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Paying Tribute

Political advisors to Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, pulled the plug on an unusual fundraiser for "Speaker Tom Craddick's Political Action Committee" after inquiries about the event. Pitts, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, was traveling outside the U.S. and unavailable for comment. But before he left, he sent a letter to House colleagues from the Dallas delegation asking them to help with a funder on December 1: "I believe, together, we can plan an event that will honor Tom Craddick for his outstanding work during the 79th Legislative Session."

Political advisors to Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, pulled the plug on an unusual fundraiser for "Speaker Tom Craddick's Political Action Committee" after inquiries about the event. Pitts, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, was traveling outside the U.S. and unavailable for comment. But before he left, he sent a letter to House colleagues from the Dallas delegation asking them to help with a funder on December 1: "I believe, together, we can plan an event that will honor Tom Craddick for his outstanding work during the 79th Legislative Session."

It was to be held at Pitts' second home, in Dallas, and the letter asked each recipient to "commit to raising $10,000 for Speaker Craddick and to bringing a minimum of 25 people to show their support for our first Republican Speaker in over 100 years." He said he would provide the location — his $2.5 million home in the Park Cities area — and would underwrite the event. Members who signed up would have been listed as hosts, and he asked them to line up invitees by October 24.

The letter, sent last week, caused some murmuring among legislators and lobbyists who knew about it. Many House members are working on raising money for their own political accounts right now, and $10,000 — all in a day's work for a statewide officeholder dragging the sack — is a lot of money to most state representatives. The Stars Over Texas PAC, set up by House leaders to defend incumbent Republicans in elections, wasn't mentioned in Pitts' letter. The Stars Over Texas PAC had $162,231 on hand at mid-year. Craddick's own account is in good shape — he reported $2.7 million in cash on hand as of June 30, outpacing all but a handful of elected officials — and so far, he doesn't have an opponent for his reelection bid next year.

The letter didn't make it clear what the money would be for — Craddick's speaker account, his own campaign accounts, or some larger effort to help with campaigns of other legislators. Craig Murphy, a consultant to Pitts who returned our call to the representative, said they decided to halt preparations because of that ambiguity. He said the intent was to raise money for Craddick's own campaign account. A spokeswoman for Craddick, Alexis DeLee, said his political folks weren't aware of the event and weren't involved in the preparations: "We don't know anything about it."

According to Murphy, this is a postponement and not a cancellation. He said they'll clear up the confusion and try to put another fundraiser for Craddick together soon — this time with clearer descriptions of where the money is going.

The Court of Public Opinion

Lawyers for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and supporters of the temporarily deposed House majority leader are capitalizing on the legal hopscotch prosecutors played on their way to his indictments. The lawyers want to put Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle in the dock to explain how and why he went through three grand juries on the way to indicting the congressman on money laundering and conspiracy charges. And a media blitz manned by DeLay supporters and channeled through ads, talk show appearances, and interviews with news reporters is lowering the fire under DeLay and raising the flames under Earle.

If you're watching the war on two fronts, the legal battle hasn't changed much; for that, wait for the first court appearances about a week from now (and don't be surprised if and when DeLay's team asks for a change of venue). DeLay and his bunch have the upper hand in the political battle at the moment, demanding that Earle explain getting an indictment out of one grand jury, failing to get a second indictment to replace it from a second grand jury, polling the members of the first grand jury on the phone after their panel was disbanded and then, finally, getting fresh indictments out of third grand jury that had been in business for less than a day.

At the least, the prosecutors gave DeLay's team plenty of material to work with. They filed papers asking for access to secret grand jury testimony, information, recordings and such. They accused the prosecutors of encouraging grand jurors to do media interviews damaging to DeLay. They contend they need the grand jury stuff — and access to the grand jurors themselves — to develop a case of prosecutorial misconduct. And if they can put that together, it'll form the basis of a motion to throw out the indictments against their guy. All of that is in a stack of stuff you can download from our website, here.

Included in that stack is a letter from Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lead attorney, asking Earle to submit to an "immediate deposition" to talk about the five days that included the first indictment and the last one and outlining some of the questions. Earle didn't offer much of a reply, either in court filings or to the press. He issued a statement: "Because of laws protecting grand jury secrecy, there are limitations to what we can say at this time, but we fully expect to prevail in this matter."

Meanwhile, a group called The Free Enterprise Fund is running spots urging viewers to call the DA — his number is listed in the ad — to tell him he's out of line prosecuting DeLay.

The spots start with a barking Rottweiler, and an announcer saying, "A prosecutor with a political agenda can be vicious. When liberal Democrat Ronnie Earle went after Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, the judge threw out his case. But now, Earle's after another Republican, Tom DeLay. When one grand jury rejected Earle's case, he kept it quiet and ran to a second grand jury. He's helping make a movie hyping the case. Earle's even exploited the DeLay case to raise money for liberal politicians." (The dog starts whimpering.) "That's wrong. Bad, Ronnie, bad. Tell Earle he's wrong — it's not a crime to be a conservative." The screen flashes Earle's office number, with a fuzzy picture of him and the Fund's logo. You can watch it at www.freeenterprisefund.org/.

Weird details: DeLay's defense team includes, of counsel, Richard Keeton, a Houston attorney and the brother of state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is running for governor. DeLay's lead lawyer, DeGuerin, is an unpaid advisor to the Kinky Friedman campaign.

Earle's In

Jason Earle -- son of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle -- will run for the Texas House in HD-47 next year. The younger Earle, a Democrat, is after the seat now held by Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin. Keel is running for a spot on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and several Republicans have announced their campaigns to win his spot in the Legislature. That group includes Alex Castano, Rich Phillips, Richard Reynolds, and Bill Welch. Earle, who's planning an announcement this week, would be the first Democrat to throw his hat in the ring.

He's making a standard dynasty bet, that the familiarity of the family name will help more than any animosity toward his father might hurt. He runs a risk — in a season that has his father in a legal battle with U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and others — that Republicans will turn the House race into a referendum on his father. That's a year away, though: The real fight this spring appears to be in the Republican primaries. The winner of that can worry about the Democrat next November. It hasn't hurt Elisabeth Earle's political chances. The daughter of the DA is a County court-at-law judge in Austin.

And it puts Keel in an interesting position. He's a Republican seeking higher office. He's also the former first assistant district attorney to Earle and has stayed out of recurrent battles between the prosecutor and the GOP, which began in earnest with Earle's unsuccessful prosecution of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1993. But Keel has an out: Once he officially got into the court race, he was bound by election restrictions on judges. He couldn't endorse a candidate even if he wanted to. He won't lose any sleep over it. "It's a good year to have that happen," he says.

Earle isn't the only Democrat looking to replace Keel. Valinda Bolton, seeking office for the first time, says she'll be in the primary, too.

Party People

Nate Crain's last day as chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party will come on November 15. He's resigning that post and says at least two moves are on his mind. He's considering a run for chair of the Texas GOP, and he's also mulling a "federal opportunity" he won't detail. That could be anything from an appointment to a run for election to you fill in the blank yourself; he's not saying.

The state post is currently in the possession of Houston lawyer Tina Benkiser, criticized by Crain and some others for not weighing in when Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison were jockeying for position in the 2006 gubernatorial elections. Crain did speak out, urging the senator from Dallas to run for reelection and not against the incumbent governor. That's the choice Hutchison eventually made, but Benkiser, who won election to the party post with significant help from the Perry camp, never said a word.

She's not as quiet about reelection. Benkiser says she is "definitely" running for another term in the chair at the GOP's state convention in June and says she's confident about her chances: "I enjoy widespread support among our grassroots supporters." She says the party has improved its results in district and local elections during her tenure and says that, other than Crain, she's not aware of anyone who's planning a challenge for next year. Crain says Benkiser's decision won't influence his own. He'll jump one way or the other in a couple of months, he says.

Meanwhile, former state Rep. Kenn George, R-Dallas, is the only candidate in the queue for Crain's job. The local party's executive committee will pick an interim chair in November, and the race for a full term is next year. George already filed for the March election, and he's apparently the only candidate under consideration for the interim job.

First, Fact Your Checks

One of the changes in Texas ethics laws recommended by gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell — a ban on contributions during the governor's post-session veto period — actually became law during the 2003 session. That buried the other changes he wants, including dollar limits on campaign contributions.

His campaign blamed the fumble on telephone advice from a lawyer at the Texas Ethics Commission, but the current law — with the ban in it — is described on that agency's website, in a section designed to help political people stay out of trouble. They provide a translation for non-lawyers, and a legal citation for the shysters who want actual language. "Members of the legislature and most statewide officers may not accept political contributions during a period that begins 30 days before a regular legislative session convenes and ends 20 days after final adjournment. Elec. Code § 253.034."

Bell is trying to capitalize on his stand against U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land; as a congressman, Bell filed an ethics complaint against the Republican that led to DeLay's admonishment by the House's priests of ethics. He says ethics and corruption won't be the basis for his run for governor, but Bell listed several safeguards he wants added to state law.

He wants to limit the size of campaign contributions to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for political action committees. Those are the limits in city races in Houston, where Bell was a city council member. He cited a Campaigns for People study that said 76 percent of all contributions in the 2002 elections came in chunks of $5,000 or more. Bell also wants a $100,000 limit on aggregate contributions by one person during an election cycle.

Bell wants to prohibit government employees from joining the lobby upon quitting; an independent redistricting commission to make elections more competitive; a ban on 'undisclosed issue ads' in the two months before an election; a law that blocks campaign contributors from doing business with officeholders they backed financially; a ban on "procurement lobbying" that forces potential contracts to deal with procurement people and prohibits trying to get officeholders to lend influence; and restructuring the Texas Ethics Commission to make it an active regulator of campaign finance in state elections with the power to do audits and a new enforcement division.

Eight Amendments Out

The proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage isn't the only thing on the ballot next month. That's proposition 2, and it'll continue to get the headlines, and it'll be the draw, and it'll provide, for political hacks and other watchers, a peek at the most fervent voters on either side.

The voter lists generated by this election — for both sides — will be the kernels of the get-out-the-vote efforts in March for candidates who rely on those "base" voters. They'll take the lists of who voted, compare those with lists of "their" voters, and know who's most active in each precinct of the state. That's handy information for statewide and local candidates alike.

But it's not all prep work for the March primaries. Along with Prop 2, there are eight other deals on the ballot, and we're listing them below for people afraid of learning of this stuff for the first time when they're in the actual voting booth. Full expositions and arguments are available from the studiously non-partisan House Research Organization's website. The actual language you'll see if and when you vote:

Proposition 1: "The constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation, and expansion of rail facilities."

Proposition 2: "The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

Proposition 3: "The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt."

Proposition 4: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant's release pending trial."

Proposition 5: "The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans."

Proposition 6: "The constitutional amendment to include one additional public member and a constitutional county court judge in the membership of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct."

Proposition 7: "The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage."

Proposition 8: "The constitutional amendment providing for the clearing of land titles by relinquishing and releasing any state claim to sovereign ownership or title to interest in certain land in Upshur County and in Smith County."

Proposition 9: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority."

Voters have approved 432 amendments to the constitution so far. And the elections for these things aren't exactly barnburners: Turnout for the last constitutional amendment election, in September 2003, was 1.47 million. That's within range of the number that turns out for primaries, which is why it's so useful to those consultants we mentioned up top. In 2004, less than half a year after that 2003 election, 687,615 Republicans and 839,231 Democrats — a total of 1.52 million voters — turned up at the party primaries. That's a difference of only 56,403 voters, and they tend, in both cases, to be the sort of people who vote no matter what. The vote totals aren't always that close, but hot-button issues like gay marriage draw more voters than the usual fodder of constitutional elections, and can pull the numbers up to primary election levels.

Early voting starts on Monday, October 24 (two days earlier in some counties) and ends Friday, November 4. The actual election is on Tuesday, November 8.

Rumors, at a Discount, and Other Political Notes 

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, doesn't plan to leave the Senate, isn't talking to anybody about a high-falutin' job at the Texas Tech University System, and doesn't really know how any of this talk got started. He first heard about it — from Austin, not Lubbock — a week ago. He says Chancellor David Smith — whose post he supposedly had his eye on — "is doing a good job as far as I'm concerned." Put a cork in it.

• Another story going around is that Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, is planning to bow out of the Legislature. He was traveling and unavailable to shoot the bull when we called, but here's a sign: He's scheduled a fundraiser for November 30 in Victoria, and he apparently told at least one Republican wannabe that it won't be an open seat in 2006.

• State Sen. Todd Staples, who's giving up that job to run for Texas agriculture commissioner, is backing Robert Nichols of Jacksonville in the four-way race for the Senate seat. He introduced the former highway commissioner at Nichol's official announcement in Palestine. Three other Republicans are in the hunt, including Frank Denton of Conroe, David Kleimann of Willis, and Bob Reeves of Center.

• Radio talk show host Dan Patrick is running for Senate, something he's talked about before but never actually done, but he hasn't given up his radio show at this point. He's joined the pack in SD-7, where Jon Lindsay, R-Houston, has decided not to seek reelection. Patrick will face Houston City Councilman Mark Ellis, and state Reps. Peggy Hamric and Joe Nixon. They're all Republicans, and they've already lived through their first debate. The hot topic in this GOP district? Schools? Taxes? Transportation? Nope: Immigration and border security.

Mary Beth Harrell is running for Congress against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Georgetown. She's billing herself as the wife of a retired military officer and the mother of two active-duty soldiers, and as a tough-on-crime lawyer. She was a "city prosecutor" in Nolanville and was an "interim prosecutor" in Temple. She and her husband operate St. Francis Animal Sanctuary, a non-profit animal rescue outfit, and just opened another one called Assisi Animal Refuge. There's a website: www.marybethharrellforcongress.com. She didn't say so in an email about her announcement, but Harrell is running as a Democrat. That means she's got work to do: Carter got two-thirds of the vote against a Democrat last November, and statewide Democrats averaged 59.1 percent in CD-31 during that cycle.

• Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, hasn't decided what office he'll seek next year. He'll seek reelection or challenge Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, for his Senate seat. We took that an inch too far last week, taking Uresti out of the House to chase Madla. He says in a written statement that he'll decide sometime within the next 30 days. He's thinking about trying to knock Madla off, but isn't prepared to tell potential House candidates that the field for his HD-118 seat is clear.

• Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, will seek reelection, but she'll have a challenger from her own party. Wade Gent, a 31-year-old attorney whose father, Wayne Gent, is the Kaufman County Judge (we're guessing Kaufman County is one of the few governments in the state that includes a link to The Drudge Report on its homepage, at www.kaufmancounty.net) says the Legislature isn't getting things done and needs new blood. Brown announced, after some local speculation about her plans, that she will in fact seek reelection to a fifth term. And in her announcement, she said she was encouraged to do that by Gov. Rick Perry and by House Speaker Tom Craddick. Gent (the candidate, not the judge) says he's running, in part, because of Brown's vote against a school tax change that would have lowered property taxes by raising the size of homestead exemptions. That would have benefited a lot of people in the district, he says, though it was unpopular with Republican leaders in the House.

Jody Anderson, who finished second in the Republican primary for HD-12 last year, is running again. Anderson, who was until June the executive director of the Manufactured Housing Association's Texas operation, is hoping to make it to November, where he'd challenge Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin. Anderson lost a relatively close race against former Rep. Billy Clemons in 2004; Clemons then lost a 51-49 squeaker to McReynolds.

• Remember Juan Garcia III? He's a naval aviator and Gulf War vet who talked about running for U.S. Senate back when there was some question about whether U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison wanted a return ticket to Washington, D.C. Now that she's running for reelection, Garcia has his name in the hat for another government gig: He's an applicant for the top job at the Texas Lottery Commission.

Tom DeLay is to Texas Democrats what Hillary Clinton is to the Republicans. He's the guy they use to get their troops lathered up. Andy Brown, one of several Democrats vying to challenge state Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, has flyers out with the tagline: "Progressive Democrat challenges the Tom DeLay machine." Baxter was one of seven candidates who got checks from the Republican National Committee in 2002 that allegedly were "laundered" from corporate money given to the RNC by Texans for a Republican Majority. He survived that slap two years ago, but with DeLay and others in the news, it's back. 

Political People and Their Moves 

Gov. Rick Perry named Corpus Christi lawyer Colleen McHugh to the University of Texas Board of Regents. She's been on the boards of the Texas Department of Public Safety and on Perry's task force on homeland security.

House Speaker Tom Craddick appointed Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, to the Binational Alcohol and Substance Abuse Task Force. Craddick named new members to the Sunset Advisory Commission, including Reps. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, who'll be vice chair, Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, and Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio. Truitt was on the commission before; the other three replace Reps. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who was chairman, Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, and Peggy Hamric, R-Houston.

Tara Wall, a former TV newscaster (in Michigan) and more recently in communications for the Republican National Committee, is the new executive director of Harris County's GOP.

Police blotter: U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, was busted for drunk driving in South Dakota, where he was attending a class reunion... State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, told local officials he simply forgot about the handgun in his briefcase; a judge let him go after he was busted at airport security. 

Quotes of the Week 

Federal Judge Ed Kinkeade, quoted in Texas Lawyer about Harriet Miers' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, after finding that seven of the eight current justices when to Yale or Harvard: "If she doesn't have the legal qualifications to be on the Supreme Court, then nobody in Texas does... Well, excuse me. You can be smart and still say "y'all.'"

Austin lawyer Roy Minton, telling the San Antonio Express-News that House Speaker Tom Craddick is off the hook with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle: "He (Earle) called me ... and said, 'It's good news.' I said, 'What's ya got, Buddy?' And he said, 'We're not going to indict Craddick.'"

Newton County Judge Truman Dougharty, complaining about federal disaster relief efforts in rural East Texas, in the San Antonio Express-News: "Just because we're poor and we're small doesn't mean we should be last."

Tim Sorrells with the Texas Ethics Commission, asked by the San Antonio Express-News whether an election complaint filed now could be resolved before the November 8 elections: "Theoretically it's possible, but it would be highly unlikely." 


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 18, 17 October 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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