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March Lions, November Lambs

What once looked like a frolic for a political junkie in Texas — a year with contested statewide races all up and down the ballot with stars running for governor and U.S. Senate and on and on — now looks more like a quiet night at home.  

What once looked like a frolic for a political junkie in Texas — a year with contested statewide races all up and down the ballot with stars running for governor and U.S. Senate and on and on — now looks more like a quiet night at home.  

The Guv's race will be noisy in March and probably again in November, but all else is pretty quiet in the top spots on the ballot. Redistricting has taken the juice out of all but a handful of congressional and state Senate elections. Only the Texas House — which still has a few swing districts and where primaries could be roiled by messy school finance and tax issues — appears to offer much for the politically minded observer. And in many instances, that's subtler than the usual R v. D set-up. Texas is in a period when the most interesting competition of ideas and candidates comes in the March primaries — particularly on the Republican side.

Only two members of the Texas congressional delegation won with less than 55 percent of the general election vote in 2004: Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who got 51.2 percent, and Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, who came in at 54.3 percent. Edwards, in CD-17, is on most lists of incumbents on thin ice in 2006; at least two Republicans are battling for the nomination to take him on, and there'll be national money on both sides in that contest. One resident of the district, when he's not in the White House, is George W. Bush.

Several members of Congress got there after tough primaries. For the most part, those were creatures of redistricting rather than continuing competitive districts. But Democrat Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, has both a rematch opponent and a newcomer in former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, and state Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo. It went to a recount in 2004, and it's a real contest next year.

The closest race for the Texas Senate two years ago had a 17-point spread between the Republican and the Democrat, and the only close race was in a Democratic primary won by the incumbent, Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, with 53.9 percent. None of those districts is likely to flip from one party to the other. But senators serve four-year terms. You have to look at the 2002 elections to see what's going on in districts held by senators up in 2006. If you're looking for fights, that's not much more encouraging.

In 2002, three senators got less than 55 percent of the vote in the general election: Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who was knocking off an incumbent Democrat, David Cain of Dallas; Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, fending off a well-financed Republican challenger who got some mileage out of a DWI charge against the incumbent; and Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, who got 53.3 percent of the vote in a district that votes for Republicans in most other races on the ballot. Barrientos isn't seeking reelection next year, and Democrat Kirk Watson, a former Austin mayor and current Chamber of Commerce honcho, is the preemptive favorite to replace him right now.

Armbrister hasn't said for sure whether he'll run for reelection next year. There's been a new rumor every week about it — that he'll run, that he'll quit and lobby, that he'll go work for Gov. Rick Perry as liaison to the Lege — and his aides give cloudy answers when asked about his future. Their boss has scheduled a fundraiser for next month but has been slow to send out invitations. And they say he'll make his announcement one way or the other in his own time, probably when filing for office begins next month. Republicans, meanwhile, are lining up to see if they can do better against him than Lester Phipps, who got 45 percent in 2002.

In the 2002 primaries, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, went through a tight primary and then a runoff to get to his first term in the upper chamber. And Republican Tommy Williams also survived with less than 55 percent in the GOP primary. Those races probably contain no omens, though; both men were House members running for Senate seats that had been redrawn in redistricting, and neither faced an incumbent (though Williams' opponent was Michael Galloway, a former state senator). In the 2002 primaries the only senator who had a real race had a real race: Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, staved off a challenge from Rep. John Shields. Wentworth escaped the primary with a 1,216-vote margin, out of 51,246 votes cast.

Boil that down to present tense: There are, at this juncture, three tough races in the Texas congressional delegation, and one in the Texas Senate. Edwards occupies a target area for both national parties. He'll be alone in March while at least two Republicans battle for their nomination, but it'll be an important contest in November. Cuellar's CD-28 has to be considered an open race, at least in March. Another race depends on how the ball bounces. U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, got just over 55 percent in 2004; he'll face former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson in the general election, but that race has more to do with national politics and courthouse troubles than with district lines; it's Republican turf under most circumstances. In the state Senate, Armbrister generally votes with the GOP, but some in that party want to put a Republican in office in SD-18. If he runs, he'll have a race. And the Republicans will have a contest in March, either way.

Where the Wild Things Are

To the extent there's much action on the ballot next year, it will be in House races. And because of redistricting and its tendency to give comfort to incumbents of both parties, much of the fun stuff will happen in March rather than in November.

Four Democrats in the House got there after primary runoffs in 2004. Three — Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles of Alice Veronica Gonzales of McAllen and Abel Herrero of Corpus Christi — beat incumbents (Herrero in the first round, the others in the runoff). David McQuade Leibowitz of San Antonio won his runoff after surviving a crowded primary election, and beat the incumbent Republican in the general election. None of the four got less than 55 percent in their runoff. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, won a runoff against an imploding opponent (Sam Walls led the first round, but his campaign died when pictures of him in women's clothing went public). Orr was the only Republican House member who got there by way of a runoff in 2004.

Several members got into the House with less than comfortable margins and could be potential targets next year. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, got 50.4 percent in the GOP primary and then got 53.2 percent in the general election. He'll have a primary opponent, and the Democrats see a chance. No other Republican got less than 55 percent in the primary.

Armando "Mando" Martinez, D-Weslaco, beat an incumbent in the primary, getting 53 percent of the vote. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, beat an incumbent, with 54.2 percent. Alma Allen, D-Houston, beat an incumbent with 55.4 percent.

In the general election, Stephen Frost, D-Atlanta, got in with 52.8 percent. Mark Homer, D-Paris, got 50.2 percent. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, got 52.7 percent. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, got 51 percent. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, decided to run for reelection after announcing he wouldn't and considering a party change; he ended up with 53.66 percent. John Otto, R-Dayton, had 54.5 percent. Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, had 55.4 percent. Herrero, after that primary runoff, got 55 percent in the general. Gonzalez Toureilles got out of the general with 50.9 percent. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, had 54.5 percent. Todd Baxter, R-Austin (he resigned his seat to become a cable lobbyist and won't be on the ballot next year) had 50.1 percent. Anderson's general election win was 53.2 percent. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, got 53 percent. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, got 53.1 percent. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, got out with 52.5 percent; he's not running for reelection next year. Leibowitz won his general election with 50.6 percent of the vote. Martha Wong, R-Houston, had 53.5 percent. And Hubert Vo, D-Houston, got 50 percent and won by less than three dozen votes.

If you were trying to put together a map of next year's races, there are two ways to look at those past results. If a name has a D next to it and a narrow margin in 2004, put that on the target list for Republicans. Flip the letter and the party affiliation, and that's the Democrats' first list. Now, look at it from the perspective of the party leaders on either side. If one of your reps didn't look so hot in 2004 and if you really need the seat, find them a primary opponent or talk them off the ballot. If one of the reps on your side voted with your enemies, add them to the target list.

One more factor — education — will make ten to twenty races interesting next year. School superintendents and current and former school board members are signing up in a bunch of races. Some of that's normal — the pool of new low-level state candidates comes from school boards, city councils, county commissions and the like — but part of it is a reaction to the proposed solutions to school finance in the regular and special sessions earlier this year. Educators and other community leader types are also popping up in districts where the school finance votes that made sense in Austin don't look as good at home. Some rural members, for instance, are getting questioned about voting against bigger homestead exemptions that would have benefited the folks back home. And some members are getting peppered at home for not going along with state leaders who were trying to find a solution.

If all that amounts to anything, it could have a real influence on school finance. The Legislature that survives these elections could take up the issue in the next regular session, in January 2007. And if there's a special session on school finance next spring, the results of the primary elections will be fresh on everyone's minds. 

Quick! 

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's lawyers want a quick trial, if there's to be any trial at all, according to court papers. DeLay's indictment on campaign finance-related charges cost him his post as House Majority Leader, at least temporarily, and his lawyers say the best way to get back into leadership is to get the charges thrown out or to win exoneration in a speedy trial. 

Judge Pat Priest will get his first crack at the case next week, when he hears two requests from DeLay. One, they want the charges dropped or, barring that, a December trial setting. And two, if there's to be a trial, they want it held outside of Travis County, home field to District Attorney Ronnie Earle and a place where voters (and presumably, jurors) are, on average, Democrats. They'd like to have it in Fort Bend County, the decidedly Republican locale that's partly represented in Congress by DeLay.

In papers filed with the court, DeLay's lawyers say the indictment fails to specify what law he's accused of breaking. They say the charges are vague and involve provisions of state law that weren't in effect when his alleged crimes took place. Their argument is that conspiracy and election code violations aren't linked in the law (or weren't, at that time) and that they are linked in the indictment. For that reason, they contend the indictment ought to be tossed.

They also want to see internal papers from the district attorney's investigation of DeLay and have asked for any evidence of dissent within Earle's office about the charges against DeLay. And they accuse the prosecutors of manipulating three grand juries to produce DeLay's indictment.

The prosecutors filed papers spelling out their version of what happened with the grand juries, and said DeLay's lawyers haven't given good enough legal reasons to open the grand jury's secret proceedings to public view. Finally, the defense issued subpoenas asking the members of one of those three grand juries to be in court when all of these motions are heard. Top it with this: Court TV has asked for permission to bring cameras into the courtroom for DeLay's trial.

The Way We Were 

John Hill's appearance as a witness for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, bugged the Democratic Party so much that it's asking reporters to stop identifying their former standard bearer as a Democrat. Hill, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice, secretary of state, attorney general, and Democratic candidate for governor (he lost to Bill Clements in 1978), was brought in by DeLay's lawyers to talk about his view that state district Judge Bob Perkins should be removed from DeLay's case. Perkins contributed to Democrats and to some national organizations that, in one case, took some shots at DeLay.

DeLay's lawyers squawked. Testimony, including Hill's, was heard. Perkins got the boot. And in the stories about it, Hill was referred to as a Democrat.

The State Democratic Executive Committee answered that by passing a resolution that says Hill hasn't voted in one of the party's primaries since 1994 and that that's the only way someone declares allegiance to a political party in this state. The resolution from the SDEC "respectfully asks members of the Texas press to stop referring to Mr. Hill as a Democrat when he testifies for and supports high profile Republicans in controversial matters such as the Tom DeLay-TRMPAC criminal case." They ended it with a plea to Democrats who "supported a Republican or two in the past" to come vote in their primary in March. Hill says he does not care to comment. 

Snake Eyes 

Efforts to pull horse racing, lottery, slot machine and casino interests together into a "Texans for Tourism" group have hit what looks like a cement wall.  

Ricky Knox, who was in the middle of earlier fights for pari-mutuel gambling and the lottery, got 100+ people into a hotel conference room in September to pitch the idea.

But Knox, who didn't return calls, sent out an angry letter to interested parties saying track owners and potential track owners had blown up the cooperation racket because it worked against their own interests. In the emails, he said he'd met with Sam Phelps and Scott Phelps of Alabama — they're principals in the Gulf Greyhound track near Houston — and that they'd told him they don't want to pursue efforts to legalize video lottery machines until 2011. Our calls to Alabama, like those to Knox, went unreturned.

Knox was trying to unify the state's gambling interests in advance of the 2007 regular session of the Legislature. Among other things, that would mean getting track owners running in the same direction; his emails on the subject indicate they're not ready to do that. "... We were gaining momentum on a daily basis, in fact, it was amazing how many positive things were happening — but, we all knew at any moment, 'Mr. Greed' would surface and kill the effort. Today — 'Mr. Greed' won," Knox wrote.

Efforts to legalize casinos are still underway, but quiet. The "Let The Voters Decide" group still wants lawmakers to put casinos on the ballot to see whether voters would go along with the idea.

And it's too early to start carving the tombstone for VLTs. Promoters of various forms of gambling will be watching to see what the Texas Supreme Court says on school finance, and then on what Gov. Rick Perry's tax task force does in response. If more money is required, or if business taxpayers strongly resist efforts to lessen homeowners' burdens at business expense, gambling could move up on the popularity charts. Racing and the lottery grew out of finance problems in the 1980s and 1990s. Texas lawmakers aren't always crazy about gambling, but there are any number of taxes they love even less. And they've always covered their bets, leaving the final say to voters in the form of constitutional amendments.

Groups that oppose gambling expansion in Texas — the Texas Eagle Forum, for instance — are paying close attention. They sent an alert to members after Knox's missive made the rounds, urging their folks to contact members of the Legislature to try to get expanded gambling off the list of tax relief options. 

Scratch Off 

The Texas Lottery Commission has a new applicant for executive director: former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Talmadge Heflin, who served 22 years as a state representative from Houston. 

Officials with the lottery say Heflin's application came in late — after the brass hats there were down to four candidates for the job. But they haven't made their final decision yet, and they've said all along they'd consider all comers. 

That was the second time in a week Heflin blipped on the government/political radar screen. The former lawmaker is going on the payroll for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. 

He'll be working on state budget issues, which suits him because of his years on appropriations, including a session as chairman. He and others at the think tank will be trying to figure out how state spending plans inflated by 18.7 percent earlier this year and how spending can be cut next time the Lege meets. His official title at TPPF is Visiting Research Fellow. 

Heflin said a few weeks ago he'll run for office next year, trying to take back the seat he lost by a handful of votes in 2004 to Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston. A spokesman for TPPF says there's no prenuptial agreement in Heflin's hiring: His bid for office won't affect his job unless some conflict of interest appears. The lotto gig would disqualify him for the elected post. Should he show up as a state employee, knock him off your prospects list.

Behind Door Number Two 

Not long after the Texas Supreme Court rules on the school finance case, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick will fire up a committee of legislators to come up with new plans for school finance and property tax relief. 

You'll notice some overlap there with the 24-member group of non-legislators corralled by Gov. Rick Perry to look at state tax policy. Perry's panel, headed by former Comptroller John Sharp, doesn't have any lawmakers on it. And school finance isn't part of its charter.

Dewhurst and Craddick want lawmakers to do a quick autopsy on the court opinion to figure out what needs fixing and what can be left alone. They haven't released the names of the members yet, but they've tentatively pulled together a list of seven senators and seven representatives who'll try to come up with something that the Legislature can pass and that the courts will approve.

The idea is to see if the people who'll actually vote on any changes in state law can get together on some fixes. They'd be able to include — or exclude — whatever work comes out of Perry's task force in preparation for a special session on education and/or taxes.

When might that special session take place? Nobody in a position to know is emitting information about it. But politics point to sometime after the party primaries in March. And experience — some new and some old — would suggest sometime before the school year is over. When schools are out, teachers and administrators are freer to come to Austin to lobby lawmakers. That was a well-known bit of folklore in the mid- to late-1980s, after sweeping school reforms were pushed through the Legislature. It was lost to some over time, but after two failed special sessions this past summer recharged the lore, it's part of the calculation again. 

Everybody v. Hernandez 

The four candidates wiped out in the first round of a special election in HD-143 are all endorsing the second-place finisher, Laura Salinas, over the first-round winner, Ana Hernandez.  

Al Flores, Rick Molina, Charles George, and Dorothy Olmos, who finished 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th, respectively, each signed on with Salinas. Hernandez got 43 percent on Election Day. Hernandez got 26 percent. The votes of the other four, pooled, would have put a candidate in second place with 32 percent. If all those people were to vote and if all of them were to follow their candidates into Salinas' camp, she'd win a runoff with 57 percent. And if wishes were horses, we'd need more hay around here.

The money in the race continues to be interesting. When we looked at the 30-day reports last month, Salinas' biggest contribution had come from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a Republican-leaning political action committee that had given her $15,000. The biggest check to Hernandez was from Houston builder Bob Perry, the biggest single contributor to Texas Republican candidates in 2004 (and a big contributor to TLR, having donated more than $600,000 to their efforts since 2000).

As the election drew closer, TLR gave Salinas another $50,000 and she borrowed a total of $55,200 to finance the effort. The loans are guaranteed by former Rep. Roman Martinez, D-Houston. He's married to former Rep. Diana Davila, Salinas' aunt.

The Texas Trial Lawyers Association — the Hatfields to TLR's McCoys — gave $29,250 to Hernandez in the last month. She got help from several officeholders and from the family of the late Rep. Joe Moreno, whose death prompted the special election. She also got financial help from some officeholders, including $5,000 from Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, $1,142.23 from Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, and $2,100.21 from Constable Gary Freeman's campaign.

The runoff election isn't official yet, but the campaigns are aiming at Saturday, December 10. 

Cable Guy

Todd Baxter, who quit the Texas House a couple of weeks ago, is the new lobbyist for the Texas Cable TV Association.

Baxter, an Austin Republican, dropped out of a competitive race for reelection last month, saying he wanted to concentrate on work and familiy. He recently left an Austin law firm and is signing on as TCTA's general counsel and vice president for government affairs.

Gov. Rick Perry hasn't picked a date for the special election to replace Baxter. He can wait until the next available election date for these things — that's in May — or declare it an emergency and call an election for almost any date he chooses (it can't coincide with the primary elections or the primary election runoffs). Republican Ben Bentzin is, so far, the only Republican seeking the seat. Four Democrats are talking about it: Andy Brown, Donna Howard, Kathy Rider, and Kelly White.

Candidates on Parade 

Former legislator and judge Bob Gammage is talking to friends around the state to see whether he's got the support to run in the Democratic primary for governor. Gammage was on the Texas Supreme Court and the 3rd Court of Appeals, and served in Congress and in the Texas House and Senate. He sent an email around to test the waters, suggesting there that Democrats need more options next year.

• Democrat Chris Bell, the best known of the two Democrats who have already decided to run (the other is Felix Alvarado, a Fort Worth educator), got an endorsement for his gubernatorial campaign from state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

• Gov. Rick Perry picked up endorsements from the Texas Alliance for Life political action committee, the Texas Optometric Association, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

Kinky Friedman's latest bit is a $29.95 action figure with a cigar and a button on the back that, when pushed, triggers wisecracks and such from the doll. It comes complete with black hat and cigar, but it won't be ready for the holidays, apparently. The independent gubernatorial candidate's campaign will send you a certificate to put in the gift-wrap. The purchase price will get listed as a campaign contribution.

• Officially, now: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will seek reelection next year. So far, his only known opponent is Democrat María Luisa Alvarado, a military vet who lives in Austin and whose brother, Felix, is running for governor.

• Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill won't seek reelection, putting another high position in that transitional county into play, potentially, in November. For years, Republicans had a lock on countywide offices in Dallas; that's no longer true, and the absence of an incumbent in the DA's race opens the possibility of a competitive race.

• Former pro golfer Terry Dill is tapping the network of men who don't wear suits to work: His next report will note a $10,000 contribution from Jack Nicklaus and another $5,000 from U.S. relatives of South African Gary Player. Dill is one of at least five Republicans running to replace Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, in HD-47. He's got a fundraiser coming up after Thanksgiving that will feature golf lessons for contributors from a group that includes Ben Crenshaw and Jack "Jackie" Burke Jr. Dill, a lawyer, developer and financial consultant, is making his first run for office. He's got a website: www.dillforstaterep.com.

• Democrat Katy Hubener, who lost to Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, in last year's elections, says she'll be on the ballot next year. Allen won't. He announced last week that the current term will be his last.

Steve Brown moves from talk to action — he'll be on the ballot next year in HD-27, challenging Rep. Doro Olivo, D-Rosenberg. He has been a lobbyist for the American Heart Association in Texas and for the Texas Medical Association and before that, worked for a number of Houston officeholders at city hall, in Washington and then in Austin.

• Ouch: The El Paso Times ran a front-page story about a Republican challenge to GOP Rep. Pat Haggerty that's funded by local allies of Gov. Rick Perry. In small type, the headline read "EP'S BIG GOP DONORS BACK GOP CHALLENGER TO" and in really big type, occupying a space that was wide enough for the little words: "UNSEAT HAGGERTY." 

Political People and Their Moves 

As expected, the committee at the top of the Dallas County GOP named former Rep. Kenn George to chair the party. He replaces Nate Crain, who bowed out a few weeks ago. George will run for a full term next year.

Judy Lynn Warne, an attorney in Spring and an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law, is Gov. Rick Perry's pick to be judge of the 257th Judicial District Court. Linda Motheral resigned from that court last summer.

Perry named Lyn Bracewell Phillips of Bastrop and reappointed businessman A.W. "Whit" Riter III of Tyler to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Phillips is a former academician (and the spouse of former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips).

Adam Jones, an associate commissioner at the Texas Education Agency, is taking over state funding and school financial audits there, a move prompted by recent retirements of Joe Wisnoski and Tom Canby. Wisnoski is a top school finance wonk and Canby headed the financial audits operation. Jones is giving up human resources and other agency business in the trade; that'll go to Associate Commissioner Ernest Zamora.

Perry named a new deputy press secretary: Rachael Novier, who had been working in the homeland security unit in the Guv's office.

The American Cancer Society has a new government relations director in Texas: James Gray replaces Kelly Headrick, who will oversee government relations in Texas and four other states. 

Quotes of the Week 

Gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, quoted by the Associated Press: "The zit on the end of my nose here — the Lord has punished me for supporting gay marriage."

Pat Robertson, after Pennsylvania voters replaced school board members who voted to put Intelligent Design on the science curriculum: "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God — you just rejected Him from your city. And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, quoted in the El Paso Times on a project stalled by legislative gridlock: "I, personally, do not understand, as your lieutenant governor and as a taxpayer, how we would go out and spend $80 million to build three brand-new buildings in El Paso to house a new medical school and we don't fund the faculty."

John Sharp, head of the governor's task force on taxes, telling the Associated Press that nothing will happen without a spur from the courts: "If the Supreme Court rules, 'Hey, everything's fine'... then it makes it real difficult to pass something because there's nothing on the other side, no crisis on the other side, no bad thing that happens." 


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 23, 21 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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