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Insufficient Funds

Felix Alvarado's filing check bounced back to the Texas Democratic Party, and he's apparently off the March ballot for governor.

Felix Alvarado's filing check bounced back to the Texas Democratic Party, and he's apparently off the March ballot for governor.

Alavarado, a Fort Worth educator, was the only Hispanic in the race for the top state job on the ballot. Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting said on Thursday night that Alvarado's bank returned the check and, "if that holds, it would take him off the ballot." Soechting left open the possibility of a bank error, so file this under "developing situations." Alvarado couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

That's good news for the other Democrats on the ticket, particularly the two with some campaign money: Chris Bell and Bob Gammage. But it's blockbuster news for Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman, who have to gather signatures after the primaries and before May 12. If there's no runoff in either party's gubernatorial contest, they can start collecting signatures on March 8 — the day after the primary. If nobody gets more than 50 percent of the vote  — which is much more likely with a Hispanic candidate on the Democratic Party's ballot than without — the signature collection would be on hold until after the April runoff.

Something Special Ahead?

Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, is quitting early and will hang out a lobby shingle in Austin. Allen registered to vote in Austin, which has the effect of making him ineligible for the North Texas seat he occupies in the House. His resignation letter to Gov. Rick Perry says he'll serve until midnight on Friday, January 20.

Allen says he simply can't afford to go through another special session, with its disruptions on his business time. He had already announced his decision not to seek another term when this one ends in a year. Quitting now, he says, leaves time for a special election and, if necessary, a runoff election to replace him before a special session on education and public school finance. "My district will be better off electing a member now... it just seems like the right thing to do," he says.

Allen has been in the House for 13 years, so he's eligible for legislative retirement. And he's over 50 years old, which means he can start collecting retirement checks from the state right away (lawmakers with 12 or more years can collect retirement after age 50; those with more than eight years in the Lege but less than 12 have to wait until they're 60 years old to draw checks).

He's endorsed Kirk England, son of Grand Prairie's mayor and son-in-law of Bill Arnold, the Democrat who preceded Allen in the House, to take the HD-106 seat. England is the management favorite, with other endorsements from state Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and Kenny Marchant, R-Carrollton, and a gang of local officeholders that includes Grand Prairie Mayor Charles England, his pop.

Katy Hubener, a Democrat who lost to Allen in 2004, and Edward Smith, a Republican, have also signed up for the November elections and would presumably be interested in a special election run. Gov. Rick Perry will set the date for a special election to replace Allen, probably for next month.

It's (Almost) Howard

Democrat Donna Howard came just 73 votes of winning a special election for an Austin seat in the Texas House, surprising Republican Ben Bentzin and two others and setting up a runoff election for Valentine's Day or thereabouts.

Howard got 6,705 votes in the HD-48 special election. Bentzin was second with 5,124 votes. Kathy Rider, another Democrat, got 1,416, and Libertarian Ben Easton won the support of 310 voters. In (rounded) percentages, that's Howard with 49.5 percent, Bentzin with 37.8 percent, Rider with 10.5 percent, and Easton with 2.3 percent.

The winner will replace Todd Baxter, a Republican who quit the House in November to take a job as a cable television lobbyist. Baxter won a squeaker in 2002, convincing Democrats that the seat was winnable. The timing of his resignation — and of Gov. Rick Perry's pick of a January date for a special election — seemed to favor the GOP. So did the fact that Bentzin's camp was able to talk other Republicans out of the race, hoping to consolidate conservative votes while Democrats were splitting the support of their voters in the district among more than one candidate.

It didn't turn out that way. Howard and Bentzin fought it out in mailboxes and on TV, while Rider and Easton lagged behind. Bentzin spent more and got a late visit and renewed endorsement from Perry, but Howard's voters turned out in strength on Election Day. She lost the early voting to the Republican, getting 40 percent to his 46 percent, but she got almost 55 percent of the Election Day vote and almost won outright; 73 more votes would have put her over the top. Bentzin got only 34 percent of the Election Day vote.

What looked like a Republican advantage now appears to be a Democratic one; to overcome Howard, Bentzin will have to fish in Democratic waters, convincing voters who supported Howard and Rider in the first round to trade in their blue jerseys for red ones. Between them, the two Democrats got 60 percent of the votes cast.

Bentzin's campaign will apparently press on with a runoff. One strategy would be to skip that contest with its long odds and hope for a better showing in November, when he'll be the sole Republican seeking a full term in the seat. Instead, they'll try to flip the special election result in the runoff. For the official (uncanvassed) numbers: www.co.travis.tx.us/county_clerk/election/results.asp.

Follow the Bouncing Ballots

Terry Keel hasn't vanquished all those pesky judges just yet. Keel, a Republican state representative from Austin who's running for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, knocked Charles Holcomb and Robert Francis out of his primary because of questions about their election applications. Now, the Texas Supreme Court has agreed to hear both cases next week.

Keel knocked Holcomb, the incumbent, out of the race by successfully questioning the validity of signatures on the petition that accompanied the judge's election filing. After those names were struck, Holcomb didn't have the required number of signatures and lower courts took him off the ballot. The high court initially went along with that ruling, but pulled the case back and decided to hear arguments. Then Keel questioned Francis' filing, saying the Dallas Republican hadn't noted which seat on the court he was seeking in all of the places on the application where that was supposed to be noted. If the Supremes leave it be, Keel will be unopposed in the primary. If they put one or both of the other candidates back on the ballot, there'll be a little something extra to talk about in the March primaries.

• Put former Webb County Judge Mercurio Martinez Jr. back on the ballot. He'll run against Rep. Richard Raymond, also of Laredo, in the Democratic primary. Raymond announced for Congress in a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Martinez declared his candidacy. But when Raymond backed out of the federal race, Martinez stayed in the state race. Raymond challenged his application, saying he'd filled it out incorrectly by not properly listing HD-42 as the district. But a state district judge ruled that Martinez is eligible and ought to be listed as a Democratic primary candidate. That makes four. In addition to Martinez and Raymond, Sergio Mora and Jose "Rudy" Ochoa, both of them from Laredo, want the nomination.

• Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, will stay on the ballot. The notarization on his application for office didn't specify the district he was running in, and a staffer to Flores says they've been assured by the Secretary of State's office that he's okay and will be on the ballot.

David Kleimann won a TRO a week ago putting him back on the ballot; now the judge in that case has gone the rest of the way, ordering the GOP to put his name before Republican voters in March. Kleimann is one of four candidates looking to succeed Todd Staples, R-Palestine, in the Texas Senate. He was on the board of a local groundwater district that reimburses members for expenses, and state party leaders took him off the ballot for it. They contended his was a "lucrative position" under the law that protects state legislators from competition from local officeholders who are compensated for their work. A ruling in the other direction could have been bad news for Brandon Creighton, a Republican running for a Texas House seat now held by Ruben Hope Jr., R-Conroe. Creighton was one of Kleimann's colleagues on that water board.

A Biennial Redistribution of Wealth

If money is the mother's milk of politics, Democrats at the top of the Texas ballot are the runts of the litter. The two Democrats running for governor — Chris Bell and Bob Gammage — came in fourth and fifth in fundraising during the last six months of 2005. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, was in front, and two candidates trying to get on the ballot as independents — Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Richard "Kinky" Friedman — came in second and third.

Perry, who faces three non-famous Republicans in the March primary, won't have any urgent need for money until later in the year. Strayhorn and Friedman need 45,540 signatures each to get on the ballot, and will have to gather them from registered voters after the primaries and runoffs are over and before May 12. They need to finance that.

And Bell and Gammage walk into the March Democratic primary without much money and without much celebrity. Bell was a congressman and city councilman from Houston but hasn't run statewide before and isn't widely known outside of political circles in Texas. Gammage held a number of state and federal offices, including statewide positions in the courts. But he hasn't been on the ballot since 1990. In political terms, that's three presidents and four governors ago.

Toss in a rule of thumb — a week of significant television advertising time in Texas costs at least $500,000 — and you see the obstacles.

• Perry raised $4,665,778, spent $1,766,780, and ended with $11,530,875 in the bank. Perry got a $100,000 contribution from Alice Walton of Mineral Wells, and $50,000 each from ACC Capital Holdings PAC, Texas DENPAC (dentists), Big City Capital LLC (gambling), Robert Gillikin of Dallas, and John Speer of Houston. James Pitcock (contractor) gave $35,000. Johnny Baker, a real estate investor in Houston, gave 33,333, and Perry got $30,000 each from HOMEPAC (builders) and Houston restaurateur Tilman Fertitta. The governor got 34 donations of $25,000.

• Strayhorn raised $2,429,916, spent $1,258,238, and ended with $8,118,673 in the bank. She got $100,000 each from George Ryan, a Dallas tax consultant, his firm's political action committee, Dallas dentist Dr. David Alameel, and lawyers Walter Umphrey of Beaumont and John Eddy Williams of Houston. Four of Ryan & Co's. executives each gave $50,000, bringing the total from that gang to $400,000 in the last six months of 2005. Strayhorn got $75,000 from Coastal Development LLC. She received $50,000 contributions from attorneys Mike Gallagher and Mark Lanier of Houston. She got $30,000 from Terry Gilmore, a San Marcos investor. Thirteen more contributors each gave $25,000. Strayhorn's report is sprinkled with people who ordinarily show up in the Democratic column. A few examples: Bernard Rapoport of Waco gave $5,000. Greg LaMantia of L&F Distributors in McAllen let her fly around in his plane. Ben Barnes gave $10,000.

• Friedman raised $1,517,999, spent $1,059,186, and ended with $271,340 in the bank. He also had $110,000 in outstanding loans. His big giver was John McCall of Spicewood, in for $250,000.

• Bell raised $356,422, spent $195,052, and ended with $165,444 on hand. Robert Turner, a real estate funds manager, gave $52,500. Robert Ayres, retired, Austin, gave $12,500. Stephen Sellers, head of a Houston investment, gave $10,000. Dr. Andrew Kant of Houston gave $9,500.

• Gammage raised $67,109, spent $11,723, and ended with $52,940 in the bank. He had $2,964 in loans. His contributors included Arthur Gochman, retired, of Katy, who gave $50,000, and attorney and former state Sen. Ted Lyons of Dallas, who loaned him a plane.

Political Notes

• Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston, endorsed Rep. Peggy Hamric to succeed him, saying she would be the first female Republican from Harris County to win a spot in the state Legislature's upper chamber. Lindsay, who was Harris County judge for 20 years before coming to the Senate in 1997, had said he wouldn't name a favorite in the contest to succeed him. Hamric and three men — city council member Mark Ellis, Rep. Joe Nixon, and radio personality Dan Patrick — all want the job. For Lindsay, Hamric is "clearly the best candidate." Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, endorsed Dan Patrick in that race. She says that's the first time she's endorsed a Republican in a contested primary for the Legislature.

• You'll usually see Texas Labor making political decisions and such early in the year, but the AFL-CIO's COPE convention this year is in May. That means the biggest worker organization in the state will be making decisions about endorsements while lawmakers are in town — and after it's clear whether two independent candidates can get on the gubernatorial ballot. The executive committee has heard from four candidates — Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who's running as an independent, and Democrats Felix Alvarado, Chris Bell, and Bob Gammage. A spokesman says they didn't make any decisions after those sessions last week. One rumor came out of those sessions: Did Strayhorn promise to stop calling herself a Republican? A spokesman says no, but adds that her latest commercials don't identify her as a Republican. Her first commercials said she was a Republican running as an independent. Now, she's an "independent Texan."

• The Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth endorsed U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo — the first Democrat ever endorsed by that outfit. Their stated goals (from the "about the club" section on their website): Making the Bush tax cuts permanent, death tax repeal, cutting and limiting government spending, social Security reform with personal retirement accounts, expanding free trade, legal reform to end abusive lawsuits, replacing the current tax code, school choice, and regulatory reform and deregulation. Cuellar is in a rematch with former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio. That endorsement might be as useful to Rodriguez as Cuellar; he's been accusing Cuellar of being closer to Republicans than the district's voters.

• HD-106, where Ray Allen has resigned to make way for a special election, is a Republican district, at least on paper. Allen beat back a challenge from Democrat Katy Hubener in 2004, getting 52.6 percent of the vote. Republicans will tell you he was a weakened candidate that year and that a normal Republican would do better; Democrats will say having George W. Bush at the top of the ballot boosted him and that the absence will hurt the next guy. Other Republicans on the ticket did better than Allen did, getting 55 percent (Judge Mike Keasler) to 59.4 percent (the aforementioned president). The Democrats are calling it a possible swing district, but it's not as close as the seat opened by Todd Baxter's resignation in Austin. Baxter won by less than 150 votes, and Bush got only 53 percent against John Kerry.

• Bob Reeves, in four-way race for state Senate in SD-3, says he won't accept state health insurance benefits if he's elected until Texas teachers get as good a deal on it as state legislators get. He also wants to increase the state's contribution to the Teacher Retirement System.

• If you didn't get to the Texas Public Policy Foundation's conference in Austin, and either wanted to go or found out you missed something, you can listen to some of the speakers and panels on their website. They've posted the talks by House Speaker Tom Craddick, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, tax reformer John Sharp, and others and plan to put up digital audio files of other sessions in the next few days. Their website is www.texaspolicy.com. Click on "Multimedia."


All Together Now: Endorsements

The Texas Public Employees Association's PAC endorsed Frank Denton of Conroe in the four-way race for state Senate in SD-3. The group says there are 20,000 state employees in that district, working in prisons, a state school, a state hospital and elsewhere.

• The Texas Farm Bureau took the first step toward endorsing Jimmy Don Aycock, R-Killeen, in the HD-54 race to succeed Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas. He got a unanimous vote from the local farm bureau folks, and that goes to the bureau's PAC board for a last look.

• The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC endorsed Republican Don Willett for Texas Supreme Court. He's a Perry appointee up for election for the first time, and faces former Justice Steven Wayne Smith in the March primary.

• Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels, got an endorsement from House Speaker Tom Craddick, even though the two were on opposite sides of several hard-fought education votes. She's got a March challenger.

• Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, won endorsements from GOP colleagues in that area, including Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. John Smithee of Amarillo, and Warren Chisum of Pampa.

The Man in the Black Hat

House Democrats — chasing reporting done by the Houston Chronicle — say the state should fire the lobsters it hired to help the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations in Washington, D.C. Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, complained of their ties to U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and said the money the state is spending on lobbyists could be put to better use anyway.

Texas hired Drew Maloney — a lobbyist who used to be DeLay's chief of staff — and Todd Boulanger — a former colleague of Abramoff's. That hiring is done by a panel that includes Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick; Dewhurst and Craddick told the paper the decision about who to hire was Perry's. And Craddick got a chance to repeat his opposition to hiring outside lobbyists. (In a semi-related circumstance, he and others have been critical of lobbyists for schools and cities and counties who are paid with taxpayer money to work local issues — including a battle against capping local tax streams — in Austin.)

Dunnam called attention to Maloney's political contributions and said the lobbyist was a pipeline moving state tax money into Republican political accounts. When he was hired, his contributions to Republican congressional committees jumped from almost nothing to $75,000. Republicans dismissed the attacks as partisan. Dunnam called on Perry to kill the contracts with the outside lobsters.

Political People and Their Moves

Anthony Sadberry, a former member of the Texas Lottery Commission, is the agency's new acting executive director. The board didn't name him the permanent guy, but also didn't put term limits on him. Sadberry was appointed to the commission in 1993 by then-Gov. Ann Richards, and stuck around until 2001. Gary Grief, who's been filling in as ED, will return to his deputy ED job. Sadberry replaces Reagan Greer, who left after the agency got caught falsely inflating jackpots.

Ashley Smith is leaving his post at the University of Texas System for a new job with Houston-based Stewart Information Services Corp. Smith, a former Republican House member from Houston, has been the UT System's vice chancellor for governmental relations and policy — he's their point guy on state government — for three years. He's returning to Houston to be executive vice president and general counsel of Stewart and its better-known subsidiaries, Stewart Title Guaranty Co. and Stewart Title Co. Smith has been commuting between Houston — where his wife lives and works — and Austin, where his UT desk is, for the whole time he's had the current job. Officials with the UT System say no decision has been made about either the interim or the permanent replacement for Smith. Steven Collins, who was Texas House's parliamentarian and the head of the Texas Legislative Council, is Smith's number two.

Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, will join the Texas Sunset Commission. House Speaker Tom Craddick named him to the spot held by Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy. Hegar's running for state Senate, and Craddick's announcement said he gave up the sunset spot to concentrate on that election.

Gov. Rick Perry named Charles Lewis Jackson of Houston, Tom Mechler of Claude, and Leopoldo Vasquez III of Houston to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. Jackson is pastor at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. Mechler is an engineer and president of Makar Production Co. Vasquez is CFO of Cadeco Industries, a coffee-processing firm.

Perry's former general counsel, Bill Jones, is moving to Vinson & Elkins from his current perch at Locke Liddell. V&E is adding to its administrative law and lobby teams and he'll work there. Jones is currently vice chairman of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. V&E also announced an "alliance" with the Texas Capitol Group, cooperating on some accounts.

Billy Moore, Rob Norcross, and Mike Shannon are joining ViaNovo — the public affairs consulting firm started last year by refugees from Public Strategies Inc. Moore and Shannon, in fact, are leaving PSI for the new gig. Moore will remain in Washington, D.C. Norcross will open a Dallas office for the firm, and Shannon, who worked on the both Bush-Cheney campaigns and also in the White House, will work out of the Austin office.

The directors at Equality Texas (formerly the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas) hired Paul Scott as their new executive director. Scott has been the head of the Resource Center of Dallas for the past three years. He'll be on board in March.

Dya Campos is leaving Austin-Based Hillco Partners to be the new director of public affairs for HEB Grocery in San Antonio.

Department of Corrections: Will Holford, who got a promotion at the comptroller's office (special assistant for communications), spells his first name with two Ls and not just one, like we had it last week. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry, talking about the competition in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "There's a lot of wannabes out there. They can go make all the pronouncements they want. I reserve the right to ignore them until they've proven they can get on the ballot"

U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois, quoted in The New York Times on the president's picks for the Supreme Court: "George Bush won the election. If you don't like it, you better win elections."

Ben Z. Grant, a Democrat challenging David Dewhurst for the lieutenant governor's job, on the Republican's personal wealth, in The Dallas Morning News: "My opponent has enough money to burn a wet mule."

Republican consultant Royal Masset, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News in response to a report that trial lawyers are playing in GOP politics: "Everyone is trying to infiltrate the Republican Party, because we are Texas politics. Teachers should be trying, everyone's going to be trying, because we are the only act in town."

Gov. Rick Perry, quoted by the Austin American-Statesman, in response to hoots from a Midland crowd after he told them was glad to be in Abilene to start his campaign: "Excuse me. Only missed it by about 150 miles."

An all-purpose disclaimer cut-and-pasted from a Dave Kleimann press release: "These measures were necessary due to an erroneous claim, based on inaccurate facts, and irrational actions."


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 28, 23 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 info@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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