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Tall Cotton

Back in the middle 1980s, a Dallas savings and loan tycoon who gave a lot to Texas Democrats said it was usually better to be the second- or third-biggest political giver in any given election cycle, since the guy giving the most took the shots in the papers. But sometimes, the guy you think is giving the most money is actually in second place.

Back in the middle 1980s, a Dallas savings and loan tycoon who gave a lot to Texas Democrats said it was usually better to be the second- or third-biggest political giver in any given election cycle, since the guy giving the most took the shots in the papers. But sometimes, the guy you think is giving the most money is actually in second place.

Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio (along with his wife, Cecilia Leininger) has been taking the shots in the papers, but look over his shoulder: Homebuilder Bob Perry of Houston (along with his wife, Doylene Perry) has given $588,000 so far this year, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. And since July, when the fundraising for the current political cycle was already well underway, he's given $2.3 million. Add a little more: If you count the money the Perrys (no kin to the governor) have poured into Texas politics since the regular legislative session ended last May, you'll get $3,176,779.50. (The significance of that date: most state officeholders are barred from raising money during regular legislative sessions, and they end their six-month fast with a powerful hunger for campaign cash.) Leininger, by way of comparison, has contributed $2,897,817.89 over that same period.

Leininger's contributions this cycle have been concentrated, with $1.8 million going to the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee and another $495,000 going to the Future of Texas Alliance. The rest went to a variety of candidates and causes and committees, including $106,600 to Gov. Rick Perry, $100,000 each to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and to Texans for Marriage, $65,000 to the Texas Republican Party, and $50,000 to Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Perry has a longer list of beneficiaries, including $401,000 to Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC; $320,529 to Abbott; $210,000 to Dewhurst; $205,000 to Gov. Perry; $100,000 to Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (who's not on the ballot); $200,000 each to Ag Commissioner Susan Combs, who's running for comptroller, and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones (who is on the ballot); $195,000 to Hillco PAC; $185,000 to Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, who's running for state Senate; $150,000 to Texans for Marriage; $95,000 to the Texas Republican Party; and $80,000 to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Unlike Leininger, Perry has some Democrats on the list of people he has supported in this cycle, including Reps. Ana Hernandez of Houston, $25,000; Norma Chavez of El Paso, $10,000; Allan Ritter of Nederland, $7,000; Harold Dutton of Houston, $1,000; Ismael "Kino" Flores of Palmview; Armando "Mando" Martinez of Weslaco, $1,000; Jose Menendez of San Antonio, $1,000; Sylvester Turner of Houston, $15,000; Mike Villarreal of San Antonio, $1,000; Sens. Rodney Ellis of Houston, $12,500; Frank Madla of San Antonio; Mario Gallegos of Houston, $11,000; Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen, $2,500; Eddie Lucio Jr., $15,000; Eddie Lucio III (running for the House), $10,000; and John Whitmire of Houston, $20,000.

The two big donors aren't always on the same side. Leininger is the money behind Wayne Christian's effort to regain his old House seat against Roy Blake Jr.; Perry's with Blake. But Leininger has four other Republican primary races (in particular) in his gunsights, and Perry's with him in three of those, supporting Van Wilson against Rep. Delwin Jones in Lubbock; Mark Williams against Rep. Tommy Merritt in Longview; and Chris Hatley against Charlie Geren in Fort Worth.

Candidates Say the Darndest Things

Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, is in the last week of the toughest race of his political life, and he sounds remarkably like a man who has taken himself hostage. "We will pass legislation to fix school finance this spring or I’ll resign," he told a group in Arlington, and then repeated for us and other newsies in a press release.

His own announcement calls that "a rare and bold move," and he says the Texas Supreme Court's ruling on the case — which wasn't available to lawmakers who failed to solve the puzzle last year — will make the difference. His whole quote: “For the last 19 years, I have dedicated my career to improving the lives of Texas children and today I am reaffirming my commitment and resolve to get the job done. “I am confident in my ability and the ability of the Republican leadership in the House and Senate to find common sense solutions, build on the bipartisan Sharp Commission’s recommendations, and send a bill to Governor Perry he can sign with pride.”

Play out the possibilities, just for sport: The winner of next week's HD-94 Republican primary between Grusendorf and Diane Patrick will face Democrat David Pillow in November. That's a Republican district, but if Grusendorf's the winner and school finance doesn't fly, Pillow could win the political lottery.

• Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, is spending at least as much time running against one opponent's financiers than against the opponent. And he's gone negative on the money man, in a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Dr. [James] Leininger is a desperate old man, a rich old man, who wants to buy his way. He wants people to whore for him, and I won't do it. District 99 is not for sale. I think next week, the voters will show Dr. Leininger that."

Geren happily repeated the line a few days later, when he learned that several Republican colleagues in the House — Linda Harper-Brown of Irving, Bill Keffer of Dallas, Jodie Laubenberg of Parker Bill Zedler of Arlington, and Mary Denny of Denton — were endorsing Hatley. "I'd a whole lot rather have the endorsements of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Tom Craddick, [former Lt. Gov.] Bill Ratliff, [Sens.] Chris Harris and Kim Brimer than a bunch of sophomores... and Mary Denny, who's not even running again." He singled out Zedler who, according to Geren, had said he wasn't getting involved in Hatley's race: "He's lying just like they are." As for Leininger, Geren said, "he's just digging himself a hole."

Van Taylor, a veteran who wants the GOP nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, took the gloves off after his opponent, Tucker Anderson, sent out mail pieces quoting a woman who said Taylor's long-windedness reminded her of a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. That, in Taylor's judgment, opened the door for negative campaigning: "When my opponent called me John Kerry, I had to defend myself. It's an affront, it's low, it's dirty and it's wrong."

It's England

Kirk England beat Democrat Katy Hubener and Libertarian Gene Freeman and will take the place of former Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie. England lost the election day voting by 151 votes, but came out of early voting with a 499-vote margin. That was plenty, and the Republican newcomer to politics is on his way to the statehouse. The three will meet in the November general election with the winner getting a full term in the House.

England pulled in 52.9 percent of the 5,274 votes cast. In percentage terms, that's close to what Allen got against Hubener two years ago, when he won 52.6 percent of 35,815 votes cast. Hubener ended up with 46.2 percent of the vote. In 2004, running in the general election against Allen, she got 47.4 percent of the vote.

Final campaign finance numbers (spending, especially) aren't in, but Hubener reported raising $110,142 for the special election and spending $81,245. England raised $147,138 and spent $91,383. Those numbers include the reports filed eight days before the election and the beginning of year reports before that, along with telegram reports on late contributions. Late spending isn't in there. But based on those numbers and the unofficial vote totals, Hubener spent $33.32 per vote, and England spent $32.77 per vote.

One oddment from the election numbers: England won 259 of the 358 early mail-in ballots. That's 72 percent. He got 58 percent of the early in-person vote. On Election Day, 47 percent.

Job Listings

Former state Rep. Glen Maxey of Austin will run for chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. He's been kicking tires up to this point, but says in a letter to supporters and potential supporters that he's decided he'll be one of the candidates at the state convention in June in Fort Worth.

Maxey, whose day job is political and policy consulting, is one of the Democratic Party's best organizers, but he hasn't been a prominent fundraiser. This is where we'd usually insert some of the arguments against him, but he did it for us (hitting on a couple of points we'd been hearing from Democrats who aren't wild about his candidacy) in his announcement letter: "I'm an openly gay man. I'm not rich. I'm not good-looking. And I hate cocktail parties."

Maxey says he'd build up county chapters of the party, bring more young people in, and fortify the Democrats' thin infrastructure in Texas.

Charles Soechting, the current chairman, won't seek reelection. At least two others have said they'll probably run: Boyd Richie of Graham, and Charlie Urbina Jones of San Antonio. They are both attorneys.

• Republicans haven't firmed up a contest for chairman yet, but Tina Benkiser, the current occupant of the Texas GOP's corner office, has said she'll seek reelection. Gina Parker of Waco, who lost to Benkiser last time, has been raising her profile, and former Dallas County GOP Chairman Nate Crain, who's been critical of the current team, is considering a challenge when the state party convenes in San Antonio, also in June.

Political Notes

Gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn is kicking sand at Secretary of State Roger Williams and talking about suing the state in a dispute over when she can start collecting signatures for her independent bid for office. Her position — verified but then retracted by a lawyer with Williams' office — is that she can start collecting signatures after the polls close on Election Day.

The folks at SOS say she can't do that until the next day. Strayhorn wanted to start grabbing signatures while party candidates are waiting to find out who won and lost.

She also wanted to punch the state — and Williams, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry — for making it difficult to get on the ballot as an independent. The laws governing this are rigged against independent candidates and have been for years. To run for governor, Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman each have to collect 45,540 signatures. The signers have to be registered voters who don't vote in the primary or in any runoffs. They have to sign a particular sort of form while a specifically qualified person watches, and the whole operation has to be done between next week and May 11. There's more to it, but you get the idea.

Williams has said it'll take his office two months to verify the signatures — making sure they're from registered voters who didn't vote — and that's getting squawks from both of the independent camps.

• Help from others: Delwin Jones gets some mileage out of TV spots featuring Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, talking on his behalf (and against outside money in the race). Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, is getting similar help from U.S. Rep. and former Fort Worth Mayor Kay Granger, who's endorsing him over Chris Hatley and Colby Brown. Tommy Merritt, another on the list of five incumbent Republicans challenged by Leininger-backed candidates, is relying on help from home. His wife appears on his commercials, decrying the ugly campaign against him. And Merritt topped it by filing a libel-and-slander suit to try to either slow his opponent's attacks or turn voters his way.

Gov. Rick Perry did some traveling a week before the election to try to boost incumbents in challenge races. He did pressers with Reps. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, Scott Campbell, R-San Angelo, Dan Flynn, R-Van, Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Lane, and Larry Phillips, R-Sherman.

• Democrat David Van Os, who's running for attorney general, plans to "filibuster for independence" for 24 hours at the state Capitol. He's invited other Democratic candidates to help him talk, starting at 6pm Friday (March 3).

• The Texas Freedom Network says the state's most active conservative PAC might be operating illegally. The group complained to state election officials that the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee has fewer than ten contributors — the minimum number required for a political action committee to operate in state elections. That PAC is funded almost entirely by Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio. He's a proponent of using public money for private school vouchers; TFN is on the other side of that fight. They've also complained that another committee — the All Children Matter PAC — didn't properly report its fundraising and spending. That PAC is spending money it never reported raising or having available to spend, as we noted here last week.

Traveling Salesman

Behind all the election noise, that business about taxes and school finance is still rumbling along, and it's not a smooth ride. There is nothing like the prospect of a tax vote in an election year to get lawmakers and taxpayers twitching.

The state has a surplus, and some lawmakers want to use that $4.3 billion as a temporary fix for school finance — a solution that would make for a short and sweet special session this spring followed by a regular session next year that starts with the need for a $6 billion tax bill.

That idea is appealing to legislators who face opponents in November because it means they wouldn't have to make any politically hazardous votes on taxes between now and then. It also would make for a quick session — and after two special sessions last summer, lawmakers don't relish the thought of a dragged-out fight in Austin.

Former Comptroller John Sharp, enlisted by the governor to come up with a state tax that would replace part of those local property taxes, is trying to keep the tax fix alive. He and Gov. Rick Perry have been visiting with small groups of legislators, and Sharp is trying to enlist the support of business groups and trade associations. We caught him at the Texas Motor Transport Association's meeting, but we've asked around, and it's pretty much the same version other groups are getting. If you listen carefully to his pitch, you can detect some of the political trouble spots that have come up in the sessions with lawmakers and tax policy types.

The state has to pay a bigger share of public school costs to lower pressure on local school property taxes, so districts can lower those rates and the Texas Supreme Court will settle down. The current rig, the court says, is unconstitutional.

Perry and other state leaders want to broaden the state's tax on businesses and to lower local property taxes by the same amount, so they can fix this and still say, with straight faces, they didn't raise taxes. That'll be true, on average. But it also means some Texas businesses will be paying a new tax with no obvious benefit to anyone but state government: Current taxpayers would get a break at the expense of new taxpayers. The legislators who have to vote on the thing want to know that those new taxpayers won't have a bad reaction.

Sharp wants to replace the state franchise tax with a tax on business receipts. Companies would take their gross receipts, deduct their choice of Cost of Goods Sold or Payroll and Benefits, and then pay a one percent tax on what's left. That's the gist of it; the actual mileage will vary as they fiddle with definitions and such.

The pitch from Sharp and the tax reform panel he's heading starts with the things that can't be done. Bigger homestead exemptions wouldn't satisfy the court. Wiping out property tax exemptions already on the books would hurt economic development. Raising sales taxes would put the state on the high end of consumption taxes among the states and could hurt bidness.

Though he's not saying it would be on the agenda this spring (he's not saying otherwise, either), Sharp says the state needs to make increases in property taxes more difficult so that local governments can't hide rate increases behind increases in property values.

Waiting until the regular session, he warns, would put all the bargaining chips back on the table; school finance would get lost in a fight between lawmakers who want more money for schools, he says, and those who want education reform first. That's his argument for a spring fix, when the governor can limit what's on the agenda for consideration.

Catch the trouble spots? There's a faction that wants to raise sales taxes. There's a group of lawmakers that wants to put a permanent fix off for a year. There's a group that wants property tax reform. There's a group that wants homestead exemptions. And there are groups that don't want to do anything with taxes unless they can get education reform or more money for schools — or both — in the bargain.

Political People and Their Moves

House Speaker Tom Craddick named Reps. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, Joe Crabb of Humble, Tracy O. King, D-Uvalde, and Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, to the committee spots left open when Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, resigned. Anchia got Local & Consent Calendars. Crabb will take a spot on the Electric Utility Restructuring oversight panel. King will be on the Edwards Aquifer Legislative Oversight Committee. Straus joins the Regulated Industries Committee. Baxter's replacement, Democrat Donna Howard, has been sworn in, but hasn't been assigned committees yet. And all of this is temporary; the speaker reworks the committees after the November elections.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Ted Houghton Jr. of El Paso, Joe Krier of San Antonio and William Madden of Dallas to the Study Commission on Transportation Financing. Houghton is on the Texas Transportation Commission and is a benefits and estate planning consultant. Krier heads the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. And Madden is president of Madden Securities Corp.

The Guv named three people to the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission: El Paso attorney Rene Ordoñez; Brown County Judge Ray West; and Lea Wright, president of Windshield Sales & Service in Amarillo.

The state board that regulates physician assistants has some new members and some reappointees. Timothy Webb of Houston is getting another term and will be chairman of the Texas Physician Assistant Board. Margaret Bentley of DeSoto and Dwight Deter of El Paso were reappointed by the governor. Dr. Michael Allen Mitchell of Henrietta and Pamela Welch-Sinclair of Mount Vernon are new to the panel.

Perry named Sridhar Natarajan, Lubbock County's chief medical examiner, to the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Dennis Burleson of Mission is Perry's pick to chair the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority. He's with A.G. Edwards & Sons.

Perry wants Brian Glenn Flood to stay on as inspector general for health and human services. That's a one-year term.

Jim Reaves is joining the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association as director of governmental and regulatory affairs. His old boss, Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, hired Noelle Lambert in Reaves' place.

Steven Polunsky is leaving the Texas Department of Transportation, where he was a policy wonk, to join the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee chaired by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, elected Michehl Gent to its board as one of two independent members. He's the former president and CEO of one of ERCOT's kin: the North American Electric Reliability Council.

Rebecca Lightsey joins Texas Appleseed as executive director, replacing Annette LoVoi, who's now the president of the Texas Appleseed Fund and also is doing some work with the national affiliate. Appleseed works on justice policy with help from volunteer lawyers.

Quotes of the Week

Adnan Pachachi, former foreign minister and current Parliament member in Iraq, quoted by The New York Times on politics there with words that could have come from a Texas legislator: "Everybody seems to be imprisoned in their own sectarian or political affiliations. They don't seem to be able to rise above these things."

Nathaniel Persily, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, talking to the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times about the Texas redistricting case: "We are at a defining moment. The court is going to decide when political parties go too far in rigging electoral districts for their own advantage."

Samuel Issacharoff of N.Y.U.'s law school, talking about the U.S. Supreme Court and Texas redistricting in The New Yorker: "I think that everybody knows this is a national scandal. Every Justice has at some point said the situation is deeply wrong. They may disagree about whether the courts can do anything about it, or about how to fix the problem, but not a single member of the Court is willing to say that this is how our democracy is supposed to work."

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, after a lawyer for Texas Democrats said the current congressional map was drawn by Republicans who's only goal was to win more seats in Congress, quoted by the Associated Press: "That's a surprise. Legislatures redraw the map all the time for political reasons."

David Sickey, a tribal councilman for the Louisiana Coushattas, telling The New York Times about his tribe's support of a casino ban in Texas: "When you have any kind of business enterprise, there is going to be competition, and Indians are no exception."

Democratic consultant David Butts, handicapping the statehouse primary contest between newcomers Jason Earle, son of Travis County's district attorney, and Valinda Bolton, in the Austin Chronicle: "So given the absence of any kind of information, voters gravitate to what they know. And in this case, they're going to know that he's an Earle and she's a woman."

The campaign slogan for elderly congressional candidate Sid Smith, as reported by the Associated Press: "At 95, who needs term limits?"


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 35, 6 March 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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