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The Trouble with Incumbents

Gov. Rick Perry officially opened the call of the special session, confining it at the beginning to the subject of congressional redistricting. He can add more at will. Republicans want to redraw the congressional lines because only 15 of the 32 members of the Texas delegation are theirs. It's the last holdout for Democrats, and the GOP wants to break it down. The current districts could accomplish that. But to win, they'll have to squeeze out Democratic incumbents the voters continue to support.

Gov. Rick Perry officially opened the call of the special session, confining it at the beginning to the subject of congressional redistricting. He can add more at will. Republicans want to redraw the congressional lines because only 15 of the 32 members of the Texas delegation are theirs. It's the last holdout for Democrats, and the GOP wants to break it down. The current districts could accomplish that. But to win, they'll have to squeeze out Democratic incumbents the voters continue to support.

What's it worth to be an incumbent member of Congress in Texas? For Democrats, it was worth a lot in the last elections. They won reelection in several seats that, by the numbers, ought to belong to the GOP. Democrats say that's proof the current maps are fair and that the GOP is presenting voters in those districts with inferior candidates. Republicans say that's proof they need to wipe out the incumbent Democrats occupying GOP territory because of historical gerrymanders. Some numbers:

• U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, won reelection on November with 56.4 percent of the vote, while statewide Republicans in his district won with an average of 58.1 percent. Put another way: There was a 14.5 percentage point swing from statewide Republicans to Sandlin. Roughly that percentage of the voters supported Sandlin while they were supporting the GOP in other races at the top of the ballot. The closest statewide race -- the contest for lieutenant governor -- went to Republican David Dewhurst, who got 51.3 percent of the vote in Sandlin's district. That's a 7.7-point crossover vote.

• U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, got 60.8 percent of the vote in a district where statewide Republicans won with 56.4 percent. The switchovers accounted for about 17.2 percent of the votes. Dewhurst won narrowly, 11.7 percentage points away.

• U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall, got an incredible 25.9 percent to jump; he won with 57.8 percent of the vote while average statewide Republican candidates were pulling 68.1 percent of the vote. Dewhurst won handily in that district, with 62.4 percent, 20.2 percent away from Hall.

• U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, got 58.6 percent of the votes to the statewide GOP average in his district of 52.2, a swing of 10.8 percentage points. Dewhurst lost to Democrat John Sharp, but Lampson outpolled him by 7.5 percentage points.

• U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, narrowly won with 51.5 percent of the vote. But statewide Republicans in that district got 62.8 percent and Dewhurst got 58.1 percent. The jumpers accounted for about 14.3 percent compared to the statewides and about 9.6 percent compared to Dewhurst.

• U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, pulled 51.3 percent of the vote while the statewide Republicans were getting 67.2 percent and Dewhurst was getting 58.2 percent. Swings? 18.5 percent from the statewides and 9.5 percent from Dewhurst.

• Only one Republican won in territory where the statewide Republicans were losing, and guess what? He's incumbent U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. He got 51.5 percent of the vote, 4.0 percentage points ahead of the statewide Republican average in that district and 8.7 percent ahead of Dewhurst in that Democratic territory.

The official declaration allows members to start pre-filing bills. First out of the gate was Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who started with a historically ill-fated bill that would take redistricting out of the hands of legislators who have their futures at stake. It calls for a citizen commission with four Republicans and four Democrats chosen by legislators, and one non-voting chairman to try to keep them from killing each other.

On the Road Again

The Senate set up its own redistricting road show that, if anybody was getting too hopeful, will take the special session into a second week. Unlike the House, the Senate isn't busting into subcommittees. The seven members of Sen. Robert Duncan's Jurisprudence Committee will start on Saturday in Laredo. The Lubbock Republican and his panel will spend Monday in San Angelo, Tuesday in McAllen, Wednesday in Houston and Monday, July 7, in Dallas.

They'll fly without a map, apparently. Although senators have been fiddling with the crayons and some of them have drawn full-blown congressional plans, they still plan to wait for the House to pass a plan before they'll take it up. That's no guarantee they'll use the House plan, but they'll wait until the lower chamber is done before they start their machinery.

The House hearings, meanwhile, drew fire from minority Democrats on the Redistricting Committee who complain that they aren't being sent to hearings involving their own members of Congress, but to hearings elsewhere in the state. Reps. Ruth Jones McClendon and Mike Villareal of San Antonio, and Richard Raymond of Laredo wrote a letter to Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Humble, who chairs the committee, calling the hearings process a mess. "This process is a feeble attempt that puts haste ahead of inclusive participation," they wrote. The three, who had been slated to go to the subcommittee hearings in San Antonio, were reassigned late last week so that none of them would be at the hearings involving one of their own members of Congress.

Not Ready for Prime Time

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, says he's told the governor he doesn't want to make a run at his asbestos legislation during the summer session. He wants more time, he says, to work on his last vote (the legislation didn't get through the Senate during the regular session because it needed one more vote to meet the Senate's two-thirds support requirement).

This next bit isn't necessarily part of the reasoning, but it fits in: Federal lawmakers are making progress on a compromise for a national asbestos registry that might kill any need for a fight on the state level. The feds want a registry of victims whose damages would be covered by insurers and asbestos companies to replace those cases in court. The Janek bill -- and similar federal legislation -- would define who could get onto the registry, and when they'd be eligible.

There's been some talk about putting it on the agenda of the special session, and the governor is apparently willing. But Janek says he doesn't have the votes yet and won't ask for a shot.

Summer Activities

Here's the thing with special sessions -- if you're not one of the people directly involved in the issue of the moment, you don't have anything to do. And on an issue like congressional redistricting, there's not much out there for the average lobbyist to do, either. The other thing is that officeholders can raise money while they're in special session, even from people who's business they're tending to are the donors. If redistricting is the only thing on the table, the regular lobby money isn't in play so much as the partisan money. Voting right or wrong could have effects outside the Pink Building.

That may be so, but fundraisers clot the first week of July in Austin; that's the first week when lawmakers come back. Some require travel: Rep. Ray Allen, in spite of the session, is still planning to hold his golf tournament/fundraiser on Monday, the first day of the special session. The session will be in Austin. The golf tourney will be held in Grand Prairie.

Another thing to do: The Texas Lottery Commission probably wasn't thinking about legislators at the time, but they've set a public hearing on multi-state lottery games for the opening day of the special session, and in the Capitol Building, too. Lawmakers want to get Texas into one of the multi-state, big-jackpot games in hopes of bringing more money into the treasury.

Body Count

Politicians don't often throw grenades. They talk about it a lot, but they usually don't do it. When they do throw grenades, as Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn did last week, they don't usually run to put the pin back in before the explosion. And that happened, too, when Strayhorn and then Gov. Rick Perry announced, in back-to-back press conferences, that she would certify the budget after all, and without a lawsuit or a legal tangle.

When it was done, the whole thing appeared to be a complete loser for the comptroller. She said the budget wasn't certifiable, signed it, and sent it back to the House. The next day, after close negotiations with lawyers and Perry and a zillion functionaries, he announced he was vetoing a couple of spending items to bring the thing into balance. The attorney general declared that on Juneteenth, the House Clerk wasn't officially open for business and the comptroller's uncertified budget was never officially received. The comptroller said things balanced, and the governor had a budget to sign.

Not all of the news was bad for the comptroller. Strayhorn strained her already thin relationships in the Pink Building, but she got a couple of wins that were missed in the heat of the moment. She folded her cards only after getting letters from Perry and from AG Greg Abbott that essentially agree with her legal position -- the budget was uncertifiable and her only legal option was to reject it. Abbott's out was the Juneteenth fix and the governor's vetoes of enough appropriations to turn the red ink to black. He had been ready to file suit, saying an "anti-bounce" provision in the budget itself trumped her ability to reject the budget. Perry wrote, "I accept your finding that the budget was not balanced..." and went on to say that he hoped she would reassess in light of his vetoes. She's taking that as a legal win, since Abbott was on the verge of suing her on Perry's behalf.

If you score this mess, she hurt herself badly with the insiders, but looks good to voters. The insiders wanted her to certify the budget without the fuss and without forcing a lawyer confrontation over her power to say whether the thing balances. She probably would have been better off saying the budget was in the red unless the governor vetoed some bills. Instead, she pulled the pin and said the budget was uncertifiable. "The bill was not balanced and it was time for a decision," she said later. Having pulled the pin, she didn't hold her position. That looks weak, but only to the Austin crowd. Outside, she's got an easy TV spot for her next political race, boasting that she stood down a Legislature that wanted to spend more money than the state had.

No Check in the Mail

We put the onus on the Senate for a budget provision that denies timely tax breaks to large taxpayers, but the item wasn't added on the East End of the Capitol. It wasn't added on the West End, either, but in conference committee. We disparaged the Senate when we could have disparaged everybody. For that, we are sorry, sorry, sorry.

The provision, worth some $120 million to the budgeteers, forces taxpayers who are due $250,000 or more in refunds to get the Legislature's permission for a reimbursement. For refunds of taxes overpaid after January 2000, the taxpayers get interest at the prime rate plus one percentage point. But for refunds of money overpaid before that date -- by some estimates, that's more than half of the money in play -- the state doesn't pay interest.

Some of the taxpayers, and some of the consultants trying to help them get refunds (commissions are attached, you see), want the governor to add that issue to the call for the special session. Their theory is that between the governor's vetoes and a change that could be made to the date of a funds shift in a transportation bill, the money to fix their problem will be available. But we haven't heard anyone official saying that's a great idea. Also, if new money is available -- and this is just an educated guess -- the refund gang probably isn't first in line for it.

Nothing Big Left to Cut

As it turns out, the governor didn't cut enough from the Legislature's budget to make it balance without the vetoes he made earlier in the week. Perry chopped $81 million from the $117 billion spending blueprint, $68.2 million of it general revenue. He cut most of that -- $54.5 million -- from higher education. The governor's eraser wiped out the State Aircraft Pooling Board, whose job he said can be done by airlines and charter planes and the Texas Department of Public Safety. He killed the Telecommunications Infrastructure Board, which handed out technology grants to schools and libraries until it was ordered to stop last August.

Perry zapped the Wildlife Damage Management Service, saying he would only have wiped out certain parts of it if the Legislature had made each of the agency's duties a veto-ready line item; instead, the only line to veto was the sum total for the whole agency, and the whole agency was killed.

The Criminal Justice Policy Council, the Council on Environmental Technology, the Board of Nurse Examiners, and the Research and Oversight Council on Workers' Compensation all got the hook.

The higher education cuts were aimed at research money, and in most cases, the governor said the money would be better used in trying to attract matching funds or to aid economic development or to finance programs that "address critical occupation shortages." The University of Houston, Texas Tech and the University of Texas campuses in Arlington and Dallas took the hardest hits.

Gov. Perry started his budget message with another plea for what he calls "transparency" in the budget. Lawmakers lump different expenditures together to limit any governor's ability to veto specific programs within agencies. In effect, they give governors the power to wipe out whole agencies, but rarely give them an opening to knock out specific programs by taking away their money. Perry's start-of-session budget was full of zeroes where the dollar amounts should go, but it was put together in a fashion that would have given him more power when lawmakers left town. They didn't bite, and he indicated he'll try again later.

Perry also mentioned in several spots that money deleted here or there could be reappropriated through budget execution. In English, that means the Legislative Budget Board, which operates when the full Legislature isn't around, could take the money he saved and spend it elsewhere. That's not a new idea, but the governor's proposals would go beyond what the LBB typically does. That body -- half senators and half representatives, with their leaders in charge -- typically stays within the blueprint okayed by the full Legislature.

• There's still talk about fixing a date in some transportation legislation to free up more money for the budgeteers and if they figure out a reason to do it, the governor could add it to the agenda of the special session. When she booted the budget last week, the comptroller said one problem was a money transfer date in that transportation bill. Move the date into the next budget, and a couple hundred million dollars are freed.

Rumors, Rested

Ask Mike Toomey, chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry and a former legislator and lobbyist, if he is really considering a run for comptroller or some other statewide office, and you won't get a Yes or a No. What we got was another aide to the governor calling back with this quote: "Even for Austin, that's a wild rumor." Well, sure, but is it true? When we pointed out that the quote didn't really answer the question, we got the quote again.

Glenn Smith, most recently the campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez Jr., has joined up with the Oakland, California-based Rockridge Institute, a liberal think tank set up in reaction to what it calls three decades of successful conservative work to reframe American values and language in ways that bolster conservatives. Smith says Sanchez hasn't put any money into the organization and says no Texas money is involved. His title is managing director/consultant.

The Imperiled Majority

How is it possible to sound so beleaguered when you've got a 26-vote margin the 150-member Texas House? The Associated Republicans of Texas is trying to raise money to target vulnerable Democrats in the Legislature's lower chamber, and they make things sound most alarming.

Their current mailer, a memo that includes Sens. Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Bob Deuell of Greenville, Jane Nelson of Lewisville and Todd Staples of Palestine among the eight senders, says they're aiming at 10 seats and hope to secure a safe majority in a legislative body where almost three-fifths of the members are Republicans. A slick newsletter that comes with the memo includes this line: "From a practical standpoint, our majority in the Texas House of Representatives is too slim to prevent the Democrat minority from effectively shutting down the government whenever they want."

The group will meet next month to get a bead on which contests it will contest. They expect to pay particular attention to Democrats who went to Ardmore but who live in districts where voters didn't appreciate the work stoppage. They'll also be looking at Republicans who won last year in marginal districts to decide whether those legislators need bolstering in the 2004 races.

The mailer says the group will target legislators but makes no mention of targeting colleagues of the four senators whose names were used. Though there are several House members listed as members of the group's steering committee, none of their names were used on the memo.

Texas Politics, Past & Future

Jailed after his bond was revoked (and still in the slammer at our deadline): Former Attorney General Dan Morales, for listing income of at least $20,000 a month on loan applications for two cars (a Lexus and a Mercedes) after telling the court he didn't have any income. Morales was in court for a procedural hearing on federal charges of lying on a home loan application, filing a false tax return, using campaign money for personal spending and trying to personally benefit from the $17.3 billion tobacco settlement won by the state when he was AG...

Jailed, briefly, for contempt of court: Texas Association of Business employees Jack Campbell and Cathy DeWitt. The two have refused to testify before a grand jury that's investigating whether corporate money was illegally used by TAB in the 2002 state elections. TAB's legal fight has now moved to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and Campbell and DeWitt are out on bail...

The Next Special, the Last Regular

The House rejiggered its school finance committee, adding members and creating working groups on issues like taxes and facilities and employee benefits. There are eight subcommittees and 29 members now. The group has a panel of six members on an "executive committee" that will sit down at some point with six senators and four public members appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to hash out a school finance plan. House Speaker Tom Craddick said a special session on the subject could happen as early as fall, but predicted it will happen next spring. The state's top leaders have promised to work out a school finance plan this year, and they left some things out of the state budget, assuming they could patch it later. For example, the budget calls for $346.4 million for school books in 2004, but only $2.2 million the next year. That helped balance the budget this time, but lawmakers will have to patch that second year to keep the state's schoolbook program on track.

• Texas legislators filed 9,234 bills, constitutional amendments and resolutions during the regular session, which is apparently a record. But throw out the riff-raff and count the number of actual bills and they filed 5,592, on par with three of the last four legislative sessions. But filed and passed are two different things: The number of bills passed by the Legislature -- 1,384 -- was the lowest since 1995. So was the percentage passed -- 24.7 percent. Your final stats: House members filed 3,636 bills and got 825 of them to the governor's desk. Senators filed 1,956 and got 559 to the Guv. House Joint Resolutions, or HJRs, get to be constitutional amendments if they come of age, and 15 of 100 will be on the ballot in September. Senators got 6 of 61 SJRs to the ballot.

Political People and Their Moves

Texas Education Commissioner Felipe Alanis quit on a day guaranteed to put his resignation at the bottom of the stack--the governor and the comptroller were announcing a deal on the budget. Alanis, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry a year ago April, wasn't reappointed by the governor when that term expired in February. Though their parting words were polite, the meaning of the non-appointment was clear enough. Alanis, the first Hispanic to hold the state's highest education post, says he'll leave at the end of July...

Houston's Eduardo Aguirre Jr. will be the first head of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services -- part of the new Homeland Security Department. His new agency will take over some work previously done by immigration regulators. Aguirre, a banker, was appointed by president George W. Bush and just got confirmed by the U.S. Senate...

Gone, without words from her side or the other: Margaret Reaves, head of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, where she pestered wayward judges with well-publicized spankings in the forms of official reprimands, censures and such. The agency's general counsel, Seana Willing, will serve as interim director until a permanent one is found...

Deputy Attorney General Jeff Boyd is leaving for his old job as a partner in the Austin offices of Thompson & Knight. AG Greg Abbott hired Houston attorney Edward Burbach for that spot. Boyd, who joined the agency three years ago under former AG John Cornyn, had been in charge of civil litigation for the agency... Gov. Rick Perry appointed Robert Griffith of Round Rock, Brenda Saxon of Austin and reappointed Beverly Stiles of Rockport to the Texas Commission for the Blind. Griffith, a banker, was once Round Rock's mayor. Saxon is financial manager for St. David's Health Care System. Stiles is the former executive director of the Retina Foundation of the Southwest.

Quotes of the Week

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, asked by the Houston Chronicle whether she rejected the state budget to advance her own politics: "Hogwash! Hogwash! Hogwash! You've got to do what you've got to do, and the budget did not balance." After backing up and certifying the budget: "This is not about politics. This is about my constitutional obligation to assure a balanced budget."

Gov. Rick Perry, asked whether the budget certification problems could have been hammered out without all the press conferences and other hoopla: "I am not advised. You are more interested in process. I am interested in results."

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, quoted first in Bond Buyer and then in the Houston Chronicle: "I am seriously considering the possibility of an election that would abolish the City of Houston's government and merge those services into Harris County. A consolidation would create the opportunity for more efficiency and accountability."

Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large of the Washington Times and United Press International, quoted in the Washington Post about a cloying letter he wrote to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein: "You don't get an interview by saying, 'I think your policy stinks, you're an SOB and please give me an interview. That would be ridiculous. You obviously try to ingratiate yourself. How did I get major interviews with foreign leaders over the years? Clearly, not by insulting them."

Houston Police Chief C. O Bradford, who has been battling problems at Houston's crime lab and allegations that he knew about the trouble and did little or nothing about it, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "Trial by ambush -- that is a Texas criminal justice problem."

Democrat John Sharp, who was elected to the Texas House in 1978 with "fun, humorous" Tom DeLay, in the Houston Chronicle: "I just think either Washington is a really bad place, or somebody really pissed this guy off."

Alan Fleischer, father of former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, quoted in the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate on how he raised his sons: "If they wanted to eat, they had to be Democrats. I guess if Ari had to rebel, being a Republican is better than being on drugs, but not by much."


Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 3, 30 June 2003. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2003 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.


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