Throw Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Carole Keeton Strayhorn into one three-day convention, and it doesn't matter how heavy you lay on the religion and an uncomfortably detailed platform: The main subject of conversation is the next Republican primary for governor in 2006.
Perry talked on the first day, dominated the coverage, and left. Governors generally control their own political parties, and that's almost certainly why Strayhorn was scheduled to speak late Friday afternoon, after delegates had begun streaming out to do some shopping and stroll San Antonio's Riverwalk. She and Hutchison were scheduled to be at the head table at the lunch for the Texas Federation of Republican Women — in terms of actual campaign work, possibly the most important grassroots organization in the Party — but Perry snagged an invitation to come in, speak, and leave, all without sitting for lunch or for risking a three-candidate photo-op.
Hutchison spoke Saturday, denouncing state-run gambling and tying her position to George W. Bush, without saying out loud that Perry's school finance plans were funded, largely, by adding slot machines to the state's gaming offerings. And Perry's gang pushed reporters to ask Hutchison about abortion, which they did, exposing the differences between her position, Perry's, Strayhorn's, and the position spelled out in the Party platform. Republicans might not have a candidate in the hunt who agrees with the platform on both issues.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said jokingly that he won't be in the race for governor, and also said — not joking — that he's not picking a favorite. "I will do my darndest to stay out of the crossfire in the Republican primary if there is a primary. In the general election, I will support the nominee of the Republican Party." At this point, Perry is the only Texas Republican who has said publicly he wants to run for governor in 2006. (In fact, he's the only Texan of either party who's declared, unless you want to count singer/novelist/animal rescuer Kinky Friedman, [www.kinkyfriedman.com] who's been touting his own candidacy for months, saying his slogan would be "How hard could it be?")
Strayhorn, while sniping at Perry at every opportunity, has ducked the question for months, saying she's "comptroller, 24/7." Hutchison said in San Antonio that there's no reason to talk about that race "in 2004" and no need to announce her intentions for that election cycle until "probably this time next year." She added: "I just don't think we ought to be in non-stop campaign."
Is Gambling Important to GOP voters?
Hutchison planted her flag on the anti-gambling hill. "Gov. Bush fought gambling in this state, and I will, too," she said, to thunderous applause. Later, Hutchison said she opposed the lottery, too, and thinks gambling would be an unstable source of revenue for schools. A day earlier, the delegates had added VLTs to a previously existing plank against gambling.
VLTs, which operate like slot machines, were a $1.5 billion component of Perry's school finance package this spring. He's defended them as a non-tax revenue solution for public schools, and as an actual reduction in gambling, since he wanted to outlaw so-called eight-liner machines in the state. Those outnumber the 40,000 slot machines he wanted to legalize, and in his eyes, that would result in a decrease in gambling in the state.
Strayhorn is with Perry on this one, having proposed VLTs as a funding solution before he did, as a way to balance the budget a year ago. Perry and lawmakers took a pass then, and the issue sat until the governor proposed his school finance solutions earlier this year. On that issue, Hutchison is more in tune with GOP delegates — who generally represent the more conservative part of the party.
Hutchison told reporters women should have the option of abortion until a fetus becomes viable. She thinks states should have room to enact restrictions of their own, but doesn't see any need to change the laws in Texas. In her words: "I just think that it's very important that you know, regardless of what might have been in the papers or whatever, I've stayed consistent, and my position is that I think there can be an ability for a woman until viability to make a choice. I think the states should have the right as they have done to have restrictions such as parental consent or notification. And after that I think there should be further restrictions." An aide said later that bit about "further restrictions" would apply to abortions after the fetus becomes viable.
The party platform calls for the reversal of the Roe vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal, for a "human life" amendment to the constitution, for extending constitutional rights to unborn children, and opposes public funding for abortion services or for organizations that promote or support the practice. The platform also calls for several additions to state law, including parental consent before minors can have abortions, licensing of abortion facilities, and "enactment of any other laws which will advance the right to life for unborn children."
Perry and Strayhorn also stray from the party line, but not as far. Both say they're against abortion except in cases involving rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is threatened.
There will be plenty of other disagreements over the next (gulp) two-and-a-half years, but so far, social conservatives don't have a candidate they can agree with on two issues that are important to them; the candidates are 180 degrees apart on gambling, and Hutchison — who basically has an anti-abortion voting record in the Senate — has taken a more liberal position than Perry or Strayhorn.
One candidate is in line with the platform on both issues, but John Cornyn isn't running. His position on abortion is identical to that of the governor and of the comptroller. He's with Hutchison on gambling, though: "I fail to see the wisdom of the proliferation of gambling in Texas."
Strayhorn told Republican delegates that the state ought to put initiative and referendum into the constitution, allowing voters to pass and repeal laws without help from the Legislature. It was almost a throwaway line in a speech that repeated many of the lines you've heard if you've been to a Strayhorn talk in the last six or seven months, but it was the new item on the list.
I&R hasn't been seriously proposed in a statewide race in years and it got a flat reception when Strayhorn brought it up toward the end of a 10-minute talk. It was a regular item in former Gov. Bill Clements' repertoire, and others — like Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, who used it in her first race — have picked it up. But the Republican Party has come off it: The platform has a provision opposing "any attempt to introduce direct democracy (Initiative & Referendum) into our state constitution, thereby bypassing the legislative process and the checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government."
For the curious: Delegates we talked to were more aware of a potential Strayhorn challenge to the governor than of any potential head-butting between Perry and Hutchison. The governor and the senior senator, both giving speeches at times when delegates would be around to listen, were well received. Strayhorn didn't get booed, as some of her supporters had feared after her sustained attacks on Perry. Her receptions each night of the convention were overflow affairs, a good sign for her side. But the reception to her late Friday afternoon speech, with its calls for more funding for children's health and for education, was flat. For a GOP crowd looking for red meat, those issues looked like vegetables — if 2006 primary voters resemble the delegates at the convention, she'll have to move to the right or bring in a bunch of moderate Republicans who've been skipping March elections.
Is Anybody Listening?
The platform of the Texas Republican Party is, like its counterpart in the Democratic Party, a document that remains significant for nearly a whole week every two years — when the party meets to add to and delete from it. Elected Republicans, for the most part, ignore it. The media writes about the weird or topical elements of the moment during the conventions, and sometimes uses it to measure the difference between what's being done in the real world and what convention delegates think ought to be done. Still, some of the items that first show up here make their way into legislation and administrative rules.
The new document won't be the GOP's website for about a month, we're told (the old one is there, at www.TexasGOP.org), so we've listed some of the changes from the platform approved two years ago. Some things Texas GOP delegates say they want:
• Require Republican candidates to check off the parts of the platform they agree and don't agree with, and then "strongly encourage" the party's honchos to keep that support, or the lack of it, in mind when doling out campaign contributions.
• The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should be run by an elected official.
• The Endangered Species Act should be eliminated, and the government shouldn't buy land for purposes of protecting endangered species. One more: They want government management of public lands and resources to be based on policies putting human needs ahead of other considerations.
• Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposal that would put trains, truck lanes, and highways in quarter-mile wide corridors throughout the state, shouldn't go forward.
• Added to a provision supporting judicial elections is specific opposition to "all attempts to impose an appointment/retention election process."
• Out of state lawyers with mail order degrees — or degrees earned in Internet courses — ought to be allowed to practice in Texas.
• Candidates for any office should be required to live in the districts they want to represent.
• The Legislature shouldn't mess with laws that currently deny felons the right to vote.
• They're still against electronic voting that doesn't include paper trails, and they want to keep democratic and republican primary locations separate whenever possible to eliminate "voter intimidation and coercion." And they want to repeal the "Help America Vote Act" that followed the Florida recounts in 2000, which they say unconstitutionally tells localities how to run elections.
• Repeal the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
• Go along with the Dallas Morning News editorial board (though they didn't give credit for the idea) of requiring the Legislature to record all votes instead of allowing non-record and voice votes.
• Lawmakers who leave the state to block legislative quorums would lose their pay and benefits immediately, and an absence of five days or more would constitute a resignation.
• Public integrity cases involving state officials should be taken out of the jurisdiction of the Travis County District Attorney and put into the newly created Office of the State Prosecuting Attorney, headed by a new statewide elected official.
• Public displays of the Ten Commandments shouldn't be restricted, and the GOP "decries any unconstitutional act of judicial tyranny that would demand removal of the words "one nation, under God," from the Pledge of Allegiance." That same section calls for the reinstallation of the Confederate Widow's Pension Fund plaque removed from the state courts building next to the Capitol.
• Strike prohibitions on corporal discipline and home schools in foster homes "to help alleviate the shortage of foster parents."
• School finance shouldn't take local money out of the school districts where it was raised; teacher salary increases should be funded with savings from reductions in administrative expenses; and taxes should not be increased to pay for a school finance solution.
• Republicans added pornography to their call for tougher prosecution and better counseling for people with "addictive behaviors." They advise faith-based counseling over prison when possible.
• Abolish the Texas Lottery and block expansion of gaming to a number of specified games, a list that now includes video lottery machines and multistate lottery, in addition to things they were already against: casinos, slot machines, eight-liners, riverboat gambling, and video keno.
• Increase the penalty for not reporting sexual assault of a child, and repeal defenses available to attackers whose ages are within 36 months of the ages of their victims.
• Require judges who bypass parental notice for minors seeking abortions to report those bypasses to the state. The GOP would also require parental notice before a minor gets a prescription for a "morning after pill."
• The new version of the platform says people protesting at abortion clinics aren't participating in organized crimes and shouldn't be prosecuted under the RICO law.
• Raise the age of sexual consent in Texas law to 18.
Two Challenges Fall Short; and an Election Goes Off-Script
Waco lawyer Gina Parker gave the current management a scare, but delegates from 21 of the Senate caucuses wanted to stick with Tina Benkiser as chairman of the state GOP. She'll get a full two-year term in the post she won on an interim basis last year. Eight of the caucuses voted for Parker, and two of those withheld support for David Barton, who ran unopposed for another term as vice chairman. After each of the 31 caucuses voted (there's one for each Senate district), the results were clear, and Parker agreed to withdraw before a full vote on the floor of the convention.
Denise McNamara, the Republican National Committee woman from Texas, held off a challenge from Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams and will hold on for two years. Adams, with support from trial lawyers who agree with her position on limitations of lawsuits involving people exposed to asbestos, won the recommendation of delegates in eight of the state's 32 congressional districts. She dropped out, and McNamara won by acclimation when the election went to the floor for a vote.
The other contest — the election of a national committee man to replace Tim Lambert of Lubbock (he was term-limited) went on for a while, partly because the convention came to a 20-minute halt for the announcement that former President Ronald Reagan had died. Bill Crocker of Austin won the recommendations of delegates in 19 of 32 congressional districts. But Mark Cole of Houston, who won the recommendation in 13 districts, decided to fight it on the floor instead of conceding — as is usually the case — on the basis of the caucus votes.
For a little while, it actually looked like an old-style political convention, with people arguing and casting votes instead of watching videos and listening to canned speeches. Dr. David Teuscher, a member of the State Republican Executive Commission from Beaumont, said he'd talked to state Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, on the phone, and that Janek had told him to "tell the delegation, Ronald Reagan would not have done it this way." Coming, as it did, within an hour of Reagan's death, that drew sustained boos from the delegates.
Janek said later that he supported Cole, but that Cole's decision to contest the election on the floor, after many delegates had left for home, was something the former president wouldn't have condoned. "That's the kind of back-room stuff that Reagan would have opposed. The race was over... If Mark pursues that on the floor, my support for him has evaporated... I just don't think Ronald Reagan would do it this way."
Janek, who was in Houston when his Teuscher made his statement, said he knew Reagan had passed away when he made the comment, but meant no disrespect and didn't know he was going to be quoted to the whole convention. "Reagan is my political hero," he said.
The congressional district delegations haggled and then announced their votes, one by one, to the chair. That piled up heavily in Crocker's favor, 2,548 to 1,357 votes. While they were waiting for an announcement of the results, one group broke into a rendition of "Kumbaya." That got a standing ovation when it was over. Cole went to the microphone and conceded, and that was that: Crocker will be the national committeeman from Texas.
In their first formal meeting on school finance since the failed special session on that subject ended last month, Texas lawmakers stayed away from gnarly details and set five "goals" for revisions to the way the state pays for public education.
They want to flip the state/local funding ratio on maintenance and operations so that the state, which now pays under 40 percent of the tab, would pay at least 60 percent. According to Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, that would increase the state's cost by about $5 billion, lowering local costs by the same amount.
Second, they'd lower maintenance and operation property rates, which now average about $1.47, to $1 or less. The rule of thumb: A 10-cent drop costs about $1 billion, so this item would cost roughly $5 billion. As it happens, the same money that accomplishes Thing Number One would accomplish Thing Number Two. Your tally so far: $5 billion.
Next they want to preserve or increase equity in the system, a legal term for making sure schools in wealthier or poorer areas get similar amounts of total education money for each child as long as their local tax collection "efforts" are similar. It's designed to level the financial playing field.
Fourth, they want any solution to include constitutional amendments, which has the benefit of letting Texans have their say, and the political benefit of asking voters for cover on hard choices.
Finally, any solution has to include "at least $1 billion" in new funding, not including the amounts needed to keep up with population growth. That moves the overall tab to $6 billion, at a minimum.
The panel, chaired by Ogden and by House Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin, didn't propose ways to pay for it, but during the discussions, lawmakers talked about some of the same things they considered in the recent special session, including slot machines, broad business taxes, and sales taxes.
They didn't settle much, but they talked about what they want to do. They were all over the board, but in a congenial way. Sen. Florence Shapiro, who chairs the Senate's Education Committee, wants a broad-based business tax that doesn't "nickel and dime Texans to death."
Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, asked a question that never really got answered: "Is money going to drive policy or is policy going to drive money?" Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, said the central issue — spelled out in Gov. Rick Perry's inaugural address — is to end the "Robin Hood" system of funding that has about a hundred richer district sharing money with more than 900 other districts.
Heflin mentioned a lawsuit challenging school finance that's supposed to go to court later this summer, saying he's not convinced lawmakers will fix what the courts are looking at: "I think there's a lot of action we could take and the lawsuit would still be on the table," he said. When they finished listing their goals,
Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, made one last suggestion: "World peace?"
Political People and Their Moves
State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, is on his way to Indiana to prep for a tour of up to one year in Afghanistan. Noriega, a major in the Texas Army National Guard, has been activated and will leave Texas in about a week...
Chase Untermeyer has been nominated by George W. Bush to be the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar. That goes to the Senate, and if they approve, back to Bush. Untermeyer is a former political reporter for the Houston Chronicle who overcame that slip and made a real career for himself as a Texas legislator, an aide to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, the head of Voice of America, assistant Secretary of the Navy, then as a governmental relations guy for Compaq Computer and the University of Houston. He also served on the State Board of Education...
Gov. Rick Perry dropped the other foot, naming Michael Murray the district attorney for Brown and Mills Counties. He was an assistant to Sky Sudderth, who agreed to resign rather than face perjury and other charges. Murray's name is already on the November ballot for a full term...
Alex Winslow will be the new program director at Texas Watch, after a five-year stint as chief of staff to Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb, and earlier gigs with several other House members. Telford didn't run for reelection...
Brooke Boddy, former legislative director for Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, joins the legislative office at the Texas Farm Bureau...
Deaths: Evelyn Pitts, wife of state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, from injuries sustained in an automobile accident caused, apparently, by a drunk driver. She was 57.
Quotes of the Week, Religion Section
Rev. Charles Murphy of Heritage Baptist Church in Missouri City, talking to the Austin American-Statesman before giving an invocation at the GOP convention: "I thought when I was over there today I was at church. I heard more about God there than I hear at some of the conventions we go to that say they are Christian."
Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, which represents gay and lesbian conservatives, quoted in the Dallas Morning News on a GOP proposal to make it illegal to marry same-sex couples, defined as anything other than a "union between a natural man and a natural woman": "The radical right wanted a cultural war, and now they have it. We simply will not remain silent during this election year if gay and lesbian families are being used as wedge issues."
Gallup pollster Frank Newport, in the Washington Post: "All the surveys show that if you ask about either church attendance or attitudes — how important is religion to you in your daily life? — you get the same thing: the more religious, the more conservative. I certainly remember the days when being religious meant fighting for civil rights and social justice, and it's not that those people aren't still out there. But religious liberals are a small minority today."
Rev. Charles Wade, executive director of the moderate Baptist General Convention of Texas, quoted by the Associated Press on the years following the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979: "I realized that the pendulum was not going to swing because the fundamentalists had nailed it to the wall."
Quotes of the Week, Secular Section
Gov. Rick Perry, in his keynote speech at the state Republican convention: "Two years ago, I stood before you and vowed [that] if you give Texas Republicans a chance to lead, we will show this state and nation a different way to govern. The conservative course we have charted represents the conservative values of most Texans."
Kirk Overby, chairman of the Texas GOP's platform committee, in the Dallas Morning News: "What the Democrats call wacky positions have been in there for over a decade. During that period of time, we have taken over all the statewide offices, the Legislature of the State of Texas... Those wacky positions haven't hurt us. We like to believe they helped us get here."
State Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, on slot machines: "The plan to fund education reform using gambling makes a mockery of our state Republican platform." From that platform: "We strongly oppose gambling, in any form, as a means to fund education."
Perry, telling the Austin American-Statesman that his proposal allowing slot machines would not lead to more gambling, since he'd also make popular 8-liner machines illegal: "Those of you in the media have done a very poor job of explaining it to the people that it's a contraction of gambling. I know this is hard for some to understand, but 143,000 down to 40,000 — do the math on that."
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on Perry's proposal to allow slot machines at Texas racetracks, and telling the paper she hasn't decided whether to support his reelection in two years: "I think he still has strong support, but I think there are delegates here that are disappointed that the governor is not coming out strongly in opposition to gambling."
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on a proposal to allow Texans to deduct sales taxes from their federal income taxes: "The governor calls me once every two weeks. Every time I was down in Texas during redistricting I would hear about the sales tax deduction. I wanted to talk about redistricting, and they wanted to talk about the sales tax."
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, quoted in The New York Times on companies based offshore chasing federal contracts: "If they want a slice of the American pie, they had better help bake it."
Taxidermist Terry Van Loenen, in an Austin American-Statesman story on his industry: "Commercial taxidermy has got away from art. Instead, a lot of times it's a duck on a stick."
Texas Weekly: Volume 21, Issue 2, 14 June 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.