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A Half-Penny for Your Thoughts

A half-cent increase in the sales tax could be used on a local option basis to lower property taxes, according to the head of the governor's task force on appraisal reform.

A half-cent increase in the sales tax could be used on a local option basis to lower property taxes, according to the head of the governor's task force on appraisal reform.

Tom Pauken, speaking to the Texas Association of Realtors, couched the idea as his own and said he hasn't sought approval of it from the rest of his task force or from Gov. Rick Perry.

With that caveat, he said the sales tax income could replace revenue from property taxes on a dollar-for-dollar basis, apportioned to each of the local governments in a participating county. Voters faced with that swap would find two other things in the package, as Pauken envisions it: A five percent cap on appraisal increases in a given year, and an increased homestead exemption (he didn't specify the size) for homeowners.

A spokeswoman for Perry said Pauken's job is to come up with some things for the public to talk about when they're beefing about appraisal reforms, and said the Perry hasn't seen or signed off on anything. (In the past, Perry has supported lowering the annual allowed increase in taxable property values to 5 percent from 10 percent.)

Pauken said the idea is one of several his panel is considering. They're looking at mandatory sales price disclosure, a requirement in most other states but an idea that's been batted down in Texas by Realtors, brokers, developers and landowners in years past.

Randy Jeffers of Amarillo, the chairman-elect of TAR, said the trade group doesn't like that as a standalone idea, but might be able to swallow it as part of a package of reforms. The Realtors are also opposed to appraisal caps, which they say distort market prices for real estate. Jeffers didn't say whether he liked Pauken's tax proposal, but said it appears on first glance to increase the complexity of the property tax system.

Pauken also said he'd like to change the school finance formulas, which he said reward districts for manipulating property appraisals, but he said that's outside his task force's charter. He likes the idea of revenue caps on local governments and said they shouldn't hide spending increases behind property value increases, but should raise taxes when they need to so voters can see what's going on. At the same time, he said local governments have a point about the state pushing spending upon them, and said the state ought to track and fund the mandates it forces onto cities and counties.

He said Realtors and other groups would find things they don't like in any proposal. The trick is to follow the example of the tax task force that worked out the property tax—business tax swap earlier this year: A majority liked the package in spite of components they opposed. "As a standalone, much of this would fail," Pauken said.

Debate Analysis Made Easy

Nothing that happened during the single gubernatorial debate made news, beyond the perfunctory stories everybody has to run simply because they staffed an event with reporters and photographers. Remember: Where you find a gaggle of reporters, you will later find stories, whether or not news was committed.

Normal Texans who watched might be a bit more educated about the candidates, but probably didn't see much they were still talking about 24 hours later. The debate didn't jump outside of its box. After the first round of stories, nothing that happened at that forum got repeated on the news, and talk of it — even in political circles — was fairly muted (that said, the sponsors claim the ratings were pretty good for a Friday night, topping competing programs in Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio). 

Mark it as a win for the incumbent, Gov. Rick Perry. He didn't make news with a mistake. And neither Chris Bell, Kinky Friedman, nor Carole Keeton Strayhorn buried arrows into any meaningful target. Bell came off best of the three challengers. Strayhorn appeared nervous and her answers to questions wandered, except in cases where she could fall into the words and rhythms she's been using in stump speeches and ads. Friedman rambled and seemed both overwhelmed and unprepared for the hour-long appearance.

Had Friedman or Strayhorn entered the debate as the frontrunner — with the expectations that attend that position — their performances would have made news and their campaigns would have taken a hit. As it stands, they both missed a chance to catch the attention of voters. Bell, on the other hand, looked serious and didn't blow it. He outdid the other challengers.

The Other Candidate Forum

Texas Monthly and the state's PBS stations got squeezed out of the debate (they usually take part, but the Dallas-based Belo Corp. scored an exclusive this time). But they might have the last laugh. All four candidates agreed to sit down — separately — for hour-long interviews on Texas Monthly Talks, a show produced by KLRU-TV in Austin and aired all over the state. The format — each candidate talking to TM Editor Evan Smith — got a little more out of each of them than the debate did. Tapings were open to the public (though attendance was light) and the shows will air between now and November 2. Since it's PBS, they'll be replayed several times, we're guessing; the schedule and, eventually, clips, will be on their webpage.

• Gov. Rick Perry defended his record and said he's running for reelection because he doesn't want the state to lose ground gained while he's been in office. He called Democrat Chris Bell his "principal opponent." Perry said he wants to focus on higher education if he's reelected, that he wants to lower the cap on annual growth in property tax appraisals. He defended the high-stakes testing in public schools and said students performance is responding to it. He said school finance is always a difficult issue: "It's your children and your money — the two things you care most about." He said his Trans Texas Corridor will eat up less private property and land than the alternatives to it. "There is not an asphalt fairy out there that comes and builds highways." He'd sign a "trigger" bill that reinstates the state laws that were in place in 1973 should the U.S. Supreme Court overrule its Roe v. Wade decision. He said he doesn't have anything personal against Carole Keeton Strayhorn, but called said, "her performance as comptroller has been really problematic." He said he's opposed to letting gay and lesbian couples adopt children, calling it "a less-than-appropriate situation." He said inviting Katrina evacuees to Texas was proper: "It could have been Houston, Texas, sending people to Louisiana. My hope is that they would have been as gracious." Asked about past and present utterances from Kinky Friedman, he said, "Words matter. It doesn't matter if you're standing on stage making money or running for governor. Words matter."

• Bell said he's running to "help move Texas in a positive direction" and because he sees a difference between what the state is and ought to be. He said Perry has brought to Austin the Washington style of politics. He criticized the decision to redo congressional districts after Republicans took control of the statehouse, a redistricting that cost Bell his post in Congress. He said the state should end its heavy reliance on the TAKS test and should give teachers a $6,000 pay raise, while also tying legislative pensions to teacher pay. He's against "militarizing" the Texas-Mexico border. He said he's opposed to same-sex marriages, but would allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt kids. Bell said Perry's transportation plans are "a misuse of the eminent domain process," a "multi-billion land grab," and said the Legislature ought to take another crack at it. He said he's against fast-tracking coal plans to make more electric energy available in the state. Bell said a "very vocal minority has seized control of the argument" over abortion and choice, and said the state needs to give kids more information so they'll avoid pregnancies in the first place. He said he favors the death penalty, but wants to review how it's administered. He called publicly funded vouchers for private schools "the greatest cop-out in American history. He's against them.

• Strayhorn started off by saying her campaign is timed to "go off like a Roman candle" right near Election Day, and said her timing is on track to overtake Perry. She repeated her criticism of his property tax cut and said it won't produce the $2,000 average savings he promised in his ads. "This governor has proposed the largest tax increase in history and left the largest hot check in history." She said the new tax "pushes into the service sector that's driving the economy" and contended that it includes a personal income tax (she added that provisions that make the tax due even when a business has no income is "a first in Texas"). She disputed Perry's claim that voters approved the Trans Texas Corridor, saying that wasn't at all clear when they voted. She reiterated her strong opposition to that project. She stumbled over a trivia question (see next item), and she said she has a "great schools plan" to raise teacher pay and improve schools. She'd get the money, in part, by allowing electronic slot machines at tracks where gambling is already legal. She'd backtrack on the new tax bill, and would use the recent increase in tobacco taxes for health care. Strayhorn, once a backer of vouchers, said she is "absolutely opposed" to them now. She said she would appoint consumers to the Public Utility Commission, but said a moment later she would merge that agency with the Texas Railroad Commission and let voters pick the commissioners. She said the state should have an independent commission to handle redistricting. She gave a very careful answer to Smith's abortion question, and she gave it twice, word for word: "As a mama and a grandmamma, I believe in the sanctity of life. But I recognize that there are difficult situations where those heart-breaking decisions have to be made." She said "marriage is between a man and a woman," but said she's opposed to discrimination and left the door open to civil unions.

• Friedman talked about Bell's wish that he get out of the race and said it illustrates "an arrogance in the two-party system, that they own the votes. They're not really his votes." He said Bell can't win with him in the race and that's why he wants Friedman out. He told Smith (his former editor) that if the turnout in November is small, the election will go the way the pundits think. He'll win if it's big, he said. "I think it's going to be huge." He interrupted the interview to introduce a documentary crew that's been following him around, and then he launched an attack on political correctness and stories about things he's said and written recently and in the past: "You don't apologize to people who are trying to intimidate you." He blasted Perry for criticizing him, calling the governor "a man in a $5,000 suit giving me a morality lesson" and reminded Smith of Perry's own gaffes with a TV interviewer and a state trooper he tried to stop from writing his aide a speeding ticket. Friedman got agitated, saying the old show now being used against him was similar to what comedian Chris Rock does now: "The purpose of the show was to offend everyone in the audience... it's truth-telling." He said the sound bites that were lifted weren't put in the context of the whole show they were a part of. "Everyone who's ever known me knows I'm not a racist. That's bullshit. It's B.S. Just B.S." Friedman talked about his work in the Peace Corps and in civil rights protests in Houston and said his "is not the resume of a racist... it shows that these bastards will stop at nothing." He said the state should give $100 million to law enforcement in Houston and elsewhere to combat crime, and again attributed much of that to Katrina evacuees from Louisiana. He'd undo this year's tax bill and allow casino gambling to help pay for education. He said he would decriminalize marijuana and would solve the prison crowding problem by increasing education and treatment for nonviolent criminals and getting them out of there. Asked about abortion, he said, "I don't think a committee of men should decide what a woman does with her body." He said he could deal with legislative leaders: "I can charm the pants off those people."

High Finance

Gov. Rick Perry's 30-day campaign finance report says he raised $3.1 million during July, August and September and that he got to the end of last month with $9.2 million in his campaign account. He got 84 contributions of $10,000 or more, 25 of $20,000 or more, and eight of $40,000 or more. Houston builder Bob Perry (no relation) gave $100,000, the biggest single contribution.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn says she raised $1.2 million during the three months and got to the end of it with $5 million in the bank. Her biggest chunk came from Ryan & Co. and some of its top execs. The Dallas tax firm's PAC and its execs gave $425,000 during the 90-day period. Two dozen of her contributions were for $10,000 or more.

Writer-musician Kinky Friedman raised $1.6 million, spent nearly $1 million, and got to the end of the month with $827,830 in the bank.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell raised $1.5 million during the three months, spent $1.7 million, and ended with $197,718 in the bank. The Houston Democrat's campaign says it raised another $40,000 in the days after the gubernatorial debate (that won't be on the report, as it occurred in October), and said that money and a promised contribution of $1 million will finance an expanded schedule for one of Bell's ads. What had been running only on cable is now also on broadcast TV.

Bell's biggest contribution before the end of September came from Harold Nix, the well-known trial lawyer from Daingerfield. That was one of 14 contributions of $10,000 or more to Bell.

John O'Quinn's promise to give $1 million or more to Bellcaught the ire of some of the trial bar's natural enemies. Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas said the "eye-popping sums" should prompt voters to ask what the givers want from the candidates, and it encouraged scrutiny of other candidates, too, saying voters "should openly inquire about who fills a candidate's campaign war chest — and why."  The Texas Civil Justice League, a lawsuit-limiting group that has endorsed Perry, also called on Bell to reject the donation.

It's apparently a record-setter. Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and others on this year's ballot have contributors who've pitched in hundreds of thousands of dollars over time, but $1 million in one pop from someone other than the candidate (think of Tony Sanchez Jr.) is apparently unprecedented. There's a bit of irony, too: Bell's called for limits on campaign contributions, and says he'll try to get that put in law if he's elected. From his website: "On the Houston City Council, Chris Bell led the fight to pass reasonable contribution limits, and now we need those same limits in place at the state level: $5,000 for individuals, and $10,000 for PACs. In addition, a $100,000 aggregate limit per election would also work to limit the influence of the wealthiest donors."

• Oopsie: Perry's press staff emailed reporters to say the governor had raised $4.7 million and had more than $10 million on hand. That was true... in July. They accidentally resent their mid-year report and the press release that came with it.

The Weird Turn Pro

Chris Bell called Kinky Friedman to try to set up a meeting to talk about Kinky getting out of the race. Friedman apparently got the message while he was traveling with a reporter from The Dallas Morning News. Bell says he didn't intend for this to be public, but when the News got it, he came out into the open.

The Bell statement: "I had hoped to talk to Kinky privately, but now that it's been reported by the Dallas Morning News, I'm going to ask him publicly. Please join me in defeating Rick Perry. Kinky Friedman has done a lot in this campaign to energize voters. I am proud to count among my supporters many of his friends. Kinky and I both want what's best for the state, and Rick Perry and Carole Strayhorn are not what's best for Texas. They are the problem. Kinky and I agree on some very important issues and our supporters all have a lot in common; they want change. And now is the time for us all to unite and elect a new governor. So I'm asking for Kinky to join me, and be a good shepherd for the state of Texas."

Kinky's reply: "We don't negotiate with terrorists."

Games People Play

Carole Keeton Strayhorn booted another Trivial Pursuit question from a reporter, this time in a taping for Texas Monthly Talks. At last week's debate, the Belo Corp. questioners did a game show round with the candidates, hitting them with fact questions and giving them 15 seconds to answer. Strayhorn couldn't immediately recall the name of the president-elect of Mexico, but fumbled around instead of just saying so. Viewers saw and heard her say this: "The newly-elected president of Mexico won with a very narrow margin, and there's been a lot of anxiety about that. The Strayhorn administration will work with all our friends south of the border. And I will be delighted to sit down with." Her time expired at that point.

During her interview a couple of days later with Texas Monthly Editor Evan Smith, Strayhorn made a joke of it, dropping Felipe Calderon's name into one of her answers. Smith took the cue.

"Let me give you a chance to redeem yourself. Who is the governor of New Mexico?"

"The governor of New Mexico is Richardson. Bill Richardson," Strayhorn answered.

"Who is the governor of Louisiana?"

"The Louisiana governor is, uh, uh, it is, just a second, it is, uh. Oh. Give me two seconds. Janet, uh, Janet, uh. I'll get it for you in just one second… Henry is in Oklahoma… one minute… give me a second, I'll come up with it."

"We'll come back to it," Smith said. "I'll ask you a harder question. Who's the White House press secretary?"

One of Strayhorn's sons, Scott McClellan, was replaced at the White House by Tony Snow. She got that answer correct.

Louisiana's governor is Kathleen Blanco. Janet Napolitano (as Strayhorn pointed out a few minutes later in her conversation with Smith) is the governor of Arizona. 

Perry Ad: Jobs

Gov. Rick Perry's new ad touts the growth in jobs in Texas over the last few years and mixes in his proposal for limits on future government spending. The governor does all the voice work in the ad. While he's talking, he's seen at a chip plant, on a construction site, and standing next to a woman in a hardhat who's holding a sign that says "Thanks. You saved our jobs." The script:

Perry: "The Texas job climate's been ranked the best in the nation. We've created 600,000 new jobs in three years. I'm proud of Texas, because we're investing in jobs, cutting taxes, and controlling spending. And more Texans are working today than ever before. We can do more to protect taxpayers. Let's cap government growth and give voters the right to stop runaway spending. Texans deserve good jobs, fiscal responsibility, and unlimited opportunity."

Campaign Notes

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Ann Radnofsky did an interview/debate on Houston TV that's being touted by her campaign as "a brilliant demonstration of Barbara Ann's charm, intellect, command of policy, and debate skills." Get a look at the half-hour program at www.radnofskyvideo.com (one of the interviewers is former Harris County GOP Chairman Gary Polland.) The only debate between Radnofsky, a Houston attorney, and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will be taped next week in San Antonio and aired shortly thereafter.

• Remember that old Ronald Reagan line — "I'm from Washington and I'm here to help you"? It's different during campaign season than when the government rings the phone. Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs — who's trying to win in CD-22 as a write-in candidate to replace Tom DeLay in Congress — got some block-walking help from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. They went knocking on doors in Pearland and Sugar Land to try to gin up support for Sekula-Gibbs.

• Add Diane Trautman to the Texas Parent PAC endorsement list. Trautman, a Democrat, is challenging Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Humble, in HD-127. She's a former teacher and school administrator and taught education at Stephen F. Austin State University. The group also endorsed Democrat Philip Shinoda, who's challenging Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, in HD-114.

• Always proceed with caution when a campaign shows you its own polls. That said, U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, says he's 21 points ahead of Republican Van Taylor in an October 9-10 poll done for the incumbent's campaign. The margin of error is 4.9 percent, and the survey of 400 voters was done by Bennett, Petts, and Blumenthal, a Washington, D.C., firm that does research for Democrats.

• Republican Senate nominee Dan Patrick is so worried about his election that he's block walking... for Talmadge Heflin. Heflin is trying to win back the spot he lost two years ago to Democrat Hubert Vo.

Political People and Their Moves

Add four new names to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame: Artist Amanda Dunbar, Texas Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley, scientist and educator Ellen Vitetta, and Casa de Esperanza founder Kathy Foster.

Brooke Dollens Terry, formerly an aide to U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm and to Texas Workforce Commissioner Diane Rath, joins the Texas Public Policy Foundation as an education policy wonk.

Tamara Bell, a former newspaper reporter and legislative aide whose most recent posting was at the Texas Education Agency, is starting a two-pronged career move. She'll be teaching advertising and PR at the University of Texas and opening the Bell Media Group, which will specialize in legislative and political consulting.

Craig Smith, who worked in the Pink Building (House and Senate) until 2002 and left to get a degree in architecture, is back. He'll be senior policy analyst for Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor.

Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry reappointed Judge B.B. Schraub of Seguin as presiding judge of the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region, which includes the state capital among its 26 counties.

Perry appointed Javier Villalobos of McAllen to the Texas Funeral Commission. He's the city attorney for four different small cities in the Valley: Donna, Elsa, Progreso, and San Juan.

Quotes of the Week

Former President Bill Clinton, talking to the Washington Post about the current state of politics and media: "All of this is a head game, you know... All great contests are head games. Our candidates have to get to a point where they don't allow other people to define them as either people or as political leaders. Our people have got to be more psychologically prepared for it, and there has to be more distance between them and these withering attacks."

Democrat Chris Bell, in the debate: "There is no term limit for Texas governor, and that's why people should be horrified."

Houston lawyer John O'Quinn, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after saying he'll contribute $1 million to Chris Bell's campaign and will ask other Democrats to join him: "I'm going to say, 'Match me.' He's not going to lose because he lacks the resources."

Robin Sawyer, a University of Maryland public health professor, in the Washington Post: "If we taught driver's ed the way we teach sex education, we'd be saying things like, 'Stay away from the car. Don't stand next to the car.' Yeah, right."

Kinky Friedman, on Texas Monthly Talks, on barricading the border: "I was for the fence, but Jesse Ventura talked me out of it. He says, in ten years, we might want to get out of here."


Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 17, 16 October 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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