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Grandma Hits the Pool First

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who bills herself as "One tough grandma," is expected to announce her candidacy for governor in Austin this Saturday (June 18).

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who bills herself as "One tough grandma," is expected to announce her candidacy for governor in Austin this Saturday (June 18).

Her staff — and her husband, Ed Strayhorn — started the week by calling around to ask supporters to show up for a "major event" this weekend. The comptroller, who's been giving Gov. Rick Perry fits for the last two years, is going to stop long-running speculation that she would challenge him. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is also considering a challenge, and 2006 could see the first competitive GOP primary for governor since 1990.

Strayhorn asked Capitol Police for permission to block off Congress Avenue, on the north side of the Pink Building, for several hours on Saturday. That's a slow time of the week in that area, and the stretch of road between the Capitol and the University of Texas only gets really busy six or seven times a year — when the Longhorns are playing football at home.

The permit allows up to 500 people, and lets Strayhorn erect a stage to announce her political plans with the dome of the state government's coolest building as a backdrop. The news prompted speculation that Strayhorn would announce anything from a reelection bid to a run for governor. We're pretty sure it's the latter, but you can get people to say she's running for comptroller, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, or even that she'll switch back to her original political party and run as a Democrat (she and Perry both switched in the 1980s).

Strategery: Strayhorn

The timing is clever. Perry has until midnight Sunday to sign legislation, veto it, or allow bills to become laws without his name on them. Strayhorn is jumping that by a day, beating any other candidates — including the incumbent — to a formal announcement. On Monday, after the deadline for bills is over, state officeholders are free to raise political money (a prohibition begins a month before the legislative session and continues until the veto pen is put down).

Strayhorn's advisors hope the earlier announcement will give U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison pause and will allow the comptroller time to get some traction for the March primary. If Hutchison decides to run for governor — all signs are that she will do so — and if she looks like the favorite, Strayhorn could always hop to another race. You'll find people who say that's not wise, but well-timed changes of course can get candidates out of impossible races and into competitive ones. It happens all the time, even in high-profile races. For instance: Attorney General Greg Abbott was a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2002 before switching to the AG's race. Democrat John Sharp ran for lite guv in 1998, losing narrowly to Rick Perry, after openly considering a run for governor against George W. Bush.

Strayhorn and Perry are already at war and have been for a couple of years. She gains nothing by waiting, and declaring her candidacy now gives her a chance to fish for any anti-Perry sentiment among GOP primary voters before anybody else starts trolling. And her presence gives Hutchison a slightly different choice to make: Instead of running against Perry, she's got the prospect of running in a three-way contest in March.

Strategery: Hutchison

It's hard to find solid information about Hutchison's plans, but the received wisdom from her campaign is that she'll decide soon and then make an official announcement sometime between now and the end of the summer.

Choose your poison: That's either a long wait that gives Perry and Strayhorn too much time to set up, or it's a smart move that lets them throw knives at one another while Hutchison stays above the fray — and out of throwing range — for a few more weeks.

A political graybeard might step in here to remind us that nobody pays attention to politics during the summer anyway, and that voters' eyes and ears aren't available to candidates until school starts. And the start of school gives the candidates a peg for arguing school finance. If the Legislature squeezes out some solution in a special session, Perry might have something to brag about when the kids get their new haircuts and put on their backpacks. If things remain as they are now, the start of school will give challengers a chance to point out the failure to solve what might be Texas government's most persistent problem.

In the meantime, nobody's attacking Hutchison. Strayhorn hardly mentions her and Perry's talking point is one of praise: Hutchison's doing a good job in Washington and ought to stay there. The day she gets into the race, she becomes the third piñata at the party, and like any candidate, she'll want to limit the swings of the stick. Unless she stalls to the point of appearing indecisive, or until potential supporters start giving up and committing to other candidates, there's no reason for her to hurry her entry into the contest.

Strategery: Perry

Say it again: Governors are at the peak of their official powers during the three weeks following a legislative session, when lawmakers have gone home and the veto pen is full of ink. In terms of his ability to influence things, that's where Gov. Rick Perry is today. And he's also threatening to reconvene lawmakers to fix school finance and other things that could protect him — and many of them — in the next election cycle. Incumbents run on achievements and failures and Perry is still working on that mix.

The special session weather vane continues to whirl up there on the barn. Aides to the governor still say their boss expects to call lawmakers back to consider school finance in overtime, and aides to legislative leaders say they see no change in the differences that kept the House and Senate from agreeing on a plan during regulation time. Perry is still pushing the watered down plan we wrote about last week, and some aides say they think legislators would rather vote for that than to do nothing.

One play is to convince those lawmakers — and in particular, House Speaker Tom Craddick — that a more modest proposal would pass in both chambers. What they're not saying, publicly, is that a special session that doesn't produce results could shift blame for the failures of school finance from Perry to the Legislature. With at least one primary opponent, however, Perry would likely find himself playing defense on that topic anyhow.

He continues to slog away, with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst helping out. Dewhurst dispatched his political ops to ask voters about a special session and trying to harvest their email addresses and fax numbers. The callers don't identify themselves as government or non-government folks, saying they're calling "on behalf of Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst " and that he's "working to lower school property taxes and increase academic and financial accountability of our school districts" and wants their opinions. They ask two questions — whether the voters think property tax cuts should be a top priority, and whether they'd favor paying for those cuts by "closing loopholes that big law firms and corporations use to avoid paying taxes." Then they ask for the email addresses and fax numbers. Think about the database they're building: Name, phone number, email address, fax number. That could be used to spur people on a particular issue during a special session, or later, or even to the polls in future elections.

Paring Knife? Axe? Chainsaw?

Meanwhile, there's some speculation that Perry will use a heavy marker when he's vetoing lines in the $139.4 billion state budget. That could be a two-fer, buying the governor some political breathing room on what starts as a $22 billion increase in the budget, and, depending on what kind of cuts are made (state money or federal money), freeing up funds for some combination of property tax cuts, back-ordered textbooks, and teacher pay raises.

He has to make his decisions about bills — including line items in the budget — by midnight Sunday (June 19). Sometime after that, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn will "score" the budget and announce a bottom-line difference between what's available for spending and how much of it Perry and the Lege promised to spend over the next two years.

The Guv has several options with that marker, ranging from dramatic to operatic:

• He can make simple line item cuts, with the surprises coming from what programs get cut and from the amount of money that produces. Anything smaller than $1 billion would get limited headlines; even that amount would be dwarfed by the $21 billion increase in spending still left.

• A previous governor used the veto pen — or maybe it was a paintbrush — to kill the entire second column in the two-year budget, approving one year of spending but forcing budgeteers to come back and rewrite the second year of the budget. Doing that would force a special session within the next year, but with school finance going to the Texas Supreme Court, chances of a session sometime in the next eight months is pretty good anyway.

• Perry could also strike out an entire section of the budget, forcing lawmakers to come back to make repairs before things ground to a halt. For instance, the governor has the power to strike Article III in its entirety, which includes all the money to be spent on public and higher education. That would force a special session before the end of the fiscal year on August 30, but risks starting school years without any money. Remember when Congress shut down the Washington Monument?

In Like a Lion

David Kleimann jumped into the SD-3 race with swats at Austin and the lame duck incumbent, Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. Kleimann, who's been considering the race for months, says Staples called him and asked him to bow out: "He said he and the powers that be in Austin have decided who the next senator should be."

The call got Kleimann's blood up, and he says he will be on the Republican ballot next year. The Willis businessman, who grew up in Montgomery County, says Staples' call riled "the little bit of John Wayne spirit in me," and he's making the Austin push for another candidate his issue.

Staples, according to Kleimann, is supporting Robert Nichols, a Jacksonville businessman who is currently on the Texas Transportation Commission and who is a political confederate of Gov. Rick Perry. The senator's consultant, Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth, dismisses that in four words: "It's ridiculous. No comment."

Staples hasn't officially endorsed anyone, but Nichols is apparently the management favorite, which can help sometimes and hurt sometimes. Staples himself got into the Senate after drubbing homebuilder Les Tarrance in a GOP primary. Tarrance was the Austin favorite, had most of the lobby money, the governor's advisors and pollsters and advertising wizards, and vacuumed up a whopping 18 percent of the vote. Staples refrain then was that Austin shouldn't pick the candidate for East Texas.

Bob Reeves, a Center businessman, has been considering a race for at least a full year and has been talking off and on to Staples during that time. He plans to officially declare his candidacy next week. He calls Staples a friend and says he won't divulge what might or might not have been said in a private conversation, but says he did get a call from Staples in the same time frame as the Kleimann call. He leaves it at that. Austin consultant Todd Smith will be working on Reeves' campaign.

And Frank Denton, who ran and lost a mayoral race last year in Conroe, is planning to run (apparently with consultant Bill Tryon running things). Rep. Roy Blake Jr., R-Nacogdoches, has lately expressed interest; his father was in the Senate. Neither he, Denton, nor Nichols returned calls before this was written.

Nichols was reappointed to the transportation board a year ago by Gov. Rick Perry (he was first appointed by then-Gov. George W. Bush). Earlier this year, he lent his name to Perry's reelection campaign for a list of people who will serve on the governor's campaign finance committee.

Hold 'em

State Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, won't make a run for Texas Agriculture Commissioner and says he'll seek reelection, with a caveat.

The caveat has been reported here and elsewhere: He says he is "very seriously interested" in running for Congress if U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, runs for U.S. Senate. That run is conditioned on U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's decision in the coming weeks of whether or not she'll seek reelection. Hutchison is mulling a run for governor against Rick Perry.

Hilderbran was serious enough about the Ag Commission race to print up glossy color flyers for the GOP state convention last year, listing Ernie Angelo of Midland as his treasurer. The Ag race is open no matter what: Susan Combs says she's running for comptroller next year and freed others to throw in their hats. Everybody else in this deal is waiting on Hutchison.

Keel Jumps

Terry Keel has been a state representative, Travis County sheriff, first assistant to District Attorney Ronnie Earle, and now he wants to be an appeals court judge.

Keel won't run for reelection at the end of his current (fifth) term in the House, but will run for an as yet unspecified spot on the court. He didn't say which court yet because the announcement triggers campaign finance requirements, filings and all that, but he did mention the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the state's 3rd Court of Appeals as possibilities.

He says he's got about $200,000 in his campaign finance accounts, but that can't be moved to a judicial campaign. He'll use it for regular office-related expenses during the next 18 months, for charity, and to contribute to other candidates. Keel hasn't blessed a successor and said nobody had surfaced at the time of his announcement. At the end of his current term, Keel will be eligible to start collecting legislative retirement benefits when he's 50; he's 47 now.

And he said his actions on judicial pay raises don't affect his ability to run. He said he was "present, not voting" on judicial pay during the session, not because of his ambitions but because his sister is a state district judge and he didn't want the appearance of a conflict. State law says lawmakers can't raise the pay for an office and seek it in the same budget cycle; Keel says attorney general opinions make it clear that his votes, had he cast them, would not have been a problem.

Keel's feuding with Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, over funding for indigent defense killed a 23 percent judicial pay raise that had been passed in different forms by both the House and the Senate. That same battle put Keel at odds with Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson. Keel said Jefferson threatened to cause him political problems if the raise didn't go through; Jefferson said later that Keel misunderstood him.

Flotsam & Jetsam

The Texas Association of Business has to let loose records of the corporations that contributed to its 2002 election efforts. The Texas Supreme Court, after sitting on the matter for almost 17 months, turned away TAB's request to keep the contributors' names and transactions secret. The trade group said the information was constitutionally protected; the court disagreed. James Sylvester of Austin, a Democratic House candidate who lost that year after being targeted in TAB mailers, filed a civil lawsuit saying TAB's campaign efforts against him were illegal. His lawyers asked for the records detailing how the group raised its money and from whom; the Supremes, after putting the matter on hold in January 2004, lifted its stay. TAB has to produce the information. That's the same election — and one of the same groups — under investigation by Travis County prosecutors and grand jurors for alleged violation of campaign finance laws.

• Something called "The Marriage Alliance" has opened a website featuring a video of Gov. Rick Perry talking up the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The site was set up by Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, two GOP political ops allied with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, who are under indictment for their activities during the 2002 legislative elections. Neither man has gone to trial, and both have said they're innocent of any crime. They were indicted in connection with the same criminal inquiry that has included TAB's efforts to elect a Republican majority to the Texas House three years ago.

The constitutional amendment on marriage is one of five amendments headed to voters, but it's far and away the draw on the ballot, both for supporters and opponents. On the video, Perry says Texans have a chance to "protect Texas families" with the constitutional amendment on Nov. 8 and says they can support the effort by going to the group's website (since it's on the website itself, the implication is that the ad could run on television).

"Protect marriage from fringe groups and liberal judges that would undermine marriage to fit their radical agenda," Perry says in the video. "Join me in sending a message to them that marriage is only between one man and one woman."

The website, at www.txmarriage.com, also has videos featuring Reps. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, and Phil King, R-Weatherford.

• Some Texas school employees will get a pay raise after all. Teachers, full-time counselors, nurses, and librarians who are now paid the minimum allowed by the state will get more money during the next school year. The state changed some formulas for funding schools and triggered — perhaps unintentionally — pay escalators that were already in state law. It comes out to about a 2.8 percent increase in pay for those folks. Educators now making the minimum of $24,240 will get $24,910 next year. Those at the top-level minimum — that is, experienced educators at the top step of the minimum pay level — will see pay increase to $41,930 from $40,800 now. Most school districts in Texas pay more than the state minimums — their employees aren't entitled to the automatic pay increase. By one estimate (from the Texas Federation of Teachers), the pay hike will affect about 8,000 teachers.

• Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, the Houston Democrat exploring a gubernatorial run, says he raised $35,222 in a "grassroots fundraising drive" that was designed to raise $30,000. Of the total, about $2,500 came from 15 simultaneous "house parties" connected by a conference call last weekend.

• Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs says she'll turn down a $32,000 pay raise that's included for some statewide officeholders in the budget.

• Transportation legislation approved by the Legislature and eagerly signed by Gov. Rick Perry would, among a long list of other things, require local voter approval before existing roads could be converted to toll roads. That amends earlier legislation — also signed by Perry — that allowed conversion to toll roads without voter approval. In suburban areas, particularly around Austin and Houston, that quickly became a hot button. Even with the fix, it's likely to be an issue in the gubernatorial race, where Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn is promising to talk about it, and in regional contests, like SD-3, where Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols will be on the GOP ballot.

• The federal courthouse in Brownsville is on the way to being named the "Reynaldo G. Garza and Filemon B. Vela United States Courthouse" after two Texans who served as federal judges. That's passed both houses of Congress and is ready for the president's signature.

• SurveyUSA, a polling firm, asked voters in all 50 states whether they approve or disapprove of the work their U.S. senators are doing. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, has the highest approval rating in the Senate, with 67 percent, according to the poll. The worst? John Cornyn of Texas, with 40 percent approval. Kay Bailey Hutchison tied for 19th in the 100-member Senate, with a 64 percent approval rating. There's another way to look at it. The senator with the lowest disapproval ratings was Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who has won the disapproval of 19 percent of his constituents. The highest: Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, with 44 percent disapproval.

Political People and Their Moves

Bradley McClellan, who heads the workers comp section for Abbott, is leaving that job for a post in the private sector. He's not saying what that post might be, but his last day on the job is Friday. His mother, meanwhile has asked Capitol Police for permission to block off Congress Avenue north of the Pink Building on Saturday. Her name is Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Bill Kenyon, who's been flakking for the Texas Secretary of State, abruptly left that agency after finding "difference of philosophy of communications with the governor's office." He's being replaced by Scott Haywood, who has most recently been in the number three spot in the governor's press office. Kenyon was on board when Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams took office, having worked for SOS Geoffrey Connor for a few months before that. He joined the SOS, and came into Gov. Rick Perry's political sphere, after working for Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. They met working on Clayton Williams' ill-fated gubernatorial campaign in 1990, and Strayhorn brought him back to Texas from a political consulting practice in California. Kenyon says he's thinking about hanging out a consulting shingle in Austin.

Separately, Ben Hanson, chief of staff and general counsel to the SOS, is leaving the agency to work in the private sector, according to aides in the governor's office. Hanson worked in the governor's legal office before moving to SOS. 

Jeff Moseley, who runs the economic development department in Gov. Rick Perry's office, is leaving state employment to head the Greater Houston Partnership. That's the second time the Houston group has gone to North Texas for a chief. Moseley, a former Denton County Judge, moved to Austin to run the old Texas Department of Commerce, a job that morphed into his current post. He'll replace Jim Kollaer, who's been at the GHP for 15 years and who, before that, worked in commercial real estate in Dallas. Moseley starts his new gig next month. Moseley's second-in-command, Tracey McDaniel, takes over his spot as chief of the economic development and tourism department. And Mark Ellison, who had been at the Texas Workforce Commission, is coming over to help run the governor's new Emerging Technology Fund.

Jay Kimbrough, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, has moved back to the offices of Attorney General Greg Abbott, where he's the director of "special investigations." That's an office that handles criminal investigations and prosecutions (most of which are done in conjunction with district attorneys whose legal turf includes criminal matters). He's hopped around state government, heading the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, then the Guv's criminal justice division, then to Abbott's office to head criminal justice, then to the Guv's office to head Homeland Security, to "senior advisor" to Perry and then to deputy chief of staff. He rejoined Abbott as the legislative session ended. Phil Wilson, Perry's other deputy chief of staff, will be the sole bearer of that title for now.

Jim Grace, who'd been a lawyer/lobster for CenterPoint Energy in Houston, is joining the Winstead Sechrest & Minick law firm to work on government relations and energy issues.

Deaths: Mike Ussery of Amarillo, a Republican activist and a member of the Veterans Land Board, after a heart attack. He was 75 and died just three weeks after his wife Kay passed away. Ussery was chairman of the Randall County GOP.

Quotes of the Week

GOP consultant Royal Masset, talking about Carole Keeton Strayhorn with the San Antonio Express-News: "She's a female Sam Houston. She wants to make her best shot even if the odds aren't that good. If she's going to attack, this is when she goes. As soon as the target's in view, she fires. She's not messing around. She's going."

David Beckwith, an aide to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, criticizing Gov. Rick Perry's promise to spend state money on a road at the U.S. Army's Fort Hood, in the San Antonio Express-News: "If you want to know why you have to have a toll road, look at this $20 million."

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt in response: "Her 12 years in the Senate have cost Texas taxpayers almost $5 billion that have gone to build roads in other states."

Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum, in the Austin American-Statesman: "I don't think anyone who understands what is at stake is chomping at the bit for a special session."

State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, writing on A Capitol Blog (www.acapitolblog.blogspot.com) about a special session: "Come on Governor, pull the trigger, let's give it a go!"

Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, looking back on the legislative session in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I think I had a great session, considering the obstacles. Think about that: We passed a school bill out of the House with virtually no support from the education community. ... I never saw a bill pass with that much opposition."

Arturo Senclair, tribal governor of El Paso's Tigua Indians, in The New York Times on the effects of closing the tribe's Speaking Rock Casino: "In two or three years it will be back to the way it was before we had gaming. Then we'll be dependent on whatever federal money we can get, after we tried so hard to be self-sufficient."

Houston Mayor Bill White, in a Houston Chronicle article on urban sprawl: "I don't want, nor do most people in this community want, to tell people where they can and can't live or how long their commute should or shouldn't be. One person's sprawl is another person's dream house. On the other hand... it is much more expensive for us to provide transportation services, water and sewer services and everything else if somebody lives twice as far away."

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, quoted by the Associated Press after voting against legislation allowing horses to be slaughtered for food: "The thought of people eating the Lone Ranger's horse — Silver — or Tonto's horse — Scout — is just barbaric."


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 3, 20 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 info@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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