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Minority Report

A new poll of registered voters done for the Texas Credit Union League has everybody in the governor's race well below the 50 percent that would give them a majority. Gov. Rick Perry is at the front of the pack, with 42 percent, followed by Democrat Chris Bell at 20 percent, independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn at 18 percent, independent Kinky Friedman at 12 percent, and Libertarian James Werner at 2 percent.

A new poll of registered voters done for the Texas Credit Union League has everybody in the governor's race well below the 50 percent that would give them a majority. Gov. Rick Perry is at the front of the pack, with 42 percent, followed by Democrat Chris Bell at 20 percent, independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn at 18 percent, independent Kinky Friedman at 12 percent, and Libertarian James Werner at 2 percent.

Perry's favorable/unfavorable numbers are 55 percent and 37 percent. Strayhorn's are 41 percent and 26 percent. Friedman's are 27 percent and 31 percent. Bell's are 23 percent and 16 percent. Werner's are 10 percent and 6 percent. Several of the candidates aren't winning the support of all the people who have a favorable impression of them. And Bell's pulling 23 percent of the vote even though 61 percent of the likely voters either weren't aware of him or didn't really have an impression. In both cases, that's potential ground for movement.

Two more bits before we move on to the rest of the TCUL poll. Perry is getting 71 percent of the support from self-identified Republicans. Bell's getting 44 percent from Democrats. Friedman is getting 6 percent of the Republicans and 14 percent of the Democrats; Strayhorn is getting 15 percent of the Republicans and 20 percent of the Democrats. Second, the pollsters asked people if they were definitely voting for a candidate or just leaning. If you just look at the definite voters, you get Perry at 27 percent, Bell at 12 percent, Friedman and Strayhorn both at 7 percent, and Werner at 1 percent.

• Almost half, 47 percent, think the country is on the wrong track, while 42 percent think it's on the right track. George W. Bush's job approval is at 58 percent; 39 percent disapprove "somewhat" or "strongly." Ask them about the direction of their part of the state, and 50 percent of Texans think the direction's right; 42 percent think the state's on the wrong track.

• Congress gets a job approval rating of just 38 percent from Texans; 54 percent disapprove of the job done in the U.S. Capitol. More than half — 52 percent — think it's time to give someone new a chance in Congress in their own districts. Usually, the federal elected class is hoping for that old formulation: Hate the group, love the local U.S. representative. But the masses are in a testy mood, apparently.

• Contrast that with the numbers for the Texas Legislature: 49 percent think the statehouse is doing a good job, while 41 percent disapprove of the works wrought in the Pink Building. The locals are having a hard time in this category, too: 34 percent think their state legislators deserve another term, while 46 percent would like to give someone else a chance.

• We've heard a bunch of Texas pollsters say the party base votes are high (this is usually in conversation about the prospects for independent gubernatorial candidates). And look: 47 percent of Texans say they'll vote for the Republican candidate for the statehouse and 37 percent say they'll vote for the Democrat. Only 11 percent said either than it depends on the candidate or that they preferred a third party choice.

• Their top priorities? Add the results for their first and second choices and you get education (58%), controlling immigration and protecting the border (50%), providing affordable health care (35%), keeping taxes low (34%), and improving roads and controlling traffic (12%).

The full set of cross-tabs for the poll is available in the Files section of our website or by clicking here.

The pollsters hired by the TCUL talked to 800 Texans over a two-week period, from September 5-18. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent. TCUL used two Washington, D.C.-based pollsters (one from the GOP and one from the Democrats): Voter/Consumer Research, and Hamilton Beattie & Staff.

Carole Copies Kinky Comix

Carole Keeton Strayhorn is the beneficiary of a Kinky-style animated ad paid for by a third-party political action committee based in Austin and formed to fight Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor. To make things even more interesting, her campaign is one of the group's contributors.

The People for Efficient Transportation PAC (PETPAC) has a two-and-a-half minute cartoon loaded on the Internet attacking Perry's highway plans and urging voters to support Strayhorn. You can see it at YouTube.com.

 DumpPerry.com — the Internet domain at the end of the spot — is registered to PETPAC, also noted there. The address given is in Austin's Circle C Development at the residence of Sal Costello, an anti-toll road activist who also has an advertising firm that he apparently runs from home; it's got the same address and phone number. Two other web addresses — StopPerryLandGrab.com and TexasTollParty.com — jump to the same site.

PETPAC is registered with the state, and has paid Costello for work on various campaigns over the last few years. And they're linked financially to Strayhorn's campaign, which contributed $5,000 (through Friends of Carole Keeton Strayhorn PAC) to PETPAC in February of this year and another $5,000 in April. In one report, PETPAC listed Strayhorn as one of its supported candidates. In other reports, it's supported a number of Democrats and Republicans for various offices, often against incumbents in the Texas Legislature. That's a possible sore spot in the already testy relationship the comptroller has with some lawmakers.

Filling in Ovals All Day Long

Democrat Chris Bell unveiled his first two television spots of the fall touting his positions on education, stem cell research and health insurance. That means all four of the major candidates for governor are on the air.

In both of the new ads, Bell is standing in a law library talking to the camera while the words "Democrat Chris Bell for governor" appear at the bottom of the screen. He does the talking.

"Change": "I'm Chris Bell, and with a dropout rate near 40 percent, Texas  schools need big changes. We need to prepare our students for greatness, not just for standardized tests. We need to recruit and keep the best teachers. And we need to make sure students pass a tough curriculum to get them ready for a lifetime of learning. Our kids should be leading the world, and they're not going to get there by filling in little ovals all day long. When I'm Governor, we'll have the best schools in the country."

"Heart": "I'm Chris Bell, and we need big changes. That's why when I'm Governor, I'll lead a new Texas revolution. We can make Texas schools the best in the country if we teach our kids more than how to take standardized tests. We can cure disease by making Texas a leader in stem cell research. And we can keep our kids healthy if we stop cutting children's health insurance. Then the Texas that's in our hearts can become the Texas we see around us."

Bell's aides say the spots are running statewide, but only on cable television (not broadcast networks). The two spots are being rotated, and he filmed two more (not shown outside the campaign yet) that will be added to the mix later. They won't say what they spent or how frequently the ads are running, but do say they intend to have the candidate on TV from now until Election Day.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

Rick Perry's campaign attacked Carole Keeton Strayhorn for getting secret advice on tax policy from an industry panel that includes some large donors to her campaigns. The tax policies adopted by the comptroller directly affect some of those panelists and/or their clients.

But the attack is a sort of political Mobius strip that ends where it started. The task force appointed by Perry to write the largest business tax bill in state history included some large donors to his campaign, it deliberated secretly, and it wrote a tax bill that had a direct impact on the businesses owned and/or operated by some of those panelists and/or their clients.

A cynic might point out that there are less than 50 days left between now and the election for governor. But that would miss an interesting story. The panels set up to advise executive officers in government — that's everybody who isn't in the legislative and judicial branches — aren't required to meet in public. In large measure, they don't have to report what they're working on or what they're doing. That's because they don't make final decisions about state law and policy.

The Tax Advisory Commission at the comptroller's office — set up before Strayhorn was in the big office on the first floor of that state office building — gives the comptroller a read on how different interpretations of a given tax law will translate into the real world. The panelists include a number of former comptroller employees who left for the private sector, where they now advise taxpayers on issues with the state's tax collectors. According to the Perry folk, the members of the panel have contributed $641,532 to Strayhorn's campaigns. The biggest single contributor is G. Brint Ryan, whose Ryan & Co. represents companies with cases at the comptroller's office. In their view, the combination of financial support from panelists and her tax rulings — potentially in favor of those supporters' interests — creates a conflict.

But Ryan's bet is hedged. His Austin partner — former Comptroller John Sharp — headed Perry's task force on tax reform, a panel formed late last year to recommend an overhaul of the state's business tax and to make it big enough to pay for cuts in local school property taxes. Perry named two dozen members to the panel, including a fair number who contribute to his campaigns and/or represent businesses that had much at stake in the tax bill.

Because they're advisory panels, the two committees aren't required to hold open meetings (the tax reform panel was disbanded when it finished writing the tax bill that was passed last spring by the Legislature). And both had members benefiting personally or professionally from the work they were doing. And both have members who support the elected official who appointed them. Strayhorn's camp says they amount to the same thing; if she's got a problem here, Perry does, too. Perry's folks say it's different, if only because Strayhorn has the power to make the final decision in tax cases. Perry got to sign the tax bill his panel wrote, but only after the Legislature had a shot at it.

There's one more thing: The relationships between the comptroller's decisions and her campaign contributions are the centerpiece of Perry's campaign against her. Strayhorn has said she'd repeal his tax bill, but that hasn't been the main thrust of her campaign to unseat him.

Promises, Promises

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, said during a debate that he's been assured he'll get a spot on the Senate Finance Committee, but the lieutenant governor says he won't make committee decisions until the end of the year.

Republican Dee Margo made a remark about Shapleigh being removed from the budget-writing panel to illustrate what he calls El Paso's lack of clout in the Senate. Shapleigh responded with a line that triggered a burst of applause from the audience at that candidate forum: "I spoke with David Dewhurst, several times, and in November, he’s putting me back on the Finance Committee." We followed up with a phone call, and got this quote, attributed to Dewhurst, from one of his aides: "I've been talking to almost all of the senators about committee apppointments. I won't make any decisions until the end of the year."

Even if there had been a promise, Shapleigh might have ruined it by saying the words out loud. He hasn't won reelection yet. Neither has Dewhurst.

There is an open spot on the committee, left there when San Antonio Democrat Frank Madla resigned from the Senate earlier this summer. Dewhurst has so far chosen not to fill the post, though the committee is working on interim reports and preliminary budgeting for next year. If he sticks to custom, Dewhurst won't name his new committees (assuming he's reelected) until after the legislative session starts in January. Shapleigh, put on the committee and later reassigned by Dewhurst, might be able to get his seat back. But it's no sure thing.

Shapleigh, clearly unhappy that the story traveled from El Paso to Austin, stuck to his version. "I know what I heard," he said.

Think of a Number

Bob Perry's two checks to Bill Ceverha have floated back into the news, this time in the form of a draft opinion under consideration by the Texas Ethics Commission.

Perry, a Houston homebuilder and heavy contributor to (mostly) Republican causes and candidates, gave Ceverha, a member of the board at the Employee Retirement System, two $50,000 checks. Ceverha is a political consultant and the checks were gifts. Because he's also on the ERS board (an unpaid position), he had to report the gifts. So he reported that he had received two checks, without disclosing the amounts (he and Perry voluntarily disclosed the amounts after an uproar from Democrats was reported in the media).

The Ethics Commission says the disclosure was properly handled, that state law doesn't require the recipient of a gift to disclose its value. Ceverha had to report the gifts, and had to say they were checks. That, according to TEC, met the legal requirements. As long as the check itself is reported, it doesn't make any difference whether it was for $251 or $251,000.

They're getting a lot of blow-back from Democrats who've been pushing for more disclosure. But in the draft of their opinion, they've settled on the blank check approach. If they adopt the draft, that'll be their official position. But that's not the end of it: The commission might ask the Legislature to consider the issue in January, to make the law explicit.

Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, has already jumped in to say he'll sponsor legislation requiring the amount of a check to be included in its description on ethics disclosure reports.

Elected Editors Emasculated

The State Board of Education's editorial power over textbooks is limited, according to Attorney General Greg Abbott.

The elected board can object to factual errors and make sure the books meet its physical specs. Board members can decide whether a book goes on the "conforming" or "non-conforming" list. They can make sure books "foster the continuation of the tradition of teaching United States and Texas history and the free enterprise system," as specified in the law. But they can't go outside those fence lines set in state law by the Legislature.

Abbott's letter opinion followed a letter from SBOE member Terri Leo, who openly hoped Abbott would give the board a more liberal set of guidelines than his predecessors. Among other things, she wanted Abbott to reconsider an earlier opinion issued by then-Attorney General Dan Morales that barred the SBOE from setting "general textbook content standards" as a condition for getting on the "conforming" list. In plain language, the board can require textbook publishers to include information needed to teach to state standards, but has much less power when it comes to telling publishers what to leave out.

She also wanted "ancillary materials" provided by textbook publishers included in what's reviewed by the SBOE. She went on to say in her request that the board is allowed to say what must be in a book, but not what's to be left out. Abbott wriggled out of that question, backing out of the earlier opinion without taking a new position. Think like a lawyer and not like a human to get this next bit: Whether materials are ancillary or part of a textbook has to be decided case by case. It "is not, therefore, amenable to the opinion process." Abbott's opinion offers no guidance on how those ought to be worked out, leaving it to battles at the SBOE and, possibly, in the courts. That's not a clear win for Leo, and it's not a clear win for folks who wanted ancillary materials kept out of the board's reach.

Leo, a Republican from Spring, called the opinion a "clear victory." Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network also took it as a win. (Either Abbott got the politics exactly right, or somebody doesn't know what happened to them).

Leo said the ruling will keep lawyers at the Texas Education Agency from trying to remove requirements to teach history and the free enterprise system. She conceded the SBOE doesn't get any new authority from the current AG, but said Abbott agreed with her contention that Morales went too far on supplemental materials.

Miller said the first part of the opinion — which essentially agreed with Morales on the board's editorial control of textbooks — is a win for people who want the SBOE's powers limited. As for the ancillaries, she said the board is out of bounds when it pushes materials out of textbooks and into supplemental materials (she used "required information about responsible teen pregnancy and STD (sexually transmitted disease) prevention" as an example.

That's a potential battleground for the future. Abbott's opinion that what's in the extras depends on the circumstances leaves the area open for argument.

Playing Favorites

The Texas Parent PAC got busy this week, dealing endorsements to candidates they consider pro-education. That's a bipartisan PAC, but this wave doesn't include any Republicans. Their list includes Democrat Joe Farias, who's running for an open seat in HD-118 in San Antonio. He's a former school board member and his opponent, George Antuna, R-San Antonio, favors limited publicly funded vouchers for private school tuition. In Austin, the group endorsed Democrat Valinda Bolton over Republican Bill Welch in HD-47. They cited vouchers in that race, too, saying Bolton's the only candidate who's come out against them. In Dallas' HD-107, the group will support Democrat Allen Vaught, who's challenging Rep. Bill Keffer, R-Dallas. He's a lawyer and a veteran of the Iraqi war. And they picked another Democrat, Kristi Thibaut, in HD-133, the House seat opened when Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, ran for state Senate. She'll face Republican Jim Murphy in November.

• Endorsements are out from Texans for Lawsuit Reform — an outfit that's been known to weigh into campaigns with Real American Money. That group is pulling for the status quo in all but one state Senate race; they're for Republican Dee Margo, who's challenging Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, in SD-29. In the House, they're mostly endorsing incumbents in races where they're endorsing anyone at all. The sole exception is in HD-12, where they like Republican Jody Anderson over Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin. They endorsed in eight open seat races, picking the Republican every time (they endorse Democrats, too, but not in this year's open seats). That's a list of candidates that includes Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, in HD-16; John Zerwas, R-Richmond, in HD-28; Bill Welch, R-Austin, in HD-47; Jim Landtroop, R-Plainview, in HD-85; Thomas Latham, R-Sunnyvale, in HD-101; George Antuna, R-San Antonio, in HD-118, Patricia Harless, R-Spring, in HD-126; and Jim Murphy, R-Houston, in HD-133.

Flotsam & Jetsam

A gang of good government groups is pushing a list of ethics reforms they hope the next Legislature will pass. Common Cause Texas, the League of Women Voters, the Gray Panthers of Texas, Public Citizen Texas, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, and Texans for Public Justice want the state to put a $100,000 aggregate limit on individual contributions, to close the revolving door between the Lege and the lobby, to replace judicial elections with appointment and retention elections, to record all but the ceremonial legislative votes, and to create an independent redistricting commission. They've got sponsors lined up for all but one of those ideas: The revolving door limits.

• Watch for "Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency," another book on the folks in Washington, D.C., written by political reporters here in Texas. Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, the former and current editor, respectively, of the Texas Observer in Austin contend that Cheney is the dominant partner in George W. Bush's White House. It's out in mid-October, but on the pre-order list now. Dubose has written books on Bush and on former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. This is Bernstein's first book.

• We've mentioned "Applebee's America" here before; we're mentioning it again because it's now in the bookstores. Austin political consultant Matthew Dowd, who came up in the Democratic ranks and now works for Republicans (Bush and now Arnold Schwarzenegger) co-wrote it with former Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier and  Douglas Sosnik, who worked for President Bill Clinton. They use political campaigns, the restaurant chain in the title and megachurches to talk about what unites and divides Americans.

• U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is touting his pollster's finding that he's leading his race for reelection. It's all good news for him (or why would he announce it?): He's got an 8-to-1 positive rating from likely voters and his opponents are not well known. He's at 65 percent, with undecided in second place at 21 percent, Democrat Frank Enriquez at 9 percent, and Ron Avery of the Constitution Party at 5 percent.

• Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, will debate Democrat Ellen Cohen and Libertarian Mhair Dekmezian at Rice University October 12. The organizers say Dekmezian, a student, was invited at Wong's insistence. That's getting interesting. Wong is running spots touting her support for the Children's Health Insurance Program (among other things), and Cohen's shooting back, saying Wong voted to cut the things she's bragging she supports. Both sides say that'll be a close race.

• Singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen will do three fundraisers for the Texas Democratic Party, one each in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. All are acoustic sets. All will be held in private homes. Tickets range from $1,000 to $5,000.

• The Sierra Club endorsed Democrat Chris Bell in the governor's race, saying he's "made protection of the environment a high priority issue in his campaign."

• Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, a Republican, endorsed statehouse candidate Michael Esparza, R-Alice, who's challenging Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Alice, in HD-35.

• The Texas Association of Business fired off an endorsement letter to Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, after telling him, his opponent, and everyone else they'd be endorsing Republican Jody Anderson in the HD-12 contest. TAB President Bill Hammond said the letter was a simple mistake — TAB's political action committee (called BACPAC) is sticking with Anderson.

Political People and Their Moves

Former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Louis Sturns of Fort Worth will join the Texas Safety Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Public Safety. Sturns, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, has been practicing law since he lost a reelection bid for the state's highest criminal court. He also did a stint as a Texas Racing Commissioner and a member of the state Ethics Commission.

Jay Dyer is the new general counsel to Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams. He's been the director of regulatory affairs at the Texas Association of Builders, and was with the Austin office of Vinson and Elkins before that. He's replacing Trey Trainor, who left SOS to go back to work for state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford. 

Dr. Dan Stultz is the new president and CEO of the Texas Hospital Association. He'll replace Richard Bettis, who has been in that job since 2001. They'll make the switch at the end of the year. Stultz, the CEO at Shannon Health System in San Angelo and the former chairman of THA's board of trustees, was hired after an 11-month search.

Gena Nivens Keller is the new director of communications for the Texas Cable and Telecommunications Association, a spot they'd been out-sourcing. Kirsten Voinis will stay on as an outside consultant. Keller has been running her own PR firm until now.

Lauren Presnal moves from the Texas Department of Agriculture to the Senate, where she'll be an aide to Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.

Deaths: Former state District Judge Edward Marquez of El Paso, who convened a court of inquiry in 1994 to call the state to task for inadequate funding of highway projects. He was 75.

Gregg Cooke, the former regional head of the Environmental Protection Agency, after a workout at the Dallas YMCA. He was named to that federal spot by President Bill Clinton, but retained by President George W. Bush, who opted for continuity (there were some clean air issues pending at the time) over party. Cooke worked in the Texas Attorney General's office before taking that federal post. Since leaving that gig, he'd been a lawyer with Guida, Slavich and Flores, a Dallas firm. He was 51.

Quotes of the Week

From a 1980 tape of Kinky Friedman that turned up this week on the Burnt Orange Report, a Democratic blog in Austin: "Then I come down to Houston, I went to a bowling alley. I couldn't go bowling, there were no bowling balls. The people here throw 'em all in the sea, thought they were nigger eggs... thought they were nigger eggs."

From Democrat Chris Bell, in reaction: "The latest revelations of Kinky’s racist comments are disgusting. He can call it 'satire', but it’s just not funny."

Republican Rick Perry: "You can shade them by calling them politically incorrect if you want, but it's not lost on men and women of color that people make remarks that are clearly racist."

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, reacting: "No excuse can hide the racial insensitivity he has exhibited over the past days, months, and years. His words are no more acceptable today than if they were said ten, twenty or fifty years ago."

Carole Keeton Strayhorn: "The language Kinky Friedman used in 1980 was totally unacceptable then, and is totally unacceptable now. Such language is divisive and hurtful and has no place in any part of our society, regardless of one's race."

From Friedman's campaign: "While Rick Perry was cheerleading in college and Chris Bell was being potty trained, Kinky Friedman was picketing segregated restaurants in Austin to integrate them. Now that Kinky’s in second place and a serious threat to the two-party system, Perry and Chris Bell have paid political assassins digging back 30 years through fictional books, comedy shows and song lyrics, desperately seeking to paint Kinky as a racist... The latest political assassination attempt takes completely out of context a controversial word that Kinky was using in a 1980 stand-up performance to lampoon racists. Kinky was on stage exposing bigotry through comedy and satire. It’s incredulous that the major-party candidates have sunk to this — trying to paint Kinky as a racist when he’s actually doing the opposite..."

Lois Lerner, the director for exempt organizations at the IRS, quoted in The New York Times about churches and politics: "We became concerned in the 2004 election cycle that we were seeing more political activity among charities, including churches. In fact, of the organizations we looked at, we saw a very high percentage of some improper political activity, and that is really why we have ramped up the program in 2006."

Jimmy Gaines, president of the Texas Landowners Council, talking to The Dallas Morning News after courts ordered an Ellis County man to keep quiet to avoid scaring deer being hunted on the property next door: "This case concerns me. Cows make noise, donkeys make noise — there are noises with agriculture such as plows and other equipment. This jury may be abusing this guy."


Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 14, 25 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 biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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