The newest member of Gov. Rick Perry's anti-crime task force has two unusual traits: He's been under federal criminal investigation for more than two years, and earlier this year, he sought the Democratic Party's nomination to run against Perry. Former Attorney General Dan Morales was appointed to the panel by Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed and former AG and Texas Supreme Court Justice John Hill. He says it's not politics: He's serving on the task force because of his expertise in asset forfeiture and drug money laundering laws he helped write.
It must look political, though, to Attorney General John Cornyn and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez. Both have pasted Morales over a federal investigation of how the settlement of the state's tobacco lawsuit was divvied up. Allegations that Morales had designs on some of the money paid to lawyers who won the suit have never been proved or even typed into an indictment; Morales has said all along that such accusations are both political and untrue. And in fact, federal prosecutors have been tapping their pencils against their foreheads for nearly three years with no result. Still, putting him on an anti-crime task force while the investigation is still open is peculiar.
What's more, it puts one of Perry's ticket-mates in a box. Until the first of this year, everyone (excepting a handful of people who were in on the secret) believed Morales would be running for U.S. Senate in this election cycle. Cornyn had every reason to think Morales might be his opponent. In fact, four years ago, Cornyn was gearing up to challenge then-AG Morales when the Democrat surprised everyone and said he wouldn't seek reelection. He's trained twice for a nemesis who didn't show.
As attorney general, Cornyn went mining in all of the tobacco settlements to find out whether the state could get back some of the money it was paying to outside trial lawyers. In the process, he took a chunk out of Morales every chance he got, suggesting pointedly that Morales tried to set up the tobacco settlement so that some of the money would end up in the former AG's own bank account.
An aide, asked whether Cornyn thinks it's a good idea to put Morales on the anti-crime commission, ducked. Asked whether Cornyn thinks his predecessor has been exonerated, the spokesman said only that "the issues over payments to the tobacco lawyers are resolved." Given an opportunity to repeat previous charges made against Morales by the Cornyn camp, he demurred.
And then there's Sanchez, who made the same charges during the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Morales, meanwhile, was needling Sanchez about drug money that was laundered through financial institutions controlled by Sanchez. In the 1980s, the now-defunct Tesoro Savings & Loan wired out some money that the feds wanted it to seize; the stories of whether the thrift was out of line vary, but the S&L paid a $1 million fine and admitted no wrongdoing. The political liability remains, however, and Morales tried to exploit it during the primary. Perry, who now faces Sanchez, has been bringing it up at every opportunity, and Morales' appointment to the anti-crime force–and the mentions of his "specialty" in drug money laundering–serve to reinforce the point.
Morales hasn't endorsed Perry and says he's never endorsed a Republican. But he's done almost everything short of it. He told the Houston Chronicle he's unhappy with the Sanchez campaign's attacks on Perry and praised the governor, a former colleague in the Texas House. The Sanchez campaign won't comment on that rekindled friendship, but he and Morales never fully patched things up after the primary and Sanchez apparently never made the customary bid for his endorsement. Perry hasn't asked, either, but it wouldn't be a long jump from Morales' current position.
A New Limit on the Death Penalty
Texas and 19 other states have to stop executing murderers who are mentally retarded, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. The court agreed with the Texas Legislature and disagreed with the governor and the attorney general and others who have argued that safeguards already in the justice system protect defendants who suffer mental impairments.
It's early to say what's next, but the state will have to do a two-step in the wake of the ruling: There will be current Death Row inmates who have claimed–or who will now claim–they are mentally retarded. The state will have to figure out how to deal with future cases and with pending cases, if there are any, that haven't already gone to trial.
At the beginning of the last legislative session, Perry broke with Republican doctrine and told a gaggle of broadcasters that he would consider changes to state laws on the death penalty. He said he'd be willing to allow DNA testing that could exonerate people on Death Row. He said he'd like to see the state create a sentence of life without parole in capital cases. And he said the state should beef up its defense of indigent murder defendants. The first item became law, as did the third. A life without parole bill passed the Senate, but failed in the House. Perry never saw it.
Perry left a fourth oft-discussed item out of his package, saying the state should delay legislation banning executions of the mentally retarded because of cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Legislature ignored him and passed a bill banning the practice, but Perry vetoed it (similar legislation didn't make it to then-Gov George W. Bush's desk two years earlier, largely due to lobbying efforts by Bush's staff).
In his veto message–the official explanation of his reasoning–Perry said his problem with the legislation was with how it set up court consideration of mental abilities. The sponsors–Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-Brownsville, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston–said those objections weren't raised when the bill was under consideration and said they would have accommodated the governor.
Perry also said flatly in the message that "we do not execute mentally retarded murderers today." He said the trial system already incorporates safeguards against executing mentally impaired killers. The folks on the other side of the argument say Texas has executed six mentally retarded killers in the last few years. Texas has 455 people on Death Row. Estimates of how many of them might make legitimate claims of mental retardation range from zero to about 25.
And a Need for a Legislative Patch
Now that the Supremes have ruled against executions of the mentally retarded, the state will probably have to come back and set a standard of what constitutes mental retardation and set up a way for the courts to determine who is retarded. Some death penalty opponents have suggested using the definition already in state law (for other purposes), which uses three tests to determine retardation for legal purposes: "sub-average general intellectual functioning," a finding that the mental problems started in childhood, and an inability to adapt to the normal rigors of daily life.
They'll probably return to the life without parole bill, too, since a killer currently sentenced to life in prison in Texas doesn't necessarily die behind bars. If some death sentences are overturned, some of the inmates could eventually go free under current Texas laws on life sentencing.
Death penalty opponents are also hoping the courts will look at the new decision from the Supreme Court and apply some of its logic to cases involving killers under the age of 18. In the ruling on mentally retarded killers, the justices said they looked at changing standards: States have been increasing restrictions against the practice. Opponents of the death penalty for underage killers hope to use the same logic to end that punishment.
In election terms, the ruling probably removes a potential issue in the governor's race. Perry and Tony Sanchez disagreed on it, with Sanchez saying he'd have signed the bill Perry vetoed. But the court has erased the difference and probably taken the steam out of any argument that might have developed between the candidates before November.
The Katzenjammer Kids
Now that both political conventions are out of the way, Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic challenger Tony Sanchez are going after each other with knives. That's a metaphor, so far. Sanchez has changed the tag line in his ads to "Rick Perry: We didn't vote for him–we can't afford to keep him." That caps an ad that features tape of the governor saying that one thing that can't be bought is his experience, followed by an announcer making claims that Perry has sold out to special interests.
Perry countered with an ad that has photos of Sanchez with President Bill Clinton while an announcer quotes the Democrat calling Clinton "one of the best presidents this country has ever had." The tag on Perry's spot: "Texans never trusted Bill Clinton. Can they trust Tony Sanchez?"
That came on the heels of a George W. Bush fundraiser for Perry. Sanchez, a Bush appointee to the University of Texas Board of Regents, countered by the end of the day (does this sound like a description of a campaign battle in late October?) with an ad touting a note from Bush calling Sanchez "a great Texan" and then turning into an attack on Perry. Perry's camp says Bush's fundraising appearance in Houston raised more than $1.5 million for Perry's bid for a full term as governor and $500,000 for the Republican coordinated campaign.
After that fundraising triumph, the coordinated campaign is changing day-to-day management. Chad Wilbanks and Jesse Lewis, who cooked up the plans for the campaign and have been running things, are back at the Republican Party of Texas, where Wilbanks is deputy executive director and Lewis heads field operations. In their place: Phil Ricks, who works for U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. Bonilla is the titular head of the Republican's Victory 2002 effort. There's a subtle shift there in favor of federal candidates–particularly U.S. Senate hopeful John Cornyn–on the GOP ticket. They're typically more interested in coordinated campaigns because of the caps on how much they can raise from individual donors. Federal candidates, to put it plainly, need more outside help than state candidates who can raise unlimited funds from individuals and PACs.
A Texas Race that D.C. is Watching
We previously mentioned Vice President Dick Cheney's swing through Texas, but we missed one of his fundraisers. He'll be making a stop in Dallas for a reception for U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, D-San Antonio. Bonilla is on the Democratic Party's hit list, since his district is, on paper, prime turf for the Democrats. He faces former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat.
That race has taken a noxious turn, with Bonilla calling Cuellar a liar for including the names of officeholders who don't actually support him in a fundraising document. Bonilla's version is that Cuellar listed the officeholders–San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Reps. Tracy King, D-Uvalde, and Pete Gallego, D-Alpine–as supporters. He says none of them support Cuellar. Cuellar says Garza shouldn't have been listed, though he says the two have had a couple of promising conversations, and says the three legislators have told him they'll help him.
Cuellar listed a dozen officeholder/supporters, including the four congressmen whose districts neighbor Bonilla's district. Bonilla sent reporters a notice that listed only the four listed above and a line from his campaign consultant Frank Guerra that said the "overwhelming majority of the listed officials did not lend their name to the Cuellar for Congress campaign."
Not All Judicial Appointments Are Stuck
State District Judge David Godbey's nomination to the federal bench is unsnagged: The Senate's Judiciary Committee unanimously approved his nomination and never explained what stalled it. Godbey, who lives in Dallas, was a Bush appointee to his state job, and had the backing of both sitting U.S. senators from Texas and from both major party nominees to replace Phil Gramm in November. Senate approval was pending at our deadline. That same committee also approved Ruben Monzon to be U.S. Marshal for the state's Southern District. He's from Houston, and has worked in private security after 26 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Maps are Inked; Other Political Notes
The legal fights over Texas redistricting are over for now. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals of any of the Texas plans. In the short term, that means the courts won't be doing anything to mess with the lines between now and the November elections. It's a win-lose thing for both parties: Republicans liked the Texas House and Senate maps, but wanted a congressional map more favorable to the GOP; Democrats were on the opposite end of that. It's a loss for minorities, who didn't gain representation at the state or national level that their population growth seems to justify. The maps could come back, but it's unlikely unless they're redrawn by the Legislature before the decade is over.
• Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Cornyn endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it illegal to physically desecrate the U.S. flag.
• Add Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, to the list of state officials who want to hit insurance companies upside the head. He says he's for rate regulation on homeowner policies. He wants to prevent insurance companies from turning down customers just because of previous claims of water or mold damage. He wants to require mediation in insurance cases to speed them up. And he wants to start "homeowner maintenance classes"–similar to Drivers' Ed classes–that teach people how to guard against mold and other problems in return for a discount on premiums.
• The headline mentions free lunches and breakfasts for public school children and a study of the nutritional content of public school meals. But the third paragraph of the press release from Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, says he would finance it with a $2 tax on every gallon of soft drink syrup and 21 cents per gallon of soft drinks. That, Lucio says, would generate $180.3 million. That's a start–it would cost $395 million annually to feed every kid for free. And the press release ends with a note: "All tax bills must originate in the House of Representatives."
• The tobacco tax proposal made here a couple of weeks ago isn't that unusual when you look around. Eleven states have raised taxes on smokes since January 2001, and three more have cigarette taxes under consideration right now, according to Stateline.org.
• Family ties: We and other media types got word of a Texas Medical Association's poll from the Sanchez campaign in an email addressed by Allison Ross, who's helping in the press office there. The attachments included a rundown of the poll and a press release from TMA. The contact on the press release was TMA's political and lobby chief, Kim Ross. He's Allison's dad. That poll, done by an Alabama pollster with Democratic ties (but no other Texas clients that we know of) had Sanchez losing to Perry but not by as much as in some other polls.
• What's unusual about this is that there is a part of a train in an item on the Texas Railroad Commission. RRC Chairman Michael Williams, who's up for reelection this year, says the agency got a grant to run switcher locomotives on propane gas instead of diesel fuel. It's rare–the commission has more to do with oil and other fuels than trains–but there it is.
• Former University of Texas quarterback Marty Akins, who's running for comptroller of public accounts, ended his speech at the Democratic convention in El Paso by throwing small, orange plastic footballs into the crowd. The Democrats mostly loved it, but Akins plunked an elderly gentleman who was sitting in front of a press table. It knocked off the man's glasses, but he recovered and got the ball from an observer. "I'd probably sue him if he was a Republican," the delegate said. But he gathered his composure when asked for his name: "Aw, I don't want to be in the paper."
CORRECTIONS: We put Carlos Martinez in the right place but with the wrong title an issue or two ago. He's the new assistant vice chancellor for governmental relations and academic affairs. And Jesse Ancira Jr., who moved inside his agency to become general counsel at the comptroller's office, studied accounting but never became a CPA. He's uncertified.
A Surprise from the Hardware Department
Republican Jerry Patterson has been a darling of the gun lobby, but the National Rifle Association gave his Democratic opponent, David Bernsen, the same A+ rating it gave to Patterson. The group has not endorsed anyone in the race to head the Texas General Land Office–if that holds, it's something of a victory for Bernsen. As a state senator several years ago, Patterson championed the concealed handgun law that lets licensed Texans pack iron in public. But Bernsen, who decided to run for land instead of seeking reelection to the Senate, gets high marks from the group and might keep it neutral. A note of reality: No, the land commissioner doesn't have much to do with guns. But an endorsement is an endorsement, and the NRA tribe has been part of Patterson's base in past contests.
• More than a dozen House Republicans made their way to a pavilion on a nicely reclaimed landfill southeast of Austin after the two conventions, to attend a fundraiser for Democrat Pete Laney, who is trying to fight off a Republican challenge to his tenure as Speaker of the House. Laney wouldn't say how much money he raised, but the event drew a crowd that seemed to include a majority of both the House and of the lobby. A couple of others who've said they would like succeed Laney–Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, and Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso–made it to the funder. A couple of others–Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Brian McCall, R-Plano–didn't.
• The Texas Association of Realtors is trickling out its endorsements. The latest: Their PAC likes Patrick Rose, the Democrat who is challenging Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs.
• Texans for Lawsuit Reform endorsed Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, for reelection. The redistricting potentates paired him with Rep. David Counts, D-Knox City, in HD-68.
• Democrat Josephine Miller, running against Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, in HD-32, is holding a fundraiser with a host whose name hasn't been in the papers for a while. The headliner at the June 26 funder is Frances "Sissy" Farenthold, who was at one time one of two women in the Texas Legislature (the other was Barbara Jordan) and who ran for governor of Texas in 1972.
• The folks at the Texas Association of Business apparently enjoyed the ruckus they raised by ranking statehouse officials–now they've ranked the state's congressional delegation by their votes on issues the TAB was tracking. Ten members of the delegation–all Republicans–voted the way TAB wanted them to at least 90 percent of the time. Five more–including three Democrats–were with the TAB on at least half of the votes. Ten–all Democrats–voted with TAB less than 25 percent of the time. The association put U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, R-Lubbock, at the top of their list with a perfect score on their issues. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, was at the bottom with a core of 20 percent. U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Phil Gramm both scored in the high 90s.
Nothing Like an Unhappy Chairman
Jack Hawks' resignation from the chairmanship of ERCOT was immediate (we had the end date wrong last week), but he's not off the hook. Hawks, who remains on the board of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, that he would come testify on electric deregulation and ERCOT's problems getting it in place. But after he resigned, he didn't show up for the hearing. Wolens says all but one of the other board members did show up–the other absentee was excused in advance–and now he's looking for levers. He wants to know whether Texas has any regulatory power over PG&E, where Hawks works, and is talking about issuing a subpoena to haul Hawks before the committee. The number two at ERCOT, Milton Lee, also resigned his vice chairman's post, but like Hawks remains on the board.
Wolens is also pitching an independent board of directors for ERCOT (which oversees electric dereg in the state) and a new set of disclosure rules that would allow state lawmakers and regulators to see whether companies are trading money and power legitimately. The companies don't want to let out their trade secrets–read that to mean prices–so Wolens' proposal would let them disclose transactions a couple of months after the transactions take place. That would allow them some privacy while letting the state know in plenty of time if somebody was cheating.
Political People and Their Moves
Hector Gutierrez, a former phone company executive who worked as a top aide to then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry and then became a hired-gun lobbyist, is getting out of that racket. He told his clients in El Paso–the city and the public service board–that he's giving up their contracts and will "get out of the front lines of lobbying the Texas Legislature." Gutierrez says he wants to slow down and try something different... Gov. Perry appointed District Judge Elsa Alcala of Houston to the state's 1st Court of Appeals. She was appointed by then-Gov. Bush to the district court bench, and won election in her own right in 2000... Chris Hudson, chief of staff to Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is leaving for much greener and much cooler pastures: He's been hired to teach English at St. Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana, next year. Hudson will leave in a week or so (and get married a couple of weeks after that); no replacement has been named... Former Senate aide Billy Phenix has hung out his shingle and is actively looking for lobby and law clients. Phenix, who worked for the late Gov. Bob Bullock, Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, and more recently for Gov. Rick Perry, is the son of the publisher of this very newsletter, but we would have run this anyway... Heather Harward is back at Dow Chemical after leaving for about a year to work on Kip Averitt's Senate campaigns. Both she and Averitt worked several years ago for Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco; Sibley's retirement created the opening for Averitt... Marshall Kenderdine is going to work for the Texas Association of Business, where he'll try to gin up grassroots support for legislative programs. He was campaign manager for Byron Cook's primary campaign and worked last session for Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. Cook still isn't over the hump–he'll face Democrat George Robinson in November's elections in HD-8, an open seat... Toni Barcelona, who's been doing public relations and grass-roots organizing campaigns for Bill Miller and Hillco for more than a decade, is moving over to McDonald Public Relations, where the clients are different but the work is similar...
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk, dissing the Republicans at the Democratic convention: "We're the party that understands diversity. We are a party that defines ourselves by how many people we can cram into our tent and not how many people we can leave out."
Republican Jerry Patterson, who's running for land commissioner, telling the Austin American-Statesman what it's like for down-ballot candidates: "It's gotten to the point where I think I'm going to challenge David Bernsen to a debate in Spanish. The only problem with that angle is that I don't think David Bernsen speaks Spanish any better than I do."
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, heard by the Dallas Morning News talking delegates out of including mandatory background checks on firearms purchases in the Democratic Party's platform: "Any language like this, and you just elected [Republican] Tom Craddick Speaker of the House. Philosophically, I'm with you, but we can't do this to our House candidates."
Democratic consultant and TV personality Paul Begala talking to a roomful of Democrats about Republican Gov. Rick Perry: "I can tell you that, in the forest of gubernatorial timber, this man is no Sequoia. He is no Redwood. He ain't even a Bush."
The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram why he wasn't particularly sorry that nationally known Democrats weren't on stage in El Paso: "If Tom Daschle were in this room right now, you would not be interviewing old John Sharp. And you wouldn't be interviewing Tony Sanchez or Ron Kirk."
Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, responding–in a speech to Democratic delegates–to a letter in the El Paso Times that compared giving a vote to a Democrat with giving a gun to a monkey: "Let me tell you one thing, the Republicans have already done that. They have a chimpanzee in the Governor's Mansion with a loaded weapon."
Former Gov. Ann Richards, speaking to the women's caucus at the Democratic convention, as quoted in the Dallas Morning News: "You've got to leave no woman unturned."
Texas Weekly, Volume 19, Issue 2, 24 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.