A fair number of Republican state representatives in Texas–almost a third of them, in fact–think it would be a bad idea to decide the next speaker's race inside the Republican caucus.
They're reacting to news that delegates to the GOP's state convention, who were gathering in Dallas as we went to press, want the Republicans in the Texas House to decide on a candidate in caucus and then to vote as a bloc when they join their Democratic colleagues to vote on a speaker at the beginning of next year's regular legislative session. That's not an original idea–some House Republicans have been talking about it for months. But the specter of the state convention taking a stand got the attention of Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, and a crowd of his colleagues.
Simply put, they think the caucus idea would polarize the House and leave the Republicans and Democrats working against each other in ways that are more familiar on the federal level than on the state level. Smith put together an editorial signed by 23 members of the House who oppose a change in the way speakers are elected. Not only would it split the House, they fear it would give all of the spoils in a speaker election to the winning party. That's good for the GOP at the moment, but might be bad later on, if and when demographics and the political climate change in favor of Democrats. Shutting the Democrats out now would ensure that Republicans are shut out later, according to that argument. And they write that the Texas Legislature, even with a Democratic majority, has been a conservative institution that's not really in danger of falling into liberal hands.
The immediate beneficiary of the proposed change would be Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who has already collected promises of support from a majority of the Republicans who'll be in the House next session. Some of Craddick's supporter signed the Smith letter, and others say Craddick isn't behind the push for an enforced partisan vote. Craddick didn't return calls on the subject.
One problem for some of the partisans, if they're even aware of it, is that Craddick has promised Democrats that they'll get chairmanships in proportion to their numbers in the House. If the House had 38 committees, as it does now, and the Democrats had 70 of the 150 seats in that chamber, Craddick's plan would give the minority party the leadership of 18 committees. (The Republicans, with 72 seats in the House, currently have 14 chairmanships.)
Another: The demand for a caucus vote makes the leading candidate look weak. Why ask for a caucus vote if you think you can win a simple majority of the members of the House? The drive for a caucus vote is driven partly by people who want to elect Craddick, who by most accounts has accumulated 40-plus votes from House Republicans but doesn't have 76 votes at this point.
If Republicans would just agree to vote amongst themselves and then agree to stick together as a bloc, he would win. But hat hypothesis probably wouldn't hold up in a lab test: Some Republicans just don't want Craddick to win and they're not likely to stick with the bloc before, during or after the caucus vote. And there are supposedly a couple of Democrats who have agreed to vote for Craddick (none has stepped forward), and the caucus plan wouldn't let them show their loyalty (important if they want to compete for those committee chairs, which is part of the reason the chairs have been dangled in front of them).
Also, there is no way to enforce the orders to stand in line: Renegades can't lose their posts–they just anger one set of partisans and delight the other. Like the Democrats who are said to support Craddick, they might find their best reward in switching sides.
And What About the Other Chamber?
The purity move is also driven by those Republicans who didn't like the vote in late 2000 that put Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, in the lieutenant governor's office. He was elected by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans. He owed his victory to the Democrats, in other words, and rewarded them with some of the spoils. Notably, he made Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, the chairman of the budget-writing Finance Committee, and put Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, in charge of the redistricting committee.
If you squint at the proposal to change speaker elections, there's a resonating issue in the Senate and in the race for lieutenant governor between Democrat John Sharp and Republican David Dewhurst. Sharp supporters, as you would expect, don't think Dewhurst is up to the job, and have been working for months to plant the idea that the Republicans in the Senate won't grant him the powers of the office if he's elected (that's the same rumor, by the way, that floated four years ago when Sharp was running against Rick Perry. Perry won, and the Senate left the office intact.)
The Lite Guv gets almost all of his or her considerable power from the rules of the Senate. Change the rules and what is sometimes called the most powerful post in Texas government would become something more akin to its federal counterpart, the vice presidency.
But say they did change the rules: It would set up an election for someone to run things from the floor in place of the lieutenant governor. That could be a majority leader, with the party in charge (currently the Republicans) naming one of their own to run the show. But the Senate's other rules require two-thirds of the senators to agree before something can come to a vote. The Republicans don't have two-thirds and the Democrats wouldn't agree to a setup that let the Republicans name a Senate leader from within the Senate's GOP caucus. In other words, it would set up another election similar to the one that elected Ratliff. There are no indications that Ratliff wants the job again, but he'll still be there as a senator in January, and strange things happen in the Pink Building every single day. The same Republicans who say they want the House to change its tradition–to avoid what happened in the Senate 18 months ago–have done nothing to "instruct" the Senate.
The GOP's Purity Movement Doesn't Suit the Stalwarts
The state GOP has a rule that allows candidates to fill out a 32-page form listing their views on every single thing in the party's platform. And as we've written, there's a move afoot to require candidates to fill out that form. We got curious about how many candidates–whether moderate or conservative–filled out the form on a volunteer basis. Two years ago, party officials say they can only remember "four or five" candidates listing their likes and dislikes on the platform. And how about this year, with Republicans battling Republicans in a number of primaries and trying to prove themselves to the GOP primary voters? Only one candidate–Rusty Lang, who ran for U.S. Senate–filled out the so-called Rule 43 questionnaire. He got 7.6 percent of the vote, finishing second in a five-candidate field to John Cornyn, who didn't mess with the platform questions and got 77.3 percent of the vote.
That proposed rule, along with another that would require people to officially declare a party affiliation to vote in a primary, has a rough road to travel. Not only are the moderates in the GOP against those rules, but so are some of the best-known conservatives. One recent email on the rules (that's been the main medium for a spirited debate on this stuff) makes a long and careful argument against both ideas, and it's signed by some hard-core conservatives like Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum, Texas Public Policy Foundation director Jeff Judson, five members of the State Board of Education, and Colleen Parro of the Republican National Coalition for Life, among others.
Dewhurst: Sharp is a Democrat
When he turned to negative advertising against his opponent, Republican David Dewhurst didn't dig around for secrets about Democrat John Sharp. He just claimed that the centerpiece of Sharp's political resume is bogus. And he has an ad on the radio that chides Sharp for his past support of Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Bill Bradley. Each, in his way, ran against one of the popular Presidents Bush; Sharp's gang points out that Bradley ran against Gore and that Sharp's support for Gore–at least in the most recent contest–was decidedly lukewarm.
Ironically, while Dewhurst is blasting at the Democrat's support for national Democrats who are unpopular in Texas, Sharp is getting tagged by some El Paso Democrats for trying to keep the state convention clear of national Democrats who are unpopular in Texas. Invitations from state party officials to folks like U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt–apparently intended to get some national exposure for the Sun City–made Sharp and other statewide candidates nervous. After a few weeks of phone calls and plots and subplots, the national political celebrities have all developed scheduling conflicts that will regrettably force them to miss the convention. Look at it this way: Al Gore stole the show at the Florida state convention and some Texas Democrats don't want a repeat.
In his first negative spot against Sharp, Dewhurst uses a 1993 report in Business Week to bolster his contention that the money claimed by Sharp's Texas Performance Review was largely "smoke and mirrors." That report said the first TPR report, put together in five months in 1991 in the face of a staggering budget crisis, relied heavily on things like delayed payments and hidden increases in fees and tuition rates. The state moved several hundred million dollars from one budget to the next by delaying payments from the last day of one month to the first day of the next one.
That is certainly an accounting trick, but it also had the effect of balancing the budget without increasing the size of that year's $4.1 billion tax bill. At the time, the Republicans in the Lege were just as supportive as the Democrats. Sharp's response to the commercial came in the form of a list of laudatory quotes from politicians in both parties, and a claim that the Associated Republicans of Texas had even urged him to switch to the GOP in the wake of that success.
Works of ART
ART responded itself, putting out a statement that said it asked Sharp to switch in the 1980s, when Sharp was in the state Senate–long before anyone even thought up the performance reviews. The group kicked the former comptroller in 1998 in his race against Rick Perry and says it will strongly support Dewhurst (one of the group's contributors over the years). Sharp kicked out news stories about ART's advances, expressed in a 1991 letter from then chairman James Leonard. It praised the performance review and asked Sharp to show the same courage and switch parties.
There's also a minor dispute over what the late Bob Bullock thought of all this. The Democrat's campaign quotes Bullock, who originally proposed TPR, praising the results during the 1998 elections, when Sharp was running to succeed him as Lite Guv. The Republicans prefer to remember the Bullock whose office put out a scathing report on the second TPR that began: "Of the 192 recommendations, 54 result in no cost savings. An additional 36 of the recommendations result in cost or savings that cannot be estimated. Eight of the recommendations actually cost money." By 1998, though, Bullock credited the program with $8.5 billion in "certified taxpayer savings."
Dewhurst's newest ad features an out-of-state, out-of-work politician. But it's a well-known one: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, appears in the 10-second commercial saying that he'd vote for Dewhurst if he could vote in Texas. A similar ad appeared in the Houston mayor's race last year, with Giuliani endorsing Republican Orlando Sanchez over incumbent Lee Brown. Brown won.
The new ad, like Dewhurst's other ads, is running on a light to moderate statewide scale.
Sharp hasn't responded in kind to any of Dewhurst's advertising. The Democrat has yet to run an ad on television or radio, while Dewhurst has spent some $7 million on ads over the last year. In spite of that imbalance, most of the polling that we've seen shows the race in a dead heat.
Never Say Never
U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk broke with fellow Democrats–and with his own earlier statements–to say that President George W. Bush's nominees for federal court positions ought to get hearings from the Senate. A bunch of those appointments are in limbo. Democrats in the Senate contend the appointees are too conservative and say Republicans did the same thing to Bill Clinton's appointees when they thought they were too liberal.
Three of the judges sitting in political purgatory are Texans. And one–David Godbey–is from Dallas. Kirk, in a letter to the senators who have some control over the process, wrote that Godbey's nomination in particular should be put in motion.
Republican John Cornyn, meanwhile, is trying to push Kirk further into that fight. A number of the judges on hold are pro-life, and that's one reason some Democrats oppose them. Cornyn's camp wants to push Kirk to see if he'll stake out a position that can be portrayed as extreme.
The judicial business had Kirk changing his position (from "I don't have enough information about it" to "Give them hearings").
On Bush's tax cuts, he's done a complete flip. Kirk started by calling the tax plan "irresponsible." Then he told the San Antonio Express-News he agrees with Cornyn that the cuts should be made permanent. The Dallas Morning News then got a different variation: Kirk said he would support leaving the cuts in place if the economy improves. He also blamed reporters for making it look like he'd changed his mind, saying his take on tax cuts is that they shouldn't be made unless the money is available. If it's available, he says, the tax cuts make sense.
Where There's Smoke, There's Money
Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, have proposed adding $1 per pack to the price Texans pay for cigarettes. That would bring the tax per pack to $1.41, one of the highest rates in the country, and would bring $1.5 billion into the state treasury over a two-year period. It's just talk at this point–tax bills have to start in the House, and neither Ellis nor Zaffirini is in an election campaign that will force them to explain their positions. That said, it's also coming from two of the Senate's major Democratic players at a time when the state is staring at a potential $5 billion gap between what it needs to spend and what's available for spending. A $1 tax on cigarettes would cover almost one-third of the problem at a relatively small political cost.
If you have to raise taxes, some taxes are more palatable than others. Most people in Texas don't smoke or chew tobacco, and they can be downright snotty to people who do. Put it in starker terms: Tobacco taxes raise a lot of money from an unsympathetic minority. If you raise the tax on cigarettes and cigars and snuff and chewing tobacco, the political risk is relatively small. In fact, some interest groups actually jump up and down and cheer, since tobacco use tends to fall as the prices (including taxes) rise. Yell "TAX" during political season and the echo comes back sounding a lot like "NO." Both gubernatorial candidates scurried away from the idea, saying they don't think tax increases are needed. But some of the groups that follow this particular issue–the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, to name a couple–gave the proposal a standing ovation. The cancer group proposed putting a nickel of the $1 tax increase into an anti-smoking campaign.
• Comptroller candidate Marty Akins has another idea on state revenue: He wants his opponent, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, to do an economic analysis of the areas in the state where Indian casinos operate. He says state opposition to those casinos could deprive poorer areas of the state–like El Paso and Eagle Pass–of economic benefits that exist only because of the money flowing through the casino operations. Akins stops short of endorsing the casinos, but says they're legal and says the economic study will show how much money the state is losing because the state won't enter into some kind of compact with the tribes.
Advertising and Gravy Trains
The Tony Sanchez campaign is maintaining the barrage of ads it started last month, adding a new ad that knocks Rick Perry for vetoing the Prompt Pay bill that would have given doctors more weapons in the fight to get paid by insurers and HMOs. Perry didn't like one of those weapons, saying the legislation would have created new opportunities to file lawsuits. In the Sanchez ad, that's translated to "helping big companies, hurting patients." Sanchez, as we wrote this, had three different ads on the air and had run 11 different commercials since his ad blitz started in June. Sanchez is spending zillions on commercials and can clearly outpace Perry, who has to ask other people for money to spend, but it's not completely lopsided. Perry is getting help from President George W. Bush, who'll host a fundraiser for the governor in Houston next week.
Bush came to Texas earlier this year to host a Dallas fundraiser for Attorney General John Cornyn, who's running for U.S. Senate. Next month, Cornyn will hold another fundraiser, this time in Houston. The host this time? Vice President Dick Cheney.
Those aren't the only out-of-towners coming to Texas, but not everyone is coming to raise money for Texans. Erskine Bowles, the former Clinton Administration official who is running for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, is having a fundraiser in Austin in a week or so. His local hosts include a couple of former Texas officeholders: Garry Mauro and Ben Barnes.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Greg Abbott, the former judge running for attorney general, came out with a plan to crack down on insurance companies this week. Of the five points, four say he would investigate allegations of various kinds of wrongdoing against the companies and asks the companies to prove there's some correlation between credit rankings of customers and the risk that those customers will make more claims on their insurance. His opponent, Democrat Kirk Watson, also has a plan to crack down on insurance companies, and says he's the better guy for the fight. His pitch: Abbott's law firm represents insurance companies (and includes a detailed pitch to those companies on its website at www.bracepatt.com and a line about representing insurers in lawsuits brought by the Texas attorney general, among others). Watson is a lawyer with experience fighting against those companies and is more likely to go after them if they do something wrong. Put another way: Watson is actually running a race in Texas that's based in part on his experience as a trial lawyer.
• Texans would rather ration water for lawns and take other conservation measures than build new pipelines and dams and the like. That's from a survey done for the National Wildlife Federation by the Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm more familiar in political races. The people who answered the pollsters' questions said–by a two-to-one margin–that cities should adopt water conservation measures instead of building new water projects. Three-quarters of the respondents said the state should limit the amount of groundwater that can be pumped from underground aquifers. The pollsters interviewed 800 registered Texas voters between April 28 and May 2. The NWF wants the state to change its water planning to include conservation measures, to include wildlife and environmental considerations when evaluating plans and projects, to give preferences in state funding to projects that can prove they are most cost-effective and to limit the use of groundwater in Texas. All of those goals, the group says, are supported by strong majorities of Texas voters.
• U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, is touting a poll that shows him leading challenger Rob Beckham 63 percent to 20 percent. That's a target race for both parties, because Stenholm has been hanging onto turf the Republicans think belongs to them. Beckham isn't as well known as the incumbent, which probably accounts for at least part of the result. The pollsters, working for Stenholm, said more than half of the voters in the district don't know who the challenger is. According to his pollsters, Stenholm isn't in any trouble this year.
Political People and Their Moves
David Van Os is getting out of the race for chairman of the Texas Democratic Party before he really had any wind in his sale. Van Os, a San Antonio lawyer, planned to challenge Molly Beth Malcolm for the party helm. But he says he had a talk with gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez and came away convinced that a battle for chair would hurt the Democrats' efforts in November... Jesse Ancira Jr. moves into the general counsel's chair at the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. He's a lawyer and CPA who was most recently head of the agency's tax administration division. He replaces Richard Munisteri, who is leaving after two years to return to Houston and work in on litigation for Clear Channel Communications. Mike Reissig, the agency's director of fiscal policy and a former chief revenue estimator, moves to Ancira's old post. Reissig's spot goes to his number two, Ken Welch... The last time the University of Texas System tried to bring Mark Yudof back to Austin, the folks in Minnesota gave him a pay raise and said nice things and kept him. The second time? Maybe it was the schools, and maybe it was the bluebonnets, and maybe it was the $600,000 annual salary and benefit package. Yudof, a former provost and law school dean at UT, is coming back. He'll replace Dan Burck, who is retiring... The Texas District and County Attorneys Association hired Shannon Edmonds as its new lobbyist. Edmonds, who has been working on criminal justice and related issues for Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, replaces Rob Kepple, who got promoted to executive director of that group... Courtney Hoffman, whose father Julian Read made a living at PR after working for elected officials, is leaving Ratliff's shop to start her own public relations firm... Victor Alcorta, policy director for Gov. Rick Perry and former general counsel to the Texas Secretary of State, took off for lobby-land. He's working for Thompson & Knight, which is expanding its legislative office in Austin... Larry Neal, who left a perfectly good job at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to flack for U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, is now leaving that perfectly good job to flack for the U.S. Census Bureau. His job will go to his deputy, Don Stewart. That's a short-term gig: Gramm is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year... Denton County Judge Scott Armey, who lost his Republican primary bid to take his father's place in Congress, is going to work for the federal government. He'll be the regional administrator for the General Services Administration, overseeing that agency's business in Texas and the four states that border it... Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry reappointed Darrell Hester of Brownsville as presiding judge of the 5th administrative judicial district, a job Hester has been doing for 12 years... Perry tapped David Kelton of Dallas to the 44th District Court and Jerry Coen, also of Dallas, to the 254th District Court. Kelton is a practicing lawyer; Coen is associate judge of the 303rd Family District Court... The Guv named Charles Real of Marion to the Texas Animal Health Commission. He's a farmer and rancher.
Quotes of the Week
Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, on his opposition to electing House speakers in the party caucuses instead of by majority of all members, regardless of party: "How we elect the speaker is a lot more important than who we elect. I will insist that we get elected the good old-fashioned way."
Texas GOP Chairwoman Susan Weddington, in a Dallas Morning News story on efforts by some Republicans to force candidates to detail their agreements and disagreements with the Party platform: "As often happens, it's the bad kids who get the most attention, and all the good kids get forgotten."
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, quoted in the AARP Bulletin on what the Senate did to legislation increasing accountability of people given power of attorney for elderly Texans: "We sent them a doughnut and they sent us back a hole."
Author, attorney and animal rights activist Steven Wise, in the Washington Post: "Chimps have 98.7 percent of DNA in common with humans. Both my son Christopher and your average adult chimpanzee obviously meet any minimum rational standard for entitlement to basic legal rights."
Lottery winner Ricky Wilson, telling the Austin American-Statesman how things have been going since he won $16.3 million in mid-1993: "I ain't been happy since I won the lottery. Not really. It took it out of me. I was happier when I had a job."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 48, 10 June 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.