One way to torture public officials is to say or imply negative things about them while taking away their chance to respond. Travis County prosecutors are spreading the net on their investigation of campaign finance practice in the 2002 elections, adding five-dozen subpoenas to the half dozen revealed last week. They're working with a grand jury that will remain in business through the end of March. And lawyers frown when their clients spit at prosecutors while grand juries are in session.
Combine all that and you get several long weeks for the Republicans whose campaign activities are under the microscope. Only when the grand jury is done will they know exactly what – if anything – they're responding to, and who is in the grease and who is not and whether and when there will be trials and so on and so on. Stuff like this lasts a while, no matter what the outcome.
Start plugging in everything else that's going on and you can see that there's reason to reconsider the calendar. The latest round of subpoenas from DA Ronnie Earle's office put some new people in the spotlight, including Mike Toomey, chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, Danielle Ferro, daughter of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and a number of people who ran in or raised money for or worked on various campaigns in the last election cycle.
Toomey was a lobbyist during those elections and had ties to each of the groups whose campaign finance practices are under scrutiny. House Speaker Tom Craddick, subpoenaed last week, is being asked about any connections between getting people elected to the House and getting himself elected speaker once they were in. Prosecutors are interested in records of Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, the chairman of the House Public Education Committee.
Many others are being pulled into this, but if you stop there, you've already named three of the key players in any effort to redo the state's school finance formulas. School finance is supposed to be the subject of a special session this spring, and the investigation could throw a wrench into those plans. Since state leaders haven't put together anything resembling an agreed-upon plan for school finance, that wrench might be a welcome side effect.
Call a special session while the grand jury thing is hot, and Toomey would have a major distraction to contend with, as would Grusendorf (and anyone else under the scope at that point). Craddick's distraction is potentially worse. Special sessions only employ the experts until it's time to vote, so most House members would be running around like free-range chickens while the education and finance people were crunching solutions. Some of those chickens would be pecking at the speaker, and in the best case, that would make it difficult for House leaders to pull together a consensus for school finance and/or taxes. At worst, it could blossom into a flat-out challenge to those leaders. The House, which is still getting used to the change from D to R, was already contentious without a grand jury around. As long as Earle's working, some of the folks in the Pink Building think the state would be better off if legislators remained in their own districts.
The 58 subpoenas filed this week were served as long ago as October. Some were recent, however, and call for records that the grand jurors are seeing now for the first time. The panel's term runs through March, but could be extended, or handed off to another grand jury. The investigation of Texans for a Republican Majority, the Texas Association of Business, the Republican National Committee and other groups and people that helped put a GOP majority in the Texas House could go well into April. Perry has said repeatedly that's when he'd like to start the Lege on school finance.
Gov. Rick Perry's "working trip" to the Bahamas was originally supposed to include House Speaker Tom Craddick, but Craddick pulled out before the Guv, several staffers and a couple of his biggest donors took off for the President's Day weekend. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the other guy in the triumvirate that presides in the Pink Building, didn't go either. But unlike Craddick, Dewhurst was never on the invitation list. According to the Dallas Morning News, Perry took along his wife Anita, chief of staff Mike Toomey, deputy chief of staff Deirdre Delisi and her husband, political consultant Ted Delisi, and budget guru Mike Morrissey. Two of the Guv's biggest political patrons – Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio and beer distributor John Nau of Houston – came along, as did their wives. Also on board: Perry's top campaign consultant, Dave Carney, Grover Norquist, the most prominent anti-tax lobbyist in the country, Brooke Rollins, a former gubernatorial aide who now heads the Texas Public Policy Foundation, her husband, and some of the governor's state-paid security detail. Another donor, Vance Miller of Dallas, and his spouse – State Board of Education chair Geraldine Miller – were slated to go but also backed out.
Perry aides say the group was talking about school finance, in anticipation of a special session on that subject that could take place this spring. And they say the governor will pay for the trip out of his campaign account – which is in turn funded by donors like Leininger and Nau – and not by state taxpayers. The trip was kept quiet, but an anonymous political watcher bragged about seeing Perry and Norquist and several people, including a few dressed in suits on a "54-foot pleasure craft." On a Washington-based website – www.capitolgrilling.com – the anonymous poster wrote about the sighting in the middle of a boast about the fishing the writer had done in the Abaca Islands. It went on that website on February 18 and was in the mainstream news within a week.
¿What's in a Nombre?
Gov. Perry is actively pushing two Republicans for state office: Victor Carrillo, his appointee to the Texas Railroad Commission who's stuck in a GOP primary with three others who have the arguable advantage of Anglo surnames (more on that in a sec), and Paul Green, who's challenging Republican Texas Supreme Court Justice Steven Wayne Smith in the GOP primary. Smith is the guy who beat Xavier Rodriguez in the GOP primary two years ago. Perry wanted X-Rod (who's now on track for a federal judgeship) and a Green victory would even the score.
Conventional wisdom holds that Hispanic surnames burden candidates in statewide GOP primaries. Tony Garza held off Steve Stockman in his bid for Texas Railroad Commission, but lost an earlier primary for attorney general. X-Rod lost in spite of spending much more money on his campaign than Smith spent in opposition. And in spite of being the incumbent. It's a problem the GOP wants to fix, and Perry is attacking it, in a way, with both the Carrillo and Green endorsements.
Carrillo is the easier fight, since he's the incumbent, a Perry appointee, and doesn't have any apparent blots on his public record. He's the favorite of the Republican establishment over his challengers: Robert Butler of Palestine, Douglas Deffenbaugh of San Antonio, and K. Dale Henry of Mullin. And he represents the simplest opportunity for the GOP to shake its reputation as a steeper hill for Latinos than the Democratic Party.
Green and Smith is a different bowl of soup. Smith wasn't the management favorite two years ago, but he hasn't done anything to embarrass Republicans since beating Rodriguez. And without a reason to throw him out, Perry is setting a gubernatorial precedent by opposing an incumbent state officeholder from his own party in the GOP primary. Smith has some visible support, including a "vote of confidence" from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. She's not endorsing anyone, but said some nice things about Smith. He put her mild support at the top of his web page and at the heart of his press releases, and Hutchison – given the opportunity – did nothing to remove the luster. A vote of confidence it is; an endorsement it is not. Green has dominated the endorsement game, but Smith is stacking up official support from a number of conservatives and conservative groups.
Meanwhile, in the Primaries
Early voting runs through March 5, and here are some of the hot spots reported back to us by consultants and politicos and others who do politics instead of sports:
CD-1: Locals expect a runoff in the six-way GOP primary, and the winner gets to run against U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, in a newly drawn and more Republican district. The pack includes a couple of people who've done this before and started with networks in place: state Rep. Wayne Christian of Center and former Judge Louis Gohmert of Tyler. We're not picking favorites: Others in the contest are well funded and could make a runoff.
CD-2: Another mess of Republicans looking for a chance to knock off a Democratic incumbent on the new congressional maps. U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, will face the winner of a field that includes former Judge Ted Poe, a cop, an attorney and three businessmen.
CD-4: U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, switched parties and didn't get the endorsement of the Dallas Morning News, but he's the favorite in the three-way primary.
CD-9: U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, is challenged by Al Green, a former JP who has name ID and a base of his own. Bell should be able to win it, but it's noisy down there.
CD-10: Eight Republicans are battling in this Austin-to-Houston primary, and the winner gets to go to Washington, D.C. It's an open seat, with several candidates busting wallets and running as far to the right as you can imagine. They're against taxes, against trial lawyers and they're clearly betting that GOP moderates won't be deciding this election. A runoff is a near certainty.
CD-17: We predicted cow plop would be an issue, and now it's on TV in the form of a humorous attack ad. Dairy farms on the North Bosque River, in Arlene Wohlgemuth's part of the district, are accused of polluting the river and thus, Lake Waco. Waco residents drink from that lake. And now Dot Snyder is running ads featuring glasses of brown water and pictures of cows and saying that the outgoing state representative – she's called Wohl-ge-mooooooth in the commercials – isn't on Waco's side of the fight. Wohlgemuth's pitch is that she's saved gobs of taxpayer money as a state legislator and that she's better positioned to beat U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, in November. A subplot: State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, is working hard for Snyder (Wohlgemuth worked for his Senate opponent). Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, hasn't endorsed but gave Wohlgemuth a $1,000 contribution, skipping Dave McIntyre, the candidate from Ogden's end of the district in the process.
CD-25: U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, started working constituent calls on the Texas-Mexico Border before the congressional redistricting maps were final. He started with more money than anybody in Texas – over $2 million – and is ahead in everything but geography and race. Austin isn't the center of population gravity, and it's a Latino district, which gives hope to supporters of former Judge Leticia Hinojosa.
SD-6: We've written about Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, and his troubles with a former girlfriend and questions about his residency. No news to report, other than former Rep. Yolanda Navarro Flores is giving him a contest he wouldn't have faced without those problems.
SD-31: This is the special election replayed, with some changes. All of the candidates from the first election are on the ballot again, but only two of them are serious contenders. Don Sparks, a Midland businessman who grew up in Amarillo and finished third in the special election, did the unexpected and endorsed Kel Seliger, a former Amarillo mayor who won the special election. It's been a war of geography, and many folks expected Sparks to stay out or endorse the (almost) local candidate, Kirk Edwards of Odessa. Bob Barnes of Odessa initially said he'd run hard in the regular election in spite of his fourth-place finish the first time. He changed his mind now and won't actively campaign. Unlike Sparks, he hasn't stated a preference for the March 9 primary election.
House: A Baker's Dozen in a Hot Oven
The partisan composition of the Texas House isn't really in question – it's safely Republican – but that appears to have moved the really tough fights from November to March. A number of incumbents are fighting for their careers out there:
HD-7: Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, ran for state Senate and lost, but ended the race with an endorsement for Kevin Eltife, who won and who has now returned the endorsement favor. Merritt has three opponents in his reelection fight, but appears to be on his way back to Austin.
HD-17: Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Pass, made this bed by flirting with the GOP and then dropping out of the race before deciding, finally, to seek reelection as a Democrat. He's got two opponents who were hooked up before he came back. And the Republicans are in a four-way fight to run against the winner of this round in November.
HD-18: Nancy Archer was recruited to run against Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston, by Proposition 12 opponents who didn't like his vote in favor of limits on lawsuit awards for medical malpractice and other damages. He went to Ardmore with the House Democrats who stalled redistricting, but that wasn't enough to keep some Democrats happy with him.
HD-21: Ditto the above in Allan Ritter's reelection race. He's running against former state Sen. David Bernsen of Beaumont, who recruited Ritter to run in the first place.
HD-34: Several South Texas Democrats are under fire this year. Rep. Jaime Capelo of Corpus Christi might have had opposition anyhow because of his vote on Prop 12. But a scandal over a $100,000 check that he either should or should not have shared with his law partners has hung a dark cloud over the contest. Nelda Martinez and Abel Herrero are threatening to remove the chairman of the House's Public Health Committee.
HD-35: Keep Rep. Gabi Canales, D-Alice, on the serious list. She's a freshman and drew two Democratic opponents, David Flores and Yvonne Gonzales Toureilles.
HD-40: Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, is doing better now, but still has a serious race on his hands against former city engineer Eddie Saenz. Observers had him on the grave list early in the year but have upgraded his political condition to serious. Meanwhile, Saenz picked up endorsements from the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association. Those groups favored Proposition 12, and Peña stuck with the other side.
HD-41: Rep. Roberto Gutierrez, D-McAllen, has two serious opponents and it hasn't gotten any less threatening than it appeared at first. Challengers Veronica Gonzalez and Jim Selman could easily force his reelection bid into a runoff.
HD-50: Freshman Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, had three opponents. One dropped out after he filed for two offices – ooops! – but there are still two alternatives for GOP voters. It's a serious race.
HD-80: Former Rep. Tracy King is trying to win back the seat he lost two years ago to Democrat Timo Garza, D-Eagle Pass. Garza tried to get King tossed on residency problems, but failed.
HD-81: Rep. George "Buddy" West, R-Odessa, faces a challenge from Jason Moore, who got some conservative endorsements and has drawn more attention than the incumbent would have liked.
HD-95: Rep. Glenn Lewis, D-Fort Worth, signed on early with Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, and some Democrats haven't forgiven him. He's got serious competition in the form of former Martin Frost aide Marc Veasey.
HD-131: Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, sided with Republicans on congressional redistricting on the grounds that it was the only way to get more Black Texans into the congressional delegation. That came at the expense of Anglo Democrats, and of Democrats overall. If this were an action movie, the little red laser lights from Democratic snipers would be all over his shirt. Wilson, who faces State Board of Education member Alma Allen, sent out fliers with photos of lynchings, invoking names of civil rights leaders Mickey Leland, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, and saying, "the fight is not over." He's the top target of his fellow House Democrats this year, and several are helping Allen.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Last week's item on commercials attacking East Texas lawmakers for their votes on tax bills prompted someone to point out a list of lawmakers who might be subject to similar trouble if they vote for a school finance plan that involves a tax bill. Americans for Tax Reform, the national anti-tax group headed by Grover Norquist, collects pledges from state legislative candidates and posts the results on its website. The pledgers agree to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes." That could make school finance in Texas an interesting proposition, since 38 Texas lawmakers had taken the oath as of February 13. That number includes four state senators – Kyle Janek of Houston, Chris Harris of Arlington, Todd Staples of Palestine and Tommy Williams of The Woodlands. All four of those Republicans are also on the group's naughty list, for voting last year for legislation that would have cut local school property taxes in half and funded the cuts with a $7 billion package of sales tax increases. All of the House members on the list are Republicans.
• The people being called in can't kick the prosecutors right now, but the Texas Republican Party filed an open records request with Travis County asking for records that would show any contact between reporters and prosecutors looking at campaign finance.
• Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn told the Mental Health Association of Texas that the state's budget cuts in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program left $1.6 billion in federal money on the table. That's the amount she says would have come to the state if lawmakers hadn't cut those programs. The CHIP cuts took 107,000 children off the rolls from September to now, she said, and mental health spending was cut $41.2 million.
• The Texas Legislative Council, which has been a fixture on the first floor of the Capitol's west wing for years, is moving to the Robert Johnson Building and freeing space for aides to House Speaker Tom Craddick. The move coincides with the retirement of House Parliamentarian and TLC director Steve Collins, who needed to be close at hand for the first job and not so for the second. TLC hasn't named a new director, but Denise Davis has been named parliamentarian. She's on Craddick's team already and will remain in the Pink Building when TLC moves. All the related shuffling of offices is supposed to be over sometime next month.
• Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tapped three senators for an interim committee studying the junk kids eat at school. Sens. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; and Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, will all be on that panel. They're after answers for why so many kids are obese.
• Matt Zepeda, a Brazoria County Justice of the Peace, resigned after the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended his removal by the Texas Supreme Court. He was suspended in 2002 after one jail videotape caught him chewing out an inmate in a dazzling display of obscenity, and in another, using racial epithets to berate another inmate. TV reports of that incident led to protests in front of his house. On other occasions, Zepeda cursed in open court, and berated a woman on the phone while trying to mediate a tenant dispute...
• Things that make you go hmmmmm. The front page of the Austin American-Statesman carried a photo of a Catholic parishioner – Helena Colyandro – taking part in Ash Wednesday services, which mark the beginning of Lent and a time of penitence. Next to it, the paper ran an unrelated story on the investigation of campaign finance by a Travis County grand jury, in which her husband, John Colyandro, is a central figure.
• DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: Paul Sadler is a former state representative who was running for state Senate; we misfired on his former title in some editions last week. Another: Arlene Wohlgemuth's bid for Congress was endorsed by the Young Conservatives of Texas. We got the group's name wrong last week. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Political People and Their Moves
The Texas Education Reform Caucus, which bills itself as a non-profit made up of educators, parents and business people, elected David Russell of Dallas to be its new chairman. He's a Verizon exec, and will head a group of officers that includes Patti Clapp from the Dallas Chamber, Jim Windham of Houston, who's on the State Board of Educator Certification, David Webb, CFO of the Deer Park ISD, and Houston attorney Vidal Martinez...Alan Ware, who left his job as a state redistricting guru a year ago to lobby with former Sen. David Sibley, is breaking off on his own. Ware is hanging out his own shingle, and will lobby both the Lege and regulators on education, insurance and other issues... What might sound like hell to the rest of us is apparently heaven to a rules wonk: Christopher Griesel – who has been the rules attorney for the Texas Supreme Court for over three years, is moving to the next building to the south to be the deputy House parliamentarian. He worked at the Texas Legislative Council before going to the court, and was a briefing attorney for Chief Justice Tom Phillips before that. He'll back up Denise Davis, who was named parliamentarian last month... Zach Brady, who's been in the lobby/litigation section at the Jackson Walker law firm's Austin office, is leaving for Lubbock to work for McWhorter Cobb & Johnson. He'll be in on agriculture, water and property fights from that venue... Promoted, sideways: Dr. Mark McClellan, head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, son of Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Carole Keeton Strayhorn and advisor to President George W. Bush, from FDA to the head of the agency that oversees Medicaid and Medicare... Births: Jennifer Patterson, a former tax attorney for the state and the spouse of Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, gave birth to twins this week. Cole Alexander and Samantha Kate entered the ring at weights of 7'7" and 5'4" respectively, and they and their mother are fine... Deaths: Former Texas Attorney General and House Speaker Waggoner Carr, a Lubbock Democrat who served in the House in the 1950s and as AG for four years in the mid-1960s. He was 95.
Quotes of the Week
Andy Taylor, lawyer for the Texas Association of Business, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on the Travis County D.A.'s investigation of campaign finance practices in the 2002 elections: "I think Ronnie Earle's investigation will boil down to the old adage, 'You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride.' It's the ride we are on now, and there's little we can do about it."
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, quoted by the Associated Press on the inquiry (in which DeLay's daughter, Danielle Ferro, was subpoenaed): "He did it to Kay Bailey Hutchison and lost that case. He's done it to other people so he can get press but doesn't even carry through and file charges. This is an attempt to criminalize politics and we have a runaway district attorney in Texas."
Earle, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after that criticism: "Being called vindictive and partisan by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a frog."
Graef Crystal, an executive compensation watcher quoted in The New York Times on executive perks that usually go unreported: "It's very hard to control a multi-billion-dollar company. You try something; it works. You try something else; it doesn't. But if you can get your dry cleaning paid for, at least you've accomplished something."
Austin consultant Tony Proffitt, quoted by the Associated Press on the hand-to-hand combat in state Democratic primaries: "That's pretty much a traditional Democratic thing. They don't get along on a regular basis. Party politics has always taken a back seat to personal politics."
Gov. Rick Perry, telling the Houston Chronicle why meetings of his new "Governor's Management Council" – which includes his office and 11 agency chiefs – are closed to the public: "There may be someone saying, 'Well, you know what? I don't know whether this idea that I've got I really want to be tagged with. Maybe I haven't thought it completely through.'"
Hollywood agent John Lesher, quoted in The New York Times on his industry's reaction to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: "If the movie works, I don't think it will hurt him. People here will work with the anti-Christ if he'll put butts in seats."
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 35, 1 March 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.