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Borderline Trouble

Democrat Ciro Rodriguez soundly beat U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio in an election triggered by redrawn congressional districts.

Democrat Ciro Rodriguez soundly beat U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio in an election triggered by redrawn congressional districts.

It wasn't even close. Rodriguez, a former congressman from San Antonio, got 54.3 percent of the vote to Bonilla's 45.7 percent. The numbers on Election Day were similar to those from early voting — it wasn't a last minute change in the climate that swung results.

Bonilla won a majority in 12 of the district's 20 counties, but the numbers there were small. Rodriguez won 56.2 percent of the vote in Bexar County, racking up an advantage that Bonilla couldn't overcome in counties with small numbers.

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CD-25 is one of five Texas congressional districts redrawn this year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered changes in the maps. In this district, the court said the state had cheated minorities of a chance to elect a minority; the majority of adults in Bonilla's old district were Hispanic, but the majority of voters were Anglos. Voting rights laws required it to have a majority of Hispanics in the voting population as well as the general population. When the district was redrawn to those specs, Bonilla couldn't win it. He didn't help himself with a hard-line position on immigration, an ill-advised television campaign against the challenger, and a disorganized campaign.

But he came close to winning last month. With seven challengers, Bonilla got 48.6 percent of the vote. Rodriguez got just 19.9 percent. That was Bonilla's high water mark. He finished 1,725 votes shy of another term in Congress. In the runoff, he was 6,082 votes behind.

Rodriguez got 54.3 percent in the runoff. Independent Craig Stephens got 2.7 percent, and the six other candidates — all Democrats — combined to get 48.7 percent. Bonilla was second, barely, to the combined Democrats in November, but was tantalizingly close to an outright win.

In the special election, however, the Democratic percentage increased by 5.6 percentage points. It rose, too, in some of the big counties in the 20-county district: Up 5.7 percent in Bexar County (that alone was enough to win it) and up 16 percent in Maverick County. Bonilla's numbers improved in some counties, too: He won Val Verde narrowly after losing narrowly in November, and he increased his percentages in 11 counties. But they were small increases that didn't contribute much to his prospects. He lost at home — in San Antonio — and couldn't make it up elsewhere.

Bonilla is the latest and possibly the last victim of the congressional redistricting wars waged by Texas Republicans and Democrats all decade. The first map of the decade, drawn by the courts after a legislative impasse, favored incumbents. At the time, Texas Democrats had more seats in Congress than Republicans. After Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2002, they redrew the congressional maps, swinging control in the congressional delegation to the Republicans and taking out a number of Texas Democrats who — had they survived — would be in the congressional leadership now. Earlier this year, the courts said the Republicans overreached and ordered the state to redraw five districts. That's the change that sunk Bonilla.

With his defeat, Texas will be represented in Congress by 19 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

A Victor in Spite of Himself

The victory is a vindication for Rodriguez, who lost his spot in Congress two years ago — a victim of the lines that were drawn to protect Bonilla. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, ran under the new Republican maps and beat Rodriguez, narrowly, after a court recount.

Rodriguez lost a congressional election earlier this year, when he challenged Cuellar in the primaries in an effort to win his old seat back. It was a three-way, with former U.S. Senate candidate Victor Morales also running, and Rodriguez managed only 40.5 percent of the vote. He was able to run in the CD-23 race because it was a special election and not a general election — the earlier race didn't disqualify him. Cuellar's district was also redrawn, but Rodriguez (and most other politicos) decided Bonilla was more vulnerable than Cuellar. In spite of their two battles, Cuellar endorsed Rodriguez over Bonilla in the runoff election held this week.

This one nearly slipped away. Rodriguez told a labor gathering earlier this year — right before Labor Day, in fact — that he intended to drop out of the race. He changed his mind and got back in within a matter of days, but in the meantime, he lost the AFL-CIO's endorsement to another candidate, Democrat Albert Uresti. At the time, he was outpolling the other challengers, but Uresti, with help from his brother, state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was nibbling at Rodriguez's base. Or appeared to be.

Once Rodriguez reversed his impromptu forfeit, he and other challengers began battling for second place and hoping Bonilla wouldn't win outright in the first round. He didn't. Rodriguez won second. After that, the Democrats snuck up on the Republican.

Democrats focused their attentions on the contest before Republicans did — Bonilla, after all, was an incumbent with a 10-to-1 financial advantage — and the result was the second loss of the year for congressional Republicans from Texas.

The Rodriguez effort this time was run largely out of Washington, D.C., where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee doled out money — almost $1 million — and decided what messages to go with (choosing ads and mailers tested successfully in other races around the country in the general election last month). Unions helped on the ground, and it didn't hurt to have a closing rally headlined by Bill Clinton and Henry Cisneros (Anyone think those two would have showed up together without some evidence of a win in sight?) Bonilla had more money but didn't put together an effective campaign. There was some resentment about his border stance in parts of the district — he favored a fence on the line between Texas and Mexico. And his commercials trying to tie Rodriguez to terrorists were over the top. Very few people saw this defeat coming, but we couldn't find many who would say Bonilla had run a good race. 

Bonilla was elected to Congress in 1992. Rodriguez served in the Texas House for ten years before winning election to Congress in 1996. He got beat in 2004 after four terms there (in CD-28). And now he's on his way to Washington, D.C., for term number five.

Mapping It Out

Republicans lost two seats in the Texas delegation to Washington this year, and lost both of them to former members of Congress who were ousted by mapmakers and not by the voters who originally sent them to the nation's capital. But they're way ahead of where they started in 2001, and nearly all of the turnover in the delegation this decade is the result of cartography.

Nick Lampson, D-Houston, won the CD-22 seat that had belonged to Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Redistricting by legislative Republicans sacrificed Lampson to Ted Poe, R-Humble, in 2004. And Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, knocked off Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, after the U.S. Supreme Court found constitutional problems with the 2004 map drawn by the Republicans.

Here's the inning-by-inning score. In 2001, before redistricting, Texas had 30 seats in Congress; 17 were held by Democrats and 13 by Republicans. In 2003, after a panel of federal judges redrew the state's congressional lines (the Legislature hadn't acted on it, so it fell to the courts), 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans held the 32 Texas seats in Congress. Republicans redrew the lines in 2004, and the elections flipped the makeup of the delegation to 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats. When the next Congress forms next year, Texas will have 19 Republicans and 13 Democrats in attendance.

Some differences between 2001 and next year: Nine members who represented Texas then won't be there in January (that's not counting Lampson and Rodriguez, who were there, left, and are now coming back). That's a list that includes a fair amount of clout: Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound; Ken Bentsen, D-Houston; Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio; Larry Combest, R-Lubbock; Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land; Martin Frost, D-Dallas; Max Sandlin, D-Marshall; Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene; and Jim Turner, D-Crockett.

Put another way, the Texas bunch has 11 members who weren't there when the decade began: Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound; John Carter, R-Georgetown; Michael Conoway, R-Midland; Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; Louis Gohmert, R-Tyler; Al Green, D-Houston; Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas; Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell; Michael McCaul, R-Austin; Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock; and Ted Poe, R-Humble.

The net difference in numbers? Republicans gained six seats over what they had in 2001 — including two new seats that were added because of the state's population growth — and Democrats lost four.

Just One More

We might enter the New Year with one race still unsettled. Four candidates vying to replace the late Rep. Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland, are in the early voting phase in HD-29. Only one's on television, three are pelting mailboxes with political mail (always a little riskier during the holiday season when people are less open to slash-and-burn ads), and one's trying to win the thing with yard signs alone. Election Day is Tuesday of next week, and since it's a special election, there will be a runoff if nobody gets more than half the vote. Here's a look at money, as reported eight days before the election.

John Gorman spent $2,515 — the vast majority of it on yard signs — and didn't report any contributions to his campaign.

Randy Weber raised $14,897, spent $42,029 and had $11,463 in the bank with eight days left to go. He loaned himself $35,732. Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, contributed $4,740. Most of his spending was on mailers, magnets and "campaign materials."

Michael O'Day raised $100,122, spent $90,744, and ended the reporting period owing $50,000 and with a cash balance of $2,123. Don Gilbert, a consultant and the state's former Health and Human Services commissioner, gave $1,000. His biggest expenses totaled $38,877, spent with Austin-based J2 Strategies for mailers.

• Dr. Anthony DiNovo, the lone Democrat in the race (and the loser in November to the late incumbent), raised $17,795, spent $24,455, and ended up with $12,541 in the bank. One $2,250 contribution was from an Andrew DiNovo of Austin. Another $10,500 came from a retired Mr. Anthony Dinovo of Houston (note the difference in Mr. and Dr.). The Democrat spent $18,355 of his own on things like mailers, television advertising (he's the only one running on the tube), and yard signs.

Flotsam & Jetsam

An Austin judge ordered House Speaker Tom Craddick to turn over calendars from his political office by January 12, possibly to lawyers who want to see what he was up to in early 2003 while the Legislature was working on new redistricting plans. There's still room — and a month — for more legal arguments before he gives up those records. Lawyers for Craddick say the judge wants to see whether the calendars hold public information first; he's argued that they don't and thus shouldn't be subject to the Open Information Act.

• Texas and the other six states without personal income taxes will keep their federal sales tax exemption. Without congressional action, that would have disappeared. They extended it for another year, so we can do this again in 12 months.

• The best public office to hold if you want to be governor is lieutenant governor, according to a study by (who else?) the National Lieutenant Governors Association. Since 1980, about one in four lieutenant governors has won the top office. But they're behind legislators, in plain numbers. Poke the gubernatorial resumes, and you find that, since 1980, 96 had served in the state House, 56 had been lite guvs, and 53 had been state senators. Only 28 had served in Congress, 24 as a state attorney general, 19 as mayor, and 16 as secretary of state. They go back 100 years, and if you can't sleep, the whole report is online.

• The 2005-06 school report cards are out. The Texas Education Agency posted its "Academic Excellence Indicator System" and you can poke around at statistics for schools, school districts, regions, and for the whole state for the school year that ended as last summer began.

• The average Texas school superintendent is making $104,415 this school year, according to the Texas Association of School Boards. That's four percent higher than in the 2005-06 school year. In districts with less than 500 students, the average is $73,968; in districts with more than 50,000 kids, the average is $254,923. About 37 percent of superintendents in Texas make $100,000 a year or more.

• Remember the investigation of whether some of the state's school districts have cheated on standardized tests? In round one, a firm hired to find unusual results flagged 700 schools around the state. Now they've set 592 of those free. Three schools on the original list have closed, according to the Texas Education Agency. And there are 105 still on the examining table. They're not accused of anything at this point, but they're not off the hook, either.

• Homebuilders who hire undocumented workers would be in for sanctions under legislation filed by Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio. He'd toss them out of the dispute resolution process that protects them from homebuyers' lawsuits. It would apply to anyone building more than 100 homes per year.

• A website called bills itself as a combination of MySpace, Wikipedia, and Craigslist, all tuned in to Texas legislative matters. Damien Brockmann, an aide to Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, started the site and hopes it'll spread to all 50 states — he's got links for all of them, but only Texas and the U.S. Congress are hot right now. Eventually, that could become a space where people in each state can look at a particular issue to see how it's playing out in other places. It's free and if he gets enough traffic, he'll try to make money with advertising. 

Under New Management

Only a handful of top managers at the state comptroller's office survived a Friday afternoon purge; incoming Comptroller Susan Combs has started writing the names of some of her own people into those empty boxes on the org chart. Aides to the comptroller-elect told nine top managers at that agency that they won't have jobs there in 2007.

In a series of meetings Friday afternoon, the employees were told, one by one, that their last day with the agency will be Dec. 31, before Combs is sworn in as the replacement for Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who has been comptroller for the past eight years.

Combs herself apparently didn't participate. The meetings were led by Lisa Woods, who'll be an associate deputy comptroller in the new administration.

The nine include Tim Mashburn, general counsel; Dick Ellis, communications; Eddie Solis, special assistant for legislative and border affairs; Betty Ressel, special assistant for technical assistance; Ruthie Ford, special assistant for expenditure analysis; Susan Driver, the agency's internal auditor; Chris O'Dell, information resources manager; Steve Hudson, agency administration; and Kaye Tucker, taxpayer publications.

The two top agency employees under Strayhorn — Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton and Associate Deputy Comptroller Jesse Ancira — previously announced plans to leave. Hamilton left at the beginning of the month; Ancira will follow at the end of the year.

Two more positions were already vacant on the agency's organization chart. Of the 18 people at the top of the comptroller's office under Strayhorn, just five will remain at the beginning of Combs' term. Combs didn't announce the firings — she and her staff wouldn't comment on them, either — and hasn't unveiled a full list of who will be helping her run the agency when she takes over next month. Woods will be associate to a deputy who's not been named, former Dallas Morning News reporter Pete Slover will be special counsel (he's also a lawyer), and Sarah Whitley will be special advisor.

Mike Reissig, a former chief revenue estimator who most recently has been director of tax administration, will be an associate deputy comptroller. His current job will go to William Hamner, his assistant director. Suzi Whittenton will become director of fiscal management, replacing Ken Welch, who left a few weeks ago for a job with the state's Health and Human Services Commission.

Political People and Their Moves

State Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, is now officially a member of Gov. Rick Perry's staff. He'll be the governor's legislative liaison next session, as soon as his term in the Senate ends. Armbrister was elected in 1982 to the first of two terms in the House and then in 1986 to the beginning of his twenty years in the Senate. Before all that, he was a cop and a school board member. He decided not to run for reelection this year.

Brian Rawson will temporary hold the top job at the state's Department of Information Resources while the board looks for a permanent replacement to Larry Olson, who unexpectedly resigned after less than three years on the job. DIR just signed a huge computer and information services contract with IBM, and Olson was in place to oversee that deal. Rawson's a veteran of several state agencies — now the IT outsourcing contract, which affects more than two dozen agencies, is on his desk.

Congressman-turned-lobster Tom Loeffler of San Antonio is one of eight new national finance chairs for John McCain's presidential exploratory committee. That's another George W. Bush poobah in the Arizona senator's tent.

And James Huffines of Dallas will chair McCain's Texas efforts. He's chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents and is closely allied with Gov. Rick Perry (who hasn't weighed in on the 2008 race). He'll join honorary chairs already announced, including his former boss, Gov. Bill Clements

State Sen.-elect Kirk Watson hired Edna Ramon Butts, a veteran of the attorney general's office and the Texas Department of Insurance, as his general counsel. Stacy Gaston Pearson, formerly with Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, will be his legislative director, and Steve Scheibal, a former reporter with the Austin American-Statesman, will be his policy director.

Luis Saenz — the manager for Gov. Rick Perry's campaign — will hang out a lobby shingle as the new legislative session begins. He's a former assistant Texas Secretary of State and survived tours with Perry, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Henry Bonilla, and Phil Gramm. He'll office with a group of Republican consultants that includes Cliff Johnson, Reggie Bashur, Clay Pope and Joe Allbaugh.

Lobbyist Carl Richie Jr. is starting his own law firm after four years as a partner in the Austin office of Gardere Wynne Sewell. They'll share some clients and some wanted to move with him.

Shannon Phillips Meroney is Aetna's new in-house lobbyist for Texas and six other states. She'd been at Thompson Coe Cousins & Irons lobbying for a variety of insurance clients. She's also done time with the state's Office of Public Insurance Counsel and with the Texas attorney general's office. 

Marshall Kenderdine is leaving the Pink Building and hanging out a lobby shingle. He was an aide to Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, ran Rep. Byron Cook's first campaign, and worked as an analyst on House Appropriations.

Raymond "Tripp" Davenport is the new chairman of the Texas Ethics Commission, and the board named Tom Harrison —that agency's former executive director — the vice chairman.

Department of Corrections: Austin tax attorney Mark Eidman is, as we noted last week, becoming a principal with Dallas-based Ryan & Co. But we said he'd be leaving the Scott, Douglas & McConnico firm to do so. That's incorrect: He says he will keep the current job and add the new one, working at both firms. . . While we're at it, we botched part of Sarah Whitley's resume. She's worked for Susan Combs for five-and-a-half years, but always on campaigns and never at the state's Department of Agriculture. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Appointments: The second inauguration of Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will be on January 16 — a week after the Legislature returns to Austin. Mica Mosbacher of Houston will chair it; co-chairs are Jody Grant and James Huffines of Dallas. Finance chairs are H. Scott Caven Jr. of Houston and Colleen McHugh of Corpus Christi.

Perry named Arabia Vargas of San Antonio, an attorney, to the Parental Advisory Council that advises the Department of Family Protective Services.

Richard McDonald of Amarillo is the newest member of the Canadian River Compact Commission; he's the former president of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association.

The Guv named John Eckstrum of Montgomery and Tom Mesa Jr. of Deer Park to the Texas Real Estate Commission. Eckstrum is a real estate broker. Mesa is an assistant director with the City of Houston with banking experience as a commercial loan officer.

Scott Johnson of Frisco will join the Texas Economic Development Commission. He's the veep for acquisitions and development for Omni Hotels.

Deaths: Lillian Condra, who worked for a series of House members over the years (seven that we know of). She was 75.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, blaming court-ordered redistricting changes for his election loss, in the San Antonio Express-News: "They moved the goal post on us further down the field, and we couldn't score again and again."

U.S. Rep.-elect Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, on returning to Washington, in the San Antonio Express-News: "It looks like I haven't skipped a beat. I'm coming back. It looks like all I need is my toothbrush."

Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after bloggers blasted her for filing legislation they didn't like: "When you're a public elected official, you better be prepared to be slammed, and if you're not willing to then you better not be in the business."

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, quoted in The Dallas Morning News calling for immediate inspections of foster homes: "It's not a secret that some of these foster homes are not up to par. Why do we wait until another child gets killed before we do something?

Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, talking with the Associated Press about his legislation to allow hunting by blind people who are accompanied by sighted guides: "This opens up the fun of hunting to additional people, and I think that's great."

Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 26, 18 December 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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