He's still mostly ignoring Kinky Friedman, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell has trained his sights on Republican-turned-independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn, emphasizing what she's got in common with incumbent Gov. Rick Perry.
Bell's trying to keep Democrats together while pushing Republicans to choose between the governor and the comptroller they elected four years ago. It's a new tack from a candidate who had been focused mainly on Perry. And it produced a blast from Strayhorn, who insists that the contest is between her, Perry, and some also-rans. All this comes a week after Friedman started talking about policy for the first time, laying out his ideas on ethics reform.
Bell, whose ethics complaint in the House was an early volley in Democrat's efforts to sink Tom DeLay, started his visit to the Democratic convention with visits to their special interest caucuses. At the labor caucus, he got a check from the Texas AFL-CIO's political action committee. This happened on Friday, June 9. "It's great to be accepting money," he said, "in front of a large group of people on Tom DeLay's last day in office."
His pitch to delegates actually worked better in his short presentations to the various Democratic caucuses than in his speech to the convention. The short form: Perry and Strayhorn will split the Republican vote and if Democrats stick together, they'll be strong enough to win the race. "It is a strange year, my friends, and I'm not just talking about Kinky Friedman," Bell said. Here's the longer form: Strayhorn's votes, in Bell's analysis, will come from Perry.
In recent elections, Republicans have landed 52 to 60 percent of the vote in contested races. If Strayhorn or even Friedman cut Perry down into the 35 to 40 percent range, a Democrat who gets all of his base vote — that would be Bell — would have enough to win. In his formulation, 60 percent of Texans appear ready to vote against Perry.
(The view from the Perry camp, which we've written about before this, is that he'll get the Republican base vote, Bell will get the Democratic base vote, and everybody else will split what's left. Oh, and they say the Republican base vote is ten percentage points bigger than the Democratic base vote right now.)
The bit of information that seems to surprise people wherever this race is discussed is that someone can become governor of Texas — or president of the United States, for that matter — with less than 50 percent of the vote. Ann Richards did it in 1990, for instance, when she beat Clayton Williams with slightly less than half the votes cast (the rest went to Libertarian Jeff Daiell and some write-in candidates).
Bell told one group that he has to overcome the conventional wisdom of the race: "People get excited about campaigns when they see the opportunity to win."
It's fair to expect immigration and the Texas-Mexico border to come up in debates and campaign sniping later this year. It was a big issue at the GOP state convention, and it's a high profile issue in polls of Republican voters.
Not so much with Democrats, though it depends on who you ask and what office they seek. And most of what the Democrats are doing is reacting to what Republicans are doing; the Democrats think their opponents are going too far.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell left immigration out of his convention speech. He talked about it in a pre-speech press conference and in other interviews with reporters and delegates. It's a big issue for Republicans, he says, but not the leading issue for Democrats. And he acknowledges it'll be a campaign topic.
For the record, he's against building a fence on the border, favors some form of "earned citizenship" and thinks the governor's proposals for Internet-connected cameras on the border encourages vigilantism and turns it into "some kind of home computer game." Bell says he wants what he calls order on the border and says he called for National Guard support before the Perry Administration came around to that view.
He's against mass deportation, joking that "we couldn't even evacuate one city successfully" during the hurricanes last year. And he noted that the GOP's platform is silent on the subject of penalizing companies that hire illegal workers.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark called immigration a "huge emotional issue" and said President George W. Bush "has got a real problem with his own party on this." Like most of the Democrats who spoke about the issue in Fort Worth, he's anti-fence, in favor of some way of working illegal immigrants into citizenship. He added that he'd favor "a crackdown on firm that are systematically profiting from illegal immigration."
Barbara Ann Radnofsky, the Democrats' candidate for U.S. Senate, is on that same wavelength on illegal immigrants: "You must learn English, you must keep your nose clean, you must pay fines, you must stay a period of time, and frankly, you must stand behind the line in terms of those who have legally applied."
Bell thinks Republicans are "walking a pretty thin line" with their immigration stands, though to be fair, most of the state candidates from Perry on down aren't going as far as the GOP's platform goes. "I don't think it's lost on the eyes of the Latino community that they're simply trying to drive a wedge issue into the election," Bell says.
Hispanic legislators took a harder line. Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, accused the GOP of trying to criminalize families, immigrants, and the Catholic Church, which has provided sanctuary for illegal immigrants. He blamed the private sector's dependence on cheap labor for the flow of workers into Texas. "If you don't have insatiable demand (for immigrants), you won't have this supply," he said. "We don't have illegal aliens — we have illegal businesses... we want to increase the opportunities for legal workers."
An Old Style Race for Chair
Glen Maxey's pitch to Texas Democrats included a parallel to the plan National Democratic Chair Howard Dean is pitching. Both advocate broad organization over targeted efforts. Dean calls it the 50-state plan. Maxey didn't have a name, but had a similar argument: "We're targeting ourselves to death in this state," he told members of the Tejano Democrats Caucus. And he echoed a line he used earlier talking to the San Antonio Express-News: "It's not a Republican state because there are more Republicans. It's a Republican state because more Republicans vote." Maxey, who won a House seat in a Latino district in 1990 (you can still find some Austin Hispanics who haven't gotten over it), told that caucus he'd be on their side of the fight: "The state leadership needs to look like you and I'm here to help you do that."
Boyd Richie's pitch included some elements first presented by Maxey, like an emphasis on technologies that can make voter turnout more efficient for one side or the other. He boasted that he'd attracted $300,000 in new money and pledges for the party during his interim stint as chairman and touted the lawsuit the party filed to keep U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, on the ballot on the eve of their convention. They got a temporary restraining order that froze Republican efforts to replace DeLay on the ballot as the convention began and Republicans are now trying to move that to federal court. Richie got a rise out of the Democrats when he said DeLay moved his residence to Virginia "just because he knew he was going to get his butt whipped and decided to take his marbles and go home." For conventioneers, that was red meat.
Charlie Urbina-Jones appealed to delegates to toss the consultants out of control in the Democratic Party and said the past elections found Democrats "left like brides waiting in churches." He blames consultants — no names got into the discussion — for a series of losses that have left the party with no statewide officeholders and holding onto minority control in three legislative areas they controlled ten years ago: the congressional delegation and the state House and Senate.
Richie almost won election on the first round of voting — a fourth candidate, Lakesha Rogers, got a handful of votes but Urbina-Jones got enough votes to push the floor battle to a runoff. It became clear before the votes were all counted that Richie was the winner (in the end, he had over 53 percent of the vote), and Maxey conceded. Richie finished it off with a pep talk: "We leave here today united. We are going to kick rump in November."
Notes from the Democratic Convention
Delegates at political conventions have more specialized clothing than fly fishermen. They have funny hats, weird clothes and funny buttons. And in spite of the fact that Texas Democrats don't control much of anything in state government in Texas, their delegates in Fort Worth were notably upbeat. We're not sure just what that means, but it was worth noting.
• The Democrats have two candidates who lit up both the caucuses and the full convention when they spoke. David Van Os, who's run for several offices in the past and is challenging Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott this year, lit up the crowd with a populist attack on oil and insurance companies, among others. He quoted an old line about leaving the jam on a lower shelf where the little people can reach it and tagged it, saying, "The jam is so high now the little people can't even see it."
• And Hank Gilbert, who's running for the open agriculture commission seat against Republican Todd Staples, railed against high gasoline prices and against the Republican immigration platform. He said he'd check the accuracy of gas pumps more often than they're checked now, and said gas station owners should "help people of Texas digest high gas prices at the pump by inserting one big canister of Vaseline on top of every gas pump so at least it takes a little bit of the sting out of it."
• Bill Moody, who's running for a spot on the Texas Supreme Court and trying to overcome the El Paso curse — the state's sixth-biggest city has never elected a statewide official — plans to walk from his end of the state to the Louisiana border near Beaumont to attract attention to his candidacy. He told Democrats he's been training for it and will start the walk in August. Note: It's hot in August, especially in the Chihuahuan desert. "I think, for this kind of walk, I need your prayers," Moody told members of one caucus.
• Back when Hispanic Democrats split the sheets, one group was called the Mexican American Democrats, and the other was called the Tejano Democrats. In the parlance of that fight, they were known as MAD and MADDER. And for the last decade or so, the Hispanic posts in the Democratic Party structure were dictated by the newer group, the Tejano Democrats. They've started working on peace and actually made some progress at the Fort Worth convention; those posts will be filled by consensus candidates of all of the party's Latinos, regardless of affiliation. The reconciliation was driven by House Democrats.
• Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, is leaving the Lege after this term and hoping to get into radio, among other things. He was touting a resolution to get Democrats to help get Tejano music back on the radio, and gave members of the Tejano Democrats a list of stations that will no longer play artists like Selena, Little Joe y la Familia, and Los Lonely Boys.
• Most of the floor speeches from the Democratic convention are online at www.YouTube.com (in the search blank, type Texas, Democrat, convention and you'll get the whole string). We're not aware of any similar postings from the GOP convention, but we'll pass it along if we do. We found one video online, also at YouTube.com, that ran at the GOP convention, but no speeches. Look under "Texas Republican making history".
The major parties got all the ink, but Texas Libertarians filled out the top of their statewide ticket while the Democrats had the center ring.
Scott Lanier Jameson came out of a three-way contest to snag the nomination for U.S. Senate.
Everyone else who made the ballot was uncontested. The Libertarian ballot includes these candidates: James Werner, Governor; Judy Baker, Lieutenant Governor; Jon Roland, Attorney General; Mike Burris, Comptroller of Public Accounts; Michael French, Land Commissioner; Clay Woolam, Agriculture Commissioner; Tabitha Serrano, Railroad Commissioner; Tom Oxford, Chief Justice, Supreme Court; Wade Wilson, Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2; Jerry Adkins, Justice, Supreme Court, Place 4; Todd Phillippi, Justice, Supreme Court, Place 6; Jay Cookingham, Justice, Supreme Court, Place 8; Quanah Parker, Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 7; and Dave Howard, Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 8.
That party's new chairman is Patrick Dixon; Kevin Tunstall was elected vice chairman.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has posted a "franchise tax calculator" on her website that she says will allow businesses in Texas to figure roughly what they'll pay when the state's new business tax takes effect.
And she said she'll proceed with rulemaking on the new tax without worrying over what her successors will do. Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, who's running for Strayhorn's job, reiterated her promise to rewrite the rules if she's elected. And she says lawmakers have told her they'll be tweaking the new tax bill when they convene in regular session next year, so there'll be reason to fiddle with the rules anyway.
Strayhorn says the new law requires her to write rules. That's correct enough for government work: It requires her to survey 4,000 big businesses in the state in mid-November and to cook up the forms and rules needed to do that. She's taking that to mean the survey will use the same rules the new tax will use, so she's going ahead with rulemaking. In any case, there's nothing to prevent her rulemaking, and nothing to prevent Combs or Democrat Fred Head from remaking the whole office when they move in.
Combs got some rhetorical support from Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. He heads the Republican Caucus in the Senate and is a member of the Finance Committee that writes the budget. And he says businesses should ignore Strayhorn. "I have learned not to trust the information that comes out of this politically driven comptroller's office. I would urge the Texas business community to do the same."
On the other hand, accountants and other tax practitioners are already peppering the comptroller's staff with questions. An online forum connecting Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton with those folks this week drew 2,000 listener/viewer/webheads. The normal crowd, agency folks say, is about 250.
Chasing a Runaway
Anti-tax activists in Houston filed suit "to stop and prevent unconstitutional and illegal spending by the Texas State government." CLOUT — the Citizens Lowering Our Unfair Taxes political action committee — contends "excessive spending" between 1984 and 2000 cost the average Texas family $26,800. They define excessive as the difference between increases in state spending and increases in the gross state product.
The lawsuit from CLOUT and its director, radio talk show host Edd Hendee, says it's illegal for the Legislature to delegate any of its budget authority to the Legislative Budget Board, which is made up of the lieutenant governor, the Speaker of the House, and a handful of lawmakers from each chamber. And they contend it's illegal for a panel that includes the governor and the comptroller to approve spending limits set by the LBB (which, the suit contends, shouldn't have set the number in the first place).
Not only that, but by their reckoning, the LBB uses a most unreliable economic indicator as its measure of the state economy: increases and decreases in personal income.
The LBB set the spending limit for non-dedicated general revenue at $52.1 billion in 2004, then adjusted it because of spending that had been certified by the comptroller. The new limit: $55.6 billion, according to the suit. CLOUT contends state lawmakers already crossed the line in spending before the special session on school finance. New spending that was approved in that session, they say, went even further over the limit.
They want the court to throw out personal income as the measure of the economy. They want the spending cap trimmed back to $55.1 billion or less, or cut back to the LBB's original $52.1 billion. They want the court to "declare the various responsibilities" of the state officials involved in setting the spending caps. They want the court to declare gross state product or population to be used as the key indicator of the state's growth. They want that mid-course correction in the numbers by the LBB undone. They want growth projections corrected with actual numbers once those numbers are in, for setting future spending limits. They want the LBB's powers limited. They want the court to declare that the appropriations made in HB-1 during the special session — that's the bill that applied some of the surplus and new taxes to school property tax relief — went over the limit. That wouldn't mean school tax relief had to be cut, but would mean that some $1.5 billion would have to be cut somewhere in state spending.
They didn't ask for an airplane or take any hostages.
Gary Polland, the lead lawyer on the suit (and the former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party), said they made those demands in a way that gives the courts some ideas about what to do (each suggests the court make a change "alternatively or in addition"). If the state had settled up its estimated growth numbers with actual numbers over the years, the current budget would be $14 billion lower, he said. "We could have asked for that," he said, "but if we asked for that big a cut, the state would be in chaos."
This isn't the first time the state has been sued over the spending cap. In the early 1990s, former Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, challenged the state for ignoring the constitutional provisions on spending limits. The suit was tossed out of court, but the Legislature got the message and started paying attention to setting limits on spending growth, developing the system in use now.
A spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott said that office is looking at the suit and isn't ready to comment. Gov. Rick Perry's office was dismissive of it. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said in a statement that she would "welcome this, and any effort, to reign in out-of-control state spending." Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's statement said the budgets are "well below the current spending limits." And House Speaker Tom Craddick said he hadn't seen the suit but said the state can defend its budget in court.
The Data Entry Primary
You and Kinky and Carole and Rick and Chris and the rest of us will find out next week whether the two independent candidates running for governor will be on the ballot.
Secretary of State Roger Williams hired an outside firm to type in all the names on the Friedman and Strayhorn petitions; the firm is supposed to finish on Monday. An announcement, according to a spokesman for Williams, will be forthcoming by mid-week at the latest.
The lists, once entered in computers, will be compared against each other — you can't sign two petitions — and then against the list of registered voters — you can't sign, or "vote," unless you're registered. Friedman and Strayhorn each need 45,540 legit signatures to get on the ballot. Friedman turned in 169,574 signatures for checking. Strayhorn turned in 223,000.
Once that's over with, the SOS can take up the question of what versions of the candidate's names will be on the ballot, assuming everybody makes it onto the ballot.
James Richard Perry wants on as Rick, as he's been identified on past ballots. Richard Friedman is best known as Kinky. Robert Christopher Bell prefers Chris. And Carole Keeton Strayhorn wants to get on the ballot as "Grandma," a name she's used with her grandchildren and in past political ads that refer to her as "One Tough Grandma." She's known as OTG by at least one of her competitors' campaigns, but she's never been Grandma on a ballot before, and it'll be up to Williams to decide whether it flies this time.
Notes on the Goobs
The big reports — with money raised, spent, and in the bank — will be out in mid-July, but Democrat Chris Bell moved into second place in fundraising in the Guv's race during the special session. Gov. Rick Perry led the pack, raising $375,021.90. Bell reported $333,212.8 in contributions, Carole Keeton Strayhorn raised $307,534.35, and Kinky Friedman brought in $149,132.
Bell's total included $60,500 contributed in the form of plane travel by Houston car dealer Richardo Weitz, and a handful of gems — a ruby and a sapphire, among others — appraised at $8,225. Bell's biggest contributor, Houston oilman Earl Swift, died a few days after contributing $100,000 to the campaign. Perry's list included 15 contributors who each gave a nickel or less; a spokesman said they wanted to fall on the strictly safe side reporting this stuff. Strayhorn's big contributor in this report was Donald Sloan of Chicago, who gave $50,000. Her total included $44,024 in contributed plane travel, legal expenses and "event expense."
Perry and Strayhorn were far ahead in cash-on-hand amounts when the last reports were filed in mid-January. The next look at that will come in about a month, when the candidates report what they raised and spent during the first six months of the year.
• A new Rasmussen poll has Gov. Rick Perry still in the lead with 38 percent, followed by Kinky Friedman at 20, Carole Keeton Strayhorn at 19, and Democrat Chris Bell at 14 percent. Strayhorn, in an earlier survey by the same pollsters, reached 31 percent support. Friedman has gained since their last look, and Bell and Perry both slipped a couple of points. The pollsters said Perry was viewed favorably by 56 percent of the voters, compared with 46 percent for Strayhorn, 39 percent for Bell, and 37 percent for Friedman. One in four voters had a "very unfavorable" view of Friedman — higher than the three others. The survey of "likely voters" was done on the phone on May 16 (but just released), before the political conventions and right on the heels of the successful special session on school finance. The margin of error: 4.5 percent, with 95 percent confidence.
• Democrat Chris Bell wouldn't dump the new business tax created during the special session on school finance, but he'd use at least some of the money for education instead of dedicating all of it to property tax relief. And while he's not calling for an increase in the rates set by lawmakers (retailers would pay 0.5 percent; other businesses would pay 1 percent), he's also not ruling it out. Bell told reporters who were pressing on that question that he isn't recommending a rate increase, but wants a bipartisan commission to have a look at education spending. A decision on taxes and other revenues would follow that. "If you can stick with the current rates, that would be great," he said. He also said "there would have to be some tinkering" down the line when the numbers become clearer.
• Kinky Friedman's campaign lost its headquarters to Friday Night Lights, a new television show based on the movie based on the book based on the Panthers of Odessa Permian High School. They relocated a couple of miles down the same highway, noting in the process that they are ooching closer to the state Capitol. Ahem.
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, in his final speech in Congress before quitting last week, quoted by the Washington Post: "Given the chance to do it all again, there's only one thing I'd change. I'd fight even harder."
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, on the political layout in the state and the country: "Texas is where a lot of our troubles started. A lot of the bad ideas came out of Texas. And the trail of corruption leads back to Texas. And the incompetence we've seen in Washington has its roots right here in Texas."
Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Hank Gilbert, in his speech at that party's convention: "One could really say that today's Texas political outlook really sucks."
Charlie Urbina-Jones, who ran for Democratic Party Chairman, talking to the delegates about the future of that party: "We can no longer go to the trial lawyers. They're broke. Let's be honest with each other."
Austin political consultant David Butz, on gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, in the Austin American-Statesman: "He's going to have to become a real Democrat to mobilize the base vote. If he just tries to be a merlot Democrat he's not going to get anywhere."
Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, on Republican proposals to build a wall between Mexico and the United States: "Before we start building a fence, all of us need to know two things — how much it's going to cost and then who's going to build it."
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who's running for Speaker of the House: "I want to thank the Republican Speaker Tom Craddick for spending money to renovate the Speaker's apartment, because next year, I'm gonna be staying there."
Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 2, 19 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.