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The Political Sorting Hat, Part 2

Most of the newly drawn House districts–105 of them–voted Republican when you average all of the statewide races together. But when you look only at the closest race on the ballot–the contest for comptroller between Republican Carole Keeton Rylander and Democrat Paul Hobby150;the numbers are much closer. In fact, the statewide averages were skewed by the huge margin of victory racked up by George W. Bush, in particular, and make the House districts look an average of 9 percent more Republican than the comptroller's race. In two dozen districts, the Republican statewide average was at or above 50 percent but the comptroller's race went to the Democrat.

Most of the newly drawn House districts–105 of them–voted Republican when you average all of the statewide races together. But when you look only at the closest race on the ballot–the contest for comptroller between Republican Carole Keeton Rylander and Democrat Paul Hobby150;the numbers are much closer. In fact, the statewide averages were skewed by the huge margin of victory racked up by George W. Bush, in particular, and make the House districts look an average of 9 percent more Republican than the comptroller's race. In two dozen districts, the Republican statewide average was at or above 50 percent but the comptroller's race went to the Democrat.

If you use that 1998 comptroller number as a rough guide, 82 districts tilt to the Republicans. Of those, 18 districts that were not in the hands of the GOP during the last legislative session: Rylander won in 1998, but the seat is either open or held by a Democrat. In five of those, Republican newcomers (Dan Gattis, Glenn Hegar, Linda Harper-Brown, Wayne Smith, and Corbin Van Arsdale) won their primaries and face no Democrats in November. Democrats have locked up one seat (Chuck Hopson).

Of the remaining dozen, seven should go Republican if the numbers hold and the candidates don't do something goofy–Rylander won those districts with at least 54 percent of the vote and the Republican statewide averages were larger still. One of those, HD-138, is held by a Democrat. Rep. Ken Yarbrough, D-Houston, is in a rematch with Republican Dwayne Bohac in a district where Rylander got 57.6 percent of the vote (and Hobby was a Houston candidate).

Three of the tighter races in this category are for seats now held by Democrats. One is a pairing: Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, shares HD-68 with Rep. David Counts, D-Knox City–it narrowly favored Rylander in 1998. Democratic Reps. David Farabee of Wichita Falls (HD-69) and Tom Uher of Bay City (HD-29) are in districts where Rylander won in 1998. Include, too, the HD-72 seat left open when Rep. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, decided not to try for reelection. On the old maps, his was one of a handful of districts the GOP thought it could win but for the incumbent Democrat. Rylander carried the newly drawn district with over 54 percent. On paper, that's a Republican seat.

Four Republican incumbents are in territory that, on paper, belongs to the other party. One, Rep. Pat Haggerty of El Paso, has no opponent in November. Three more–Reps. Wayne Christian, Rick Green and Sid Miller–have some interesting months ahead. Green (HD-45) and Miller (HD-59) are in marginally Democratic districts, but Christian's new HD-9 went to Hobby by just over 53 percent. There's some evidence that it's not a cleanly Democratic area: Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-San Augustine, who was paired with Christian, moved to run in another district nearby. Those should be the tightest contests and the races where a lot of the early money flows.

All told, there are 22 districts where the partisan balance, on paper, is between 47 percent and 53 percent. Five of the 22 won't be contested in November, leaving 17 races that you could put on a starting target list if you're trying to figure out what'll be worth watching at the end of the year. Several have incumbents in them. On the Republican side, put these folks in the basket in addition to the races up above: Reps. Betty Brown (HD-4), Dennis Bonnen (HD-25), Gene Seaman (HD-32), and Terry Keel (HD-47). On the Democratic side, add these: Bob Glaze (HD-5), Dan Ellis (HD-18), Allen Ritter (HD-21), Ann Kitchen (HD-48), Debra Danburg (HD-134), Scott Hochberg (HD-137), and House Speaker Pete Laney (HD-85). We're not saying all of those folks are in trouble, but that they live close to it. Several of them–on both sides–have been winning in hostile territory for years.


Forget the gyrations over management at Texas A&M University for a second and think about this: If you were John Cornyn, would you really want to be appointed to the U.S. Senate for a term that ends at the end of this year? Some Republicans are using the term "Krugerized" to describe what would happen. When Lloyd Bentsen quit the U.S. Senate to become U.S. Treasury secretary, Gov. Ann Richards appointed former U.S. Rep. Bob Kruger to fill the spot. He went to Washington, D.C., just long enough to make a couple of unpopular votes and to ignore the business of getting elected to a full term of his own. He got beat in a special election runoff against Kay Bailey Hutchison. She's still in the Senate and is in position to run for another high office someday; Kruger served in a couple of ambassadorships in the Clinton Administration, but never (yet) attempted a political comeback.

Here's the current game: If U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm were to quit before the end of the year–to become president of Texas A&M or go fish or whatever–Gov. Rick Perry would get to appoint someone to take his place until his successor is elected in November. The November candidates are Cornyn, the state's Republican attorney general, and Democrat Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas.

In the standard scenario, Perry could appoint Cornyn to Senate and then appoint Greg Abbott, the GOP candidate for AG, to the post left open by Cornyn's departure. That would probably be good for Abbott, because he could run for reelection from an incumbent's perch.

But Cornyn's allies think the federal appointment would come too late to help their candidate and would probably hurt him. He'd have to make votes–always a bumpy road for a newcomer who's also trying to win an election–and it would take him away from his primary business of the moment, which is to get elected. Sound like Kruger? Gramm thinks this is all the baying of inebriated liberals (see Quotes of the Week) and says he won't leave until his term is up in any case, so it's probably moot. But if that changes, you'll see a mess of Republicans–some of them close to Cornyn–advising the governor to leave their guy in the AG's office and off of the list of caretaker senators.

Breaking Radio Silence

Less than three weeks after the primary election runoff, Cornyn is breaking radio silence with a series of ads targeted to that section of water-starved South Texas that is most likely to disagree with Kirk on the subject of Water and Mexico. Simply put, Texas is trying to get Mexico to honor a water agreement that would require the Mexicans to supply 1.5 million acre-feet of water for use on the U.S. side of the Border. The Mexicans say the water isn't available, and the rest is all for the negotiators. In a debate during his primary fight, Kirk agreed that the water isn't available, which turned out to be a loaded answer. Farmers and ranchers in the area, and Republicans from all over, say the water is available, and is in reservoirs that have been photographed by satellites. Cornyn's ads, running in both English and Spanish, don't mention Kirk. But they spell out the problem and say Cornyn is on the case.

Department of Hot Potatoes

The worst part of being attorney general, from a political standpoint, is that people are always asking for your legal opinion on thorny subjects, and you have to answer them in writing. The latest question from the comptroller of public accounts to the attorney general boils down to whether the state can enforce its laws on where cigarettes can be advertised. The U.S. Supreme Court knocked down a Massachusetts prohibition on cigarette ads last year, saying federal cigarette labeling laws prevented states from adding restrictions. So the comptroller's office, which enforces advertising restrictions in stores (because they control the permits that can be taken away when retailers break the rules), wants to know what that means here. That puts the question (one of dozens) on Cornyn's plate while he's trying to run a Senate campaign and stay out of trouble.

Endorsement Games

The largest political action committee representing Texas doctors endorsed John Cornyn for U.S. Senate and Tony Sanchez for governor, but this bit isn't over yet.

The Texas Medical Association, which includes about 80 percent of the state's doctors in its ranks, runs its politics through TEXPAC, a political action committee that represents about 20 percent of Texas doctors. The endorsements came from the PAC. A large number of doctors in TMA didn't want the PAC to endorse Sanchez over incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, according to a poll of the members that was floating around at the TMA convention earlier in the month. Who did the poll? TMA did this to itself; it was an internal document that was presented to the PAC board, and word got out.

According to the poll, 38 percent of TMA's members said TEXPAC should support Perry in the governor's race, followed by 24 percent for Sanchez. More than a quarter of the docs–29 percent–said the political action committee should remain neutral, and the rest either didn't answer or gave a different response. Along the same lines, 25 percent of the doctors said they'll vote straight-ticket Republican in November, compared with 5 percent for the Democrats; 65 percent of the doctors said they'll split their ticket, voting for some R's and some D's. Lastly, 36 percent of the docs said the Republicans are more supportive of physician's legislative issues. Only 10 percent said the Democrats were better, and 19 percent said neither party was more responsive to their needs than the other.

TEXPAC members–a subset of the members of TMA itself–weren't polled separately, so there's no way to know whether the TEXPAC board's wishes were more similar to its own membership. The board hasn't picked its legislative favorites yet, and Cornyn and Sanchez are the only two new additions. The group previously endorsed Democrat John Sharp in the race for lieutenant governor and Republican Greg Abbott for attorney general.

Perry's campaign has been working for some time now on a list of doctors who support Perry, so it's possible that voters won't see an advantage one way or the other by the time they vote next fall. And we're already hearing the stats some of the non-endorsees will be quoting. Item: The PAC doesn't represent most of the doctors in Texas. Item: The internal polling shows the group is essentially Republican and favors Perry over Sanchez, at least right now. Item (in larval stage): There are lists of doctors who support Candidate X in Contest Y, and neither side can claim the win.

Variation 1: Roll Your Own

Dr. Bob Deuell, the Republican challenging Sen. David Cain, has been fighting the "friendly incumbent" rule for two political cycles. He's a doctor, but the TMA sees a friend in Cain and has endorsed him over the physician in the last two races. The association hasn't made an endorsement yet this year, but Deuell is preparing for the group to go the other way again. He says he's been endorsed by 97 of the 101 docs in Hunt County, and says two of the remaining doctors are staying neutral and two more weren't asked for their picks. Cain, who has represented parts of Dallas since he was first elected to the House in 1976, moved to an apartment in Mesquite to stay in his district after the lines were redrawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board last year.

Variation 2: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines

Perry and Sanchez have enlisted veterans of the armed services. We told you Perry was banging on Sanchez for saying the governor had never had a meaningful job outside of government. Perry's campaign decided that was a slap at veterans since Perry used to fly a cargo plane. The Republicans kept up the beat for a week and it finally caught, with plans for rallies at a few VFW halls and the like. Sanchez jumped back in with "Veterans for Sanchez," quoting uniformed supporters of his own. The subtext is that Perry served in the military and Sanchez did not, and Sanchez lost the effectiveness of that particular hit on the "career politician" he's challenging. In his reply, however, he stuck to the charge, with a modification. Now he's calling Perry "a 17-year career politician who has spent his life working in politics or on the government payroll and still managed to amass a $2 million fortune."

Su Voto es Su Voz

A sloppy, back-of-the-envelope stab at voter behavior from a Democrat we know: If you're recruiting new African-American voters, you get nearly 10 Democratic votes for every 10 new people you sign. Hispanics? Two out of three new recruits, and maybe three of four, will be Democrats. Anglos? Democrats only get about two votes out of five new recruits.

Now, apply a little Willie Sutton to the equation. He's the guy who said he robbed banks "because that's where the money is." Democrats recruit minority voters because that's where the votes are. Also, because that's where the most unregistered voters are. We'll leave guesses about motivation to others, but that's part of the reason why Republicans are so wigged out about the Every Texan Foundation. It's got a non-profit, non-political designation, and most of the people involved are Democrats. It's headed by Henry Cisneros. Bill Clinton lent his time for a fundraiser.

The group was subleasing office space at one point from a lawyer for and relative of Tony Sanchez. The Texas GOP is asking the IRS to review the group's tax-exempt status and raising hell about the group's activities in the meantime.

But Every Texan isn't the only group signing up votes, and it's not the only one that's signing up votes in minority areas. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a well-established San Antonio-based, non-profit, tax-exempt organization, is also trying to register new voters. The group, which has been doing this for almost 30 years, says it will concentrate this year's efforts on younger and poorer Latinos in Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris and Tarrant counties. That'll start with registrations, but the group will also run get-out-the-vote programs in those places in October and November, all without touting candidates or parties or any issues.

SWVEP aims to enlist 100,000 new voters. And while the group is non-partisan, their efforts could help Democrats, if that Democrat at the top is right. By his numbers, 100,000 new Latino votes would put something like 70,000 new votes in the D's column.

Two Doors Down from the Semi-Private U.S. Post Office

An item in a recent copy of the Texas Register has the Texas Department of Health posting its intention to name a new "Site Serving Medically Underserved Populations." Where, pray tell, do they want to put it? Inside the Texas Capitol.

There is a practical side to this. The name will save the state from having to hire a doctor to oversee the nurse's station in the Capitol Extension. The designation allows a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant to take care of patients–even prescribing medicine–without close supervision from a doctor (a physician has to check in and look at things every ten days under the designation). TDH officials say they've done the same thing at health clinics on college campuses and some schools.

But there is a catch. The Capitol station will mainly be for legislators and staffers, since that's who works there, but the underserved medical population–i.e., the public–will have the right to go in for medical help. After all, that's the name of the program.

Trying to Pass 'Go' and Collect $500,000

Even with a big contribution earlier this year from the Gov. George W. Bush account, the Associated Republicans of Texas are running more than $500,000 in the red. In a fundraising letter to members, Houston businessman Bill McMinn says the group poured a mess of money into redistricting, paying for lawyers and consultants and the like. And then, not all of the people who said they would help pay the bills actually showed up with checkbooks. McMinn says ART has to raise $1.5 million (tough any time, but especially when candidates are already working the political financiers across the state). He also says that "we feel that 19 Republican senators and 85-88 Republican House members is an attainable goal."

Flotsam & Jetsam

The Houston Chronicle rapped Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander for taking money from folks who are arguing tax cases before her agency, something she promised she wouldn't do when she was campaigning for that office. Rylander said after the story appeared that she meant cases that came to her personally. That led to the best towel-snap of the week, from her opponent, Democrat Marty Akins: "My opponent has stated that she believes she has set a high standard for her office. I agree–she just ignored it." Rylander was the top of those stories, but her predecessor, Democrat John Sharp, caught a little shrapnel. That went unnoticed, in part, because his opponent's campaign didn't try to capitalize on it. The fear there was that they would say something nasty about Sharp and accidentally catch Rylander in the crossfire. Save it for later, they decided.

• Boogie check: Sharp's campaign has been trying to kick David Dewhurst for supposedly being unwilling to debate, but they'll be on the same stage within the week. Campaigns for the two candidates for lieutenant governor have agreed (and confirmed to us) that the principals will show up at a May Day event set up by the Austin chapter of CCIM, a trade group for commercial real estate brokers. It's not a straight up debate: The format will have both candidates on stage, talking one after the other without much direct interaction.

• David Barton, vice-chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, is telling party regulars that some of the candidates on the GOP side of the ballot in March were ringers for the Democratic Party. How to tell them from others? "Their candidates refused to pledge support for a Republican House speaker chosen by Republicans, or else were willing to vote to keep Pete Laney as speaker. In Republican races where Democrats did not field a candidate, they supported the incumbents who had worked to preserve Democrat power in the redistricting vote." He didn't name any House candidates in the talk (copies of the speech were emailed to Republican activists around the state), but singled out Sen. Jeff Wentworth and Judge Elizabeth Ray, both of whom, he said, were getting money from trial lawyers.

• We got our battery cables crossed in an item on the governor's race last week. The Rick Perry camp was shooting at Tony Sanchez because the Laredo zillionaire's taxes dropped when federal taxes overall were going up. Perry's folks say that's why Sanchez stood with President Bill Clinton at an event in Washington in support of the tax bill. That said, the Perry folks say they don't have a specific target in mind when they ask for Sanchez' tax returns. At this point, they're pushing it as a "he ought to disclose" story instead of a "here's what he did wrong" story. And the Sanchez people don't want to let go of the returns exactly because the Republicans are on a fishing expedition. Likewise with the flip side: The Sanchez folks say Perry should open the details of his blind trust. The Perry people say that would destroy the purpose of the blind trust, which, after all, has to be secret in order to work.

• Buried under all the noise about the top two races on the ballot were three more endorsements from the political action committee for Texas physicians. TEXPAC likes Dale Wainwright, Wallace Jefferson and Margaret Mirabal in the three races for Texas Supreme Court. The first two are Republicans, and Mirabal is a Democrat.

• Heads up: The federal bankruptcy bill is meandering through Congress again, and the Texas homestead exemption is on the block again. Bankers would like to get rid of the law that says you get to keep the house in a bankruptcy, because that's the container for most people's personal wealth. Now they've pulled the Enron Gang in as bad examples, pointing to the big houses some of the execs bought before declaring they had no money. Congressional negotiators cut a deal that would limit the exemption to $125,000 for convicted felons or certain kinds of debtors, and they put in a deal that works for natives here (and in Florida, another big state with a homestead exemption): You would have to live in a state for at least 40 months to get the unlimited exemption. That'll supposedly stop people from moving to Texas and throwing all the cash into a home before declaring bankruptcy.

Political People and Their Moves

Coming home: Karen Hughes, close advisor to President George W. Bush. The television reporter-turned-political op is leaving Washington, D.C., after 15 months in the White House to come back to Austin now that her son is in high school. She'll continue to advise the president in some capacity but has offered no further illumination of her plans... As soon as his replacement is sworn into office in January, Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, says he'll open an Austin law practice. He says he's not completely finished figuring out just what he'll be doing, but it will include some mediation and some lobbying. He says nobody's been signed or anything, but he's made a specialty of water law, and it's a hot topic right now... Newly installed Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, has a newly installed chief of staff: Averitt hired Rhonda Myron away from the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. Myron, an insurance whiz, previously worked for the Texas Department of Insurance. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff put Averitt on two standing committees–Education, and Health & Human Services–and on the Joint Interim Committee on Private Activity Bonds. Averitt was the House co-chair of that committee until he took the oath as the state's newest senator... Helena Colyandro is the new director of Mexico and Border affairs for the Texas Secretary of State. She most recently worked at the Texas Department of Economic Development, and before that, as director of marketing for the Texas Tomorrow Fund. She's supposed to tag up with Buddy Garcia in the governor's office to coordinate efforts between the gov and Secretary of State Gwyn Shea... There's an enduring and goofy picture floating around somewhere that has then-Rep. Richard Smith chewing on a cigar while wearing both a business suit and a combat helmet at the end of a bitter legislative fight over insurance for Texans hurt at work. Smith, a Republican and former mayor of Bryan, is coming back, and on the same subject: He's Gov. Perry's latest appointment to the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission... John Hawkins, an analyst at the Sunset Advisory Commission, will be the first executive director, ever, for the Texas Land & Mineral Owners Association. TLMA, which represents land owners who lease their property to oil and gas companies (and who weren't happy with their status in legislative and regulatory battles in Austin), now claims to have 1,500 members...

Deaths: Former Department of Public Safety director Wilson "Pat" Speir, who ran the state's police agency from 1968 to 1980. He was 84.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, talking to the Dallas Morning News about rumors that he'll quit before his term is up: "It sounds to me like it's a bunch of Democrats who got drunk in Austin and decided how could they make Christmas come early. They're wrong. I'm not going anywhere."

Democrat Ron Kirk to Washington reporters who asked him whether former President Bill Clinton will assist Kirk's bid for the U.S. Senate: "Probably not the best place for the president to begin his rehabilitation... frankly, I don't want this to be a referendum on Bill Clinton or George Bush. "

Bexar County Court-at-Law Judge Shay Gebhardt, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News about the effect a wealthy Democrat could have on South Texas Republicans: "For the first time in 12 years, I have an opponent. When people ask me his name, I tell them Tony Sanchez."

Republican Greg Abbott, doing some comparative advertising in a speech in San Antonio, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman: "For attorney general, the people of the state have a very clear choice. They can choose between a former Texas Supreme Court justice and a former mayor of the People's Republic of Austin. We don't need Austin's liberalism exported to the rest of the state."

RCA marketing executive Joe DiMuro, talking in The New York Times about making Elvis Presley appealing to younger people: "For us, it's about taking a property and figuring out, how do we make him hip, young and irreverent–into a brand that's relevant to this younger demographic."

Kevin Kennedy, the chief elections officer in Wisconsin, in a Washington Post story on that state's methods of breaking ties: "The code says that ties should be broken by 'drawing lots'. We take that as a generic way of saying any game of chance -- except dueling. We discourage that."

Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 42, 29 April 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@ For news, email ramsey@, or call (512) 288-6598.

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