The judges who approved the Legislature's new congressional map acted like health inspectors who don't like the food in a particular restaurant but still find the kitchen clear of cockroaches and other violations of the health code. The results are a matter of taste; the restaurant's legal.
Their 127-page decision on redistricting took several swipes at the process and some of the results, but concluded that there were no violations of the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act. They made a distinction in print they and others had made in court: It might not be good policy to redraw maps in the middle of a decade, and it might be a good idea to put some limits on the amount of political gerrymandering that's allowed in a particular map, and it might be swell to make other changes. But the judges said those are policy questions and not legal questions. Current law, to put a nail in the lid of this thing, doesn't outlaw any of the new lines. U.S. District Judge John Ward dissented in part and agreed in part; the bottom line is that, unless the U.S. Supreme Court unexpectedly hits the brakes in the next few days, Texas has a new map.
The map is designed as a hardship on Anglo Democratic incumbents, a list that includes U.S. Reps. Chris Bell of Houston; Lloyd Doggett of Austin; Chet Edwards of Waco; Martin Frost of Dallas; Gene Green of Houston; Ralph Hall of Rockwall; Nick Lampson of Beaumont; Max Sandlin of Marshall; Charlie Stenholm of Abilene; and Jim Turner of Crockett. Bell and Green did better than most; both will run in districts similar to what they've got now. Hall switched parties, Turner decided to serve out his term and quit and the others are in for terrifically hard races.
If all of them were to lose, Bell, Green, and Doggett would likely be replaced by Democrats and everyone else by Republicans. Before the Hall switch, Democrats had 17 members of the delegation and Republicans had 15. Subtract 10 Democrats and add back three, and the delegation would be 22-10 in favor of the Republicans. Remember that when this began, GOP leaders in Texas said they wanted the delegation to look like the last statewide election results. Republicans won about 58 percent of the vote in those elections, and 58 percent of the 32-member delegation would give the Republicans 18 or 19 members. That's a long way of saying They Won Big.
It also tells you why the Republicans were so nervous and the Democrats were so hopeful after the judges finished hearing the case and went off to write an opinion about it. GOP lawyers privately described the plan as a "high-risk" map, one that pushed the boundaries of what they thought they could get away with. And it didn't push just one boundary, but most of them. While the judges were working, both sides were thinking about trouble spots: a split in Webb County, districts stretching from the border into Central Texas, and trouble with taking apart a "majority-minority" in Dallas and Tarrant County.
The judges got right to it in their opinion: "We decide only the legality of [the map], not its wisdom. Whether the Texas Legislature has acted in the best interest of Texas is a judgment that belongs to the people who elected the officials whose act is challenged in this case." The judges said the rise of computer use made it possible to maximize partisan strengths and weaknesses both this year and in 1991, and that those lines could prevent voters from having the power to recall politicians when they're angry. They said Congress could help by banning mid-decade redistricting. But none of that is in the law right now: "We know it is rough and tumble politics, and we are ever mindful that the judiciary must call the fouls without participating in the game."
Quiet Resignation & Other Congressional Notes
U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, won't be on this year's ballot. Turner, drawn into a Republican district on the new congressional maps, plans to serve out the year and come home. Previously, he said he will consider running for statewide office in the future — he's mentioned both governor and U.S. Senate as offices he might seek. Turner, a former state senator and before that, Crockett mayor, was elected to Congress in 1996. His congressional district was splintered into a half-dozen other districts in the new map and none of them is particularly favorable to Turner.
• U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall — a Democrat who's long been a reliable vote for congressional Republicans — officially switched parties. That makes the Texas delegation to Congress an even split between the parties, at least for the rest of this year, with 16 members each. Hall has said for years that he wouldn't switch unless he thought the Democratic label was hurting his district. When he finally pulled the trigger, he said it was because the district had been cut out of a couple of projects because he wasn't a Republican.
This might make the puzzle easier to solve: He was drawn into a new congressional district that, like the one he's got now, favors Republicans, but where fewer voters know him as their congressman. And there have been persistent rumors that U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, was considering a move into the newly drawn Hall district, which might be more hospitable than Sandlin's new district and which would have put Hall in the gun sights. As an incumbent running on the GOP side, Hall is a safer reelection bet now, but Sandlin will be a tough opponent if he decides to move into the district. It includes turf from both of their old districts.
• State District Judge Leticia Hinojosa, an Edinburg Democrat, dropped out of her reelection race and will run against U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, in a primary race for a district that runs from the state capital to the Texas border.
On paper, that district tilts to a Latino candidate and takes the geographic center of balance out of Austin. But Doggett has been working that turf since the Legislature finished its map drawing in October and got a jump on other candidates who waited to see what the courts would do. He got a jump on Hinojosa as well — judges can't run for other offices without giving up their robes and she didn't want to do that until it was clear the courts would leave the map in place. To do otherwise could have left her without a judgeship or a congressional seat to seek. Funding is one other huge advantage for Doggett, who had more than $2 million in his political accounts as of the last reporting period. That's one of the highest balances in the entire Congress, and easily enough to fund the kind of race he'll have to run over the next nine weeks.
Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, decided not to run himself, but to endorse Hinojosa over the local candidate. Barrientos and Doggett have been rivals for years; Doggett crowded Barrientos out of the congressional race when J.J. "Jake" Pickle, D-Austin, retired and has held it ever since. Barrientos' endorsement shouldn't have surprised anyone.
• U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, will run in the district that includes Waco and not in the district that includes Fort Hood. Both were in his district before, and he was publicly considering both. That prompted one of the Republicans in the race, state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson, to jab him for the indecision about where to run. "I am pleased that Chet Edwards has finally decided which congressional district he will call home," she said in a press release.
Wohlgemuth did some teeth-gnashing about the race herself; while the Legislature was drawing maps late last year, she was telling reporters she wasn't interested in moving to Washington because it would take her away from her husband. She announced her candidacy quickly after the maps were voted out of the Lege.
An Old-Fashioned Special Election
Indulge us in a bit of premature nostalgia. The special election race to replace Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, is a classic Republican vs. Democrat contest. Those will be relatively rare after this year; the legislative and congressional maps drawn by the last two Texas legislatures make most races for the statehouse and Congress intra-party affairs where one gang or the other will elect officeholders in their primaries and then send those folks to general elections where the other party can't compete. And most of those contests will go to Republicans, who control more non-competitive districts now than the Democrats who've been running things for the last century.
So crack open some popcorn and enjoy it while you got it: There's an open seat in one of the two remaining districts in the Texas Senate that could elect either an R or a D. Labor and other traditionally Democratic groups are lining up behind former Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, in the special election. Tort reformers are splitting their money between the two leading Republican candidates, and GOP groups are trying to steer their resources to former Tyler mayor Kevin Eltife and away from state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, because Merritt has been a thorn in their paw.
Early voting is already underway, and the special election is on January 20.
Crosscurrents and Undertows
Austin Republicans began turning on Ratliff after the Senate made him lieutenant governor (when Bush moved to Washington and Perry moved up) and he accommodated some of the Democrats who helped him win that assignment. The relationships soured further last summer when Ratliff told Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst he wouldn't voted to suspend the Senate's two-thirds rule in order to change the congressional redistricting maps. He's not popular with the Republican management in Austin.
But he was a reasonably reliable vote for conservative business interests, like the folks who've been working to amend the state's tort laws for the last decade, and they're worried about losing a vote in the Senate if Sadler, a trial lawyer, is elected. Mark that as an anybody-but-Sadler group.
Accordingly, both Eltife and Merritt have received donations from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and they're getting some other, less direct help from that group, too. TLR wrote each of the Republicans a check for $5,000, and is putting an unspecified amount into a barrage of television and radio ads blasting Sadler. The ads say his firm handles asbestos cases and that he was "censured by a federal judge and found in contempt of court for his actions in the asbestos lawsuit crisis." That was later dropped, according to Sadler's folks. The ad also says Sadler's firm was accused of racketeering in another case, but doesn't mention that the allegations were raised only in an asbestos firm's lawsuit that was dismissed by the courts. Sadler has responded with an ad saying the charges were distorted. It then goes on to tout Sadler's record when he was in the Texas House. The Texas State Teachers Association has an ad touting Sadler's education record that quotes Rick Perry, George W. Bush, and Ratliff all praising Sadler for a job well done on education.
There's an anybody-but-Merritt group, too, led by the Associated Republicans of Texas, an Austin-based political action committee that has pumped $100,000 into Eltife's campaign. Their beef with Merritt isn't new, but they've got new material: He voted against the congressional redistricting package, and they were among the most vigorous supporters of new maps. They wanted more Republicans in the congressional delegation. Merritt thought the map was bad for rural Texas in general and Northeast Texas in particular, and he voted against it. Now ART, among others, is working against him (Ratliff, in the end, voted for the new congressional map).
Sadler, the only Democrat in the race, won the endorsement of the Longview paper, which surprised some of Merritt's supporters. Merritt, however, got the mayor's endorsement there, which presumably brings along some vote-generating machinery. The mayor, Murray Moore, complained to the local paper about Gov. Perry's decision to put a regional office somewhere else, supposedly after stringing Longview along. He told the Longview News-Journal it wouldn't affect his support for Merritt, though: "It's not Tommy's fault we have a bad governor."
Hot Buttons: Ratliff, Bush, Property Taxes
Eltife also attracted endorsements from trade groups for apartment owners, hospitals, engineers and the Texas Association of Business. Merritt's not in the woods alone: He got an endorsement from the National Rifle Association's political committee and their state counterpart, the Texas State Rifle Association. The groups usually don't endorse — they issue grades for candidates instead — but in this case, they marked their displeasure with Sadler, who voted against the concealed handgun law as a House member, and Eltife, who was mayor when the City of Tyler passed an ordinance banning those concealed handguns from municipal buildings.
Ratliff might have irked some of the people in the state GOP, but he remains very popular in the Senate district. Eltife, who has the support of many of the GOP honchos who cheered Ratliff's departure, is using the faces of two popular Republicans in his mailing materials: Ratliff, and George W. Bush. The Bush picture used in one of his mailings has a photo of Eltife and the then-governor over a caption that says Bush named the Tyler Republican to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. A photo of Ratliff and Eltife is on the first page of another mailer, over the caption "Eltife is a longtime friend and supporter of...."
Eltife is pitching himself as a property tax cutter, saying he cut property taxes when he was mayor (they were replaced with a dedicated sales tax) and that he'll do the cutting again as state senator. That plays into the school finance special session the governor will call later this spring; so far, questions about what would replace those tax revenues haven't been a big part of the conversation in the election campaigns. They're focused on the death of Robin Hood funding and cuts in property taxes.
The property tax bit is popular elsewhere. Former Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger, running in the special election on the other side of the state, is using similar language about a similar tax cut in Amarillo, also financed with sales tax revenues. One of his opponents, Bob Barnes, claims to be the "anti-tax" candidate. Two other candidates in that race — Midland Republicans Don Sparks and Kirk Edwards — are sounding some of the same themes.
Though it's expensive and closely fought, that race is getting less attention in Austin than the special election in East Texas. The four leading candidates are pro-business Republicans and the argument, for some, is over which end of the district will send someone to Austin: The Panhandle, which has dominated the turf so far (the retirement of Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, who's on his way to being the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, is what opened this up), or Midland-Odessa, which wants a senator of its own. That's a genuine concern in the district, but it's not as bright a blip on the Austin radar as the contest in East Texas.
Um... Never Mind:
The tort-reformers are going all-out in their campaign against Paul Sadler, but they didn't follow up on threats to punish Republican Sen. John Carona for his opposition to a pet bill last session. After all the talk about knocking offCarona by lobsters in Austin and some GOP activists back home in Dallas, the two-term senator is getting a bye in the 2004 elections. Carona didn't draw opposition from either his own party or from the Democrats; all he had to do to get another term is pay his filing fee.
Carona didn't support an asbestos-lawsuit bill favored by tort reform groups, arguing instead for a bill of his own (which also had support from law firms that represent victims of asbestos-related maladies). In the end, the tort reformers' bill didn't have enough support to pass the Senate. Some local Republicans were ticked at their senator for backing Democrat John Sharp over Republican David Dewhurst in the last election for lieutenant governor. They vowed retribution, and this would have been their first opportunity to punish him in an election. But in spite of threats from both groups to find Carona an opponent, no biting followed all that barking.
Waiting for Ballots to Gel
Candidates for everything but Congress already filed for the March primaries, but the lists won't be massaged into usable shape until next week. Candidates don't register with their state parties unless they're in districts that cross county lines. If the districts don't cross the lines, the candidates can register with the county parties. Those lists are consolidated and then everything is filed with the Texas Secretary of State. The deadline for that last bit is Monday, January 12.
Congressional candidates, because of the court fights over the maps, got an extended filing period, and they can add their names to the list through the end of the day Friday, January 16.
The confusion over the lists has hidden some races from people who aren't talking to candidates or to the county people. For instance, state Rep. Roberto Gutierrez has two primary opponents — Veronica Gonzalez and Jim Selman — whose names don't show up on the state party websites. He says the trial lawyers are after him for his votes for the Prop 12 lawsuit damage caps. And some Democrats are peeved with him for staying in Austin when most of his Democratic House colleagues fled to Ardmore, Oklahoma, last year to bust the quorum and block a vote on congressional redistricting. Republicans don't like it, either, and one — Rogelio "Roy" Ibanez, Jr. of Mission— has filed for the November contest. After the opposition surfaced, Gutierrez considered taking his name off the ballot. He says that had to do with "family and health concerns" which have since cleared up (it wasn't his health, but that of a relative, he says). Anyhow, he's running.
That'll be one of several election contests pitting Democrats who voted for Prop 12 or with the new Republican management against challengers, either from their own party or from the Republicans. Representatives like Allan Ritter of Nederland, Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs, and Robby Cook of Eagle Lake, for instance, are all caught in various kinds of crossfire. Ritter and Rose went to Ardmore, getting some Republicans angry, but also stuck with the conservatives on Prop. 12. Both will get support from tort reformers and probably, from people who normally side with House Speaker Tom Craddick and Gov. Rick Perry. Cook would be in the same shoes, but he told the Republicans he'd switch parties, then dropped out of the reelection race, then re-filed as a Democrat. They like him on torts, but don't like the crawfishing he did in December. There are others, like Ron Wilson, D-Houston, who angered Democrats by siding with Craddick and against other Democrats and many minorities on redistricting. He's got a rematch with State Board of Education member Alma Allen — he beat her easily in 1998 — and his new enemies are promising to make a Battle Royale of it.
• State Rep. Glenn Lewis, D-Fort Worth, was the first minority Democrat to add his name to Tom Craddick's list of supporters when Craddick was running for Speaker of the House. That got him cherry committee assignments, and opposition in the March primary: He'll face Marc Veasey, who until he filed to run for state office was an aide to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas. Frost was written out of his congressional district on the new maps drawn under Craddick's management.
Political People: Appointments
Gov. Rick Perry named former Rep. Ric Williamson to chair the state transportation board, elevating his former House colleague to the center chair. Williamson is a close friend of Perry's and went on the transportation board soon after Perry became governor...
Perry appointed Patti Johnson of Canyon Lake to the State Board for Educator Certification, which sets education and qualification standards for public school teachers. She owned a small business and ran a church thrift store in Humble before moving to Canyon Lake...
Valerie Ertz of Dallas and Paul Pond of Port Neches will join the board of regents at Stephen F. Austin State University. She heads a property tax and accounting firm; he's a funeral park manager (and a former member of the Texas Funeral Commission). Neither claims a degree from SFA...
Perry named Dr. Dennis Golden of Carthage and Lynden Rose of Houston to the board of regents at the University of Houston. Golden is an optometrist and used to be a trustee at Panola College. Rose is an attorney. Both are graduates of UH, and Rose played guard on the Cougars basketball team that went to the Final Four in 1982...
Political People and Their Moves
Senate parliamentarian Walter Fisher says his last day at work will be February 29, leaving Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst with the task of naming a replacement. Three Dewhurst staffers are considered the front-runners: Karina Casari, Julia Rathgeber and Spencer Reid are all on the short list. Fisher says he'll hang a shingle and do some lobbying, and says he's done enough time with the state and with city governments to qualify for retirement. He's been the Senate's parliamentarian since Bob Bullock was lite gov and served through the tenures of Rick Perry, Bill Ratliff, and until now, Dewhurst...
Press Corps Moves: Dallas Morning News Austin Bureau Chief Wayne Slater is getting a new title — Senior Political Writer — and Christy Hoppe, a reporter in the Austin bureau for 15 years, will get the title and the fancy office and the headaches as new bureau chief. Terry Stutz, who's been covering the Capitol for 19 years, moves up to deputy bureau chief...
Gene Acuña is leaving the governor's press office to work for the Fleishman-Hillard on that firm's account with SBC. Acuña, a former TV reporter, worked for then-Secretary of State Tony Garza, then-Agriculture Commissioner Perry and for the Texas Railroad Commission before rejoining Perry at the Guv's office in 2001...
Richard "Casey" Hoffman was named deputy attorney general for families and children, a new position created by AG Greg Abbott. Hoffman will oversee the child support division (though Cynthia Bryant will remain in charge of day-to-day operations), among other things. Hoffman was CEO of SupportKids, a private child support collection agency, and worked for the Texas AG when Jim Mattox was in office...
Eric Glenn is leaving Humana, where he's been lobbying for three years, to hang out his own shingle. He'll office with former Rep. Stan Schlueter and work some clients together without being part of the same firm...
Vatra Solomon, chief of staff to Sen. Bill Ratliff, will go to work for Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn now that Ratliff has left office. Solomon will handle "public outreach" for the comptroller in Northeast Texas...
David Duncan, formerly the governmental relations guy at the Texas Workforce Commission, joined Strategic Partnerships over the holidays. So did Scott Green, who worked for state Rep. Bill Zedler last year...
Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins, with an assist from Gov. Perry, named his four major department heads over the break: Terry Murphy at Assistive and Rehabilitative Services; Dr. Eduardo Sanchez at State Health Services; Jim Hine at Aging and Disability Services, and Thomas Chapmond at Family and Protective Services...
Deaths: Harold Joseph "Tex" Lezar Jr., a Dallas attorney and prominent conservative who ran for lieutenant governor, unsuccessfully, against Bob Bullock in 1994, of a heart attack. Lezar worked in both the Nixon and Reagan Administrations and was chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith. Lezar was 55.
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall, telling the Associated Press why he left the Democratic Party for the GOP: "I've always said that if being a Democrat hurt my district I would switch or I would resign."
Howard Dean, in the Washington Post: "There's been more than one time when I've said something, and sort of the middle of what I've said is not said but thought, and therefore assumed to be understood, which is a ridiculous assumption on my part, but sometimes gets me in trouble."
Rep. Roberto Gutierrez, D-McAllen, on drawing primary election opponents for the first time since 1990: "We filed with the hope that I would get the respect of my party and the Republican Party as well... that they would not go out and recruit anyone to run against me."
Texas Senate candidate Jesse Quackenbush of Amarillo, addressing Boone Pickens and the businessman's efforts to resell Panhandle water elsewhere, during a candidate forum reported by the Amarillo Globe-News: "If I'm elected, I guarantee the only water you'll leave the Panhandle with is the urine I leave on your pant leg."
William Helmreich, a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, in a New York Times story on Jews spelling Christian work colleagues, on his own experience working as a waiter in the Catskills on Christmases Past: "By the way, the tips were pretty good."
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 28, 12 January 2004. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2004 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.