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Another Fine Mess

To recall the business half of an old curse, these are interesting times in Texas politics and government. The Texas Legislature is coming back for a regular session in January, faced with the usual stuff. There's a state budget to write, difficult even when everything's humming and it's not. They have business fights to referee: workers' compensation insurance, tort reforms (particularly asbestos), and health insurance for people on the job. The state's health and human services safety net for children and adults is so fouled up that the state agency in charge has been indicted. The agency that oversees that and all other HHS programs is in the middle of a complex and controversial reorganization. Pour on local issues, pet legislative issues, social issues and so on that make up the rest of a regular session and you have a busy time. But that's normal. Look at what else is in the in-box:

To recall the business half of an old curse, these are interesting times in Texas politics and government. The Texas Legislature is coming back for a regular session in January, faced with the usual stuff. There's a state budget to write, difficult even when everything's humming and it's not. They have business fights to referee: workers' compensation insurance, tort reforms (particularly asbestos), and health insurance for people on the job. The state's health and human services safety net for children and adults is so fouled up that the state agency in charge has been indicted. The agency that oversees that and all other HHS programs is in the middle of a complex and controversial reorganization. Pour on local issues, pet legislative issues, social issues and so on that make up the rest of a regular session and you have a busy time. But that's normal. Look at what else is in the in-box:

• A state district judge who heard the most recent challenge to the state's school finance system delayed his ruling from the promised October 1, partly due to the complexity of it, and apparently for other reasons: He went on vacation with the ruling pending. The state's lawyers have been twiddling their thumbs since September, expecting a ruling against the state and hoping to rush an appeal directly to the Texas Supreme Court. The original idea was to have that underway and perhaps get a ruling from the state's high court while lawmakers are still in regular session. They'd have the ruling from the Supremes as an excuse for what might be next, like the first tax bill written by a Republican Legislature in Texas' modern history. With Judge John Dietz just now making his return to Austin, they'll have five months or so to take his ruling, get the high court to take the case, hear it, digest it, and rule on it. Lawmakers would have about a month left in regular session to craft a solution that's been evading them for years, based on the latest wisdom from the courts and the latest polling data about Texas voters. It's possible, but it's a long shot.

• In the first week of December, the lawyers working on congressional redistricting will start filing their briefs with a three-judge federal panel that's been asked to take another look at that case. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a Pennsylvania redistricting case after judges here had already ruled. When the Texas case reached them on appeal, they sent it back and told the judges here to decide whether the Pennsylvania ruling changes their minds about what they did. It won't require the Legislature to do anything, but a surprise in redistricting could be a mighty distraction to Texas pols.

• In 16 months, the 2006 Republican primaries will be held, and it could be a nothing-burger or a hot contest with three candidates: Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. The Perry camp has been hopeful that the others won't run, but they also are drawing plans for a $25 million primary that would feature wall-to-wall advertising starting in mid-summer. The prospect of a race will overshadow every other decision during the legislative session.

• And there's the decennial scandal at the Capitol. Travis County prosecutors and two separate grand juries are looking at allegations of illegal campaign finance mischief on the GOP side of the 2002 elections for the Texas Legislature. An earlier grand jury handed up indictments several weeks ago. The terms of the two panels meeting now run through December and could produce a) nothing; b) requests for more time; or c) more indictments. The U.S. House just changed its rules to allow Majority Leader Tom DeLay — or anyone else — to remain in the leadership if prosecutors back home indict them. House Speaker Tom Craddick is holding onto 119 pledges from members willing to vote to give him another term. That vote will take place a few days after the grand juries finish.

Rejoining the Elections, Already in Progress

When the final canvassing was complete, Democrat Hubert Vo had 20,694 votes and Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, had 20,662, according to the Texas Secretary of State's office.

That narrows the options available to the House Appropriations chairman, and he and his advisors were huddled as we wrote this. Like candidates in other races, he has until the end of the day Monday to ask for recounts. Heflin has also been considering an election contest in the Texas House, which could award the seat to Vo or order another election. Heflin is an important member, but a contest would be divisive and even with a win, he would be significantly weakened in the House.

Election contests in legislative races go to the House or the Senate, not to the courts. A contest in the House would go to the House Speaker, who would then appoint a master to manage the contest and a committee to hear the particulars before going to the full House for a vote. The last such contest was in 1995, and Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, prevailed over Bernard Erickson, the incumbent. Two years earlier, Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, won a contest for an open seat.

Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, came up with 34,405 votes in the canvass, as against 34,258 for Kelly White, the Democrat who challenged him. She has officially requested a recount to see what happens to that 147-vote margin.

Democrat David McQuade Leibowitz came up with 19,707 canvassed votes, compared with 19,209 for Rep. Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio. That's a difference of 498. Mercer has said he wants a recount, but it's not official yet.

Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Alice, came out of the canvass with 23,158 votes to Republican Eric Opiela's 22,323 votes. That's 835 votes, but the Karnes City lawyer is looking for a recount and possibly more: Opiela told the San Antonio Express-News there were "hundreds of irregularities" and that he might press for an election contest in the House before this is over. That's an open seat.

State officials said the full official canvass would be posted by the end of the day on Friday (Nov. 19) under "elections" at www.sos.state.tx.us.

A Formal Election Contest

The election contest over Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, will move at least one step forward. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst plans to appoint a "master" who'll preside over that case, probably Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. He'll oversee the review, helped by a committee of senators — also appointed — who'll decide what recommendation to take to the full Senate when it meets in January.

If you missed the last episode, Gallegos' election was challenged by a write-in opponent, Susan Delgado, who contends he does not live in the district and is ineligible to serve. It's a complicated story fit for the tabloids: She's a former stripper with whom he had an affair and her write-in candidacy and a civil lawsuit filed earlier this year keep tugging that narrative line back into the news.

In this chapter, she's challenged his eligibility to serve, but not the results of the election, which is what election contests are supposed to be all about. It might die on that point, but Dewhurst and the lawyers and advisors helping him have raised some questions about whether he's the one who can legally make a judgment. For now, it'll go forward, which leads into a quagmire. Political residency law in Texas is an area for mystics and philosophers — sometimes it has more to do with a candidate's state of mind or intent more than with whether he actually lives amidst the people who vote for him.

It's not clear now whether Gallegos' residence and the place where he keeps his socks are one and the same and whether they're in his district or whether, as a matter of law, any of that matters as an issue in an election contest. The residency question came up during his primary and the courts let it go, and it came up again right after the election and the courts let it go. The first ruling said the timing of the challenge was wrong, and the second said it's an issue for the state Senate and not the courts. The constitution lets the House and Senate decide, ultimately, who takes the oaths of office.

Now it's on Dewhurst's desk, and the law isn't clear on whether he can dismiss it or must proceed. He's apparently decided to proceed and will probably name a master the Thanksgiving break.

In the Bullpen, Warming Up

Fill in that last box on the org chart — Weatherford car dealer Roger Williams will be the state's 105th Secretary of State, replacing Geoffrey Connor, who resigned. Williams has been a key fundraiser for President George W. Bush, and he headed the Republican Eagles, a fundraising group.

Williams has also been a political financier on the state level, contributing over the last few years to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Tom Craddick, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, former AG (now U.S. senator) John Cornyn, and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, among others. He's got one Democrat — Tarrant County Judge and former state Sen. Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth — on his list, according to the Texas Ethics Commission's online database.

Luis Saenz is officially a former assistant Secretary of State. He will run Texans for Rick Perry, the governor's political shop, as the incumbent prepares for possible Republican Party primary challenges from the likes of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Saenz worked for both women before Perry hired him. The primary is in 16 months, and Perry and Strayhorn have about a month of fundraising left before the law requires them to shut down for the legislative session. Hutchison, a federal officeholder, isn't barred from raising money for a state race if she decides she wants to do that.

Perry officially named Buddy Garcia to the number two spot, replacing Saenz. Secretaries used to name their own assistants, or at least got to appear to name their own assistants. Perry changed that practice when he became governor, appointing Henry Cuellar as SOS and, at the same time, naming Connor as Cuellar's assistant. This is the first time in memory that the number two was put in place before the number one was announced. To round it all out, Ben Hanson, who became general counsel at SOS earlier this year, is adding the title of chief of staff. He previously worked for Perry.

Williams won't be taking the job in December, as first thought, but in the second half of January. He's one of the national co-chairs for Bush's inauguration early next year, and it would appear downright unseemly to raise money to celebrate the second term of a Republican presidential gala while also acting as the Lone Star State's nonpartisan chief election official. Connor will keep the job until Williams' inauguration duties are complete, sometime in January. He'll be at the helm to finish off the details of the November 2 election: the official canvass, casting and counting Electoral College votes, and such, and will be around until shortly after the Legislature comes to town for regular session.

Putting partisans in charge of state elections is a long tradition in Texas. Connor's immediate predecessors include Al Gonzales, a U.S. Attorney General nominee who won statewide election as a Republican to the Texas Supreme Court, Tony Garza, an Ambassador to Mexico who held statewide office as a railroad commissioner, and Democrat Henry Cuellar, a former Texas House member who just won a seat in Congress. It's often a launching pad for campaigns for public office. Williams said his help for Republicans shouldn't weigh against him as the state's chief elections official: "Frankly, I have a lot of friends on the other side, if you want to call it that. I'm looking forward to working with them."

Williams, a former baseball pitcher and later, coach, for Texas Christian University had his professional career cut short by an injury (he played in the Atlanta Braves organization). He's looked seriously at public office a couple of times but hasn't run. He said his wife, Patty Williams, is running the car businesses on a day-to-day basis and said he'll commute out of a second home in Horseshoe Bay until he moves to Austin. Williams said he won't divest himself of business investments and interests, but told reporters that they were "structured" so as to avoid conflicts of interest.

He said he wants to promote Texas business — corporate records and such all reside in that office, and will continue efforts to promote trade and decent relations with Mexico and other countries. The appointment requires Senate approval.

Moving Chairs While the Seats Are Still Warm

Conservatives may be compassionate, liberals might have hearts that bleed, but the people in charge of House office space at the Texas Capitol are unsentimentally and relentlessly efficient. Offices are parceled out on the basis of seniority, and five of the 17 most senior members of the House aren't coming back.

All five were committee chairmen and each had been around long enough to acquire some of the most coveted offices in the Capitol. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Carrollton, gave it up to run (successfully) for a seat in Congress. Democrats Steve Wolens of Dallas and Barry Telford of DeKalb decided not to run for reelection. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, resigned after losing in the Democratic primary in March, and Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, lost by 31 votes in this month's general election.

That's all final, with the possible exception of Heflin, who's waiting on the results of the official canvass before deciding whether to ask for a recount and/or an election contest. But his office, a corner spot on the third floor over the legislative library, went on the block and was quickly snagged by Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, who came to Austin the same day Heflin did, in January 1983.

Kuempel will be moving from a big office on the first floor in the Capitol's north wing to Heflin's, two floors up. Every such move creates another move — some members seek status, and some just want a shorter walk from their office to the House chamber. It'll take several days for the selections to work their way through the ranks of seniority, and freshmen members usually end up with offices in the northernmost and westernmost sections of the Pink Building's underground extension. The shuffle starts well in advance of the legislative session so the folks who schlep the furniture and files and wall hangings and mementos for the office-seeking officeholders can finish in time for the January startup.

There's a catch: If the result in Heflin's race changes in his favor, he'll be able to ask for his office back. That would start the shuffle all over again.

Texas PAC spending up 58% in 2002

There's a two-year lag here, but Texans for Public Justice says political action committees in Texas spent $85.3 million in the 2002 election cycle, an increase of $31.3 million from the 2000 cycle.

Their top 15 list of PAC spending starts with the political parties. The Texas Democratic Party spent $15 million in that election cycle, followed by the Republican Party of Texas, which spent $6.7 million.

Next came groups pursuing various business and partisan interests: Texas Trial Lawyers Association, $2.8 million; Texans for Lawsuit Reform, $2.4 million; Texas Association of Realtors, $2.1 million; Duke Energy Corp., $1.7 million; Texas Medical Association, $1.6 million; Texas 2000, $1.5 million; Vinson & Elkins, $1.3 million; Compass Bancshares, $1.1 million; Texas Partnership, $995,102; Valero Refining & Marketing, $895,661; Texans for a Republican Majority, $800,441; Fulbright & Jaworski, $760,131; and SBC Communications, $746,242.

The group labeled PACs by their interest; for instance, the Texas Medical Association's affiliated political action committee was listed under Health. The parties were listed as Ideological, and so on. Some listings are odd: Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) supports Republican candidates, was listed as Ideological. The Texas Association of Business, which generally supports the same list of candidates, was listed as Miscellaneous Business. That said, the TPJ report listed $33.4 million in PAC money coming from ideological groups. Lawyers & Lobbyists kicked in $11.1 million, and Energy & Natural Resources PACs came in third, at $7.6 million.

The report, available online at www.tpj.org, lists the top 100 PACs in Texas for the 2002 cycle, as well as for the three that preceded that: 2000, 1998, and 1996. And they total the spending for the active PACs in each of those years: in 1996, 911 PACs spent $43 million; in 1998, 893 PACs spent $51.5 million; in 2000, 865 PACs spent $53.9 million; and in 2002, 964 PACs spent $85.3 million.

(More) Home Grown Big Shots

Two more Texans are moving up the Washington, D.C., food chain. Margaret Spellings and Harriett Miers, who worked for George W. Bush when he was governor, helped him get elected president, and then followed him to the White House, are getting promotions. Bush tapped Spellings — she was better known in Austin as Margaret LaMontagne, her name before she married lobbyist Robert Spellings — as U.S. Secretary of Education, replacing Rod Paige. Miers will be the new White House counsel, replacing Al Gonzales.

Paige, a former Houston ISD superintendent, announced his resignation after Bush won reelection. Gonzales is Bush's nominee for attorney general, where he would replace John Ashcroft, who also announced plans to resign.

Spellings has been the president's chief domestic policy advisor for four years and has been advising him on education issues since before he ran for governor the first time in 1994. She was the committee clerk for the Texas House when education reforms were pushed through in 1984 and lobbied for the Texas Association of School Boards before signing on with Bush. She's been credited as one of the authors of the No Child Left Behind Act and will now run the agency in charge of it.

Miers worked as Bush's outside lawyer when he was a Dallas businessman and then a gubernatorial candidate. She was co-managing partner of the Locke Liddell Sapp law firm in Dallas, and he appointed her to a spot on the Texas Lottery Commission when that agency was tangled up in controversies over directors and vendors and other issues. Her boss didn't get scratched in the process, making it a victory. Miers was president of the State Bar of Texas, a Dallas City Council member, and is currently deputy White House chief of staff.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams is staying in Texas, despite what you might have heard about open jobs in Washington, D.C. His name has been in rumors about new Energy Secretary candidates, high-level attorneys at the Justice Department, and as a White House Counsel replacement for Al Gonzales, the president's nominee for attorney general. Williams, who worked in Washington before coming home and winning statewide office, says there's nothing to the talk.

• If you're trying to keep up with government jargon, add Artificial Shortfall to your list. It's not a low-fat dessert topping; it's Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's description of the $2 billion difference between what he thinks the state will collect in revenue in the next budget cycle and what he thinks it would cost to keep the state's current government services intact (with add-ins for growing populations, school kids, and all that). It's a shortfall because the number is red. It's artificial because he did it without the real numbers that will come in the comptroller's biennial revenue estimate in January — that's the income side — and from the Legislature as the budget — the spending side — is written.

• While we're budget-watching: The Legislative Budget Board chose the comptroller's estimate of personal income growth over the next two years and set the constitutional cap on spending using that number. Carole Keeton Strayhorn says personal income in Texas will grow 11.34 percent over the next two years. Budgeteers say non-dedicated general spending of state taxes in the current budget will hit $46.83 billion, and the new cap that results is $52.14 billion. That means that particular slice of the state budget can increase by $5.3 billion without a vote by legislators excusing themselves for spending more than that. It usually doesn't come into play, but it could this year. If the Lege decides to raise taxes to lower local public school costs with an infusion of new state money, the state's budget would grow faster than normal. That would require lawmakers to vote to bust the spending cap. The LBB could have picked a higher growth rate — they had five estimates to choose from — that would have given them as much as $852 million more breathing room.

Susan Combs' latest fundraising notice takes the maybe out of the equation and says, flat-out, that she is a "candidate for comptroller of public accounts." Combs, who has said she'll run if the current occupant funds for something else, is collecting names for an Austin fundraiser in December.

Political People and Their Moves

Sharon Carter, associate commissioner for government relations at the state's Health and Human Services Commission, has resigned. Carter was the House parliamentarian until two years ago, when she joined HHSC. She's pondering options and so is the agency, which hasn't named a replacement...

Just as the State Auditor put out a scathing report on health care in the state's prisons, Gov. Rick Perry put a new guy in charge. Dr. James Griffin of Dallas, a physician and an assistant prof at the UT Southwestern Medical School, will be presiding officer of the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee. He's been on the panel since 2000; this puts him in the high chair...

Greg Hartman, a former political aide to Democrats John Sharp and Carlos Truan who has been in the consulting racket for the last eight years, is leaving Public Strategies Inc. to join Seton Children's Hospital in Austin as a marketing and planning exec...

Separately, PSI will add Jill Angelo to its lobby team, but not until she's out of law school at UT Austin in May. She was an aide to Karen Hughes both in Austin and later, in Washington, D.C...

After 21 years in government relations at the Tarrant Regional Water District, Wayne Owen will become assistant director of utilities for the City of Arlington...

Texas has a new State Fire Marshall. Paul Maldonado, an assistant fire chief with the Austin Fire Department, was named to the post by Texas Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor...

U.S. Rep.-elect Michael McCaul, R-Austin, got his toe on the bottom rung of the leadership ladder, winning the job of "Republican representative to leadership," which apparently gets him into meetings as the representative for other Republicans in the freshman class. Everybody starts somewhere...

Quotes of the Week

Stuart Roy, speaking for the House Majority Leader, quoted in The Hill on talk that his boss and others are advising lobby firms not to hire Democrats displaced by the elections: "Tom DeLay has been the subject of more urban myths than Karl Rove, Elvis and Mikey from Life cereal combined."

U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, telling the Austin American Statesman that a new House rule that lets indicted congressmen remain in leadership positions is not aimed at Travis County: "We are trying to protect members of our leadership from any crackpot district attorney in any state in the nation from taking on a political agenda and indicting any member for any frivolous cause."

Presidential advisor Karl Rove, telling reporters in Washington that he once asked Education Secretary nominee Margaret Spellings for a date when they were both single, only to be "brutally" turned down: "It has taken my ego decades to recover."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, talking to a group of college newspaper editors about the press, a conversation transcribed and posted on the Internet by the State Department: "... It's sometimes quite annoying. It sometimes makes my life miserable. Very often, it's dead-on and then I'm embarrassed. Very often, it's totally wrong and then I'm just mad. But the best thing about being mad is you get over it and you get mad and you read a paper and you throw it across the room, you get your remote, you start clicking for some — you know, get me Judge Judy. I don't want to watch this any more, you know. I've had enough of these guys."

Democrat Andrew Hill, after losing to state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he's done with his political party: "Nothing makes me feel more like a Republican than standing in a room full of Democrats... They're mean-spirited. I am no longer one."

Pollster John Zogby, talking in The New York Times about his prediction, issued on the afternoon of Election Day, that John Kerry would get 311 electoral college votes and beat George W. Bush: "I don't know that anyone was hospitalized over my prediction. If there are any orphans that are out there, from the bottom of my heart I apologize. We'll try to start up a fund."

Delana Davies, a mother in Spurger who believes the "TWIRP Day" tradition in the schools there, where little boys dress as girls and little girls dress as boys, promotes homosexuality, quoted by the Associated Press: "It's like experimenting with drugs. You just keep playing with it and it becomes customary... If it's OK to dress like a girl today, then why is it not OK in the future?"


Texas Weekly: Volume 21, Issue 23, 22 November 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.


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