Somebody around here should point out the remarkable similarities between Tom DeLay's defense, so far, and Kay Bailey Hutchison's defense against the same prosecutors in 1993 and 1994. Hutchison won acquittal after a searing public investigation and indictments, dropped indictments and re-indictments that threatened her political career. When the judge in that case, John Onion Jr., refused to pre-approve evidence seized by prosecutors from Hutchison's state treasury offices, prosecutors refused to present their case. With nothing from the prosecution to consider, the court acquitted Hutchison. And here's the political moral: She's been invincible in state politics since then.
So it's no surprise that when faced with his own Travis County troubles, DeLay hired the same lawyer, Dick DeGuerin of Houston. And DeGuerin is using the same formula that ultimately ended with Hutchison's acquittal on charges of using her state office and staff for political work.
There's been little in the way of a legal fight so far. While there have been legal papers flying back and forth, the courtroom wars are mostly still in front of us. But the publicity wars are well under way, and once indictments have been filed, the spotlights and attention move from prosecutors to defenders.
And as he did a little over ten years ago, DeGuerin took over the storytelling. He started with a tale the prosecutors have woven — in this case, that DeLay & Co. helped win the 2002 Texas legislative elections with a vigorous injection of corporate money, some of which they ran through the Republican National Committee to launder it for use in state elections where corporate funds are illegal. And then he went to work building his own story — and with it, his legal case — with a series of steps still being played out:
• Attack the charges as an attempt to criminalize normal and even desirable political activity. In Hutchison's case, the defense lawyers said it's normal and traditional and honorable to communicate regularly with constituents and that some large number of the people interested in what an officeholder is doing are people who support those officeholders politically. Hutchison, they argued, was just doing her job. DeLay, they're arguing now, changed the face of Texas politics by helping elect a GOP majority in the statehouse, which then helped change the political maps to create a Republican majority in the state's congressional delegation. He's merely been an effective partisan, and that's his job. And besides, they argue he wasn't involved in the sort of day-to-day details and decisions alleged in the indictments.
• Attack the prosecutor, saying the investigation is a partisan affair and that the grand jury system has been abused. Last decade, the volley at Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle was that Hutchison had won a seat in the U.S. Senate that he himself wanted and that the prosecution was retribution and also an attempt to win favor with other Democrats like Gov. Ann Richards. Earle, they argued, sought a greater award. And they said the grand jury system used in Travis County promoted cronyism, with Democratic judges picking supporters to serve, who recommended friends in a cycle that produced a politically tainted system. This time, the shots at Earle are similar; the shots at the system are that Earle abused it by shopping his charges to several grand juries before finding one that would report the current charges against DeLay.
• Talk to the "jury" through the papers and television and other media so that when the real jury is chosen, the pool will consist of people who know all about the case — whether they've got it right or wrong — and people who avoid civics and legal and political stuff as if it were a big bowl of Brussels Sprouts. This one is what defense lawyers do in all high-profile cases. People are seeing the story on the news, so you try to spin the story your own way. It's just like running a political campaign, except that losers sometimes have to go to jail.
• Ask for a change of venue, on the basis of political bias of people in Travis County and because they've all read and heard so much about the inquiries into campaign finance that they can't possibly be objective. Hutchison's trial was moved from Austin to Fort Worth. DeGuerin asked for a change of venue in the DeLay trial this week.
A Rose By Any Other Name
What if the corporate franchise tax was replaced with an "insurance premium" — so that anybody paying the state's business levy kept their liability protection and those who didn't pay lost it? Former Comptroller John Sharp, who's heading Gov. Rick Perry's task force on taxes, is tossing that idea around with business groups. He says it's not the work of the task force — the members of which haven't been named yet — but just one of many ideas bumping around.
The idea starts with the seed of "corporate privilege"; one of the arguments for the corporate franchise tax (and the reason for its peculiar name) is that the state grants companies the right to operate here in return for the tax those companies pay. Sharp is taking that a couple of ticks forward. Corporations and some other business organizations have limited liability — you can't go after the owners for more than their company is worth. Those sorts of businesses currently pay state taxes. But other businesses, organized as sole proprietorships or partnerships or whatever — don't pay the tax. Because of the way they're formed, forcing them to pay a business tax would be, in effect, forcing them to pay an unconstitutional state personal income tax. Sharp's suggestion: Give businesses that pay the tax the limited liability protection enjoyed by corporations, and deny it to those that don't.
He pitched the idea to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, backpedaling as he laid it out to say it's just an idea and hasn't risen to the level of a "plan" or a "proposal." It would have the advantage, at first blush, of raising state money from businesses that don't pay taxes now, maybe without tripping over the dreaded personal income tax. And you'll remember that when Perry and Sharp announced the formation of the task force, both said personal income taxes will not be among the options under consideration.
The panel hasn't been put together yet. Sharp says it'll likely have around a dozen members and that they'll be "names you know." And he and others are working to staff the task force, which will have the dual role of going around the state to put a plan together and then helping to sell that plan — or at least explain it — when the Legislature is ready for a look. That could come in the 2007 regular session, or earlier, if the courts order a solution to the state's school finance system earlier than that.
A Surprise Resignation
State Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, is calling supporters and others to tell them that he plans to resign from his HD-48 seat to pursue job opportunities in the private sector.
Baxter had been expected to seek reelection and had drawn three serious Democratic opponents, including attorney Andy Brown, former Eanes ISD trustee Donna Howard, and former Austin ISD trustee Kathy Rider. Baxter, who'd been a Travis County commissioner, was part of the big Republican sophomore class that shifted control to the GOP after redistricting. He first won election to the House — against incumbent Rep. Ann Kitchen, D-Austin — in 2002, and then prevailed in a very tight reelection battle in 2004.
Ben Bentzin, a Republican who ran against Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, in 2002, says he's "seriously assessing the opportunity" presented by Baxter's decision to retire. Bentzin lost to Barrientos, but tromped Barrientos in the House district, getting 56 percent of the votes. He said he out-performed Baxter in the House district by about three percentage points, and would be trying to capitalize on those numbers if he ran for the House. He says he'll decide by the end of the week.
Baxter, in a written statement, said he'll resign as of November 1 to pursue "professional and family goals." He didn't endorse anyone, but said he expects the seat to remain in GOP hands "and I do not plan to be a casual observer in the upcoming elections."
Baxter's resignation would presumably prompt a special election, but it's hard to say how fast that might happen. When Elizabeth Ames Jones, R-San Antonio, left the House to accept an appointment to the Texas Railroad Commission, Gov. Rick Perry ordered a quick election so that her voters wouldn't go unrepresented during the regular session. When Joe Moreno, D-Houston, was killed in a highway accident later in the same session, Perry ordered a November special election, leaving Moreno's chair empty during two special legislative sessions on school finance. Chances are pretty good there will be another special session on school finance before the regular legislative session in 2007; whether Perry will hurry to fill Baxter's shoes is an open question.
One more thing: Bentzin is a Perry guy. He's one of a group of George W. Bush supporters — Mavericks — who formed a state political action committee earlier this year to support Texas candidates. Their first endorsement went to Perry.
The Special Election Already in Progress
The special election to replace Democratic state Rep. Joe Moreno coincides with next month's constitutional amendment election. That Houston ballot will have six names on it, with the distinct possibility of a runoff to follow. All six are Democrats: Al Flores Jr., a lawyer; Charles George, a corrections officer; Ana Hernandez, a lawyer; Rick Molina, a lawyer; Dorothy Olmos, an educator and business owner; and Laura Salinas, an assistant leasing administrator. Apropos of nothing in particular, they were all born between 1947 and 1978. All filed from Houston addresses, with the exception of Molina, who's from Pasadena. And notably, most of the big money in the all-Democratic HD-143 race is from conservatives.
At the 30-day mark, Salinas had $48.12 in the bank. She collected $24,987 in contributions, including $15,000 from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, and $1,000 from Mike Toomey, a lobbyist, former Republican House member and former chief of staff to Govs. Rick Perry and Bill Clements. She spent $31,877.
Hernandez, with a month to go, had $23,513 in the bank after bringing in $54,183 and spending $48,346 in July, August, and September. Her donors include Houston builder and Republican stalwart Bob Perry, $10,000; Dallas City Limits LLC Operating Account, $5,000; Texas State Teachers Association PAC, $3,000; and the Mostyn Law Firm, $2,500. Several unions and law firms were in there for $1,000 or less. Dallas City Limits LLC is a development venture of Billy Bob Barnett and Bill Bueck.
Flores raised $24,956, spent $15,069, and had $3,890 in the bank at the end of the reporting period. He raised $3,275 from Esteban Adame, founder of a bus company; $3,000 from Aguilar Geneil; and $2,300 from Larry Flores, among others.
Molina spent $4,292, raised $1,083 and closed the period with no money on hand (and no loans). George's report wasn't available on the Texas Ethics Commission's website. Olmos reported raising no money, spending no money and having no money on hand with 30 days left.
Another Rumor Flattened
State Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, says the rumors of his political retirement are premature and unfounded: He's running for reelection next year.
Madla, elected to the House in 1972 and the Senate in 1992, has been the subject of retirement rumors for most of the year, and others — like state Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio — have actively sought support for a Senate run. But Madla says he'll seek another term.
State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, is betting big on his own candidacy for a spot in Congress, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Raymond reported $430,398 on hand at the end of September, including $300,000 in loans. That $300,000 includes $100,000 from his own accounts and $200,000 borrowed from IBC bank and guaranteed by Raymond. It was enough to move him past U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in the financial race for that seat. Cuellar ended the period with $289,798 on hand. Rodriguez had $49,527 in the bank.
Behind Enemy Lines
Rep. Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, has an opponent: Republican insurance agent Jim Landtroop of Plainview. Laney beat his last two opponents handily, though HD-85 is the most Republican House district in Texas that's still held by a Democrat. The average statewide Republican candidate got 68 percent of the votes in that district in the 2004 elections (George W. Bush got 76.3 percent), compared with 59.1 percent statewide. Laney, meanwhile, got 58.8 percent against his Republican opponent that same year. The challenger's website: www.jimlandtroop.com. That district grabs a small part of Abilene, and Landtroop's website lists Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, a former Abilene city council member and Taylor County Judge, as one of several supporters.
While we're on the subject, Carrillo is endorsing Rob Beckham — a former colleague on that city council — in his race to succeed Rep. Bob Hunter, R-Abilene. Hunter decided to quit after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Beckham, who unsuccessfully challenged then-U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, in 2002, is one of several candidates either considering or joining the HD-71. Celia Davis, a Republican who's been involved in Develop Abilene and other groups, working on military affairs and economic development, is also looking at it. And some Republicans are trying to draft Susan King, who's president of the Abilene ISD Board.
Issue Campaigns of the Near Future?
They have no money and don't have a niche in mind, but the founders of the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee have filed papers for that new 527 committee in Washington. Bill Crocker, an Austin lawyer who is also one of the state's two Republican National Committee members, says the outfit hasn't raised any money yet. The papers creating it — IRS forms filed with the feds — are less than a week old. They list Crocker as president, consultant Jeff Norwood of Austin as vice president, and David Porter of Giddings as secretary/treasurer. The official purpose listed on the form of that tax-exempt outfit is "to accept political contributions and make political expenditures."
Crocker says the committee isn't intended to replace any others out there that back Republicans running for the Legislature, and he says they don't have a particular contest in their sites. It's a federal filing, but the group will work solely in Texas and its reports, Crocker says, will be filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
The Beginnings of the 2007 Wish List
House Speaker Tom Craddick has made his interim committee assignments, directing lawmakers to work on stuff that'll be of interest in the 2007 regular session.
He wants lawmakers to look at controls of state spending growth; powers and practices of homeowner associations; limits on liability for firms taking over state welfare services; the health care system in Texas prisons and competition among providers; civil and criminal protections for "a person who uses force, including deadly force, against a person who unlawfully and with force seeks to enter a residence, dwelling or vehicle"; the feasibility of new nuclear power plants in Texas; predatory lending practices in subprime mortgages; taxpayer funded lobbying by school boards and local governments; consolidation of health professions licensing boards; insurance for people with eating disorders; new sales locations for lottery tickets; local government property tax practices; successful "school choice" programs; compensation of school administrators and its relation to student performance; state district court redistricting; regulation of mobile food vending vehicles; alternative business taxes and other revenues that might be used to cut local property taxes; and the process used by state budgeteers to figure the impact of tax bills.
The House interim charges go on for 38 pages, organized by committee. Click here for a copy. Aides to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst say the Senate's list will be out soon.
Political People and Their Moves
One of the Texans who filed for bankruptcy before the deadline for a change in bankruptcy laws last week was Bill Ceverha, according to The Dallas Morning News. Ceverha, a former House member, was the treasurer for Texans for a Republican Majority, and earlier this year lost a civil suit related to the 2002 elections. He told the paper that judgment — and the prospect of another, similar suit — triggered his financial fix.
Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, after trying to connect the dots for several weeks, won't run for state comptroller against Susan Combs. She had too big a head start, locking up donors, volunteers and others Wallace would need for a serious campaign. Plus, the governor and others at the top of the GOP would have frowned on a challenge; Combs endorsed Perry early, over Kay Bailey Hutchison — her former boss — and Carole Keeton Strayhorn — the woman she wants to succeed. After that bit of help, she had many of Perry's supporters either on her side or agreeing to stay out.
You know what they say about real estate titles: Mark Lehman is moving into a new office and a bigger title at the Texas Association of Realtors. He's the trade group's new vice president of public affairs, a job he's basically been doing since the August 2004 departure of Bill Stinson from that group. Lehman's in charge of legislative relations and a couple of political action committees — one for campaigns and one for "issue advocacy."
After five years with the Texas Cable Television Association, Kathy Grant is leaving to hang out her own lobby shingle. She'll still do some work for TCTA, but is also looking for other clients.
Ernest Angelo Jr. moves into the center chair at the state's Public Safety Commission. Colleen McHugh left that board to join the board of regents at the University of Texas; her replacement hasn't been named.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed W. Edwin Denman of Lake Jackson to the 412th Judicial District Court. He's been a private sector lawyer up until now.
And the Guv named five people to the Texas Medical Board (it used to be the Medical Examiner's Board): Julie Attebury, a financial manager for a property company in Amarillo, and Dr. Lawrence Anderson of Tyler, a dermatologist, are being appointed for the first time. Three reappointments: Dr. Jose Manuel Benavides of San Antonio, Dr. David Garza of Laredo, and Paulette Southard of Alice.
Quotes of the Week
Attorney J.D. Pauerstein, talking about a list of names referred to — but not produced — by prosecutors who sought indictments against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and two associates, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News: "I'll tell you what I think about this list. In the 1950s, a man named McCarthy claimed to have a list of 200 communists in the State Department, and he didn't. And I think this is the same thing we're seeing all over again with this list."
Terry Scarborough, attorney for Bill Ceverha, quoted in The Dallas Morning News after Ceverha declared personal bankruptcy and blamed a legal judgment and other expenses related to his work for Texans for a Republican Majority PAC: "The day he agreed to be treasurer, he didn't realize what the statutes said and he was caught up in the politics of all this."
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a former Texas Secretary of State and Supreme Court justice, asked by the Associated Press whether he'd consider running for office in Texas when his federal gig is over: "I wouldn't close the door, no."
Nat Hardy, an engineer who worked for developers and then for the city of San Antonio, talking to the San Antonio Express-News about a slew of "grandfathered" development plans filed in 1997 that allow builders to follow old regulations and to ignore current ones: "Was it a good business decision? Sure. Was it in the best interest and welfare of the city? No. I can look you in the eye and tell you that."
Former Hidalgo County Clerk J.D. Salinas, who quit that job to run for county judge, in the McAllen Monitor: "Pride and ego do not have a place in Hidalgo County politics."
State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, telling a business group that state taxes shouldn't favor one group over another: "My approach has been, 'No taxpayer left behind.'"
Former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, on who should take the shots if people don't like the tax recommendations made by the governor's task force on that subject: "Blame me. I don't anticipate caring whether you blame me."
Jourdanton Mayor Tammy Clark, accused in the slaying of a neighbor, quitting her city position and telling the San Antonio Express-News she was leaving town as quickly as possible, maybe even that same night: "I will not be living in this hellhole. If I can pack my panties fast enough, I will."
Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 19, 24 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.