Partisans in Dallas County are gathering for a fight over who will get to vote on Election Day in November and in the early voting that leads up to it. Republicans call it Ballot Security. Democrats call it Voter Education. Both sides refer to what the other side is doing as Voter Intimidation.
And they say they're not the only ones in the state who are getting ready for a fight. Similar battles are shaping up in South Texas and in Houston, in particular. Both are places where the GOP has concerns that heavy minority turnout–ginned up by Black and Hispanic candidates at the top of the Democratic ticket–could boost that party's numbers.
Both sides want to make sure they get the vote they expect on Election Day and that the other side doesn't play hanky panky. Specifically, Republicans want to make sure that the Democrats who vote are actually bona fide voters. They refer to that as ballot integrity. Democrats want to make sure every voter who should be able to vote actually gets to, and they are trying to build a legal SWAT team that will be ready to go to court if real voters are harassed at the polls. Democrat Tony Sanchez sent a team of lawyers to Dallas last week to coach party officials on how the laws work. The Democrats hope they'll be able to work out most disputes on site, and chairwoman Susan Hays says they'll be ready to go to court on short notice when the on-site remedies aren't enough.
Republicans want to put poll-watchers wherever people vote, particularly in places where a lot of Democrats vote. Almost by definition, that will include a lot of minority precincts. Democrats contend voters will be intimidated, particularly if they are minority voters and if the poll-watchers are all Anglos or look like authority figures. Security guards, for instance, or lawyer types in fancy suits.
Within the next two weeks, according to Nate Crain, the GOP chairman in Dallas County, the Republicans will know whether they have enough people to staff all of the polls or just the hotspots. Others in the party say they would prefer to staff all of them so they don't have to face accusations that they were picking on this group or that one.
What some Republicans say privately is that goosey voting practices in South Dallas could boost local favorite Ron Kirk. Their hope is to hold him to a smaller margin of victory over John Cornyn in the U.S. Senate race than the former Dallas mayor might expect. If Cornyn wins enough votes elsewhere in the state to offset Kirk's expected Dallas advantage, he'll get the Washington job both men seek. If Kirk runs up the score in Dallas, he could offset Cornyn victories elsewhere.
Both sides think that's the only statewide race that would really be affected by their efforts in Dallas and elsewhere. Most say the main effect of the party's programs is on downballot races. Put another way: The relatively small number of votes in play is more likely to influence a state House race or a local JP contest than to turn the tide in a statewide contest. But they also point to the elections four years ago, when two statewide offices–lieutenant governor and comptroller–were settled by margins of roughly 70,000 and 20,000 votes, respectively.
The GOP already won one battle. Election judges are picked by the party that won the last gubernatorial contest in each precinct. If your precinct voted for Democrat Garry Mauro four years ago, the Democrats pick the judges. But Mauro was routed by Republican George W. Bush, even in some normally Democratic precincts. Short form: Republicans got to pick more judges than usual. The only spin left to Democrats is that they get to pick the alternate election judges; when a Republican doesn't show, a Democrat pops up as the substitute.
Another Special Election Ahead
Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, decided to leave office four months early. Brown said a year ago that this term would be his last; now he'll begin the month of September as a private citizen. That sets up a special election for what's left of his term. Because of the way the uniform election dates fall, that election will probably coincide with the general election in November.
For Brown, who started his Senate tenure in 1981, the quick resignation could mean a jump start on his next career. He has said he wants to open a law practice in Austin and do some lobbying.
On the state side, the practical effect is small. Brown says his interim committee's work is done, and the Legislature isn't meeting between now and then. If the winner of the special election is also the winner of the regular election (they'll be held at the same places and on the same days, but there will be two ballots), that senator will have a small seniority advantage over the rest of the freshman class. That's meaningful in one area important to senators: Who gets which office.
Rep. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, faces Democrat Ronnie Ellen Harrison in the November general election. Janek said he'll run in the special election, too; we couldn't reach Harrison on deadline.
The Storm Before the Quiet
Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, who's after a promotion to lieutenant governor, is running a new television spot that accuses his opponent, Democrat John Sharp, of being "a big government liberal." The commercial relies on recommendations Sharp made when he was comptroller during a budget mess in the early 1990s, saying the Democrat proposed eight new taxes, doubling college tuition, and raising fees on hunting and drivers' licenses. It says he chaired presidential campaigns for Michael Dukakis and Bill Bradley, and quotes a Business Week article that said Sharp's budget proposals included "accounting slights of hand and revenue increases."
But the best towel-snap in the ad is administered by Sharp himself. A Dewhurst hireling turned a video camera on the Democrat during a joint appearance of the two Lite Guv candidates in Austin earlier this year. While Dewhurst was talking, Sharp was distracting the audience by giving them a humorous sort of "Get a load of this" look. In that room, it worked for Sharp. But that was a small audience compared to the TV spot, and in the television spot, he looks downright sneaky.
Dewhurst aides say the commercial is mixed in with three other commercials that were already running. They won't say how much advertising they're doing, but the Sharp camp says the Dewhurst TV offensive is too small and too unfocused to be effective.
• Democrat Marty Akins pulled in $102,000 at a fundraiser disguised as a golf tournament and plans other funders later on in Austin and in Dallas (that latter one will be held during the weekend of the Texas-OU game in the Cotton Bowl). Akins, a former UT quarterback who is challenging Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, will use some of the money to expand his small television campaign to "B" markets like Midland and Lubbock. So far, his ads have run only on cable television and only in Houston. Rylander hasn't been on television yet, but has been hoarding money and plans to start a full-scale TV siege in September.
And the Quiet
Gov. Rick Perry isn't buying CLEAT's 11-day moratorium on advertising during the first part of the month, but he'll go dark on September 11 and for the three days before it.
The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas called for a blackout of television advertising by political campaigns for the first 11 days of the month. Most campaigns agreed to that, partly because they liked the idea and it looked good, and in most cases, because they weren't going to be on television that early anyhow. But Perry and Democrat Tony Sanchez of Laredo didn't initially agree to a cease-fire. Neither did Republican David Dewhurst, who is running for lieutenant governor and who has been advertising off-and-on for more than a year. Sanchez and Dewhurst are still keeping their plans to themselves.
Business Drops Some Names
The political arm of the Texas Association of Business is about to announce endorsements, and the group has decided it will oppose seven House incumbents and two in the Senate. TAB likes Republican Bob Deuell over Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, and Republican Ben Bentzin over Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, in the two most-watched races for spots in the upper chamber.
In the House, TAB is endorsing Mineola attorney Bryan Hughes over Rep. Bob Glaze, D-Gilmer, in HD-5; Eddie Shauberger of Liberty over Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston, in HD-18; former teacher Glenda Dawson of Pearland over Rep. Tom Uher, D-Bay City, in HD-29; attorney Todd Baxter over Rep. Ann Kitchen, D-Austin, in HD-48; former city councilwoman Martha Wong over Rep. Debra Danburg, D-Houston, in HD-134; and businessman Dwayne Bohac over Rep. Ken Yarbrough, D-Houston, in HD-138. Each of the challengers is a Republican; each incumbent on the TAB target list is a Democrat. In the only race that pits two incumbents against one another (because of redistricting), TAB prefers Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, to Rep. David Counts, D-Knox City, in HD-68. Each of the Democrats in this paragraph is a presumed vote for a sixth term for House Speaker Pete Laney. Some of the challengers say they haven't pledged their votes to any particular candidate in that race.
TAB is adding to the statewide endorsements it has already made, saying it wants Republican Jerry Patterson over Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, in the land commissioner race, and appellate Judge Margaret Mirabal of Houston, a Democrat, over Republican attorney Steven Wayne Smith of Austin in one of this year's three Texas Supreme Court races. That last one is a partisan flip, but not necessarily a change of heart–TAB endorsed Republican Xavier Rodriguez over Smith in the primary and is switching parties to continue its opposition to Smith in the general election.
TEXPAC, the political appendage of the Texas Medical Association, is mostly sticking with incumbents in the Texas House races, and they left decisions pending on four races for open seats.
The TEXPAC list includes a couple of congressional endorsements, too: They prefer Republican Jeb Hensarling to Democrat Ron Chapman in the CD-5 race that starts in Dallas and pours into rural counties to the east, and they like Democrat Chris Bell over businessman and Republican Tom Reiser in the race for the seat now held by lame-duck U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston.
The docs endorsed one challenger over an incumbent, saying they prefer Baxter to Kitchen in Austin's HD-48. Otherwise, they endorsed incumbents in races where there are any, even giving a double endorsement in the race between Reps. Hardcastle and Counts. TEXPAC likes Republicans in some races: Byron Cook of Corsicana in HD-8; Jack Stick of Austin in HD-50; Holt Getterman of Waco in HD-56 (he's serving a stub term in the House, but never has served during a legislative session); Ken Paxton of McKinney in HD-70; Scott Campbell of San Angelo in HD-72; Carter Casteel of New Braunfels in HD-73; Jodi Laubenberg of Parker in HD-89; Bill Zedler of Arlington in HD-96; Bill Keffer of Dallas in HD-107; and Dan Branch of Dallas in HD-108. They picked a couple of Democrats, including Gabi Canales of Alice in HD-35; and Timoteo Garza of Eagle Pass in HD-80.
• The political arm of the Texas Association of Family Physicians endorsed Democrat Tony Sanchez over Gov. Rick Perry, staying in line with the Texas Medical Association and citing some of the same things as reasons: The group, which represents 5,000 doctors, didn't like Perry's veto of prompt pay legislation last year.
• Rev. Sterling Lands, a prominent African-American preacher in Austin, switched his endorsement in the attorney general's race from Democrat Kirk Watson, the former mayor of Austin, to Republican Greg Abbott, a former Supreme Court justice. Lands was listed as a supporter on Watson's website as recently as June. He's off their list now and on the list on the other side of the ledger. Lands, pastor of the Greater Calvary Baptist Church, issued a written statement endorsing Abbott without mentioning Watson.
Free Chickens, More or Less, in Some Pots
David Dewhurst is proposing a college tuition program similar to one proposed for the last four or five years by John Sharp. But the Republican candidate for Lite Guv has put a twist on the Democrat's idea. Dewhurst's "Texas School Fund" would let students borrow money from the state to pay for college. Only students with B averages or better would be eligible for the no-interest loans. And if they got through college in four years or less and kept their average grades at B or above, the state would forgive the loan. Engineering and architecture students would have 5 years to finish school. Community college students would have two years. Students who kept the grades but missed the deadline by a year or less would have half their loan amounts forgiven.
Sharp proposed a free college tuition program four years ago in his first bid for the lieutenant governor's post and has revived it this year. He would have the state pay for kids with B averages in high school to go to college, requiring them to keep up their grades. The main differences in the programs is that Sharp's wouldn't put the students in debt (or in potential debt), and Dewhurst's would give them a cheap way to go to college even if they couldn't keep up the B average.
The Republican's aides say the college program would cost about $88 million annually when it's up and running and there are four years worth of students enrolled. It would start by costing $28 million, adding another $20 million or so as each new class starts until leveling off. They're estimating 10,000 students a year would be both eligible and enrolled.
Where the Wonks Are
Put this in that nightstand stack of things to read: The Center for Public Policy Priorities put out what it calls an introduction to the state budget. Sounds dull? Sure, it does. But money will be the centerpiece on the legislative table next year and you might as well get started. You can find The Texas Budget and Tax Primer online at www.cppp.org.
That includes a basic introduction to state finance for newbies and includes some fresh angles on stuff that comes up every year. For instance, the primer looks at where state and local spending rank on major budget items like education and welfare and prisons. Generally speaking, other states spend more than we do, at least on a per-capita basis. Then the authors looked at the two-year budget approved in 1999 and calculated what it would have cost to bring overall state spending to the point where Texas would rank 25th among the states in each category. We spent more than average on prisons, for instance, but less than average on health and human services. Public education spending was close to the average on a per-capita basis (but was $3.4 billion below the national average if compared on the basis of per-pupil spending).
All in all, the report says, it would have cost $19 billion to bring state spending to the level that would have made Texas 25th in overall spending that year. The budget that actually got approved was $98.1 billion, or almost 20 percent below the national average.
Still sleepless? Want a different philosophical filter? Try the Texas Public Policy Foundation's take on the budget (and other legislative issues), coming up in a daylong seminar at the end of next week. It's in Austin, on September 6, and looks like a good way to get the conservative take on the upcoming session. Details can be had on that outfit's website at www.tppf.org. While you're there, you can also take a look at the first four installments of a promised six-part series on taxes in Texas.
• OOPS: We misspelled the challenger's name in a recent item on the judicial prospects for Rep. Ron Clark, R-Sherman. D.L. "Donnie" Jarvis, Jr., an attorney from Van Alstyne, is the Democrat in that race. Clark has been tapped by the president for a federal judgeship, but says he'll remain in office, and in the House race, pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Running for Second Place
Most of the attention in the race for House Speaker has been focused on Pete Laney, who is running for a record sixth term, and on Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, a former college pal of Laney's who is trying to become the first Republican in the post in a bazillion years. But they're not alone, and Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, is making a little hay out of the standoff between the frontrunners. In a letter to supporters, McCall says the race is unusual because there is an incumbent and because "outside groups have organized to pressure members to support a particular Republican for the race." He doesn't name anyone in particular. He says in the letter that his race is going well and says what he's said before–that he's asked members to make him their second choice if their favorite falls. His spin: "If either of the front-runners should win, it will be with a straight party vote and a handful of pledges from the other side. Or, with me having second pledges from a vast majority of the House, we may decide not to divide the House on a strict partisan vote."
Who's to Judge?
Clifford William is still running for chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, although he's not a member of the State Bar of Texas. The incumbent, Republican Tom Phillips, sued to knock William off the ballot, saying that William isn't eligible to serve on the court because he's not licensed to practice law in state courts. Citing a legal emergency because of the short time between now and the deadline for making changes on the ballots, Phillips skipped over the lower courts and took his case straight to his colleagues on the state's highest civil court. They zinged him, voting 8-0 (Phillips didn't vote on his own case) to toss out the case and said it should be handled by lower courts first.
That's a three-way race, with Phillips, William and Democrat Richard Baker of Liberty. Phillips is playing with a self-imposed handicap: He pledged earlier this year not to raise any more money for the race and he doesn't have enough in hand to run a television or radio campaign of any importance. Libertarians who don't have one of their own to vote for generally vote Republican, and Phillips could reasonably expect to get any votes that don't go to William.
William has told Libertarian Party officials that he's licensed with the international bar and can practice in federal court. Also, he's suing under federal law to overturn the Texas requirement, saying he shouldn't be required to join the State Bar in order to practice law in Texas.
At our deadline, Phillips was filing the lawsuit in the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin (where his fellow Supremes said the fight should start). If that court decides William is ineligible, there's still a chance the Libertarians could replace him on the ballot; the deadline for that is September 3.
Libertarians Juggle Their Ticket
The Texas Libertarian Party is changing its candidate list to accommodate moves and changes of heart. The party's candidate for Congress in the newly created CD-32–Chris Bruno–moved to Florida and became instantly ineligible. That prompted the party's candidate for comptroller–Steve Martin–to drop out of the statewide race and become a candidate for Congress. Martin lives in Houston and that seat starts in Dallas County and seeps to the north, but you don't have to live in a congressional district to be on the ballot there. And as we reported earlier, the Libertarian candidate for land commissioner–Marjory Staehle Glowka–decided to bag that contest and run instead for an open House seat in Austin's HD-51.
Martin's ballot replacement in the comptroller's race will be Bowie Ibarra, a schoolteacher from Dallas. And the party's new candidate for land commissioner will be Barbara Hernandez, who works in health care services in San Antonio. The Libertarian's executive committee approved the changes, but the paperwork is still somewhere between them and the Texas Secretary of State's office, where it'll become official. The changes put three Hispanics on that party's statewide ballot, more than any of the other three parties that have statewide tickets.
Political People and Their Moves
Margaret Hoffman, at lawyer at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, got the agency's top job, winning over a field of candidates that included lame-duck Rep. Fred Bosse, D-Houston, and the agency's current number two executive, Glenn Shankle. That's not a gubernatorial pick–the executive director is picked by the three-member board, which is picked by the Guv. While we're at it, Tony Grigsby, who was among the candidates for that post, has been around Austin for some time, and in government for some time, but he's never been a member of the Texas Legislature. Nor did anybody mislead about it–the editor of this here newsletter was caught carrying less than a full lobe. Sorry, sorry, sorry... Dallas Republicans control the commissioners court, and they appointed the GOP's nominee for that job, Margaret Keliher, to fill the rest of County Judge Lee Jackson's term on the court. (Jackson resigned to become the new boss at the University of North Texas.) Keliher gets to run as an incumbent, but has to give up campaign time during the next two months to work on the court. She's running against Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, D-Dallas, for a full term as county judge... Christopher Lee, who worked in the Austin bureau of the Dallas Morning News before jumping to the paper's Washington bureau to cover the Texas congressional delegation, is leaving the paper for the Washington Post. No replacement has been named to the congressional beat... The Texas Department of Public Safety named Judy Brown to head the drivers license division, replacing Mike Anderson there. Brown, who had been the number two, will be the first female to head a major division at the state's police agency.
Quotes of the Week
Campaign finance reformer Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People, in a San Antonio Express-News story that put the tab for the local GOP Senate primary between Rep. John Shields and Sen. Jeff Wentworth at $2.9 million, a record: "The only people who can run for office are those who can self-fund, or those who can get money from wealthy special interests. The average San Antonian didn't contribute a significant amount to either Shields or Wentworth, but they're they people who have to live with the candidates' votes in the Legislature."
Democrat Jim Parsons, a candidate for Texas Supreme Court, quoted in The Nation on financing judicial campaigns: "I'm afraid that justice is still for sale in Texas and other states. It's just that there are different sellers and different buyers."
Democrat Tony Sanchez Jr., who has made a campaigning point of his ability to work with people of all political persuasions, talking about insurance problems within earshot of The New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung: "It is time we stop this and move the Republicans out of office forever."
Federal appellate Judge Damon Keith, in a unanimous ruling that the Bush Administration's secret deportations hearings are illegal: "The executive branch seeks to uproot people's lives, outside the public eye, and behind a closed door. Democracies die behind closed doors."
Texas Eagle Forum leader Cathie Adams, quoted in a Dallas Morning News story on whether Republican candidates are better off playing to their base or to more moderate swing voters during the general election season: "I don't really think that running to the middle is going to play. He who moderates himself loses in a statewide campaign in Texas."
Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, after Democrat Jesse Quackenbush accused him of breaking campaign finance laws by reporting how much he'd spent on credit cards without saying what he charged on the cards, in the Amarillo Globe-News: "The only crime committed today is we're going to keep more of our citizens at home because they're going to say 'Which one of these crooks should I vote for?' No wonder we have low voter turnout."
Political rabble-rouser and former Texas Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "Democracy requires people willing to get together, willing to sign up, to get steamed up a little bit. And don't forget the beer. I think it's always essential to lubricate democracy."
Texas Weekly: Volume 19, Issue 10, 2 September 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.