The political trunk sale that follows every round of redistricting is underway in earnest, with candidates checking out the new goods and signing up for the stuff they want.
And the jockeying for statewide offices – most of which won't appear on ballots until 2006 – has already started, with Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn taking roundhouse swipes at Gov. Rick Perry while Republican activists scramble to figure out what to do during a family brawl.
The Legislature is done, in other words, and it's time for politics. The 2006 races will develop in their own time, but watch for key plot points and players. School finance is on the horizon, and the comptroller is the official who has to say, finally, whether a tax bill will work and how much it will raise. That's a lever. The governor is using her attacks on the Legislature to turn the party machinery against her. That's a lever. Perry has two years to work with, and he should be able to drive some issues and some arguments to his advantage and to the detriment of his potential competitors.
Both could easily get muddy in this fight, and that could present opportunities for non-combatants, like U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who might be interested in the government housing that goes with the state's top office. A mid-summer poll of 1,031 Texans done by Jeff Montgomery & Associates had Hutchison beating Perry by 12 points in an imaginary head-to-head race. That result will find an argument from the governor's partisans, but it's a conversation piece just the same. And Perry has some residual negative ratings from last year's gubernatorial contest. He won easily, but the barrage of negative ads from Democrat Tony Sanchez Jr. left some scar tissue.
With Democrats limping and legislative and congressional maps drawn for conservatives, most races for the rest of the decade will be settled in March, in GOP primaries. There is no good reason to expect ambitious Republican politicians to fall in line without some family fights. Texas Democrats were among the first to notice: They lived through this in the 1960s when the GOP was anemic.
Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall
This seems oddly appropriate, with half the pols in the state lining up for their next gigs, calling and begging for money and support: An Austin psychiatrist, a friend of a lobbyist of our acquaintance, describes some Texas political personalities as "malignant narcissists," and isn't joking.
On that basis, we'll play this straight and go with the textbook description of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder she sees, and we will leave it to you to apply this test to the politicians of your choice: "A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following: 1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements); 2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love; 3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions); 4) requires excessive admiration; 5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations; 6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends; 7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; 8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her; 9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."
Some Real Prospects, Some Tire Kickers
Texas Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, will run for congress in CD-1, where U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, is the incumbent. The district has been redrawn to Sandlin's political and geographic disadvantage: Only 40 percent of his current district is in his new one, and the baseline voting history is weaker for a Democrat. In the 2002 Lite Guv race, Republican David Dewhurst got 55 percent of the vote. Dewhurst also prevailed in Sandlin's current district, but only with 51 percent of the vote. Christian isn't alone. Dr. Lyle Thorstenson of Nacogdoches is exploring, officially, and Longview attorney John Graves and former 12th Court of Appeals Justice Louis Gohmert are also in.
• State district Judge Ted Poe hasn't even taken off his robes yet and he's already being mentioned as a candidate in CD-2. He's not talking yet, however. Judges can't talk about stuff like that until they're out of office, and his resignation doesn't take effect until the end of the month. Poe was appointed by then-Gov. Bill Clements in 1981. Also looking at that race: A former Enron employee named George Fastuca, who has called around the GOP to see whether he'd have a shot.
• Texarkana attorney Wes Jordan will run for the seat left open when Barry Telford's term expires. Telford, a DeKalb Democrat, will serve out his term but has decided not to seek reelection. Jordan, a Democrat, has been Telford's treasurer for a while. He's an Aggie with a UT law degree.
• If all of the gossip runs true, CD-25, which runs from the Texas-Mexico border to the state capital, could feature a race between U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, and state Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Mission. Doggett's current district runs east to Houston and has a strong Republican undertow. It's also got some strong candidates and potential ones, including former assistant U.S. Attorney Mike McCaul and state Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston. McCaul's father-in-law is San Antonio broadcast magnate Lowry Mays.
• Colin Strother is leaving the employ of Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, to work for former state rep and Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar, telling friends it'll be a race against U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio. Cuellar lost last year to U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, and has apparently decided that in the new districts, he'll fare better against the Democrat than the Republican. Watch the money in this one: Cuellar got to the end of September with virtually nothing left in his federal campaign account. Rodriguez had only $167,595. Bonilla had $790,546 in his war chest.
• Dallas speculators had Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, jumping into a Senate race against John Carona, R-Dallas, but spike that one. Hartnett says he'd love to be in the Senate but won't challenge the incumbent. Some in the GOP are still mad about Carona's support for Democrat John Sharp in last year's race for Lite Guv, and he's getting the silent treatment from some tort reformers who think he's too friendly with asbestos lawyers. Those camps apparently stirred up the rumors.
• Chris Shindler, a Republican businessman, will run against freshman Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, in HD-116. Shindler works in New Braunfels, but lives in San Antonio.
• The newly created CD-11 – drawn for the benefit of the citizens of the Permian Basin – is gonna see a contest. Midland accountant Michael Conaway is in, as expected. He finished second in a special election for Congress earlier this year and thinks he can win without Lubbock in the way. Bill Lester, who teaches political science at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, will be on the GOP ballot (he'd already planned to run, but in a different district before the maps were reworked).
• Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Carrollton, formed an exploratory committee to look at CD-24, which was tailor-made for him. That looks like smooth sailing in the Republican primary, and it's a Republican district. The noise is coming in the succession race that would occur. Carrollton City Councilman Matthew Marchant (Kenny's son) was the odds-on favorite, but longtime Dallas County Commissioner Jim Jackson has a committee exploring a run for the House race.
Heads Up, Dr. Wohlgemuth
Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, has added her name to the list of people considering a run for Congress in CD-17, which runs from Fort Worth's southern suburbs through Waco to Bryan-College Station. Actually, in a prepared statement, she says she's decided to run, based on encouragement she says she is getting from supporters here and in Washington, D.C.
In her announcement, Wohlgemuth – who was on the Appropriations Committee and co-authored a sweeping health and human services reorganization bill – claims credit for reducing "overall spending from state revenues for the first time since World War II." You're gonna see that phrasing in a number of races: Lawmakers reduced general revenue spending while increasing the overall size of the state budget, in part because they spent more in the previous budget than they brought in, and they had to use current money to cover those past expenses. That's what that shortfall bidness during the first half of the year was all about. Come election time, they'll say they cut state spending and unless they go on to say they cut the whole state budget, they'll technically be correct.
Her announcement prompted Rob Orr, a Burleson Realtor, to say he'll run for her House seat if, in fact, the new congressional maps hold in court and she runs for Congress. He's on the chamber of commerce board and on an advisory committee to the Texas Real Estate Board.
Wohlgemuth is the second Republican in that race; Dot Snyder of Waco, a former school board president, had almost $200,000 in the bank at the end of September and has been assembling a campaign for several weeks. And Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, has told several people he's looking. The winner will face U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, in a district that's Republican on paper. But so is the district Edwards now represents.
Early handicapping: Edwards has an Aggie network, and Texas A&M University has been added to the district. That's Ogden's turf. Wohlgemuth is from Johnson County, regarded in other parts of the district as a Fort Worth-Dallas suburb. And Johnson County is upstream from Waco in a meaningful way: The dairy farmers along the Brazos River tributaries to the north are responsible, to some degree, for the, um, fragrance of Lake Waco, a city water supply.
McLennan County has the biggest population bloc, with 213,517 people, followed by Brazos, at 152,415, and then Johnson, with 126,811, but Republican primary voters are distributed differently in the 12-county district. In the 2002 GOP primaries, the three areas each weighed about the same. Brazos County produced 27 percent of the votes, McLennan produced 28 percent of the votes, and Johnson County produced 16 percent. Hood County, which is next to Johnson County and ought to be fertile turf for Wohlgemuth, produced 15 percent of the vote in the last GOP primary.
Wohlgemuth's decision to run is 180 degrees away from what she was saying this past summer, when the congressional maps were simmering. When we wrote in July that one of the districts drawn by House mappers looked tailor-made for Wohlgemuth, she corrected us, saying she wasn't interested in running for Congress. She said it didn't suit her, and said she wanted to stay in Texas so she could actually see her husband (an optometrist) and her two daughters on a regular basis.
Here's a fundraiser where you actually get something for your money. The folks raising money to endow a Sam Attlesey chair at the University of Texas communications school are holding an online auction of framed photographs, some signed and some just interesting to politics and sports buffs. You can look them over and make bids at www.FriendsOfSam.org. The gallery includes signed photos of George W. Bush, Nolan Ryan, Olympic divers, and a quartet of presidents all in one place. They're taking bids through the end of the month.
• Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, told a reporter doing a story on national Democratic fundraising that the Texans who held out on redistricting by going to Oklahoma and New Mexico are "the rock stars" of the party right now. That's true – they draw crowds – and it's also fodder for the other side, as you will see if you take your Internet browser to www.texasgop.org/rockstars/.
Texas senators serve four-year terms unless they're unlucky after redistricting. After redistricting and the elections that follow, senators hold a drawing to see who just won a four-year term and who must run again in two years. A four-year term is always a lucky deal, especially for senators who just survived tenure-threatening challengers in the most recent elections – like Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, and Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, did in the 2002 elections. Both drew four-year terms, winning time for recovery and to repair problems exposed during the recent campaigns.
This year, because congressional redistricting didn't take place at the same time legislative redistricting went into effect, the senators who drew four-year terms got an extra bonus: They can run for Congress, if they so desire, without risking the loss of their Senate jobs. Winners in the congressional elections would simply resign the state seat and take the federal seat without spending a day as private citizens. Losers would stay put in the state Senate.
These senators drew four-year terms in January: Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria; Kip Averitt, R-Waco; Barrientos; Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Kyle Janek, R-Houston; Jon Lindsay, R-Houston; Frank Madla, D-San Antonio; Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant; Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso; Todd Staples, R-Palestine; Wentworth; and John Whitmire, D-Houston. Of that group, several are in or near new congressional districts that might welcome new faces in light of redistricting: Averitt, Barrientos, Deuell, Ellis, Lindsay, Madla, Nelson, Ogden, Wentworth and Whitmire. That's not to say any or all of them are interested or running, just that they'd get a free shot if they wanted to take it.
Not Dead Yet
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle says he hasn't decided whether he'll seek reelection next year, but says that's his normal course and that he'll address that question in the next couple of weeks. He also leaves the distinct impression that it's too early to measure him for a political casket.
The Travis County DA has more political juice – at least in state government – than other DAs. That's because they get to investigate "public integrity" complaints against state officeholders. Earle hasn't said anything publicly to indicate he's tired of the job he first won in 1976. But political speculators have two Democrats poised for the prosecutor's job: Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, who lost last year's attorney general race to Republican Greg Abbott, and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who is in a political vise if the new redistricting maps hold up in court. Doggett could still run, but he'd have to choose between a district that reaches from Austin to the Houston suburbs and one that runs from Austin to the Texas-Mexico border. Watson says it's too early to make any moves.
Earle says he's "had conversations with several people about it," but hasn't decided whether there will be an opening for another candidate to seek and hasn't – and won't – bless another candidate if there is an opening: "That would be up to the voters."
Both Texas political parties are looking for new bosses. Texas Republican Party Chair Susan Weddington quit that post to take over the new OneStar Foundation set up by Gov. Rick Perry. That outfit's job is to boost volunteerism in the state and work with charitable and faith-based programs.
Democratic Party Chair Molly Beth Malcolm quit a few days earlier, saying she wants to spend more time with her family. The Democrats will go first, followed a week later by the Republicans. And the Democrats have a fight on their hands, while the Republican contest might turn into a cakewalk.
Former Land Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Garry Mauro and San Marcos attorney Charles Soechting emerged as front-runners in a field that thinned to five and also includes state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, San Antonio attorney David Van Os, and former state Senate candidate Mary Moore of Bryan. As we went to press, they hadn't settled on how to conduct their votes. Among the choices: Have a vote of the 63 members left on the State Democratic Executive Committee, followed by a runoff; or hold a vote, knock the weakest candidate off the ballot, hold another vote, and so on until only one candidate is left.
The State Republican Executive Committee will meet a week later, and their contest began with fewer candidates and fewer sharp elbows. Tina Benkiser of Houston and Gina Parker of Waco are both in the hunt. Benkiser was the early favorite with people we talked to, but this is grassroots politicking and this isn't an attempt to predict the outcome. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans are interpreting state law to mean that only women are eligible for the job. The statutes say the party chair and vice-chair can't be the same gender. David Barton is vice chair and the GOP takes that to mean Weddington's replacement has to be female. The Democrats, on the other hand, say the law applies to regular elections and not replacement deals like what's going on now. Juan Maldonado, the vice chairman, can stay put, by their reading, and male candidates are eligible to run.
• Anniversaries: Gov. Bill Clements shocked the Democrats and some of the Republicans 25 years ago, winning the governor's race against Democrat John Hill and breaking a streak that stretched back to Reconstruction. His gang is putting together a celebration... That same year, Texas voters installed U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, in office. He's still in office, so his isn't a party – it's a fundraiser.
Dig Out the ABBA Tapes
Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, is apparently in line for a presidential appointment as ambassador to Sweden. He's coy about it, but the feds who vet these things have been visiting people in Austin to comb Bivins' resume in preparation for an appointment and Senate hearings. Bivins, among the most active fundraisers for George W. Bush, says in a written statement: "My respect and admiration for President Bush is long-standing and deeply-felt. While I would be humbled to be considered for any position in the Bush Administration, at this juncture my focus is my service in the Texas Senate."
He told local reporters a few weeks ago that he'll run for reelection, but an appointment could open up a contest for the spot he's held since 1989, and the prospect has revitalized speculation that initially started right after Bush was elected three years ago.
It's a Republican seat, with some of the same north-south tension that pervaded the recent congressional redistricting fight in West Texas. Amarillo is the anchor on the northern end of the district, and the southern end includes Midland-Odessa. As usual, both population centers would like to have their own senator, and both have about equal weight, where population is concerned. In the last GOP primaries, Amarillo was dominant: Randall and Potter counties together accounted for about 40 percent of the votes; Ector and Midland counties contributed 24 percent. Two more Panhandle counties – Deaf Smith and Hutchinson – added 10 percent more to the northern momentum.
The last rumors of a Bivins' departure spurred candidates on both ends, notably former Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger and Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, on the north; and former Texas Restaurant Association President Bob Barnes and former Odessa Mayor Lorraine Perryman on the south.
Political People and Their Moves
Federal Judge David Hittner of Houston will take senior status in a year, allowing President George W. Bush to appoint a new federal judge, but will continue to hear cases at about the same rate he hears them now. That'll allow the Ronald Reagan appointee to start collecting some of his retirement bennies while he's doing what he's doing...
Raif Calvert, who's been dealing with legislators on behalf of the attorney general's office for three years, has been hired to do political work for the Texas Academy of Family Physicians and the Texas Academy of Internal Medicine Services. That first group has a political action committee; the second doesn't...
Robert Black, who's been the chief spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance for the better part of a year, is on his way to the governor's office, where he'll join the communications staff. He's been a spokesman for then-candidate and now-Attorney General Greg Abbott, and the mouth of the Republican Party of Texas. He'll replace Stephanie Goodman, who is on her way to the communications shop at the Health and Human Services Commission. Jim Hurley, meanwhile, is the acting voice of TDI...
Kurt Meachum, who has been working for Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, moves over to the political side as executive director of the House Democratic Caucus...
Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is joining the Houston-based Lanier law firm. He had his own practice until now. Mark Lanier, who heads the eponymous firm, irked some of the tort reformers earlier this year with his claim that medical malpractice caps would protect abortion clinics. That contention made some tort-minded conservatives in the Lege nervous for a while, before med mal limits passed and were approved by voters...
Appointments: Gordon Johndroe, who worked on then-Gov. Bush's gubernatorial reelection campaign and for the presidential race two years later, has been named press secretary to First Lady Laura Bush. Up to now, he's been flacking for the Department of Homeland Security...
Bush tapped Stuart Holliday, a former Naval officer who worked in the policy shop when Bush was governor, for this title: Alternate Representative of the United States of America for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations. Holliday was executive director of the Dallas Council on World Affairs until he joined Bush, and has been working at the State Department...
Deaths: Former Gov. Preston Smith, who served four years in that office – from 1969 to 1973 – after serving six years each as a state representative, a state senator and lieutenant governor. Smith, who ended up in Lubbock after living in smaller towns near there, was the first Texas governor from the western part of the state, and he was particularly influential as an advocate for Texas Tech University. He begat some political children, among them former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, who once described himself as Smith's "bagman." Smith remained active to the end, attending a Tech football game about a week before he died, at age 91.
Quotes of the Week
Gov. Rick Perry, asked about bitterness among officeholders who've been fighting over redistricting for most of the year: "The taste is sweet in my mouth."
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, lashing out at Perry for leading the charge to take two popular performance review programs out of her official domain: "Texas taxpayers and Texas school children and the Texas comptroller's office are being punished for me telling the truth."
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, on private state negotiations with a company that wants to pump groundwater there for use elsewhere, in the Austin American-Statesman: "It's a stand up deal. This land, nobody has ever offered to lease it. These people want to write us a big check and royalty payments. I have a fiduciary obligation to look at that."
University of Texas Chancellor Mark Yudof, quoted in a Dallas Morning News story on rising college costs: "I don't favor gouging the students. We're not. But if we don't have the money, it's reasonable for students to take out a $20,000 loan."
Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, on the House Democrats' run to Ardmore earlier this year, in the Dallas Morning News: "I think the biggest surprise was not that we thought of a quorum break, but that we could pull it off, and get that many members out, because 51 is a lot of worms to herd."
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 19, 27 October 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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