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Visions of Sugar Plums

A kind of inertia surfaces in the parlor speculation of political people that follows every big election. Top-of-the-ballot stuff is so well trodden that you can talk about whether She will challenge Him and everybody in Texas knows what you're babbling about. But while most eyes are focused on two of the state's top officeholders, other ambitions are being stoked. No one has declared for anything yet — except for Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Gov. Rick Perry, the only two statewides who say they'll definitely seek reelection — but trial balloons fill the sky.

A kind of inertia surfaces in the parlor speculation of political people that follows every big election. Top-of-the-ballot stuff is so well trodden that you can talk about whether She will challenge Him and everybody in Texas knows what you're babbling about. But while most eyes are focused on two of the state's top officeholders, other ambitions are being stoked. No one has declared for anything yet — except for Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Gov. Rick Perry, the only two statewides who say they'll definitely seek reelection — but trial balloons fill the sky.

Polls feed this beast. Democratic consultant Jeff Montgomery set off a round of speculation — and a roundabout with Republican pollster Mike Baselice about polling tradecraft — by uncorking a survey on the hypothetical governor's race. He had Kay Bailey Hutchison with 59.5% against Perry's 31.6% with voters who "said that they vote in the Republican primary at least some of the time." Those respondents put Perry ahead of Carole Keeton Strayhorn by 56% to 29.7%. At this point, it's more about the argument than the science of the thing, and that kind of hot air is what fills these balloons.

• Two Dallas pols are under serious consideration — or at least conversation — to lead the national Democratic Party. U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, who just lost the most expensive congressional race of the cycle, even put out a press release saying he's interested in the job. And former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who lost the U.S. Senate race to John Cornyn in 2002, is in the hunt. Frost has been in the game longer; Kirk has more star power. This is a national scrum for office and it could take another two months to sort out who'll replace Terry McAuliffe as party chairman.

• If the Rick, Kay and Carole Revue comes to town, the Republicans in state office would do a kind of wave. Attorney General Greg Abbott hasn't said he's going anywhere, but if he doesn't seek another term in his current office, look for Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams to jump in. Other names in the Gossip Primary for AG include Supreme Court Justices Harriet O'Neill and Dale Wainwright, former state Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, and current state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

• The Texas State University System is telling the curious that its search committee is still narrowing the list of candidates and that a new chancellor could be chosen within a couple of months. One name on the long list — we've not seen a short list and they say they don't have one yet — is Railroad Commissioner Charles Matthews. Former Texas Education Commissioner and Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Moses has also been mentioned as a possible replacement for Lamar Urbanovsky. And while Matthews is still in office, the replacement game is afoot.

Names we're hearing include Rep. Elizabeth Ames Jones, R-San Antonio, daughter of oilman Gene Ames (the RRC regulates oil and gas operations), and Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. You can find Staples' name on the napkins where potential agriculture commission candidates are penciled in. Watch the timing. Any legislator who votes on a bill that affects the salary or benefits of Railroad Commissioners can't be appointed to those offices until after their legislative terms end. That won't happen, probably, until later in the legislative session, but at some point, it could take lawmakers out of the running.

• A name can arise so often over so many years in political conversations that it becomes the rumor equivalent of comfort food. So, in the holiday spirit, we pass along this cycle's first sighting of a chestnut: Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach's name has been mentioned for U.S. Senate should Kay Bailey Hutchison decide not to run for reelection to that seat. Staubach, who'll be 63 in February, has been on the "mention" list at least since he left pro football in 1979.

Taking the Politics Out of Politics

It's homework time for the three federal judges asked by the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider their ruling in the Texas redistricting case last year. The high court issued a ruling in a Pennsylvania case (Vieth v. Jubelirer) after the judges here had ruled in the Texas case; they sent the Texas case back, telling those judges to have another look after reading the decision in the Pennsylvania case.

And now, the lawyers who were arguing the original appeal a year ago are filing legal briefs telling the three-judge federal panel what they want it to do.

Lawyers for the state say the Texas map should be left alone and contend it remains legal even in light of the Pennsylvania decision. Lawyers for various groups that sued to overturn the maps a year ago want the same thing now, and say the Texas map doesn't meet the high court's standards against taking politics too far in drawing political lines on a congressional map.

In its redistricting brief, the state says the Texas congressional redistricting case should stand as is. Lawyers for the state, led by outside counsel Andy Taylor, a former first assistant AG who now has his own law firm, said the Pennsylvania case only raises one issue that applies here: political gerrymandering. And they say the issues in the Texas case don't meet the U.S. Supreme Court's standard for illegal political gerrymandering.

In fact, the lawyers say, nobody has yet devised a political gerrymandering theory that would be illegal under the standard set in the Pennsylvania case (four justices, they say, opposed the idea that judges could fairly kill a map on the basis of political gerrymandering; a fifth said he hadn't seen anything yet that would justify such a killing). Besides, they argue, the Texas map is a Republican map drawn by a Republican majority; what's the problem? "...it is difficult to understand how a redistricting plan that makes Texas's [sic] congressional delegation more like Texas's [sic] voting patterns could possibly be objectionable on a theory of partisan fairness."

On the other side, in a file of nearly a dozen briefs from various parties, the congressional plan is being challenged for taking choice out of congressional elections in Texas. By drawing districts where only the candidates from one party have a real chance of winning, they argue, the Legislature disenfranchised voters of the other party in those districts. Democrats in Republican territory and Republicans in Democratic territory, they argue, had their ballot strength taken away unconstitutionally by the mapmakers.

The judges here will first decide whether they need new hearings and then, whether their earlier ruling still stands up in light of the Supreme Court's work on Vieth. Meanwhile, the lawyers in the case have another deadline to write briefs answering this first set of briefs. And the congressional delegation from Texas that's being sworn in next month was elected on these maps and will be incumbents in the next round, no matter what the judges rule.

One Foot Out of the Trap

In his official report as "Master of Discovery," Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, writes that Susan Delgado didn't properly contest the reelection of Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., D-Houston. Delgado, a write-in candidate against Gallegos in the November election, challenged his eligibility for office on the basis of residence — she says he doesn't live in the Senate district he was elected to represent. Without getting to the merits of that, Wentworth says in a two-page report that Delgado's complaint doesn't refer to any of the reasons listed in the law for contesting an election (a copy of the report is available by clicking here).

Election contests are limited to questions about the legitimacy of votes, voters, and election officials. Delgado, a former mistress of Gallegos whose revelations about their affair forced a public confession and apology from the incumbent earlier this year, didn't question any of that.

Wentworth's report says, in effect, that her residency questions were fouled because she cited a residency law that doesn't apply to state senators or to major party candidates. His report goes to the Senate State Affairs Committee, chosen by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to hear the Delgado complaint, and Wentworth says they should refuse to hear testimony or evidence since the filing itself is flawed.

A River of Money Runs Through It

The final spending numbers for congressional races are in, and a deep stream of money ran through the five Texas races set up by congressional redistricting. As we've said, the Republican gains in Congress are entirely attributable to the new Texas maps; had the status quo held here, Democrats would have gained nationally in the House on Election Day. Four of the races behaved in accordance with the new maps, though, and the greenbacks helped. (We get our campaign finance numbers from www.fecinfo.com, which mashes numbers collected by the Federal Election Commission.) Lookit:

• In CD-1, Republican Louie Gohmert spent $1.8 million, about $120,000 more than Democrat Max Sandlin, and the former state district judge from Tyler is going to Washington, D.C. When you add in the numbers from the Republican primary, candidates spent $4.5 million in that district this cycle.

• In CD-2, U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, spent $780,549 more than Republican Ted Poe. But Poe's $1.4 million was enough, and that former state judge will join Gohmert on the first day. Poe must not have been worried: he ended the race with $154,033 still in the bank. And there's a sidebar in that race. U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, decided not to run in the newly drawn district but could be back. He's got $1.1 million cash that could be used in his next race if he runs one.

• In CD-17, total spending by all the candidates hit $6.5 million, and the two leading candidates each finished the race with less than $20,000 on hand. U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, spent $2.63 million. State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, spent $2.55 million. Edwards won, the only Democrat to escape the Republican cartographers who redid his district.

• In CD-19, Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock spent $3.1 million, but he won two elections with it. In November, he beat U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, who spent $2.4 million. But Neugebauer was a brand new incumbent, having got into the Congress after a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Larry Combest in 2003. Like Poe, he eased up on the spending at the end and still had $143,429 on hand a week before Thanksgiving, when the most recent reports were filed.

• The race for CD-32 in Dallas was the most expensive House race in the country. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions spent $4.42 million beating Democrat Martin Frost, who spent $4.64 million. After they had combined to spend $9.1 million stuffing mailboxes, filling the airwaves, and paying consultants, Sessions still had $518,701 in the bank, and Frost ended with $142,358 in his account.

High and Low Points on the Way to Washington

The Senate and House candidates from Texas, as a group, raised $76.8 million over the 2003-2004 election cycle, spent $71.9 million, and reported cash on hand (it includes what they had on hand at the beginning) of $19.0 million.

• U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was the richest Texas candidate, with $6.66 million in the bank.

• The record spending runners-up were in CD-10, a race with only a token Democrat on the ballot that was decided, basically, in a wildly expensive GOP runoff: Michael McCaul, R-Austin, prevailed in a race in which combined spending reached $7.6 million.

• U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, spent $3 million this cycle, or more than many of the candidates in races that were hot because of redistricting.

• U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, easily survived what was supposed to be a tough race in the primary and went on to win the general. When it was over, his cash-on-hand was still $1.7 million, enough for another race.

• U.S. Reps. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and Gene Green, D-Houston, each spent more than $650,000 this cycle, though neither faced major opposition either in the primary or general election.

• U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, spent the least amount of money winning a spot in the Texas delegation this cycle — $336,994.

Goliath v. Goliath

How beer is sold, short form: Company makes beer, sends it to a distributor who has exclusive rights to sell to retailers in a defined area, and distributor then sells to those retailers. That's called a three-tier system: Brewer, distributor, retailer; one, two, three.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission is under Sunset Commission review this year, which means everything about the state's regulation of beer, wine and booze is up for grabs. And a couple of the biggest sellers of beer — Wal-Mart and HEB, a San Antonio-based grocery chain — want to make some changes. They want to kill the law that says retailers have to pay for beer when it's delivered, instead of paying on account as they do with other things they sell. Retailers can pay for wine up to 15 days after delivery, they say.

They want to negotiate for volume discounts, which isn't allowed now. And they're not fond of the state law that prevents groceries from selling distilled spirits, something only package stores can do right now. Bluntly, they'd like to get the state out of the trading they think should go on between the players in the business.

The beer guys don't see the problem and say big-box stores like Wal-Mart could put smaller retailers out of business by negotiating better beer deals within a given territory, as they've done with other things they sell. They fear the big retailers want to build a two-tier system, cutting out distributors and going straight to the brewers for the best prices (the other side denies they're seeking this, but admits they've thought about buying beer in one place and getting the right to ship it to stores around the state). They think that would be bad for the distributors who'd be cut out and for the small retailers who wouldn't have the market power to cut grocery-chain sized bargains.

There's also been talk of single, statewide licensing for big retailers. But that's got problems because it would subject all the stores in a big chain to punishment — like loss of its license — if one clerk in one store, say, starts selling brewskis to minors. The beer distributors are still sweating that one, but the retailers — while they'd like to avoid the hassle of licensing every store — don't like the idea that pulling one store's license would pull the whole chain down.

Curiously, very little of that is in the Sunset staff report that'll be voted out by the commission next week and sent on to the Legislature. But the distributors and the big volume retailers are talking about it, and they'll hack it out during the session next year.

Instant Replay

Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Irving, will act as "master of discovery" in the three election contests in the House. Speaker Tom Craddick picked him for that and also named a nine-member special committee to investigate the election results and make recommendations to the full House.

Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, will chair the Select Committee on Election Contests. Craddick named Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston to co-chair the committee, and named seven members to fill it out, including Reps. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey; Helen Giddings, D-Dallas; Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas; Phil King, R-Weatherford; Larry Phillips, R-Sherman; and Alan Ritter, D-Nederland. That's a 4-3 Republican majority, or roughly the same percentage makeup as the full House, which has 87 Republicans among its 150 members.

The panel will hear three election contests, unless someone withdraws their challenge. Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, lost to Hubert Vo by 33 votes and alleges he lost the election because votes from illegitimate voters were allowed and legal votes went uncounted. Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, complains that he couldn't ask for a recount because county election officials wouldn't give him the information he wanted and filed a challenge to keep his options open in a race he lost to Democrat Mark Strama. And Eric Opiela, a Republican from Karnes City, alleges he lost to Democrat Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles of Alice because illegal votes were counted in that race.

The announcement from Craddick's office included this fun fact: Since 1846, there have been 112 contested elections in the Texas Legislature.

Political People and Their Moves

More changes at the Republican Party of Texas: Milton Rister, who became executive director of the state party in mid-summer, has resigned and will rejoin his previous boss, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, at the first of the year. Rister worked on Dewhurst's Lite Guv campaign and was head of Senate Research when he left for the GOP in July. Jeff Fisher, a former county judge and political op from northeast Texas, moves up from political director of the GOP to executive director. A new political director hasn't been named. Fisher is the fourth exec at the party since Tina Benkiser took over as chair 13 months ago, following Rister, Chad Wilbanks and Wayne Hamilton in that post...

Kathy Miller is returning to the Texas Freedom Network, this time as president of that organization. Miller, a former deputy director there, will replace Samantha Smoot, who decided to move on after six years at TFN. The group was founded by Cecile Richards as a counter to the religious right. Miller left the group in 2000 for the Texas Council on Family Violence and National Domestic Violence Hotline...

Abelardo Saavedra will head the Houston ISD, the largest school district in the state. Saavedra has had the job on an interim basis since July, when Kaye Stripling left, and the school board made him the sole finalist for the post last month. He's been at the district for four years, starting as an area superintendent and working his way up. HISD has 210,000 students and 30,000 employees.

The Texas Supreme Court put Carrice Marcovich in charge of the Office of Court Administration. She's the agency's director of information services and will hold the top job on an interim basis while they're looking at resumes of people who want that job. Alicia Key, who left to run child support operations for Attorney General Greg Abbott, is the outgoing exec...

Put Gwyn Shea on the short list of people who might run the Texas Legislative Council. That agency's big desk has been unattended for a year, since Steve Collins left for the orange pastures of the University of Texas System. Shea is a former House member and constable whose most recent government job was Texas Secretary of State. TLC drafts bills and makes legislative trains run on time and their busy season is already well underway.

Funny Name for a sandwich, Cool Consolation Prize for a candidate: Odessa restaurateur and unsuccessful state Senate candidate Bob Barnes is part of the deal to buy Schlotzsky's restaurants out of bankruptcy. The Austin-based chain was purchased for $28.5 million by Fort Worth-based Bobby Cox Cos., and Barnes will be president of the operation. Barnes lost a special election for Senate to Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, when Teel Bivins became an ambassador to Sweden and quit the Pink Building...

David Guenthner, who left the Lone Star Report to open a public affairs firm, is now moving to the public sector; he'll join the government relations staff at the Texas Workforce Commission...

Why big papers have society columns: Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, was spotted at a party schmoozing, then driving around and nightcapping with Dina Matos McGreevey, who according to the Houston Chronicle's item on all this is the soon-to-be-former Mrs. James McGreevey. Mr. McGreevey, you'll recall, is the former governor of New Jersey who got himself a spot on a future Trivial Pursuit card by holding a press conference earlier this year to announce to the world that "I am a gay American." The Chronicle's Shelby Hodge ended with this snarky bit: "Political observers note that any chance of a serious flirtation is slim. At 38, McGreevey exceeds the age range typically attractive to Whitmire, 55."

Charged: Former congressional candidate Isidro Garza Jr., former tribal manager for the Kickapoos. Prosecutors say he used a credit card belonging to the tribe's Lucky Eagle Casino to pay about $40,000 in expenses from his unsuccessful race against U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, in 2000. Garza, who worked for the casino at the time, is the father of state Rep. Timoteo Garza, who lost his own reelection bid in the Democratic primary earlier this year.

Political People, Appointments Division

Gov. Rick Perry appointed San Antonio attorney O. Rene Diaz to the 224th District Court there, replacing Judge David Peeples, who retired. Diaz is also general counsel to the Republican Party of Texas, and the GOP had not named his successor for that part-time gig when we went to press...

Perry named the nine members of the new Health and Human Services Council, a board that will advise the HHS Commission. They are Corpus Christi beef exec Jerry Kane, who'll chair it; Dell Inc. exec Kathleen Angel of Austin; San Antonio attorney Robert Valadez; Dr. Maryann Choi of Georgetown, director of geriatric clinical services at Scott and White Hospital; Austin consultant Ronald Luke; Sharon Barnes, a manager at Dow Chemical Co. in Lake Jackson; Leon Leach, an exec at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center; former Texas Secretary of State Gwyn Shea of Irving; and Manson Johnson, pastor of Holman Street Baptist Church of Houston.

Quotes of the Week

Tommy Thompson, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, telling reporters what he's worried about: "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do."

George Strake of Houston, a former Texas Secretary of State and a Republican Party elder, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on prospects for a GOP primary for governor: "I think it's a big mistake for either Carole Strayhorn or Sen. [Kay Bailey] Hutchison to want to take on an incumbent who is doing a pretty good job. It would put our Senate seat in jeopardy, it would cause a lot of infighting among Republicans and it would give an opening to the Democrats."

Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, telling the Austin American-Statesman his thinking has evolved on crime and punishment: "Tight budgets have forced fiscal conservatives like myself to ask the same questions liberals were asking ten years ago. We're all at the same reality now on criminal justice, I think — we simply cannot afford to keep everyone behind bars."

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Mike Keasler, quoted in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on that court's decision to back an "innocence project" that reexamines questionable convictions: "If you have one innocent person in the penitentiary, that is too many. I sure wouldn't want to be there. It has to be your worst nightmare."

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, quoted in the Dallas Morning News on why she supports a switch from a city manager-run government to one run by a strong mayor: "City services haven't worked in the six years I've been in the building and the seven years I covered the building as a journalist. Why does anyone think the current system should stay the way it is?"

Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, a supporter of publicly funded vouchers for Texas children going to private schools, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "The only thing that determines where you go to school is where you geographically live. That's counterproductive for those who want to get the best education for their children."

Carolyn Boyle, who heads the voucher-unfriendly Coalition for Public Schools, in the same article: "What is in the public interest is to have a fabulous public school in every neighborhood. There's too many people who want their hands on public money."

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, announcing legislation revamping the state's child protective services agency: "No one disagrees that caseloads are too high. But additional funds are not going to solve the problem. Spending is not the answer, but more resources will be forthcoming."

Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on deficiencies in foster care in Texas: "Over and over the system has failed. Funding simply must be increased."

Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, announcing he'd been chosen for the committee overseeing three House election contests: "I think it is a compliment that, even though the Speaker and I have had our differences on issues in the past, he had the confidence in me to ask me to be vice chairman on such a highly charged issue. That, or he just figured I didn't have anything better to do."


Texas Weekly: Volume 21, Issue 26, 13 December 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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