Looking for a newspaper clip on the Internet the other day, we stumbled on what appeared to be the story we sought. It was about Gov. Rick Perry telling a Tyler audience about the prospects for a special session of the Legislature. But instead of what we expected — an account of Perry's efforts to negotiate a deal the House and Senate could swallow — it said Perry had given up trying to solve school finance until legislative leaders had a viable plan.
Then, we noticed, we had the right paper, the right people, the right issue, and the wrong year. When we quit the 2004 story and found the 2005 story, it had Perry predicting a special session by the end of this month, after he brought Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick together for the sort of deal that has eluded all three men for the last two years.
Perry has met with both Dewhurst and Craddick. Several senators, apparently at the behest of Perry — who badly needs a school finance bill — and Dewhurst — who badly wants one — have been calling House members to see whether they're anxious to come back to Austin. The theory, apparently, is that legislators confronted by angry constituents will want to come back to Austin to finish the job. Perry's shuttle diplomacy is an attempt to have Dewhurst and Craddick on board if legislators call in and beg for a special session.
One proposal that is under discussion, but to which no fingerprints adhere, would start with the $2 billion to $2.5 billion that's in the state treasury but which went unspent when school finance fell apart. Add to that the roughly $1 billion that a $1 additional tax on cigarettes would produce. If lawmakers can close the two biggest loopholes in the state franchise tax — one is the Delaware Sub and one is called the Geoffrey's loophole — they'd get another $750 million to $800 million. That's enough money to get a 25-cent cut in local school property taxes and to cover other spending that tax cut would trigger (the school finance system is a tricky thing). And that might be enough to buy political cover for Perry and anyone else who's in trouble because of what the Lege didn't do during the first five months of the year.
Timing is a problem, if not for the schools, then for the politicians. A quick fix on school finance might put changes in place in time for the school districts to figure new budgets, but it wouldn't deliver goodies to taxpayers before next year's primary elections. It takes a while for a property tax cut to wend its way through school budgets, tax authorities, mortgage escrow accounts and the like. That was one reason lawmakers tried to solve this mess in a special session a year ago; a solution then would have produced results — and presumably, happy taxpayers and voters — in time for the March 2006 elections.
Only Her Advisors Know for Sure
Before the spin machine goes to work, here's what U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had to say about running for governor. She talked to a gaggle of reporters after speaking at the investiture of Priscilla Owen.
Spot the talking points in this bit of monologue from Hutchison, unfiltered:
"Certainly, I am in the home stretch of making the decision for what's right for Texas. As you know, I tried to stay out of the fray during the legislative session because there are so many important issues facing the Legislature. I am disappointed, like everyone, that school finance and especially, relief for the property taxpayers of our state, were not addressed.
"I do hope that the governor chooses to call a special session now. In the budget, there is an allocation for teacher pay raises, for judge pay raises, for the buying of textbooks on time. And I think it's time that we have that session to do what's right in the budget, and I don't think our teachers should start in the fall not having the pay raises that we meant for them to have.
"So it is my hope that this is not over, and I certainly would like to withhold anything further until the Legislature has the chance to come back and address these issues. We should take the schools out of the courts and put it back in the hands of elected officials and the people of this state.
"I've tried to stay out of the political fray. You will notice that during the whole regular session that... I've tried to stay out of the way, so that school finance, giving teacher pay raises, giving property tax relief to the people of Texas would be addressed by the Legislature.
"I know the Legislature tried to do it. I think we need leadership to be shown now more than ever to do what is right for our state. Texas is the greatest state in America. I want us to be the example of how to do things right. I want other states to look to us to be the state that has the creativity and the innovation to do what's right to keep our state the best. That's my goal and I hope that is what is shown by all of our elected leaders in the future.
"I think that's probably about all I need to say today."
That bit prompted a couple of political reporters of our acquaintance to adjust their positions on the betting pool on whether she'll run. Parse it like a scribbler: She set up the logic for a race, put the leadership baby on the governor's doorstep and said a session should be called to get raises for judges and teachers, property tax cuts, textbooks and school finance.
Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, put out a statement after hearing Hutchison's remarks, saying he's ready to call hearings of the House Public Education Committee (he chairs it) on any plan she offers. "As Govs. Bush, Clements, and Richards all learned before, there is nothing as complicated, complex, or challenging as school finance." That's what Hutchison might have said, had she come to town to help Rick Perry become the first ten-year governor of Texas.
A spokesman for Perry said the Guv also wants lawmakers to come back and also doesn't think they've done their jobs on school finance. From Robert Black: "The fact of the matter is, the governor believes they haven't finished their work."
Same As the Old Map
The federal judges who okayed the current congressional maps in Texas have, on reconsideration, approved them again. Their opinion can be downloaded at:
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in a statement, said the ruling "should end the matter, and it is time to move on." Nina Perales, a San Antonio lawyer who represents the G.I. Forum, said she is still digesting the opinion but said her clients "are as unhappy with this now as they were in 2003" when the court first ruled. Officially, the lawyers on the losing side are still talking to their clients and reading the opinion and all that. Unofficially, they plan to appeal. Cases like this go straight from the three-judge trial court to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that would be the next stop on the appeal express.
A quick history, in case you haven't been thinking about redistricting in your spare time. Several different groups sued to stop the state from putting new congressional maps in place, including Texas Democrats, congressional Democrats, the G.I. Forum, and the Texas NAACP. They had different angles, variously arguing that the maps were overly (and unconstitutionally) partisan, that they were drawn to minimize the voting power of minorities, and broadly speaking, that the new maps removed some Texans' a reasonable chance to elect candidates of their choice to the U.S. House.
Three federal judges were impaneled to hear the case. They ruled in the state's favor, saying the new congressional maps are legal. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supremes, who had been working on a different redistricting case from Pennsylvania. Instead of ruling on the Texas maps, the high court sent the case back to the three-judge panel and told them to view it through the filter of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Pennsylvania case. This bit is about that ruling.
The Pennsylvania case — styled Vieth vs. Jubelirer — was based on the idea that partisan gerrymandering had resulted in an unfair map that disenfranchised some voters. The Supremes decided that wasn't the case, but the justices weren't in agreement on several points.
One point in particular is tantalizing to redistricting lawyers and political geeks: The court left open the idea that there might be a line to be drawn between fair and unfair partisanship in the design of political districts. In this newest opinion, the Texas judges (Patrick Higginbotham of Dallas, who is on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and trial judges Lee Rosenthal of Houston and T. John Ward of Marshall) say they were right about the partisan mapping the first time. That doesn't solve the puzzle about how much partisanship is too much partisanship, but without direction about what's in and what's out of bounds, the Texas judges decided the maps are fair. "We conclude that claims of excessive partisanship before us suffer from a lack of any measure of substantive fairness," they wrote.
The court did say the non-competitive districts on the new map that some see as a "stain" aren't all that unusual. "The argument ignores a historical fact; the Texas delegation has enjoyed non-competitive districts for at least the past four and a half decades, long before there were two political parties of any strength in the state," the judges wrote. They agreed with the state's argument that the new maps produced a big swing from the Democrats to the Republicans because the old map was unfair and the new map was a truer reflection of the voting strength of the two parties.
They limited the new opinion to that question about partisan gerrymandering. If the case goes up the food chain, other issues will be open just as they would have been had the Supremes heard the original appeal. One of those — whether mid-decade redistricting violates constitutional standards of "one man, one vote" — got the Texas judges' attention, though they didn't rule on it, since they were concerned mainly with the Vieth case.
But they did go on about it. Redistricting is required every ten years, when the census comes out. Lawmakers are required to draw districts that have the same number of people in them — that's one man, one vote. But a mid-decade like the one in Texas is done with numbers from the beginning of the decade and ignores population changes that took place in the meantime. The argument is that the mid-decade maps violate the constitutional rule because they use out of date census numbers. And since there aren't any better numbers, the defendants contend mid-decade redistricting is unconstitutional. In a concurring opinion, Ward suggested a statewide census that would form the basis for mid-decade maps, and said he'd have tossed the congressional maps on that basis if he and the other judges weren't limited to the political gerrymandering arguments from Pennsylvania.
Four years and a month after President George W. Bush nominated Priscilla Owen for a spot on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, she took the oath of office.
Owen was sworn in during a closed ceremony in the Texas Supreme Court chambers, surrounded by family, current and former members of the state's high court and other courts, and a mess of law clerks, court staff and news reporters.
Owen is one of a handful of judges whose confirmations stalled during partisan warfare in the U.S. Senate. Democrats said she and the others were so conservative as to be unsuitable for the courts; Republicans said they all deserved up or down votes from the GOP-dominated Senate. A deal that headed off an impasse over filibusters also gave Owen a vote, and she won confirmation.
At the swearing, Owen sat between U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry. All three spoke briefly, as did Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, Justice Nathan Hecht, and Judge Carolyn Dineen King, the chief judge on the New Orleans-based court and in that, Owen's new boss. Owen took the oath from Hecht, while her mother held Sam Houston's Bible for the newest federal judge from Texas.
Gov. Perry will get another appointment to the court, naming a justice to replace Owen. He appointed all but three of the court's current justices (several have since won election) and five — including Owen's replacement — will be on the ballot next year.
An Incomplete Grade on the Budget
You were looking for closure, maybe? Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced, only days after the legislative session was over, that the amount of money available exceeds the amount lawmakers spent in their $139.4 billion budget. The corresponding number from two years ago: $117.4 billion. That's a $22 billion increase, but it's a balanced budget.
That's good news for lawmakers, but it came with an asterisk: She hasn't yet tallied a second piece of spending legislation — the so-called "supplemental appropriations" bill. That measure, HB 10, includes appropriations for the current budget year and for the next two-year budget cycle. The current money covers spending that wasn't anticipated two years ago when the current budget was written; the other stuff was lumped together in the last weeks of the session, as budgeteers juggled several spending and revenue bills. Whether the whole package balances won't be completely clear until Strayhorn certifies the supplemental bill. And she tossed out a cautionary note, saying she'll watch the governor's line-item vetoes to make sure he doesn't cut something that would actually bring in more revenue, thus throwing the numbers out of whack.
If it balances, no problem. If it doesn't, some of the bigger state agencies — health and human services departments, for instance — could find themselves without the money to finish the year.
Strayhorn caused a fuss two years ago when she said lawmakers had budgeted more spending than the state could afford. They pointed to a "no-bounce" provision in the budget that automatically trimmed spending if money fell short. She said then, and says now, that that was unconstitutional. That provision — Strayhorn calls it a Get Out of Jail Free Card — has never been tested in court. Neither has the Legislature's contention that Strayhorn has to certify the budget within a certain amount of time. Some lawmakers say she must finish her work during the 20 days after the session, a period that coincides with the governor's deadline for vetoes. But that's not written down anywhere in law, and Strayhorn says it's baloney. Even so, she finished certification on the bigger of the two budget bills in record time.
Coming Soon to a Ballot Near You
David Sibley Jr. is mulling a run for a Waco seat in the Texas House. That's a good ballot name up there: He's the son of former state Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, a law student at Baylor, and a Republican. Potential issues include tax votes by freshman Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, who stuck with a slight majority to move the ill-fated school finance package to the Senate during the legislative session.
• Pat Carlson, chairwoman of the Tarrant County Republican Party for the last five-and-a-half years, says she'll run for the Texas House next year in HD-91. She's a Fort Worth native who has lived in Grapevine for 25 years; she and her husband are moving back to Fort Worth and into the district. She's been in three school board elections but says she has never held public office (unless you count the GOP gig). That's not an empty seat, but it might be: Rep. Bob Griggs, R-North Richland Hills, is the current occupant and just finished his second regular legislative session. Griggs, who says he set aside longstanding retirement plans to run for the House in 2002, is deciding whether to stick around and says he'll make the call in September. He's been open about it, but is still competitive enough to say nobody is going to beat him if he seeks another term. Whether Griggs stays or not, Carlson says she'll be in the race.
• Ellen Cohen, currently the president/CEO of the Houston Area Women's Center, is planning to run against Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, in next year's elections. HAWC is a shelter for abused women, and Cohen has been running it for 15 years. She's a Democrat, and that's one of a handful of seats on the Texas legislative map that could be won by either party.
• Two candidates have signed up with the Texas Secretary of State to run in HD-143 to replace Rep. Joe Moreno of Houston, who died in a truck accident during the legislative session. The list so far includes only Democrats: Charles George, a 58-year-old corrections officer; and Laura Salinas, a 28-year-old "leasing administrator." The election is set for November 8; candidates have to sign up by October 11 to get on the ballot. Ana Hernandez, an attorney who's been successful winning support from other state officials from Houston, hasn't filed paperwork with the SOS.
Age Over Beauty
Retired judge Phil Hardberger is San Antonio's new mayor, after a come-from-behind win over Julián Castro, a city councilman whose twin brother Joaquin Castro, is a state representative. Castro, 40 years Hardberger's junior, finished first in the first round, but third-place finisher Carroll Schubert endorsed Hardberger. The former judge went on to win a runoff election that saw turnout rise by about 15,000 voters over the original election. The final (unofficial) margin: 3,829 votes, out of 129,831 cast.
• El Paso's new mayor will be John Cook, a city councilman who upset incumbent Mayor Joe Wardy in a runoff election. Cook won by about 1,000 votes.
• Chris Bell's exploratory campaign for governor turns to House parties to gin up support and some money, in small increments, for a possible run. The former congressman, a Houston Democrat, is doing those in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Tulsa, and eight cities in Texas, and tied them to the anniversary of Bell's ethics complaint against U.S House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. In places where the campaign is asking for money, it's asking for relatively small amounts — $25 and $50.
• Rumors of War: Former Comptroller John Sharp, after consecutive losing races for Lite Guv (to Rick Perry and David Dewhurst), is talking about a gubernatorial run. So far, it's blog-fodder; nobody seems to want to go on the record about it, and Sharp didn't call us back. Ahem. Also: The Dallas Morning News has Austin consultant Mark McKinnon talking to the John McCain camp about helping with the Arizona senator's possible presidential campaign. McKinnon worked for several Texas Democrats before signing on as an advisor/adman for George W. Bush, who benefited from his help in both his first run and his reelect. McKinnon told the paper nothing official has happened. McCain's chief political advisor is Texan John Weaver, formerly of Kermit.
• Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs picked up an endorsement from the political action committee that's attached to the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association. She's running for comptroller in next year's elections.
• Attorney General Greg Abbott remained quiet about shield laws for journalists during the legislative session, but joined his counterparts from 34 other states in an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow reporters to protect their sources. The court will consider a lower court decision that said reporters for The New York Times and Time magazine are not protected under federal law from being forced to identify unnamed sources.
• Add "Cowboy Politics" to your bloglist. The unnamed author(s) sent us a note saying they were up and running. They've got one post (hey, during that first week in 1984 we once had only one issue) and it's on Kay Bailey Hutchison, Rick Perry, and the prospects of a shootout for the Governor's Mansion. The address for the new folks: www.cowboypolitics.blogspot.com.
• Special Session, the weekly public television show on the Texas legislative session, is airing its last episode, but they put the whole season up on the Internet if you want to relive your wins and losses. Paul Stekler, a documentary maker based at the University of Texas at Austin, put together a team of film and TV wizards to assemble the show, a combination of short films, long interviews, and talking heads (disclosure: our editor was on the panel a few times). They managed to get it on more than a dozen public television stations around the state, something of a feat. The whole season is (or will be) online at www.klru.org/specialsession.
Political People and Their Moves
As expected, Mike Geeslin got the insurance commissioner job that was emptied by the retirement of Jose Montemayor. Geeslin, a former aide to Gov. Rick Perry and the most recent deputy to Montemayor, has been acting commissioner. First order of business: Absorb the Texas Worker's Compensation Commission into the Texas Department of Insurance. Lawmakers folded the bigger agency into the smaller one in the most recent session.
Former Texas Attorney General and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill is collaborating with Ernie Stromberger on a history of Hill's tenure as AG. Stromberger was out of the Capitol press corps by the time Hill became AG in 1972, but worked on Hill's gubernatorial campaign in 1978 and then stayed in touch. He's doing interviews with Hill's former assistants and others on matters like the legal battles over Howard Hughes' will.
Michael Shelby, who announced last month he's resigning from his job as a Houston-based U.S. Attorney last month, is signing up with Fulbright & Jaworski. After all those years as a prosecutor, he's going to head the firm's white-collar crime defense team. Shelby will work out of the law firm's headquarters in Houston.
Andy Erben left KB Homes, where he's been working a combo gig as a lobbyist and exec, to move back to the lobbying end of the spectrum. He ran for the coast — honest — and says he'll make his next move later in the summer.
Felton West, a longtime reporter at the Houston Post who went on, in his alleged retirement to get active in other things — he was a Liberty Hill City Councilman, for instance — is fighting cancer. He can be reached at Sagebrook Health Center in Cedar Park (outside of Austin).
Quotes of the Week
Gov. Rick Perry, on legislation that would put the state's ban on gay and lesbian marriages in the state constitution, quoted by KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth: "Texans have made a decision about marriage, and if there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas then maybe that's a better place for them to live."
Rev. Robin Lovin, a Methodist minister and Southern Methodist University professor, quoted in The New York Times: "There are lots of reasons to go to church on Sunday, but making laws isn't one of them."
Perry, quoted in The Dallas Morning News: "We may be on the grounds of a Christian school today, but our message speaks to all who believe in standing up for the unborn, all who cherish strong, traditional families, regardless of party, ethnicity or creed. We're here because a quiet majority decided to have their voices heard. We could be doing this at a parking lot at Wal-Mart."
House Speaker Tom Craddick, quoted in the Amarillo Globe-News on the prospects for school finance: "Even if we went in tomorrow and passed a bill, we don't know what the court is going to say is wrong with the system because the lower court didn't tell us what the specifics were -- they just said it's broken."
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, caught by the Houston Chronicle saying she wanted to be sure none of her utterances led anyone to a conclusion: "I will talk a lot, but if you think you've understood anything I've said, you're misunderstanding."
Federal Judge Patrick Higginbotham, in his majority opinion on Texas congressional maps: "The history of electoral politics in Texas during the latter half of the twentieth century can be described as the story of the dominance, decline, and eventual eclipse of the Democratic Party as the state's majority party."
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, in the Washington Post, saying congressional Democrats are trying to keep ethics in the headlines by denying him a hearing: "They don't want an ethics committee. They would like to drag this out and have me and others before the ethics committee in an election year."
Kinky Friedman, quoted in The Daily Texan: "Only two kinds of people wear cowboy hats: cowboys and assholes. I hope I'm the former."
Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 2, 13 June 2005. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2005 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.