In the last presidential election, George W. Bush easily beat the field, at least in Texas. He got 3,799,639 votes while Al Gore was pulling in 2,433,746 votes here. That's a difference of 1,365,893 – quite a safety buffer when it came to tallying the state's 32 electoral votes (the state will have two more electoral votes in 2004, because of the two congressional seats added after the last census; state's get a vote for each person they elect to Congress).
But while he was easily winning 59 percent of the popular vote in Texas, Bush was losing it nationally. Nationally, Gore beat Bush by 543,895 popular votes. Bush won the electoral vote, but his gang would like to win both kinds of votes when reelection time comes next year.
If you're hunting for some reason to run a vigorous Texas campaign for a candidate who's likely to win here without ruffling his hair, you might find it there. Bush won the 1998 gubernatorial race with 68.6 percent of the vote. The Democrat in that race, Garry Mauro, got just 30.9 percent (Gore pulled about 38 percent two years later, with a bigger turnout). A larger margin for Bush in the 2004 presidential contest in Texas in the popular vote could offset losses elsewhere. Some of the Republican ops in Texas (and in other Bush states) want to run up the numbers as best they can, for that reason and for bragging rights if Bush wins nationally. Conjure up a target, just for conversation: If turnout is the same next year as in 2000 and Bush can reproduce the percentage he pulled against Mauro in '98, he'd add more than 600,000 votes to his total, just in Texas.
The Texas co-chairs are U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, and Gov. Rick Perry. Perry told reporters the campaign will be run from Washington, D.C., instead of Austin this time – the candidate doesn't live in the Texas capital anymore – and said he and his colleagues will spend a fair amount of time traveling the country on Bush's behalf. They'll also be part of the money machine, standing in at functions in Texas designed to raise money from supporters here for use in other states.
Presidential adviser Karen Hughes, echoing other Bush aides, said they're expecting a close race in what she said continues to be a closely divided country: "I don't think those of us who lived through those 36 agonizing days of the Florida recount want to go through that again." She said the percentage of swing voters in the electorate has dropped to about 7 percent from 16 percent since the mid-1980s, and the Bushies want to go after those people.
The GOP push for Bush makes more sense if you look at what will be right behind him on the ballot. Republicans have spent the whole year trying to improve their numbers in the Texas congressional delegation. If the redistricting ball bounces their way and they get new maps, they'll have candidates running with a decent chance of knocking off a mess of incumbent Democrats.
Republicans think it will help their numbers just to have Bush in the mix, but it'll work better if they're active about it. Perry's political advisors still remember the 1998 election. While Bush was winning big, Perry only won the lieutenant governor's race by about 70,000 votes. The lesson: Coattails are great, but it's better to have coattails and a good ground game. Putting some money into the Bush effort in Texas could turn his presence on the ballot into more seats in the delegation.
If the ball bounces toward the Democrats in the redistricting battle that's now in court, there will still be several competitive seats. And with a redistricting loss in Colorado potentially followed by one in Texas (not a prediction, just a possibility–put down the phone), the Republicans would be looking for every edge they could get in congressional races.
Add Amarillo restaurant owner and attorney Jesse Quackenbush to the field of candidates trying to grab a West Texas spot in the Texas Senate. Quackenbush, a lawyer and businessman who ran for the statehouse last year as a Democrat, is running for the Senate as a Republican. Last year, he lost to Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, in a landslide: Swinford got 66 percent of the vote. As a Democrat, Quackenbush pulled in 8,872 votes in November 2002. Also, there's now a Midland candidate – businessman Don Sparks – increasing to three the number of hopefuls on the southern and slightly less populated end of the district.
Sparks has hired Kevin Brannon to run the campaign, Jeff Norwood and Anthem Media to do advertising, Mike Baselice to do his polling, and Ernest Angelo, a former Republican National Committee member, is serving as his treasurer. Sparks lives in Midland now but is from the northern end of the district: He was born in Pampa and he's a graduate of Amarillo High School.
Before Sparks' name was in the mix, Odessa restaurant owner Bob Barnes, did a poll he says shows him leading the pack on the southern end of the district, and only eight percentage points behind former Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger district-wide. He may be right, but there's no way to tell from here: The Barnes folks won't reveal the four questions they say they asked to trim the sample down from all registered voters to people they think will actually vote in a special election. They're not showing what the results would be without those screens, either, but do say the screens weren't used to bias the answers toward their guy or to "push" voters away from other contestants to boost their own guy's numbers. In Midland-Odessa, they say, Barnes is getting 27 percent of the support from their special election group; second, they say, is Kirk Edwards, also of Odessa.
That's a two-part election and the non-screened portion of the polling could be interesting. The winner of the special election, set for January 20, will serve the remaining year of Sen. Teel Bivins' term. The regular election – March primary, November general – will put someone in the Amarillo Republican's place for the four years that begin in January 2005 (though the Democrats weren't in the hunt at our deadline). Filing for the special election ends on Monday, December 22.
It's $600 a Month, Either Way
The last Texan who moved from the state's upper legislative chamber to its lower one – a very unusual move in what is generally a pack of people moving up or out – was Doyle Willis of Fort Worth. He was in the House from 1947-52, then in the Senate from 1952-62. He returned to the House in 1969 for one term, then came back in 1973 and stayed until 1997.
And now, former Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, is trying a House run. Bernsen, a trial lawyer who was drawn out of his Senate district by Republican redistricting mappers in the 2001 Legislature, tried to win a promotion last year but lost the land commissioner race to Republican Jerry Patterson. Now he's after an incumbent, Rep. Allan Ritter, D-Nederland.
Ritter says Bernsen told him twice he wouldn't run, and Bernsen admitted as much to his local paper. But he says "people" pleaded with him to run. Ritter doesn't say what else he thinks is going on, but in an unusual campaign opener, he said he thinks something else is going on: "I have considered [Bernsen] a good friend, both professionally and personally. We campaigned for office together, went to the legislature together, fought for Jefferson County together, and together made a good team. He has chosen to break up the team and I am truly sorry for the negative impact that it will have on our community. It's understandable why our mutual friends have serious questions about David's motivation for doing this. My heart tells me his motivation is something other than a desire to be a State Representative." Bernsen didn't return our calls seeking his version, but told the Port Arthur News he's got about 20 reasons Ritter should go. He also said he'll run a positive campaign.
Candidate trivia: While Doyle Willis was plotting the start of his last stint in the House in 1971, Bernsen was throwing fastballs at Lamar University. He had a 2.01 career ERA there, and still holds the school record for career shutouts, with six, including four in one year.
Mark Rose, general manager of a 14-county Central Texas electric cooperative, says he's "99 percent sure" he'll run for the House seat left open if Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, doesn't run for reelection. Rose heads the Bluebonnet Electric Co-op and would continue there if he runs (the board gave him a go-sign, he says). He's one of two Democrats in the hunt so far; four Republicans filed to run after Cook said he has decided no to seek another term.
Rose, a former Austin city councilman, Lower Colorado River Authority general manager, and CEO of Austin-based Public Strategies Inc. who now lives in Bastrop, has been courted by Republicans inside and outside the district, but will run as a kind of reluctant Democrat. He contends most people in the district are conservatives without being partisans, and notes that most local elected officials in the five-county district are Democrats. He's still asking around to see whether it would be possible to raise the $200,000 to $250,000 he thinks it would take to run a good race. And he says his first preference would be to keep Cook in office. Cook, who said a couple of weeks ago he won't seek reelection, sounds a bit less certain lately. "I have not made a decision to run for reelection right now," he says.
Cook was on the verge of switching parties when he decided to bail out. Republicans in Austin had been working on him and on potential opponents, trying to get him to join the GOP and trying to get possible opponents to agree to stay out if Cook would jump. He got discouraging calls from otherwise friendly Democrats in and out of the district, and at least one of the Republicans who has joined the race, State Board of Education member Cynthia Thornton, says she wasn't interested in signing what she terms a "back-room deal" to stay out of the race to make the big shots happy.
If Cook were to switch and run, he'd have to explain to his new GOP primary voters why he went to Ardmore with the Democrats over redistricting earlier this year. The redrawn maps aren't popular in the district, but neither is Oklahoma. The other Democrat in the race is Erik McCowan of Smithville. The Republicans include Herman Brune, a Columbus rancher; John Burke of Bastrop, general manager of Aqua Water Supply; Jean Killgore, a Somerville rancher and former member of the State Republican Executive Committee.
Other People's Money
The normal way to do business in Austin is to line up the ducks before you make the announcement. Gov. Rick Perry has a new tack: Announce the request and let legislators say no if they don't like it. After his Secretary of State, Geoff Connor, told county election officials around the state that they were going to get less money this year, due to budget cuts, Perry sent out announcements saying he was asking the Legislative Budget Board for more money so the local folks wouldn't have to make big cuts, consolidate as many primaries, and all that. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick were on board on that one, but the LBB hasn't met to talk about it
Then the Guv announced – in Kingsville – that the state is going ahead with plans for the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy at the Texas A&M University campus there. That one didn't have pre-clearance from the legislative types, apparently, and the LBB hasn't approved the money for that, either. Instead of announcing the project, he announced he would be asking the LBB for the money.
Nobody's complaining out loud, but some lawmakers worry that the early announcements put the governor in the column headed "GIVERS" and lawmakers in the column labeled "TAKERS." He's okay with the pharmacy school, for instance, and if they're not, it's on them. So far, he hasn't put them on the hook for anything they'd veto.
• If you're a politician on your victory lap and you give a big sack of your leftover political money to your alma mater, you can't tell them just how to spend it. That's part of the reason the Baylor library folks are trying to raise money for the upkeep and feeding of Bob Bullock's archives. The late Lite Guv gave the school a huge donation. Some of it, he gave directly to the medical school. How the rest is spent is left up to the management, more or less, and it's apparently not going, in large enough quantities, to the Bullock Archive. That, if they ask you for money, is why they're asking you.
Son of Comp
When Texas legislators wrestled over workers' compensation insurance reform in 1989 – an issue that ate up two special sessions and offered a preview of the tort reform fights of the 1990s – the fastest rising cost item was medicine. The battle of the day was between business lobsters and trial lawyers, but medical costs were the single biggest reason premiums were rising. Now that the trial lawyers have been mostly flushed from the system, workers compensation is still a problem because of high medical costs. And 14 years later, with a couple of huge doses of tort reform under its belt, the Legislature is back. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst created an interim committee to look into workers comp and says he wants them to pay particular attention to other states where the insurance is cheaper. Dewhurst contends it's cheaper to treat injuries in other health plans than it is to treat the same injuries in the Texas comp system, and he wants to patch it up.
Two battles waged in the 1989 round apparently will stay on the back burner. Other states have mandatory systems – employers have to offer workers comp. Dewhurst says that would force Texas businesses to buy into a system where costs are out of whack and doesn't seem to like the idea. Some advocates of mandatory comp contend the costs drop when everyone plays because the better insurance risks – people less likely to make claims – are included in the system. Another oldie-but-probably-still-off-the-table: Folding comp insurance into other health plans, so that a worker hurt on the job would use the same insurance he or she uses when they have an accident at home.
The announcement came after the Texas Association of Business put out a report kicking the state's workers' comp system. TAB's version: insurance companies pay out $1.38 for every dollar they collect in premiums (investment income apparently isn't included in those numbers). Citing a couple of other studies, TAB says that comp insurance is cheaper in other states, that treatment patterns are higher than in other states and that return-to-work rates aren't any different here than elsewhere.
Texas added 381,584 people over the last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That brings the estimated size of the state's population to 22.1 million as of July 1. Redistricting maps are based on official Census counts every ten years and not on the mid-decade estimates of population growth, but just as a point of interest, the state has 1.3 million more people now than it did when the numbers used for redistricting were tallied, according to the official estimates. Texas remains the second-largest state, behind California, and it added more people in the last year than any state but California. One-third of the national population increase occurred in just three states: Texas, California and Florida. The U.S. population rose to 290.8 million.
Another Census morsel: 2.9 million of the people living in Texas in the year 2000 were foreign-born, and just under one third of them were naturalized citizens. The cities with the greatest numbers of foreign-born residents were also the cities with the biggest overall populations, and in the same order: New York (2.9 million), Los Angeles (1.5 million), Chicago (629,000), and Houston (516,000).
The Texas Public Policy Foundation got a dozen experts to scribble about school finance from their different viewpoints, and they've compiled the results into a book – Putting the Sides Together – that's useful if you're following next year's big issue. The writers hail from ivory towers and organizations all over the political spectrum, including the Equity Center, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Lone Star Foundation, Harvard and Stanford and Ohio Universities, and so on. It's hefty, at 225 pages, and you can download a free copy from the group's website, at www.texaspolicy.com.
Better Dead Than Red?
The State Auditor's Office says the Teacher Retirement System is growing, but not fast enough to improve its financial health. The pension plan isn't in any immediate trouble, but its obligations are outrunning its assets by about $5.2 billion, up from $3.3 billion at the end of last year. TRS' actuaries are telling the board they should start talking to legislators about increasing the contributions made by the state and/or by teachers next legislative session. The health insurance component is in more immediate danger, with net assets on the red side of the ledger to the tune of $83 million. The SAO report says TRS expects to cover that with higher co-pays by insured teachers and higher premiums.
That helps explain efforts to find creative ways to fill the hole, including one that created a political mess for Gov. Rick Perry. His staff has been working on a proposal that would have life insurance policies on retired teachers benefiting the retirement fund. When a teacher died, the policy would pay the fund, which would be that much closer to financial health. The teachers wouldn't be paying for the policies, and it's not clear that the idea would even work out financially. For the program to work for the company selling the insurance, premiums and investment income have to outrun payoffs. For the program to work for the state, payoffs have to outrun premium expenses. Investment income would be the key, and the question still open is whether the company – UBS Warburg and its rep on this, former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas – could make enough to create profits for them and for the state. The political uproar may kill it if the numbers don't: Democrats and teacher groups called it gruesome.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Austin lobbyist Frank Santos says he'll be doing political work for Rep. Jaime Capelo, D-Corpus Christi. And he says he does work on some issues with Republican political consultant Todd Smith, partly because Smith is close to Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, and Santos regularly lobbies her on health and human services stuff. He's also in the process of subletting part of his office space to the Republican political consultant. But he says Smith doesn't have a piece of the Capelo deal and isn't working with him – Santos, that is – on the Democrat's reelection campaign. Though he's a Democrat, Capelo has been part of Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick's leadership team.
• President George W. Bush tapped Alphonso Jackson – former head of the Dallas Housing Authority – to be his new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Jackson has been deputy under Mel Martinez, who is leaving to run for the U.S. Senate from Florida.
• Paul Green, a San Antonio Republican running against GOP Supreme Court Justice Stephen Smith, is running the table on establishment endorsements. His latest is from Craig Enoch, who until earlier this year was himself a Republican member of the state's high court. Smith beat gubernatorial appointee Xavier Rodriguez in last year's GOP primary, and management is now gunning for him.
• Laredo Democrat Henry Cuellar hasn't filed for a congressional run yet – the district he wants won't be legal until and unless the courts say so – but he's already slapping U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio. Rodriguez sent constituents a mailer on his votes on prescription drug benefits. Cuellar attacked the vote and the mailers, too, saying Rodriguez "spend untold thousands of dollars" on them. Cuellar ran last year against U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, and apparently thinks his chances are better in a Democratic primary. Both the Rodriguez and Bonilla districts include part of Cuellar's home county, Webb, but Cuellar is shying away from a Bonilla rematch.
• Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is in the suit over the words "under God" in Pledge of Allegiance, filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court. He's for leaving them in. This started with a California parent challenging a public school requirement about the pledge, and the two little words.
• Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn says, and we'll quote her, that "over a billion dollars a year are being sucked out of Texas classrooms to other states. We must repatriate these dollars for the school children of Texas." She's talking about gambling money that she says is being wagered outside of Texas by Texans. Strayhorn contends video lottery terminals (VLTs) would bring in that much, and also says the state should partner with its three Indian tribes as it expands its gaming operations.
Political People and Their Moves
El Paso, one of the biggest and historically most easily ignored cities in state politics, finally has one of its citizens on the Texas Transportation Commission. That panel, which runs the state's highway budget and projects, is being expanded from three members to five, and Gov. Rick Perry named Ted Houghton Jr. of El Paso to one of the spots. The other new spot will go to Esperanza "Hope" Andrade of San Antonio. Houghton has been the governor's appointee to the School Land Board, a post he'll give up for the highway job. In real life, he's a financial advisor and a past member of El Paso's mass transit board. Andrade was a member of the Texas Turnpike Authority before that was folded into the Department of Transportation. She is the vice president of OptimaCare, Inc., and also served on the Via Metropolitan Transit Board and as chair of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce...
Gov. Perry named Dr. William Fleming III of Houston to the board of regents at Texas Woman's University. Fleming is a neurologist and former Air Force captain...
The Guv named David Jorge Bernal to be the judge on the 281st Judicial District Court in Houston. Bernal is in private practice now, and will have to get on next year's ballot for a chance to keep the job after the November elections...
The Texas Association of Counties has a new set of officers led by Palo Pinto County Judge Mickey West, the new president, and president-elect Marc Hamlin, who in real life is the Brazos County Clerk. Tarrant County JP Sandy Prindle is the new vice president.
Quotes of the Week
Presidential adviser Karen Hughes, at the kick-off of George W. Bush's reelection campaign in Texas, on watching Democratic debates: "I must confess I am now talking back to the TV with great regularity. I plan to be talking on TV a little more."
State Rep. Glenn Lewis, D-Fort Worth, testifying that the new redistricting map would make it difficult for a Black candidate to win a congressional seat in the district that includes many of Tarrant County's Black voters, as reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I guess if [U.S. Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas was to run, he'd win."
Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, on redistricting: "There's no doubt, from the perspective of the incumbent, that protecting incumbents is a good thing, but it's not in the Constitution."
Scott McCown, director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, quoted by the Wichita Falls Times Record News arguing for more money for public education: "We get an educated work force that then becomes our consumer group. We will not win by trying to out-Mexico Mexico with low wages. We have to have high-skilled, highly educated folks."
Tarrant County Commissioner Dionne Bagsby, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram she's "not ready to share" whether she'll run for reelection: "If I file, I'm running. If I don't file, I'm not running."
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, once again asked The Question about running for governor in 2006: "I'm just not talking about my future right now. There'll be plenty of time to talk about my future in the future."
Jennifer McPhail, an organizer with the disabled-rights group ADAPT of Texas, in an Austin American Statesman story on wheelchair-bound Attorney General Greg Abbott suing the federal government to exempt state government from the Americans with Disabilities Act: "It's ironic and sad, but I stopped trying to understand people's motivations a long time ago. It just gives you a headache."
Midland City Councilman Jose Cuevas, quoted in the Midland Reporter-Telegram on chances Midland and Odessa could band together behind a state Senate candidate from Odessa: "If we can find peace in the Middle East, we can find peace here in West Texas."
Dr. Abby Berenson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, quoted in The New York Times: "It is the rare adolescent that ever comes to see me before she has sex the first time. Usually that's because she hadn't planned to have it in the first place. It just happens, usually on a Saturday night when I'm not available."
We're taking two weeks off to celebrate with family and friends. You should do the same. Our next issue will be dated January 12, 2004. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 27, 22 December 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.