Texas Republicans have been licking their chops lately about the prospect of a presidential race with Hillary Clinton topping the Democratic side of the ticket. Their hope? That she turns off Texas voters so badly it'll help all the Republicans and hurt all the Democrats.
But a statewide Texas Lyceum Poll say those hopes might be misplaced. Clinton is in a virtual tie in fantasy contests against either John McCain or Rudy Giuliani. The poll doesn't say Texas is becoming a blue state, but it's clearly purple.
Clinton is running ahead of her fellow U.S. Sen. Barack Obama on the Democratic side. Pollster Daron Shaw attributes that to her strength with "traditional Democratic constituencies" and also says she's better known than her opponent. The survey included a sub-sample of Democratic primary voters; with them, Clinton got 33 percent, followed by Obama, at 21 percent, Al Gore, at 10 percent, John Edwards, at 8 percent, and Bill Richardson, at 3 percent. Joe Biden and Denis Kucinich each got 1 percent, and 20 percent of the respondents didn't list a favorite.
Texas Republicans (there were 303 voters in this subset) favor McCain, 27 percent, over Giuliani, 23 percent, Fred Thompson, 11 percent, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, both at 6 percent, Sam Brownback, at 3 percent, Tommy Thompson and Duncan Hunter, at 1 percent each, and Texas congressman Ron Paul, listed as the favorite by less than 1 percent of those polled. Again, the undecided/don't know/didn't want to say amounted to 20 percent.
In a test of general election preferences, Clinton held her own, getting 35 percent to McCain's 36 percent and 31 percent to Giuliani's 32 percent. With the margins of error in the poll, those are virtual ties (and in the second case, the winner would be Undecided, with 37 percent).
Republicans did better against Obama. McCain got 32 percent to the Illinois senator's 25 percent; Giuliani got 32 percent to Obama's 22 percent. And Undecided rose in this bracket, getting 43 percent of voters in the McCain-Obama race and 46 percent in the Giuliani-Obama race.
Religious, But Not Predictable
Vouchers and faith-based government initiatives are more popular with Texans than you might think, according to the Texas Lyceum Poll. And Texans aren't as conservative about school prayer as the people who represent them, according to that survey.
Nearly two-thirds of Texas adults — 65 percent — said they would support a program "in which parents are given taxpayer money by the government that they can use to pay for a child's tuition at the school of their choice." The poll director, Daron Shaw of the University of Texas at Austin, said that result was a little unexpected; usually, when words like "taxpayer money" are included in the question, the opposition grows. In this poll, 30 percent said they oppose vouchers. We've read some speculation that support would have been lower if the question had included some description of the schools getting the money.
The question pollsters asked: "Do you support or oppose so-called education 'vouchers,' in which parents are given taxpayer money by the government that they can use to pay for a child's tuition at the school of their choice?"
Faith-based initiatives — where the government gives money to religious groups ministering to the poor — found favor with 68 percent of the people surveyed. Support was heavier for those programs and for vouchers among minorities.
Want to display the Ten Commandments in a public place? They're cool with that (60 percent) or don't mind (22 percent). Only 14 percent object to those displays.
School prayer was a mixed bag, with only 14 percent objecting to any sort of prayer. On the other end of the spectrum, only 16 percent favored denominational prayer and only 22 percent favoring non-denominational prayer. Those in the biggest group — 45 percent — say they prefer a moment of silent reflection so kids can pray as they wish or stare at their shoes or whatever it is they do with quiet moments.
James Henson, who heads the Texas Politics project at UT Austin, said the results catch the nuances in religious practice and what people want from government. "Texans want religion on the menu, but don't want to be force-fed it," he said. He also pointed out some gaps between public opinion and the just-ended legislative session. Vouchers never moved in the Legislature this year, in spite of favorable public opinion, for instance.
Both Henson and Shaw were caught off-guard by the voucher responses. Support for the idea was stronger than they expected. "Voucher is usually a code word that drives the numbers down," Shaw said. But that word was included in the question pollsters posed to respondents.
Shaw has done a mess of polling and analysis for a client list that includes George W. Bush's presidential campaigns, Fox News and the Texas Poll. That caught him some grief from bloggers who didn't like the voucher results (that was announced on the first day of a three-day rollout of the poll results) but who hadn't seen the presidential results or the numbers on some other issues. Announcing the voucher results, he said he was as surprised as anyone at the numbers.
"When we put this thing together, we had kind of the working hypothesis that Texas is a particularly religious state in a particularly religious society, so therefore we expected a pretty conservative, pretty traditional view across a range of issues," Shaw said. "In fact, there's a lot more subtlety, a lot more nuance that we found."
A couple of findings raised questions about the differences between what people say about themselves and how they actually behave. The respondents were religious, with 68 percent saying they believe the Bible is the literal word of God and 47 percent saying they'd personally had a born-again experience. Nearly three-fourths said they regularly go to church, with 52 percent saying they go once or twice a week. Put a liar's discount on it: Shaw said the tendency to give answers according to "social desirability" usually skews results by eight to 13 percent.
The respondents said they get their news from television, and they were split evenly between cable and broadcast TV. Over three-fourths have Internet access, but only 13 percent get most of their political news there.
An Independent Streak
Most Texans support the death penalty, favor embryonic stem cell research, and say abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, according to the Texas Lyceum Poll.
That non-profit group surveyed Texans on religion and politics, asking how they feel about the direction of the country and state and for their opinions about perennial public policy issues.
Their answers were at times predictable, at times surprising.
They're worried about the war in Iraq and U.S. troops there, if you ask them about major issues facing the country. Ask them the same thing about the state, and they're all about immigration and schools.
Most — 62 percent — told the pollsters the country is on the wrong track, but they're optimistic about the economy and the future. About two-fifths (43 percent) think the economy is about the same as a year ago. Another 22 percent say it's better, while about 35 percent say it's worse. Their answers are different on their personal economies, with half saying they're in the same shape they were last year, 32 percent saying they're in better shape, and 19 percent saying things are worse.
Only 19 percent of the respondents were against abortions under any circumstances. The two biggest groups said abortions should be allowed at the mother's discretion (37 percent) or only in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother (40 percent). Only 2 percent favor abortions to protect the mothers from economic hardship.
Texans overwhelmingly support the death penalty. Just over a quarter oppose it (15 percent "strongly," 11 percent "somewhat"), while 49 percent strongly support it and 21 percent "somewhat" support that punishment. The numbers drop significantly among minorities: Hispanics support the death penalty, but by lower margins than Whites, while more African Americans oppose the death penalty than support it.
More than half of the respondents — 52 percent — support federally funded embryonic stem cell research, while 36 oppose that work.
The survey of 1,002 adults was done April 26-May 7 and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent. They rolled out results this week, and in July will post all of the raw data from the poll so other political scientists, hacks, journalists and hobbyists can see all of the internal data (and if they're real wonks, change the weights added by the pollsters to sync the results with the state's demographics). The Texas Lyceum is a non-profit, non-partisan leadership and public policy group that's been going for more than 25 years. This is the group's first poll and they say they're committed to doing this for at least three years, in the interest of getting a regular third-party poll going in Texas (like those in other states). They focused on religion and politics this time because that's the theme of their annual public meeting, set for July in Austin.
Department of Disclosure: Our editor had a finger in this pie, commenting on the design of the poll before it was done and writing the poll summary you can see online, along with other details about the poll, at TexasLyceum.org. In spite of that involvement, we remain our regular agnostic selves regarding the results. Now you know.
Roger, Over and Out
Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, admitting he's got political ambitions without saying (yet) just what they are, is leaving that appointed office at the end of the month.
Williams, a former baseball player and coach who became a successful car dealer and political fundraiser, was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in late 2004, when Geoff Connor resigned to return to the private sector.
Phil Wilson, the governor's deputy chief of staff, will be the new SOS, taking over for Williams on July 1. That makes him the state's chief election officer, the governor's liaison on Border and Mexican affairs, and the guy who decides which fork to use at state dinners (he's the state's chief protocol officer, in case it needs one). He will be the ninth secretary since 1990.
Wilson has been Perry's front guy on economic development issues connected to the Emerging Technology and Enterprise funds. He was Perry's director of communications before getting his current job, and was former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm's state director before joining Perry.
The promotion leaves Perry with more staff decisions to make. His chief of staff, Deirdre Delisi, just had twins and is temporarily out of commission, at least for government purposes. Wilson was her number two.
Williams says he's not leaving anything undone that he wanted to do at the agency, and touted his work on elections, economic development and base closings. "This is the best job I've ever had," he says, choosing from a list that includes professional baseball player (he didn't make the bigs, but played in the Atlanta Braves organization), college baseball coach, car dealer, and political fundraiser for what was at the time the most expensive presidential campaign in American history.
SOS is a semi-useful stepping-stone for elected office, but it's not completely reliable. Tony Garza Jr., Ron Kirk, Bob Bullock and Mark White all went on to win elections (railroad commissioner, Dallas mayor, comptroller and lieutenant governor, attorney general and governor, respectively). Garza and Kirk still regularly appear on other people's speculative candidate lists. Others moved up without suffering through elections, like U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and the late U.S. District Judge John Hannah Jr. Two others tried to launch and didn't: Republican George Strake Jr., who ran for Lite Guv and lost to Bill Hobby; and Jack Rains, one of the three Republicans left in Clayton Williams' wake in the 1990 gubernatorial primary.
Williams didn't say what he'd like to do next, but he gave an intriguing answer when we asked how long he's had his next step in mind: "Probably since I was about seven years old." He said his dad told him to write down his goals and put the list in his baseball cap, and he did. "I still have it in my wallet," he said.
Until our staff pickpockets come back with the goods, we'll have to wonder what's next, but Williams is regularly on Republicans' lists of who might run for statewide offices like governor and U.S. senator. "I love public service and I want to continue that if I can," he said.
At least two candidates are nosing around in state Rep. Mike Krusee's HD-52.
Both have school board experience and both have worked for the state tax collector. Jesse Ancira Jr., a Democrat, was general counsel and then associate deputy comptroller; he left last year to join a consulting firm. He's a former FBI agent and Taylor school board president. Diana Maldonado is the current president of the Round Rock ISD board and has worked at the comptroller's office for more than 20 years.
Krusee, R-Round Rock, barely broke 50 percent in his last election, getting 50.44 percent against two relatively unknown candidates (Karen Felthauser, a Democrat, got 44.2 percent, and Lillian Simmons, a Libertarian, got 5.34 percent).
That's generally Republican turf, though statewide Democrats did slightly better in that district than they did on the whole. Bill Moody, a Democrat who ran for Texas Supreme Court and whose numbers are useful for this sort of palmistry, got 47.8 percent to Republican Don Willett's 52.2 percent in the district. Both candidates were relatively unknown, and that's a rough benchmark of party strength.
We haven't seen any names floated yet, but there's been some talk that Krusee's own GOP primary could produce competition, especially given his weak numbers in November.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Now that the cancer research bill is signed, the people promoting it have fired up a website and a campaign to get bonds approved in November to fund the thing. That's got Republicans — Sen. Jane Nelson of Lewisville and Rep. Jim Keffer of Eastland — and Democrats: John Sharp and Cathy Bonner of Austin. It's also got Lance Armstrong, whose star power brought attention to the project. They've formed a political action committee to raise money to promote the bonds.
• We wrote last week that many of the state's apartment owners would love to see the governor kill a tax "corrections" bill that undoes a loophole in the state's new margins tax. That's true, but don't include the Texas Apartment Association in that broad brush. They're officially for the bill, though it'll cost their folks, because it puts all business types on equal footing. Officially, they want him to sign the thing.
• Presidential candidate John Edwards made two Austin stops — one for the fancy pants folks and one for the hoi polloi at Scholz Garten, and he picked up endorsements from a mess of Texas Democratic officeholders. That list includes Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, state Reps. Garnet Coleman of Houston, Jim Dunnam of Waco, Craig Eiland of Galveston, Joe Farias of San Antonio, Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, Stephen Frost of New Boston, Mark Homer of Paris, and Paula Pierson of Arlington.
• The Annenberg Center for Communications at the University of Southern California has a new redistricting toy designed to let normal humans play with political maps. The Redistricting Game lets you pick a scenario, a political party to represent, and a skill level and then lets you draw (fake) lines. It runs the result through a legislative vote, a gubernatorial signature, and then through the courts (we got bounced on compactness). When you've completed a map and won approval for it, the game asks you whether you have a better understanding of redistricting, and whether you're more likely to support reform of the process now that you've looked at the game.
• The Texas Democratic Party is suing the owner of its Austin headquarters building, which apparently has "dangerous levels of mold." They couldn't get the owners or the property management company to do anything about it; thus, the suit.
The biennial list of the ten best and ten worst legislators from Texas Monthly magazine is out, and so are the first blasts at it. Let the cartoons begin. The ten best legislators, in their estimation: Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; Byron Cook, R-Corsicana; Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Garland; Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.
Their list of the worst: Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth; Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa; Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Republican; Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land; Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Gov. Rick Perry, Republican; and Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball.
Gina Parker, the Waco lawyer who has run in the past for chair of the Republican Party of Texas, did her own analysis of the magazine's lists over the years. She thinks they're biased in favor of White Male Urban Liberal Democrats.
Political People and Their Moves
Robert Cook, the executive director at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, will retire August 31 after more than five years in that job. He joined the agency in 1965, left in 1979, and returned in 1990. No successor has been named, but some of the names getting batted around are interesting, including Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, and Joseph Fitzsimmons, the current chairman of the TPW board.
Ed Owens is the conservator, now, at the Texas Youth Commission. He's been on loan to that agency from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and will take over now that Jay Kimbrough, brought in to trouble-shoot, has moved on to a new gig at Texas A&M.
Karen Ann Norris will be the new executive director of the Texas Association of Counties, replacing the late Sam Seale. She's been with TAC since 1984 and became assistant executive director six years later.
Joy Hughes Rauls, chief of staff and general counsel to Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, is leaving the Senate after four years to become a prosecutor, and Christy Rome, who's been a policy analyst on the Senate Education Committee for more than four years, is leaving to join the Austin ISD as director of government relations. Jennifer Ransom Rice — Shapiro's communications director — will add chief of staff to her current title.
The last of the convicted employees at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — ERCOT — will spend up to 12 years in prison and pay fines of $800,000. Stephen Wallace was convicted, along with six others, in a contract fraud scheme at the agency.
Recovering: Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley, after day surgery to remove a cancerous skin growth and a lymph node. It's her second cancer in 22 years and she says, via press release, that she came out with a clean bill of health and will be at work next week.
Deaths: Harry Hubbard, president of the Texas AFL-CIO from 1973 to 1989, and before that, its secretary and its legislative director. He started his labor career in the Hod Carriers Union in Freeport. Hubbard was 82.
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, talking to a builders' group and quoted by The Dallas Morning News, on her future plans: "I might come home to Texas and run for governor."
State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, in Texas Monthly on Republicans reaching out to Hispanics while trying to pass the voter ID bill: "Sometimes I joke with them. I say, 'You want us to assimilate. I'm a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran. I wear cowboy boots. I got a cowboy belt. I got a hat. I carry a concealed handgun. Y'know? How much more Texas do you want me to be? I'm a redneck Hispanic.'"
Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, quoted by the Texas Observer on Gov. Rick Perry's executive order mandating HPV vaccines for 12-year-old girls: "It was the first time I've seen him abuse his power to do good for somebody."
San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich, talking about Lebron James before the Spurs swept Cleveland, reported by InsideHoops.com: "We're going to try to make him work hard for what he gets, but he's different from a lot of other guys because he can do so many different things. His size, strength and explosiveness make it possible for him to be in situations where others would have to do things like give up the ball. He doesn't have to do that. He can still make chicken salad, if you know what I mean."
Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 2, 18 June 2007. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2007 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 302-5703 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.