A challenge to Texas politicians to lay off the rough stuff in the days around September 11 gives a little after-the-fact cover to candidates who've been leaving grill marks on your television screen.
CLEAT, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, wants candidates to stay off the airwaves–television and radio–for the 11 days starting September 1. The group is also asking the campaigns to raise the level of debate, and to abstain from using images related to last September's terrorist attacks in political ads. In a letter to the campaigns, the group said "an agreed-to moratorium on the very invasive medium of television advertising would be beneficial to every single political campaign in Texas." The group also appointed itself to enforce the ban, saying it would set up a place on the Internet where people around the state can go to report candidates who toss up a commercial in the first week of September.
The responses varied. Gov. Rick Perry, who was endorsed by CLEAT earlier this year, said he'd lay off if his opponent will. Democrat Tony Sanchez said there's no need to wait and said he would pull negative ads off the air right now if Perry will do the same. The Sanchez camp said they would join in "a respectful tribute" in the days surrounding the anniversary of the attacks. A moratorium would benefit the Republican more than the Democrat; Sanchez is financing his own campaign, while Perry has to raise every dollar he wants to commit to advertising. Less advertising, for him, means less fundraising and it lets him conserve what money he's already raised.
It's also a boon to lieutenant governor candidate John Sharp, who like Perry is running against a rich opponent. Republican David Dewhurst has already spent millions on TV and hasn't shown any financial strain yet; Sharp doesn't have the money for a long siege and the moratorium will help him. Sharp said he'll stay off the air; Dewhurst put out a sympathetic statement without agreeing to the dates CLEAT spelled out.
As a practical matter, the CLEAT challenge is aimed at the top races on the ballot and particularly at the governor's race. Perry and Sanchez have the money, probably, to remain on the air from now through Election Day. Campaigns lower on the ballot have less problem agreeing to the deal, since many of them weren't planning to be on television or radio until mid-September or later anyhow.
Attorney General candidate Greg Abbott agreed to the moratorium as CLEAT proposed it, saying he won't advertise from September 1 through the 11th. Kirk Watson, the Democrat in that race, won CLEAT's endorsement earlier this year and said he'll honor their request to stay off the air. He adds that he won't do any campaigning on the 11th.
In the meantime, there's some new ugly stuff in the governor's race. Perry pulled down the so-called "suitcase" ad, replacing it with another commercial about money laundering at the Sanchez-controlled Tesoro Savings and Loan in the early 1980s. This one hinges on the findings in a libel case. Sanchez sued the Laredo Morning Times for stories the paper wrote about the drug money. He lost the libel case, and the ad goes through several points showing where the jury said the stories were true. It closes the argument with the tag: "When Tony Sanchez calls it a lie, remember the verdict is in."
The Sanchez camp says the ad stretches the truth by putting words in the jury's mouth; the jurors were told they didn't have to agree with each and every fact in each and every story to find that the stories were substantially correct. Also, they say, the Perry ad fails to point out that jurors ruled the stories did not accuse the Sanchez family and Tesoro officers of criminal activity.
And Not Just Cops...
The Texas Association of Firefighters, which has endorsed Sanchez in the governor's race, weighed in later, saying they like the Democrat's idea of pulling the negative ads right away.
That little squib, the press conference by CLEAT, and the immediate responses from the campaigns underline something the political hacks have been thinking about all year: How to maneuver around public sentiment in September, which is both the anniversary of the attacks and the traditional starting gate for the political season. If you have the money, you go up early, leave a hole in the donut for whatever events take place in September, and resume the campaigns when it seems safe to do so in the middle or late part of next month.
• Here's a weird little observation you won't hear people say out loud: Isn't the police group taking a risk in tying a political ribbon around the September 11 anniversary? Politicians are dumb sometimes, but they're not stupid: Would anyone have risked getting into the anniversary observations if CLEAT hadn't piped up?
• Ad fodder for later: While former U.S. Attorney Dan Hedges was at a downtown Austin hotel ballroom trying to make a case about the transgressions of the late Tesoro Savings and Loan, his wife was being interviewed for a judicial appointment. The beneficiary of Mr. Hedges work was Rick Perry, whose commercials relied on the interpretations explained by the former prosecutor. Justice Adele Hedges, who is on the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston, was talking to Perry's appointments office about the opening for chief justice on that court. The Hedges say they never thought of it, but Sanchez capitalized on the story–broken by the Dallas Morning News–as an example of a political quid pro quo by the incumbent.
• Sanchez provided Perry with some fodder, too, telling the San Antonio Express-News that he won't sign off on federal regulators releasing all of their records related to Tesoro Savings. The paper wanted to see what the regulators had, and was told Sanchez had to sign off on it. His campaign told the paper he's released enough and won't sign.
Expect a couple more lawsuits like the one the state filed against Farmers Insurance before the end of the year. The Texas Department of Insurance is investigating at least two more companies and may sue them on the same grounds, alleging deceptive and discriminatory practices by the companies. Farmers kicked back, saying the charges are political. They might have a point:
Texas sued Farmers Insurance exactly three months before Election Day. The suit was filed in Austin, the state capital, but announced in Houston, the state's biggest city. Reporters who went to see the press conference had to go to Austin to get the official court filings, if they wanted them. The top insurance regulator was there on stage, but the announcement was firmly in the hands of the governor and the attorney general, who are looking, coincidentally, to win the top two statewide races that'll be on that ballot in 12 weeks. And they filed their lawsuit asking for a permanent injunction that would bar the company from continuing the practices. That could be helpful, but if they'd requested a temporary injunction, the courts would be in a position to stop Farmers right away, without waiting for a trial on the merits of a permanent injunction.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance said complaints against Farmers started to accelerate at the end of last year, when the company began sending notices of higher rates to consumers and the consumers began complaining about it to the regulators.
Farmers stayed out of the coalition of insurance companies pulled together by Austin-based Public Strategies earlier this summer, but now they're back at the table. They haven't joined yet, but they're all talking again. Farmers balked at the price tag earlier, but might sign up anyhow.
Cuellar Catches Some Z's
Contrary to rumor, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Democrat from Laredo, is not endorsing U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, a San Antonio Republican who is seeking two more years in Congress. She says she has never endorsed a Republican and won't start now.
But she's not endorsing the hometown boy, Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo. And she's not endorsing him in a particularly harsh way. Zaffirini says Cuellar, a former state legislator and Texas Secretary of State, won't win. She says she would have told him that before he filed for the race, but he never called. She says he hasn't done anything since filing for the race to convince her that she was wrong, or that Cuellar has a chance of beating Bonilla.
Zaffirini, who faces token opposition in her reelection bid, had a fundraiser in San Antonio a few days ago. It was held at the home of Tom Loeffler, the former Republican congressman who now lobbies and is a name partner in a law firm he founded. The special guest at the fundraiser? Bonilla, whose name appeared on the invitations and who got the job of introducing Zaffirini at the event.
The fundraiser, Zaffirini says, was bipartisan–the co-hosts were Berto and Tammy Guerra. Several of the Republicans there, she said, have been past contributors. Still, the list made some of Cuellar's friends blink: Red McCombs gave $5,000, for instance, and Ernesto Ancira, who has been a Republican candidate, gave $1,000.
Zaffirini says some of the bad blood between her and Cuellar stems from a poll he did late last year. She believes he asked voters how he'd do in a race against her, and how he'd do in a race against his successor in the House, Democrat Richard Raymond. She says she was angry that he quit the House at the beginning of last session to become Perry's Secretary of State, and she's ticked about his support for Perry over the hometown gubernatorial candidate, Tony Sanchez.
For his part, Cuellar says Zaffirini "is doing what she thinks she needs to do. I would like to have her on board, but it's her prerogative." He says he's raised more money than any previous opponent to Bonilla. Former San Antonio Mayor and cabinet secretary Henry Cisneros endorsed Cuellar in the contest, taking some of the sting out of Zaffirini's moves.
Cash on Hand
At mid-year, Cuellar had raised almost a half million dollars, but he had $225,406 in the bank, or slightly more than $1 million less than Bonilla, who had $1.3 million in his campaign account.
On the federal level (not including the White House), the Texan with the most money in the bank isn't on the ballot: U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who had $4.7 million in her account at mid-year. Republican John Cornyn had almost $3 for every $1 in Democrat Ron Kirk's accounts; related or not, Cornyn is the only candidate in that race who's running television ads at the moment.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, had more money on hand at mid-year than anyone else in the Texas delegation to the House, reporting just less than $2 million. The CD-5 race between Republican Jeb Hensarling and Democrat Ron Chapman was more even than some might have expected: Hensarling had $407,351 in the bank to Chapman's $303,269. In CD-25, the open-seat race in Houston, Republican Tom Reiser had $803,590 on hand (most from personal loans; Reiser has loaned his campaign $911,501–more than all but 11 other candidates in the country) while Democrat Chris Bell reported $199,337 in the bank. Other big lenders include Kirk, who loaned his campaign $400,000, and Hensarling, who loaned his campaign $325,000, according to Political Moneyline, which tracks federal campaign finance numbers. They're online at fecinfo.com.
Challengers raised some money, but mostly aren't keeping up with incumbents. U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, had $834,257 in the bank to Ramsey Farley's $200,579. Rob Beckham, the Abilene Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, had $257,755 on hand to the incumbent's $749,609. John Courage, who's trying to unseat Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, had $23,533 on hand. Smith had $582,649. In CD-07, U.S. Rep. John Culberson had $75,600 on hand at mid-year. His predecessor outmatched him: Bill Archer still had $184,139 in the bank.
Not Enough Artists for a Redraw
Republicans want to get control of the Texas Legislature. No surprise there. But some of them want to open up the newly drawn Texas redistricting maps to strengthen the GOP hold on the Texas Legislature and on its congressional delegation. That would solidify the Republican hold on the state and help shut down insurgent Democrats for at least one decade and possibly two.
But, as in all such tales, there is a problem: The Texas Senate, even under the most optimistic Republican projections, will still have enough Democrats to block any redistricting plan next session.
Every ten years, the state is forced by federal law to adjust its political maps to account for changes and shifts in population. If the Legislature can't get it done, a special committee of state officials–the five-member Legislative Redistricting Board–takes over. If they can't get it done, the courts take over and draw their own maps. The final maps wiggle their way through the U.S. Department of Justice and through the courts. Two things can happen there. The courts can put legal arguments on hold and let the state hold its elections using what amount to temporary maps and then order changes later on. Or the courts can finish their work and knock down all of the legal challenges before the elections are held. In that case, the maps can remain in place until the Legislature decides to make some changes or until another Census comes along and the state is forced by federal law to get out the crayons.
This time, the courts are finished. There is no external force telling the state it must come up with new maps. The courts and the Justice Department are happy with this set of maps. The Legislature can make changes if it wants to, if the people who want changes can produce the votes.
Almost everyone agrees there will be more Republicans than Democrats in the next House of Representatives. There is plenty of argument over who will be holding the gavel, but hardly anyone things the Democrats will continue their age-old numerical advantage. It's possible the House will have enough Republicans in place to draw new maps for the House, the Senate, the U.S. House, and the State Board of Education and to approve them and send them to the Senate.
But there aren't enough Republicans in the Senate to redo the maps without help from Democrats. You have to win approval from two-thirds of the 31-member Senate to bring a bill up for consideration. The Senate's two-thirds rule allows any 11 senators to block a vote on any issue. The rosiest predictions we've seen put 20 Republicans in the Senate, which is one vote shy of control. Most estimates aren't that rosy and the GOP could end up with only 18 of the 31 senators. That's still a majority, but it falls three votes short of control over what comes up for a vote.
Unless the GOP can get a Democrat to sign off on a redistricting plan that's good for Republicans at the expense of Democrats, they're sunk. Nonetheless, expect to hear the redistricting argument included in pitches for money and support for Republicans running for the Senate and for the Houses in Texas and Washington over the next few weeks.
Political Notes, Part One
• The last redistricting fight still has some embers. The Democratic Party has started sending press releases and emails in advance of Attorney General John Cornyn's visits to various parts of the state. Cornyn headed the Legislative Redistricting Board. Democrats didn't like the results, so they're telling their partisans to make noise about it. A recent example: Cornyn's campaign swing to the Rio Grande Valley was preceded by a Democratic attempt to blame him for "scaling back representation of the people of South Texas." His campaign doesn't appear alarmed about it.
• For everyone in the state of Texas who's not running for governor, it's still August. But for the goobies, it appears to be at least mid-September. Our evidence? Gov. Rick Perry is already calling for debates, and the two campaigns are already "negotiating." Tony Sanchez said he's looking forward to a debate–his emphasis seemed to be on the idea that one debate would do. His campaign aides say there will be more than one, and the candidates seem to be agreeing on an event in Dallas in October. No other forums have been mentioned by both campaigns in a favorable way, but it's early.
Late for an Appointment
Until this year, the longest vacancy at the top of the state's Public Utility Commission was almost exactly four months. That's the gap that followed the departure of Judy Walsh from the commission in early 2001 and the appointment of her successor, former Enron Mexico President Max Yzaguirre.
He lasted only seven months in the job. Enron's finances blew up, splashing everyone associated with the company. And Gov. Rick Perry had taken contributions from Enron execs at about the time he was appointing Yzaguirre. Long story short: Yzaguirre left shortly after Democrat Tony Sanchez blasted Perry for his choice, and the juxtaposition of the contributions and the appointment has already been featured in a Sanchez ad.
Sanchez started banging on Yzaguirre and Perry in December. Yzaguirre left the PUC on January 18. Since then, the job has been empty, leaving the regulation of the state's telephone and electric industries in the hands of two remaining commissioners who can cancel each other's votes. The vacancy is a record-breaker, beating last year's four-month hiatus by–so far–two-and-a-half months.
That doesn't seem to be causing any particular heartburn. It's a hard job to fill, since the people who know the most about the subject matter work for the industries being regulated (or for their law firms or other service companies) and are barred by conflict of interest laws. Perry doesn't have any slack left; after the Yzaguirre debacle, even a small mistake in a new appointment will seem large, and will fuel further Sanchez attacks.
By our loose accounting, Perry's appointments folks have twice pulled together short lists of candidates only to run their political and policy traps and come up without a candidate. But the legislator best versed in this area, Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, says the long wait isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perry is taking his time, but Wolens, the House State Affairs chair, says no important issues have been locked up as a result. Wolens' Senate counterpart, Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, echoes that. As a practical matter, the empty chair at the commission is probably wearing on the people who work at the commission, but hasn't done anyone major harm, they say.
This might not be the only PUC appointment in the next few months. Commissioner Brett Perlman has talked to colleagues about his desire to move on, probably after the elections and certainly after a third commissioner has been named.
And the chairman of the PUC, Rebecca Armendariz Klein, is caught in a long-distance marriage; her husband's job is in Washington, D.C. At some point, the betting is that one of them will move to the other's home city, and that could mean another opening at the PUC sometime in the future. Perry and the lawmakers are looking for an appointee who'll stick around for a while.
Political Notes, Part Two
Marjory Staehle Glowka, the Libertarian candidate for land commissioner, is dropping out of that race and moving over to a race for an Austin seat in the Texas House. She'll run in HD-51, where Democrat Eddie Rodriguez is the only major party candidate. The Libertarians think they'll do well in the House race, since there's no Republican in it. They had a candidate, but Aaron Day took a job with the National Libertarian Party in Washington. That disqualified him for the state post and allowed the party to replace him on the ballot. The conventional wisdom is that libertarians take votes that would otherwise go to Republicans; if that's right, Glowka's move is a small boost to Republican Jerry Patterson, who's running against Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, for land commissioner.
• U.S. Senate candidate John Cornyn picked up the endorsement of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. So far, the group has endorsed in each of the state's top six races, each time picking the Republican over the Democrat.
• Tony Sanchez got the endorsement of the Texas Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. The group also endorsed Cornyn, Lite Guv candidate John Sharp, a Democrat and attorney general candidate Greg Abbott, a Republican.
Political People and Their Moves
After four sessions with outgoing Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, David Quin is moving on. He's the new legislative director for Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas... Winn Atkins has left the Casey Gentz law firm to mingle with the spirits; actually, he's gone to work for an outfit called Diageo. He'll lobby in eight states, including Texas, for that company, which owns the Guinness (beer) brand, among others... Put former House aide Tamara Bell back in the legislative arena, this time as chief of staff to Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco... The new state director at the American Association of Retired Persons is Luis Wilmot, a former state advocate for utility consumers who moved to San Antonio to work on civil rights and other issues... Sean Bradley, who's working on East Texas field operations for the Tony Sanchez campaign, is the new president of the Texas Young Democrats. The 26-year-old is the first African-American to hold that job... Sidney Hacker, a policy wiz who worked for the state, then for the Sanchez campaign and most recently, on the team that did an outside management study of the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife, is the new in-house lobbyist for Dell Computer... House Speaker Pete Laney is the new chairman-elect of the Southern Legislative Conference. That group will descend upon Fort Worth for its annual meeting in 2003... Austin television reporter Michelle Levy is leaving KVUE-TV for Farmers Insurance. She'll remain in Austin as the company's spokesperson, reporting to another former member of the Austin press corps: Mark Toohey, a former Houston Chronicle reporter who works at the company's intergalactic headquarters in California... Undo: Congressional candidate John Carter won't be working for the Potts & Reilly law firm after all. That firm lobbies in Austin and not in Washington and didn't appear to pose a direct conflict of interest, but after some flak from D.C. pundits, Carter backed out of the deal... Former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar has a new campaign manager (his third) for his congressional bid. Jason Burke, who hails from New Jersey, used to work for James Carville... From the Department of Corrections: In some editions last week, the wording was bass-ackwards in a mention of Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff's position on the budget. It shoulda said: "Ratliff... says the part of the budget that's not discretionary can't be cut and that part that is discretionary is so small the cuts wouldn't do much good"... Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa is a McAllen Democrat. We put him in the wrong hometown.
Quotes of the Week
UT Arlington professor Allan Saxe, taking the side of the smashmouths in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on the governor's contest: "We need a good, old-fashioned donnybrook. Texans are not shrinking violets; they like a fight. People always say they don't like negative ads, but that's not true. They like them. You know how to tell? They work."
Oregon researcher Ethan Seltzer, quoted in an Austin American-Statesman article on migration and growth patterns that have been beneficial to Austin and hard on other cities: "El Paso would predict that poor places are concentrating. Some communities are winning the income and some are losing, and that raises the question of what responsibility Austin has for helping El Paso."
Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, describing what he calls "sombrero politics" to the Houston Chronicle: "That's where a politician puts on a sombrero, eats our tacos, listens to our mariachi bands and says something in Spanish."
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, quoted in Governing after a flood of calls from his staff set his cell phone vibrating in his pocket: "I felt like I was at a cheap motel with the magic fingers going. When my hips are vibrating, it should be for a good reason."
Charley Wilkison, political director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, explaining his group's call for a moratorium on political ads in the 11 days leading up to September 11: "This is a political intervention. Remember, CLEAT members are Texas police officers who are very accustomed to arriving at the scene of a disturbance to discover that everyone has a different memory of how it all got started and who is to blame."
Texas Weekly: Volume 19, Issue 7, 12 August 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.