Former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, surprised the political villagers by announcing he won't run again, but most of the pre-election news so far has come from people who are running for office after all.
For instance, Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, says he'll run for reelection next year instead of seeking a local office. Some of his fellow Republicans in Dallas have been encouraging him to run for Dallas County Judge, but he's decided to stay put. The incumbent in that county gig, Margaret Keliher, has been getting mixed reviews in her own party, and some in the GOP are nervous about steady Democratic gains in election results there. Hill, first elected to the House in 1992, is chairman of the Local Government Ways & Means Committee. Had he decided to chase the county job, he would have been the eighth chairman to opt out of reelection.
And Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, filed for reelection after months of rumors — her staff was busily denying them — that she might give up show biz. Woolley chairs the Calendars Committee, which sets the lower chamber's agenda and is an important legislative gatekeeper.
Another powerful House member, Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, says she's been telling anyone who called that she'd seek reelection. Not enough people called, maybe: Her name was at the top of the list when Nueces County Judge Terry Shamsie announced he won't seek reelection next year. She'd be a strong candidate, but she has filed for reelection, paid her fees and signaled gossips to talk to the hand. She's the House's ranking Democrat, if you're using committee assignments as the measure — she's on Appropriations, Calendars, and Ways & Means.
Candidates whose districts cross county lines file with their state party offices. Those whose districts stay inside the lines can file with county party officials. To watch the state stuff, link to the state parties, at: www.texasgop.org and www.txdemocrats.org.
Time to Put Up or Shut Up
Independent candidates don't have to file with their political parties, but do have to file papers with the Texas Secretary of State stating their intent to run. And they have the same deadlines — filing between now and the close of business on January 2. That's why Richard Friedman — better known as Kinky — made an appearance at the state Capitol. There's also that side benefit of TV cameras and people with pens and skinny notebooks who showed up to scribble about it.
Friedman will apparently be the first Texas gubernatorial candidate on television. His campaign plans to uncork three spots next week and to have them up and running two weeks before Christmas. At our deadlines, the content wasn't available, but his aides have said they'll be pushing holiday sales of the Kinky action figure loaded with 25 of the candidates comments and slogans. It's one of the few dolls we know of that comes with a toy cigar.
We're not sure it amounts to anything at this point, but pollsters working for an unidentified candidate have been asking respondents whether they would support Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn in a bid for governor as a Republican, or as an independent candidate.
In the first case, she'd be up against Gov. Rick Perry in a primary with hard-core GOP voters who've shown a decided lean to the incumbent. In the second, assuming she could quickly build an organization to get her the signatures to get on the ballot, she'd probably be in a four-way race with Perry, Friedman, and the winner of an increasingly populated Democratic primary. More candidates, but also a completely different set of voters. Because of those deadlines cited above, you'll know by the first week of 2006 what she's up to: Her filings will tell the story.
Texas Democrats might be at ebb tide, but they'll have candidates in at least four of the contests for statewide office and their gubernatorial primary might grow.
Houston lawyer Barbara Ann Radnofsky filed papers to run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. She hopes to knock off U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison next year, and plans to do it with issues. You can look at the whole enchilada on her website, at www.radnofsky.com. Click on "Ten Proposals and Positions". We'd have pointed out this next bit even if she hadn't pointed it out to us: It's got more footnotes than the organ at church.
The Democratic primary for governor could have three people in it. Former legislator and judge Bob Gammage, who now lives in Llano, appears closer to running for that office. Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston planned to sign up during the first week of filing, and educator Felix Alvarado of Fort Worth, who lost three-to-one in 2004 to U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, has said he'll run for the top state job.
Alvarado's sister, Maria Luisa Alvarado, is running for lieutenant governor. And David Van Os, a San Antonio lawyer and populist Democrat who's been on the ballot for statewide judicial office in the past, is running this time for attorney general. He had some words for a group of political reporters: "We Democrats all support each other, we all love each other... and we've all got big surprises for your cynical editors next November."
Three Republicans have possible cakewalks ahead, although talking about it too early is like breaking a mirror or chasing a black cat under a ladder. Susan Combs, Todd Staples and Jerry Patterson do not, at the moment, have Democratic opponents for comptroller, agriculture commissioner and land commissioner.
Early Christmas for DeLay... But There's Coal in the Stocking
State District Judge Pat Priest dismissed conspiracy charges against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and two political aides, but they could still face trial on charges of money laundering (all three men) and illegal use of corporate money in campaigns (DeLay's associates). A copy of Priest's order is available in our Files section or by clicking here.
The judge struck conspiracy charges against Colyandro and Ellis, but they still face charges of money laundering and making illegal political contributions. He dismissed a conspiracy charge against all three men, but left in place charges alleging money laundering against them.
Priest said defendants' questions about prosecutorial misconduct might require a hearing; if the defense lawyers prevail there, it could result dismissal of the remaining charges against the three men. DeLay's lawyers, joined by lawyers for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, two political aides to the Sugar Land Republican, have raised questions about how prosecutors worked with three separate grand juries in less than a week to produce the latest indictments.
Also pending are defense motions to move the trial out of Travis County; they contend their chances of a fair trial have been poisoned by coverage of the investigation and by the anti-Republican political leanings of the county's residents. Priest, in an email to reporters, said the prosecutors have until December 20 to appeal his ruling if they wish to do so. In a written statement, prosecutors said they haven't decided on their next step.
Lawyers for the defendants attacked the conspiracy charges early on, saying prosecutors were accusing their clients of breaking laws that weren't in effect at the time. Priest agreed with them and tossed those charges. But while he said there couldn't be charges of conspiracy to illegally use corporate money in an election, there were laws at the time restricting the use of corporate money in campaigns. Those charges, he left in place. And he laid out the charges much more plainly than the prosecutors have ever managed to do.
"The Election Code by its express terms prohibits the giving or receiving of corporate funds for the purpose of financing a candidate’s election effort..." he wrote. "A person may not knowingly make or accept a political contribution in violation of Chapter 253... Therefore, a contribution intended by the corporation to be used for financing a candidate is unlawful. Likewise, if one solicits corporate contributions with an unlawful intent to divert the funds to a candidate a violation by the diverter occurs when the funds are actually so diverted, without regard to the intention of the corporate giver. Finally, if corporate contributions are received for a lawful purpose but subsequently diverted to an unlawful purpose, a violation of the election code occurs when the funds are so diverted and actually distributed to an individual candidate."
Priest cautioned he's not yet in a position to judge the facts in this case, but is just laying out the substance of the charges. Prosecutors still have to prove any of that stuff happened.
DeLay's lawyers contended that money moved around by Texans for a Republican Majority PAC was in the form of checks. The laws refer to funds, and they said there was a difference. Priest disagreed, and laid out what the prosecutors have to do to prove money-laundering charges:
"If the State can prove that funds were obtained from corporate contributors by these defendants with the express intent of converting those funds to the use of individual candidates, or if the state can prove that these defendants entered into an agreement to convert the monies already on hand, though originally received for lawful purposes, to that use by sending the money to the Republican National State Elections Committee with an agreement that funds of the same amount would then be made available by that committee to individual candidates for Texas political office, and can prove that funds in the same amount were in fact contributed to individual candidates by the Republican National State Elections Committee, then they will have established that money was laundered. The money would have become “dirty money” at the point that it began to be held with the prohibited intent. Of course, if the state cannot establish that beyond a reasonable doubt, then the defendants will be entitled to be acquitted."
Priest then went through an array of cases that spell out just what is and is not money laundering. In one, he flagged an argument that's been made in defense of what TRMPAC and the RNSEC did in 2002: "Incidentally, the court [in one of the cases cited] also held that the fact that dirty money is commingled with other, non-dirty money does not prohibit a finding of money laundering." One defense offered in this case is that transactions mentioned in the indictments were only a part of the business between the state and national political organizations.
In the indictments, the men are accused of accepting $190,000 in corporate contributions which they then sent to the RNSEC, which then contributed the same amount — in non-corporate money — to seven candidates for the Texas House of Representatives.
DeLay's lawyers are asking the judge to hit the gas — they want quick resolutions to his legal troubles and want the judge to set hearings right away.
They're also asking him to separate the indictments against DeLay, a move that would allow Priest to move immediately on money-laundering charges against the Texas congressman while he waits on the state for its reaction to rulings on other charges. The judge has said he'll wait a couple of weeks to give prosecutors time to decide whether they want to appeal his ruling dismissing part of their indictments against DeLay and two co-defendants.
Still pending are DeLay's requests for a change of venue and his challenge that prosecutors illegally manipulated grand jury proceedings to indict him. In a letter and a motion, DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin asked the judge to call a venue hearing for next week and to set a tentative trial date for early January. That would allow things to keep moving on remaining charges even while Priest waits to see what the prosecutors decide about the dismissed indictment.
In his letter, DeGuerin nodded to politics, saying DeLay's legal predicament is messing with his client's day job: "As I have stressed before, disposition of these charges as soon as possible is our urgent request. Congressman DeLay was required to temporarily step down from his leadership position in Congress because of the return of the first indictment, which charged a non-existent crime. The continued pendency of these charges adversely affects the business of the 22nd Congressional District and the United States Congress."
A Little Math Problem
U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's troubles are more political than legal at the moment; others in Congress covet his title and position, and voters in his district say they'd prefer an unnamed Democrat to the Sugar Land Republican.
First, he needs a relatively quick ending to his legal tangles in Austin if he's to regain the leadership job he lost because of the indictments. Even if he wins dismissal of the charges or is acquitted, he can lose the political game. The folks keeping his seat warm will eventually want it for themselves if he takes too long to free himself of the prosecutors in Travis County.
And his travails in Texas and in Washington are starting to erode his support at home. A Gallup Poll done for USA Today and CNN shows an unnamed Democrat would beat him 49-36 with registered voters in his district, and 47-34 with all residents (registered and not) there.
Those sorts of results generally tighten up when the unnamed candidate gets a name.
In this case, former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, who moved from Beaumont to run against DeLay, has the advantage of being relatively unknown. If you read that to mean that voters don't have much to hold against him, you can make the argument that their dislike for the incumbent could carry the day. DeLay's argument is more likely to be that voters won't like Lampson when they know him better, and there's almost a year left for that educational process. When asked about the Democrat, 28 percent of registered voters had favorable impressions of him, 11 percent had unfavorable impressions, and 37 percent had never heard of him. Asked about DeLay, 37 percent had favorable impressions, 52 percent were unfavorable, and 1 percent had never heard of him. (In both cases, the balance of the voters registered no opinion.)
DeLay's lawyers have talked about trying to move his trial — if there is one — from Travis to Fort Bend County. They might want to do some research first: Gallup found that 55 percent of adults in his district think the charges against him are "definitely" or "probably" true; 31 percent think the campaign finance charges are "probably not" or "definitely not" true. They were split pretty evenly (45-43 percent) when asked whether prosecutors were fairly enforcing the law or trying to hurt DeLay politically. The survey was based on phone interviews with 803 adults in the congressional district; the margin of error was +/- 4 percentage points.
The State's Top Democrat Steps Aside
Former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, won't seek reelection next year. Laney, first elected to the Texas House in 1972, was elected Speaker in 1993 and served for five terms. He was knocked off in 2003, after Republicans won a majority of seats in the House in the 2002 elections and raised Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, into the top office.
Laney has been a thorn in Craddick's side and a daily reminder to veteran legislators of the differences between the current administration and the old one (which administration they preferred varies by member). He's also served as the focal point for conspiracy theorists on the Republican side, who credit him for many of the trip-ups engineered by House Democrats.
Other Democrats, meanwhile, have been stuck in Laney's shadow. Because he's still in office and because the Republicans presume he wants his old job back, a lot of partisan activity by Democrats has been dismissed as an effort to resurrect Laney. His departure also changes the game for moderates in the GOP, some of whom have grown accustomed to being labeled as Laney supporters. With him out of the House, their quiet conversations about Craddick successors can focus on new blood instead of revenge.
Laney took over the House after one of its periodic forays into legal trouble, and he was the first House Speaker in years to serve more than a term or two without scandal. He was elected with the class of Texas politicos who rode the Sharpstown Scandal into office in 1972, an episode that brought down then-Speaker Gus Mutscher and others. Billy Clayton was acquitted on charges of taking a bribe in 1980; he survived another term but gave way to Gib Lewis. And Lewis survived ethics misdemeanor fines early in his tenure only to have another round of ethics troubles sink him in the early 1990s. Laney followed him into office pushing ethics reforms and open access to what had become a very secretive legislative process, and served five terms (only he and Lewis have lasted that long in the high chair) before Craddick upended him in 2003.
Laney changed the legislative process by rearranging the House's session calendar to wind business down in the last six weeks rather than let everything go to midnight on the last day. That change forced the Senate to change its approach and remade the legislative process.
And he was the last in a string of Democrats at the top of state government who — because of circumstances or personalities — had to work with Republicans to get their work done. Laney and then-Gov. George W. Bush and then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock had a famous working relationship, partly because they actually got along, and partly because none could get anything done without the help of the other two.
Only two members — Craddick and Paul Moreno, D-El Paso — have been in the House longer than Laney. And only one other member of the huge reform class of '73 — Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston — is still in the House.
Laney's HD-85 might be the most Republican landscape in the state still in the hands of a Democratic incumbent. Laney, who remains popular there, got 59 percent of the vote in last year's general election while every other non-local Democrat on the ballot was getting creamed. Bush got 76 percent of the vote, and the average Democrat running statewide got just 41 percent of the vote there. Only one Republican has filed for the seat — insurance agent Jim Landtroop of Plainview — but with Laney out, more will join. In his retirement announcement, Laney encouraged potential candidates to run, adding, "the people of this district have an expectation of bipartisanship."
DOJ Split Over Texas Redistricting
Staff lawyers at the U.S. Department of Justice thought the congressional redistricting plan approved by Texas lawmakers in 2003 was unconstitutional, but were overruled by their bosses. And keeping their memo under wraps until now (The Washington Post broke the story) probably saved Republicans from defending themselves against the objections raised by those staff lawyers.
The U.S. Supreme Court is still considering whether to hear the challenge to the plans which, after being approved by DOJ, were approved by a panel of three federal judges. It might be too late, but lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund publicly asked the Supremes to look at the memo before deciding whether to hold a full hearing.
In a long memo (available in the Files section on our website or by clicking here) which was never seen by the three judges who decided the case, staff attorneys in the agency's voting rights section said the Texas plan dilutes minority voting strength. Those lawyers unanimously recommended that it be rejected. Their superiors overruled them and that position — that the maps were legal after all — has so far held up in court. Republicans dispute the minority claim, noting that the number of Blacks in the Texas delegation increased from two to three. Democrats acknowledge that, but say the number of districts where minorities have significant voting strength was cut. Voters in two of the old minority districts elected Anglos to Congress, according to that argument.
Those maps were also used in the 2004 election in which Republicans overtook Democrats in the Texas delegation to Congress for the first time since Reconstruction. The Texas maps produced a gain of five Republican seats in the delegation and swung the partisan balance of the Texas crew in Washington to the GOP. Those five seats gained in Texas were the only five seats the GOP gained in Congress in the 2004 elections.
Houston voters pick a state representative this weekend, settling the runoff contest between Democrats Ana Hernandez and Laura Salinas in HD-143 to replace the late Joe Moreno.
• The next special election on the plate will replace Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, in HD-48. Ben Bentzin is the only Republican who's signed up. He'll face at least two Democrats: Donna Howard and Kathy Rider, both of whom have school board credentials on their resumes. Kelly White, who lost to Baxter in 2004, apparently won't run with all those Democrats in the hunt. And Andy Brown hasn't signed up for the special amidst questions of whether he's lived in the district long enough to be eligible for the January election (he is eligible for the regular election). Filing in that race is open through December 19.
• Dan Patrick, the radio talker who's running for state Senate in Houston, touts a poll that shows him ahead of the other candidates — Mark Ellis, Peggy Hamric, and Joe Nixon — in a four-way race. He's at 38 percent, according to his survey, followed by Hamric at 13.3, Nixon at 8.5 percent and Ellis at 7.8 percent (the margin is +/- 4.9 percent). It also contends he's got higher favorable ratings than the others, by far, and that his unfavorables are lower than Ellis', while higher than the two state representatives. The battle there is well underway; Nixon has launched his second round of television spots. These focus on immigration policy, mainly a federal concern, but an issue that apparently polls well with GOP primary voters (in Houston and elsewhere).
• San Antonio City Councilman Richard Perez told the Express-News he won't run for the HD-118 seat opened by Rep. Carlos Uresti's decision to challenge Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio Only one candidate — Republican Steve Salyer — is in that House race at the moment. Salyer lost in 2004 to Uresti, by a 15-point margin.
• A couple of incumbent Republicans have obstacles between them and reelection bids. Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, drew Chris Hatley, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, in the primary. Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, will face Lubbock businessman Van Wilson in March.
• When he quit the chairmanship of the Dallas County GOP, Nate Crain said he might run for chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. He's not saying it's a go, but in an email to members of the State Republican Executive Committee, he raises a bunch of questions about the current condition of the RPT. That email says the party has less money on hand than any of its big-state counterparts and questions whether the Texas GOP has an "active major donor program," and no finance director or finance committee. He also questions the party's decision to "rush into an agreement with the Travis County Attorney to limit the RPT Get Out the Vote effort in 2006, when a more aggressive approach would have been appropriate." He's trying to light a firecracker: The SREC meets over the weekend.
• Blood from Turnips Department: Attorney General Greg Abbott says his office got $8.3 million in back taxes out of the bankruptcy estate of Enron, the dead Houston energy company.
Friends in High Places
Alex Castano, running in a crowded Republican field to replace Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, in HD-47, picked up an endorsement from Texas Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo. Carrillo, the first statewide official to endorse in that contest, lives in the district. Castano also added a new line to his campaign literature, saying he's the only candidate in the race with kids in public schools and thus has a vested interest in education reform and school finance. That's true now, but until this year, he and his wife schooled them at home.
• Shane Sklar, a Democrat from Edna who is challenging U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, got the endorsement of the Texas Farm Bureau's political action committee (it's called AGFUND). Sklar, a rancher, is the executive director of the Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas.
• Rep. Joe Strauss, R-San Antonio, won a special election to get that job and now wants a full term. And he starts with an out-of-district endorsement from Rudy Giuliani of New York. Think about this: He didn't use Giuliani to attract supporters, but surprised them at a fundraiser. The guy from New York must have been interested in seeing some of San Antonio's money folk.
Political People and Their Moves
William Powers Jr., officially now, is the president of the University of Texas at Austin. The former dean of the university's law school, Powers was the only finalist for the job. He's replacing Larry Faulkner, who's stepping down after holding the post since 1998.
For the fourth time in a row, the Texas Farm Bureau elected Kenneth Dierschke as its president. He beat Bob Read, a rice farmer and former TFB district director. Dierschke lives in San Angelo and raises cotton, milo, and wheat.
Norman Darwin of Weatherford will be the state's first Injured Employee Public Counsel, advocating for employees in the state's worker compensation system. Darwin, chosen by Gov. Rick Perry, is an attorney with offices in Fort Worth.
Donna Kay McKinney is leaving Sen. Jeff Wentworth's district staff to work for Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector (and former state Rep.) Sylvia Romo. She's worked for the San Antonio Republican for nine years.
The new spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party is Amber Moon, a Texan whose most recent gig was in Washington, working for U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri.
Deaths: Former U.S. District Judge Eldon Mahon of Fort Worth, or heart failure. He was 87.
Quotes of the Week
Kinky Friedman, telling Bookslut.com why he's running as an independent: "The Republicans and the Democrats let us all down. The only time they get off their asses is to attack each other."
Dick DeGuerin, reacting to a gibe from his Democratic daughter for representing Tom DeLay, a Republican, in the San Antonio Express-News: "Sweetie, I don't have to be a Branch Davidian to represent David Koresh."
Jason Stanford, a political consultant working for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on the incumbent's popularity: "Rick Perry's poll numbers are kind of like a Panhandle winter weather forecast, continued low- to mid-40s with a possibility of hell freezing over."
Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky, who's running against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison: "I'm not a fool and I don't pursue things in a foolhardy manner. This can be done. All it takes is real hard work, intelligent analysis and going to talk to people. It is quite doable."
Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach, talking about the Aggie Corps in The New York Times Magazine: "How come they get to pretend they are soldiers? The thing is, they aren't even in the military. I ought to have Mike's Pirate School. The freshmen, all they get is the bandanna. When you're a senior, you get the sword and skull and crossbones. For homework, we'll work pirate maneuvers and stuff like that."
Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 26, 12 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.