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Where the Wild Things Are (and Aren't)

The party primaries include five congressional races, five in the state Senate, and 53 in the Texas House. In other words, it's a slow to normal election year.

The party primaries include five congressional races, five in the state Senate, and 53 in the Texas House. In other words, it's a slow to normal election year.

On the Republican side, three incumbents in Congress face challenges in their own primaries: Sam Johnson of Plano, Ron Paul of Surfside, and Tom DeLay of Sugar Land. Two Democrats in the congressional delegation have March challengers: Silvestre Reyes of El Paso, and Henry Cuellar of Laredo. There are no open seats in the Texas congressional delegation.

In the Senate, two incumbents face primary opponents: Democrat Frank Madla of San Antonio and Republican Bob Deuell of Greenville. Three seats are open in the Senate, with busy Republican primaries in each and a Democratic primary in only one — the SD-18 spot where Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, is not seeking another term.

Remember the prediction — widespread in the Austin lobby — that 40 or 45 people would bail out of the House after the rough special sessions on school finance? That was the heat of the moment: Only 13 voluntarily quit. But there's still time to make new nameplates. In the House, you'll find action in 35 GOP primaries and 18 Democratic primaries.

In the Republican matches, 19 incumbents face challengers in March (in district order): Dan Flynn of Van, Betty Brown of Terrell, Leo Berman of Tyler, Tommy Merritt of Longview, Roy Blake Jr. of Nacogdoches, Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, Mike Krusee of Austin, Larry Phillips of Sherman, Scott Campbell of San Angelo, Carter Casteel of New Braunfels, Pat Haggerty of El Paso, Delwin Jones of Lubbock, David Swinford of Dumas, Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, Vicki Truitt of Keller, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Elvira Reyna of Mesquite, Fred Hill of Dallas, and Joe Crabb of Humble. You'll find GOP primaries in 16 other districts, some of them open seats, others bucking for a chance to challenge a Democratic incumbent in November.

Eleven House Democrats have primary opposition: Dora Olivo of Richmond, Armando "Mando" Martinez of Weslaco, Richard Raymond of Laredo, Juan Manuel Escobar of Kingsville, Chente Quintanilla of El Paso, Norma Chavez of El Paso, Joe Pickett of El Paso, Helen Giddings of Dallas, Jesse Jones of Dallas, Al Edwards of Houston, and Garnet Coleman of Houston. (Martinez's wife filed to run against him and county Democratic officials took her off the ballot, but she hasn't expended her appeals.) Add seven more primaries where candidates are after open seats or a shot at Republican incumbents in November.

Lucky It Wasn't a Write-In

The list of independents had a surprise or two. Some knucklehead in Carole Keeton Strayhorn's camp misspelled her name on her application to run as an independent candidate. Lawyer Roy Minton took the bullet on that one, telling the Austin American-Statesman he never promised her he could spell. Officials with the SOS say it apparently won't affect her eligibility. They're in the process of welding the left out letter back into "Strahorn."

The other surprise is the number of candidates who want to petition their way onto the November ballot. Strayhorn and Richard "Kinky" Friedman are the best known, but there are four other folks who want to get on the gubernatorial ballot as independents.

Three more want on the ballot for U.S. Senate, one each for lieutenant governor, commissioner of agriculture and Texas Supreme Court, and a total of ten candidates will make independent runs at various congressional gigs. One — Steve Stockman of Friendswood — is a former U.S. congressman. He wants to run as an independent in CD-22, where Tom DeLay is the incumbent. Six candidates are trying to get on the ballot in various state representative races.

Ballot Lists

Most of the ballot bickering should be over by the weekend (with isolated thundershowers in specific court locales throughout the state expected for a couple of weeks). The state and local parties turn their lists of candidates over to the Texas Secretary of State and the SOS then puts together the comprehensive lists for the state. Preliminary versions of those lists are already online and they'll be updated, we're told, as information and court rulings roll in:

Winning Without a Vote

It turns out you can win a primary, or at least cull the herd of candidates, with nothing but a law book and an opponent who missed some of the finer points in filing an application to run for office. State Rep. Terry Keel, an Austin Republican running for a spot on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, knocked both of his Republican primary opponents off the ballot, including the incumbent, because of errors in their campaign filings. Judges have to include petitions with signatures of people from each of the state's judicial regions. Judge Charles Holcomb filed the petitions, but Keel found that some of the signatures were invalid, and there were apparently enough clinkers to spoil the filing; the Texas GOP ruled that Holcomb is ineligible to run. Then Keel sued to knock Robert Francis out of the race. His infraction was that he didn't write the seat he was seeking in every spot where he should have. Though "Place 8" was included in some spots, it wasn't in all of them. The state party wouldn't disqualify, but a state district judge crossed him off the ballot when Keel sued.

• That's a dramatic version of an election year ritual that is also affecting other races. In HD-87, Republican Anette Carlisle was initially pushed off the ballot by the state GOP for belonging to a school board that reimburses candidates for expenses. They say that's what the law calls a "lucrative" position and took her off the ballot. The legal provision keeps paid local officeholders from running against state officeholders — a provision that protects state legislators by reducing competition for legislative seats. It generally applies to salaries and wages and contract work; the state GOP says, in this case, that it also applies when an unpaid officeholder is reimbursed for expenses. The Texas Supreme Court overruled that and told the GOP to put her back on the ballot. They also indicated a written decision will follow, possibly explaining this for future cases. Carlisle is running against David Swinford, R-Dumas, who knocked an opponent off the ballot with the same law more than a decade ago. She quickly got lawyered up and she held an Amarillo press conference to blame the whole flap on the incumbent. Now it could be an issue in their race.

• Does serving on a local groundwater district prohibit you from running for the statehouse? Depends on who you ask. Brandon Creighton, running for the House seat now held by Rep. Ruben Hope Jr., R-Conroe, serves on the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District. His county GOP says he's eligible to run for the House, and that that's not a "lucrative" office that would keep him off the state ballot. He'll be on the March ballot against two other Republicans who want to replace Hope, who's running for a district judgeship this year. But a fellow board member, David Kleimann, had to go to court to fight the Republican Party of Texas, which said he's ineligible for state office for serving on that same board. Kleimann is in a four-way contest for the GOP nomination to succeed Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. Staples is running for state agriculture commissioner.

• Lest you think this only happens to Republicans, we direct your attention to South Texas, where Jessica Reyes-Martinez  — the wife of Rep. Armando "Mando" Martinez, D-Weslaco — was disqualified for not listing her home address in the right place on her application. She won't face her estranged husband in the primary after all.

• That might have snagged Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview; he apparently filled out his application the same way Reyes-Martinez did. He would otherwise be unopposed in the primary, so the party would have to replace him on the ballot if he's kicked off. He could be the replacement, or someone else could be.

Lauro Bustamante, hoping for a spot on the San Antonio-based 4th Court of Appeals, didn't get the right notarization on his petitions for that seat. He's out. And so is Jim Sharp, who didn't get his application properly notarized in his quest for a place on Houston's 1st Court of Appeals.

• And former Webb County Judge Mercurio Martinez Jr. is seeing his eligibility challenged for not including the district number in his HD-42 race on every page of his application. That challenge was leveled by Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, who gave up his run for Congress in December and decided to seek reelection. Martinez, who got in the race to replace Raymond, remained in it to challenge him.

Crossing Over

The Texas State Teachers Association is breaking with tradition to endorse Carole Keeton Strayhorn in the governor's race. That group, which generally supports Democrats, chose Strayhorn, an estranged Republican running as an independent, from a field that includes a Republican, an independent, and two Democrats in addition to the state comptroller.

The endorsement illustrates a trend that's vexing Texas Democrats and to a lesser extent, Texas Republicans. Strayhorn is getting financial support, for instance, from several trial lawyers and other financiers who typically back only Democrats. TSTA has been a regular supporter of Democrats. That leaves candidates in that party — at least in this race — looking for support from a smaller pool of sympathizers. Republicans loyal to Gov. Rick Perry would prefer that Strayhorn have no money or support at all. But they hope to make an issue of her appeal to Democrats among regular Republicans, discouraging them from supporting an independent candidate who is allied with their enemies.

Officials with the teacher group say they invited all of the candidates for interviews, but that Kinky Friedman and Rick Perry didn't chase their political action committee's endorsement. And though they didn't have anything bad to say about Democrats Chris Bell and Bob Gammage, they're going with Strayhorn.

Strayhorn started her career as a teacher, and her political career as a school board member. But as a Republican, she has embraced two ideas abhorred by teacher groups: publicly funded vouchers for private schools, and merit pay for teachers that would recognize and reward educators who do better work or are in higher demand.

The candidate says she was for vouchers "before the schools were in the shape they're in" but for now, says, "Vouchers are off the table — we've got to fix public education."

Reminded of her previous support, Strayhorn left the door to that issue ajar: "That was five years ago, and when I talked about vouchers I said, you know, philosophically, I wouldn't have a problem with that for disadvantaged kids. But let me tell you what: That's before we had five years of this administration that is absolutely, totally dismantling our public school system day by day. We've got to educate all of our kids and keep them healthy. This state is abdicating its responsibilities in education, welfare. Where's a kid in East Texas or West Texas gonna take a voucher? We have got to fix our public school system and we've got to do it now."

She deflected a question about merit pay by saying she has "always" wanted an across-the-board pay raise for all teachers, and that low pay is causing high turnover and contributing to high dropout rates in public schools.

Donna New Haschke, TSTA's president, says her group won't be involved in Strayhorn's attempt to get 45,000+ signatures on petitions to put her on the ballot. TSTA is pushing its 65,000 members to vote in the primaries, she says, and her group will be supporting a list of candidates that'll be revealed in a week or so, when the parties have finalized their ballots. Anyone who votes in a primary for either party will be ineligible to sign petitions for Strayhorn or Friedman this spring. New Haschke says the PAC abandoned Democrats for Strayhorn because they think she's got a better chance of beating Perry. "She is right on our issues, on every single one of them. We couldn't find a stronger advocate."

Choosing Bell

A group of well-known Democratic women endorsed gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, saying in a letter that "both of the top Democrats running for governor say they're pro-choice, but only one of them has faithfully stood by us in our political fights." That's a shot at Bob Gammage, a former legislator and judge who's running against Bell in March, along with Felix Alvarado and Rashad Jafer. Bell and Gammage have held elective office; the other two haven't.

In a letter being sent by the Bell campaign to Democrats all over the state, the 12 women said that when Gammage was in Congress, he "was on the anti-choice side of just about every vote on reproductive rights." They list a dozen votes they characterize as "anti-choice," including a vote for the so-called Hyde Amendment that banned Medicaid funding for abortions except when the life of the mother was in peril. The other votes on their list revolve around that funding ban.

A spokesman for Gammage said the former congressman, when in the Texas Legislature, sponsored pro-choice legislation before the Roe vs. Wade decision legalized that practice, and said the vote on the Hyde Amendment put Gammage in league with Dick Gephardt and Al Gore, both of whom kept the support of women's groups in spite of that position. "Bob Gammage was pro-choice before there was a choice," said Jeremy Warren. "This was not a vote on a woman's right to choose, but on whether taxpayers should pay for it."

The list includes people well known in Texas Democratic and abortion rights circles: Liz Carpenter, Heather Paffe, Peggy Romberg, and Sarah Weddington of Austin; Karen Ostrum George, Sissy Farenthold, Rita Lucido, and Ginni Mithoff of Houston; Molly Beth Malcolm of Texarkana; Susan Hays of Dallas; Beth Shapiro of Lubbock; and Claudia Stravato of Amarillo.

In their letter (a copy of which, along with citations of the Gammage votes they didn't like, is on Bell's website at, they acknowledge that Gammage's votes were taken a long time ago; the votes they're decrying were taken in 1977 and 1978. But they say those are the most recent votes available, and say Bell, in contrast, got perfect ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL when he was in Congress in 2003 and 2004.

DeLay Denied

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, asked to toss the case against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, left it intact, without comment. That sends the matter back to Judge Pat Priest, who put the whole matter on hold while it was being considered by the state's top criminal court.

DeLay had asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to either dismiss the money-laundering charges against him or to order a speedy trial; the idea was to get the whole business finished before Congress votes on leadership at the end of the month. But his weekend announcement that he was giving up his bid to stay in leadership took the wind out of the thing. The court won't speed things up, but he's no longer in the hurry he was in before. The date that looms now is March 7 — the date of the GOP primary, in which DeLay faces three Republican challengers. Still pending — at the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals — is a lower court's decision to drop conspiracy charges against DeLay. Travis County prosecutors appealed that decision.

Political Notes

Texas senators almost never endorse opponents of other Texas senators, especially when the challengers and the incumbents and the endorsers are from the same political party. But Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, endorsed Carlos Uresti in the Democratic primary against Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio. Madla's district stretches well over 500 miles to El Paso County; the two have tussled over water and other issues there. Shapleigh called Madla "a rubber stamp for the failed leadership in Austin" and said he's too close to the Republicans who are in power.

• Some of the state's top lobbyists and public affairs types have agreed to work together — sometimes — and to pitch some business together. The Texas Capitol Group would be better characterized as a friendly conspiracy than a company, since everybody in the mix will keep their own business and clients alongside the new deal. The players include lobbyists Mike Toomey, Bill Messer, Walter Fisher, Lara Keel, and Billy Phenix, and public affairs consultants Rossanna Salazar, Ray Sullivan, Wayne Fleenor, Jennifer Harris and Mona Taylor. They've got a website up and running at The agreement to work together puts the group in competition for projects that often go to other firms, like Public Strategies Inc., and Hillco Partners.

• Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, endorsed Democrat Chris Bell in the gubernatorial primary. Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, gets the endorsement of Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs in his bid to succeed Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, and another from Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston. Todd Staples, who's running for ag commissioner, got the endorsement of the Texas Association of Builders political action committee.

James McCutcheon, the only Democrat in the HD-56 contest against Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, is off the ballot: His filing fee didn't clear the bank. That leaves Anderson — who at one point was on most lists of vulnerable incumbents — with no opposition in either the GOP primary or the general election.

Wayne Christian, trying to win his old House seat back from Rep. Roy Blake Jr., R- Nacogdoches, says he has started his television campaign for that contest. Christian gave up the seat to run for Congress; Blake ran for the open spot two years ago. Van Wilson, a homebuilder challenging Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, in HD-83, is also launching TV ads this week.

• We missed a race on the statewide judicial ballot last week: Judge Tom Price of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is running for presiding judge of that court against his colleague, the incumbent, Sharon Keller, in the GOP primary. He's not up for election until 2008, so he'll be on the court even if he loses. She has to win to remain on the court.

• The newest member of the Texas Legislature — Ana Hernandez, D-Houston — will be on the Border and International Affairs Committee and the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee. House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, gave her the same assignments as the late Joe Moreno, her former boss and the guy she replaced.

• Most Texans support embryonic stem cell research, according to a poll commissioned by Texans for the Advancement of Medical Research, which is promoting that sort of research. The group's pollsters found 55 percent of Texans support the work, and say 57 percent think research in therapeutic cloning should go forward. That poll also found 64 percent of Texans would be willing to pay $1 per week in additional taxes to support medical research, and that slightly more than half would be willing to add $1 to the price of each prescription for that purpose. You can pick it apart in detail on their website, at

Political People and Their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Rick Williams, a Nederland lawyer and the head of that city's economic development corporation, to the 279th District Court, replacing the late Tom Mulvaney. Williams already filed to run for that, as a Republican; he'll face Democrat Randy Shelton at the ballot box in November.

The governor named Nancy Thomas of Dallas to the 160th District Court. She's a private practice lawyer now, but used to be an associate judge in Dallas County's district courts.

Mark Sanders doesn't work for the State of Texas anymore — he quit last week to work full-time on Carole Keeton Strayhorn's campaign for governor. That's been expected for a while; he says he's been burning vacation time up to now. Gov. Perry's spokesman, Robert Black, left state employ to work full-time for that campaign a few weeks ago. Along the way, each campaign accused the other of using people on the state payroll to do campaign work. Will Holford, still at the comptroller's office, moves into a new title: special assistant for communications.

Cecile Richards will be the next president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the national arm of that group. Richards, daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, founded the Texas Freedom Network and worked in a variety of campaigns and organizations in Texas before moving to Washington. She worked for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and most recently headed America Votes. She'll take over at Planned Parenthood in mid-February.

Raif Calvert starts later this month in the lobby shop at the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas. Calvert has been working for the Texas Medical Association for the last few years; before that, he worked for Texas Attorneys General Greg Abbott and John Cornyn.

Sabrina Midkiff got promoted to chief lobbyist, er, governmental relations officer, for the UT Health Science Center in Houston. She's been on fulltime staff there for almost a year.

John Donisi, an Austin lawyer and lobster, moved to Drenner & Golden Stuart Wolff from Bickerstaff, Heath. He'll be working on local stuff in Austin and also on state issues at the Capitol.

Political consultant Colin Strother is moving back to Austin from Laredo. He'll keep working for U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and for Texas House candidate Mercurio Martinez Jr., but will also join Rindy Miller Media as veep.

If you heard the rumor that Matt Welch is leaving Texans for Lawsuit Reform, there's a nuance: He'll leave their payroll in April but will stay on as a consultant, still based in Austin.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "I am writing to inform you of my decision to permanently step aside as majority leader, and of my belief that the best interests of the conference would be served by the election of a new leader as soon as possible. The job of majority leader and the mandate of the Republican majority are too important to be hamstrung, even for a few months, by personal distractions."

U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, in The New York Times: "Rightly or wrongly, Mr. DeLay is seen as the public face of Washington, and it is not healthy right now. We need a course correction."

Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, quoted by the Houston Chronicle from a speech to the Texas Public Policy Foundation: "If we don't start looking at the reforms that change the districts as well as just money, you and I might as well put our heads in the sand."

District Judge John Dietz, quoted in The Dallas Morning News after one judicial candidate knocked another off the ballot for technical errors in his application: "That is not something that is dirty or vile. That is just politics."

From Mark Sanders, in a press release after Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams decided spelling Strayhorn as Strahorn wasn't a fatal mistake: "As the Press Secretar_  for Carole Keeton Stra_horn, I wanted to sa_, 'With a correct spelling of her actual signature, we are extremel_ pleased that the Secretar_  of State has determined that the leaving off the '_' on one part of the form will not affect Carole Keeton Stra_horn's candidac_  for Governor of the State of Texas.'"

Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 28, 16 January 2006. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2006 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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