Several months ago, a spokesman for Attorney General John Cornyn popped off about the Democratic "Dream Team," calling it a racial quota ticket that ultimately wouldn't work. Cornyn disavowed it right away. Then U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm told Republican Party state delegates that Democrats were trying to divide the state's voters on the basis of race. Soon after, in a press grab in Washington, D.C., Cornyn said Gramm was right to say race shouldn't be the basis for the elections.
At the time, there was a fair amount of conversation over whether they did all that on purpose or whether the Republicans' tongues got ahead of their brains. Cornyn's campaign said they didn't think race should be part of the conversation. Players on both sides wrung their hands at the very idea that anyone would talk about race out loud, and about how voters would translate what the political types were saying. But race remains prominent in the overtones and undertows of this election cycle.
Just look at what happened to Cornyn's opponent, Ron Kirk, who is Black. Kirk, in a campaign appearance reported by the San Antonio Express-News, said he would back President Bush in a war with Iraq, but he suggested to supporters that things would run differently with new people in charge.
The Express-News quoted him at length: "You go and look at the people who are responsible for all the corporate wrongdoing, you ain't going to find a lot of people who look like us. If you go to Wall Street and look at the people who have been defrauding our nation and brought our economy to its knees, you ain't going to find a lot of people who look like us. You go to the battlefields of Afghanistan, you look in the burial grounds of Arlington National Cemetery... I wonder how excited they'd be if I get to the United States Senate and I put forth a resolution that says the next time we go to war, the first 500,000 kids have to come from families who earn $1 million or more."
Later, he said he made the comments because he thought Republicans were trying to turn the Iraq issue into a question of patriotism. And he said they'd be less likely to jump into war if different people were doing the fighting: "The reality is, look, when you go and look at who fights this war, it's the kids from middle income America. It's disproportionately ethnic, disproportionately minority, and for him to question my patriotism questions their patriotism. I'm insulted by that. And if it was the children of the wealthy, of those Enron executives [Cornyn] was so cozy with that we were sending into battle, I promise you he would be more thoughtful. He'd be just as deliberative as the rest of us."
Four days later, Kirk apologized without retracting his comments. He said he supports Bush's efforts on Iraq and thinks Saddam Hussein's regime should end. And he said he's concerned about the soldiers who might be on the front lines in Iraq: "I regret the way I stated those concerns, and had no intention of offending anyone..."
How it will play out depends on how many people know about it. The crowd, by most accounts, liked the speech, but it was a clinker when it got to a broader audience. Democrats can win class wars, but Kirk's words won't resonate with upper middle-class Dallasites who make up part of the base of support he built as Dallas mayor. (We were surprised, though, when someone sent us something from Secretary of State Colin Powell's memoir, My American Journey: "I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed managed to wrangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country.") One thing in Kirk's favor: The story of his remarks didn't get a lot of media play, especially on television.
Geography is one of the biggest problems for the Republican in the race to replace Phil Gramm in the U.S. Senate. That's why John Cornyn is running his first negative commercials in the huge and important Dallas-Fort Worth media market. To win, Cornyn has to cut into Ron Kirk's popularity in his home territory, which typically belongs to Republican candidates and is all but essential to their success statewide. The Dallas mayor's job is a high profile, nonpartisan position, at least on paper, and Kirk had significant support from traditionally Republican areas and voters and opinion leaders there. Those are people who would typically support Cornyn, and he has to win them back.
He's starting by tearing them away from the other guy. The ad says Kirk is against conservative judges, that he called the Bush tax cuts "devastating," that he's opposed to missile defense, and that Hillary Clinton is working hard for him. Cornyn's on the other side of all that, the ad says, and ads that Bush is working hard for him. The Republican National Committee is paying "hard money" for the ad on Cornyn's behalf, which they can do up to a limit of $2.2 million, according to the campaign. Among the RNC's contributors is the Cornyn state campaign account, which gave $3.1 million. That spot is running only in the DFW area.
There and elsewhere, Cornyn is running a resume ad to build up his relatively weak name identification among voters and to tell voters that as attorney general he went after deadbeat dads, sued nursing homes and started the Texas Internet Bureau to go after pornographers. Kirk isn't mentioned, and viewers either see or hear the candidate's name every couple of seconds. Curiously, they don't hear or see the work "Republican" in the commercial. (Candidates of all stripes are leaving out the partisan hooks that typically peppered many of ad campaigns in previous contests. The word "bipartisan," which worked wonders for George W. Bush, remains a favorite this year.)
Kirk ran ads during his primary fight against Victor Morales and Ken Bentsen, but hasn't been on television since and isn't saying when he will be. But he'll have a presence before he spends a dime. His first ad of the general election—paid for by the Texas Democratic Party and featuring a number of Dallas business leaders saying good things about Kirk's time at City Hall—started running an ad on his behalf as we went to press. That ad does mention the party affiliations of the people doing the talking. The first of the eight speakers, for instance, is David Biegler, a Republican and the former chairman of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce. It says, in quick order, that he worked with everybody, wasn't partisan, attracted new business, created jobs, cut the budget and taxes and crime rates. It ends with Kirk making a pitch against politics and for "ending the blame game," a phrase that marked his mayoral bids. It never mentions Cornyn, Democrats, or the U.S. Senate race.
• Eating his own quotes marked the low point of the week for Democrat Kirk, but it was a rough week for the Democrat. The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, or CLEAT, gave its endorsement to Cornyn a couple of weeks after interviewing the two candidates in front of the press and a squadron of TV cameras. The Democrat had to move an East Coast fundraiser after reporters found out the original location was the home of a lawyer whose firm worked for Swiss banks fighting claims they were storing loot stolen by Nazis in World War II.
Political campaigns don't like to talk about their television plans, but it looks like the biennial barrage of commercials is about to accelerate. The gubernatorial candidates have been banging their drums for months, but over the next month, you'll see the rest of the statewide candidates and a fair number of congressional and legislative candidates hit the airwaves. And you can start by adding an ad from the Libertarian Party's candidate for governor. Jeff Daiell is running a recycled commercial on Houston cable TV (a very small number of ads will actually run). It was originally done for the party's 2000 presidential candidate and features an apparently abused wife who turns out to be a voter, an unfortunate but strangely appropriate metaphor. The "husband" who kept breaking promises in spite of her continuing loyalty? That would be the Democratic and Republican parties.
Down Ballot, but On Air
Democrat John Sharp could go up as early as next week, answering for the first time a television siege from Republican David Dewhurst that has been running, off and on, for more than a year. Dewhurst's ads are starting to move voters, by most accounts, and it's getting close enough to Election Day for Sharp—who's at a financial disadvantage in the race—to start talking back. He's got biographical spots in the can, and some spots from former baseball hurler Nolan Ryan, too.
Ryan is also on the radio, both for Sharp and for Republican land commissioner candidate Jerry Patterson, a Republican.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander doesn't appear to be in much electoral trouble this year from Democrat Marty Akins. But Jim Hightower's 1990 campaign is stored in her memory banks, and she'll spend money on television next month just like she would in a tough contest. Hightower didn't mount much defense against his Republican opponent in 1990, because the Democrat was popular and well known and didn't think he could lose to a relatively unknown party-switching former member of the Texas House. That's how Rick Perry won his first statewide office. Rylander doesn't want to flunk the history test, and her ads will start around the first of October.
There will be some television below that point on the ballot, but not a lot. Downballot statewide races are less well financed and if a candidate can mount only a minimal air war, they'll often decide the money ought to go to mail and radio instead. Patterson is running that strategy. Democrat Tom Ramsay will have a minimal media campaign, but their opponents—Democrat David Bernsen and Republican Susan Combs, respectively, might buy some TV time.
Left Hand, Right Hand
The Perry campaign sent out a weekly email notice to supporters that touts a new Perry commercial featuring a youngster talking about how he'll get a better education because of the governor and what he's doing to beef up public schools.
It's warm and it's fuzzy and it's running statewide.
The next item in the notice blasts Democrat Tony Sanchez for running a negative campaign—evidenced by Sanchez' most recent ad—while Perry is running positive stuff. The Sanchez ad says insurance rates have skyrocketed under Perry, while Perry was taking contributions from insurers. Voters, it says, are paying the "Perry premium" on their insurance.
But while they were talking about good guys and bad guys, the campaign began a new ad—a negative spot called "Hypocrisy" that scolds Sanchez for promoting insurance reform while a subsidiary of his bank is profiting from sales of the same insurance policies and practices the candidate deplores. It starts by saying he has "a history of laundering drug money, mismanagement, $161 million taxpayer bailout," and closes by saying he's "taken huge contributions from personal injury trial lawyers who drive up your insurance costs."
Hey, Everybody! Look What My Opponent Called Me!
One of the rules of political campaigns is that you don't repeat a slander. If your opponent calls you a so-and-so, it's best not to repeat the charge even as you refute it or return fire or do whatever seems the best next step. But nasty emails floating around in a Texas Supreme Court race have prompted a lawsuit, and that's prompted a campaign fight. Democrat Margaret Mirabal is running against Republican Steven Wayne Smith. She got an email that called him a Nazi, among other things, and sent it to a couple of friends, supposedly asking them what she should do. Long story short: The email got around and now Smith is suing Mirabal for libel. And the lawsuit may turn out to be the biggest issue in the campaign. The Texas Civil Justice League, a tort reform group that's backing Mirabal, says Smith's suit is just the kind of frivolous lawsuit TCJL is trying to stop. Given the low profile of most judicial races, that might be all voters hear about between now the elections.
State Rep. Ron Clark's nomination to a federal judgeship is moving along at a speed that could take a vote away from Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, in the race for Speaker of the House. But unless Clark is defeated on Election Day, the loss of the vote might not matter to the West Texan.
Clark, a Sherman Republican, is a Craddick supporter and is running for reelection to the House. He's also President George W. Bush's pick for a spot on the bench. The U.S. Senate committee that hears these things was set to approve Clark at our deadline; approval by the full Senate generally follows quickly after the committee's work is done. Nobody we talked to saw any more obstacles on the North Texan's way, and he appears to be on his way to a black robe and a tall desk.
So? Clark will be on the November ballot. The deadlines for pulling his name off the ballot and for replacing him have passed. If he gets the expected nod from the Senate, he'll resign from the Texas House. If Clark wins the election and the judgeship, he could simply refuse to take the oath for the state office in January, and the governor would call a special election to replace him.
His seat would be empty, however, when the vote for Speaker takes place, taking his vote away from Craddick and also lowering the number of total votes needed for a majority from 76 to 75. If the Republicans can put together 75 votes for a speaker, they could win without Clark. But Craddick isn't the only Republican candidate, and Clark's vote is important to him in the early rounds of the race.
If, on the other hand, Clark doesn't win in November—if he's a federal judge by then, he won't be campaigning for the House job—then Democrat D.L. "Donnie" Jarvis, an attorney from Van Alstyne, would be the new representative from North Texas. That presumably would move the district's vote from Craddick's column to that of Democrat Pete Laney, who is seeking a sixth term.
It's not hard to find Republicans in Texas who think that George W. Bush didn't really have any coattails in the 1998 elections. That, in spite of the fact that he topped a ticket that swept all of the statewide offices that year, putting Republicans in every one of them. The argument against tails is that he won by so many votes while many of the candidates right behind him barely squeaked by. Bush beat his nearest challenger by almost 1.4 million votes. But the next guy on the Republican ticket—Lite Guv candidate Rick Perry—beat Democrat John Sharp by only 68,731 votes. John Cornyn won the AG's race by 371,749 votes, but then voters veered again, putting Carole Keeton Rylander behind the comptroller's desk by only 20,223 votes. Bush's coattails, some contend, were short or nonexistent.
Those are the words they say. But look at the actions they take: Bush Season is underway in Texas politics. Texas Republicans, facing their first major election in years without Bush or his father on the ballot, are hooking up with Bush or anyone they can get from his administration to boost their chances in November. The president, First Lady Laura Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney started appearing at fundraisers for Perry and Senate candidate John Cornyn and others earlier this year, but the frequency will pick up over the last six weeks of the campaigns.
Advisors Karen Hughes and Karl Rove made appearances for Senate candidate John Cornyn and attorney general candidate Greg Abbott. Cornyn in particular will be a beneficiary, since the GOP margin in the Senate is narrow and Bush can make a case that he personally needs to have Cornyn in office. Bush will do a second fundraiser for Cornyn at the end of the month in Houston. Cornyn will get help next month from George P. Bush (nephew of the president), and then one from former First Lady Barbara Bush. President Bush is also planning to do another fundraiser for Perry before the elections, but we haven't seen a date for it yet.
Pollsters Richard Murray of the University of Houston and Bob Stein of Rice University, working for the Houston Chronicle and KHOU-TV, have Republicans leading or tied in each of the big statewide races. They polled 879 likely voters in two flights—September 3-10 and September 12-15—and say the results have a margin of error of ±3.3 percent. In the Senate race, they say John Cornyn leads Ron Kirk 42 percent to 36 percent. Rick Perry leads Tony Sanchez 46-37 in the governor's race, they say, and David Dewhurst leads John Sharp in the lieutenant governor's race, 41-35. In the race for attorney general, Democrat Kirk Watson and Republican Greg Abbott in a virtual tie, 33-32. In an ominous note for Democrats, the pollsters say the coalition of minorities that Democrats hope will drive them to victory hasn't gelled. Hispanic interest, they say, is anemic.
Republicans were loading up an attack of the pollsters before the results came out. When it showed them in the lead, the GOP hacks softened their hit. But they still say the poll is skewed to Democrats and that Republicans are doing better in their own polls than in the Chronicle-KHOU poll.
• More than half of the political contributions in Texas come from donors in 16 of the state's zip codes, and all but a few of those high-dollar areas have Anglo majorities, according to a new report from Campaigns for People. The Austin-based campaign finance reformers say business districts dominate the list and say downtown Austin was the source of the greatest single pile of money from 1998-2000. That's where the lobbyists are, and lots of their clients funnel their money through the Austin folks. The highest-ranking residential areas on the list won't come as a surprise, either: Tanglewood and River Oaks in Houston, Park Cities in the Metroplex, and Travis Heights, Tarrytown and Westlake Hills in Austin. That group teamed up with the NAACP, the Center for Voting and Democracy and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project to present the study. Their conclusion? Contributions buy access, and the people who don't contribute don't get the same representation as those who do. Since the contributions come from predominantly Anglo areas, they say, minorities end up with less effective representation.
• Surprised? Democrat Kirk Watson, the former Austin mayor who's running for attorney general, got his first newspaper endorsement for the general election campaign (most papers are still interviewing candidates). The paper? The Hale Center American, in the Texas Panhandle. Watson's a Democrat, and the town's most prominent citizen is, too: House Speaker Pete Laney.
• The tort reform ads running on television might look local, but they're part of a campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce trying to sell voters and consumers on the idea that some products—cars, for instance—include a "lawsuit abuse tax" in their price tags.
• John Sharp has made a sport out of getting more Austin endorsements than his Republican rival, but the Texas Restaurant Association endorsed David Dewhurst in the lieutenant governor's race. Sharp responded by cobbling together an association of his own: Restauranteurs for Sharp. And he's still claiming he has 153 of the 156 trade group endorsements in the race.
• The folks running the "www.DavidDewhurst.com" website circulated an email making fun of the Republican's refusal to tell people whether he would pull down his television commercials during the days leading up to 9/11. And they attempted to play off of an earlier mistake by his campaign, which used a contemporary photo of a German Luftwaffe officer in a magazine ad that referred to homeland security. But they went overboard looking for a picture to use; they ended up sending out a photo of Dewhurst's head superimposed on picture of someone wearing a World War II Nazi uniform. An aide to Sharp called it "hilarious" but said it wasn't their work.
• Voters are allowed to carry certain kinds of push cards into polling places now, and trade groups and others are popping up designs they hope people will use. An early example: The Texas Medical Association's PAC's push card says "Keep this prescription in your wallet through Election Day." And it includes this: "Warning: Not voting may be hazardous to your health care." The political action committee hopes docs will hand those cards out to their patients.
Political People and Their Moves
Ruth Cymber, who worked for Phil Gramm when he was at Texas A&M University and who works for him now that he's a United States Senator, is moving to the other Texas senator's office at the beginning of next year. She'll stick with Gramm, who's not running for reelection, until the end, then will become chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Dave Davis, the current occupant of that job, is moving into a new co-equal spot with the new chief in the Hutchison's operation. He'll concentrate on policy issues... Eric Andell, a former Houston judge who went to Washington, D.C., with the Bush gang, has a new job there: He's deputy undersecretary (to Education Secretary Rod Paige) in charge of the newly created Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools... Jill Warren, a former House candidate who's been lawyering for Attorney General John Cornyn, left the state gig for private practice; she's joined the Austin lobby team at Bracewell & Patterson... The American Heart Association is promoting Tim Conger. The former aide (to former Speaker Gib Lewis and to former AG Dan Morales) will still run the AHA's Texas lobbying operation, but will also work on their heath initiatives, like prevention, treatment, and underserved markets... Lobbyist Sabrina Thomas Brown has left the Bickerstaff Heath law firm after four years to open a shop of her own... Gov. Rick Perry chose Charles Speier of San Antonio for an open spot on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Speier is an assistant regional director for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and is also a former San Antonio police officer... Perry named Dr. Robert Strayhan, also of San Antonio, to the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments. He's a physician and psychiatrist in charge of clinical services at the Rio Grande State Center... Consumers Union is in the process of hiring someone to work on utility issues during the next legislative session, but Janie Breisemeister isn't leaving. She's taking on a project that won't keep her sitting in House State Affairs Committee meetings until the wee, wee hours of the morning. The Player to be Named Later will have that pleasure... Janna Burleson, last seen leaving the Texas Senate, has landed in the governor's office, giving advice on criminal justice budget issues... Deaths: Ruth Harris Bennett, mother of Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and mother-in-law of former Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire. She was 88... Doris Rowley of Cedar Hill, mother of attorney general candidate Greg Abbott. She was 76.
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall, revealing his plans to the Longview News-Journal: "I'll give you this assurance, that two years from now unless we're in a dreadful war and the president asks me, I'm not going to run again." The version in the Tyler Morning Telegraph: "This is absolutely it."
Corpus Christi lawyer Rene Rodriguez, quoted in the McAllen Monitor after attorney Tony Canales said he would demand a refund of a $5,000 contribution to Tony Sanchez if three of Canales' political rivals were made honorary guests at a fundraiser: "If he is really a friend, he needs to lock himself in a room until 7 p.m. on Election Day."
Miami-Dade (Florida) Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler, quoted in the Miami Herald on her state's latest attempt to conduct an election, this time with electronic voting machines: "We've gone from dead folks voting to live folks not being able to vote."
John McStay, a member of the board that invests money for the University of Texas, telling the Houston Chronicle that UTIMCO followed industry practice by not revealing performance statistics for some investments: "It's not like we had a monster under the table. Some are in the ditch. Some are not. It's a game of percentages."
U.S. Senate candidate John Cornyn, in a Dallas Morning News story on candidate's views on discrimination at country clubs, allowing as how he doesn't play golf: "That's something me and my wife may take up when I get to Washington."
Van Zandt County Clerk Elizabeth Everitt, after commissioners ignored petitions with 900 signatures and voted to cut the number of early voting sites to just one, in the San Antonio Express-News: "Well, this is Van Zandt County. You never know what's going to happen."
Texas Weekly: Volume 19, Issue 13, 23 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.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.