Skip to main content

Elephants in the Room

Before the inevitable court battles over redistricting, the Republicans in the Legislature have to draw maps, get them passed and get the governor's signature. And the game for the next week is relatively simple to explain. The House passed the same plan it passed in the first and second special sessions. It creates a new seat dominated by Midland County, home of House Speaker Tom Craddick, and pairs (among others) U.S. Reps. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, and Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock. Some of the political folk in Lubbock don't like that plan, because it would cost them either a Republican congressman or the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House's agriculture panel. Both are important.

Before the inevitable court battles over redistricting, the Republicans in the Legislature have to draw maps, get them passed and get the governor's signature. And the game for the next week is relatively simple to explain. The House passed the same plan it passed in the first and second special sessions. It creates a new seat dominated by Midland County, home of House Speaker Tom Craddick, and pairs (among others) U.S. Reps. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, and Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock. Some of the political folk in Lubbock don't like that plan, because it would cost them either a Republican congressman or the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House's agriculture panel. Both are important.

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, is chairman of the committee handling redistricting, and he doesn't like the House plan. He's pushing one that Craddick, and the political folk in Midland, don't like. Neither is budging, yet, and Craddick says he won't negotiate until the Senate passes a map and he can see what they're trying to do. That should be possible by early next week.

Door Number Three

It might be possible to use Duncan's maps and still give Craddick the result he seeks. In fact, leaving the congressional maps the way they are now could give the southern end of the district (where oil and ranching reign) control over the north (cotton and oil) in a GOP primary.

Say the Senate and the House decide, after all of this, to side with Duncan and leave Lubbock and Midland and all them others in the same CD-19 they're in right now, or something similar to it. Just a few months ago, U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, beat Michael Conaway, R-Midland, in a special election runoff. He beat him by a whopping 587 votes out of 56,505 cast. The current district has 19 counties, and the freshly minted incumbent won in 11 of them.

This is an idea from the Conaway end of the table, but it's interesting. In the special election, there wasn't anything else on the ticket to draw voters to the polls. In March, there will be a Republican president running for reelection, and he's from Midland, Texas. In the special election runoff earlier this year, 46.9 percent of the votes came from Lubbock County, and 33 percent were cast in Ector and Midland counties. That gave Neugebauer an advantage he might not have in a rematch next year. He'll have less than a year of incumbency in the bank, which could give him a small boost. But if the two men were to meet again in a Republican primary next year, the geography will be different.

In the GOP primary in 2000 — the last time that George W. Bush was on the presidential ballot — Midland and Ector counties contributed 47.4 percent of the total vote. Lubbock Republicans cast 36.9 percent of the votes. The numbers from four years earlier were similar: Lubbock made up 38.9 percent of the 1996 GOP primary votes for president, while Midland and Ector counties combined for 47.7 percent. And four years before that —the last time a Bush with Midland ties was on the ticket seeking reelection — the two southern counties contributed 56 percent of the votes to Lubbock's 38.9 percent.

Add this: In the special election, voters from both parties were able to take part in what would be a GOP primary in a normal year. Ector County has a bigger Democratic faction than the other two counties, but Midland County Democrats could be on a Threatened Political Wildlife list. If you send the Democrats in CD-19 to their own primary, the election turnouts change. The folks on Neugebauer's end of the table contend Conaway got more support from Democrats than their guy in the special election, and that the deeper Republican concentration will benefit the fellow from Lubbock. And they offer a reminder: Bush is just as popular in Lubbock and will drive up turnout there, too.

Show and Tell

The Legislature hasn't picked a map, but they're finally making public at least some of what they're considering. The House map is the same one you've been looking at all summer, if you've been looking at any of this at all. It has opposition in the Senate, and probably could not get a simple majority there because of features in West Texas, in Waco, in and around Abilene, in and around northeast Texas, in and around Bryan-College Station, near Victoria, and in and around Houston. That might sound vague, but it costs the map four to seven votes in the Senate.

The Senate, meanwhile, is working with a map drawn up by Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. It only pairs two congressmen, forcing Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, and Jim Turner, D-Crockett, to run against each other in a Republican district. It puts several other Democratic incumbents in jeopardy, and it settles the west Texas fight Robert Duncan's way. House leaders say it's got big problems on their side of the aisle. In any map, watch Waco for problems that could match those in the west. Republican Dot Snyder, a former school board president, wants to run against U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, and her supporters want a favorable map and one that doesn’t split Waco. It's hard to do both things and also settle other geographic problems on the maps. If you want to look at them, go to the Texas Legislative Council's website. The House-approved map is Plan #1268c; and the Senate map is 1341c.

Not Violated Yet, Not Fined Yet, and Not a Deal Yet

Three federal judges say the Texas Republicans who changed the Senate rules to get their way on redistricting didn't violate the Voting Rights Act. That doesn't mean they won't, or that the courts are through with this, just that the judges don't think a change in the rules used to get a map necessarily means that the resulting map will be illegal. Two changes led to the challenge. First, Democrats wanted the courts to tell Republicans that they can't bring up redistricting when it's not required by law. There's already a court-approved, legal plan in place. That question could arise again if the Lege approves a plan and everything goes back to court. Second, the Democrats wanted the courts to tell the Republicans to reinstate the two-thirds rule in the Senate. The judges said nope, and that's that.

• The Democrats who went to Albuquerque without permission won't be fined or penalized — if they behave for the next 16 months. Republican senators who were denied a quorum for 45 days instituted fines and sanctions — no parking, no use of Senate conference and press rooms, etc. — that were designed to force the walkouts to come home. They didn't come home while the fines were running, and they've maintained all along that the sanctions aren't legal, since they aren't in Texas law or in the rules of the Senate.

With the Democrats back, the Republicans temporarily put traffic barrels in their parking spaces to block them from parking, and they continued to say each of the runaways owed $57,000 in fines. But many senators now see the sanctions as a continuation of a fight they want to stop fighting, and they voted to put the penalties on hold. There are still some Republicans in the Senate who think some punishment is in order, though: They got the probation bit added. If the Democrats run off again (for more than 72 hours) without permission, the fines and the sanctions will be reinstated.

• House Speaker Tom Craddick says he and Sen. Robert Duncan had a deal last June and that Duncan reneged. Craddick pitched what he calls the "pancake" plan, with four districts in a stack from the Border to the Panhandle, and each of them controlled by the GOP. Duncan says he took the idea back to Lubbock, felt the pain, and told Craddick it wouldn't work, all before the beginning of the first special session at the end of June. Craddick and Duncan met a week ago with Staples and with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to talk over some of their differences. They didn't get any kind of accord, and some of the aides to those folks say it might have hardened the impasse.

Those Discriminating Texas Voters

Voters carefully picked and chose their way through 22 constitutional amendments last weekend, approving every single idea the Legislature threw at them. We thought that was unusual, but it's not: According to the folks who watch elections for the Secretary of State, voters liked everything they were served in 2001, in 1986 and in 1985. So much for that theory.

The attention in this round, like most of the money and the advertising, went to Proposition 12, which will allow the Legislature to set limits on courtroom liability awards in suits involving medical malpractice and other matters. Those last three words — and other matters — provided a key argument for opponents, but they couldn't get over the finish line. They got close, though: In early voting, the pro-12 forces gathered 57.2 percent of the vote. When the final votes were counted, the anti-12 gang had almost caught them. Your final score: 50.98 percent in favor and 49.02 percent against, with the limit on liability awards being added to the state constitution.

Gov. Rick Perry heavily promoted the amendment, and was joined by First Lady Anita Perry, Dr. Red Duke, and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. It failed in some of the state's biggest counties, but won in rural Texas and in GOP-dominated suburbs, and that was enough.

Voters in four of the state's ten biggest counties — Harris, Dallas, Travis and (narrowly) Hidalgo — voted against Prop 12. The amendment got only 44 percent of the vote in Harris County, losing by 27,567 votes. The promoters of this particular venture were worried about Houston from the start, and moved the amendments election to September out of fear that voters in the state's largest city would be against them. November, when amendment elections are usually held, is also the month of the Houston mayor's race. The local turnout in the 2001 mayor's race was 19.1 percent; turnout for the amendments over the weekend was 13.1 percent. The tort-reformers pushing Prop 12 were afraid the flood of voters — among them, a fair number of Democrats and trial-lawyer sympathizers and other possible antagonists — would swamp their support from other parts of Texas. They moved the amendment elections to September to avoid that wave.

Prop 12 did better in the less populated parts of Texas. If you only count the votes in the state's 30 most populous counties — even with the suburbs thrown in — the amendment came up short. That's with 21 of those counties voting in favor of the amendment; the 'no' votes registered in Houston and Dallas and Austin overwhelmed the peer group.

Several South Texas counties that are reliably Democratic voted strongly in favor of the amendment, however. Voters in many of the Texas counties south of I-10, from Bexar to El Paso, supported the amendment. Hidalgo and Webb county voters were against the amendment, but not in strong numbers. El Paso and Bexar and Cameron and Nueces counties all went for Prop 12. Those are usually strong Democratic counties, putting the lie to analyses that the election results represent a party-line vote in the state. They're also counties where the trial lawyer v. doctors v. business wars have been raging for years, and the advantage was clearly with the folks seeking changes.

That said, both sides considered party politics a subplot to the constitutional elections, and both saw reasons for worry and for glee. Prop 12 got more votes in South Texas than generally go to GOP candidates; but the anti-12 voting was stronger statewide than it has been for Democratic candidates in the last couple of elections. For the tort-reformers, there was this cloud around the silver lining: Medical claims, the subject of this constitutional amendment, are the most popular issue in the tort reform arsenal, and it barely got by. They crowed after the election just the same, calling the vote a nail in the coffin holding Texas trial lawyers.

Of the 254 counties in the state, 174 voted for prop 12, and 78 voted against it. The biggest surpluses of yeas vs. nays came from counties you might not expect: Lubbock, Tarrant, El Paso, Collin, Tom Green, Nueces, Montgomery, Midland, Cameron and Randall. In Lubbock, for instance, 6,700 more people voted for the measure than against it. On the other end were Harris, Travis, Dallas, Jefferson, Galveston, Brazoria, Orange, Liberty, Bastrop and Harrison.

Surging Popularity

Five or six years ago, if you asked most prominent Texas Democrats who ought to head their political party — or why they themselves weren't interested in the job — they treated you like you'd been bonked on the head too much and couldn't reason.

Things have changed. Now that Molly Beth Malcolm — a former Republican who ran for the job then — has announced she will resign next month, there's a horse race to succeed her, and there are almost as many people being mentioned for the job as there are people who will do the actual voting.

Malcolm, who lives in Texarkana but spends much of her time working in Austin, says she's leaving the party to spend more time with her family. Her daughter is getting married. Her stepson, who's in the military, is in Iraq after a stint in Afghanistan. She's been doing this for five-and-a-half years and the job pays nothing. She's not ruling out any future ventures in politics, but says none of the legislative jobs in her area are open. Her legislators include Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and Barry Telford, D-DeKalb. Both have been subjects of speculation in political circles, but Malcolm is convinced both will stay, or try to stay, in the Legislature next year.

We'll give you the list of names we've heard, and the rules of the game and start sorting from there. San Marcos attorney Charles Soechting has been calling around, as has former Sen. Carl Parker. The list of potential candidates includes Houston City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, Dallas attorney Debbie Branson, San Antonio businessman Lukin Gilliland, former state Rep. Patricia Gray of Galveston, former Attorney General Jim Mattox, former state Sen. David Bernsen, San Antonio attorney David Van Os, and former state Senate candidate Mary Moore.

Only 63 people will vote in the election. The state parties each have governing boards that include a man and a woman from each of the state's 31 Senate districts. In this case, that's the State Democratic Executive Committee. The other members are the chair and vice-chair of the party; since Malcolm is resigning, leave her vote out of the total.

Candidates have to file financial reports, but you probably won't see those until later, because the law doesn't add a special deadline in the case of special elections like this one. The candidates do have to file state reports if they start raising or spending money, however, if only to name their treasurers. That's the only official way to know before the elections on October 25 who is running.

Another rule, and this make this kind of interesting: The chair and vice-chair of a political party can't be the same gender. As with the members from each Senate district, one has to be female and the other has to be male. If a man is elected, current vice chairman Juan Maldonado will be forced to resign and there'll be another race to fill his spot, with a woman.

Political People and Their Moves

State District Judge Jeanne Meurer appointed Leslie Lemon to find out if the state is doing what it should to find foster homes for children. Lemon has been a state budget analyst, a Senate committee director, and most recently, a budget advisor to then-Speaker Pete Laney. That judicial inquiry began when the agency delayed adoptions due to budget shortfalls... The American Heart Association named Stephen Brown vice president of public advocacy, which means he'll be working on legislative stuff in Texas. Brown had been at the Texas Medical Association...

Adrian Plesha, communications director for U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, pleaded guilty to charges he made false statements to the Federal Election Commission in his previous jobs, working on the campaign of a California Republican. He'll be sentenced in November... James LeGrand, the former campaign manager for Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, is now managing Orlando Sanchez' second bid for Houston mayor...

Deaths: Howard Graves, who resigned as chancellor of the Texas A&M University System just weeks ago, of cancer. Graves was a West Point grad and a Rhodes Scholar who became an Army general. He came to A&M in 1999. He was 64. When Graves resigned, the school made A. Benton Cocanougher its interim chancellor.

Flotsam, Jetsam, and a Fish Story

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn is still in trouble with the Texas Senate, where they've revived legislation that would take the performance reviews of state government and of school districts away from her office and move them to the Legislative Budget Board. That notion didn't surface until the comptroller and the people in the Capitol went to war over the state budget. That fight started when Strayhorn doubled her estimate of the state's budget shortfall to $10 billion, got worse when she said revenues were tight in the middle of budget-writing, peaked when she refused to certify a budget because she said it spent more money than the state has to spend, and then was iced when she held a press conference to say lawmakers had avoided taxes by raising fees and other costs a total of $2.7 billion. Her response to the takeaway proposal: Lawmakers are punishing the agency because she was "telling the truth." Lawmakers say she should concentrate on making her budget estimates more accurate and say the legislation would remove distractions to that core job.

• Former state Rep. Tracy King, D-Carrizo Springs, says he'll run next year for the seat he lost after the last round of redistricting. He won't be alone: Rep. Timoteo Garza, D-Eagle Pass, says he has no plans to give it up. King was in the House for four terms, but his district was altered the legislative maps drawn two years ago. Garza won the primary runoff by 813 votes out of 21,287 cast, and King wants to try again. King doesn't think Garza will have the financing this time he had last time, since Garza — and, in particular, his father — is no longer associated with the Kickapoo tribe's casino in Eagle Pass. Federal investigators have been looking at the operation of that casino under Isidro Garza, an issue that could arise in a campaign next year.

• A new Democratic fundraising operation has popped up. Annie's List, started by former state Rep. Ann Kitchen, D-Austin, and former statewide candidate Sherry Boyles, started up the money-raising network to help Democratic women running for state offices.

Wesley Clark might be a late entry to the Democratic presidential contest, but not all Democrats were committed. He's starting out with endorsements from 13 Democrats in the Texas House: Gabi Canales of Alice, Juan Escobar of Kingsville, Pete Gallego of Alpine, Ryan Guillen of San Diego, Mark Homer of Paris, Jim McReynolds of Lufkin, Glenn Lewis of Fort Worth, Rick Noriega of Houston, Robert Puente of San Antonio, Richard Raymond of Laredo, Jim Solis of Harlingen, Barry Telford of DeKalb, and Miguel Wise of Weslaco. Raymond apparently put that group together, and Mike Lavigne, whose day job is handling press for Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is helping the Clark group get the word out in Texas.

• Old favorites, Part 1: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, once again filed a bill that would replace legislative mapmakers with a bipartisan panel of citizens who won't be running in the districts they're drawing. That's failed in a number of special and regular sessions, but Wentworth is working on the theory that all of the fighting will make it look more and more like a good idea. As it's written this time, it would apply to congressional redistricting, but not to legislative redistricting. Legislators, after all, would be the ones he's asking for votes.

• Old favorites, Part 2: Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, re-filed his legislation that would change what makes a legislative quorum. Now, it's two-thirds of the members of the House or of the Senate. Under legislation he's filed, a quorum would be two-thirds of the representatives, or senators, who are in the state. Legislators who crossed the state border wouldn't be part of the count. Had that been in effect in August, with 11 Democrats out of state, the Senate could have met with only 14 senators on hand.

• If you go to the website for the Pollywog Guide Service of International Falls, Minnesota, you can get a picture of House Speaker Tom Craddick posing with one of the fish he caught while the lobby rumors back home had him being tested for Parkinson's Disease at the Mayo Clinic. That rumor was unfounded, Craddick says. He was fishing. The photo isn't absolute proof of anything, but it's better than the gossips were offering. Craddick is the one on the left.

And Still More Appointments...

In the last little bit before the beginning of the special session, Gov. Rick Perry made a flurry of appointments. That was his last chance to do so until the Legislature leaves town unless he wanted to rush things and try to win Senate approval for each appointment during a special session. He didn't, so he named these folks to these things:

Carolyn Bacon of Dallas will join the Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance as one of the governor's picks. That panel is already at work, trying to put together a plan or some options for a special legislative session on school finance that will probably be called next spring. She's the executive director of the O'Donnell Foundation...

Dr. Martin Basaldua of Kingwood, a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; TXU Chairman Emeritus Jerry Farrington of Dallas, who's also on THECB; Jodie Lee Jiles of Houston, an exec with First Albany Corp.; and Robert Shepard, who owns an insurance company in Harlingen, were picked for an interim committee set up to study higher education, including funding...

Rissie Owens of Huntsville, who's been on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles since 1997, is Perry's pick to preside over that panel. That might be a short-lived appointment; the Legislature, at Perry's behest, is considering a reorganization of that board during the current special session...

Noe Fernandez of McAllen, Chris Kyker of Abilene, and Kenn George of Dallas were all named to the Health and Human Services Transition Legislative Oversight Committee, a newly created panel that will watch over a merger of 12 agencies into five. Fernandez owns a business. Kyker is a human services consultant, and George is a former state representative who used to be CEO of a hospital holding company...

The Residential Construction Commission gets two new members: Kenneth Davis, a consulting engineer from Weatherford; and Thomas Killebrew of Fort Worth, president of a plan review and inspection company. That panel will register homebuilders and set building standards...

John Brieden of Brenham will get a spot on the Texas Veterans Commission. He's the national commander of the American Legion and an insurance agent...

Quotes of the Week

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas: "I want to thank Tom DeLay and Karl Rove for doing something that we couldn't do ourselves — and that is to unite this Party and these people."

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, returning to the Senate chamber: "Thank you Texas!"

Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, telling reporters why the microphones went dead as Democrats made speeches on their return to the Capitol: "You want to know who turned them off? I did... the chamber had never been allowed to be used for a political rally."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, after the Democrats came back, the crowds demonstrated and the session was officially started: "This body will come together in very, very short order. This is the Texas Senate. We're proud of our ability to be able to work together."

Sen. Ken Armbrister of Victoria, the only Democrat who didn't go to New Mexico, quoted in the Dallas Morning News about the Senate gallery packed with boisterous Democrats on the return of his colleagues: "If all these people had come out to the polls in the last two election cycles, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Where in the hell were they?"

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, quoted in a Dallas Morning News story on the GOP's intra-party impasse over West Texas districts: "I'm not going to surrender, and I can't."

Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb, telling the Dallas Morning News that GOP lawmakers are trying to merge rural East Texas districts with suburban districts around Dallas and Houston: "They have to do that because East Texans are far more independent than they would like."

Leo Lacayo, chairman of the Northern California Hispanic Republican Assembly, telling the Dallas Morning News why some of that state's Latinos support Republican gubernatorial candidates: "We are no longer cookie-cutter Democrats. A lot of us find it liberating to get off the plantation."


Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 15, 22 September 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.


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.

Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today