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Headhunters, A Side

Never shoot a bear unless you're sure to kill it. If it lives, it might eat you. Dr. James Leininger and a political action committee he's funding (very, very generously) are on the hunt for five of the Republicans who broke ranks to vote against publicly funded vouchers for private schools. If they win, they'll scare the liquids out of legislators who defy them. If they lose, though, the lesson will be that it's safe to oppose them. Plus, there'll be all those bears walking around.

Never shoot a bear unless you're sure to kill it. If it lives, it might eat you. Dr. James Leininger and a political action committee he's funding (very, very generously) are on the hunt for five of the Republicans who broke ranks to vote against publicly funded vouchers for private schools. If they win, they'll scare the liquids out of legislators who defy them. If they lose, though, the lesson will be that it's safe to oppose them. Plus, there'll be all those bears walking around.

Bill Crocker of Austin, one of two Republican national committee members, announced the first five "liberal Republican" incumbents on his political action committee's hit list. And a couple of days later, the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee filed campaign reports showing Leininger has pumped $750,000 into those contests. TRLCC likes Mark Williams of Longview in HD-7, Wayne Christian of Center in HD-9, Nathan Macias of Bulverde in HD-73, Van Wilson of Lubbock in HD-83, and Chris Hatley of Fort Worth in HD-99. Their GOP primary targets, respectively: Reps. Tommy Merritt of Longview, Roy Blake Jr. of Nacogdoches, Carter Casteel of New Braunfels, Delwin Jones of Lubbock, and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth. Christian is a former state rep; the other challengers are new to the game.

Crocker, backed by Leininger, started TRLCC "in response to growing frustration among grassroots activists over how a handful of liberal Republicans in the Legislature have abandoned conservative principles..."

The targeted incumbents were among a baker's dozen of Republicans who broke partisan ranks to vote against voucher provisions in an education bill. Casteel and Geren led two successful charges on those provisions, defying House Speaker Tom Craddick and also Leininger, a prominent Republican financier and voucher advocate who was there to try to lobby that legislation into law. Leininger provided $50,000 in seed money for Crocker's PAC; he was the only substantial contributor listed in the first campaign finance reports filed by the group, giving $50,000 of the $50,100 in the group's first report. We thought that was interesting enough to scribble about, but in the group's new report, Leininger put up big bucks for the cause. He contributed $500,000 more and pledged another $250,000.

This funding, mainly because of its size, is an issue in some races. Casteelsent out notices to reporters just to make sure they know more than 90 percent of the money raised by her challenger, Macias, came either from Leininger himself, a family member, or from the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee he's backing. And across the state, after former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, raised the issue in a speech, Leininger's help for Wilson, made a splash in the Lubbock paper. Jones is the TRLCC target there. So far, the blasts have more to do with the scads of out of town money than with Leininger himself, though there's no doubt that he, along with Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, are the favorite piñatas of Democrats in legislative races. Texas Republicans use big trial lawyers for the same purpose.

Headhunters, B Side

The Texas Parent PAC is pushing a mixed slate featuring more Republicans than Democrats, but they're also trying to take out a number of incumbents. And they have significantly less money on the table than their counterparts at the TRLCC.

The Parent PAC endorsed Wade Gent, who's challenging Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, in next month's GOP primary in HD-4. And though there is no official endorsement, campaign finance reports indicate they'll back Diane Patrick, who's challenging House Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, in HD-94. They're also behind Vicky Rudy, Jimmie Don Aycock, Anne Lakusta, Charlie Williams, Thomas Latham. And the PAC previously endorsed Anette Carlisle in Amarillo, Delwin Jones in Lubbock, and Donna Howard in Austin.

Some of those candidates are after open seats: Vicky Rudy is one of three Republicans who want to replace Ruben Hope, R-Conroe, in HD-16. Aycock is one of four who wants to replace Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, who's not seeking reelection in HD-54. Lakusta wants to replace Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, and is one of five candidates in the HD-63 primary. Carlisle wants to upset David Swinford, R-Dumas, in HD-87. Howard faces Republican Ben Bentzin in a special election next week in Austin's HD-48.

And some are after incumbents. Williams is challenging Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, in HD-62. Latham is running against Rep. Elvira Reyna, R-Mesquite, in HD-101.

Jones is, so far, the only incumbent the group is publicly supporting. He faces two challengers next month, one of whom is getting some of that Leininger dough.

In the Senate, the Parent PAC made has made only one public endorsement, choosing Bob Reeves from the four-candidate field of Republicans who want to replace Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. Here's a taste of what they're saying in these endorsements, from the Reeves release: the group cited his 16 years on Center's school board, his opposition to consolidation and vouchers and his support for state-funded health insurance for teachers. A bit of boilerplate from their endorsements describes their candidates as "women and men of integrity, open and responsive to parents, actively involved in their communities, and committed to investing in public education to achieve economic prosperity in Texas."

Their biggest contribution so far was $20,000 from Charles Butt, CEO of San Antonio's HEB Grocery Co. Other contributors of interest: Rep. Bob Griggs, R-North Richland Hills, a former school superintendent who's leaving the Lege but pushing other educators to run, former Texas Education Commissioner Mike Moses of Dallas, former legislator and U.S. Ambassador Lyndon Olson Jr., whose brother Charles Olson, is on the PAC's board, and former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.

Carolyn Boyle of Austin, who helped found the PAC last year to support education candidates, said they'll remain strictly bipartisan. She's said previously they want to raise $250,000 for candidates during the current cycle. So far, they've raised $61,956 and spent $21,438.

In Closing

The runoff candidates in the special election to replace Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, have been considerate enough in public appearances, but both campaigns have the meat hooks swinging in the final week.

The runoff between Republican Ben Bentzin and Democrat Donna Howard is on Valentine's Day. Bentzin was ahead in the first round in early voting but got smoked on Election Day and is trying to flip a 20-point deficit. Ugly mail is in the air and both camps have been hitting doorbells and phones hard. They're also hurling accusations and mail.

Republicans: As a school board president, she voted to spend money on development of a second high school after voters had turned it down. Her camp says six of the seven board members voted on that spending and that it remains a good idea.

Democrats: He built two houses and undervalued them when reporting their worth to local tax authorities. His camp: The property appraisal district accepted the values, and nothing illegal took place. They also contend he "hid" dealings with a political consultant who's been indicted on campaign finance charges an earlier race for Senate. Bentzin's camp says John Colyandro was a subcontractor to a campaign printer and that they weren't hiding anything.

Also: Bentzin picked up an endorsement from EMPACT, the Texas Public Employees Association's political action committee. They claim more than 10,000 current and former state employees reside in that district. Only 13,556 people voted in the first round of that special election and a fraction of the state employees could determine the outcome of the Valentine's Day runoff between Bentzin and Howard, if they turned out. The Texas Academy of Family Physicians is backing Howard in that contest. She's got time as a critical care nurse on her resume and they think she'll be better on health care issues.

Political Numerology

Get to the top rung of state politics and you'll get to argue about... math. Gov. Rick Perry and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn are bickering over how much money the state has on hand and which of them is better at juggling the state's accounts.

It's the same old fight they've been having for the last couple of years, but it's a break with the strategy Perry has been pursuing lately; his standard line to reporters asking about his gubernatorial rival has been dismissal. He's been saying he'll wait and see whether she gets on the ballot as an independent. That's the same brush-off he gives when asked about Kinky Friedman.

But Strayhorn will be collecting signatures for that effort while Perry is trying to get the Legislature to come together on a tax bill needed for school finance. The only state finance numbers that have any legal weight are the comptroller's. But Perry and a fair number of legislators think politics have infected her financial forecasts, and he's positioning himself for a battle during the special session that could extend through the elections in November.

He and his aides hit her from two sides. Perry went to the Texas Association of Business with a time-tested canard, saying she's sitting on $3 billion in uncollected bills and that she ought to "do her job" and bring that money in. It got applause from the audience, but don't count the take; the state's uncollectibles go from the comptroller to the attorney general for legal action and the lion's share never comes in. The taxpayers in question have names you'll find on bankruptcy and out-of-business rolls, and some are scammers. But it makes for good politics if you ever find yourself running against an incumbent comptroller or attorney general.

The breakdowns, for the curious: $1.2 billion in judgments, where there are court orders against taxpayers, $335 million in bankruptcies, and $325 million in "certifications," or accounts that have been handed over to the AG from the comptroller but aren't in the judgment stack. All of that — $1.8 billion — is still classified as "collectible." Another $779 million is in the state's "Uncollectible taxpayers" bin. That last category doesn't include any judgments, which apparently stay on the books for years and years and years even if the comptroller and the AG are sure there's no way to collect. A business would write them off.

Strayhorn, meanwhile, said the state has $4.3 billion that's available to the Legislature. Some of it — $1.8 billion — was set aside by lawmakers to cover the costs of education bills they never could pass. That's dedicated to education, but they can stick to that or change plans if they want. Another $473 million was appropriated but has gone unspent. That piece could be spent either by the full Legislature or by the ten-member Legislative Budget Board, which has been sitting on projects like a pharmacy school in Kingsville and a medical branch in El Paso.

Another $1.2 billion was already reported by the comptroller — that money came from revenue growth above what she had predicted. And Strayhorn added another $800 million she attributed to "growth in general revenue account balances."

Perry accused Strayhorn of coming in late with the final number, the $4.3 billion. And when it was finally in hand, his press secretary said the new $800 million — added after Strayhorn issued a year-end number in September and a year-end report in November — proved she can't count. Strayhorn's office responded with its own press release, also quoting someone other than the officeholder/candidate — saying the $800 million became clear only as the number-crunchers went over balances in year-end accounts from all the state agencies.

The policy part? Legislators have $4.3 billion available for school finance — or whatever else they want to buy — before they do anything with a tax bill. If they remain on track to raise $6 billion in state taxes to pay for a reduction of that size in local property taxes, they'll still have money for higher education spending. Or they could give it back to taxpayers, as Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman have suggested. Or they could save it for the next budget, which they'll be writing at this time next year. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, suggested they use it for property tax relief to lower the size of the state tax bill Perry's been working on. That would take care of the first year's cut, but nothing after that.

You Can Only Eat What's on Your Plate

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry have different ideas about what the Legislature ought to do during a special session, but Perry's the guy controlling the agenda.

While Dewhurst told the Texas Association of Business that education reform ought to be part of the puzzle, Perry told the same group 24 hours later that he wants lawmakers to focus on changes to school finance to make it constitutional in the eyes of the Texas Supreme Court.

House Speaker Tom Craddick has said he'd like to see education reforms, too, but has left open the question of whether that should happen in a spring special session or in next year's regular legislative session. Perry took the same tone, sort of, telling the bidness people in a luncheon speech that it "remains to be seen" whether education reform could be taken on this year. They'll start, he said, with the money.

Dewhurst Taketh Away

Keep in mind that the new committee assignments in the Texas Senate are only good until next January or so, when the Legislature comes back for its regular session.

That's not much consolation to Sens. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, and Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, who got busted by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

The Lite Guv took the chairmanship of administration away from Harris and put Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth in that slot. That's been brewing since Harris got caught trying to sneak three pet bills out of the Senate that hadn't been posted on the local calendar. Shapleigh lost his post on Finance, a bust most off-track bettors attributed to the Democrat's endorsement of Carlos Uresti's challenge to sitting Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, got the Transportation Committee. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, will head Natural Resources, and Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, will head Nominations.

Matters of Size

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had $7,817,347 in the bank at the end of the year. Barbara Ann Radnofsky, who's after the Democratic nomination to challenger Hutchison, had $425,724. Democrat Gene Kelly's report isn't online at the Federal Elections Commission, but Democrat Darrel Reece Hunter had $277 on hand at year-end.

In CD-17, the two Republicans who want a piece of U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, R-Waco, are mismatched financially. Van Taylor (on the reports, he's Nicholas Vancampen Taylor), had 628,698 at year-end to Tucker Anderson's $66,391. Taylor also had a $325,000 loan outstanding. Edwards, with a free shot until November, had $915,010 in the bank.

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, got to the end of the year with $1,445,433 on hand to defend his seat in CD-22. Democrat Nick Lampson, who's challenging, had $1,291,554. DeLay has three Republican challengers; the nearest in money is Thomas Campbell, who had only $53,380 on hand at the end of 2005.

The other hot Texas race, in CD-28, is also uneven. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, had $290,833 on hand (including $215,385 in loans outstanding), while Ciro Rodriguez had $43,070. Since then, things have improved a bit for the challenger. If the Rodriguez campaign is on the level, a picture is worth about $80,000 in addition to the standard 1,000 words. On the night of the State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush and Cuellar were photographed with Bush holding Cuellar's beaming face in both hands. It's been a popular "caption this picture" item on the Internet, and Rodriguez says bloggers and partisans have turned it into a fresh attack on Cuellar for being too close to Republicans. That, his campaign says, has generated $80,000 in contributions.

Political Notes

House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, will headline a rally for Rep. Carter Casteel next Thursday in New Braunfels. Casteel, who broke ranks on a handful of votes dear to Craddick and other Republican poobahs, has nevertheless got his support and endorsements from all of the state senators and congressmen whose districts overlap her House district (and some others).

• Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso, got the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He's being challenged by Lorraine O'Donnell, some of whose financing comes from prominent El Pasoans who gave Hutchison a chilly reception last year when she was talking about a challenge to Gov. Rick Perry.

• The Texas State Teacher Association endorsed Katy Hubener in the special election to replace Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie. She'll face Republican Kirk England and Libertarian Gene Freeman on February 28. The Dallas Morning News ended its special election endorsement of Hubener with a line worthy of a car salesman, noting the regular elections are still ahead: "Besides, if voters don't like how Ms. Hubener performs in Austin during the special session, they'll have a chance to toss her out in November."

Kevin Christian got CLEAT's endorsement (Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas) in the four-way GOP primary to replace Rep. Bob Hunter, R-Abilene, in HD-71.

• Don Willett, appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry, picked up some endorsements in his GOP primary race against former Justice Steve Smith. The Texas Association of Builders HomePAC, the Texas Farm Bureau's AGFUND PAC, and the Texas Dental Association's DENPAC all favor Willett in the race.

• Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, picked up the endorsement of the Texas Association of Realtors. He's got a primary challenger, Tim McCallum of Rockwall.

• Four Republicans who considered and then decided not to run in HD-47 endorsed Bill Welch in the Republican primary. That's an open seat — Terry Keel is leaving the House to run for a judgeship — and Welch is one of five Republicans in the hunt. It's an odd announcement to make, but with that many people on the ballot, anything could help. The winner of the GOP's nomination will face one of four Democrats who are after that party's slot on the ballot. Welch also picked up the support of the PACs of the Texas Association of Realtors and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers.

Brian Keith Walker hit the Trifecta, with nods from Cathie Adams, head of the Texas Eagle Forum, The Texas Home School Coalition PAC, and the Young Conservatives of Texas (Adams' endorsement is personal; not from TEF). He's one of three Republicans seeking a chance at Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville.

Karen Felthauser, a Democrat running against Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Austin, is financing her campaign with a Valentine's Day "Love Feast" for couples that want to eat shrimp, stare lovingly into each others' eyes and support Felthauser's campaign. They're offering flowers, Shrimp Creole for two, and a place on the candidate's C&E report for $40.

Isett Deployed

Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, will join the troops in Iraq in the next few weeks. Isett, a Navy Reservist, will be the executive officer for a new battalion of the Navy's Expeditionary Logistics Support Group that'll be deployed in Iraq and Kuwait.

Isett didn't immediately name someone to represent the district if he's gone during a special legislative session this spring. He and his wife have an accounting business and seven children; she might be fully employed, but other legislators have named their spouses to temporarily fill in. Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, is a Marine Reservist recently called up, named his wife, Valerie Corte, to act in his absence. And Melissa Noriega filled in for her husband, Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, when he was deployed by the U.S. Army (he's in the National Guard) to Afghanistan during last year's regular session.

Political People and Their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry named Dale Kimble, CEO of DATCU Credit Union in Denton, to the board that regulates that and similar institutions. The Texas Credit Union Commission oversees the department of the same name and, by statute, counts several credit union execs in its number.

Sheila Bailey Taylor will continue as the chief administrative law judge at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. She's been in that post since 1996, and Perry appointed her to another year in that post.

The Guv appointed Jesse Coffey of Denton to the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation; it oversees housing for low income Texans. He's a former banker and the retired owner of Coffey Development.

Elsie Allen of Fort Worth is the newest appointee to the Texas Board of Professional Engineers. She's a former cop who's now a background investigator for DynCorp, a government and military contractor.

Gov. Perry named four people to the state's Health and Human Services Council. One is new: Fernando Treviño of Southlake, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center. Three are being reappointed to fresh terms on the board that sets policies and rules for the HHS Commission. They are Kathleen Angel of Austin, a Dell executive; Robert Valadez, a San Antonio attorney; and Maryann Choi of Georgetown, CEO of SunStar Geriatric Healthcare, medical director of Trisun Nursing homes and an assistant prof at Texas A&M University's College of Medicine.

Add four names to the Texas Economic Development Commission's masthead: Paul Foster of El Paso, CEO of Western Refining; Alfred Jones of Corpus Christi, CEO of American Bank; Nicholas Serafy Jr. of Brownsville, CEO of Proficiency Testing Service, Inc.; and Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace.

Michael Brimberry is the new president of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, which licenses druggists and their businesses. He's an Austin pharmacist with the Seton Healthcare Network.

Perry named Patrick Gordon of El Paso, an attorney, to the Rio Grande Compact Commission that negotiates water rights between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

The state board that regulates manufactured housing has a new member: Carlos Amaral of Plano, CEO of Sequoia Network Services.

Add some newbies to the Texas Commission on the Arts: Victoria Lightman of Houston, who'll be the panel's presiding officer, runs an art education and appreciation program; Patty Bryant of Amarillo, owner of a communications company; David Garza of Brownsville, an attorney; Billye Proctor Shaw of Abilene, chairman of Big Tex Crude Oil Co.; Polly Sowell of Austin, a former staff in Perry's appointments office; and Norma Webb, a Midland artist.

Frederick Ross Fischer of Kendalia, an attorney for the State Bar of Texas, and James David Montagne of Orange, assistant general manager of the Sabine River Authority, will stay on the Texas Ethics Commission. Perry reappointed them.

One of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's Texas regulars, Kevin Cooper, is going out on his own into the lobby world (in Austin). His replacement as Austin regional director is Carl Mica, who was on her scheduling staff.

Brandon Aghamalian moves from the City of Fort Worth, where he was an "intergovernmental relations" person, to Hillco Partners in Austin, where they call that lobbying.

Deaths: Ronald Edd Roberts, a retired political science professor at Lee College and former Texas House member. He was 71.

Quotes of the Week

Larry Briggs, a chemical plant operator, talking about Kinky Friedman the The Baytown Sun: "I like the idea that he's not going to have to kiss anybody's butt once he gets in office."

Rep. Charlie Howard, telling Fort Bend Now why he laid out a proposal for an "adjusted receipts tax" at a candidate's forum without telling the audience he'd learned about it in conversations with Gov. Rick Perry and former Comptroller John Sharp, who's heading the tax reform panel: "I didn’t want to show off."

Gov. Rick Perry, on the agenda for an upcoming special session on school finance: "Do we have to eat this pie at one sitting? I think the answer is no. We can eat it one slice at a time and enjoy it and actually keep it down."

Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, talking to a dinner group on a web video being distributed by his Democratic challenger, Rep. Carlos Uresti: "When I get to the state Capitol, I lock the Democratic Party in my trunk."

Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels, talking to The Dallas Morning News about a well-funded challenge from the right: "My mother would be rolling in her grave if she thought I was intimidated by someone who is trying to buy a seat."


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 32, 13 February 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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