The well-worn rule is that the political season starts on Labor Day, but we're doing now what would usually have been done then because of the 9/11 break in the political schedule. The ads are coming back on television now, and candidates who have been keeping a low profile are breaking into their sprints for the last six weeks before the elections.
That's true in statewide races, and it's true down the ballot. Candidates have been raising money (not that they'll stop now, mind you) and laying the groundwork for their contests. Now, with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks out of the way, candidates have a better chance at capturing the attention of voters, for better and for worse.
The shortened political season has some strong undertows. Some big variables that have the attention of political pros are turnout patterns, race, the Bush effect, and the state's changing demographics.
Almost every poll we've seen says the contests at the top of the statewide ballot are close enough to be interesting, and in some cases, to be nerve-wracking for partisans. Good fights drive voter turnout. Lackluster races–like those on the ballot in 1998–dampen turnout. Nasty races can cut turnout, especially among less partisan swing voters. Races with powerful issues or symbols can drive turnout way up. Republicans argue that turnout will rise this year, but only in keeping with turnout in other competitive years, like 1994. Democrats argue that competitive candidates on their ticket will boost turnout, and say minority turnout will be particularly strong among Black and Hispanic voters.
Every campaign year has a subject every politician wants to talk about. Insurance is an example. But there is often a subject everyone uniformly avoids even when it's an obvious component of the political atmosphere. This year, it's race. The Democrats have a Black and a Hispanic at the top of their ticket, and neither they nor their opponents want to talk about that except in the blandest, most careful terms. At stake, for both sides: Race issues and candidates can increase turnout in certain communities and suppress it in others. It's a high-risk issue, winning if played right and losing if played badly.
George W. Bush isn't on the ticket this year. He was on the Texas ballot in 1994, 1998 and in 2000. Many Republicans say he had no coattails benefiting other candidates on the ballot. Many Democrats base their optimism this year on the fact that whatever coattails he had will be missing.
And finally, there are other demographic trends that could affect this year's results. Hispanics are the fastest-growing part of the population. Will they vote? Republicans don't have a Dallas candidate at the top of their ticket. When they do, the whole ticket does better than when they don't. This year, they have the added problem of a well-known former Dallas mayor at the top of the Democratic ticket. At the least, that alters the geography for a GOP win in November. At the same time, the natural advantage of Republican candidates in Texas has been steadily increasing in the last several elections; it might be stronger than the demographic and geographic changes this year.
Down the ballot, there is less turmoil. The Senate is almost in place before the elections, with only two or three races still in play and with only a small chance of a real change in partisan control at stake.
In the House, Republicans have probably already "won" 70 seats to the Democrats' 56 (83 House contestants, including 47 Republicans and 36 Democrats, face little or no competition in November). That leaves about two dozen House races that are strongly contested by the participants and the parties and the people who fund all of the fun and games.
The Texas Senate: 90 Percent Decided
In the Senate, only two races are on most people's radar screens, and a third might be worth a faded asterisk. We have 17 seats ranked as safely Republican, 11 as safely Democratic.
That Republican number is arguably one seat lighter than it ought to be. The SD-10 seat in Fort Worth, left open when incumbent Chris Harris moved to an adjacent, safer district, still looks like it belongs to the GOP. But some politicos in that area say it could be closer than it would first seem. Republican Rep. Kim Brimer is giving up his House spot to run for Senate.
His opponent is Democrat Hal Ray, whose campaign isn't in the same financial league and who, by most accounts, isn't tilling the fields as well as the Republican. But in spite of historical Republican numbers, the Senate district overlaps some Democratic strongholds–enough to raise stomach acids and prompt the Brimer camp to ask friends to pitch in and help. Libertarian John Paul Robinson, an engineer, is also running. Lean it strongly Republican for now, but keep watching.
Republicans ought to be able to win in Sen. David Cain's SD-2, which blossoms east from Dallas. But that's been true for years, and Cain, a Dallas Democrat, has continued to win. Redistricting took away most of the precincts where he racked up a win two years ago against Republican Bob Deuell, a Greenville physician. This year's contest is a rematch. Cain has more experience, and in tough districts; Deuell is running in a district Republicans swear is tailor-made for their body politic. There is also a Libertarian in that contest: Robert Parker of Terrell, who lists his occupation as "retired."
And SD-2 has an interesting overlap that could play a part: The open congressional race that partly mirrors the Senate district has a well-financed newcomer, Jeb Hensarling, running against Democrat Ron Chapman, a former judge whose name–identical to a longtime disc jockey–protected him from GOP sweeps of the Dallas County Courthouse starting in the 1980s. If that congressional contest is tight, there could be some synergies for the Senate contestants. Start SD-2 in the toss-up column.
In Austin, Democrats are supposed to be safe. That's been the history of the burg, but the business and population boom of the 1990s increased Republican numbers in Travis County, and Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, is in his first tough race in years. Ben Bentzin, a former Dell Computer executive, is running a well-organized challenge to the incumbent, preying on the demographic shifts and the hope that voters are disenchanted with–or unaware of–Barrientos' record.
Where someone like Cain builds some residual name recall with voters just by being in tough contests again and again, Barrientos has been able to sit back a bit. That's easier and cheaper than fighting, but it doesn't put your name in front of voters as often. Bentzin had hoped to benefit from a Green Party candidate who could bleed votes away from the Democrat, but the Greens pulled out, leaving only the two major-party contestants and Libertarian Marianne Robbins. Add in Bentzin's probable financial edge. Subtract what first looked like a minus for the incumbent: Barrientos deftly handled a recent drunk-driving arrest, so that probably won't be a liability. The incumbent isn't sitting on his hands, but this is still a contest. Mark it as Leaning Democrat.
Some senators have cakewalks with no opponents at all, including Republican Teel Bivins of Amarillo, and Democrats Rodney Ellis and Mario Gallegos Jr. of Houston, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, Frank Madla and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, and Royce West of Dallas.
Other incumbents have only minor party opposition, including Republicans Todd Staples of Palestine, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Jon Lindsay of Houston, Florence Shapiro of Plano, Chris Harris of Arlington, Mike Jackson of La Porte, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Robert Duncan of Lubbock. There's only one Democrat in this category: Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.
Mostly Sunny, with Scattered Clouds
That leaves the contested Senate races we haven't already mentioned. Never ignore, discount, or otherwise get overconfident and uppity about the possibility of political upsets, but these appear to be least susceptible to change in November.
Republicans have distinct advantages in SD-1, where Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant is being challenged by Democrat B.D. Blount of Paris; in SD-4, where Rep. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands faces Democrat Mike Smith of Porter; in Dallas' SD-16, where Sen. John Carona faces Democrat Jan Erik Frederiksen and Libertarian Jack Thompson; in SD-17, where Rep. Kyle Janek faces Democrat Ronnie Ellen Harrison; in Waco's SD-22, where Rep. Kip Averitt faces Democrat Richard "Richie" Renschler Jr., in SD-25, where Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio faces Democrat Joseph "Joe" Sullivan, also of San Antonio, and Bulverde Libertarian Rex Black; and in SD-30, where Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls faces Democrat Donald Acheson of Burkburnett and Libertarian Diane Wilson of St. Paul.
Democrats ought to prevail in Houston's SD-15, where Sen. John Whitmire faces Republican Michael Wolfe; and in SD-18, where Sen. Ken Armbrister of Victoria faces Rosenberg Republican Lester Phipps and Bastrop Libertarian Horace Henley.
Here's some great spin: The Libertarian Party of Texas points out that, with candidates in 17 Senate races this year, they have a chance to take a majority in the upper chamber for the first time in their history. That's true. It's also true that one Libertarian in the Texas Senate would be the first in history. The Green Party has one candidate running for Senate.
Goliaths and Davids
Some races, in spite of the fact that both parties presented candidates, are all but already decided. Upsets are certainly possible, but they're called upsets for a reason, and they'd be earthquakes in most of these races. Republicans who are just about out of the woods include Reps. Dennis Bonnen, Angleton; Terry Keel, Austin; Mike Krusee, Austin; Arlene Wohlgemuth, Burleson; Phil King, Weatherford; Ron Clark, Sherman; Brian McCall, Plano; Jerry Madden, Richardson; Carl Isett, Lubbock; Toby Goodman, Arlington; Anna Mowery, Fort Worth; Charlie Geren, Fort Worth; Fred Hill, Richardson; Kenny Marchant, Carrollton; Joe Nixon, Gary Elkins, and Talmadge Heflin, Houston. The incoming freshman class will probably include Republicans Ken Paxton, McKinney; Carter Casteel, New Braunfels; Jodie Laubenberg, Wylie; Bill Zedler, Arlington; Bill Keffer, and Dan Branch, Dallas. Put an asterisk next to Clark's name; he's been nominated for a federal judgeship and will leave the House if the U.S. Senate confirms him. That would lead to a special election and could change the overall count in the House.
Democrats in the opposed-but-safe category include Reps. Barry Telford, DeKalb; Jim McReynolds, Lufkin; Allen Ritter, Nederland; Dora Olivo, Richmond; Vilma Luna and Jaime Capelo, Corpus Christi; Jim Solis, Harlingen; Irma Rangel, Kingsville; Elliott Naishtat, Austin; Jim Dunnam, Waco; Pete Gallego, Alpine; J.E. "Pete" Laney, Hale Center; Lon Burnam, Fort Worth; Steve Wolens, Roberto Alonzo, and Helen Giddings, Dallas; Mike Villarreal, San Antonio; and Kevin Bailey, Houston. Incoming freshmen in apparently safe Democratic districts are Gabi Canales, Alice, and Timoteo "Timo" Garza, Eagle Pass.
Political campaigns started up their ads almost immediately on September 12, and some of the campaigns that weren't up will be soon. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander starts a heavy TV buy at the end of the month. Lite Guv candidate John Sharp will be up in a week to 10 days to try to catch up with ads from Republican David Dewhurst. Democrat Marty Akins–running for comptroller–was running only on cable television. That'll put four of the top five races on the air by October 1; no word yet on plans from candidates for attorney general.
Where the Wild Things Are
Two dozen House races remain very competitive and could, under the right circumstances, swing to either party. We've subdivided them into three categories–mainly to facilitate arguments over the odds. With six weeks to go, these appear to be the races that will determine the makeup of the Texas House when it convenes in January. Barring a miracle, it will have a Republican majority, but it could easily also have Democrats in charge unless the GOP can win a big majority on Election Day.
Lean to the Right
We start the homestretch with nine competitive races that tilt in favor of the Republicans. Four of them are in open seats: HD-2, where Republican Dan Flynn of Van faces Democrat Danny Duncan of Commerce; HD-24, where Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, faces Tony Buzbee,D-Friendswood; HD-56, where Rep. Holt Getterman, R-Waco, faces Democrat John Mabry, D-Waco; and HD-72, featuring Scott Campbell, R-San Angelo, Jeri Sloan, D-San Angelo, and Libertarian Robert Restivo of Grape Creek. (Getterman was elected to a stub term earlier this year when Rep. Kip Averitt was elected to the Senate and carries the title without having served during a session.)
Five races feature incumbent representatives who are battling to remain in the House: HD-4, where Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, is challenged by Mike Head, D-Athens; HD-9, where Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, is challenged by Robin Moore, D-Nacogdoches; HD-48, where Rep. Ann Kitchen, D-Austin, is challenged by Republican Todd Baxter, R-Austin, and Libertarian Michael Badnarik; HD-87, where Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, is challenged by Jesse Quackenbush, D-Amarillo; and HD-138, where voters will decide a rematch between Rep. Ken Yarbrough, D-Houston, and Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston.
Lean to the Left
On the other end are seven still-competitive races that tilt in favor of the Democrats. Three of those are fights for open seats: HD-19, where Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, faces Paul Clayton, D-Orange; HD-117, where Republican Ken Mercer faces Democrat Raul Prado for a San Antonio seat; and HD-125, where Republican Nelson Balido faces Democrat Joaquin Castro in another San Antonio contest. Four involve incumbents: HD-5, where Rep. Bob Glaze, D-Gilmer, is challenged by Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola; HD-17, where Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, is challenged by Jean Killgore, R-Somerville, and Libertarian Darrell Grear of Bryan; HD-18, where Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston, is rematched with Eddie Shauberger, R-Liberty; and HD-137, where Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, is challenged by Republican Dionne Roberts.
You Pick 'em
And then there are the tossups–races where the clouds haven't parted to shine golden light upon a particular candidate and where the money folks on both sides often dig deep attempting to change the outcomes. We have eight such races on our starting list, and only two of them are for open seats: HD-8, where Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, faces George Robinson, D-Fairfield; and HD-50, featuring Austinites Jack Stick, a Republican, James Sylvester, a Democrat, and Rob LeGrand a Libertarian.
The rest of our toss-ups involve incumbents: HD-29, where Rep. D.R. "Tom" Uher, D-Bay City, is challenged by Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland; HD-32, where Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, faces Josephine Miller, D-Sinton; HD-45, where Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, is challenged by Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, and the Green Party's John Schmidt of Martindale; HD-59, where Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, is in a rematch with David Lengefeld, the Hamilton Democrat he unseated two years ago; in HD-68, where Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, was paired by the high priests of redistricting with Rep. David Counts, D-Knox City; and HD-134, a Houston race where Democratic Rep. Debra Danburg, is challenged by Republican Martha Wong and Libertarian Nathaniel Joe LaFleur.
Voters' Work Here is Already Done
Some House candidates have no opposition at all. Democrats on that list include Reps. Mark Homer, Paris; Chuck Hopson, Jacksonville; Joe Deshotel, Beaumont; Craig Eiland, Galveston; Kino Flores, Mission; Rene Oliveira, Brownsville; Miguel Wise, Weslaco; Roberto Gutierrez, McAllen; Richard Raymond, Laredo; David Farabee, Wichita Falls; Norma Chavez, Paul Moreno, and Joe Pickett, El Paso; Glenn Lewis, Forest Hills; Jesse Jones and Yvonne Davis, Dallas; Trey Martinez Fischer, Carlos Uresti, Robert Puente, Ruth Jones McClendon, and Jose Menendez, San Antonio; Ron Wilson, Sylvester Turner, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton Jr., Rick Noriega, Garnet Coleman, and Jessica Farrar, Houston.
Two Democratic candidates won entry to the House in their primaries and face no Republicans on their way to freshman terms: Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and Aaron Peña of Edinburg.
Republicans without opponents include Reps. Leo Berman, Tyler; Tommy Merritt, Longview; Jim Pitts, Waxahachie; Lois Kolkhorst, Brenham; Ruben Hope, Conroe; Charlie Howard, Sugar Land; Geanie Morrison, Victoria; Edmund Kuempel, Seguin; Suzanna Gratia Hupp, Kempner; Dianne White Delisi, Temple; Mary Denny, Aubrey; Pat Haggerty, El Paso; G.E. "Buddy" West, Odessa; Tom Craddick, Midland; John Smithee, Amarillo; Warren Chisum, Pampa; Kent Grusendorf, Arlington; Vicki Truitt, Keller; Elvira Reyna, Mesquite; Tony Goolsby, Dallas; Ray Allen, Grand Prairie; Joe Driver, Garland; Will Hartnett, Dallas; Peggy Hamric, Houston; Joe Crabb, Humble; and John Davis and Beverly Woolley, Houston.
Five new Republican House members will coast through the general election without opponents: Dan Gattis, Georgetown; Glenn Hegar, Katy; Wayne Smith, Baytown; Corbin Van Arsdale, Cypress; and Debbie Riddle, Houston.
Racing Against Spoilers
The little political parties–which don't claim any current or recent members of the Legislature–are keeping 21 major-party contestants from going completely to sleep. All told, the Libertarians are running 32 candidates for various seats in the Texas House. The Green Party has seven candidates. And the Secretary of State's office is listing one registered write-in candidate and one independent among the contestants for the lower chamber.
Republicans with only minor-party opposition include Reps. Fred Brown, Bryan; Harvey Hilderbran, Kerrville; Jim Keffer, Eastland; Myra Crownover, Lake Dallas; Burt Solomons, Carrollton; Bob Hunter, Abilene; Delwin Jones, Lubbock; Todd Smith, Euless; Elizabeth Ames Jones and Frank Corte Jr., San Antonio; Bill Callegari, Katy; and Robert Talton, Pasadena.
Three Republicans on their way to first terms have only minor-party opposition between them and their official oath-taking: Rob Eissler, The Woodlands; Bob Griggs, North Richland Hills; and Linda Harper-Brown, Irving. Harper-Brown has the fullest card of anyone in this category, with opposition from an independent, a Libertarian, and the Green Party.
Six Democrats get to ignore the GOP but still have opponents. They include incumbent Reps. Dawnna Dukes, Austin; Terri Hodge, Dallas; and Joe Moreno and Al Edwards, Houston. The non-incumbent Democrats on the list are Eddie Rodriguez of Austin and Chente Quintanilla of El Paso.
We affiliated a couple of non-affiliates last week and need to patch that one up. The Dallas Police Association was part of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas many moons ago, but that is no longer true and we said it was. Sorry, sorry, sorry. The Dallas group endorsed U.S. Senate candidate John Cornyn; CLEAT hasn't stated a preference in that race, although that's coming later this month. Cornyn, in that same hit, got an endorsement from Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles. He's touting the police endorsement in particular because he beat Ron Kirk, Dallas' former mayor and a regular sparring partner with the DPA, to get it.
Political People and Their Moves
State District Judge F. Scott McCown of Austin is resigning from that job to become the new executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. McCown is well known for his rulings on the state's school finance system and for a report on impoverished children he presented to the state four years ago. CPPP is a think tank that focuses on poverty, health and human services and budget issues. McCown, a Democrat, has been on the bench since 1989; his resignation clears the way for an appointment by Gov. Rick Perry... Alicia Key is the new director at the state's Office of Court Administration, a support agency for the state's courts. That title also makes her the executive director of the Texas Judicial Council. Key has been an assistant attorney general and the number two in that agency's child support division. The new gig is sort of a return engagement: Key was OCA's deputy general counsel before she took her current job... Jeff Saitas, executive director of the state's environmental regulation agency, will open a consulting and lobby shop when he leaves next month, and he's taking Terri Seales, his top aide, with him. Saitas can't work on agency issues for two years, but Seales is free to work on any project that wasn't in progress while she worked there... Follow the bouncing ball: Sen. Buster Brown, R-Lake Jackson, resigned from the Lege four months early. Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, was tapped to be interim chairman of what had been Brown's committee–Natural Resources. And finally, Jason Skaggs, who'd been working for Duncan, got reassigned: He's the interim committee director... Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry named Judge Dean Rucker of Midland to another term as administrative judge for that region; Rucker has been doing that since 1998. He also named Judge B.B. Schraub of Seguin to another term as presiding judge in his region, a post Schraub has held since 1990... The Guv named Jim Simms, an Amarillo banker, to a spot on the State Securities Board. Simms has been chairman of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas... And Perry named Hector Farias, a veteran and a business owner from Weslaco, to the Texas Veterans Commission... Births: Jacob Robert Kolkhorst, born to Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and her husband Jim. He's their second child... Deaths: Billie Carr, a liberal stalwart who alternately charmed and alarmed Texas Democrats for more than 50 years. Carr said she never ran for office because she wanted to be able to speak the truth. She was 74.
Quotes of the Week
House Speaker Pete Laney, quoted in the Dallas Morning News on the sentiments of various candidates toward the choice between raising taxes and cutting programs next year: "With some of these candidates, it might not bother them to cut MHMR, or health and human services. It may not bother them to release people from prison. The question is, where are you going to reduce services? And I don't think you'll hear that between now and November."
Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, asked by the Dallas Morning News why he hasn't endorsed his party's candidate for his job: "David Dewhurst had already announced he was going to run against me, even though I was the incumbent in the office. And I don't know why he would want my endorsement since he didn't think I was doing all that great a job."
Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, who is now running for Dallas County judge, quoted in the Dallas Morning News on the marketing of politicians: "I do believe that we are a product."
Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, quoted in the Texas Triangle: "Anyone who looks at polling data now knows that nobody will win the U.S. Senate Race or Governor's race by more than 50,000 votes. If you think about the number of voters in gay bars in Houston, Dallas and Austin on any weekend, there are enough votes to win or lose a senate race or governor's office."
Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, talking politics before a lunch crowd that included someone from the Mineral Wells Index: "Our biggest concern in statewide politics will be voter fraud, especially down in the Valley. The Republican Party will be looking for poll watchers during the election season."
Texas Weekly: Volume 19, Issue 12, 16 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.