It's easier to get rid of fire ants than it is to kill rumors, but the latest news from Texas A&M should subdue the latest gossip about the U.S. Senate seat now held by Phil Gramm. More importantly, it should be added to the lore about people in powerful positions botching easy opportunities.
Gramm didn't make the short list to fill the job of president of the state's second-largest university, which probably takes him out of the running for that post. That recommendation can always be overridden, but the search committee that's been looking for a new honcho didn't list Gramm among the finalists. The Republicans, who control every single stinkin' lever in the whole process, squandered a chance to advance three of their top officials into new appointed and elected positions.
The latest political rumors had Gramm getting the A&M job and resigning his seat in the U.S. Senate. That would allow Gov. Rick Perry to consolidate his party's general election ticket by naming Republican candidate John Cornyn to Gramm's spot, thus letting Cornyn run as an "incumbent." That would have moved Cornyn out of the attorney general's post, giving Perry a chance to appoint Greg Abbott to that post, so he could also run as an incumbent.
That would give the Republicans a decided advantage over their November rivals. Abbott is running against Kirk Watson, a popular former mayor of Austin who has cracked a code elusive to Texas politicians: He's raking in contributions from high-tech executives. Both candidates are relative unknowns statewide, both are good speakers, and it should be a very competitive race in November. The advantage of incumbency would be a boon to Abbott.
Cornyn will be running against History in the Making next fall–that's how it'll be billed–against Ron Kirk or Victor Morales, two Democrats in a runoff next month for the nomination to run against the AG for Gramm's seat. Kirk, if elected to the Senate, would be only the fifth African-American elected to that body, and only the third in modern times. Mississippi put a couple of Black Republicans in the U.S. Senate during Reconstruction. Edward Brooke, R-Massachusetts, was in the Senate from 1967 to 1979, and Carol Moseley Braun, D-Illinois, served one six-year term starting in 1993.
Morales, if elected to the Senate, would be the fourth Hispanic ever elected. The first three to make it into the upper chamber were all from New Mexico. As they did earlier with African-Americans, the Republicans broke the color line, sending Octaviano Larrazolo to the U.S. Senate in 1928. Dennis Chavez, a Democrat, served from 1935 to 1962, and Joseph Montoya, another Democrat, was in the U.S. Senate from 1964 to 1977. Either of the Democrats would be the first minority sent to the U.S. Senate by Texas voters, who have elected one woman and a mob of Anglo males to serve there.
The latest fumble is a replay of early September of last year, when Gramm announced that this will be his last term in office. Had he resigned then, the Republicans could have moved everyone up a notch that much earlier, giving that much more weight to their incumbencies. But then, and now, somebody fumbled. It could have been on the Gramm end of the handoff–he's the one who has to resign to start the play. Or on the other end, where you find President George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry, who didn't produce whatever it would have taken to convince or push him. They had the tools: Each regent at Texas A&M got there through either Bush or Perry. When the September deals came apart (partly over differences about who would replace him) Gramm said he intended to serve out his term. With a second chance slipping away, it looks like Gramm will still be in the Senate when Cornyn and Abbott find out whether they or the Democrats will be on the government payroll.
An Argument Against the Economics Professor
Texas A&M does have a reason to be skittish about Gramm. Enron. His wife, Wendy Lee Gramm, is an A&M regent and also a member of Enron's board (and of the board's audit committee). One strike against Sen. Phil Gramm is that the Enron thing is just too hot right now and that it might be better to see how things play out before making him the front man for a giant university.
And there's a spin from the Republicans we hadn't considered. A GOP consultant makes the argument that John Cornyn would be a dope to take an appointment to Gramm's job right now. Why? Former Sen. Bob Krueger. When Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas stepped down, Gov. Ann Richards named Krueger to take his place in the Senate. In just a few months, that appointment had been tied around his neck and used to beat him in a special election. He was either voting for something that could be attacked, or he was campaigning while the Senate was in session and could be blasted for his absences. State Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison waltzed by, won the special election, won the regular election, and remains in the Senate today. There is not enough time left in Gramm's term, the argument goes, for any of the benefits of incumbency to accrue to Cornyn. There is plenty of time, however, for an appointment to become an albatross to him.
A Victory, a Resignation, and a Special Election
Now that Rep. Kip Averitt is safely out of the Republican primary for state Senate, he's resigning from the House. That will mean a special election for the House seat can be held in May, on the same day Waco-area voters will be going to the polls for a special Senate election. Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, quit to become a lobbyist. Averitt beat homebuilder Ed Harrison earlier this month in the race for a regular term in the Senate, but there's still the matter of who should serve out the last few months of Sibley's term. That special election will be held on May 4. Averitt's resignation from the House will allow Gov. Rick Perry to call a House special election on that same day. The alternative was to have two special elections. The first would elect a Sibley successor, and that would probably be Averitt. Harrison lives in the new Senate district but not in the current one. That keeps him out of the special election. The second election would elect a House successor to Averitt. Candidates have until April 3 to file papers to run for what's left of Averitt's term. Which leads us nicely to the next item.
Follow-up: Sex, Lies & Videotape
The Waco House race is already weird, and could have some more headlines left in it. In our last episode, Walt Fair had decided to leave his name on the ballot for the April 9 runoff between him and Holt Getterman. Fair is the guy whose wife filed for divorce right after the elections, and shortly after videotapes of Fair in the company of another woman began being circulated around Waco. Getterman got involved when he started something between a shouting match and a fight with M.A. Taylor, a former House member who is now the chairman of the local GOP.
When everyone calmed down, Fair's name was still on the ballot. His campaign consultant, Bill Tryon of Austin, had dropped out of the effort to get him elected. And Getterman was home licking his wounds, but still probably the front-runner.
Watch this: If Fair wins the primary, he can drop out of the November race by simply moving out of the district. That would allow local party officials to name a GOP candidate for the November elections. One name in the mix: Charles "Doc" Anderson, who finished third in the March primaries. Those primaries were held before Fair and Getterman started their opera. That would get the GOP out of a fix; the post-election goofiness we wrote about last week encouraged Democrats who have a candidate named John Mabry whose chances were slim until a week ago. Mabry's chances skyrocket if he gets to run against a candidate who got banged up badly during the GOP primary. Anderson says he'll do what's good for the party. He wants to wait a couple of days to see how things play out, but he's not turning away inquiries about whether he's still interested.
You've heard a fair bit about the wars between trade associations for doctors and some of their business counterparts, but they're working together in the Republican primary runoffs for Texas Supreme Court. Elizabeth Ray and Dale Wainwright are the remaining candidates in that contest, and the docs and the tort reformers are backing Wainwright.
Ray, they complain, got at least 73 percent of her money from trial lawyers, including several who typically support only Democrats in statewide races. A lot of that money came in late in the contest, and some Republicans were chapped that Ray was critical of trial lawyer money during forums leading up to Election Day. Both she and Wainwright are district judges in Harris County: She's an Ann Richards appointee; he's a George W. Bush appointee.
The Texas Medical Association folks met with the Texans for Lawsuit Reform folks the other day, and they'll be throwing money into Wainwright's race and into "voter education" programs that should help him at her expense. That hard money/soft money split is used mainly in federal races, but is necessary here because of the contribution limits in Texas judicial bouts.
Some Republicans want Wainwright to succeed for another reason: He's African-American. In a year when Democrats are shooting at the GOP for being unfriendly to minorities, the Republicans would like to see a win. That would offset Supreme Court Justice Xavier Rodriguez' loss to Steven Wayne Smith in the March primary for another spot on the high court.
Better to Be Rich or Connected?
Former Judge John Carter only beat Peter Wareing in two counties, but one of them was big and could figure heavily into a runoff strategy. Williamson County gave Carter 58 percent of its votes on Election Day. That's a testament to organization and experience. Carter was an early Republican activist in Williamson County. Wareing, who moved into the district from Houston to run for Congress, had a lot of money to spend on television.
The strengths of the candidates are apparent in the numbers: Wareing carried seven of nine counties on Election Day, but lost big in Williamson, where Carter had an organizational advantage. That's a new congressional district that stretches from Houston's suburbs to Austin's suburbs.
There were eight candidates in the primary, but even with a crowd, Wareing got 36.6 percent of the vote and Carter got 26.1 percent. The top vote-producer in March was Brazos County, which turned in 31.3 percent of the votes. Williamson produced 26.3 percent of the vote, followed by Harris County, with 17.8 percent. Brad Barton, who finished third on Election Day, moved from Dallas-Fort Worth to Bryan to make the race; he finished third behind Wareing and C. Patrick Meece in the first round. Those votes will all be up for grabs. Wareing dominated in Harris County.
So who wins the runoff? It's a turnout question. Wareing will have the financial advantage, but Carter might be able to get out the votes in Williamson County because of his history there.
Freeing a Political Hostage
Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry named Jennifer Walker Elrod of Houston to the 190th District Court. She's currently with Baker Botts. That seat on the bench opened up when John Devine quit to run for Harris County Attorney. Devine went on to lose to Mike Stafford in the Republican primary... Felipe Alanis, a former Texas Education Agency exec who is now vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University of Texas System, will be the state's new education commissioner. That story broke in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram a little while back, but Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, sat on the appointment. Barrientos, a very active supporter of Perry challenger Tony Sanchez Jr., is Alanis' home senator, and the home senator's approval is needed before an appointment can win Senate approval...
Where Those Votes Came From
The Democratic Party's primary vote skewed to the Latino vote, producing a high percentage of votes from Hispanics and a low percentage from Anglos. That's supported by a couple of studies that were done in the heat of the elections, but you can guess at the same thing by looking at the geography of the votes on March 12. The top vote producers were Harris and Dallas Counties. That's not a surprise, because they're the biggest counties in the state. But look at which counties were next in line this time: El Paso, Bexar, Hidalgo, Travis, Tarrant, Webb, Nueces and Cameron. Those ten counties combined for 509,181 votes–about half of the total Democratic turnout on Election Day.
Territorial Runoff, Southern District
Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, should be very, very glad there is a runoff in the race for Hidalgo County Judge. His camp is hoping that'll drive turnout in his runoff against Corpus Christi attorney Barbara Canales-Black. She won in three of SD-20's four counties, and Hinojosa finished in front of her only because of the heavy turnout in his home county. He won in Hidalgo County by 11,874 votes (or 45 percent of the total), and that was enough to offset losses elsewhere. His overall margin over Canales-Black was 2,631 votes.
The truly interesting statistic in that race, however, is in the turnout column of the spreadsheet. Hidalgo County had turnout of 18.2 percent. That's impressive, but in this race, it didn't set any records. In Nueces County, it was 13.9 percent. The turnout in Brooks County was 43.6.
In Jim Wells County, it was 27.5. Think about that. Jim Wells County, which is not what you would call a bustling center of urban activity, turned out 7,019 votes in the Democratic primaries. That turnout pushed the county into the top 20 counties in the state, ahead of much bigger (and much more Republican) counties like McLennan, Williamson, Collin, Denton and Lubbock. So far, Canales-Black has had enough money to turn out the vote in those counties. If she keeps it up, Hinojosa will have to make a dent there and pray for a big turnout at home–probably connected to the county judge runoff–to prevail in April.
Territorial Runoffs, Southeastern District
In the state's SD-4, Dr. Martin Basaldua endorsed Rep. Tommy Williams over former Sen. Michael Galloway in the runoff to succeed Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont. Basaldua finished third, but he won in Harris County, which is second only to Montgomery County in size in that district. Galloway led in Jefferson and Orange Counties, but those don't carry enough votes to get him out of the runoff. In the March vote, Williams got 45 percent to Galloway's 35 percent. Bernsen is running for land commissioner; the winner of the GOP runoff will face Democrat Mike Smith in November.
• They said they'd do it and they did it: The three candidates who ran against Rep. Joe Moreno, D-Houston, in HD-143 have banded together to beat him in the runoff. Municipal Court Judge Al Flores made the runoff with Moreno and has the endorsements of the two losers, Dorothy Olmos and Kyle Johnston. Moreno's first counter: He says Flores doesn't live in the district.
Territorial Runoff, Northern District
If you take the numbers apart in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound, you'll find that his son Scott Armey has a rough month ahead. The younger Armey, a 32-year-old who has never held a job outside of elected office in Denton County government, got only 41 percent of the vote in his home county. That's with six people in the race, to be sure, but it's not the kind of showing some of his backers wanted to see on Election Day. Michael Burgess, who also made the runoff, got 26 percent of Denton County's vote. He has the endorsement of the third-place finisher, Keith Self, who got 24 percent of Denton County's vote. Armey won handily in the Tarrant and Collin County parts of the district, but almost three of every four votes came from Denton County residents.
Flotsam & Jetsam
There are no fewer than six counties in the newly drawn SD-25. We had the number wrong in last week's item about the contest between Sen. Jeff Wentworth and Rep. John Shields, both Republicans and both from San Antonio. Wentworth, the incumbent, won in Bexar, Guadalupe and Kendall Counties. Shields prevailed in Comal, Hays and Travis Counties. The two ran neck-and-neck. Wentworth won his three counties with by a total of 1,495 votes. Shields won in his three counties by 279 votes. According to unofficial returns, that was enough to get Wentworth a 1,216-vote margin.
• Mark Cole got the support of former Rep. Brad Wright and former Texas Secretary of State Jack Rains in his race for the Texas House. Cole finished behind Martha Wong in the race for HD-134 in Houston; they'll face off next month. That's not an open seat, although we incorrectly described it that way in a recent issue. The winner of the GOP primary will face Rep. Debra Danburg, D-Houston. That district was redrawn during redistricting to include three incumbent House members. Danburg stayed to run; Republican Kyle Janek ran for Senate (and won the GOP primary for that seat); and Democrat Scott Hochberg moved to run in a newly redrawn district nearby.
• He can still challenge the results in court, but after a recount of the March 12 primary vote, Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, lost by 41 votes to his former law partner, Roberto Alonzo. On Election Day, the margin was 38 votes, with Alonzo beating Garcia in a rematch of the race in which Garcia unseated then-Rep. Alonzo. Garcia still has the right to sue over the result, but hadn't made a decision at last word. Garcia, who recently finished third in the Dallas mayoral race, won the House seat away from Alonzo in 1996 and has held onto it ever since. Alonzo–assuming he remains in the winners' circle–will face Republican Joe Hernandez in November.
• Democratic Senate candidate Ron Kirk has a fundraising flyer that makes it look to some as though contributors can give $3,000 to his campaign: $1,000 each for his primary race, his runoff race, and his general election race. That's sort of true. The door closes on the primary election money once the primary is done. And it closes on money for runoffs once the runoffs are done, and on general elections once those are over.
But there is an exception.
A candidate can collect money now to repay debts and loans from an earlier race. Say Kirk, or any federal candidate, had debts from the March race. Donors could contribute to that race until the debts are gone. They could give a maximum of $1,000. The same is true for the runoff and then again for the November election. If Kirk has no loans from the earlier race (the report isn't in yet), then new contributors are limited to $2,000. Only people who contributed to the primary campaign before the primary election can shell out the maximum $3,000.
• Walt Fair got a late endorsement from the Young Conservatives of Texas. By late, we mean that the Waco candidate for the Texas House was endorsed by the group (which also endorsed him in the primary) after he had held a press conference saying he would stay in the race even though he'd been captured on videotape with another woman and that his wife had filed for divorce the day after the election. YCT's press release announced a series of endorsements, most along the lines of "we are proud to endorse..." In the paragraph about HD-56, they say they're endorsing Fair because he has agreed to step aside if he wins, to let the GOP nominate another candidate. Basically, they're against Holt Getterman, and they're sticking with Fair.
• John WorldPeace isn't going away–he's just moving on to a new phase. The Democrat's latest missive says he'll be working on a book on his experience of running for governor of Texas. He won't finish it until after the November elections, he writes, and "cannot maintain too high a profile in the next eight months without influencing the course of events–specifically the Sanchez candidacy." He also says he's opening a second law office in Austin (he lives in Houston) so he'll have a base of operations during the 2003 legislative session. Finally, he says he expects his lawsuit against the Spanish-language debates to "go on for a decade or so if it does not settle in the near future."
Political People and Their Moves
Tom Krampitz is going from prosecutors to speed freaks, giving up his post at the Texas District and County Attorneys Association to be the general counsel and government relations guru at the Texas Motor Speedway north of Fort Worth. Krampitz, a former prosecutor (in Caldwell County), has been at the association for a dozen years. Rob Kepple, the general counsel there, is filling in as acting E.D., and has applied for the job. He and the other applicants should get final word next month... We told you Craig Pedersen was leaving the Texas Water Development Board after more than a decade there. One likely applicant for his job is Barry McBee, the former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry and the former executive director of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. McBee is working for the Bracewell & Patterson law firm at the moment, but says he's definitely interested in the water job. The agency could make a decision as early as next month... The Capitol offices of former Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, are gone. In fact, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who used to office next door to Sibley on the third floor of the Senate side of the Pink Building, has moved her staff into his slightly more spacious digs. And the last of the Sibley gang, Bruce Scott, is leaving government to open a lobby practice. He'll do some projects with his former boss–who also moved to the lobby–and some on his own. His first gig is with a new group started with AT&T seed money. "Texans for Economic Progress" hopes to grow into a coalition working on everything from utility legislation to tax code revisions. Sandy Haverlah, who's got a ton of experience with such groups–she's currently executive director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters–is pulling things together... Gov. Rick Perry appointed Walter Criner to the Texas Lottery Commission a year ago, but Criner has decided to leave halfway through what would have been a two-year term. In a letter to Perry, he said in effect that it was taking too much of his time and attention. His term was supposed to end next February... The Texas Building and Procurement Commission's first executive director will be Randall Riley. The former Texas House member has been acting director since August, transforming the old General Services Commission into the new agency... The Texas Cable and Telecommunications Association named Amanda Davis Batson as its new executive director. She was with the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented, and before that, worked in the Austin and Round Rock school districts. Bill Arnold, who had the cable job until now, is retiring after 21 years.
Quotes of the Week
Supreme Court candidate Steven Wayne Smith, after defeating Justice Xavier Rodriguez in the GOP primary, told the El Paso Times that the Republican Party "needs someone who will stand up for the English language and an end to racial preferences. Tony Sanchez and the Democrats are standing up for Spanish and expanding race preferences, and no other Republican candidates have spoken out against those positions. Rick Perry continues to practice race preferences and take Spanish classes. John Cornyn defended race preferences and is working on his Spanish, too."
Denton County District Attorney Bruce Isaacks, explaining to the Dallas Morning News why he didn't pursue wife-beating charges against a bail bondsman and political contributor: "There was going to be a disproportionate impact on that old boy. He was going to lose his ability to earn a living."
State Board of Education member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, quoted by the Caller-Times: "There are groups of extremists that have come around every year who want to censor textbooks. I am concerned that they will attempt to rewrite history and ignore the facts." Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum, in response: "I never met a Texan who would rewrite history."
John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, quoted by the Dallas Morning News reacting to candidates' promises to raise pay for educators: "Thank God for elections. Every election period, our public officials get religion as far as education is concerned."
Houston political consultant Allen Blakemore, a Republican, blasting an election administrator (in the Houston Chronicle) for calling one of his mailers illegal because it asked recipients to reply to her office: "She's unhappy because she's a bureaucrat, and we are making her work."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 37, 25 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.