A couple of Waco Republicans have turned a relatively quiet race for the Texas House of Representatives into a soap opera. Two Republicans seeking to represent a noteworthy chunk of McLennan County in the Texas Legislature have an unusual set of issues to debate: philandering, stalking, videotaping, ugly messages left on answering machines, kicked down doors, divorce and general fitness to hold office.
The short form: Republican Walt Fair was videotaped in the company of a woman who is not his wife. Holt Getterman's campaign denies doing the videotaping or distributing it. But somebody with a good sense of political timing circulated several copies of the video.
Tapes went to Fair's wife, to reporters and to other political folk on the eve of the elections. Fair's wife filed for divorce, using a law firm where, coincidentally, the Democrat in the race is employed. John Mabry, the Democrat, isn't involved in this case, but he works at that law firm. He could ultimately be the biggest beneficiary of the dust-up, although the district's population is strongly tilted to the advantage of Republican candidates.
When news of the tape and the divorce got out, McLennan County GOP Chairman M.A. Taylor remarked in a TV interview about the curious timing of it all. "When everybody knows about something and it suddenly makes a bunch of headlines, that's a little unusual," he said later. "Maybe that makes me stupid, but I just wonder."
Getterman took those comments as a sideways accusation that he was to blame. He got mad enough to leave "obnoxious" messages on Taylor's home and office telephone answering machines.
When Taylor said he didn't want to talk to Getterman about it, the candidate showed up with his wife at GOP headquarters and demanded a meeting. Here the accounts vary. Taylor says he locked him out, called the police, and told Fair he could use GOP headquarters for a press conference. Getterman's aides say Taylor's wife was at the office, saw the Gettermans and started screaming, that M.A. came out to see what was going on and in the ensuing confusion knocked Mrs. Getterman into a door hard enough to damage it. The police took statements from everyone, but nobody was arrested and no complaint had been filed at our last check.
What about the runoff election? On the day his wife filed for divorce, Fair told the Waco paper he would be dropping out of the race. He's a family values candidate who has endorsements from conservative groups like Free PAC and the Young Conservatives of Texas.
But after the story ran in the paper, Fair's consultants said he got calls from several people asking him to stay in the contest. Taylor said he got calls, too. Taylor said it would be strange for a candidate with all of those problems to prevail in a runoff, but said it might be possible this time because Fair apologized, is trying to make up with his wife, and is running against a candidate, Taylor said, who isn't attractive to a lot of voters.
Fair held a press conference to apologize, but started it by accusing Getterman of kicking down doors at Taylor's office and berating Taylor's wife. Then he started his apology: "The original reason I asked you to be here today is to take responsibility for my own actions, not to discuss the violent and possibly criminal behavior of Mr. Getterman." He said he decided to stay in the race so that "the politics of personal destruction" would not win by default.
The House district includes Crawford, and President George W. Bush's ranch.
Latino Politics in Texas: Love or Hate?
Now that Waco is tucked away, what the heck was that primary election all about? We stuck out a list of unanswered questions a week ago, and some of the answers have cleared up. To wit:
• Latino voters made up 33.6 percent of the total vote on the Democratic side, according to preliminary numbers from the William C. Velasquez Institute in San Antonio. They looked at voting in the 25 biggest counties, at Latino population and voter numbers and at total populations and voter registrations. And they're estimating 345,340 of the 1.02 million Democratic voters had Spanish surnames. That outfit estimates 17.2 percent of registered Latino voters in Texas voted in the Democratic primary. That means Anglos and/or African-Americans were particularly apathetic, because the overall average turnout on the Democratic side was 8.4 percent.
That vote total is interesting. This isn't statistically valid, but lookee: Victor Morales got 325,896 votes in the U.S. Senate race where he was the only Hispanic candidate. Ray Madrigal, the only Hispanic in the race for land commissioner, got 313,041 votes against Sen. David Bernsen. In the next race—the one for agriculture commissioner—Ernesto De Leon got 366,744 votes against Tom Ramsay. Bernsen and Ramsay won those races, but candidates with Hispanic names appeared to be getting votes from the same bloc of voters.
• Is it a disadvantage to have a Hispanic surname in the Republican primary? Apparently so. It can be overcome with effective advertising and lots of funding—look at past election successes by Tony Garza and Al Gonzales, for instance—but in a race of relative unknowns like Xavier Rodriguez and Steven Wayne Smith, the Anglo name appears to appeal more to GOP voters.
Republicans point to the Democratic results in the Land and Ag races as proof that the Democrats are no less welcoming than the GOP when it comes to Hispanic candidates. Rodriguez lost a prominent race on their side, but Madrigal and De Leon lost on the Democratic side. The Democrats counter by saying the top vote-getters in the top two Democratic races were Hispanics. They also note Rodriguez's pedigree—Perry was helping him on the stump, by doing ads and by recording automated phone messages for his appointee. The Democrats also say Bernsen and Ramsay had an advantage not shared by Smith: They are experienced politicians.
• The Democratic party's Absolutely Anglo vote, measured unscientifically, is about 6.2 percent. That's the number of people who looked at the names in the gubernatorial race and voted for Bill Lyon (4.2 percent) and John WorldPeace (2.0 percent) instead of Tony Sanchez or Dan Morales.
A Gigantic TV Buy Yields a Win but Fails to Boost Turnout
Tony Sanchez's negative ads against Dan Morales apparently had no effect on Victor Morales, who finished first in the Senate race and got about the same number of votes as other unfunded Hispanic candidates in Democratic primaries. Sanchez apparently did have the big lead he claimed to have in the governor's race, but ran negative ads anyway. Why? Some of his supporters say Morales made him mad and he wanted to bury his opponent. Other theories in relatively wide circulation: 1) that he was trying to help Ron Kirk in the U.S. Senate race by running ads that might hurt Victor Morales; 2) that the campaign has so much money to spend that there's no need to marshal resources by pulling down unnecessary advertising; and 3) that the campaign wanted to run up the score to build momentum for November. The first bit didn't work—Morales won and is still a threat to the Democrats' "dream team" strategy. Number two is probably wrong, on the theory that you don't get rich and stay that way if you're dumb about money. Number three? Who knows?
The commercial flood on television—nearly all of it in the governor's race—didn't boost turnout by any significant amount. Just over 1 million Democrats voted. That's up from 1998, when a lackluster ticket drew a lackluster crowd to the polls, and about the same as in 1994, when George W. Bush first appeared on the scene and began the Republican takeover of statewide offices in Texas. A side worry for both parties: The population is growing and the number of people who vote is dropping. If these were economic trends, this would be called a depression.
And Some TV Buys Appear Pointless
It's possible to put up television ads in a political race and see little or no benefit. Just ask David Dewhurst, or Xavier Rodriguez or Kenn George. Rodriguez and George both lost races in which they bought at least some television time and their opponents bought none at all.
We throw Dewhurst into the bunch with an asterisk: He spent more than $3 million—much of it on TV—and got roughly the same number of votes as John Cornyn, another Republican statewide officeholder who was on the ballot and who spent nothing. Dewhurst's ads were aimed at raising his name ID and not at his opponent, whose existence was never acknowledged in the commercials. Attorney General Cornyn, who's running for U.S. Senate, got 475,112 votes. Land Commissioner Dewhurst, running for lieutenant governor, got 488,792. Each ran against virtual unknowns, and each ended up with about the same percentage: 78.4 percent for Dewhurst and 77.2 percent for Cornyn.
In the case of Rodriguez and George, the question is whether they had enough money on television to make their advertising worthwhile. Rodriguez spent about $500,000 on TV, which isn't enough to saturate the airwaves. For the same money, he could have sent Republican voters a couple of mailers touting his candidacy. His consultants think that's one reason he lost the race for Supreme Court to Steven Wayne Smith, a relatively unknown attorney who ran a low-budget campaign. Rodriguez, appointed to the court by Gov. Rick Perry, lost by about 45,000 votes.
George said he hadn't done a political autopsy to take apart reasons for his loss to Jerry Patterson in the GOP primary for the General Land Office. He bought more television than Rodriguez, and said his TV consultants thought the frequency of the ads—which ran heavily for ten days to two weeks—would be enough to "burn in" with voters. But Patterson got to the wire with a surprisingly large win, grabbing 56.5 percent of the vote to George's 43.5 percent. Patterson, who ran for the same job four years ago, added more than 100,000 votes to what he collected then. Patterson ran no television, but did several statewide mailings (some to a list culled from GOP primary voters who also are on lists of NRA supporters) and ran radio ads at the end. George did all three, but used money on television that might, in retrospect, have been better spent in another medium.
Bright Spots for Moderate Republicans in Spite of Turnout
Some Republicans worried that low voter turnout would produce an undiluted vote by the more hard-boiled elements of their party, resulting in some nominees too conservative for general election voters. That's been a worry for Democrats for several years; their primaries have produced candidates that suited primary voters but turned off the more moderate voters who show up each November.
For moderate Republicans who were sweating the results, the worst fears went unfounded. Conservatives won several races, but don't dominate the ticket in the way they might have. In the Texas Senate, John Shields, Ed Harrison and Gary Polland were all defeated by candidates who are less conservative (or slightly less, depending on your litmus strips). The low turnout—only 622,000 voters showed up—wasn't a free ride for the conservatives.
Conservatives had wins, too. Grace Shore lost her spot on the State Board of Education in a convincing way: Linda Bauer, the challenger, got 64.2 percent of the vote. Rep. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, led the way into a Senate runoff with former Sen. Michael Galloway. And Craig Estes, who won a special election to the Senate last year, fought off a challenge from Dave Deison, a former Weatherford mayor. The Republican from Wichita Falls got 57.6 percent. Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, won a race many expected him to lose, pulling 70.9 percent of the vote against Randy Robinson. That sets up a race to watch in November: Democrats and Republicans alike think Green is wounded and could ultimately lose his reelection bid. Republicans also got two mild surprises out of Dallas and Collin Counties. Two former aides to Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, got knocked out of the running on Election Day. John Roach Jr. lost to Rep. Jerry Madden after Gov. Perry gave Madden a late assist in the form of automated phone calls. And Matt Matthews, an Austin lobster who used to work for the senator, finished third in a race for an open House seat.
Expensive, Noisy and Ineffective
Free PAC, in the final analysis, wasted a bunch of money on direct mail and had better results when it sent checks instead of attacks. None of the officeholders targeted by that group's direct mail campaign suffered for it; in the six legislative races where Free PAC sent its famous negative mailers, the intended victims outperformed the intended beneficiaries.
In five of the six races, Free PAC's enemies won in landslides: Sen. Bill Ratliff got 69.7 percent; Rep. Brian McCall of Plano got 68.7 percent; Rep. Edmund Kuempel of Seguin got 65.5 percent of the vote in Tuesday's primaries; Rep. Tommy Merritt of Longview got 59.5 percent; and Rep. Kip Averitt, running for Senate, got 57.6 percent. The exception, though still a winner, was Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, who won with 51.2 percent.
In spite of the defeats, Free PAC's Richard Ford claimed the group's efforts added 3 percent to 9 percent to the vote totals of the candidates who were supposed to benefit. He said that was the difference in early voting results that preceded the mailings and later results that followed them. The group's record was better when it gave money and not mail: Of 14 candidates supported, Ford said, 7 won outright, one lost, and six made it to runoffs.
Footnote: We were misled by the folks who told us there was no affiliation between Free PAC and the Free Market Foundation. Here's the latest version: Richard Ford founded both groups. The foundation doesn't do political endorsements, although it collects candidates' answers to a questionnaire and publishes the results at election time. Ford, who runs Free PAC, isn't on the foundation's board anymore. But Kelly Shackelford, who now heads the foundation, is one of the panel members who rates candidates for Free PAC. Those recommendations form the basis for who'll be targeted by the kinds of mailers that raised so much dust in the last two weeks. Shackelford and Ford told us a week ago that the groups were completely unaffiliated.
The GOP's Targeted Republican Prevails
Wentworth's race was tight before Free PAC got there.
The incumbent was slow to wake up to a challenge from Rep. John Shields, R-San Antonio—in the first finance reports, the challenger out-raised the incumbent (almost entirely on the strength of contributions from Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio, a generous financier of conservative Republicans, and from car dealer Red McCombs, Shields' father-in-law). The Republican establishment, miffed that Wentworth hadn't been more one-sided during last year's redistricting fight in the Legislature, was slow to come to his aid. He rallied and overcame a late hit in the form of a television spot featuring Texas GOP Chairwoman Susan Weddington taking a swipe at him. In the end, Bexar County voters carried Wentworth to a win, while he was losing in the other counties in the district.
Weddington has jumped into primary contests before, always arguing that her official position didn't bar her from making endorsements as a private citizen. This time she made the same argument, but she went further: At the end of the 9/11 television special on the Sunday before the election, Weddington's face in a Shields ad was the first thing to appear after the credits.
She identified herself as the chair of the Republican Party (an identification repeated in writing at the bottom of the screen) and proceeded to attack Wentworth as a lobbyist "for special interests." Wentworth, who already had former Bexar County Judge Cyndi Krier doing ads for him, won that celebrity face-off and held on to win on Election Day. Later, Weddington said she has always supported Shields, that she lives in that Senate district and that she didn't forfeit any of her rights when she ran for chairman of the GOP. She didn't sound like she's going to make a habit of appearing in ads, but also said she wouldn't rule out doing it again.
South Texas Nail-Biters Figure in Senate Race
Two legislative races are worth watching, partly for sport and partly because they have ramifications elsewhere. Barbara Canales-Black is on the way to runoff with Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa for the Senate seat left vacant by Sen. Carlos Truan's decision not to run again. Hinojosa got a boost in the form of a runoff in the county judge race in Hidalgo County. That'll help turnout, which will help him; Canales-Black has had more money throughout the campaign and has been trying to keep the Senate seat in Corpus Christi's hands. And Rep. Tracy King made it into the runoff in his newly drawn legislative district. That'll pit him against Timoteo "Timo" Garza of Eagle Pass. King says he feels good about the race because he did well in several of the counties where he's a new face. He'll have to overcome Maverick County's desire to have a legislator of its own, but it'll be competitive.
Both of those races will help drive turnout along the Border. That might help boost Victor Morales' chances in his runoff with Ron Kirk. In the Dallas area, where Kirk is strongest, there aren't as many high-interest runoffs. Kirk ran Spanish language TV spots featuring Henry Cisneros in the primary; expect more of that.
With the primaries over and the runoffs ahead, the endorsement game is underway again. Start at the top of the ticket: former Dallas Mayor Kirk got the endorsements of 15 members of the Texas congressional delegation. That list includes U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Houston. She remained silent during the primary, which involved Kirk, who like her is African-American, and Ken Bentsen, whose Houston congressional district is next to her own. The list does not include Bentsen, who hasn't nodded to either Kirk or Morales since coming in third in the primary.
Flotsam & Jetsam
For a while on Election Night, David Martin, a Corsicana lawyer trying to get into the Legislature in HD-8, looked like an outright winner. Then he looked like the lead candidate in a runoff, and that stuck for almost 48 hours. The unofficial tally with all the votes counted had him in front, with 34.7 percent of the vote, and headed for an April matchup with George Robinson, a lawyer from Fairfield, who got 32.6 percent of the vote. But the 825 absentee votes that Martin won in Navarro County were triple-counted, and when the mistake was corrected, he lost 1,650 votes. Everybody else lost votes there, too, but since that was his strongest county, they didn't lose nearly as many votes as he lost. At the end of the counting, Martin was out of the runoff. Robinson finished first and he'll be in a runoff with Charlie Nichols, a lawyer from Palestine. Martin, who left the country for a vacation right after the election, wasn't available for comment.
• Lest you get the idea that Republicans are the only cannibals in politics, look at Laredo. Sen. Judy Zaffirini and Rep. Richard Raymond, both Laredo Democrats, took after former Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, in a story in the San Antonio Express-News that got the attention of national Republicans. The NRCC is sending out copies of a column quoting the two Democrats questioning whether Cuellar "has any bombs out there waiting to explode" and questioning whether he can beat the incumbent in a race for Congress, U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. Cuellar left the House to become Texas Secretary of State in Gov. Rick Perry's administration. That got him sideways with some Democrats. Then he said he'd support Perry's reelection; Perry is running against Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez. Raymond says he won't consider whether to endorse Cuellar until he knows Cuellar will endorse Sanchez. In the meantime, the Republicans are promoting the fight among the Democrats.
• Great moments in advertising: On the day after the elections, readers of the Internet version of the Dallas Morning News were treated to a photo of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez Jr., the Laredo businessman who spent around $20 million just to get through the primaries. At the top of the page was an ad for an Internet service provider, which was promoting low prices. And the ad had a sound effect that might not have hit computer geeks and political geeks the same way. As Sanchez's picture came up on the screen, the sound effect was distinct: "Ka-ching!"
Political People and Their Moves
Former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, who's now a writer and radio host and agent provocateur, is headlining a "Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour that'll feature a slew of progressive types. That list includes Molly Ivins, Michael Moore, Jesse Jackson Jr., Granny D and Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's ice cream fame) and a mess of musicians. They're starting in Austin but plan to travel some. There's more information at www.rollingthundertour.org... Mark Sanders, the top political/press aide to Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander is outta there after a conversation that followed growing discord between Sanders and other top aides to Rylander. By all accounts, he wasn't forced out, but left on his own accord. Sanders, a former reporter who has been in politics for more than a decade, says he'll chase private sector and political work now that he's out of government.... Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry named Dallas businessman Comer Cottrell to the Texas Racing Commission, the agency that regulates horse and dog tracks and pari-mutuel wagering in the state. Cottrell, the founder of Pro-Line Hair Products, has served on a bunch of boards and commissions, including the Texas Youth Commission, the NAACP, and a couple of colleges... Weeks & Co., a political consulting and media firm, made Suzanne Hofmann Erickson a partner; she was already president of the company's joint venture with Hillco Partners. She's been with Weeks since 1998... Resuscitated, apparently: The Texas Chili Parlor, closed in our last episode for not paying its state sales and liquor taxes, is back in business. A new owner came forward, paid the tax debts to the state and vowed to reopen the lunch joint, watering hole and political hangout near the Capitol... Easy, folks, easy: We stuck an Eddie Sutton quote in a recent issue that made it seem to some like he was coaching the college basketball team in Norman instead of the one in Stillwater. He's the coach at Oklahoma State University. Sorry, dad.
Quotes of the Week
Democratic gubernatorial Dan Morales, in the days before he lost to Tony Sanchez Jr. in the primary, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "This type of so-called public service is the type you see in Mexico. You've got a wealthy man who goes into government service to get wealthier."
Sanchez, defending his decision to make personal loans to his campaign which can be paid back later by contributors, and comparing the influence of those kinds of contributions with the regular kind given Gov. Rick Perry and other candidates: "Let me make something very clear. Nobody is going to own me, and I'm not going to be beholden to anybody no matter what they contribute to my campaign... I don't have to have the contributions. He does."
Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff in the Austin American-Statesman, on Sanchez and other candidates who say they want to cut the fat out of the state budget before anyone talks about taxes: "Almost every first-time candidate for the legislature who's never tried to balance the state budget has that viewpoint. I can't criticize them for it because they've never been here. I personally scrubbed this budget on at least two occasions. I've been there and I know how difficult it is."
State Board of Education candidate Bobby Butler, quoted by the Tyler Morning Telegraph after his third arrest for public intoxication in a six-month period: "I was sober as far as I was concerned."
U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, after losing his bid for an open seat in the U.S. Senate, telling the Austin American-Statesman what's next: "Old policy wonks don't die—they just go and read another book."
Bexar County GOP Chairman Roy Barrera Jr., asked by reporters if he had ever seen an election mess like the one in his home county, where precincts were consolidated without announcements to alert voters and then ballots ran short: "Yes. Miami. 2000."
Former Sen. Jerry Patterson, reacting—in a day-after interview with the Austin American-Statesman—to his unexpectedly decisive win over Rep. Kenn George in the GOP race for land commissioner: "Frankly, this time yesterday, I thought I was toast."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 36, 18 March 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.