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A Political Upside-Down Cake

Remember in the comics how — whenever they ran out of ideas — they'd throw Superman or some other hero into an alternate parallel universe? That memory came instantly to mind when we saw the results of two polls done for the Texas Credit Union League. They hired a Republican pollster to talk to primary voters of the red persuasion and a Democratic pollster to talk to the blues. They found two distinctly different parallel worlds. 

Remember in the comics how — whenever they ran out of ideas — they'd throw Superman or some other hero into an alternate parallel universe? That memory came instantly to mind when we saw the results of two polls done for the Texas Credit Union League. They hired a Republican pollster to talk to primary voters of the red persuasion and a Democratic pollster to talk to the blues. They found two distinctly different parallel worlds. 

But first, the news: Republican voters, asked how they'd vote in a primary held today, picked Rick Perry 61 percent of the time, and Carole Keeton Strayhorn 26 percent of the time. Asked how they feel about the two, 79 percent had a somewhat favorable or very favorable impression of Perry, and 50 percent had very or somewhat favorable impressions of Strayhorn. The negatives on Perry's ledger add up to 18 percent with GOP primary voters; Strayhorn's total 25 percent. Put another way, Perry's chum-to-chump ratio is 4-to-1; Strayhorn's is 2-to-1.

Democratic voters, asked how they'd vote in a primary held today, picked Chris Bell 28 percent of the time and Felix Alvarado 15 percent of the time. Most — 57 percent — told the pollsters they're undecided. Democrats aren't fond of the governor or of President George W. Bush — not surprising, since those are Republicans — but they give another prominent Republican, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, good marks, with 53 percent saying they have a favorable impression of her and 43 percent saying their impression is unfavorable.

The Republican firm of Voter/Consumer Research talked to 400 Texas GOP primary voters October 24-26 and say their margin of error is +/- 4.9 percent. The Democratic pollsters, Hamilton Beattie & Staff, did the same thing: 403 voters, same dates, same margin of error.

The sponsors let us post the polls on the website. Download them from our Files section, or click on these links to get to them:

TCUL Democratic Primary poll
TCUL Republican Primary poll

They didn't ask about general election horse races, but the pollsters found big differences between each party's voters. Lookit:

• Ask Republicans about the direction of the state and 58 percent say it's going in the right direction; 27 percent disagree. Their top issues at the moment, starting at the top of the list: illegal immigration, moral values, education, taxes, health care, the budget deficit, abortion, jobs, political scandals, and growth & congestion. There's a notable drop in interest on the items in that list below taxes. Ask the GOP voters about their top priorities for the Guv and the Legislature and you get this: stopping illegal immigration, improving our schools, reducing property taxes, strengthening families and improving moral values, cutting government spending, and campaign finance reform.

• 64 percent of Texas Democrats — out of power in every branch of state government and in their federal congressional delegation to boot — think the state's going the wrong way; 23 percent disagree. Their issues, starting with the highest ranked: education, health care and prescription drug costs, taxes, the budget deficit, illegal immigration, crime and drugs, jobs, the environment, and growth & congestion. The drop in interest in this group was after drug costs.

• Republicans have a marginally good impression of the Legislature: 54 percent have very or somewhat favorable impressions of the people in the statehouse. Those numbers improve if you ask how the Republicans in the Lege are doing instead of just talking generically about the Legislature. Slightly more than half (51%) think their own lawmakers deserve reelection and a third want to give someone else a chance. Democrats do the same thing, giving good numbers to Democrats in the statehouse and lower numbers to the opposition. 42 percent say they'd vote for their incumbent and 27 percent say they'd vote for a challenger.

• Democratic voters told the pollsters they're more interested in results than fights. Only 15 percent listed fighting with the Republican leadership in Austin as one of their top priorities. That ranked behind getting things done, working on public education problems, restoring ethics in government and being bipartisan and getting along with Republicans.

• Ask GOP primary voters about public education and 54 percent say they aren't willing to pay higher taxes for improvements. Another 39 percent say they would be willing. But if they could "do only one of the following," 53 percent said they'd prevent deep cuts in education and 40 percent say they'd want a lawmaker to prevent all tax increases. Half the Democrats — 49 percent — say education funding should come from closing loopholes in corporate taxes. After that, 16 percent say wasteful spending should be cut, 13 percent say some form of gambling should be considered, and one in ten say the state should have an income tax. Income taxes finished at 10 percent — ahead of the 8 percent who said higher sales taxes should be in the mix. Almost three in five Democrats say the state should spend more on public schools; 39 percent say the spending levels are right and that schools should be more accountable about what they spend.

• State funding for protecting borders against terrorism (actually a federal chore) is too low, according to 72 percent of Republican voters. Almost half — 48 percent — say funding for public education is too low, but only 16 percent say the state is spending too little on higher education. Two-thirds are happy with current spending on roads and public transportation and 43 percent thing spending on state health care programs is about right. One in five thinks the state is spending too much on colleges and universities, 17 percent think health care spending is too high, and one in ten wants to cut back on public education spending.

• Who do Republicans trust for news? Cable TV, followed by talk radio, broadcast TV, local newspapers, friends and family and the Internet, in that order. Pollster Jan van Lohuizen says the respondents mean Fox News when they say "cable TV" and said that, with only 11 percent saying they trust their local papers, the ink-stained wretches of the world should shiver. Who do the Democrats rely on for news about politics? In order: broadcast news, cable news, and local newspapers. 

Seven Up 

Voters approved seven of the nine constitutional amendments on the ballot, giving overwhelming support to two in particular: one that would allow courts to deny bail for some accused criminals, and one that would outlaw marriage between same-sex couples. 

The results, including the language voters were looking at when they voted:

• Prop. 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."

• Prop. 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." As a ballot measure, same-sex marriage, civil union and anything that looks like marriage between anything but a woman and a man is dead until two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of voters say otherwise. The gay marriage amendment was approved by 1,712,823 voters, or 76.2 percent. The issue, which appears headed for the courts, drew the most voters of anything on the ballot; 2,248,076 people voted — 119,597 more than voted on any of the other amendments.

A telling statistic: By the time early voting was over, 505,429 people had already voted to add Proposition 2, the gay marriage amendment, to the Texas Constitution. That was only 29,917 votes short of what was ultimately needed for approval — 535,345 people voted against the amendment in early and Election Day voting. The winners needed just under 30,000 of the 1.2 million votes they brought out on Tuesday.

• Prop. 3: "The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt." This one had the smallest winning margin, at 51.8 percent.

• Prop. 4: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant's release pending trial." The most popular measure on the ballot, both in raw numbers (1,805,343 votes) and percentage approval (84.8 percent).

• Prop. 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." This finished with 62.6 percent approval.

• Prop. 7: "The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage." 59.8 percent of the voters approved.

• Prop. 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." Passed, with 61 percent. It also drew the lowest number of votes of any amendment — 373,511 fewer than for the top vote getter, Prop. 2.

Voters rejected two amendments to the constitution that would have uncapped interest rates on commercial loans and extended board members at regional mobility authorities:

• Prop. 5: "The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans." Got 43.4 percent approval, according to uncertified returns.

• Prop. 9: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority." Got only 46.6 percent of the vote. 

And Then There Were Two 

A runoff election will decide one of two open seats in the Texas House: Ana Hernandez and Laura Salinas finished first and second in a six-person pack to replace the late Joe Moreno, D-Houston. Turnout was skimpy, with 6,170 voters turning out. Hernandez got 2,624, or 42.5 percent, in the full but unofficial count. Salinas got 1,590 votes, or 25.7 percent. The runoff date won't be set until after the votes are canvassed, according to the Texas Secretary of State. Fresh proof that special elections don't draw crowds like regular elections do: Moreno won office last November with 93 percent of the 14,307 votes cast.

The other empty seat wasn't on the ballot. November 1 was the first day out of office for Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, who resigned to pursue unspecified opportunities elsewhere. Gov. Rick Perry hasn't called a special election for that post; the next non-emergency election date available for that contest is in May. 

No Deposit, No Return 

Add Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, to the list of House members not coming back. That total is, at this writing, up to 13 and a maybe, and candidates don't have to finally commit until the first days of the New Year. Allen, who heads the House Committee on County Affairs and used to chair the Corrections Committee, was one of several Republican chairs targeted by Democrats in the 2004 elections. He was also one of the survivors, beating Democrat Katy Hubener by 1,841 votes. He was likely to be on the hit list again but decided not to run for reelection in HD-106. He's finishing his seventh term in the House.

So you don't have to look it up, here's the current list of members who won't be here for the next regular session, starting with Republicans: Allen, Todd Baxter of Austin, Bob Griggs of North Richland Hills, Peggy Hamric of Houston, Ruben Hope Jr. of Conroe, Bob Hunter of Abilene, Suzanna Gratia Hupp of Lampasas, Terry Keel of Austin, Joe Nixon of Houston. The Democrats: the late Joe Moreno of Houston, Richard Raymond of Laredo, Jim Solis of Harlingen. Count Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, who has said he's considering either a bid for Senate or for reelection, as a maybe. 

Leaving, For the Time Being 

Charles Soechting says he won't seek another term as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. In a note to members of the State Democratic Executive Committee and an interview, he said he wants to spend more time practicing law and raising kids. 

He also said "you could make book" on him seeking elective office in the future. Soechting, a Hays County lawyer, was chairman of the county party before he followed Molly Beth Malcolm into the state chairmanship. He said he'll have served three years when his term ends and that he doesn't want to do two more years when that time comes. The election is in June, and two names are floating around at the moment as possible candidates: Boyd Richie, an attorney in Graham, in North Texas, and Dennis Teal, a chiropractor from Livingston, in East Texas. Soechting says he doesn't intend to back a particular candidate, but doesn't completely rule it out.

The party got a reboot this fall when a small group that includes Dallas lawyer Fred Baron and consultant Matt Angle unveiled a reorganization plan for the Democrats tied to a badly needed infusion of cash. Soechting says his departure wasn't a condition of that, but says it gave him a higher comfort level about leaving next year.

Yes and No 

Texans contributed $144,250 to No on 77, a group opposing California's redistricting efforts. That measure, pushed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was opposed by Democrats, and 59.5 percent of the Golden State's voters were against it on Election Day. Texans gave $2,767 to Reform Ohio Now, a liberal group that was pushing for a similar change in that state. Though the measures were slightly different, their intentions were similar, and voters in Ohio, like their counterparts in the Pacific Time Zone, rejected the change. In Ohio, 70 percent said No.

We were peeking at those propositions because they were inspired by the mid-decade redistricting that made Texas politics so much fun during 2003 and 2004. If you just tuned in, the Lone Star state has become the poster child for redistricting reformers from both parties. The mid-decade plans drawn before the 2004 elections caught the attention of political cartographers across the U.S. In the Texas episode, Republicans first won the majority of seats in the Legislature and then used that majority to reopen congressional redistricting. Long story short: They flipped the color of the state's congressional delegation from blue to red. The case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court (which is deciding whether to hear arguments).

The opposition to the California proposition ran one ad featuring a group of judges cutting and pasting their state into new political lines. At the end of the TV commercial, they unveil their work: A map of Texas that says "California" across it.

In both states, the effort to depoliticize redistricting was driven by one set of partisans and opposed by the other. And both efforts were expensive, though the California libs spent more, at about $15 million, than the Ohio libs, who spent around $1.7 million.

One interesting factlet from California was the number of Democrats from the Texas congressional delegation who contributed $1,000: U.S. Reps. Al Green, Gene Green, and Sheila Jackson Lee, all from Houston; Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas; Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi; Silvestre Reyes of El Paso; and Ruben Hinojosa of McAllen. None of the 88 Texas contributors to the Ohio group gave more than $100, and none are members of Congress. 

Just Folks 

Gov. Rick Perry's tax committee — chaired by Democrat John Sharp — is taking some hits from Democrats who say some regular folks should have been sprinkled in among the CEOs and other high-flyers. Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, and Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, both say the governor should have included some homeowners along with all the business folk. 

More quietly, some business lobbyists have noted the absence of some big taxpayers among the industries represented on the panel. Car dealers, at odds with Perry, are out. Manufacturing, commercial real estate, the Internet end of the technology business, and utilities will all be relying on allies instead of their own guys.

Shapleigh, who's been all over Texas evangelizing for a personal income tax to support state services, says Perry and Sharp — by taking that tax out of consideration — killed chances for significant reform. He's predicting the Sharp panel will produce more of what lawmakers have already seen: new business taxes and higher taxes on consumption.

The panel is in a hurry; they'll have their first meeting on Monday, November 21, in the bowels of the Pink Building (the appropriations room). That first deal will likely be a dog-and-pony show, but by most accounts, they're getting to work quickly. They'll need to have recommendations ready for a possible special session sometime after the March primaries.

Follow-up: The list of tax task force members we ran last week was unofficial and as we said at the time, incomplete. Add these names to those: Prentice Gary, managing partner of Carleton Residential Properties in Dallas; and Victor Leal of Canyon, owner of a chain of four family restaurants in the Panhandle.

And make one amendment to last week's list: Howard Wolf is no longer an attorney from Houston, though that was once true. He retired from Fulbright and Jaworski and now has a solo practice in Austin. He also serves on a couple of boards: Stewart & Stevenson Services, and Simmons & Co. International. 

Robert Howden, a former aide to Gov. Rick Perry who has done freelance lobbying, worked for the Texas Association of Automobile Dealers and the Texas office of the National Federation of Independent Business, will be the staff director for what's been officially dubbed the "Texas Tax Reform Commission." Howden's unhappy parting with the car dealers is a part of the saga that explains why they don't have any members on the task force; another factor was their support for Sharp over Perry in the 1998 race for lieutenant governor.

The policy chops on the task force will be provided by Karey Barton and James LeBas, two former comptroller employees brought in for their subject matter expertise. LeBas, now the CFO for the Texas Water Development Board, was chief revenue estimator for Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Barton, most recently a tax consultant, was director of state tax policy for Strayhorn and for two of her predecessors, Sharp and the late Bob Bullock.  

Coda 

The state's top civil jurist refused to recuse himself from picking a judge for Tom DeLay's trial today, saying there's nobody else to do the job and saying the proper target of a recusal motion is a trial judge and not the guy who picks him. 

In a letter to the lawyers in that case, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson said his selection of San Antonio senior Judge Pat Priest will stand. Jefferson said he can't find anything in the law that requires him to step aside, and wrote that "I have a duty to ensure that the judicial process is not paralyzed any time a recusal motion challenges a judicial officer who is performing a purely administrative function."

If they lawyers don't like Priest, they can challenge him, Jefferson wrote: "The recourse is to challenge not the power to assign, but the assignment itself." 

Priest's first hearing is set for November 22; he'll likely be hearing DeLay's request for a change of venue. The congressman's lawyers say Travis County has heard too much poisonous stuff about the case and that the people in the state's capital city are too liberal. They want the trial moved to DeLay's home county: Fort Bend.

One more note: State district Judge Bob Perkins, removed from DeLay's case, voluntary recused himself from the trials of DeLay's co-defendants, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.

Political People and Their Moves

Hardeman County Commissioner Johnny Akers pleaded guilty to short-stopping ballots in the 2004 primary and general elections in which he was elected. He told some voters there he'd help them out by picking up their ballots and delivering them to the proper folks. That's illegal.

Ed Strayhorn, husband of Texas Comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, had some kind of "incident" or seizure while on a hunting trip with friends in South Texas and was taken to Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen. He's now at home and a spokesman said he's fine and that the doctors are still poking and prodding to find out what happened.

Quotes of the Week

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, talking to the Houston Chronicle about the success of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: "That's where the victory was won, from the pulpits of the state of Texas."

Rev. Ryan Rush, senior pastor of Bannockburn Baptist Church in Austin, talking to the Associated Press after that vote: "If that becomes a trend, the evangelical community becomes the largest political voice not only in the state of Texas, but America. I think that's a positive thing because evangelical Christians stand for what's right."

Kelly Shackelford of the Free Market Foundation, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on the push for a national version: "This is a pretty strong message to Congress and the Senate before they vote on a marriage-protection amendment. Most politicians are not going to want to stand up for the duty of standing in front of a steamroller."

Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, talking to the Houston Chronicle about evangelicals and the marriage vote: "What Perry did with the evangelicals was an organizational effort. Liberals tend to view those people as rabid dogs. They're not. They're sophisticated. They're organized. Church is just another organization."

Republican political consultant Royal Masset, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on the vitriol in some political handouts on proposition 2, the gay marriage amendment: "When candidates are running against each other, about 50 percent of the time they come to believe that their opponents are evil, lying crooks. But we consultants force them to smile and be positive. With proposition campaigns, you have no consultants who can control this display of bitterness."

Houston Mayor Bill White, telling the Houston Chronicle he won't run for governor in 2006: "The honorable thing to do is to do the job you've been hired for. Being mayor of this city is a full-time job. We have big plans for the next two years."

Frank Parker of Big Spring, a Democrat and labor official, telling the Midland Reporter-Telegram that people in politics have been swapping corporate for non-corporate contributions for years, but that Tom DeLay appears to have done it with bigger amounts of money: "That's why nobody stays in power for too long. Power corrupts, but it also makes you stupid."

Austin attorney Roy Minton, in that same story, on Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle: "He is a loyal liberal Democrat like me, but he doesn't think like most lawyers. He thinks more like a social studies professor."

Pat Yezak, elected to the Bremond school board after helping uncover problems that led to three indictments, telling The Dallas Morning News that supporters were quiet in that split community: "One little lady told us, 'I'm going to vote for you, but don't come to my house.'"


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 22, 14 November 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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