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General Election: The House

More than half of the members of the next House -- 79, to be precise -- have already been determined, barring accidents, bizarre upsets, or other side effects our doctors haven't told us about. We count only 20 races that, on paper, could be competitive (including 13 where the incumbent's success has been a clear exception to local voting patterns).

More than half of the members of the next House -- 79, to be precise -- have already been determined, barring accidents, bizarre upsets, or other side effects our doctors haven't told us about. We count only 20 races that, on paper, could be competitive (including 13 where the incumbent's success has been a clear exception to local voting patterns).

That's out of a bigger field of contested races, including 41 involving Republican incumbents, 18 involving Democratic incumbents, and an even dozen where the incumbent got beat in the primary or didn't run for reelection.

Most of the races — as in the congressional delegation and the state Senate — were won or lost to one party or the other when the maps were drawn after the last census. If we're right about what's hot and what's not, only about 10 percent of the seats in the House will turn over due to electoral violence. More will flip, probably, due to retirements and higher ambitions.

Both sides have their hopes.

Republicans look at the last election results and see 13 seats that were held by Democrats even though the same voters supported George W. Bush and, on average, all other Republicans running statewide. Those blue shirts in red territory are the stuff targets are made of.

Democrats are looking at the same numbers, but with two environmental changes. Bush, who was popular in Texas two years ago, won't be on the ballot this year. And the race getting all the attention this year — the one for Guv — features a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, and an Independent whose been on the ballot as a Republican for the last several election cycles. Bush's presence two years ago helped down-ballot Republicans in close contests, a boost they won't have this year. And the people in the business of plotting gubernatorial campaigns seem to unanimously assume the state's next CEO will get into office with less than 50 percent of the total vote. It's hard to count on the coattails of someone who doesn't get a majority of the vote.

Republicans have the edge, in numbers. Eleven Democrats face potentially tough reelection battles, compared to five Republicans. Three open-seat races could be noisy, two of them to replace incumbent Democrats and one to replace a Republican. Depending on the mood of voters in five months, the balance in the House could change by four to five seats either way. Right now, there are 86 Republicans and 64 Democrats. Even in the worst (likely) scenario, the GOP will hang onto its House majority.

We'll start this with the list of potentially interesting contests and then list the seats that are already decided. That's 99 races; the rest are contested but won't get on the scope unless somebody makes a big mistake.

Fight Card

We're listing 20 races here, though the list of serious contests usually shrinks as elections near, and there are a handful on this list that we wouldn't include if we were betting our own money. Even if all these races prove to be lively, it's a puny number of contests; less than 13 percent of House races fit this generous definition of competitiveness. If voters turn away more than 10 percent of the House in November — that's 15 seats — it'll be remarkable.

When Labor Day comes, this list will surely be smaller. Some of these folks won't raise enough money to contend. At least one will do something stupid to kill his or her own campaign. At least one will do something smart to knock the wind out of the opponent. And several, while they look good or semi-good on paper now, may turn out to be getting more attention here than they will ever get again. With those caveats, we're watching these matchups.

The folks known as WD-40s — White Democrats over the age of 40 — are on the GOP target list again. The group includes Mark Homer of Paris, who squeaked in with 50.8 percent (217 votes) over Kirby Hollingsworth two years ago. This is a rematch in HD-3, a district that saw 62.3 percent of voters, on average, voting for statewide Republicans two years ago.

Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville is running against Larry Durrett, a personally wealthy (potentially self-funding) Republican who's son ran for the same office several years ago. Hopson got 52.7 percent last time in HD-11, where voters like Bush and Republicans in general. Bush got 71.2 percent of the vote; statewide Republicans averaged 65.8 percent.

In HD-12, Jim McReynolds of Lufkin will face Jody Anderson, also of Lufkin, in another WD-40 contest. McReynolds got 51 percent last time against former state Rep. Billy Clemons. Bush won 66.4 percent of the vote in 2004. Statewides got 60.3 percent.

Robby Cook of Eagle Lake was supposed to be in trouble last time around in HD-17 and got 54.8 percent of the vote after briefly considering a party-switch and also a retirement. It's another upside-down district; Bush got 68.3 percent in 2004 and statewide Republicans averaged 60.3 percent.

Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, represents HD-19 — the same kind of district the WD-40s represent. He's got a rematch against Democrat Paul Clayton, who ran against him four years ago. It's Republican turf, but some Democrats are promoting the contest. Bush was 68.3 percent; statewide GOPs got 60.3 percent.

In HD-32, Republican Gene Seaman faces a challenge from a Democrat, Juan Garcia, with Navy flier and Harvard Law School credentials. It's a Republican district surrounded by Democratic turf, and for what it's worth, almost 31 percent of the voters have Hispanic surnames; the arguments over immigration could take a funny bounce in a contest like this one. Bush got 66.8 percent; statewides got 62.5 percent.

Yvonne Gonzales-Toureilles of Alice won a nail-biter two years ago and her HD-35 is upside down. Bush got 59.2; statewides got 51.7 percent. Her opponent is Michael Esparza, also of Alice.

In HD-45, Democrat Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs is holding what looks like a red seat, but he's made peace with Republican financiers in the tort reform movement and this is safer ground than it was a couple of years ago. His opponent is Jim Neuhaus of San Marcos.

Republican Terry Keel of Austin quit to run for judge, leaving an HD-47 contest between Republican Bill Welch, who came within smelling distance in another race in Austin in 1992, and Valinda Bolton, a Democrat making her first contest. The district is numerically like two other Austin-area districts that have been closely fought during the last two elections: Bush got 53.3 percent, and statewide Republicans got 53.4 percent.

One of those is HD-48, where Democrat Donna Howard beat Republican Ben Bentzin in a special election earlier this year. November is a rematch of the two.

The other is HD-50, where Democrat Mark Strama got 50.5 percent of the vote two years ago while Bush was getting 51.3 percent and statewide Republicans were getting 51.2 percent. But Strama was challenging an incumbent Republican then, and he's the officeholder this time. Jeff Fleece is the Republican in the race.

David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, was supposed to be a cooked goose by now, but he's held on in HD-69, where Bush got 72.6 percent and statewides got 68.3 percent two years ago. Farabee once again faces Republican Shirley Craft.

HD-85 has had the distinction, for a couple of cycles now, of being the most Republican district in the state represented in the statehouse by a Democrat. Former House Speaker Pete Laney decided not to seek reelection, and this year will test whether the split personality of the district was all about him. Jim Landroop of Plainview is the Republican; the Democrat is Joe Heflin of Crosbyton. Numbers: Bush got 76.3 percent. Statewide Republicans got 68 percent. And one that'll surprise some folks: The district is 28.1 percent Hispanic.

Democrats have their eyes on Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, but it's Republican territory, or was in 2004. Bush got 56.7 percent; statewide Republicans got 55.1 percent. The Democrat in the contest is Paula Hightower Pierson, who did four terms on the Arlington City Council.

Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, got a scare two years ago from Democrat Harriet Miller, and she's back. The Republican got 53.2 percent while Bush was getting 56.2 percent and statewide Republicans were pulling an average of 56.8 percent. It was a sleeper race two years ago; it's on the radar for both parties this time.

Carlos Uresti's decision to challenge Sen. Frank Madla of San Antonio in the Democratic primary paid off for him, but opened his House seat as a possibility for Republicans. It was under water two years ago, barely: Bush got 54.7; statewides got 50.3. Uresti, an incumbent, got 56.8 percent. But this time, there's no incumbent. Republican George Antuña faces Joe Farias and both parties think it's winnable.

David McQuade Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, just knocked off Rep. Ken Mercer two years ago, getting 50.7 percent of the vote. He's got incumbency on his side in a district that's mildly Republican: Bush got 55.1 percent, and statewide Republicans got 51.4 percent. The Republican this time is Ted Kenyon, an attorney and engineer.

Joaquin Castro didn't have an opponent in the general election in 2004, but he'll face Republican Nelson Balido this time in a district that barely favored Bush (51.6 percent) and barely favored Democrats in statewide races (48.3 percent).

Martha Wong of Houston is a top protection race for the Republicans and a top target for Democrats. It's a Republican district, but not overwhelmingly, and the Democrat, Ellen Cohen, is well-known for her work running a shelter for women and children. Don't be surprised by lots of money and attention from both sides.

We'll end the list with a rematch of the only race that got appealed to the House two years ago. Democrat Hubert Vo of Houston will defend himself against former Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin, who he beat by at least 10 but less than 20 votes last time. That margin was the conclusion of a report done for an election contest between the two; Heflin dropped out of the contest when he saw the report. The district is marginally Republican, but it's not clear how much money Heflin will be able to raise now that he's no longer the chief budget guy in the House.

Home Early

A "safe" election here is one where only one of the major parties has a candidate. Several of these folks face Libertarians and might face other minor-party candidates, but they appear ready to measure curtains for their offices. It's safe to assume they'll be voting on whatever you care about next year.

Safe Republican Incumbents (31)

Charles "Doc" Anderson, Waco; Leo Berman, Tyler; Dennis Bonnen, Angleton; Fred Brown, College Station; Bill Callegari, Katy; Warren Chisum, Pampa; Tom Craddick, Midland; Gary Elkins, Houston; Rick Hardcastle, Vernon; Harvey Hilderbran, Kerrville; Fred Hill, Richardson; Charlie Howard, Sugar Land; Bryan Hughes, Mineola; Jim Jackson, Carrollton; Phil King, Weatherford; Lois Kolkhorst, Brenham; Edmund Kuempel, Seguin; Jerry Madden, Richardson; Brian McCall, Plano; Geanie Morrison, Victoria; John Otto, Dayton; Todd Smith, Euless; Wayne Smith, Baytown; John Smithee, Amarillo; Burt Solomons, Carrollton; Joe Straus III, San Antonio; David Swinford, Dumas; Larry Taylor, Friendswood; Vicki Truitt, Keller; Corbin Van Arsdale, Tomball; and Buddy West, Odessa.

Republican Newbies Safe in November (5)

Wayne Christian of Center, who defeated Rep. Roy Blake Jr.; Drew Darby, San Angelo, who defeated Scott Campbell; Thomas Latham, Sunnyvale, who beat Elvira Reyna; and Nathan Macias, Bulverde, who beat Carter Casteel; and Tan Parker, Flower Mound, replacing Mary Denny, who didn't run.

Safe Democratic Incumbents (41)

Alma Allen, Houston; Roberto Alonzo, Dallas; Rafael Anchia, Dallas; Kevin Bailey, Houston; Lon Burnam, Fort Worth; Norma Chavez, El Paso; Garnet Coleman, Houston; Joe Deshotel, Beaumont; Dawnna Dukes, Austin; Jim Dunnam, Waco; Harold Dutton Jr., Houston; Craig Eiland, Galveston; Juan Escobar, Kingsville; Jessica Farrar, Houston; Ismael "Kino" Flores, Palmview; Stephen Frost, Atlanta; Pete Gallego, Alpine; Helen Giddings, Dallas; Veronica Gonzales, McAllen; Ryan Guillen, Rio Grande City; Abel Herrero, Robstown; Terri Hodge, Dallas; Tracy King, Uvalde; Vilma Luna, Corpus Christi; Trey Martinez Fischer, San Antonio; Armando "Mando" Martinez, Weslaco; Ruth Jones McClendon, San Antonio; Paul Moreno, El Paso; Elliott Naishtat, Austin; Rick Noriega, Houston; Rene Oliveira, Brownsville; Aaron Peña Jr., Edinburg; Joe Pickett, El Paso; Robert Puente, San Antonio; Richard Raymond, Laredo; Allan Ritter, Nederland; Eddie Rodriguez, Austin; Senfronia Thompson, Houston; Sylvester Turner, Houston; Marc Veasey, Fort Worth; and Mike Villarreal, San Antonio.

Democratic Newbies Safe in November (2)

Barbara Mallory Caraway of Dallas, who beat Rep. Jesse Jones; and Borris Miles of Houston, who beat Rep. Al Edwards.

General Election: The Senate

The races for Texas Senate are even less dramatic than the anemic congressional contests.

Nine senators have no major party opposition (no slight meant to the Libertarians or the Greens, but neither party has ever put someone in the Texas Legislature). That list includes three new senators-apparent: Glenn Hegar, R-Katy; Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; and Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Six incumbents are on that list: Kip Averitt, R-Waco; Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Kyle Janek, R-Houston; and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.

That leaves only seven races, and it's hard to find people willing to bet on the challengers, mainly because the redistricting maps match the voters with the incumbents. There are two newbies in the bunch in open seats — Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. Five incumbents have opponents from the other big party: Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville; Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso; Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio; and John Whitmire, D-Houston.

General Election: Congress

An early look at the 32 congressional races on the November ballot, only a couple of which seem uncertain right now.

Six U.S. representatives from Texas will be on the ballot without major party opposition: Mike Conaway, R-Midland; Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio; Al Green, D-Houston; and Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso. The other 26 seats are all contested, but most of them won't keep the incumbents awake at night.

Only one — Tom DeLay's — is open. It'll be one of the seriously contested seats, too, with former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, a Democrat, facing a candidate to be named later by the Republican powers in the four counties that have a slice of the district. DeLay's last day at work is a week away; Republican party people will replace him on the ballot some time after that. Most expect it to happen quickly, but if the smoke-filled rooms clog up, they have until early September to get a name on the ballot.

The other serious race (at this point) is in CD-17, where U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, is in a biennial fight to wear a blue jersey in red territory. He faces Van Taylor, a potentially well-financed Republican who moved to West after a military stint. The district favors Republicans, and so far, Edwards. In 2004, while the average statewide Republican was getting 66.3 percent of the votes in that district, Edwards got 51.9 percent in an expensive and hotly contested race. Put it another way; at least 50,939 people voted for Republican George W. Bush for president (his ranch in Crawford is in the district) and then switched sides and voted for Edwards.

Upsets are always possible, but the rest of the congressional districts have incumbents from the parties those districts were designed to elect; Republicans in Republican territory and Democrats in Democratic territory.

One caveat: A decision on the constitutionality of the Texas congressional districts is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Traditionally, the court releases opinions in late June and early July. Should they find problems with the lines here, they could order up a new map, and a new set of primaries. Something like that could make the top of the ballot interesting in places like Dallas, South Texas, and the Valley.

Appraisal Creep, Deferred

The first year of the school property tax cut won't be affected by changes in the value of your property, but future cuts could be.

The legislation passed during the special session cuts local school property tax rates by 11.3 percent next year, independent of what your property value does. A year later, there's another cut that brings the total cut in rates to 33 percent (if you start at $1.50, that puts you at $1). But property owners will start seeing the fluctuations in values by then. In a market with rising property values, those value increases will eat up some of the savings. In markets where values fall (there's got to be one somewhere), property owners would get a double bonus, paying lower property tax rates on properties with lower values.

Actual mileage may vary. School districts are allowed to add back up to four cents to the property tax for "local enrichment," meaning they don't have to share money raised by that four cents with the state or other districts. If your rate now is $1.50, your first tax cut would be 17 cents and your second would be 33 more cents, bringing the total to $1. If your district chooses to grab that four-cent bonus, the first one will be 13 cents and the final number would be $1.04.

There's another item here that's on the watch list of the lawyers for the school districts who sued the state to get these changes. The system is still set up so that increases in property values result in increases in property tax bills (assuming the rates don't change). When property values rise, that means the local share of school funding rises — not as much state money is needed to fill the cup. And if property values go up a lot over several years as they did over the last decade, that could throw the school finance system out of balance again, and put the whole thing back in court.

If lawmakers decide to limit increases in taxable property values — through appraisal caps, for instance — increases in school costs would be more likely to fall on the state than on the locals, who'll have capped values and limits on how fast they can raise rates. Another way to put it: Right now, increases in property values benefit the state by funding increases in education costs at the local level. If the state limits how much money can be raised at the local level, it would have to bear the load for increases in school costs.

Louder

Dan Patrick, the Houston radio owner and talk-show host who won an expensive and hotly contested Republican primary for state Senate in March, bought a Dallas station and will be on the air in the Metroplex by September.

Patrick, in a press release from his campaign, announced he's buying KMGS-AM, based (officially) in Highland Park. Parts of his KSEV-AM show in Houston and Edd Hendee's show on that same station will be simulcast in Dallas, he said.

"With the addition of KMGS, we will now have the potential to reach nearly 50% of the people who vote in November elections and close to 60% of the people who vote in Republican primaries," Patrick said in the statement.

He aims to stir up conservatives in and around Dallas County, where Democrats have made some inroads in local offices that had been solidly Republican. "We look to rejuvenate and mobilize conservatives so they can impact local, state and national politics in the Metroplex as has been accomplished in Houston," Patrick said.

He'll add some local hosts, including Rep. Bill Keffer, R-Dallas, one of a small group of Republican legislators who opposed Gov. Rick Perry's successful effort to triple state business taxes to help pay for cuts in local school property taxes. Patrick isn't a member yet, but spoke out against the new business taxes while legislators were debating school finance.

Convergence

The Texas Freedom Network, in a new report, says the distinctions between the religious right and the Texas Republican Party have disappeared.

The group set out to write about the rise of the religious right and its financial and ideological underpinnings and all of that's in the report called The Anatomy of Power: Texas and the Religious Right in 2006.

The report is available free online; click here. (We should say here that TFN is regularly on the other side of the debate from the folks it's reporting on, and that their report reflects that point of view.)

They contend the double-Rs are on the verge of getting a majority on the State Board of Education, and level particularly heavy fire on Dr. James Leininger San Antonio — one of the Texas right's most generous financiers — and on David Barton, the lame-duck vice chairman of the Texas GOP and the president of Wallbuilders, a nonprofit that presents the nation's "forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built..."

It also profiles other people, organizations, political actions committees and such that it sees as key parts of the religious right.

The Horse Race

A new SurveyUSA poll — a telephone survey of 605 likely Texas voters — has Gov. Rick Perry doing a little better than the previous month (up two percentage points), Carole Keeton Strayhorn slipping five points, Chris Bell gaining three points, and Kinky Friedman holding steady. The poll, done right after the special session ended in mid-May, had Perry at 41 percent, Strayhorn at 20, Bell at 18, and Friedman at 16. The pollsters asked people who they'd vote for if they were "standing in the voting booth right now." The margin of error is +/- 4.1 percent.

Details, Details

State District Judge John Dietz — whose ruling against the state's school finance system provided the deadline for this year's special session — lifted the June 1 deadline. Dietz had ordered the Legislature to fix the unconstitutional system, and he was backed by the Texas Supreme Court. After lawmakers decided to lower local property taxes — giving some financial breathing room to school districts — lawyers for the state and for the districts that sued went to Dietz to lift his injunction. Officially now, that's done.

Political People and Their Moves

Karey Barton, who closed his tax consultancy to join the (temporary) staff of the Texas Tax Reform Commission, has gone to work for Ryan & Co., the Dallas-based tax firm that also employs former Comptroller John Sharp. Barton worked for Sharp, who headed the tax panel, at the comptroller's office.

Rumors that the staff director of that commission, Robert Howden, is going to work for the Texas Association of Manufacturers are, he says, premature at best. He's off the state contract and is restarting his lobby work.

And James LeBas, who left his gig as chief financial officer of the Texas Water Development Board to work on the commission, is back with office, title and desk restored.

Joy Anderson, chief of staff for the Texas Youth Commission, is retiring from state government at the end of August. No replacement has been named.

Quotes of the Week

Radio talk host and Republican state Senate nominee Dan Patrick, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News on the eve of the state GOP convention: "The base is upset with the Republican Party because they thought once the Republican Party had control in Washington and in Texas that things were actually going to happen, and nothing has happened in terms of fiscal issues and the border issue. People are just frustrated. And if the base stays home, this (governor's) race gets very close."

Democratic political consultant Kelly Fero, quoted in the Austin Chronicle on the condition of the Democratic Party: "I consider the state party to be at its best when it's almost wholly irrelevant, which it currently is."

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, to a group of North Texans who don't want the proposed Trans Texas Corridor to bypass Dallas-Fort Worth, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "If you aggressively invite the private sector to be your partner, you can't tell them where to build the road."

Houston appellate lawyer Brian Wice, quoted in The Wall Street Journal after the Enron verdicts against Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling were announced: "Your typical white-collar defendant has a better chance of winning a Golden Globe award than getting his conviction reversed in the Fifth Circuit."

Former Comptroller John Sharp, asked by reporters if he'll seek office again: "You know, politics and sex are a lot alike. Once you've experienced either one of them you don't usually say, 'OK, been there, done that.'"

Jerry Mohn, president of the West Galveston Island Property Owners Association, telling the Houston Press how people who live on the beach deal with hurricane season: "We get religious. We start praying June 1 and don't stop until November."


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 48, 4 June 2006. Ross Ramsey, Editor. 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 (512) 302-5703 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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