School finance didn't move an inch while we were on summer break. Not an iota. In early July, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, was showing a plan she hoped would get some support, the idea being that if lawmakers liked it, the Lege could come back to Austin for a quick special session. They'd do something to lower property taxes and increase the state's share of public school funding with a combination of sales, business and tobacco taxes, and could frost that cake with money from slot machines if enough legislators would go along.
That's not in the cards, at least not at the moment.
Gov. Rick Perry's team polled members on the idea of a special session focused on lower property taxes. That limited agenda would ease the political pains some members — particularly Republicans — are feeling at home, but would avoid fights over some other controversial elements, like the overall school funding formulas and various education reforms. The answer they got back: Solve it all or leave it be. Still, with all the legislative doctors in a circle around the table and flat lines on the vital signs monitors, there is no death certificate.
If you want to scratch at this thing, you will find a few people still talking about a quick session centered on fixes that don't require constitutional amendments. And you can find people talking about a special session in the two months between Election Day in November and the beginning of the regular session in January. For the House perspective, look to Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, who is telling reporters that school finance should be part of the regular session along with everything else in the budget.
And in fact, that might be the best plan even for Perry and others who want things fixed sooner than later. There is no way to legally bind the budgeteers to a school formula approved in a special session, especially if there is no constitutional amendment involved. What looks good in, say, December, could look ugly when everything else in the budget is under consideration, and whatever is won in a special session could be lost in a regular session. A special session's plan, in other words, could become a hostage in a regular session where money is scarce and other spending pleas are loud.
You can see we're not willing to kill this thing. But the options are fading. It would be almost impossible, given the state of things, to call an August session and get a constitutional amendment onto the November ballot. No agreement is in site and the Republican national convention is coming up quickly. Then it's election season and some of these folks will be busy. All that's left is that two-month window at the end of the year.
The timing is more important to Gov. Rick Perry than to anyone else in the Pink Building. He's on the hook for a solution to school finance. Republican lawmakers don't take the arrows on this one, since they haven't voted for anything the voters can directly hate them for supporting. And Democrats, for the most part, aren't in districts where school finance is the primary issue. Perry, on the other hand, has other Republicans looking at his house and thinking they'd look good living there. He needs to show conservative voters a cut in property taxes, or an end to "Robin Hood" financing, and an earlier result is better than a late one.
If the solution to school finance requires a constitutional amendment, it'll take at least one year to get that through the Legislature, past the voters, and into the hands of tax-rate-setting budget-writers at local school districts. With a primary race looming in March 2006, the governor wants fast relief.
More Endings Than the William Tell Overture
We'd have bet the Democratic primary in CD-28 would be over by the beginning of August, and we'd have lost our money. The Texas Supreme Court decided not to hear a late Hail-Mary appeal from U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, and also said they wouldn't impose sanctions against him for asking, as Henry Cuellar of Laredo had requested.
So Cuellar, a former state representative and Texas Secretary of State, will likely go to the November election under the Democrats' flag, facing Republican Jim Hopson in a district drawn to elect a Latino Democrat. Rodriguez, who won on election night, lost in the recount, won and then lost and then lost again in court, filed this last appeal after admitting defeat and promising to return in two years. But he decided to play it out, and the Supremes have, with their decision not to take the case, almost shut this thing down. A few legal avenues still exist if Rodriguez wants to keep it up (he's still pursuing remedies), but the Supremes looked at the law that says final word goes to the regional appellate courts, and that court, in this case, already ruled against the incumbent.
Hopson, meanwhile, is pursuing a bit of spin that got discredited in the early to middle rounds of redistricting. His campaign says the contest isn't being waged in Democratic territory, but in the land of the toss-up. Citing numbers from the last presidential campaign and for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's last reelection effort, the Hopson camp says the district could go either way.
That's true if you use those numbers as your guide to the future, but almost nobody else does that. Most analysts in and out of the parties use results from recent hotly contested races between candidates of similar strength. Like, for instance, the last contest for lieutenant governor. David Dewhurst, the Republican, won the statewide contest with 51.7 percent of the votes; in this congressional district, however, the results were different. Democrat John Sharp won 61.7 percent of the vote. Even if you average all of the statewide races in 2002, the Democrats on the ballot got an average of 58.9 percent of the vote. Not one of those Democrats won statewide. On paper, anyway, it's a Democratic district. The money race is interesting at this point: Overall spending so far this cycle totals $1.6 million in that district. Cuellar got to mid-year with $32,467 in the bank. Hopson had $2,251 on hand.
Maybe Three, Maybe One, But Not Six
It's been fifteen years since the state's insurance system for injured workers was overhauled — long enough for the people who wanted changes last time to come back for another round. The Texas Association of Business wants the state to cut the current six-member board at the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission — to one. Their complaint — and they have support of even some adversaries on this bit — is that the current structure results in tie votes, standoffs and delays. The Texas AFL-CIO would go along with a cut, but they want at least three members so that labor will have a seat at the table (or, if the cast of characters was switched, so that business would have a seat). They want a member representing employees, one for employers and one from the general public.
Bill Hammond, a former state rep who heads TAB, admits he voted for a six-member board. But he also says the problems are obvious. Getting rid of five board members and putting everything in the hands of one manager would make the agency more responsive, he says.
That prompted somebody on the union end to pull out a two-year-old letter from Hammond to a member of the Texas Sunset Commission. He was writing about a different agency — the Texas Workforce Commission — but was arguing against a proposal that would have reduced that agency's three-member board to one. "I am very concerned that to deviate from the three-member, constituency-oriented commission structure will spell the end of any real opportunity the employers of this state have to feel as if they are represented in the agency that is so important to their businesses," wrote Hammond, who was a member of that panel before taking his current job at TAB.
In a year without high-profile statewide races, money is pouring into post-redistricting congressional races. Republicans want to bring their new map lines to fruition on Election Day, and Democrats are trying to hang on in territories redrawn to favor challengers and other Republicans.
Midyear numbers in the five hottest congressional races in Texas show incumbent Democrats in the lead — unless they're running against incumbent Republicans. In CD-1, U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, got to July with $727,106 in the bank; Republican Louis Gohmert had $371,575 on hand. Spending in that district to date — there was a GOP primary — hit $2.2 million by mid-year.
In CD-2, U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, had $807,063 to Republican Ted Poe's $336,353. After a contested GOP primary, spending in that district is at $2.7 million so far this cycle.
In CD-17, U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, had $1.2 million on hand; Republican Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson had $404,988. Wohlgemuth won a three-way race for the GOP nomination, and spending in the district was at $2.9 million at mid-year.
Where there are two incumbents in the contest, the Republicans were in front on June 30. In CD-19, Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, had just over $1 million; Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, had $738,856 in his account. Spending numbers there are skewed by a special election that put Neugebauer in the House after U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, R-Lubbock resigned. The mid-year total: $4.3 million.
In Dallas' CD-32, Republican Pete Sessions had $2.6 million in the bank, and Democrat Martin Frost had $1.7 million. Neither rep had primary opposition, but money has already been flying out of their accounts; spending at mid-year was at $2.4 million.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose term ends in 2006, has $6.6 million on hand; U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, with more time before a reelection bid, has $686,682 in the bank.
U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, decided not to run in his redrawn district, but he's financed like a candidate, with more than $1 million in the bank. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, has $1.3 million on hand. Republican Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, had $921,842 in the till. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had $1.3 million; his opponent, Democrat Richard Morrison, had $80,305. U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, had over $1 million. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, had just under $2 million; his opponent, Becky Armendariz Klein, had $283,699 in the bank. Doggett won a contested primary; spending so far in that district totals $3 million.
In the Red
In the heady atmosphere of their national convention, some Texas Democrats began talking about beating the local Republican at the top of the ticket in November. It would be an upset, to say the least. Texas Democrats could probably consider it a win if George W. Bush gets less than 55 percent of the vote in this state. Look at the last 40 years:
The last Democrat to win a presidential vote in Texas was Jimmy Carter, who got 51.1 percent of the vote in 1976. He got beat in 1980, the first presidential election year that didn't sync with a Texas gubernatorial election (four year terms for governors started in 1978).
Bush got 59.3 percent of the vote in 2000. Republican Bob Dole got 48.8 percent in 1996 (Texan Ross Perot got 6.7 percent that year). George H. W. Bush got only 40.6 percent of the Texas vote in 1992, but Perot got 22 percent that year; Bush got 56 percent against Michael Dukakis in 1988, and Dukakis had U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas on the ticket with him.
Ronald Reagan broke the 60-percent barrier in 1984, getting 63.6 percent of the Texas vote. He got 55.3 percent here in 1980 (two years before the last Democratic sweep of statewide offices).
Richard Nixon hit both the high- and low-water marks for Republicans in Texas, getting 66.3 percent of the votes in his 1972 reelection bid, and pulling 39.9 percent in 1968. Nixon finished 40,000 votes behind Democrat Hubert Humphrey, but the story that year was that George Wallace got 19 percent of the Texas vote, presumably from Republicans and what would later become Reagan Democrats.
Lyndon Johnson set the home field record, getting 63.3 percent in 1964; Kennedy, with LBJ on board, got 50.5 percent in 1960.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is the most popular statewide leader, according to a poll done by Austin-based Montgomery & Associates. Almost two-thirds of Texans say they have a favorable impression of her, while 14 percent don't like her. Gov. Rick Perry, the pollsters said, has some trouble out there in voter-land; 41 percent of Texans like him, while 35 percent say they don't. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is less well known: the pollsters said 37 percent of the respondents have a favorable impression of him, while 14 percent had an unfavorable impression. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is slightly better known. The pollsters said 34 percent of Texans like him and 17 percent don't. For Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the numbers were 41 percent good and 12 percent bad, and for House Speaker Tom Craddick, it was 20 percent favorable, 14 percent unfavorable.
That firm works in Democratic campaigns but says it did the polling on its own and not for a client from either party. They asked 1,022 Texas adults — they weren't screened for voter registration or likelihood — about the state leaders in the last week of June.
In the same poll, a different question produced a result neatly in line with conventional wisdom: Texans don't want a state income tax to solve the school finance problem. Only 26.5 percent said that was the way to go when asked this way: "We need a state income tax, or else public school financing will come to a crisis and need to be fixed every few years." Even the self-identified liberals didn't like that one. According to the pollsters, more than half of every subgroup disagreed with that statement.
Flotsam & Jetsam
State Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, resigned with five months left in his term. Wilson, elected in 1976 at the age of 23, lost his reelection bid in the Democratic primary last March. In a letter to House Speaker Tom Craddick, Wilson said simply that he was resigning as of midnight on July 31. He told his hometown paper he hasn't decided what he'll do next; the timing of his resignation would give him time to sign up some lobby clients before the regular session, if that's what he wants to do.
• Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Houston lawyer and Democrat, is hitting the road with an exploratory campaign for the U.S. Senate. She's interested in the seat now held by Kay Bailey Hutchison. She calls the effort a "listening tour" and plans to hit five South Texas cities next week.
• Patricia Shipton, who leads the governor's legislative team, has let her colleagues know she's bowing out. She hasn't made a public announcement yet, but friends say she'll return to the lobby in plenty of time for the next legislative session. Chief of staff Mike Toomey is still not answering inquiries about his plans, but has told friends and colleagues he won't be around for the regular session. Like Shipton, he's expected to return to the lobby when he leaves Perry's office.
• The Record So Far: In CD-10, where a bloody GOP primary was followed by a hard-fought runoff between Mike McCaul of Austin and Ben Streusand of Houston, spending totaled $7.3 million. The only Democrat in the race, Lorenzo Sadun of Austin, had $5,033 on hand at mid-year.
• The National Rifle Association gave an "A" rating to Republican Louie Gohmert, who's challenging U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall. The Republican hits the Democrat by disregarding Sandlin's NRA rating and focusing on Sandlin's support for Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who Gohmert says is "hostile to the second amendment." Gohmert also won an endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
• The NRA also backed state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, who's running against U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. Her headline was exuberant: "National Rifle Association to Blast Edwards, Endorse Wohlgemuth". Edwards, meantime, picked up the support of the Texas Farm Bureau's AGFUND.
• Texas Libertarians responded to the state's annual sales tax holiday by saying it should be extended to last 365 days a year. That party's chairman, Pat Dixon, says the holiday "demonstrates clearly that a healthy economy is promoted by lower taxes..." and said the libertarians on the ballot would end the sales tax if elected. They've got 70 candidates on the ballot.
A Revised Org Chart at HHSC
Gregg Phillips, the number two official at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, is quitting after 18 months on the state payroll. HHSC is fighting wars on several fronts, trying to manage the consolidation of a dozen huge state agencies into four, answering auditors and investigators looking at loose control of CHIP contractors, and revamping adult and child protective service programs that have led to investigations, calls for reform and a grand jury indictment of the agency itself. Phillips told reporters none of that led to his departure, but it will leave the agency looking for another top manager while trying to put out those fires...
Debra Wanser leaves the Texas Department of Health, where she is/was associate commissioner for family health, to lead Adult Protective Services in the Department of Family and Protective Services at HHSC. She'll initially work for Thomas Chapmond, who announced earlier this summer that he will retire this year. Those operations are under close review by state officials prompted by scandals in El Paso and elsewhere in the state, where regulators, among other things, failed to stop abuses that were reported to them. Wanser will oversee the overhaul of those operations...
Political People: Appointments
Gov. Rick Perry named Robin Malone Darr, a Midland County assistant district attorney, to be judge of the 385th District Court. She's been a prosecutor for 19 years, and beat the DA's first assistant in vote of GOP precinct chairs for a spot on the ballot last month. After the local GOP had put her on the ballot (to replace retiring Judge Willie DuBose), Perry named her to the post so she can run as the incumbent. She's already been sworn in...
Perry named a former FBI official — Steven McCraw — to be the state's director of homeland security, a job set up to coordinate security efforts by state, local and federal officials in Texas. Jay Kimbrough has had that post up to now, and will keep a finger in that business as a "senior advisor" to Perry. McCraw's most recent posting with the FBI was assistant director of its inspection division; he once headed the agency's San Antonio office...
Del Rio Mayor Dora Alcala is the governor's choice for a spot on the Texas State University Board of Regents. She's retired from the U.S. Air Force and already serves on the Texas Military Planning Commission...
Perry named Bob Rowling of Dallas — a contributor and the chairman of Omni Hotels — to the University of Texas System's board of regents. Rowling, who also heads a holding company that owns the 40 Omni Hotels in that chain (there's the management and the brand name, and then there's the real estate), replaces Charles Miller, who resigned before his term was up...
The Guv named five people to the State Pension Review Board. Frederick "Shad" Rowe, a Dallas investment advisor, will chair that board. Other newbies are Norman Parish, an actuarial consultant from The Woodlands; Richard McElreath, a financial consultant from Amarillo; Roy Casanova Jr., a San Antonio firefighter and a safety consultant for insurance companies; and El Paso attorney Paul Braden...
Perry named five people to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board: Laurie Bricker, a former Houston ISD trustee who's now an education consultant; Nancy Neal, a Lubbock nurse; Texarkana attorney George McWilliams; Whit Riter of Tyler, who heads a management company and a foundation started by his family; and Paul Foster, who heads Western Refining in El Paso...
The governor named Aransas County Sheriff Mark Gilliam of Rockport to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which oversees construction and operation of county jails...
Deaths: Jack Keever, who scribbled for the Austin bureau of the Associated Press for 30 years ending in 1992, covering everything from the Texas Legislature to political races to the effects of a Texas presidency (LBJ's) on the state. Keever wrote and edited several books along the way, and left a crowd of admirers in journalism and politics. He was 66...
William Murray Jr., a member of the Texas Railroad Commission for 16 years, starting in 1947. He replaced Beauford Jester, who appointed Murray when Jester was sworn in as governor. Murray was 89...
Political People and Their Moves
Elicia Sanders, committee director in Carole Keeton Strayhorn's political office, left to go back to school; she'll work on grad degrees at UT. Her husband, Mark Sanders, remains the political and communications guy for Strayhorn...
Unrelated, but nearby: Allison Castle is leaving the comptroller's press office to work on communications for the Texas Credit Union League. She worked for Strayhorn for about three years...
Rebecca Lightsey is taking the helm at SafePlace, an Austin center for battered and abused women and children. That opened up when Kelly White quit to run for the Texas House (she'll face Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, in November). Lightsey, who has worked on insurance, property taxes and other issues for several state officials and agencies, has most recently toiled for a group clearing property titles for residents of the state's colonias, turning them into owners...
Patrick Bresette is leaving the Center for Public Policy Priorities, where he's been working for 13 years, to join a think-tank-like-outfit called "Demos: A Network of Ideas and Action," where he'll work on state governance issues. He's the associate director at CPPP, and his move will put him back in harness with Dianne Stewart, who used to be director of the Austin organization...
Within a week or so, Chrissy Camacho will be working at the Austin office of the American Electronics Association, replacing Steve Kester, who moved to AMD. She's been at ROSS Communications for several years...
Former reporter Walt Borges leaves the Texas Medical Association at mid-month for grad school at UT-Dallas, where he'll teach and work on a doctorate...
Former gubernatorial candidate John WorldPeace was found in contempt of court for practicing law after he'd been disbarred. He's appealing to the higher courts, but could do jail time for practicing law after the state revoked his ticket. He lost his license for collecting from clients without doing any legal work in return...
Quotes of the Week
Former presidential candidate Al Gore: "You know the old saying, you win some, you lose some. And then there's that little-known third category. I didn't come here tonight to talk about the past. After all, I don't want you to think I lie awake at night counting and recounting sheep. I prefer to focus on the future because I know from my own experience that America is a land of opportunity, where every little boy and girl has a chance to grow up and win the popular vote."
U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, at the Democratic National Convention: "When I was first asked what would it be like to have a vice president who had a Southern accent, I said, 'What accent?'"
Barrack Obama, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate from Illinois, in his keynote speech at that party's national convention, needling pundits who "slice and dice" the country into red and blue states: "I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people ... all of us defending the United States of America."
Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, with a theory of why the Democrats got little or no boost in the polls after their convention, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman: "Sure, there's not going to be a bounce. If a tree falls in an untelevised forest, it won't bounce, either."
Deputy Texas Comptroller Billy Hamilton, who led the team that proposed a $32 billion overhaul of California state government, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle on the validity of longer-term estimates: "When you talk about 2010, you can say anything."
GOP congressional candidate Becky Armendariz Klein, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News on her opponent's chances: "There's a good portion of this district which has never voted for a gringo, monolingual congressman before." U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, reacting: "I don't know if she refers to [U.S. House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay or [political consultant] Karl Rove, who got her into the race, or her husband as gringos, but I'm surprised she would use the term."
Teen pop star Lindsay Lohan, on politics, quoted in several papers: "I don't like to talk about it. I mean, if you say you're a Democrat, that'll turn off Republicans, and that's half your fan base."
Texas Weekly: Volume 21, Issue 8, 9 August 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.