Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which spent huge amounts of money to knock off trial lawyers in two recent East Texas Senate races, is on its way to a new record. With a week to go before the special election in SD-1, the group had spent $843,397 kicking Democrat Paul Sadler around. TLR gave nominal amounts — $5,000 — to two of the Republicans in the first round. Other than that, all of the group's money has gone into a third-party campaign tearing into Sadler, a trial lawyer and former House member who hopes to succeed Republican Bill Ratliff in the Texas Senate. Former Tyler Mayor Kevin Eltife was one of the recipients of the $5,000 contribution, but TLR hasn't done any advertising touting him. Their goal is to whack Sadler, and they're doing it to such an extent that the Democrat's campaign is fighting a two-front war, against Eltife on one hand and TLR on the other.
Sadler's not exactly holding a knife in a gunfight — he's attracted more than $1 million in contributions from prominent trial lawyers around the state. TLR is sending around a selective tally of Sadler's political funds, noting he got $965,400 from his top ten lawyer-affiliated donors. Eltife is doing similarly well with tort reformers, and doesn't have to report the bucks TLR is spending to his benefit.
TLR has played big in East Texas before. They spent nearly half a million dollars in each of two contests between Democrat David Cain and Republican Bob Deuell. Cain, a Dallas trial lawyer (he also did defense work) won the first one and lost the second; Deuell is now a senator. And the group backed Republican Todd Staples after he beat their favored candidate in a Republican primary; Staples went on to beat Democrat David Fisher of Beaumont in another race that featured high spending by people on opposite poles of the fights over the state's tort laws. Staples, like Deuell, is now a senator.
Part of Eltife's pitch is that the City of Tyler cut property taxes while he was mayor, and Sadler is trying to take that claim apart in the closing days of the campaign. The city did cut property tax rates, but property values rose at the same time. What the Eltife folks call a 50 percent cut only amounted to 6 percent, according to the Democrat. When all spending (and all taxes) are taken into account, the tab for city government while Eltife was mayor rose by 32 percent. The attack is similar to one leveled in the first round of the special election by Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview. After finishing third, Merritt endorsed Eltife over Sadler in the runoff.
Another late hit: Team Sadler says Eltife missed 60 percent of the meetings of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board during his last three years there. Two votes he missed, according to the Democrat: THECB approved a nursing school for Texas A&M Texarkana without Eltife's vote, and held a vote on tuition waivers for military and National Guard personnel. That second bit might have been handy a couple of weeks ago, when TLR started hammering Sadler for his vote on an election bill that restricted voting by Texans in the military stationed overseas during elections.
Sadler entered the last week saying he had run a positive campaign and that "Eltife and his supporters" had turned it into a negative mess, "polluting our airwaves with lies, deceptions and misrepresentations." He challenged the Republican to debate him in each of the district's VFW and American Legion halls. The Democrat was on defense, while Eltife tried to duck any blowback from TLR's unrelenting ad campaign. While the warring continued, the Republican picked up endorsements from the Texas Civil Justice League — the state's other tort reform group — and the Texas Public Employees Association. He also was the beneficiary of a mailer from the Texas Christian Coalition, whose former director — now a Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst employee — manages Eltife's campaign.
Shootout in the West
Odessa's Kirk Edwards is spending money fast enough to run in East Texas, out-pacing Kel Seliger of Amarillo, by some estimates, by three-to-one. It's moving some votes, apparently, and that race has tightened up enough to make all the players edgy. Edwards accused Seliger of being too close to people like Boone Pickens who want to sell Panhandle water elsewhere, but he was quiet on the subject of the Rio Nuevo project being proposed for an area closer to his end of the district. Seliger responded with a spot saying he was against both projects.
Edwards stayed on family values, pushing his story that Seliger has ties to Planned Parenthood. Seliger and Planned Parenthood officials all deny it, and it's tough to tell how voters are reacting. Texas Right to Life, which would be expected to side with Edwards because of the Planned Parenthood deal, opted to stay out of the race, a win for Seliger. They said they found no differences between the two candidates "on issues of importance to us." The Amarillo gang also aimed a towel-snap at the Texas Eagle Forum, whose endorsement Edwards has been touting, for siding with the Texas Trial Lawyers Association against Prop 12 last year.
The whole special election gang is back for another round next month, and the consultants we've talked to think the GOP primary electorate will be similar to this special election crowd. Their collective guess is that the votes won't change much, and that the special election winner will have the advantage of calling himself "senator." A win now, they're guessing, is probably a huge advantage next month.
Rumors We Can Print
Gov. Rick Perry wants to have a school finance special session in April or May. You know that, but the talk around the Pink Building — particularly in the lobby — has turned from "probably" to "maybe not." Asked about it, the Guv says he's still planning for a special on school finance and his education excellence proposals, is still looking at the April/May time frame, and thinks it would be irresponsible to wait until after the courts rule on challenges to the current finance formulas.
The governor has said all along that he wants to get lined up with the House and Senate leadership before calling a special session. That means harmonic convergence on a tax bill, though, and Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are not playing in the same key. Perry was trying to win lobby and legislative support for a split property tax roll, where business and residential property owners would pay different taxes — business to the state and residential to local schools, and both at different rates. That's fallen flat so far, and the giant sucking sound was taken by some to mean that a spring session is out. Fuggetaboutit: That's still the plan.
Perry told reporters that he wants some kind of cap on school property taxes, and implied he'd cap other property taxes as well, so that other government entities funded by those taxes don't raise their own taxes and eat up the savings taxpayers were supposed to get. Something like that happened in 1997, when George W. Bush prompted lawmakers to pass a $1 billion tax cut. It disappeared before taxpayers got to hold it.
The Guv isn't talking directly about capping tax rates or tax increases at counties and hospital districts at this point — he says that's "part of the discussion" but called it "deep detail" and said the goal, broadly, is to keep the state attractive to businesses and people who want to move here.
He talks specifically about property appraisal boards and generally about governments, saying in speeches he's after "rate-gaming and appraisal creep." (Perry did say he's against an outright freeze, like the Proposition 13 measure that passed in California 25 years ago; he says that "was, by and large, a bad idea.") The bottom line, apparently, is the bottom line on tax bills: Do Texas residents get a break in the dollar amount on their property tax bills when the Lege is through with school finance?
Though his revenue proposal — the split property tax rolls for business and residential owners — is on the bench, it was coupled with a cut in the school property tax cap, from $1.50 to $1.25. Businesses would have had their cap cut to $1.40. Perry has never talked publicly about how he would raise the money or about the specific size of any cut in property taxes. But he's still aiming to cut property taxes even if his first notion of how to pay for it can't get traction.
Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, is suddenly in a reelection race. Houston Community College System trustee and former Rep. Yolanda Navarro Flores already had her name on the ballot, but the incumbent appeared to be safe, more or less. First elected to the Senate in 1994, he was unopposed for reelection in both the primary and general elections in 1998 and in 2002. Now that he's admitted having an affair with a former stripper who is suing him, and now that that's been on the TV news every night for a week or so, he's got trouble.
Flores and Gallegos were in a four-candidate pack running for state Senate in 1994, both giving up their House seats for the contest. He finished second in the primary, first in the runoff, and then became a senator after the general elections. She finished third that time, but this time, there are only two candidates and she's got some ammo, starting with the stripper and then adding a dispute over whether the incumbent lives in the Senate district. Gallegos lists his residence as a house owned by his mother. His wife owns and takes a residential homestead exemption on a house that's not in the Senate district. Gallegos claims his mother's house as his legal residence.
Somebody — ahem — has been sending out plain brown envelopes full of further allegations against Gallegos, along with copies of the complaints filed by Susan Delgado. Reporters get that stuff all the time before elections, but we've heard from several folks in the lobby — potential campaign contributors to an incumbent senator — that they were included on the mailing list this time, too. Things that make you go hmmmm: The plain brown wrappers were postmarked "Houston" and landed in the box here shortly after an aide to Flores called and asked for our mailing address. Nothing since has landed in the box with the campaign's return address on it.
In her complaint, Delgado says she and Gallegos had a 17-year affair, that he owes her $14,000 in loans that weren't repaid, and that he abused her, throwing her to the floor of a hotel room on one occasion, and "spankings, slappings and hair-pulling" while the two were engaged in "intimate relationships." A lawyer for the senator told local reporters that the hotel room incident was investigated and dropped by police.
Think of it as Economic Development
Someone was bound to do this, now that state campaigns are required to report cash balances along with contributions and expenditures — we're just glad it wasn't us. Texans for Public Justice got all the reports and tallied them up: Incumbent state legislators had $21.3 million in their accounts at the end of 2003. The group says 27 senators had $10.3 million in the bank, and 121 House members had a total of $10.9 million in their accounts (the rest of them didn't report, or reported late, or filed campaign finance reports and neglected to include cash-on-hand numbers). The full report is available online, at www.tpj.org.
• Victor Carrillo, whose name tops the Texas section of the ballot in the GOP primary next month (congressional races come first), raised more than $800,000 in the last month and will have $600,000 or so in the bank when he files his report in the next couple of days. Carrillo is trying to overcome the GOP's Hispanic jinx, surviving a statewide primary election against opponents who don't have Spanish surnames. Robert Butler, Douglas Deffenbaugh and Dale Henry will all be on the March 9 Republican ballot with Carrillo.
• Appellate Justice Paul Green says his campaign raised more than $100,000 in the last month. He's trying to knock Republican Steven Wayne Smith off the Texas Supreme Court. Green says he'll have about $180,000 on hand when his next report is filed. Separately, Green announced he won the informal poll of lawyers in the Dallas Bar, getting more than 80 percent of the votes.
Money for Washington, Spent in Texas
We've mentioned this before, but there's a terrific source for federal campaign finance information called the Political Money Line, online at www.fecinfo.com. If you need this stuff all the time and want to be sophisticated about it, you can pay for the premium service. But if you're just poking around and want to know who's got what, the information is free. Some of the lint gathered there:
• Nobody remarked on it, because he's not running for reelection, but U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, ended 2003 with a campaign account balance of $1.2 million. He's talked about running statewide at some point, and because that money was raised under federal rules, he'd be able to use it on either a federal or state race.
• Candidates running in the new CD-10, which goes from Houston to Austin, had already spent $573,567 by the end of last year. Before the filing deadline. That was largely because Ben Streusand spent $368,512 on advertising and other expenses in December. That money was gone two months and a week before voters go to the polls.
• U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, ended the year with $22,878 in the bank; one opponent, Steve Clark, had $228,729 in the sack at that point. We haven't seen new numbers yet, but Hall's switch to the Republicans from the Democrats should have helped his financial situation.
• Incumbents paired by redistricting started the year with enough money for a pitched fight. U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, had $506,827 in his account; U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, had $342,774. In the other race featuring incumbents, U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, ended last year with $692,154; U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, had $728,416. On paper, that's more money that Stenholm and Neugebauer have, but it won't go as far: It costs lots more to advertise in Dallas.
• She hasn't filed the report showing this (it's not required yet), but Republican Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson says she raised $100,000 last week and has now brought her total fundraising to $300,000. She's responding to last week's announcement from Republican Dot Snyder, who boasted of raising $217,000, saying she was leading the pack. The Wohlgemuth campaign says they've raised more money and in less time. The two, along with Dave McIntyre of College station, are competing for the pleasure of challenging U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, in the November elections.
Republican Roy Ibañez says he's out of the race to replace Rep. Roberto Gutierrez, D-McAllen. Gutierrez is under fire in his own primary — he actually thought about not running for reelection — and is getting help from House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican. Ibañez thinks that's dirty pool, since he's a Republican and hoped for GOP support. Craddick's help doesn't necessarily extend to November, but the Speaker's aides have said he won't be opposing incumbent members in elections. Gutierrez is trying to survive a crowded primary election next month against fellow Democrats Veronica Gonzales and Jim Selman.
• Former Rep. Tracy King will stay on the ballot. Rep. Timo Garza, D-Eagle Pass, beat King last time and went first to the Democratic Party and then to court to show that King doesn't live in the district. Both say he meets the residency requirement; it's officially a rematch.
• Ben Streusand, running for Congress in the open CD-10, claimed the endorsement of Texas Eagle Forum honcho Cathie Adams, which allows him to hoist a family values flag. That comes with luggage: The Eagle Forum opposed last year's Proposition 12, the constitutional amendment that limits liability in medical malpractice and other lawsuits. The lines were fuzzy in some cases, but the pro-12 forces were dominated by Republicans; the anti-12 forces were dominated by Democrats. Mike McCaul of Austin, a former federal prosecutor running in that same race, picked up endorsements from the Texas Farm Bureau and from Justice for All, a crime victims group.
• Darren Whitehurst is the new director of public affairs for the Texas Medical Association, moving over from the Texas Hospital Association. He worked in administration at a couple of hospitals, and then as a legislative staffer before becoming a healthcare lobbyist.
Georgia on Their Minds
A federal court in Georgia — ruling on legislative redistricting maps drawn by Democrats in that state who were trying to do in the Republicans in that state — whacked the maps, and maybe, one of the standards used to draw House and Senate districts.
When lawmakers draw congressional maps, they divide the population of the state by the number of districts they want, and they draw districts with exactly the same number of people — give or take one person, if the division leaves a remainder. But when they draw districts for state representatives and senators, they're allowed to vary the population in each district. Previous court rulings set that variation at plus or minus 5 percent. The difference between the smallest district in a state and the largest district in a state — at the time the maps are drawn — can't be more than 10 percent (5 above plus five below the ideal number).
But in the Georgia case, Republicans accused the Democrats of using the variance to exaggerate their advantages, stuffing Republicans in some districts to minimize their impact in other districts that would otherwise leave Democrats open to election challenges. Georgia demographics don't exactly match up with those in Texas, but some of the trends are similar. Check this line from the opinion handed down by the three federal judges in the East: "... we have found that the deviations were systematically and intentionally created (1) to allow rural southern Georgia and inner-city Atlanta to maintain their legislative influence even as their rate of population growth lags behind that of the rest of the state; and (2) to protect Democratic incumbents."
In Texas, the screaming is on the other end of that formula, with rural areas saying they were squeezed out — along with their Democratic incumbents — to make way for the suburbs, and their mostly Republican candidates. Texas also used the 10-percent rule, relying on redistricting case law. What the Georgia panel may have done — assuming this all holds up if it's appealed — is to create an exception for cases where the allowed deviations were used to create an unfair advantage for one party or another. Democrats were unhappy with the final Texas maps, but lost their appeals to the courts. If the Georgia ruling holds and if Texas Democrats can conjure arguments similar to those made by Georgia Republicans, they'll have an opportunity to go back to court.
Some numbers, just so you'll have them if this comes up: The average (mean) deviation in district size on the Texas House map is 2.65 percent, and the deviation from the largest district to the smallest one is 9.74 percent. The Senate average is 2.6 percent; the deviation is 9.71 percent.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Former Rep. Richard Smith, now a member of the Texas Workers Compensation Commission, has let Gov. Rick Perry know he wants out of that job. Smith, named to the commission in April 2000, was chairman until last month. He sent Perry a letter of resignation, and will remain on the board until the governor names his replacement. Smith was the House sponsor of the workers compensation changes that required two special legislative sessions back in 1989. While we're on TWCC, Rhonda Myron, an insurance specialist who has been working for the Senate State Affairs Committee, is leaving that post to become TWCC's new government relations director.
• This is fun, but don't do it at work: There's a website — www.selectsmart.com/PRESIDENT/ — where you can answer about a dozen multiple choice questions on national issues and find out which one of the presidential candidates comes closest to sharing your views. After answering questions about fiscal, foreign and domestic policy issues, you click on a button and find out, on a percentage basis, whose views line up best with yours.
• She's not political people and she didn't move, so she's here instead of there: Nell Hays, who works for the Texas Secretary of State, has now been on the job for 65 years. She's 86, and took her first job at the SOS in February 1936.
• Department of Corrections: We misspelled Darin Cowart's name in some editions last week. He's the Desert Storm vet featured in an ad for Senate candidate Kevin Eltife. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Political People and Their Moves
Jennifer Brown is leaving the litigation section of Akin, Gump Law Firm to join her dad, former Sen. J. E. "Buster" Brown, in his lobby practice. They'll do both legislative and regulatory work. Brown the elder says this will double the size of his firm; everybody who works there is named J.E. Brown...
Gary Fuchs has a new job in government affairs, but with the same company. Fuchs will direct EDS' political work in Texas and several other states and help the folks (and outside lobsters) in that company's public sector business. He replaces Lisa Garcia, who left the company last fall to work for the John Kerry campaign...
It's official: President George W. Bush nominated Miles T. Bivins, former state senator from Amarillo and much better known as Teel, to be the U.S. ambassador to Sweden. That's now in the hands of the U.S. Senate...
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Lisa Ivie Miller, an Austin lawyer/lobbyist, to be Fire Fighters' Pension Commissioner, operating the state's pension benefits for fire and EMS workers and watching over local pension plans. Miller, a former Senate aide, is in private practice now, but used to be the deputy executive director at the State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association...
The governor named Hemphill County Commissioner Bob "Ed" Culver Jr. of Canadian and Robert Lopez of Pasadena, superintendent and principal of George I. Sanchez Charter High School, to the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. That's a rare state agency: its name says what it actually does...
Oliver John Bell is the newest member of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, which runs the state's prison system. Bell owns and runs E Team Company Communications in Austin, and he's a West Pointer...
Perry named retired Mobil executive turned cattle rancher Joe Hinton of Crawford, Texas, to chair the Brazos River Authority, and named six new members to that board. The tenderfeet: Mark Carrabba of Bryan, a homebuilder and co-owner of a trailer company; Jacqueline Baley Chaumetter of Sugar Land, who runs a public affairs consultancy; former Sweetwater Mayor Jere Lawrence, CEO of a grocery company; Billy Moore of Granbury, a retired exploration geophysicist; Roberto Bailon of Belton, who owns a management consulting firm; and Wade Gear of Mineral Wells, who runs a commercial real estate management company...
Quotes of the Week
House Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on legislative audits of the state's two biggest schools: "It's really not a witch hunt. It will be a positive thing if they are properly using their money."
Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Foundation, quoted in The New York Times on the ties that bind couples of the same gender: "I don't care if you call it civil unions. I don't care if you call it domestic partnership. I don't care if you call it cantaloupe soup. If you are legally spouses at the end of the day, I am not willing to do that."
Governor Rick Perry, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "I'm trying to find a solution to make the students of our state successful. If we don't find an answer and we leave it to the courts, then shame on all of us in Texas."
Political scientist Jerry Polinard of UT-Pan American, telling the Dallas Morning News that the next member of Congress from CD-25 will probably be a Democrat: "It would be hard for God to win this seat if he were running as a Republican."
J.W. Butler, a resident of Hutchison County, quoted in the Midland Reporter-Telegram on the Senate runoff between Kirk Edwards of Odessa and Kel Seliger of Amarillo: "[Edwards] ain't going to make his mark in Hutchinson, and he ain't going to win. Kel is going to whoop his hiney."
Edwards consultant Brian Berry, quoted in the Amarillo Globe-News after that paper got hold of an email he misfired in which he referred to the "wine-swilling" audience of a local PBS show on politics: "That's just an elite term. I don't know if they like wine. Maybe cheese, too."
Clint Wade Weaver, a former Haltom City jailer who pleaded guilty to charges he sexually assaulted female jail inmates, quoted in the Dallas Morning News: "It's only going to hurt my family for me to go to jail, and I've hurt enough people."
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 33, 16 February 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.