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The Middle-Finger Primary

Kinky Friedman has to have almost 50,000 signatures to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for governor next year. His campaign folks are aiming higher, hoping to get two or four times that many — 100,000 to 200,000 signatures — to show outsiders how serious they are.

Kinky Friedman has to have almost 50,000 signatures to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for governor next year. His campaign folks are aiming higher, hoping to get two or four times that many — 100,000 to 200,000 signatures — to show outsiders how serious they are.

And while state law seriously restricts anybody's ability to get on the ballot without a party affiliation, organizers hope Friedman's outsider cachet, voter antipathy to the major party candidates, and the cheap community-building power of the Internet will raise their chances.

Friedman supporters aren't allowed to sign up until after the March primaries. The campaign has 60 days to collect those signatures. Each signature has to come from a registered voter, and anyone who votes in any party primary or runoff next year is disqualified as a valid petitioner. The people who collect the petitions have to swear that they witnessed the signings, that they read a brief legal statement to the signers, and that they minded all of the state's other rules for petition-driven campaigns.

The last independent candidate to win the Texas governorship was Sam Houston. Nobody in recent memory has cleared the hurdles for the state ballot, though Ross Perot got on the presidential ballot by presenting box loads of petitions in 1992.

Without the Internet, the campaign would have to rely on door-knocking and person-to-person contacts. With the Internet, they can snag people who visit their website, asking whether they'd like to volunteer or help or just sign up for more campaign information. Some of the people caught in that net then organize local groups, regional groups and so on.

Dean Barkley, the campaign manager, and Reid Nelson, the field director, say they've signed up enough people to build organizations in 50 to 60 Texas counties. They ask them to take a pledge: "I pledge that I will save myself for Kinky and will vote in neither the Republican nor the Democratic primaries in 2006. Instead I will save myself and when the day comes to sign the petition to put Kinky Friedman on the ballot as a candidate for Texas Governor, I will do so proudly." And they ask them to download a "collection kit" that lets volunteers sign up friends and mail their names into the campaign.

They're trying to recreate what a healthy political party already has in place — a network of people who'll do the grunt work of a campaign. In this case, they're building a network that will produce all of those signatures, either with volunteers and paid coordinators who'll handle the supervising and collecting of signatures, or by assembling the lists of people who'll actually sign their names.

In effect, they're assembling the names and contact information about their voters before they have to go out and actually collect signatures. Nelson says they should know even before the primaries whether they'll be able to pull it off.

For the most part, the network isn't a critical part of the campaign's fundraising. The local groups can hold fundraisers, but that's done out of Austin, for the most part, and the organization is mainly set up to collect the needed signatures and generate enthusiasm.

The effort is invisible if you're not looking for it, and there are some holes in the network — Amarillo and Laredo, for instance, have been slow to join up. But they have the rest of the big counties and among those, some real hot spots like central Texas and the Hill Country. This is familiar ground to anyone who has worked with volunteers; what's different is that the volunteer group isn't already in place. As it grows, the idea is that the new organization will maintain itself, contacting volunteers and signers, sending pre-primary reminders not to vote, reminding them not to vote in the primaries. When the primary elections are over, they'll start signing the actual petitions through the regional and local and small group leaders they've already contacted.

Their deadline is in May. At that point, the election people at the Texas Secretary of State figure out whether Friedman has enough legitimate signatures to get on the ballot.

The Battle of San Antonio

Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, will give up his House seat to challenge Sen. Frank Madla of San Antonio in the March Democratic primary.

Uresti has been openly considering such a race for weeks. He plans to concentrate on two of Madla's votes — one in favor of a health and human services consolidation that downsized Children's' Health Insurance and other programs, and one in favor of a tax bill during this year's school finance battles that Uresti and many other Democrats said was easy on the wealthy and hard on the poor. Uresti has been a legislator since 1997. Madla took a seat in the House in 1973 and joined the Senate in 1993.

Uresti has a big fundraiser/party every year at a VFW hall in his district and plans to make the formal announcement there. He says he's hired Democratic political consultant Kelly Fero of Austin to run the race. Uresti did some polling before making up his mind and says he and the incumbent are within five percentage points in San Antonio and that the numbers get better when voters are "educated" about things like those two votes.

HD-19 could be a hot pocket in a relatively calm political year. Most statewide races are — at the moment — uncontested. And most legislative and congressional seats in Texas, thanks to the twin obstacles of incumbency and redistricting, aren't competitive. But with a Senate race, a House contest to replace Uresti, and a three-way race in CD-28, voters might have a lot of people banging on their doors. We don't have names yet for the Uresti race — they'll surface when he's official. In that other contest, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is being challenged by former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, and state Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo. Those three districts share big chunks of Bexar County.

A January Election

Austin will have a special election to replace Rep. Todd Baxter in HD-48 before a special session on school finance. Gov. Rick Perry called that election for January 17.

A runoff, if one takes place, would take place in February. Baxter, a Republican, quit at the beginning of November and took a job as a cable TV lobbyist.

Ben Bentzin is the only Republican who's said out loud that he wants the job. Four Democrats are looking at it: Andy Brown, Donna Howard, Kathy Rider, and Kelly White. Bentzin lost a Senate race against Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, four years ago. White lost to Baxter by a few dozen votes two years ago. The Democrats have had conversations — without resolution, apparently — about going into a special election with just one candidate instead of four.

And no matter who wins in January, the candidates who want a full term in the job will be on the ballot for party primaries in March and the general election in November. The special election winner could have an edge, and will get to vote in a special session on school finance.

In his announcement of the special election, Perry cited the pending special session and the June 1 deadline set by the Supreme Court for a remedy to what they called an unconstitutional statewide property tax. Howard's campaign points out that the run-up to this special contest includes four holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, and Martin Luther King's Birthday; it'll be tricky for candidates to do politics in the last two weeks of December, in particular.

Since Baxter announced his resignation, Democrats have been grousing about Perry's slow hand replacing the late Rep. Joe Moreno, D-Houston, who was killed last spring in a truck accident. The special election to replace him was set for Election Day in November (a runoff will be held in a couple of weeks), well after two special sessions on school finance. With several close votes on various school finance provisions, that empty seat threw a real advantage to Republican House leaders. With the shoe on the other foot, Democrats complain, Perry is moving quickly to try to replace Baxter's lost Republican vote with another Republican. Another difference between the two situations is the court's firm June 1 deadline, but school finance has been sufficiently troubled to prompt Perry to call three special sessions without any word from the Supremes.

Early voting is now underway (as of November 30) in that Houston runoff to replace Moreno in the Legislature. Election Day is Saturday, December 10. Ana Hernandez and Laura Salinas finished first and second, respectively, in a six-candidate field. The four losers in the first round endorsed Salinas, who has the backing of some former legislators in Houston; Hernandez is backed by Moreno's family and several current legislators.

Both Democrats are running with significant contributions from normally conservative financiers, like Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and Texans for Lawsuit Reform. And the winner will have to defend the seat in normal elections next year.

Denny Won't Run Again 

Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, announced she won't run for reelection next year, but will serve out her current term.  Denny chairs the House Elections Committee and has been a member since 1993. She was chairman of Denton County's Republican Party before that. In a written statement, Denny said she is concerned about her husband's health and wants to spend more time with him.

Two Republicans were already planning to run, even with Denny in the race. Ricky Grunden, who lives in Krum and works in Denton as a financial adviser, hasn't run for office before. Anne Lakusta of Flower Mound is a former member of the Lewisville ISD board. Another, Tan Parker of Flower Mound, has launched an "exploratory campaign." He's a regional exec with Computer Sciences Corporation. No Democrats have surfaced yet. 

The Changing Lineup

To steal a line from former House Speaker Gib Lewis, it's time to chirp or get off the perch: Candidates for state office in 2006 can start filing on Saturday, December 3, and must file by the end of the day on Monday, January 2, to be on the March ballot. Unless something pops, 2006 will be a relatively calm election year in Texas. Of the 215 people elected to legislative jobs in Texas (we're including the 34 feds), only 17 definitely won't be back, and a bunch have their fingers crossed, hoping they'll run unopposed next year.

None of the 32 members of the state's congressional delegation have indicated anything other than reelection bids. And only three challenges — at this point — have the makings of potentially serious contests (U.S. Reps. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land; Chet Edwards, D-Waco; and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo). Cuellar's in a primary fight, but the other two have 11 months left before voters put an end to the suspense.

The Texas Senate has three open seats out of 31 and possibly one more — depending on the unannounced reelection plans of Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria. Sens. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin; Jon Lindsay, R-Houston; and Todd Staples, R-Palestine, won't be back. Lindsay, Staples, and Armbrister are all committee chairs. Armbrister's HD-18 could flip to the GOP; lightning could strike, but each of the other three will probably remain with the party that's now in place.

The House should have 20 to 30 interesting races, but only has 14 empty seats out of 150 (put an asterisk there — you'll see more dropouts as candidates actually file for reelection). At this writing, the list of departed and departing House members includes Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie; Todd Baxter, R-Austin; Mary Denny, R-Aubrey; Bob Griggs, R-North Richland Hills; Peggy Hamric, R-Houston; Ruben Hope Jr., R-Conroe; Bob Hunter, R-Abilene; Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas; Terry Keel, R-Austin; Joe Moreno, D-Houston (deceased); Joe Nixon, R-Houston; Richard Raymond, D-Laredo; Jim Solis, D-Harlingen; Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. Half of those — Allen, Denny, Hamric, Hupp, Keel, Nixon, and Uresti — are committee chairmen.

Throwing Dewhurst From the Train 

House Speaker Tom Craddick won't appoint any House members to a joint committee to work on school finance and education issues, though he and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had previously agreed on the number and even the names of legislators who would be on it. 

Aides to both men were ready to announce the joint panel — with seven members from each side — as soon as the Texas Supreme Court announced a decision in the school finance case. That decision landed on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but the committee never was unveiled (though members were contacted about serving on it, both in the House and in the Senate). And in a written statement, Craddick says he's now against the idea:

"I have spoken to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and I do not think it is necessary to appoint a Joint Select Committee on Public Education. Governor Perry appointed his Texas Tax Reform Commission, to which each of us contributed nominations for appointees. That committee is made up of a diverse group of individuals, and we need to support that group in coming up with different funding mechanisms for public school finance. I look forward to then working with the Lt. Governor and the Senate on developing a consensus plan that responds to the Supreme Court's ruling."

When they were talking about a legislative committee, legislative leaders were working with the idea that the Sharp panel would make recommendations but wouldn't be able to vote on anything. Dewhurst, stung by Perry's appointment of the Democrat Dewhurst beat in 2002, wanted to put his imprint on the issue, and lawmakers might want to add their own stuff — particularly in the realm of education reforms. From the East end of the Capitol, Craddick's decision looks like a second slap.

They might also be better off working out their plans before the start of a special session. The task force formed by Perry doesn't have any lawmakers on it. As it stands, lawmakers will get to work on the issues at the start of a special session sometime between now and the Supreme Court's June 1 deadline. 

The Personal is the Political 

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, sent a letter to Bill Ceverha (and to the press and others) asking the former legislator and lobbyist to resign from his position at the Employee Retirement System of Texas. Ceverha, the former treasurer for Texans for a Republican Majority, lost a civil suit stemming from TRMPAC's activities in the 2004 election and cited the judgments against him when he declared personal bankruptcy a few weeks ago. Gallego, in his letter, says Ceverha ought to quit the pension board in light of his own financial problems, among other things. Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, and Texans for Public Justice, also joined the call for Ceverha's head.

Ceverha called Gallego's letter "silly" and said he and the other members of the ERS board don't make investment decisions. He was confirmed by the Texas Senate with votes from senators of both political parties, he said, pointing out that the vote came after the civil trial on TRMPAC. (It did come after the trial, but senators voted before the verdict was announced, and the judge in the case ruled against Ceverha.)

Ceverha said he owed some $850,000 in legal and court fees, and that combined with pending litigation on related issues pushed him to seek bankruptcy protection. He called Gallego a "highly partisan individual" and said "he's hanging more of my laundry out in public," but he said he has no intention of resigning. And he reiterated that his personal finances have no bearing on the state gig. "We don't make investment decisions, and it's silly to think that we do," he said.

Waiting Game

Senior Judge Pat Priest, the Man in Black in U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's campaign finance trial, plans to rule by Tuesday of next week on DeLay's request to drop the charges. If the case goes ahead, DeLay is still pressing a change of venue to get the trial moved out of Austin and also has filed papers contending prosecutors abused the grand jury process to get the former House Majority Leader indicted. Priest has already said he doubts DeLay could get to trial before the end of the year. The congressman wants to put the matter to rest before Congress reconvenes and possibly elects new leaders. He's not eligible for a top post while under indictment. The judge said he'll decide on deadlines and such for other motions and/or a trial depending on what he does with this first piece.

Department of Corrections

In some editions last week, we said changing the property tax cap would require a constitutional amendment. It would not require an amendment or a public vote; the Legislature can change that $1.50 cap as it wishes and without voter approval. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

• We offered up a muddy explanation of some education stats last week, so we'll attempt a clarification. In his testimony to the governor's task force on taxes, Steve Murdock, the state's demographer, offered some numbers showing Texas behind other states and the national average in both high school diplomas and college degrees. The details: In the year 2000, 75.7 percent of Texas adults (age 25 and up) had high school degrees. That was a lower percentage than 44 other states, and lower than the national percentage of 80.4 percent. Likewise, 23.2 percent of those same Texas adults had college degrees, lower than the national rate — 24.4 percent — and the rates of 26 other states. Murdock was clear, and we weren't. Sorry for any confusion we ignited. 

Political People and Their Moves

Austin political consultant John Colyandro is off the hook in a federal civil case stemming from the 2002 elections. Democrats Kirk Watson and Mike Head sued Colyandro and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America for allegedly funneling corporate money into the campaign chests of their Republican opponents. But U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel released Colyandro from the suit saying he found "no actionable or unlawful conduct." LEAA is still in it, though. Watson, who ran for attorney general against Greg Abbott, and Head, who ran for a Texas House seat, contend the LEAA worked on behalf of their opponents without disclosing the identities of donors, and that the group used corporate money illegally in that effort.

Brian Keith Walker, a Republican attorney from Panola County who used to be an assistant sergeant-at-arms in the Texas Senate, is running for the Texas House seat currently occupied by Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville. Walker will have to win a primary first: Mike Alberts, who lost narrowly to Hopson in 2004, has already declared.

Judge Sid Harle of San Antonio is joining the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. He was appointed to that judge-judging panel by the Texas Supreme Court.

Kathy Ward, a former high school teacher who had been vice chair of the Collin County GOP, is the new chairman. Rick Neudorff resigned to run for Collin County Judge.

James Baril is leaving government — he's an aide to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — for the Texas office of Fleishman Hillard.

Saved by a helmet, and recovering: Former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd, who went over the handlebars of his bike on a rural road during the Thanksgiving break.

Quotes of the Week

Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, and a former school board member, talking about school finance in The Dallas Morning News: "There are competing visions. One is, 'Give us more money and get out of the way.' The Legislature has said, 'Hey, we realize more money will help the situation. But it's not the only answer. We want more accountability.'"

Dick Lavine with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, telling the El Paso Times that higher efficiency will help public schools but won't solve everything: "You can do a lot more with money than you can do without money."

House Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News on reports that school districts spent $4.3 million on lawyers in the school finance case: "I don't think it's appropriate to use tax dollars to sue the taxpayers for more taxpayer money."

Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram she's heard from her constituents about school finance: "They told me, 'Don't give the Fort Worth school district another penny. They either steal it or waste it.'"

Pre-med student Adriana Gonzalez, talking to the Brownsville Herald after hearing Kinky Friedman speak at UT Pan American: "All the good ideas in the world won't work without the system, and saying he hates politics while running is like me hating biology while being a biology major. It doesn't make sense."

Greg Roof, an economics prof at Alvin Community College, talking to the Galveston County Daily News about dropping his bid for Congress for lack of support: "Sometimes, petitions send a strong message to the government about the will of the people. Other times, petitions send a strong message to the petitioner about what the people do not want."

Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, asked by the Austin American-Statesman whether he's serious about reelection: "Am I committed? I've only put 18,000 miles on this car in the last two months. I even know the damn frogs by their first names."


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 25, 5 December 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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