Rep. Gene Seaman and his wife have houses in Austin and Corpus and have homestead and elderly tax exemptions on both of them. Rep. Rob Eissler pays rent from campaign funds for a condo in Austin he purchased years before he became a legislator to house his sons while they were students at the University of Texas. Sen. Kim Brimer and Rep. Vicki Truitt each use campaign funds to rent Austin living spaces from their spouses.
And we know all of that because of a defensive remark made by another lawmaker asked about his housing arrangements in the state capital.
When local reporters asked Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, about property owned by his wife and rented by his campaign, he replied that it was legal, that he wasn't enriching himself with political money and that he'd checked to make sure he was on the right side of the law. And then there was his response to WFAA-TV about the practice, a whiff of catnip for political researchers and reporters: "If they're going to file an ethics complaint on me, then they better file it on an awful lot of other people."
Those other people include the four lawmakers at the top of the story. In Goodman's case, the property in question is owned solely by his wife. But the mortgage on the property has his name on it. The Texas Values in Action Coalition — a gang of Dallas Democrats that dug up the story on Goodman (who's in a battle for reelection against a candidate the group supports) — complained to the Texas Ethics Commission that his name on that loan tainted the campaign expenditure. In effect, they've accused Goodman of using campaign funds for personal benefit, to pay off what he owes the mortgage holder. He says its kosher if the property belongs, as it does, to his wife. And he says the money's for rent, not for mortgage payments.
The Ethics Commission doesn't comment on complaints, and it appears unlikely that they'll weigh in on this before the election. But in 1996, they were asked about lawmakers renting separately owned properties from the spouses, and they were pretty clear about it. That 1996 opinion from the Ethics Commission didn't address mortgages on properties, but it settled the property question: "A legislator’s use of political contributions to make a rental payment to his spouse for the use of her separate property does not constitute a payment to purchase real property and does not violate section 253.038 of the Election Code. Nor is such a payment a conversion to personal use as long as the payment does not exceed the fair market value of the use of the property."
Other lawmakers who turned up after the Goodman-inspired search include Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, and Reps. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, and Vicki Truitt, R-Keller. Each has a different story.
• Seaman has a problem the others don't have: He and his wife are claiming homestead and over-65 exemptions on properties in both Nueces and Travis Counties. Seaman didn't return our calls himself. Mac McCall, a campaign consultant to Seaman, says the double-exemptions are a mistake that the couple didn't even know about until we asked. And he puts the blame squarely on the candidate's wife: "Ellen owns the property. She made an honest mistake and was totally unaware of it until you raised the question. This is not a Gene Seaman mistake."
The Seaman property in Austin is next to I-35, in a waterfront condo development called The Towers on Town Lake on the south end of downtown. It's valued at $234,345, though caps on property tax growth keep the taxable value at $163,152. The exemptions lower the taxable value even further. Seaman pays $1,000 rent each month from his campaign account to Austin Land Co., listed at the condo's address. The Texas Secretary of State has no recent record of such a corporation, but McCall acknowledges the payments go to Mrs. Seaman.
According to the Travis County Appraisal District, Ellen Seaman claims homestead and over-65 exemptions for the 1,459-square-foot condo. The Nueces County Appraisal District's online records show Gene Seaman has the same two exemptions on a $316,369 home on Ocean Drive in Corpus Christi. The Austin property is on the rolls in her name only. His name is the only one on the Corpus property.
McCall says the couple "is taking corrective steps" on the exemption in Travis County and will pay any back taxes they owe as a result of the two property tax exemptions taken there. They're still sorting out how long they've been on the tax rolls that way and how much money they might owe as a result. But McCall insists the candidate wasn't at fault: "This had absolutely nothing to do with Gene Seaman or his campaign or his campaign office."
Seaman is in a reelection battle with Juan Garcia, a Democrat seeking office for the first time. It's one of a handful of races considered competitive by both the Republicans and the Democrats.
• Eissler owns a place in Austin and pays his wife, Linda Eissler, $500 "reimbursement for rent" monthly from his campaign account. He also pays her $1,000 monthly from the campaign for what's described in his reports only as "services." He says she does the books for his political accounts and takes care of related work.
Eissler doesn't claim any deductions on the Austin property, a 1,200-square-foot condo in the Hyde Park neighborhood north of the University of Texas campus. The appraisers put the value of the property at $187,795. Unlike other lawmakers who are paying spouses for properties in Austin, Eissler's place is on the books in his name — not his wife's.
He says he bought the property before he ran for the Lege, so his sons would have a place to live while they went to college. One still lives there. Eissler said the mortgage payments on the condo are "$1,600 to $1,700 a month" and that condo dues have to be paid on top of that. He pays the $500 rent out of his campaign to cover utilities and other expenses while he's staying there. And he says he asked around informally when he was elected about how to handle it, coming away with the impression that "you can pay rent, but you can't buy stuff [real estate]. If that's incorrect, we'll fix it," he says.
Eissler has two opponents in the general election but is in a seat generally considered safe. He'll face Sammie Miller, a Democrat, and Brian Drake, a Libertarian, in November.
• Truitt pays her husband, James Truitt, $1,700 a month from the campaign account for an Austin property. Their 1,218-square-foot, $199,364 condo is a few blocks north and west of the state Capitol. They claim no property tax exemptions there.
The TEXVAC group that started on Goodman this week (while we were in progress on this) issued a press release detailing Truitt's campaign payments for real estate.
She, too, had a political consultant return our call. Their version: Her husband owns the property and his is the only name on the mortgage. They've legally partitioned the property and the loan, and the money he collects in rent doesn't accrue to her benefit.
Truitt's only opponent in November is Jacob Glatz, a Libertarian.
• Brimer's property is in the Westgate building across the street from the Texas Capitol, a favorite location for members and lobbyists for years. The condo is on the tax rolls in the name of his wife — Janna K. Brimer — and she claims no tax exemptions on it. The place is small — 903 square feet — but the location is valuable, and Travis County's appraisers say it's worth $258,216.
From his campaign account, Brimer pays $2,975 monthly to JKB Realty in Fort Worth — her company. "Why should I pay rent to some liberal Austin landlord?" he says.
Brimer thinks it was his query to the Texas Ethics Commission that cleared the practice of renting from a spouse, so long as it's done in a particular way. "It just has to be totally arms-length," he says. He and his wife had separate property before they were married, and they still do. He says they've lawyered the Austin deal to make it clear that she owns the condo and the mortgage on it. She charges full market rent, too, he says: "She is my landlord and she can kick my butt out anytime." He isn't up for election this year.
Ignore the Frontrunner
To beat the incumbent in this year's race for governor, all a challenger has to do is win about two-thirds of the anti-Rick Perry vote. In a four-person field, that's not as easy as it sounds. But unless one of the four challengers to the incumbent can amass a supermajority among voters looking for change, Perry will coast into his second full term in the Pink Building's middle office.
Most of the money is in the hands of an independent candidate — Carole Keeton Strayhorn — who's running as a non-Republican for the first time since she jumped into partisan politics.
The grass-roots support of a major political party is tied to a Democrat — that'd be Chris Bell — who's never run for office outside of Houston and Amarillo and who hasn't yet gained significant support from party loyalists with money.
The middle-finger candidate trying to attract the votes of Texans who want some change and want it from someone who hasn't been playing politics all those years, has the celebrity and the mouth to attract free media coverage. But author-entertainer Kinky Friedman is counting on support from people who generally don't bother to vote (increase your skepticism about any enterprise if its success depends on something happening which has never happened before; see Sanchez, Tony, and a 2002 gubernatorial campaign premised on a groundswell of support from Texans who'd never voted).
And there's James Werner, the Libertarian in the contest. His party has never mustered more than a small percentage of votes in a statewide race with candidates from both other parties. Nevertheless, even a small number of votes denied to another candidate could spell the difference. And conventional wisdom is that Libertarian candidates poach on conservative voters who'd otherwise vote for Republicans.
If he can hold onto the support of the 35 to 40 percent of voters who tell pollsters they're for Rick Perry, and if none of the three main challengers can break out of the traffic jam for second place, the incumbent will get another four years.
The money leader going into that four-person race for second is Strayhorn. It's not even close. She had $8.1 million at mid-year, compared with $654,501 for Bell, $491,372 for Friedman, and $1,330 for Werner.
Got base? If the built-in support for the big political parties is important, Bell's got the edge. He'll get the support of anyone who pulls the Democratic lever and leaves the voting booth. This is one for the political scientists: You'll find knowledgeable people who will tell you any Democrat will get a minimum of 30 percent of the vote in any statewide race in Texas.
Friedman's a wild card in every sense. If people are both sick of politics and willing to participate in politics at the same time, he might be onto something.
But none of the challengers has a shot if more than one of them does even moderately well. They'll split the "change" vote and Perry will glide into another four years in office.
Waiting for a Breakaway in Second Place
A survey done for Texans for Insurance Reform — a PAC loosely affiliated with the Texas Trial Lawyers Association — has Rick Perry in front of the pack, followed by Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Chris Bell, and Kinky Friedman.
The second-place position in that poll belongs to "undecided," at 20 percent. They had Perry at 41 percent, Strayhorn at 14 percent, and Bell and Friedman at 13 percent each. The polling was done before the current round of television spots were on the air. In a memo to TTLA's 2,000 members, the group's political director, Russ Tidwell, wrote that Strayhorn is the "most favorably known" of the three main challengers and that Friedman is seen unfavorably by more voters than see him favorably. Usually, you have to be in office for a while to get that result.
Asked for their second choice in the Guv's race, the 600 people polled by Austin-based Opinion Analysts said: Strayhorn, 20%; Bell, 14%; Perry and Friedman, 10% each.
Their conclusion: Perry's not beatable at 41 percent, but would be at 36 percent or less. And Tidwell is advising the individual members of TTLA to stay out, waiting to see whether TV ads and other noise shows the top race turning into a two-person contest in a month or so.
Up and At 'Em
Gov. Rick Perry is opening the heavy two months of the election cycle with a spot that says "we can't have homeland security without border security." Carole Keeton Strayhorn — the best-funded of his opponents — is starting out with two spots reminding voters of who she is and asking them to help her "shake Austin up."
The two gubernatorial contenders each bought statewide television time and plan to remain on the tube until Election Day on November 7. Kinky Friedman, who like Strayhorn is running as an independent, bought a small amount of TV time for a new ad that hasn't been previewed for reporters yet. Democrat Chris Bell and Libertarian James Werner don't have an on-air presence at the moment.
Perry and Strayhorn were first out of the chute (in this round; everybody but Werner ran ads at some point earlier in the year). Perry's going at border security, an obvious enough target at a time when immigration is at or near the top of issues that show up in polls of Republican voters in Texas. Strayhorn, an Austin native who's been in politics since the 1970s, is running as an outsider who wants to jangle the status quo.
In his ad, Perry is shown poking around on the Texas-Mexico border in jeans and a jacket with a local official, also in jeans. On a split screen, the ad shows a military helicopter patrolling farmland, a shot from the air of traffic backed up at a border checkpoint, someone loading a truck at night, and then an unidentified person getting handcuffed, also at night. The last shot is of Perry on a bluff over the river, next to a patch of prickly pear cactus. (Click on the titles to see the spots.)
Perry: "If Washington won't protect our border, Texas will. Here along the Rio Grande, we're funding a border-wide crime control effort. Led by local law enforcement."
Announcer: "Gov. Rick Perry ordered the Texas National Guard to provide border security support six months before the president requested it. And he's fighting for $100 million to stop illegal activity."
Perry: "We're increasing patrols. Using technology to stop terrorists from crossing our border. We can't have homeland security without border security."
Strayhorn is running two spots. In both, she's in front of a white backdrop wearing a suit and talking straight into the camera.
Strayhorn: "Why am I running for governor? Here's why: I'm 67 years old. My future isn't politics. It's my grandkids. And I want to protect their future from an Austin that doesn't listen, spends money we don't have and taxes us when they want more. We have underfunded schools, overtaxed homeowners, foreign-owned toll roads, and a Capitol full of politicians more worried about special interests than about us. I'm Carole Keeton Strayhorn. This grandma wants to shake Austin up."
Strayhorn: "Partisan politics has let us all down. In Austin they are so busy yelling at each other they've stopped listening to us. Let's remember who we are. Before we were Republicans and Democrats, before we chose sides, we were first and foremost Texans. And we've got to learn to set aside our political differences and get something done. I'm Carole Keeton Strayhorn. This election let's do something serious. Let's make Austin listen. Let's shake Austin up."
The Continuing Adventures of Ciro Rodriguez
Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, remains on the ballot in CD-23, after telling supporters and reporters that he was out of the contest. He jinxed a union endorsement with that very public imitation of a Rainbow Trout on a sidewalk; what might have been neutral ended up as an endorsement (complete with ground troops) for Albert Uresti. The field includes the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio; Democrats August "Augie" Beltran of San Antonio; Rick Bolaños of El Paso; Adrian De Leon of Carrizo Springs; Lukin Gilliland of San Antonio; and independent candidate Craig Stephens of San Antonio.
Former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson will run for Tom DeLay's seat in CD-22, but he didn't sign up for the special election to fill that seat for the time between the November elections and what would have been the last day of DeLay's term, had the incumbent not resigned. Contestants for the stub term include Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Republican member of the Houston City Council; Republican Don Richardson, a Houston Republican who owns a computer store; Libertarian Bob Smither, a Friendswood engineer; former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, a consultant and Republican from Friendswood; and Dr. Giannibecego Hoa Tran, a Houston Republican.
Smither and Lampson will be on the ballot for the full term. Richardson, Sekula-Gibbs, and Joe Reasbeck of Lago Vista are certified write-in candidates for that ballot.
Sekula-Gibbs is touting a poll that shows her ahead of Lampson, but the pollsters didn't have a reliable way to ask voters if they'd be able to write in her name. In a straight horse race question, pollster Baselice & Associates says she's ahead 46-35. Most — 85 percent — know there's a write-in candidate, and over half know it's her.
Candidates signed up for two other stub terms for the statehouse. In SD-19, where Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, quit, Republican real estate broker Dick Bowen of El Paso will face Democrat Carlos Uresti of San Antonio for the last weeks of the term. That exactly matches the ballot for the full term in the seat.
In HD-33, where Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, quit, two Democrats and a Republican will run: Republican Joe McComb of Corpus, a former county commissioner who runs a relocation business; Democrat Danny Noyola Sr., a Democrat and retired educator who lost a bitter insider contest to get on the ballot for a full term; and Democrat Solomon Ortiz Jr., the Democrat who beat him. Ortiz is a former Nueces County chairman of the party, and the son of the longtime congressman. McComb and Ortiz are the only two candidates seeking the full term.
All About the Money
The Texas Ethics Commission added a new whirligig to their campaign finance reporting website: A report of the cash on hand balances in all political accounts as of the latest reporting period.
We pulled it off, put it into our off-the-shelf number-mangler for reordering and popped out a list of the top accounts at the mid-year point. Some of this is known territory — your big-time gubernatorial candidates are here. But some of the entities that pop up on the list aren't among the usual suspects: The Association State PAC, for instance, or Texas Our Texas.
The list includes 1,865 political accounts holding a total combined balance of $96.6 million. Break it down: $39.2 million is in the top ten accounts; $57.9 million is in the top 50, and $67 million is in the top 100. Or do this: $96.6 million is about $4.22 for each child, woman, and man in the state. It took $1.1 million or better to get into the top 10. Half a million would rank you 23rd, and $250,000 would put you at number 54.
What you see here is a list of the top 50 accounts. You can download a printer-friendly list of the top 100 by clicking here or by looking in the Files section of our website.
Former Texas Railroad Commissioner Lena Guerrero and her husband Leo Aguirre, both staunch Democrats, endorsed Gov. Rick Perry for reelection over a bitter rival, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Guerrero lost the RRC spot after a firestorm over her resume: She claimed a college degree she hadn't earned, and then bungled the explanation when the story came out. Strayhorn's camp — though they were out of the race by then — claimed credit for handing the damning information to Guerrero's opponent. Guerrero served in the House with Perry when he was a Democrat; they were both elected to that body in 1984.
• Michael Esparza, a Republican running in for the Texas House in HD-35, got a relatively rare endorsement (in statehouse races, anyhow) from former President George H. W. Bush. Esparza is challenging Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Alice.
• Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, was endorsed by the Texas League of Conservation Voters.
• Kinky Friedman always said he'd be unusual.
Now Friedman, a Jew, is preaching to political supporters from the New Testament's Gospel of John. Jews pretty much stick to the Old Testament, but Friedman somehow makes it work.
In "A personal message from Kinky" video on his website, he appeals to supporters for contributions ("Folks — send money!" is the opener) by telling the story of the Good Shepherd, saying he heard the story in a Presbyterian church at the funeral of a friend. Friedman's version has Gov. Rick Perry has the hired hand who doesn't take care of the sheep. He says he wants the other gig: "I want to be the good shepherd for Texas. It's time somebody was."
There and elsewhere on his website, Friedman has fundraising appeals to get him some TV time. One says the campaign has raised $192,000 since August 1. That's real money, but a week of saturation-level advertising across the state costs about $1 million.
• Want a Kinky Friedman yard sign? It'll cost you. Instead of giving them away like most campaigns do, the author/singer's campaign is charging 12 bucks for a sign, and 15 bucks if you want one with a stand you can stick into the ground.
Appointments, Made on the Eve of a Holiday Weekend
Just before the long Labor Day weekend, Gov. Rick Perry filled one of the prominent holes in his branch of government, handing the open spot on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to Martin Hubert — deputy commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture.
By picking Hubert, Perry knocked back two bits of speculation: One, on who might get the appointment at TCEQ, and two, on who might follow Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs if she wins the comptroller's job in November. Hubert's a lawyer from a South Texas ranching and farming family. Among other things, he was general counsel for a time to then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. He's the latest in a line of top Ag department people who went from there to TCEQ that includes, among others, Barry McBee and Geoff Connor, both of whom moved into bigger and better jobs when they left the environmental agency.
For the small group of people who follow this stuff — agency types, tax wonks, lawyers, lobbyists, political consultants and lawmakers — Hubert's been touted as a potential top assistant to the state's tax collector. The appointment doesn't make a job with the next comptroller impossible (assuming Combs wins), but it takes him out of the mix for now. He's appointed to a term that runs through 2011, which means he could stay that long; it doesn't mean he has to stay that long. Lisa Woods, who's been working on the Combs campaign, will take over some of the pre-transition work Hubert had been working on. She's the new deputy commissioner at Ag.
Hubert goes to TCEQ at an interesting moment. The three-member commission is due to decide the fate of a new coal plant in East Texas that Dallas-based TXU wants to build. Administrative law judges at the State Office of Administrative Hearings have recommended against allowing the plants, but the final decision is up to the three commissioners. With Hubert on board, there's no chance of a tie vote.
• Perry appointed Carin Marcy Barth of Houston to the Texas Public Finance Authority. She's the president of LB Capital.
• He named three new members to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, including Rosemary Combs of El Paso, Alice Mendoza of Kingsville, and Jeanne Waggener of Waco. Combs, who is being reappointed, is former executive director of the El Paso Center on Family Violence. Mendoza and Waggener are pharmacists. Mendoza is director of pharmacy at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital in Kleberg; Waggener is assistant manager of the Wal-Mart pharmacy in Bellmead.
Political People and Their Moves
He gets a free do-over at the beginning of the next legislative session, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst scooted some chairs around to fill behind Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio. Madla resigned after losing the Democratic primary, leaving the Intergovernmental Relations Committee without a chairman. Dewhurst named Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, to chair the committee. In West's place as chairman of the Senate's Subcommittee on Higher Education, he named Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. West will remain the vice chairman of the Senate's Education Committee; Zaffirini will keep the vice chair gig on the Senate Finance Committee.
Gov. Rick Perry named Jack McGaughey of Nocona the new district attorney for Archer, Clay, and Montague Counties. McGaughey has been the acting chief since the resignation (after drunk driving charges in Oklahoma) of District Attorney Tim Cole.
Brian D. Smith is hanging out a lobby/lawyer shingle in San Antonio and will be doing work there and in Austin. He ran the East Montgomery County Improvement District and was city manager in Vidor before jumping the rails to go to law school.
Patti Kilday Hart — half the writing team on Texas Monthly's list of best and worst lawmakers for the last nine legislative sessions — is leaving the world of journalism for a communications gig with Austin-based Strategic Partnerships, Inc. That's the outfit headed by former Railroad Commissioner Mary Scott Nabers.
Deaths: Nellie Connally, the state's First Lady for six years in the 1960s, wife of the late Gov. John Connally. She was 87.
Stanley Boysen, a four-term Democratic lawmaker from Yoakum who ran the Texas Optometric Association for 26 years, until 1990. He was 80.
Quotes of the Week
Democrat Chris Bell, on the trail and quoted by the Associated Press: "Jesus had the most radical social agenda in the world. Why don't Democrats ever invoke that?"
Rep. Gene Seaman, quoted in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times telling supporters to keep him in office: "It's important to save senior legislators, not me. Ellen and I can always do something else. For the $600 a month that I make, I could go back to selling insurance."
Dr. Steve Hotze of Houston, a conservative who opposed the governor's tax plan, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who he'll support in the governor's race this year: "I'm staying out of it. When you have Republicans doing what Democrats used to do, which is tax us to death and spend money like drunken sailors, you know you've got trouble."
Al Cordeiro, with the Austin County Sheriff's Department, on rising crime, quoted by the Sealy News: "I've had to pull my gun out of this holster in this county this year more than I've had to since 1963. The sheriff hasn't taken Opie fishing in a long time, and Mayberry isn't here anymore."
American Idol singer Kelly Clarkson, after hugging U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Keep wearing whatever you're wearing. That smells good."
Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 12, 11 September 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.