Democrat Tony Sanchez has spent enough money trying to become governor of Texas that he's made the contest a national news item. In the latest financial reports, Sanchez reported spending $26.2 million, a three-month bender that brings his overall total to $57.5 million. Republican Rick Perry spent a measly $10.5 million during the past three months–that's under $120,000 a day, for crying out loud–bringing his total to date to $17.2 million. The national news? Spending in the Texas governor's race has already topped $75 million, putting the contest here on the scale of the California gubernatorial contests that hold most of the records.
And the hottest part of the campaign is just beginning. The gubernatorial candidates had their first debate (while two baseball playoff games were going on other channels, which is almost as good for audience suppression as scheduling a debate against high school football), and both got the only two things candidates hope they'll get from this kind of theatre.
First, they didn't step on any land mines. Neither Perry nor Sanchez said anything that set them up as objects of ridicule or that gave succor to the enemy.
Second, they both stayed on message. The debate was an hour-long version of what the candidates have been saying on the stump and in their television commercials and direct mail campaigns. For Sanchez, that amounted to a quick introduction of his business record followed by an attack on Perry for–as the Democrat put it–taking money from big contributors and then doing their bidding. Perry started with a one-minute (that was the time limit) version of his pitch, saying experience is important, that he's the guy who has it, and slinging tar at the other guy's business credentials. Sanchez said Perry's experience hasn't protected the state from the fiscal and regulatory problems it's got, while Perry said Sanchez' business resume raises questions about the Democrat's abilities and leadership skills. They smiled a lot, but they were throwing rocks.
Where did they fall short of perfect? Neither candidate left the debate with a new advantage or tool to use in the campaign. Sanchez didn't fall into Perry's hands. Perry, who was much more polished than the Democrat, didn't fall into Sanchez' hands.
The Buddy System
Put it one way, and Gov. Rick Perry is getting an endorsement from a respected Texas politician who's on the other side of the party line and of the racial fracture that defines the contest between Perry and Democrat Tony Sanchez. Put it another way, and the same guy who brought you the trial lawyers who are now described by tort reformers and Republicans as the Tobacco Five is now presenting, for your consideration, the incumbent Republican governor. Either way, former state representative, attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Morales is back in the game, and he likes Perry more than he likes Sanchez, who beat Morales in the primaries earlier this year. Morales, who would have been Perry's opponent had he won the primary, says Sanchez is trying to divide the state's voters along racial lines. He's staying out of other races, he says.
That prompted us to call Democrat Victor Morales, who lost a primary runoff for the U.S. Senate to former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. He says he won't endorse anyone in that race, and says he's never endorsed anyone or asked for anyone else's endorsement. He has talked with Republican John Cornyn several times since he lost to Kirk, but he's not planning to do anything official. How will he vote in that race? "That's my personal thing, if you don't mind," Morales said. "I haven't decided yet."
A Fast Docket
Rep. Ron Clark, R-Sherman, has suspended his campaign for reelection. Clark said a week ago that he'd like to delay the start of his tenure as a federal judge so he could campaign for–and perhaps partly serve–another term in the Texas House. He said he had business affairs to close, and said he would be willing to put the judgeship on hold through the next legislative session.
But a couple of U.S. senators raised a stink, saying Clark's request was contrary to the Bush Administration claim that it needs federal judges to fill long-open spots in the courts. Their complaint got into The New York Times, which said the White House was responding by speeding up the paperwork on Clark's judgeship, and that was that. Clark will take a federal seat in Beaumont in a court that last had a judge 18 months ago and that now has a backlog of more than 3,500 cases.
That afternoon, Clark said he would stop campaigning. The Senate has already approved his nomination by President George W. Bush, and Bush was ready to sign the final papers as we went to press. But on his way out, Clark asked the people in his district to go ahead and vote for him over Democrat Donnie Jarvis. The way the timing worked out, Clark can't pull his name off the ballot. And with the flap in Washington, D.C., over his request for a delay, he's no longer in a position to campaign.
At the press conference announcing that, Clark said voters could vote for him. If he wins in November, the governor will have to set a special election–probably for January–to replace Clark. By forcing that second election, Clark said, voters would be able to have a real choice. And he ended by asking Jarvis to suspend his own campaign.
Jarvis replied with a press release congratulating Clark on his judgeship and saying he–Jarvis–doesn't want to waste taxpayer's money with an "unnecessary special election."
Here's what happens to the race for Speaker of the House as a result of all that. Clark won't be in place to vote for Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, or for any other Republican. That gives an incremental advantage to Democrat Pete Laney, who wants a sixth term in the presiding officer's chair. If Jarvis wins the election in November, that's another Democratic vote and another notch for Laney. That means Jarvis–who hasn't been at the top of the strategic list this year–could get some help from Democrats outside the district. And the Republicans will likely mount an effort to get Clark elected. Just because he's out of the game doesn't mean the GOP can't promote a vote for him.
All Dressed Up and No Place to Go
Aaron Peña, an Edinburg Democrat who has already locked up his race for a spot in the Texas House, is using the time between now and the election for a publicity stunt to draw attention to drug abuse. Peña's teenage son died last year after a drug overdose, and to draw attention to the issue and to his campaign to create a rehab and detoxification center in South Texas, Peña is walking from a drug rehabilitation center in Hunt, in the Texas Hill Country, to the Capitol in Austin next week. The route he's chosen is about 125 miles and he'll do it over seven days.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
A formerly secret lawsuit settlement details a multi-million-dollar award to attorney general candidate Greg Abbott and reveals a little-known loophole in the state's financial disclosure laws that allows public officials to receive particular kinds of income without telling voters how much money they're getting, where they're getting it, or any conditions that are attached.
Abbott, who was crippled when an oak tree fell on him in 1984, sued the River Oaks lawyer who owned the tree. The homeowner brought his arborist into the lawsuit, and they reached a settlement with Abbott before the case went to court. The settlement periodically pays Abbott large amounts and also will pay him a monthly annuity for the rest of his life. He says the settlement was worth about $3.5 million at the time it was signed; if you add up the payments he's likely to get over time, the total surpasses $10 million. His lawyer, Don Riddle, received a fee of more than $1 million over five years.
Abbott is a tort reform candidate and some of the lawyers familiar with his own case say the legal reforms he supports have the effect of pulling the ladder up behind him. Tommy Fibich, the Houston lawyer who got his hands on the settlement and faxed it to reporters, says Abbott's case would be impossible to win under current laws and says that he, as a personal injury trial lawyer, wouldn't take it on. Abbott says that's nonsense and contends the case would work out now just as it did 17 years ago, "except that it would probably be worth a whole lot more money."
Fibich says that he is a friend of Roy Moore, the lawyer whose tree toppled on Abbott, but would not say where he obtained an unsigned copy of the settlement agreement. He did say that he didn't get it from the campaign of Democrat Kirk Watson, and that campaign won't comment on the settlement or anything related to it. And he said he made the settlement public because of his anger over an Abbott fundraising letter that bashes Watson as a personal injury trial lawyer. Fibich says Abbott, "in the darkest time of his life, went to a personal injury trial lawyer," and says it's hypocritical of him to bash those lawyers and back those reforms after what he's been through.
Abbott, who worked as a judge for a decade before quitting to run for AG, says that's a faulty argument. He says the tort reforms he backs wouldn't cut out the kinds of damages he received, but would limit suits and awards that have gotten out of hand. Fibich and others like him, Abbott says, are arguing only because tort reform threatens them financially. In Abbott's settlement, the specific kinds of damages are not spelled out–it doesn't say a particular amount is for medical expenses or another part is for pain and suffering or another part is for lost income. It just spells out the sums and says in its legal way that the settlement ends the claims. Aetna and USF&G, the insurance companies that covered the homeowner and the tree company, were ordered to pay without admitting fault.
When we first wrote about Abbott's accident and lawsuit earlier this year, he said the settlement was private and declined to share it. (He did tell a whopper in the form of a truth, saying the award was for "over $100,000.") At the time, we checked the personal financial statement he filed as a member of the Texas Supreme Court (and previously, as a state district judge in Houston), and nothing in that filing indicated any income or assets that came from a settlement. Abbott's settlement calls for $4.6 million in 14 payments through 2022 and for lifetime payments that began at $5,000 per month and increase annually. He currently gets about $9,000 a month. All of the payments to Abbott are tax-free.
But, as it turns out, the state doesn't require officeholders to report the kind of income Abbott receives. Officeholders have to report occupational income, stocks and bonds, money held in trusts, real estate, business interests, income from rents and royalties and interest and dividends, certain kinds of financial gifts, personal loans and leases. But not income from annuities that resulted from lawsuits.
Candidates are allowed to report more information than the law requires, but not many people do that. Abbott thinks it's unnecessary. The disclosure laws are set up to reveal conflicts of interest and sources of influence on a candidate. The money he gets doesn't fit that definition, he says, and he adds that candidates should not be asked to report it.
Not Exactly a Boom
The Texas Secretary of State won't have a full set of numbers for a week or so, but if you peek in the oven, you'll see that the number of registered voters in Texas hasn't changed much in spite of all the hype from both Republicans and Democrats about signing up new ones.
October 7 was the deadline for voter registration for the November elections, and since it was a postal deadline–letters are still in the mail–and because counties have a few days to file information with the state, the numbers aren't yet complete. That said, the big counties file on a weekly basis and as of the last Friday before the deadline, there were 12,780,270 registered voters in the state, including 2,518,685 with Hispanic surnames. (The state counts Hispanic surnames because it has to mail out Spanish-language voter information, and that list of names is the mailing list for that stuff.)
In November 2000, the number of registered voters in Texas was 12,365,235. In that presidential election year, 6.4 million voters showed up at the polls, or about 51.8 percent of the registered voters, according to the SOS. In November 1998, Texas had 11.5 million registered voters, and 3.7 million of them, or 32.4 percent, voted. In 1994, when there were a number of hotly contested races, turnout was 50.9 percent. If that were to happen this year, it would mean a turnout of more than 6.3 million voters, but the pollsters we've asked are forecasting lower numbers, from a low of about 4.3 million voters to a high of about 5.5 million.
Both parties have been talking up their voter registration efforts, and one nonprofit headed by former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros once bragged it would sign up 1 million new voters. Unless there's a surprise coming in the final numbers next week, those boasts fell flat.
The state's election officials are working on a data tangle that makes the increase in registered voters with Hispanic surnames appear to be larger than it is. Two years ago, they said two million registered voters fit that description, or about a half million fewer than the current number. But for reasons only a programmer could love, the computers didn't count voters with Hispanic surnames who didn't check one of the boxes for gender on the form. State officials say the old number was about 300,000 names short of what it should have been, and the growth in the number of Hispanic-surname voters isn't as dramatic as it first appears to be.
Celebrities, Endorsements, and a Backroom Debate
• Actor/Republican Chuck Norris is doing campaign tours. So far he's been out with attorney general candidate Greg Abbott and with Gov. Rick Perry.
• Jeb Hensarling, a Republican running for congress in the CD-5 district that starts in Dallas and hooks east and south, is touting new endorsements from the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association. Hensarling is running against Ron Chapman, a former Dallas judge and the owner of a well-known name in that region.
• AG candidate Kirk Watson touted endorsements from emeritus and current Baylor University presidents Herb Reynolds and Robert Sloan. Watson is an alumnus and they've signed a letter going to other Baylor grads around the state touting him. Abbott, the Republican in that race, is the choice of several police groups, including the Texas Municipal Police Association, the Department of Public Safety Officers Association and several associations from big cities and counties.
• The Green and Libertarian Party candidates for governor were shut out of the KHOU-Houston Chronicle debates in Houston, and they won't be on the podium at the Dallas debates later this month, so they've put together their own gig. They got a classroom in the Welch building on the University of Texas campus for a 7 p.m. debate on a Friday night. And they weren't exclusive like the major party counterparts. Libertarian Jeff Daiell and Green Rahul Mahajan said they invited the Perry and Sanchez campaigns to join them for a discussion of the issues.
Between the Sports and Weather
Television commercials are breaking hot and heavy now; we saw five in a row after a newscast this week, and early voting is still two weeks off. Gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez is hitting mailboxes every five or six days now, and House and Senate candidates around the state are starting up their direct mail campaigns. If you think television is harsh this year, wait for the mail and remember the past: Mail is for the hard stuff, TV is for the warm and fuzzy stuff. It's not a rule and it's not always true, but the point is solid enough: Mail can be ugly.
• The attorney general's race is finally on the air, an oddly late entry to the air wars that is partly attributable to the close races above it on the ballot. Attorney general candidates usually get more attention, but with polls that say all of the top races are in play, the two guys who want to be the state's top lawyer are struggling for money and attention. The wait is over: Greg Abbott is up with a commercial about the tree that fell and crippled him and how he went on to become a respected judge. Kirk Watson's commercial touts his success as mayor of Austin, bringing businesses to town.
• U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk is running a television ad that says he supports the Bush Administration's tax cuts. On the stump and in press conferences, he's telling reporters and normal humans that he would delay next year's tax cuts–part of that same package–because it would have the effect of increasing deficit spending during an economic downturn. That mix was unpalatable to Republican John Cornyn, who says Kirk is trying to have it both ways and ought to pull his commercial off the air. Cornyn said the tax cuts would help "restrain government spending," but would not offer any examples of spending he thinks ought to be restrained. Cornyn's current television spots start with a tape of George W. Bush telling a crowd he wants the Republican in the Senate. Kirk's spot tries to convince voters the election "is not about party or the president."
• Land Commissioner David Dewhurst is touting his work for veterans with a spot on the veterans nursing homes and cemeteries his agency has opened and promoted. That one will go into rotation with the preexisting Dewhurst spots, one touting his principles and one kicking his opponent. John Sharp, that opponent, hasn't laid a glove on the Republican yet, or even mentioned him in a commercial. Sharp's newest ad touts his college tuition plan, saying he would use the state's lottery money to pay for college for Texas high school grads who maintain a "B" average. He says on the stump, but not in the ad, that the lottery money won't be available until after the current budget crunch is solved and that that problem would have to be fixed before his program could be put into operation. A similar spot is running on Spanish television.
Flotsam & Jetsam
• Democrat George Robinson, running in the open HD-8 seat against Republican Byron Cook, put the wrong guy in a lab coat for a mailer. Doctors in that district noticed that the "doctor" in the mailer–that guy with the white coat and the stethoscope–is a dentist.
• Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has apparently settled into the David Dewhurst camp, although she hasn't made any official endorsement of the Republican candidate for Lite Guv. Nelson was ticked at Dewhurst after he voted for a redistricting map that she thought folded, spindled and mutilated her district. Later, she allowed her name to be included on a "Women for Dewhurst" invitation and then said it wasn't an endorsement. And now? She campaigned in her solidly conservative district with the Republican.
• New boss, new policy: The Texas Lottery's new acting executive director, Gary Grief, started by belaying a command to lower the size of the lottery’s smallest jackpots. Each time someone wins a jackpot, the lottery goes back to a minimum size of $4 million. If nobody wins, it gets bigger and bigger and so on until there's a winner. Grief's predecessor, Linda Cloud, moved to lower that minimum pot to $3 million because of lagging sales. But Grief rescinded that order and says he'll study the issue himself before any changes are made.
Political People and Their Moves
Outbound U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm will get a job and a pay raise when his term is up, and the new gig is with the industry he used to oversee. Gramm, who was head of the Senate Banking Committee when the Republicans had control of the Senate, will be an investment banker with UBS Warburg, an arm of one of the world's biggest banks... The upper ranks are thinning at the state's Health and Human Services Commission. The head honcho, Don Gilbert, announced earlier this year that he'll retire at the end of the calendar year. Add to the debarkation manifest Marina Henderson, Gilbert's executive deputy commissioner, retired at the beginning of the month, and Linda Wertz, state Medicaid director, who is retiring at the end of the month. No replacements have been named... Move Texan Tony Garza one step closer to the home of the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City. Garza, a republican who is now on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission, is President George W. Bush's choice to be the next ambassador to Mexico. The Senate committee that heard his testimony gave him unanimous voice vote approval, moving the nomination on to the full Senate... Matt Beauchamp, the zany Illinois Libertarian we mentioned last week, is running for secretary of state and not–as we mistakenly had it–for comptroller. He's still good for comic relief from this political season, though, at www.15orFree.com... The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved two Texans for spots on the federal bench: Alia Moses Ludlum, a U.S. magistrate from Del Rio, and Ed Kinkeade, who's on the state's 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, are up for full Senate confirmation... Packing up: U.S. District Judge Eldon Mahon of Fort Worth, recovering from a fall for the last year, decided to take inactive status after 30 sometimes high-profile years on the bench. He's 84.
Quotes of the Week
Former gubernatorial candidate Dan Morales, a Democrat, endorsing the incumbent Republican over Democrat Tony Sanchez, who beat Morales last spring: "My love for Texas demands that I place politics and partisanship aside in favor of supporting the candidate in this campaign whose election would clearly be in the best interest of Texas. The challenges we face as a state demand the most experienced and most accomplished political leader Texas has to offer. That leader is Rick Perry."
Tony Sanchez, telling the Austin American-Statesman which parts of the state he thinks will be tough on him because he is Hispanic: "It's just that north part, when you get past Dallas County to those northern counties, they are just very conservative, and I think my name 'Sanchez' will have some adverse effect. I don't think I'm accepted there. There are pockets of West Texas where I don't think I'm going to do well because of that."
Houston Democratic consultant Marc Campos, telling the Dallas Morning News that the top Democratic candidates should be doing more to address the political divide between Blacks and Hispanics: "They need to be campaigning together, locking arms. But the thing happening in Austin is they don't want to scare white folks. Well, guess what? I think white voters know that Ron Kirk is an African-American and Tony Sanchez is a Hispanic."
Republican Party spokesman Dan Ronayne, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide whether Democrats could replace New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli on the November ballot: "Removing a candidate from the ballot for the sole reason that he's losing is terrible. There was nothing legal or physical that prevented him from continuing in the election."
U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, asked by the Dallas Morning News about the possibility he would be appointed to some office by President George W. Bush's administration: "They didn't call, and I didn't want them to call. In terms of public service, I've had enough."
Texas Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson, talking up the good ol' U.S. of A. in the San Antonio Express-News: "I think there are three reasons this country is very strong. One, I can shoot the finger at anybody I want to and not worry about being locked up. Two, I have a gun to protect myself. And three, there's a free press that can write whatever in the hell they want to write. Everything else is window-dressing."
Texas Weekly: Volume 19, Issue 16, 14 October 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.