountability session" for candidates on March 3 in Pharr. Those are tough sessions for politicos; the group asks point-by-point, in front of a crowd, where each candidate stands on issues of interest to the members.

Sanchez isn't spending all of his money on television. Among other things, he's sending out a full-color, stapled, eight-page mailer called "A Texas Story" that's basically a written version of his biographical television commercials. Part is in English–part is in Spanish.

Another is a piece that his supporters (including one of his sons) passed out at the Texas State Rifle Association meeting this month. It's not the standard Democratic take on guns.

He says he's for the "individual right to bear arms of the Second Amendment," that there are "enough gun laws on the books in Texas and in Washington," and that he doesn't support "any additional restrictions on concealed handgun law applicants or license holders."

The flyer has a photo of him hunting with his sons, and ends with this (the capitalization is his): "Since September 11, the LAST thing we need is more restrictions on LAW ABIDING CITIZENS' RIGHT to defend their lives, loved ones and property."

Candidates Need Proofreaders, Too

The Texas Supreme Court and the Harris County GOP may have done what Democrats in Harris County have been unable to do: Get a Democrat elected to a judgeship in that county.

State District Judge Brent Gamble filed for reelection, but listed the wrong court on some of the papers he filed with the Harris County Republican Party. Nobody caught the goof before the deadline for filing had passed, and the party disqualified the judge on that basis. He says the party should have caught the error. But an appellate court in Houston said that's his job. Now that the deadline has passed, he's not allowed to change it, and that court ordered the GOP to remove his name from the ballot. The Supremes agreed with that ruling, opening the door for Tasso Triantaphyllis, a Democrat who is unopposed in that party's primary, to win the seat. There might be room for another lawsuit before it's all over–in fact, one has already been filed. But for now, the Democrat appears to be on his way to a robe fitting. The high court was split on the question, but it looks like five of them said Gamble doesn't have a new case to take to court.

Mountains from Molehills Department

The Texas GOP, which has turned our short bit on a parody website into a national story, filed nine ethics complaints against a political action committee formed to coordinate Democratic efforts in this year's elections, blaming Texas 02 for the www.EnronOwnsTheGOP.com website and saying the group failed to report the costs of the site and to put the proper disclaimers on it. Kelly Fero, who's name is on the registration records, says he did it all on his own and that no reporting was required. Stay tuned: This shoulda been over a couple of weeks ago and keeps popping up.

Contracting and Expanding

Republican Jim Arnold's consulting shop took a couple of blows, parting company with Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson and with Mike Schneider, a Houston appellate judge who's seeking a spot on the state's highest civil court. Jefferson will keep the firm around for some work until after his contested primary, but has a campaign manager in place and doesn't need the consultants on a daily basis anymore. Schneider, according to Arnold, just wanted his help avoiding a primary–he drew no opponent–and will spend the next several months raising money. Arnold, who ran a chunk of Gov. Rick Perry's campaign for lieutenant governor in 1998, says both partings were amicable. He still has some Texas clients (Judge John Cayce, another Supreme Court candidate, let Arnold go, but Dr. Bob Deuell, who's running for a Senate seat in North Texas, is still on board), but will concentrate more of his work out of state. Related: Arnold's firm joined the Atlanta-based Perdue Group in what they call a political consulting partnership. Arnold says he wants to build a direct mail and fundraising operation to supplement what he's already doing.

Anonymous Mail and Old News Clips

Things are getting a little ugly in Irving, where Republicans Linda Harper-Brown and Rose Cannaday are battling for a seat in the Texas House. Old federal tax liens against Harper-Brown have surfaced in anonymous mail to reporters and others. She's paid those, we're told, and they're a little stale–dating from 1986 to 1995, presumably while she was paying them off.

Cannaday, meanwhile, is the subject of some old Dallas Morning News stories being passed around by Harper-Brown sympathizers. Those articles point out that she worked for U.S. Senate candidate Richard Fisher, a Democrat, in his 1993 special election race against Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison and others. She was also the Dallas County chairwoman of United We Stand during Ross Perot's presidential campaign against Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

• Former Comal County Judge Carter Casteel says 31 statewide trade groups have endorsed her in the GOP primary for an open seat in the Texas House. And in her press release announcing that, she does an unusual thing and mentions her opponent, Diane Dasher, by name. But she does a one-line bio on Dasher that's probably not in Dasher's political materials, saying she "has never held elected office and first registered to vote in Comal County in 1998."

Endorsements

The Texas Medical Association's list of endorsements has a couple of mild surprises. The PAC for the state's doctors likes Republican John Roach Jr. in a Dallas-Collin County House race. He's running against incumbent Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson.

Less surprising, but interesting just the same: TEXPAC endorsed Tony Sanchez over Dan Morales in the Democratic primary for governor, and ignored Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who is unopposed in the GOP primary. Doctors are still stewing over Perry's veto of the "prompt pay" bill that was their top legislative priority. Some tort reform groups thought the bill would have made it easier for doctors to take claims to court and convinced Perry to kill the bill. The docs can come back and endorse either candidate in the general election, and they're torn: Most members prefer Republican candidates, but the veto really got their goat.

• The Texas Right to Life PAC put out its endorsements, picking Republicans with only a couple of exceptions: U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall and state Sen. Ken Armbrister. The group likes John Cornyn, Rick Perry, Greg Abbott, and Jerry Patterson on the statewide ticket (only Patterson is opposed).

In contested congressional races, the group endorsed Jeb Hensarling in CD-5 in Dallas, Scott Armey in CD-26 in Denton, and Brad Barton in CD-31, which stretches from Houston to Austin.

David Deison, who's running in SD-30, got a PAC endorsement from the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. Deison, who's from Weatherford, is challenging Craig Estes in the GOP primary. Estes was elected last year to fill the Senate seat left empty when Tom Haywood died.

Political People and Their Moves

Craig Pedersen, who's been the executive director of the Texas Water Development Board for a little over ten years, handed in his resignation and says he'll go to work for a consulting firm when he's done in late April or early May. He'll stay in Austin, building a water and wastewater practice in Texas for San Francisco-based URS, a firm of consulting engineers. Pedersen is the latest in a fairly long string of water experts–elected and not–to leave state government in the last few months... Al Kauffman, a longtime leader in efforts to reform school finance in Texas, is getting out of that fight. The lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is leaving that job after 20 years to teach and pursue other opportunities. No word on replacements for either Kauffman or Pedersen... This year's best argument, so far, for outsourcing: Dallas Morning News reporter George Kuempel is recovering from back surgery after falling from the tree he was trimming. Reports are good... Edwina Carrington is the new executive director at the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. She worked at a predecessor agency and was most recently at the Texas Housing Finance Corp... Deaths: Fort Worth lawyer and former legislator Don Gladden, a civil rights activist who fought for a long time for single-member districts in city elections, for an end to poll taxes and who pushed to get Texas to comply with school desegregation rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court. He was 71... Matt Lyon, 45, a former speech writer for Gov. Mark White who had most recently been working for Robert Berdahl, chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley. He had a heart attack, apparently, during a workout... Webb County Treasurer and former Rep. Billy Hall, 61, after a long fight against diabetes. He quit the House to run for Senate, a race he lost to Judith Zaffirini. In 1995, after the county treasurer died, he was appointed to that job and then won reelection. He'll appear on the March ballot for reelection; it's up to county officials to appoint a successor.

Quotes of the Week

Gubernatorial candidate Dan Morales, on whether the state can get by on what it has: "I think it is likely that a significant number of new dollars may be necessary in order to build the type of top-quality school system that Texas would want to see." Adding how he would pay for programs he supports: "Nobody likes taxes. No one likes to consider the prospect of a tax increase. But I believe there are far worse things than taxes." His opponent, Tony Sanchez, who'd previously said he would "scrub the budget" before making promises on taxes, in response: "I will take new taxes off the table. Dan Morales has not only put new taxes on the table, he's made them the first course."

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, commenting in Texas Monthly on whether campaign contributors to Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, are helping other candidates based on whether they will vote for Craddick as Speaker of the House a year from now: "The outside influence destroys the process. If they are allowed to elect him, he'll run the House the way they tell him to."

Florida voter Laura Woodrich, 83, quoted by the Associated Press after trying out a touch-screen voting system for the first time: "You don't even need a full brain to operate these machines."

Railroad Commission candidate Sherry Boyles, telling the Houston Chronicle that she's not worried about being too close to the oil businesses she would regulate if elected: "It's not like industry is clamoring to support me."

General Land Office candidate Ray Madrigal of Corpus Christi, telling the Odessa American he doesn't believe figures from that agency that indicate steady erosion of the state's beaches: "I’ve been going to the beach the last 10, 20, 30 years. The beach here looks the same as ever."

U.S. Rep. Steve Largent, quoted by the Associated Press as he resigned to run for governor of his home state: "I've come to see the diversity as a real strength, as opposed to being frustrated that not everybody thinks like we do in Oklahoma."

Technology consultant Abid Abedi, quoted in a Dallas Morning News story on the bust in the high-tech business: "People got very arrogant. They wouldn't work at a customer's site. They wanted to be at their own office because it had a foosball table."


Texas Weekly, Volume 18, Issue 33, 25 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.


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