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High Overhead

Sherry Boyles, a former statewide candidate and co-founder of a Democratic PAC that supports female candidates, left that group earlier this month to pursue other opportunities. She's leaving an organization that spent 81 percent of the money it raised in 2005, even though that was a political off year with only one election.

Sherry Boyles, a former statewide candidate and co-founder of a Democratic PAC that supports female candidates, left that group earlier this month to pursue other opportunities. She's leaving an organization that spent 81 percent of the money it raised in 2005, even though that was a political off year with only one election.

Kelly White is the new chief at Annie's List, a relatively young fundraising and political group that supports pro-choice Democrats running for state office. The group was started by Boyles, who ran unsuccessfully for Railroad Commissioner in 2002, and former Rep. Ann Kitchen, D-Austin. Kitchen and some of the original board members left in 2004, less than a year after the group's startup, and Boyles was in control until this month.

Annie's List spends more on administration and fundraising than on support for political candidates, its stated purpose. Last year — an off year with only one election — the group spent more than 80 percent of the more than $325,000 it raised. The money went to salaries and other administrative expenses ($115,376), fundraising events ($60,823), catering and other food ($29,384), travel ($23,476), printing and photography ($15,363), office expenses ($9,470), and furniture and "décor" ($8,753). Politics ranked eighth in spending: Annie's List gave $1,000 to Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, R-Alice, to help cover the costs of her election contest. And they contributed $6,000 to Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, who won a special election to replace Rep. Joe Moreno, who died in a highway accident last spring.

Boyles was paid $81,400 in consulting and management fees and bonuses and was reimbursed for over $2,600 in travel and mileage expenses. That was about 25 percent of what the PAC collected from donors last year.

The $7,000 that went to candidates was a relatively minor piece of the budget for Annie's List, and accounted for slightly more than2 percent of what the group raised from political donors. The PAC raised $325,293 in 2005, spent $270,475, and ended the year with $61,924 in the bank and with $5,000 in outstanding loans.

Boyles wasn't available for comment.

White, who's replacing Boyles, was one of the group's top candidates in 2004. She lost a very close race to Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, that year, and briefly considered running in last Tuesday's special election to replace him. Now that she's at Annie's List, the group is endorsing Donna Howard in the runoff for that HD-48 seat (against Republican Ben Bentzin). White was Howard's campaign treasurer, a position she gave up to take the job with Annie's List (Howard is now listed as the treasurer of her own campaign).

The organization had some successes in the 2004 cycle. They backed two incumbent-killers, for instance: Alma Allen, who knocked off Ron Wilson in the Democratic primary, and Veronica Gonzales, who won a contested primary against Roberto Gutierrez and others, and then won a close general election race.

White won't talk about happened before she took over, but says she wants the group to spend its time and money on candidates and on "campaign infrastructure" like training political workers and block walkers and such to help inexperienced and understaffed campaigns. Her background is in the nonprofit world, and she says she'll model Annie's List on that sector, with no more than 25 percent of what's raised going to administrative expenses (had that been the case last year, the PAC would have entered 2006 with more than $200,000 in its war chest).

They're also encouraging donors to put up at least $100 for the group and to commit to another $200 in contributions to candidates that can be made later through the organization. They'll collect checks from their donors — made out to candidates rather than the PAC — and pass them along in bundles.

White is talking to other candidates around the state and says the group will soon make some endorsements for the regular primaries.

Party Animal

Milton Rister, who has been a Republican political consultant, a state employee, a candidate for office in two counties, and a Republican Party official, is the leading candidate to take the helm at the Texas Legislative Council.

That's the state agency that drafts legislation for members of both parties and provides in-house legal services on everything from redistricting to rule interpretations. The post has been open for two years, since Steve Collins left to join the legislative staff at the University of Texas System. Collins' predecessor was Bob Kelly, who like Collins, didn't come from a background of partisan politics.

Rister ran for county office in Midland and got to know House Speaker Tom Craddick there. He moved to Austin with the Clayton Williams campaign almost 17 years ago. He was the treasurer and manager of Craddick-sponsored political action committees designed to take control of the Texas House — "76 in 96, Eight in '98" — and he was a research consultant to Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, the Free Enterprise PAC, and the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC. All of those were important in Republican efforts to win a majority in the Texas House and to elect a speaker, an effort that finally paid off after the 2002 elections, when a new GOP majority elected Craddick speaker.

Rister helped draw the political district maps used in that election, and helped again when Republicans drew congressional maps to take over the state's delegation to Washington, D.C. He worked for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst as head of Senate research — a job he left for six months in 2004 to serve as executive director of the state GOP.

Democratic legislators are antsy about the selection. Lege Council has traditionally been a keeper of secrets for legislators of both parties (that history has some holes in it, but it's generally true). And the Democrats are worried Rister won't be a neutral player. Craddick and Dewhurst have apparently agreed on the pick. But the legislators on TLC — appointed by those two — still have to vote on a director. They're scheduled to meet February 1.

Putting the Politics Back in the Mix

The traditional bit with judges running for election is that they run as candidates of political parties and they don't take positions on issues that might someday come before them. They do accept money from lawyers and parties who might have business before them, but they don't discuss those issues in public. And in some places, they've been barred from taking part in partisan or seemingly partisan activities.

The ban on talking about issues slipped a few years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court said it violated free speech. Most judicial candidates are reserved about politicking, but they're free now to talk issues, to debate political positions and, by inference, to bang on their opponents like everyone else in politics.

Now, some federal courts are knocking down restrictions on politicking. The Supremes declined to hear a case out of Minnesota, where lower federal courts struck down state laws that barred direct contributions and partisan politicking in judicial races.

Minnesota was one of 29 or 30 states — we've seen different counts from people who are supposed to know what they're doing — that was trying to prevent judges from directly soliciting campaign contributions. That'll apparently become legal again, at least in the federal appellate district that includes Minnesota; federal courts here and elsewhere are free to follow or to ignore the precedent should lawsuits be filed. Texans will be happy to note that the post-game editorials used the Lone Star State as one of the examples of judicial races run amok.

Minnesota's law prevented judges from raising money for themselves, from identifying themselves as members of political parties, and from attending partisan events, among other things. The state's Republican Party and a candidate there sued; a federal appeals court said the restrictions violated free speech protections in the First Amendment. A Texas judge can call anyone and ask for a political contribution. As it stands in Minnesota and elsewhere in the 8th U.S. Circuit, judges can be barred from one-on-one or small group solicitations. But they can solicit money by letter and in front of large groups.

In an earlier, related case that did get to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices ruled (5-4) that candidates can't be barred from stating their views on legal questions. And the issues raised in the Minnesota case could come up again, if someone sues and it winds its way up through the courts.

Disappearing Act

It's a little thing, but the two top photos in the "campaign photos" section on Ben Bentzin's website have changed.

The Republican House candidate, who faded in the closing days and almost lost the special election to succeed Todd Baxter, has edited Gov. Rick Perry off of his website. Perry made an election eve appearance on Bentzin's behalf, and political rivals made hay of it, noting the juxtaposition of Perry's appearance and Bentzin's dive at the end of the campaign (a 46-40 advantage in early voting turned to a 55-34 deficit in Election Day voting. With those results combined for a total, Democrat Donna Howard missed an outright victory by just 73 votes).

The Bentzin folks pooh-poohed talk of a Perry Effect after the election ended, blaming the turn on negative mailers from the local wing of the Democratic Party. But Perry's face is gone from www.benbentzin.com. A spokesman says the website is being revamped and that Perry quotes and such will be included in the revisions.

We got several reports of Perry emails sent on Bentzin's behalf that got stalled somewhere on the Internet before they finally landed in voters' inboxes. The vote reminders, sent around lunchtime on Election Day, landed on Sunday, five days after it was over. And they included the now unfortunate tagline: "I look forward to celebrating a tremendous victory when the polls close tonight." They've got a digital "Rick Perry" signature, and included a return address at the Guv's Internet domain.

The runoff election between Howard and Bentzin is set for Valentine's Day. Election officials held a drawing, and Howard's name will appear first on the ballot.

Pick a Name, Any Name, and Put it in a Poll

Somebody over at Zogby International — a polling company — is playing the political equivalent of fantasy football: Their work for The Wall Street Journal includes a head-to-head race between U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who ran two years ago against John Cornyn but hasn't publicly expressed any interest in, well, a couple of years. They've got her winning that one 56.4 to 33.2 in a January 19 survey with a +/- 3 percentage point margin of error. That was well after candidate filing deadlines, and they tried Hutchison against the leading Democratic opponent, Houston lawyer Barbara Ann Radnofsky. Hutchison had a 56.9-31.8 advantage in that one. They included four candidates in their gubernatorial survey and came up with Rick Perry at 38.3 percent, Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Chris Bell tied at 17.9 percent, and Kinky Friedman at 14.4 percent. They didn't include Bob Gammage, who'll face Bell in the Democratic primary.

We Now Interrupt the Elections...

Another special election is getting underway, as we noted last week. New since then is the date: Voters in Grand Prairie will replace Rep. Ray Allen, a Republican, on Feb. 28. Candidates have until the end of business on Monday (1/30) to sign up. So far, three have done so: Republican Kirk England, Libertarian Gene Freeman, and Democrat Katy Hubener. Those three are also running for a full term in Allen's job in November.

Political Notes

Retired General and former presidential candidate Wes Clark made the rounds in Texas, endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Gammage in Houston and then zipping down to Corpus Christi to endorse Juan Garcia III, a former naval aviator challenging Rep. Gene Seamon, R-Corpus Christi, in HD-32. Gammage was active in Clark's Texas campaign in 2004. Garcia served under Clark's NATO command.

• House Democrats are going every which way in the governor's race. State Rep. Garnet Coleman endorsed Chris Bell, a fellow Houston Democrat, in the gubernatorial primary. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, is flying the Gammage flag. Dunnam's the head of the House Democratic Caucus. Reps. Jose Menendez and Robert Puente of San Antonio are in the Bell camp, as is Jim Solis, D-Harlingen.

• Former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, who now lives in Bartonville, endorsed Tan Parker in the GOP primary race to succeed Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey. Bartonville is in the district.

• Supreme Court Justice Don Willett picked up endorsements from James Dobson of Focus on the Family and from the political action committees of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Civil Justice League, a tort reform group.

• The Texas Parent PAC, which bills itself as a bipartisan group formed in frustration over the school finance impasse, endorsed two candidates, including a challenger to a House committee chairman. They'll support Anette Carlisle, an Amarillo Republican running against Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee. And they'll back Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, who is being challenged by a couple of his fellow Republicans. That group is backing both Democrats and Republicans, but is generally situated on the opposite side of House leadership on public education.

Marta Mattox, bride of former congressman and Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, has gone into the water bidness. She's selling Longhorn Water — having won permission to use the UT logo — at a time when things featuring that orange bovine are kinda popular. They had a first edition bottle that's now selling on eBay. The brand is Texas Crystal and they're selling it in high-end grocery stores.

Government in Action

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who's also running for governor, says her agency will audit the state's contract with Cassidy & Associates, a Washington lobby firm. That inquiry follows charges from Texas Democrats that the state was laundering money through those lobsters to Republican committees and causes. Strayhorn said the audit will focus on the $330,000 deal between the firm and the state's Office of State-Federal Relations. Gov. Rick Perry's office has defended the contract and another like it, saying the lobbyists were able to increase the state's share of federal funds. State legislators — Democrats and Republicans — beat the comptroller by a day or two; they're also planning a review. Perry's political and government offices both issued statements with roughly the same reply to Strayhorn's announcement: She doesn't have the legal authority to do the audit.

• The attorney general's office is training cops and prosecutors in 44 counties in the finer points of voter fraud. AG Greg Abbott's efforts are aimed at 44 counties that are either big enough or historically crooked enough at election time to merit extra attention. That second group includes 18 counties with "a history of voter fraud." Abbott's office has prosecuted four cases of fraud referred to it by the Secretary of State's office. Two involved illegal possession and transport of ballots, another a candidate was collecting absentee ballots, and a fourth where a woman was voting absentee — very absentee — for her dead mother.

• The Texas Veterans Land Board voted to freeze rates at the state's six nursing homes for vets. That'll save about 600 people up to $1,500 a month, according to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. A bond restructuring is one reason rates aren't rising in those homes.

Movie of the Week: Cell phone records. Gubernatorial candidate Bob Gammage wants to outlaw the sale of cell phone records and to crack down on anyone caught doing anything illegal with those records now. Several third-party companies obtain those records from cell phone companies and sell them, though most people assume their calls are secret. A day later, Attorney General Greg Abbott launched an investigation of the practice; he says it's already illegal.

Political People and Their Moves

This is about the time in an election year when you'd see the Texas Poll hitting the field, but Scripps Howard — the news company that owns the poll — has closed its Austin news bureau and doesn't plan to do any polling right now. Officially, they're looking for alternatives for the poll, either trying to find a buyer or a partner or a business model that'll make it work.

That bureau had two reporters when it closed at the end of December; Ty Meighan says he's still looking for work in a shrinking news business, and Tim Easton has been writing for the Texas Observer. That's the old Harte-Hanks bureau; Scripps bought that company's papers a few years ago and the Austin guys were writing for newspapers in Abilene, Corpus Christi, San Angelo, and Wichita Falls. Libby Averyt, editor of the Corpus Christ Caller-Times (and a former intern in the Austin bureau that just closed), says the company decided to concentrate on local news.

Texas Tech Chancellor David Smith is leaving that post at the end of the month, and the board will start a search for a replacement. Smith headed the old Texas Department of Health before following John Montford to Lubbock; Montford, a state senator, went as chancellor, and Smith went to the medical school. Montford eventually went to SBC, and Smith moved into his spot. Among the names we've heard as possible replacements: state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, former congressman and railroad commissioner Kent Hance, former House Speaker Pete Laney, former Texas Education Commissioner Mike Moses, who was superintendent of both the Lubbock and Dallas ISDs, and former regent Bryan Newby, who is now the general counsel to the governor.

House Speaker Tom Craddick named Ike Sugg of San Angelo to the Sunset Advisory Commission, a panel that includes legislative and citizen members. Sugg's a rancher and the president of the Bar None Hunt Co.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Joe Bob Hinton of Crawford and Elaine Mendoza of San Antonio to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He's the retired president of Mobil Oil Corp. Europe. And she is president and CEO of Conceptual Mindworks and former chair of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber.

The Guv also named three people to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is supposed to help untangle the scandals that have plagued crime labs over the last several years. Austin criminal defense lawyer Sam Bassett, Debbie Lynn Benningfield of Hockley, deputy administrator in the latent lab section of the Houston Police Department, and Alan Levy of Fort Worth, chief of the criminal division for the Tarrant County District Attorney, all join that panel.

Deaths: Garth Jones, a fixture in the Texas Capitol press corps for decades, retired from the Associated Press, after a bout with pneumonia. He was 88... John Michael "Mike" Quinn Jr., who left political (and other) reporting at The Dallas Morning News and other publications behind to teach journalism at the University of Texas. He was 76.

Quotes of the Week

Bernard Rapoport of Waco, who is ignoring the Democrats and supporting independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn over Republican Rick Perry, in The Dallas Morning News: "The thing we have to worry about right now is who has a shot. And the only two people who seem to have a shot at it are Strayhorn and Perry."

State District Judge Robert Francis, quoted by the Associated Press on opponent Terry Keel'seffort to push him off the ballot for a faulty application: "It's hard to win if you're not on the ballot. If you're the only one on it, it's dang hard to lose."

Rebecca Knight, an English teacher in Bonham, talking about the state government with the Paris News: "I thought legislators would look out for me the way I look out for my students. Boy, was I wrong."

Hereford cattleman Johnny Trotter, quoted in The Wall Street Journal on plans for an ethanol operation that'll be fueled with cattle manure he's been paying to get rid of: "If you ask if I like it, sure I like it. It's like finding $350,000 in the road."


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 28, 30 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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