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Senate: Qualifying Heats & New Matches

Every election is a new thing. The numbers that flow out of political consultants' laptop computers share a problem with the stuff flowing out of an investment advisor's box: Past results do not guarantee future results.

Every election is a new thing. The numbers that flow out of political consultants' laptop computers share a problem with the stuff flowing out of an investment advisor's box: Past results do not guarantee future results.

In Northeast Texas, the conventional wisdom was that more Democrats than Republicans would turn out and that former Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, had at least a shot at winning the special election without a runoff. It wasn't what most folks predicted, but it was considered a possibility. But three-fifths of the voters who showed up gave their votes to Republicans. Former Tyler Mayor Kevin Eltife ran a few points back, but easily crowded Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, out of the runoff. Former Rep. Jerry Yost and two others combined to capture about 3 percent of the votes.

In West Texas, Republican Kel Seliger of Amarillo will face Republican Kirk Edwards of Odessa in a runoff that will pivot on geography — north v. south — and that could turn into an argument about which is the more conservative candidate. More on that in a second.

In East Texas, Eltife has to win Merritt voters, but he's halfway home: They're Republicans and so is he. Sadler has to attract some Merritt votes, suppress some of Eltife's support and bring some Democrats to the runoff next month who didn't show up for the first heat. Some will vote against almost any candidate from Tyler, and some will vote to thumb their noses at the Austin and East Coast Republicans who helped Eltife this far. Either could win, but Eltife starts with a clear advantage.

Getting By with a Little Help from Their Friends

If the first round is any indication, both sides will have plenty of money for the runoff. They've raised and spent over $1.5 million, together, and that doesn't count heavy third-party help.

Sadler got a boost from ads run by the Texas State Teachers Association; those featured Sen. Bill Ratliff, then-Gov. George W. Bush, and then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry slathering Sadler with high praise for his work on school finance and seeking to fend off blows landed by others.

Eltife and Merritt got help from a slashing ad campaign attacking Sadler and paid for by Texans for Lawsuit Reform. That group hates trial lawyers; Sadler's a trial lawyer. They particularly dislike lawyers who've sued asbestos companies; that's a specialty of Sadler's firm. They said he'd been censured by a federal judge in a lawsuit and that he'd been sued for racketeering (by an asbestos company whose suit never went anywhere). Later, they ran ads saying he'd voted against letting Texas soldiers vote from overseas. Sidebar: TLR endorsed both Eltife and Merritt, and neither of them listed that endorsement on campaign Internet sites. That's because the negatives were coming from that group — neither campaign wanted to be associated with the negative campaigning.

The Texas wing of the National Federation of Independent Business piled on, attacking Sadler for introducing legislation that would have created a state income tax and voting against limits on property taxes while he was in office. Both taxes were related to funding for public schools, but they were tax bills just the same. Merritt was attacked by a group called Americans for Job Security — which is run, coincidentally, by one of Gov. Rick Perry's top political consultants, Dave Carney. AJS ran ads attacking Merritt for voting for higher sales taxes — swapping those increases for cuts in property taxes, which wasn't mentioned, and ridiculing him for other legislation and for what the group said was a poor record of getting new laws on the books. Merritt didn't run a heavy enough media campaign to hit back, and that's part of the reason he ended up in third place.

Next Month's Finals

While his main opponents were being sautéed by third parties, Kevin Eltife went untouched. The one attack that got the interest of local media came late and wasn't reinforced with advertising. Eltife made property tax cuts a cornerstone of his campaign. Tyler cut those taxes while he was mayor, and he was bragging about it. But during the same time period, the city's overall revenue from taxes and fees went up, and Merritt used that to discredit the tax-cutter claim. Expect to see that again; Sadler's hopes in a runoff will depend, in part, on whether he can take Eltife down a notch while trying to trap more votes himself, and the tax issue could rise again.

Sadler got more than half of the votes in nine of the 16 counties in the district, including two of the four counties with more than 40,000 registered voters. But the biggest bloc of votes came from Smith County, which accounts for the biggest population in the district (only part of the county is in SD-1, but it accounted for nearly one vote in five in the special election) and which went big for Eltife, Tyler's former mayor. He got 73.5 percent of the vote in this first round. Another 9.2 percent of Smith County's vote went to Merritt, another Republican, and Sadler, the only Democrat in the race, got just 15.7 percent of the votes. Make a note of that.

The Democrat's home county — Rusk — gave him 47.9 percent of the vote, but gave more votes to the Republicans from the north than to the native son. Merritt, who finished third, got more votes in his home county — Gregg — than any of the others, but it was only 38 percent. He didn't break the 50-percent mark in any of the district's 16 counties. Unless the voters in Gregg County have a harsh reaction to a candidate from Tyler — and that's possible, given the history — Eltife will be operating in an area that gave three of every four votes to a GOP candidate. It's the second-biggest county in the district and accounted for about 17 percent of the first-round vote.

Sadler's gang was hoping for big numbers from Bowie County, which is the third-largest bucket of votes. He won there, breaking 50 percent, but turnout was 12.6 percent and the county's voters only made up 9.6 percent of the electorate.

West, North and South

Kirk Edwards, from Odessa, got a mess of his votes in the northern half of SD-31, and Kel Seliger, from Amarillo, got almost none of his votes from the southern end of the district.

The Edwards camp takes solace in the idea that they've got support all over the 26-county Senate district and say they won't be new to the voters in the Panhandle who return for a runoff next month. The Seliger camp, meanwhile, sees the southern end of the district as an opportunity; they didn't advertise anywhere South of Lubbock on television, radio or in the mail during the first round. Now, in the runoff, they hope that turning on the other half of the district will get Seliger to Austin.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst all but endorsed Bob Barnes, who finished fourth. The Barnes campaign was run by Dewhurst consultants and endorsed by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, but he netted only 13.7 percent of the vote. In Ector County, where he lives, he got 41.5 percent of the votes, and those will be up for grabs in the runoff. Midland businessman Don Sparks netted 16.2 percent of the vote, including 49.6 percent of Midland County's votes. Put those on the shopping list. Edwards finished second in Midland, and Seliger got only 220 votes. The Amarillo Democrat in the race, Elaine King Miller, got 7.2 percent of the votes there. More than half of the votes in Howard County are uncommitted now. Amarillo sits on the line between Potter and Randall counties, and Seliger won the home turf with ease, getting 59.5 and 65.7 percent of the votes, respectively. Edwards got over 10 percent in each of those, but the rest of the voters — who already turned on their former mayor — are up for grabs.

Expect Seliger to widen the marketing to include the whole district, hoping the Permian Basin voters who didn't want Edwards in the first round are available for the picking. Edwards is emphasizing "strong conservative values" coming out of the special election, and just announced endorsements from the Texas Eagle Forum and the Texas Alliance for Life. Finally, don't forget there's a repeat election ahead, when the same folks run in the March primary for a full term next year.

Non-Toxic Redistricting

The five members of the Legislative Redistricting Board chose a Friday afternoon to announce they will be meeting on January 26. The agenda is district court redistricting, and the plan, we're told, is to meet and do nothing, more or less. The state constitution sets up a Judicial Districts Board, which is supposed to redo the judicial court districts every ten years if the Legislature fails to do so. That panel, headed by Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips, was supposed to have acted by August 31. Since they didn't, the LRB has until the end of January, more or less, to do their work for them.

The constitution doesn't give any guidelines for what changes in the census should trigger new court lines or any of that, but only requires that the various boards meet to redistrict. They can apparently do that by blessing the lines already in place, and spokespeople for House Speaker Tom Craddick and Attorney General Greg Abbott say that's the plan. Lawmakers are tired of redistricting, for one thing, and we can't find anyone who wants to rouse the district judges of the state in an election year. Hell hath no fury, and so on. The other members of the LRB are Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. All five are Republicans, and the chair of the LRB will be elected when they meet next week.

Washington, Win or Lose

Well, lookit what happened at the last minute. Becky Armendariz Klein put her name in the CD-25 hopper at the last minute, adding a Republican with Hispanic roots to the list of people trying to win that Democrat-dominated Austin to McAllen district. The ink was barely dry on her resignation from the Public Utility Commission, and her official line about seeking to return to Washington, D.C., where her husband is employed still works. She's a lawyer, a veteran of the first Gulf War, and a major in the Air Force Reserves. What's in a name? When Gov. Rick Perry reacted, on paper, to her resignation from the PUC chair, he was talking about someone named Rebecca Klein. That was on a Tuesday. By Friday, when he was endorsing her for the congressional race, he referred to her as Becky Armendariz Klein. On the PUC's website (she doesn't leave the agency until March 1), she's Rebecca Klein.

On paper, that's a political move akin to going over the wall at Gallipoli, or making a Kamikaze dive into a battleship, or switching to CSPAN in the middle of a playoff game on TV. But it puts the Republicans in position to win an election if something odd happens. Klein will be running in a district where only 30.2 percent of the voters went with Republicans in statewide races in 2002.

But two-thirds of the voters are Hispanic, like she is. And if something weird comes to light about whichever Democrat makes it out of the primary — a contest between U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin and former Judge Leticia Hinojosa of McAllen — Klein will be the only alternative available to voters. Republicans, in this case, are doing what the Democrats in Texas are failing to do — putting candidates up for every possible contest, just in case. There are seven statewide contests on the ballot this year, and Democrats filed in only two of them: a spot on the Railroad Commission and for one of the three seats up for grabs on the Texas Supreme Court.

• The Club for Growth, a Washington-based group formed to support economic conservatives (and, so far, only Republicans) is running television commercials in Waco promoting state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, who's running for Congress. The commercials, which the group says were paid for with a mix of corporate and individual contributions, tout Wohlgemuth's budget-cutting, saying her legislation killed seven state agencies, cut welfare spending and saved "over a billion dollars." Club for Growth's director, David Keating, says the group will stop the ads a month before election day; if they want to stay in the hunt, they'll drop corporate money and switch to PAC money then to stay legal, he says. Wohlgemuth and two other Republicans are battling for a chance to run against U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, in November. The group, which did semi-famous ads blasting Howard Dean before the Iowa Caucuses, played in Texas last year, helping state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, in an unsuccessful attempt to win a special congressional election.

Just What You Expected

It would have been a surprise if anybody but Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, had been named chairman of Senate Finance, especially after Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst all but announced it to a press gaggle a couple of weeks ago. But it's on paper now: Ogden, a veteran of both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate's version, will head that panel. The job had belonged to Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, who expects to be named the next U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. Ogden's spot as chairman of the Infrastructure Development and Security Committee goes to Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, will chair the Senate's powerful State Affairs Committee, a position opened by the early retirement of Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. Sen. Jeff Wentworth will chair Jurisprudence, which had Duncan in the middle seat until now. Duncan's other chairmanship — on the subcommittee on Agriculture — will go to Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte.

Another Zebra Leaves the Game

House Parliamentarian Steve Collins is leaving the Pink Building for the University of Texas System, where he'll join the government relations staff. He's been with the Texas Legislative Council for 27 years, and has been executive director for the last two years. Denise Davis, who was the deputy parliamentarian, will move into the parliamentarian's chair, advising House Speaker Tom Craddick on rules and keeping the trains moving legally in the lower chamber. TLC didn't name a new executive director yet. That job has been paired for years with the House Parliamentarian post, but things have changed: The House and Senate now have equal stakes in the agency that acts as the in-house legal department for the Legislature, and the director's job is subject to negotiation. Former House Speaker Rayford Price has been a candidate for that job in the past, and his name is already circulating again.

The Senate, meanwhile, hasn't named a replacement for its parliamentarian. Walter Fisher told Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst a couple of weeks ago that he's leaving at the end of this month. Three Dewhurst aides are under consideration: Karina Casari, Julia Rathgeber, and Spencer Reid.

Names in Lights

Bush's Brain — the book about Karl Rove by Austin journalists Jim Moore and Wayne Slater — has spawned a movie, and the premiere will be part of the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin. That's the same spot used to premiere last year's movie about the 2000 presidential campaign, Travels with George. Slater, a political writer at the Dallas Morning News, and Moore, a former TV reporter turned political consultant turned author, consulted on the movie, but it's someone else's work. The guys who made it — Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey — holed up in Austin for a while last year to interview people who've been watching Rove for years, including politicos, journalists (Disclosure: we were interviewed and we were not paid, but thanks for asking), consultants, lobsters, and contributors. We have no idea whether it's any good.

Also on the SXSW menu: Last Man Standing, a new political movie by Paul Stekler. He's a UT prof and documentary maker best known in Texas politics for Vote for Me, a movie that included state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, wearing a microphone onto the Senate floor to catch other senators in candid conversation. They didn't like it, but they and Ellis got over it, and the movie's a classic for political junkies. As for the new one, we don't know if it's any good, either.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Without noting the other flag already planted on the hilltop, Gov. Rick Perry put out an executive order saying he wants the state's college and university regents to start setting accountability standards for higher education. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst didn't issue any orders, but has been calling for the same thing and added accountability to his interim study charges for the Senate a couple of days before Perry's order. Perry's order calls for proposed standards by mid-December — a month before the Legislature goes into a regular session. Dewhurst's interims are aimed at the same time frame. Both officials want higher ed to develop a system like the one in use now in public education.

• Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, gave his endorsement to Dot Snyder in the CD-17 Republican primary. Snyder is the only Waco candidate in that primary; the winner will face U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, a Waco Democrat, in November. State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, supported Averitt's opponent for Senate when that seat was open. The other Republican in the primary race is Dave McIntyre of College Station. Wohlgemuth, meanwhile, picked up an endorsement from past Edwards foe Ramsey Farley. One of the running battles in that district is over water pollution in Waco's water supply, allegedly caused by the waste from dairy farms upstream, in Wohlgemuth's House district. Farley did almost everything right: He endorsed her, and then told supporters they should ignore efforts to paint her as the "wicked witch of water".

Jean Killgore, who wants to run against state Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Pass, is getting endorsements from Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Rep. Fred Brown, R-College Station. It's unusual, but not unheard of, for legislators to jump in this early against colleagues. Cook was going to switch to the GOP but got cold feet and dropped out of the race before Christmas. He changed his mind at the last minute and decided to seek reelection as a Democrat. Killgore is one of four Republicans trying to win a shot against him. And his footwork in December attracted Democrats to what would have been a cakewalk in the primary: Cook has to get past two of his own in March.

• Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, is off the prosecutor's hook in Travis County. Nixon made a mold claim with Farmers Insurance that resulted in a remarkably generous settlement, and an internal email from a Farmers employee made it seem the settlement was related to favorable legislative treatment by Nixon. Nixon said all along that it was a clean claim. Farmers said it was a clean claim. And now the district attorney's office says it sees nothing criminal about the whole thing. They also went to remarkable lengths, issuing a letter to Nixon that said he was "never considered a suspect" and that the investigation is over.

• Bring on those resumes: The Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, or TIPRO, sent us a job posting saying they need a new executive vice president, their top staff job. It'll be only the third person to hold that position and they want to cast a wide net. They're keeping the in-basket open until mid-February.

• The U.S. Department of Justice won't let loose a 73-page recommendation on Texas redistricting, according to the Washington Post, but the lawyers representing Texas Democrats are appealing that decision. The internal report goes from the permanent staff to the political staff, which then makes the DOJ ruling. The final ruling was that the new Texas congressional maps are legal (the courts have ratified that position, so far), but the Democrats think the staff attorneys said the plan was illegal and were overruled by their bosses, who are Republicans. The documents have been made public in the past, but DOJ told the Democrats that this one isn't subject to federal open records law. The U.S. Supreme Court won't stop the elections while the case is being appealed, but that court's ruling wasn't on the merits of the redistricting case. The Democrats are still appealing a federal court order that put the lines in place while the elections proceed.

• Fun with the Internet: Campaigns for People, an Austin-based campaign finance reform group, started up an online effort at www.CleanUpTexasPolitics.com. It includes what they call a "Texas Scandal Blog," following stories about campaign finance investigations.

• DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: We put the Kickapoos in Del Rio in some editions last week, but they didn't migrate: The tribe remains in Eagle Pass. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

• LATE NEWS, AS WE WENT TO PRESS: The political arms of the Texas Medical Association, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Texas Oil & Gas Association endorsed Republican Kevin Eltife over Democrat Paul Sadler in the runoff for SD-1.

Political People and Their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry named Terrell lawyer B. Michael Chitty to be the judge of the 422nd Judicial District Court in Kaufman County. He's a trial lawyer in private practice, and he'll have to run for the job in the next general election to keep the robes... Perry named Graham Quisenberry of Aledo to preside in the 415th Judicial District Court. He's the judge of the Parker County Court at Law, and also will face reelection in the next general...

The Guv reappointed John Steen Jr. of San Antonio to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Steen, a lawyer, is the chairman of that panel and has been there since 1998... Perry named Mike Hachtman chairman of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission. Hachtman, an Aggie, used to work at the Texas Railroad Commission and now works for IFCO Systems...

House Speaker Tom Craddick named former Rep. Cullen Looney, D-Edinburg, to a spot on the Texas Ethics Commission. Looney was in the Lege from 1977-81 and served with Craddick and with former Rep. Tom Uher, D-Bay City. Uher is the guy he's replacing on the TEC. The commission has two speaker appointees on it, one from each political party. Gov. Perry named Raymond "Tripp" Davenport III to the commission. He's a Dallas attorney...

Perry named James Herring of Amarillo to the Texas Water Development Board and reappointed Jack Hunt of Houston to that panel. Herring heads Friona Industries, a cattle-feeding and feed manufacturer; Hunt is the president and CEO of King Ranch...

Former state district Judge David Medina is the Guv's new general counsel. Medina, a Houston judge until 2000, has most recently been working in the legal department at Cooper Industries. He'll replace Bill Jones, who left government for private practice — and to become a Texas A&M regent...

Kyle Frazier, who's been lobstering with Stan Schlueter for lo these many years, is hanging out a solo practice shingle, but he says the two will continue to work together on some clients... The state government exodus continues, as does the state's offer to pay longtime employees a 25 percent bonus for retiring now. Joey Park, after 21 years that included stints with Bob Bullock and more recently, with the Parks & Wildlife department, is leaving to hang out a lobby shingle...

Chad Wilbanks is the Texas Republican Party's new executive director, promoted to that post by Tina Benkiser, the GOP's new chairwoman. Wilbanks had been the political director and deputy executive director. Wayne Hamilton, who had been the exec, will stay on as a senior advisor to the Party... Recovering: Tom Craddick, from neck surgery on an anterior cervical disc. He had similar surgery a few years ago and lived, and is already back on the phones...

Deaths: Noble Willingham, an actor (on Walker, Texas Ranger) who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall in the 2000 elections. He was 72.

Quotes of the Week

Fred Lewis with Campaigns for People, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on the effect of big campaign war chests built up by incumbent Texas officeholders: "There was more turnover in the old Soviet politburo than we'll have in the Texas Legislature."

Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldfold of Des Moines, quoted in the Dallas Morning News on campaigns in his state's caucuses: "People just don't tend to get nasty. This isn't Texas."

Lobbyist Bill Miller, quoted in a Dallas Morning News story about going to see the Pope with House Speaker Tom Craddick, a visit arranged by Miller and another lobbyist: "You can be a cynic if you want. It was the event of a lifetime."

Dick Fischer, an East Texas retiree telling The New York Times he put away his rifle after Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson decided locals — and not the state — own five square miles of land that are part of a deed dispute: "I put it in the closet. I may not need it and a whole case of ammunition."


Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 30, 26 January 2004. 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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