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The Eye of the Storm

The blue wave that swept the country on Election Day wasn't as obvious in Texas, where Republicans won all of the statewide offices on the ballot and held all but a couple of seats in the congressional delegation and the state Senate.

The blue wave that swept the country on Election Day wasn't as obvious in Texas, where Republicans won all of the statewide offices on the ballot and held all but a couple of seats in the congressional delegation and the state Senate.

Democrats picked up five seats in the Texas House and overwhelmed local Republicans in former bastions of Dallas and Hays counties. Lots of post-election talk — on both sides — centered on the weakness of most statewide Democratic candidates and on what might have happened with a little more talent, a little more organization and a little more money on that side.

Libertarian candidates did better than usual — probably helped by Republican voters who skipped their own candidates but wouldn't switch to the Democrats. Some races considered uncompetitive ended up tight. And some that were supposed to be competitive ended up safely in Democratic hands. The blue wave wasn't as obvious in this red state as elsewhere in the U.S., but it left its mark, and might spark a race for the top job in the Texas House.

No Heavy Weather Upstairs on the Ballot

Republicans swept the top offices in state government for the third time in a row. No Democrat has won a statewide general election in the state since 1994.

Texas voters reelected Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Three Republicans won new statewide posts: Susan Combs as comptroller, Todd Staples as agriculture commissioner and Elizabeth Ames Jones as railroad commissioner, a post she held by appointment until the election.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison easily won reelection, as did all but one of the state's congressional incumbents — Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, who faces a runoff against Democrat Ciro Rodriguez next month.

Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs won one and lost one in the races to replace former U.S House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. She was on the ballot for the remaining weeks of Tom DeLay's term, and finished well in front of everyone else. But as a write-in for a full term in that office, she lagged behind Democrat Nick Lampson, who had the advantage of having his name on the ballot. He ended up with 51.8 percent.

And Republicans swept the 18 statewide judicial spots, with only one — Supreme Court Justice Don Willett — a relatively close contest. He ended up with 50.9 percent, which turned out to be the low-water mark for Republicans on the statewide ticket.

Hutchison, at the top of the ballot, got more votes — 2,658,657 — than anyone else. Five judges without major party opponents were next in line, each getting more than 2.5 million votes. Abbott was the top vote getter in the executive branch, followed by Combs, Dewhurst, Patterson, Staples, and Jones. Perry, because of all those independents and his 39 percent plurality win, ended up with 1,714,618 votes — fewer than five statewide Democratic candidates got in their losing efforts for judicial and executive offices. The top Democratic vote getter on the statewide ballot was Judge Bill Moody, who ran against Willett and got 1,876,845 votes. The top Libertarian — Jerry Adkins — got 830,294, or 24.5 percent — in a Texas Supreme Court race against Justice David Medina. Don't laugh at those numbers: Adkins got more raw votes than gubernatorial candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, easily fended off an expensive challenge from Republican Dee Margo, and that was the only battle for a spot in the upper chamber. Texans will get five new senators in January, but they were all finished with real politics before November began, either because they survived their toughest competition in March or because they faced none all year.

Some High Water in the Basement

Texas Democrats picked up five seats in the House, bring their total to 69 of that body's 150 seats. Whether that's a big enough change to force a change in leadership is debatable. But on a night when many thought only one or two seats would flip, it made the donkeys bray.

Four Republican incumbents were knocked off: Reps. Toby Goodman of Arlington, Bill Keffer of Dallas, Gene Seaman of Corpus Christi, and Martha Wong of Houston. One seat that had been held by a Republican who retired — Terry Keel of Austin — was won by a Democrat. The winners in those races, respectively: Paula Hightower-Pierson of Arlington, Allen Vaught of Dallas, Juan Garcia of Corpus Christi, Ellen Cohen of Houston, and Valinda Bolton of Austin.

A few races got chewed down to the cuticles, ending with no candidate breaking into a majority. Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, held off a challenge from Tim Kleinschmidt by just more than 400 votes. Democrat Joe Heflin of Crosbyton held on to former House Speaker Pete Laney's seat by less than 200 votes over Jim Landtroop in a race where the candidates were surrogates for Laney and his successor, House Speaker Tom Craddick, both of whom played fiercely in the contest. Joe Farias won Carlos Uresti's seat in San Antonio by about 900 votes over Republican George Antuna. Freshman Rep. Kirk England of Grand Prairie, who won a special election earlier this year to join the House, won his rematch against Democrat Katy Hubener by less than 300 votes. And the Hightower-Pierson v. Goodman race we mentioned above was settled by fewer than 500 votes. Democrats didn't lose an incumbent or any open seats.

Several races were on the list of things to watch and turned out lopsided. Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, coasted to an easy win over Republican Jody Anderson. That HD-12 race was a key target for the GOP, but their guy mustered only 42 percent of the vote. Rep. Mark Homer eased to a second win over Republican Kirby Hollingsworth in HD-3. Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Alice, held off a well-financed challenge from Republican Michael Esparza in another race targeted by GOP financiers. Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, beat Republican Shirley Craft for the third time, getting 58 percent of the votes. Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, fended off Democrat Harriett Miller in a closely watched race, getting 51.9 percent. Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, ended up almost nine percentage points ahead of former Rep. Talmadge Heflin, in a rematch in HD-149.

Then there's a list of candidates whose races were so tight they'll be on the first target lists for the 2008 contests. They got 53 percent or less, sometimes a lot less: Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville; Cook; Garcia; Gonzalez Toureilles; Bolton; Joe Heflin; Hightower-Pierson; Goolsby; Vaught; Farias; England; Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi; Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock; and Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. 

Will They Pull the Trigger?

With Democrats gaining five seats in the Texas House, the possibility of a race for Speaker of the House rises dramatically. But the improvement in the opposition's numbers don't make a race a certainty; Craddick isn't a political liability to most Republicans and unless it becomes risky to support him, it's risky to oppose him.

House Speaker Tom Craddick took the reins four years ago, when Republicans overwhelmed Democrats in legislative races. But his opponents have picked off some of his top lieutenants in both parties, thinning the ranks and making the survivors skittish.

With five gains in Tuesday's elections, House Democrats and a small group of Republicans are doing the math to see whether they can assemble the votes to challenge Craddick.

The new House will have 69 Democrats and 80 Republicans. One House seat is empty after the death of Glenda Dawson in September, so 75 votes would make a majority if she's not replaced before the House convenes in January.

To make a challenge viable, the Democrats need around 60 of their number to stick together, a number that accounts for Craddick loyalists in blue jerseys who don't want a change in leadership. Nearly half of the Democrats signed pledges to keep Craddick in charge for a third term. That's significant, to a point: Nothing happens to members who switch, so long as they switch to the winning side. Former House Speaker Pete Laney had well over 100 pledges the day he lost the post to Craddick. Had the challenge failed, there'd have been some spankings. It's the same now.

Republicans who want a different leader will have to find a candidate — it's still a Republican House — and 15 or more representatives from the GOP who'd risk voting against Craddick.

There's a short list of possible speaker candidates, but Craddick can easily defend his position if more than one challenger emerges. Put it another way: A challenge won't work under these circumstances — if it'll work at all — unless Craddick's opponents unite behind one candidate (see results, race for governor, 2006, for an example).

The Republicans most often mentioned as possible candidates include, in no particular order, Brian McCall of Plano, Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, and Warren Chisum of Pampa.

Is it for real? Only if the numbers are there and Craddick's opponents can agree on a candidate. And will they pull the trigger? It's a huge risk, especially for the Republicans in the mix. But if they've got the votes, or think they do, Craddick could have a fight on his hands.

The Frontrunner

The day after the election, when House results became clear and speculation about the consequences picked up, Craddick issued a statement making public the names of state reps who've pledged their support for his continued tenure. That's unusual, and a defensive move on his part to dampen speculation about changes at the top. We'll just quote the press release:

"Speaker Tom Craddick released the following statement this morning concerning his reelection for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives: 'I would like to congratulate the newly elected members and incumbents on their victories. This was a tough campaign season, and they all worked hard to win their races. With that, I am pleased to announce that 109 members have signed pledge cards for my reelection as Speaker of the House. I would like to thank all of the members who have expressed their support for my reelection, and I look forward to a successful session ahead. With the elections behind us, it is time for all members to put aside our differences and work together on the issues that matter most to Texans.'"

The attachment included a list of the members who signed up (you can download a pretty copy here). It includes 79 Republicans (everyone but Tommy Merritt) and 30 of the 69 Democrats. One House seat is empty after the death of Glenda Dawson in September.

Republicans: Charles "Doc" Anderson; Jimmie Don Aycock; Leo Berman; Dwayne Bohac; Dennis Bonnen; Dan Branch; Betty Brown; Fred Brown; Bill Callegari; Warren Chisum; Wayne Christian; Byron Cook; Frank Corte, Jr.; Joe Crabb; Tom Craddick; Brandon Creighton; Myra Crownover; Drew Darby; John Davis; Dianne Delisi; Joe Driver; Rob Eissler; Gary Elkins; Kirk England; Dan Flynn; Dan Gattis; Charlie Geren; Tony Goolsby; Pat Haggerty; Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton; Kelly Hancock; Rick Hardcastle; Patricia Harless; Linda Harper-Brown; Will Hartnett; Harvey Hilderbran; Fred Hill; Charlie Howard; Bryan Hughes; Carl Isett; Jim Jackson; Delwin Jones; Jim Keffer; Phil King; Susan King; Lois Kolkhorst; Mike Krusee; Edmund Kuempel; Thomas Latham; Jodie Laubenberg; Nathan Macias; Jerry Madden; Brian McCall; Miller; Geanie Morrison; Anna Mowery; Jim Murphy; Rob Orr; John Otto; Tan Parker; Diane Patrick; Ken Paxton; Larry Phillips; Jim Pitts; Debbie Riddle; Todd Smith; Wayne Smith; John Smithee; Burt Solomons; Joe Straus; David Swinford; Robert Talton; Larry Taylor; Vicki Truitt; Corbin Van Arsdale; G.E. "Buddy" West; Beverly Woolley; William "Bill" Zedler; and John Zerwas.

Democrats: Kevin Bailey; Norma Chavez; Robby Cook; Joe Deshotel; Dawnna Dukes; Harold Dutton, Jr.; Craig Eiland; David Farabee; Ismael "Kino" Flores; Stephen Frost; Helen Giddings; Ryan Guillen; Mark Homer; Chuck Hopson; Tracy King; Eddie Lucio III; Armando Martinez; Ruth Jones McClendon; Jim McReynolds; Jose Menendez; Sid Aaron Pena; Joe Pickett; Robert Puente; Chente Quintanilla; Richard Raymond; Allan Ritter; Patrick Rose; Sylvester Turner; Mike Villarreal; and Hubert Vo.

A Protection Racket?

State representatives and reps-to-be have told Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, that they've received threatening calls from lobbyists and "from the Speaker's office" pushing them to support Craddick's bid for a third term at the helm. And she's complained officially to the Texas Ethics Commission about it, asking for an advisory opinion. As she put it in her letter to the commission:

"Currently, persons who are required to register under Chapter 305, Government Code, are contacting Members and Members-elect of the Texas House of Representatives on behalf of a named Speaker candidate and asking Members to agree to vote for the candidate because the candidate will 'put [the Member] on good committees,' 'take care of [the Member]', and 'see to it that [the Member] has the right support in two years.'

"Other comments made include statements that if the Member does not vote for the named Speaker candidate, 'we won't forget it', and 'we can make sure that you remember you made a mistake.' These calls and statements are also being made by former Members of the Texas House to Members and Members-elect."

She asks three questions. One, whether that conduct constitutes legislative bribery (offers of help and threats of punishment for official acts); two, whether she should report it to the district attorney or others; and three, whether evidence like voice mail and email messages should be turned over to the authorities.

A spokesman for Craddick, Chris Cutrone, said he's not aware of such calls being made by anyone in the speaker's offices — "Not to my knowledge" — and said Craddick won't have any further comment about it. "We're just going to leave this to the Ethics Commission."

Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Representatives

Start on Election Day, when former Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, got into it with current Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs. Words were said, and then, according to witnesses, Green shoved Rose and then threw a punch. Later in the day, he walked into the sheriff's office to face assault charges.

The next day, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, popped Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, in a set-to triggered by the prospect of a Speakers' race. Gallego and others were pushing House Democrats to join a challenge to Speaker Tom Craddick, but without promoting a particular candidate. King, who has pledged his vote to Craddick, was one of several members who wasn't buying the idea, and Gallego got some people in King's district to call and add some pressure. The details are sketchy — neither representative is talking about it with reporters — but King got angry and punched Gallego for interfering with his home folks.

Spoilers' Paradise

Texas Libertarians issued a list of five races they think their candidates could spoil on Election Day. That bit followed their brags about the number of candidates they put on the ballot this year — 168, including 15 for statewide office, 25 for Congress, and 97 for the Texas Legislature.

They predicted their presence could matter big in CD-17, where U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, is the incumbent (nope — he got 58.1 percent). And they had four Texas House races in their swing set: HD-25, where Democrat Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles of Alice is defending (she got 52.6 percent; Libertarian Edward Elmer got 5.4 percent); HD-50, now held by Democrat Mark Strama of Austin (nope — he got 61.7 percent); HD-106, where the incumbent is Republican Kirk England of Grand Prairie (yup — Gene Freeman only got 2.8 percent, but England didn't break 50 percent, and he squeaked in with a 231-vote margin); and HD-134, where Martha Wong, R-Houston, is the incumbent (nope — Wong only managed to get 43.1 percent).

So their predictions were off base, but they had the right idea. The state's most popular third party had some impact on races, and apparently siphoned votes away from Republican candidates in some contests. Lenard Nelson got 5.6 percent of the vote in the Corpus Christi race where Rep. Gene Seaman got beat; the winner, Juan Garcia, led with 48.3 percent. Rod Gibbs got 3.2 percent in the HD-17 race won by Democrat Robby Cook, who finished under 50 percent. The same thing happened in HD-85, where David Schumacher pulled 2.7 percent and Joe Heflin won; in HD-93, where Max Koch III got 3.4 percent and Paula Hightower-Pierson won; in HD-106, where Gene Freeman got 2.8 percent and Kirk England won; and in HD-118, where Libertarian James Thompson got 7.5 percent and Joe Farias won. Each of the winners got into the Legislature with less than 50 percent of the vote. With the exception of England, a Republican, all of those winners were Democrats, in a year when antipathy toward Republicans probably added to Libertarian vote and undercut the elephants. The GOP will view those as opportunities in two years, while the Democrats will have them on the defense list. And depending on the district, the folks in the major parties will be encouraging or discouraging interested Libertarians. 

The Post-Electoral Glow

Thinking about 2010 yet? Some people are. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst might open an exploratory committee for governor, headed by his chief of staff, Bruce Gibson, to lay the groundwork and to get a jump on others who might run for Gov. Rick Perry's job in four years.

Timing is still an issue. It could get underway right away, in two years, or after the session.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was the central figure in speculation about challenges to Perry before this last election cycle, is in the mix again. This time, if you're buying into the rumor, it's because the Democrats won the Senate and Republicans are in the minority. It's not as much fun. And Hutchison didn't promise to serve the entire six years (she did promise to serve only two terms, and then ran for a third). And you'll find advocates for other potential candidates in the GOP, including Secretary of State Roger Williams, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza, and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans. Dewhurst is the only one we're aware of who's thinking about a startup. There are fewer than 1,470 days until that election.

More Voting Opportunities

Rep. Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland, died in September, but easily won reelection in HD-29 on the first Tuesday of November. And as soon as her place in the Texas House is declared vacant, Gov. Rick Perry can call a special election to replace her. That's important for a couple of reasons: The obvious one is that there's a legislative session in January, and Pearland needs a rep; it also raises the bar slightly in the speaker's race, since it takes 75 votes to win that contest when there are 149 members and 76 when there's one more. Republicans are hoping to carry the special election, but there'll probably be more than one in the race.

Mike O'Day announced his candidacy — along with an endorsement from Dawson's daughter, Dee Saenz. He'll likely face another Republican businessman, Randy Webber, and possibly, Democrat Anthony Dinovo, who lost to Dawson on Tuesday.

And there's a runoff ahead for U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, and former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in CD-23. That congressional district was redrawn this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered some redistricting adjustments to Texas congressional maps. Bonilla drew a bevy of challengers, and fell a tad short of an outright win. He got 48.6 percent. Rodriguez got 19.9 percent. They'll meet in a runoff, probably next month.

Late Hits and Other Campaign Hodgepodge

Secretary of State Roger Williams can now say he's run a fake election. It was in Round Rock, a suburb north of Austin, at Hopewell Middle School, and it's the 19th time he's done it this year. That's for the kids, and for the TV cameras. The news in it: He predicted turnout would be around 36 percent, based on early voting. That's in line with voting in 2002, the last time Texas elected a governor. That year, 36.2 percent of the state's registered voters (or 29.3 percent of the state's voting age population) actually voted. In fact, turnout was low: 33.6 percent, in unofficial returns.

Early voting in the big counties was close to what it was four years ago, though it rose in some places and fell in others. In Fort Bend and Galveston counties, for instance — two of the four counties with a piece of Tom DeLay's old spot in Congress — turnout was up from four years ago. It was up slightly in Harris County, perhaps in part because of that same race. Dallas County was up a notch. Bexar rose half a percentage point. Denton rose 1.2 percentage points. And turnout was up 3 percentage points in Nueces County, where the political amusements include a noisy state rep race. Travis County's turnout was down more than a point-and-a-half, and turnout fell by four percentage points — to 7.8 percent from 11.8 percent in 2002 — in Hidalgo County.

Early voting attracted 1,074,824 people in the big 15 counties this year, as against 1,018,664 four years ago. That's a difference of 5.5 percent. Over the same time, however, the voting age population has grown by 7.2 percent. What looks like Up is actually Down.

Ken Durrett, the former mayor of Jacksonville and a former Texas House candidate, was arrested for DWI over the weekend. That wouldn't ordinarily make it into the story lineup, except that his dad, Larry Durrett, is running for that same House seat, against Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville. The story broke in local media on election eve. He lost by 1,688 votes.

• Republican Jim Landtroop of Plainview — who ran against Democrat Joe Heflin for the HD-85 spot held now by Pete Laney, D-Hale Center — sounded an alarm about gambling money on the Sunday before the election. Heflin, he noted, took $2,500 from the pro-gambling Texans for Economic Development PAC during the last days of the campaign. But Landtroop's not clean himself. The folks at the Corpus Christi Greyhound track — part of the PAC he's complaining about — contributed $10,000 to the Stars Over Texas PAC in October, as did the Maxxam Inc. PAC, which is also interested in legalized gaming. Stars was one of the most generous contributors to Landtroop's campaign. The gamblers hedged their bets. And Heflin won, by 193 votes.

• We mentioned last week that the House Democratic Campaign Committee got $25,000 more than it reported receiving. Lest you think they did a bad thing, there's a timing issue. They're not required to report the last $25,000 until their next report. Unlike candidates, that PAC doesn't have to immediately report contributions it receives during the last eight days before the election. That check from the Texas Democratic Trust apparently arrived after the deadline.

• Best useless information from the results, spotted by a friend in one of the gubernatorial camps: Rick Perry lost in Haskell County, Chris Bell lost in Harris County, Carole Keeton Strayhorn lost in Travis County, Kinky Friedman lost in Bandera County (and Kerr), and James Werner lost in Travis County. What's the old joke about "the people who know them best?" None of the gubernatorial candidates won in their home county.

Power and Lightning

The Texas Association of Manufacturers, started in part to counter electric utilities' influence with Texas government, is holding an "energy summit" in Houston on November 16-17, and the Texas Lyceum will be dissecting economic development in San Antonio earlier in the week.

They've invited regulators (all three Texas Railroad Commissioners and all three Public Utility Commissioners are listed as "special guests," as is Kathleen Hartnett White, the chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), Houston Mayor Bill White, former federal and state regulator Pat Wood, and a passel of business people. The topics include "Issues with the electricity market in Texas," coal plants, nuclear power, natural gas and renewable energy. There's more at their website: www.manufacturetexas.org.

The Texas Lyceum — a nonpartisan group of about 100 young leaders in the state — is holding what it calls "an economic growth summit" in San Antonio on November 13-14. Their speaker list includes state leaders, academics, economists, eco devo experts and others. You can get details — including a rundown of the speakers — on the group's website. And if you're a true policy wonk, their "pre-conference journal" is available there, too.

Political People and Their Moves

Ken Welch, the funds management guru at the comptroller's office (the guy who actually does know where all the state's money is at any given time), left that agency for the Health and Human Services Commission, where he's the new budget and fiscal policy director.

Theresa Gage is leaving the Public Utility Commission after four years to take the same job — director of government relations — at ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. That's the agency that manages the electric grid that covers most of the state. She's replacing Paul Wattles, who's moving into a new job at ERCOT: managing "demand response."

Former U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, is the new co-chairman of Fleishman-Hillard's lobby shop in Washington, D.C. That's after a merger of that company's government relations branch with that of Mercury Public Affairs.

There's a new Capitol Christmas ornament, this one featuring the Goddess of Liberty that stands on top of the Capitol dome. The 2006 model — unveiled by Nadine Craddick (wife of Speaker Tom Craddick) and golfer Ben Crenshaw — is $18 at the gift shop in the Pink Building.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry, asked whether he'll serve a full four-year term, quoted by the Associated Press: "That's kind of up to the good Lord. He may decide he wants me doing something different and I'm out of here tomorrow. Who knows? I plan on being here working, making a difference.""

Democrat Hank Gilbert, running for agriculture commissioner, quoted by the Houston Chronicle from a get out the vote rally: "Do what Howard Dean suggested. Take off work, tomorrow's another holiday. Call in sick, call in dead, call in emotionally drained and physically fed up. And go out and get on the phones, knock on doors, give people a ride. Do everything that they've done for 20 years to beat us."

Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, who's in a runoff against U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News: "People vote for you because they love you or they hate the other guy. And in this case, a lot of people hate the other guy."

Hays County Election Administrator Joyce Cowan, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman after former Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, took a swing at his replacement, Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, at a polling place on Election Day: "It's been a busy polling site all day. I don't think it did anything but give the people in line something to look at."


Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 21, 13 November 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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