Redistricting, with just a few exceptions, still has a strong hold on the makeup of the state Senate and the Texas congressional delegation. But several House members continue to confound the mapmakers, winning in districts where, on paper, they shouldn't.
The classics here are the WD-40s — White Democrats over 40 who represent a number of districts where Republicans are the strongest political creatures. Look at Rep. David Farabee of Wichita Falls, a Democrat in a district where the average statewide Republican won by almost 33 percentage points.
Texas voters have elected 21 Democratic state representatives in districts where those same voters choose Republicans in statewide races. In the last two cycles, the Democrats had net gains, picking up seven seats and bringing the House's party split to 81-69 in favor of the Republicans.
The Democrats want to improve on that; the Republicans want to take some seats back. Here's a map for that sort of hunt:
Perfect Order in the Senate
The Texas Senate looks exactly the way it was designed to look, at least on a partisan basis.
The lawmakers who drew the maps for the Texas Senate earlier this year got exactly what they wanted. Look at the results of statewide elections, rank them by district, and you get a red-to-blue spectrum untouched by political competition outside of the primaries.
Red Voters, Blue Reps
Three of the state's congressional Democrats represent voters who favored Republicans in the last two statewide elections.
For the most part, the congressional delegation lines up just like the people who drew their maps wanted them to, with Republicans in red dirt and Democrats in blue. The big exception is U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, a redistricting target who has survived a number of challenges in his district and still represents the President of the United States in Congress. The average statewide Republican beat the average statewide Democrat by 29 percentage points in the last two election cycles.
Two other Democrats got into Republican turf with challenges. Nick Lampson of Stafford won Tom DeLay's seat after the U.S. House Majority Leader resigned. Republicans hope to retake that seat, and at least eight candidates are seriously looking at it.
And Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio knocked off the only Hispanic Republican in the U.S. House last year when he beat Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. That district is marginally Republican and, as with Lampson, he's got a line of Republicans considering a challenge in next year's elections.
Next to Democratic state representatives from rural, Republican-leaning districts, doves and deer have it easy.
"We feel like we have a bulls-eye on our back 24/7, 365 days a year," says Rep. Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, a member of the WD-40s — White Democrats over 40.
The representatives — Ritter, Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, and Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin — owe their political survival in part to their ability to appeal to the conservative social values of their constituents and to raise money from business-friendly and traditionally Republican donors, including Republican sugar daddy Bob Perry.
The WD-40s hail from dark red districts and have survived well-funded and aggressive efforts by the GOP to unseat them in past elections. Though Republicans have an 81-69 advantage in the House, they're down from 88 seats in 2003 and 87 in 2005. Knocking off a few vulnerable WD-40s would help the GOP shore up its political power and reverse its current trend of losing seats.
"Since redistricting, Republicans have been on roller skates being pushed back, back, back," says one GOP strategist.
But so far this cycle, there's been little visible movement against any of them. Only one has a declared opponent so far (Tim Kleinschmidt, who lost to Cook by only a few hundred votes in 2006, says he's running again).
Why? Democrats are saying the GOP is "dispirited" both nationally and on a state level and can't find recruits to run against the WD-40s.
"The Republicans are in a free fall," says Democratic strategist, Kelly Fero. On a state level, he says, the GOP is currently too preoccupied with the upcoming Republican primary and shoring up support for Speaker Tom Craddick to worry about the WD-40s.
"They cannot see past March 4th," Fero says.
He and other Democrats say the 2004 election was the GOP's best shot of knocking off the WD-40s, when President George W. Bush was on the ballot and had a monster approval rating in Texas. Now with the Democratic Party moving up and the GOP sliding down, the WD-40s look even stronger.
But Republican strategists say regardless of what happens within the party regarding Craddick's future, there's still plenty of time (the filing deadline is Jan 1st) to mount a serious attack on any or all of the WD-40s, who they say are just as vulnerable as ever.
"The campaigns that have been run against those guys [in past elections] have been dumb campaigns," one GOP strategist says.
They also say that having Hilary Clinton potentially at the top of the Democratic ticket could be a real downer for the WD-40s, because she is such unpopular figure in their districts.
Hans Klingler, a spokesman for the Texas GOP, says each one of the WD-40s will face an aggressive push from the Republican Party in 2008.
"They will have their hands full as they always do," Klingler says.
The incumbents are taking Klinger at his word and say they are already raising funds and campaigning "hot and heavy."
They've also extended their numbers and formed a PAC, Texas 20-20, to raise money. The other members are Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, Rep. Stephen Frost, D-Texarkana, and Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio. It's widely believed that Garcia, who was law school chums with presidential hopeful Barack Obama, is one of the most vulnerable House Democrats in the 2008 election. He beat Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, last year in an election that turned more on Seaman's actions in office than on the district itself. In other races, that territory tilts strongly to the GOP; most ballot-top Republicans had better numbers in that House district than they got statewide.
"We're still in a 'scared' mode," says Farabee. "Because I think that's the approach to take — to go everywhere, to be everywhere."
And they add that they aren't too concerned who tops their ticket, whether they are popular or not.
"When it gets down to my level," Hopson says, "it's who do they trust, who do they know, who did they see at the last Christmas party."
— by Alan Suderman
[Chart] The partisan mix in the House:
The Election That Won't Go Away
Austin Judge Joe Hart let a gang of corporations off the hook, but will let a lawsuit proceed against conservatives who ran third-party campaigns against legislative Democrats in 2002.
The ruling is the newest turn in a lawsuit filed after the 2002 elections. A group of legislative Democrats sued after the elections, saying they'd been opposed by third-party political action committees that were illegally funded by corporations.
Corporations and labor unions can't legally contribute to political campaigns. The people running those PACs contended their ads were aimed not at candidates, but at voter education, and were therefore legal.
In his ruling, Hart released the corporations that provided the money, but will allow the lawsuit to go to trial against the people who were running the third-party effort. That means the Texas Association of Business, which coordinated the effort leading up to the 2004 elections, is still on the hook, as are lobbyist Mike Toomey, who helped, and some of TAB's officers.
Andy Taylor, a lawyer for TAB, said the trade group played by the rules: "As we have stated all along, TAB fully complied with both the spirit and the letter of all of the election laws during the 2002 state election cycle."
Hart said in his ruling that the corporations in the case aren't part of a political committee and should be cut loose. But he said there are questions about the others and about whether they were engaged in campaigns for and against particular candidates or were trying only to communicate with voters about particular issues and tell them where the candidates stood.
It's a fine line. Attorneys for the advertisers say they didn't use any of the "magic words" that mark the ground between issues and express advocacy for a candidate: phrases like "vote for" or "vote against" and so on. That was enough to get the corporations off, but Hart said everyone else will have to argue in court.
An Inexact Ban
Can local governments and private companies that receive state funds pay people who lobby the state government?
That's an official question for Attorney General Greg Abbott, posed by House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum.
The law says political subdivisions and private entities that get state funds can't use those monies to pay for lobbying, or to pay folks who register to lobby, or to pay people who represent associations or other entities "for the purpose of affecting the outcome of legislation, agency rules, ordinances, or other government policies."
Chisum wants to know if those state-funded outfits can pay lobbying outfits for non-lobbying expenses. Like, for instance, if they rent office space from a lobby firm, but aren't paying for lobby services: Is that legal? Non-lobbying consulting services?
So, he wants to know: If a person or organization does some lobbying, can they be paid for any other services by a state-funded outfit, or are they blacklisted?
In conversation, he gives the example of a law firm that has a division that lobbies, as many of the bigger law firms do. Can they get a state contract, or does the law shut them out as long as they're also lobbying?
Chisum's inquiry fringes on another recurring question before the Legislature: Should government entities be allowed to use tax dollars (of any kind: local, state, of federal) to lobby other government entities? Some lawmakers want to curtail lobbying by school districts and cities and counties, for instance. Some of those governments hire lobbyists and "legislative liaisons" directly. Some belong to associations that lobby lawmakers. And some do both. The local governments say they have to have people in Austin because of the control the Legislature has over their operations and funding. Chisum's request for an opinion doesn't hit that second question head-on, but it opens the door.
Pimp My Mansion
It's not quite what Chris and Carole and Kinky had in mind.
Rick Perry is vacating the Governor's Mansion. But he'll return in about 18 months, after workers repair, re-plumb and repaint the 8,290-square-foot, 21-room Greek Revival home on 11th and Colorado Streets in downtown Austin.
Spokesman Robert Black said the Perry family will probably reside in a private home during the $7 million-$10 million renovation, which includes ripping out and replacing calcified water and sewer lines (some of which date back to 1914), installing grease traps for the kitchen, expanding the basement, removing and restoring all the windows and shutters, improving electrical and lighting systems, installing smoke detectors and fire sprinklers, eliminating lead and asbestos, stripping peeling paint from the south wall of the Mansion, repainting the exterior and redoing the interior walls of the house.
Black said it hasn't been determined yet where the Perrys will stay. The last governor to leave the Mansion temporarily, Gov. Bill Clements, stayed at the Cambridge Apartments north of the Capitol between 1979 and 1982.
Johnson anticipated one fairly unusual problem that may surface and extend the maintenance period — the uncovering of archaeological artifacts while excavating for plumbing work. "I fully expect to dig stuff up," he said.
During the Mansion's renovation, the historical and antique furnishings will be removed and restored by non-profit group Friends of the Governor's Mansion. That organization was organized by then-Gov. Clements in 1979 to take care of the Mansion. It raised $3 million in private donations to restore and provide (new) antique furniture for the house.
Administrator Jane Karotkin said she doesn't know how much her agency will spend, but that no major projects are planned.
According to IRS documents from 2005 (via guidestar.org), Friends received $192,000 in direct public support in 2004, including about $150,000 in direct contributions. Without being specific, Karotkin said the agency has a variety of donors from across Texas. She did say that the Perrys are not among the foundation's contributors. At the end of 2004 — according to the latest tax return available — Friends had $4.1 million in net assets, with about $2.1 million of that tied up in furnishings. It spent $131,899 on maintenance and restoration projects at the Mansion in 2004.
The Mansion was completed in June 1856 by Abner Cook for $14,500. Cook owned a clay pit on the Colorado River that was the source for the bricks used in the Mansion. He also had an interest in the Bastrop sawmill that provided the lumber for the house, according to the Friends' Web site, txfgm.org. When the project ran six months over the contracted time period, Cook had to pay the rent of Gov. Elisha Marshall Pease and his family.
—by Patrick Brendel
Perry Stops the Executioner
Gov. Rick Perry commuted the death sentence of Kenneth Foster of San Antonio, saying the Legislature needs to reexamine a law that allows murderers and their accomplices to be tried at the same time.
Foster drove the car for Maurecio Brown — the killer of Michael LaHood — and was tried, convicted and sentenced to death under a state law that allows the death penalty for people who are accessories to capital murder.
The state's Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended the commutation, and Perry agreed just a few hours before Foster was to have been executed. And the governor exhorted lawmakers to make some changes.
"After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment," Perry said in a press release. "I am concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine."
His action commutes death sentence to life imprisonment. The parole board voted 6-1 in favor of that recommendation.
Political People and Their Moves
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega picked up endorsements from former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston (and reiterated endorsements from state Sens. Mario Gallegos and John Whitmire, both of Houston). Briscoe was ill and couldn't make the event, sending a written statement instead. Briscoe included a salute to Noriega's military experience that also amounted to a swat at his Democratic opponent, Mikal Watts, and at the incumbent, Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn: "I think in these times an essential criteria for representing Texas in the United States Senate is service in the military, a person who has walked the walk."
Cornyn's reaction to Alberto Gonzales' resignation included a reference to which cabinet officers are most important: "Alberto Gonzales, the highest ranking Hispanic to serve in a President's Administration, is a decent and honorable man who has served his country at a difficult time when we are engaged in a global war on terror. His resignation marks another casualty of the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington that does not serve the best interests of the American People.
Hispanics have been secretaries of Commerce (Carlos Gutierrez) Housing and Urban Development (Henry Cisneros), of Education (Lauro Cavazos), and of Transportation (Federico Peña). But an attorney general's peers on the cabinet are at State, Defense and Treasury, and Gonzales was the first Latino to break into the top tier.
Talking about Gonzales a couple of weeks ago, Cornyn expressed some doubts about his fellow Texan, saying, "He's a good person, but I look at his jobs he's held, and I wonder what has prepared him for being the head of the Department of Justice and 110,000 employees in a highly partisan and difficult political environment."
• Now it's official: Freshman Rep. Mike O'Day, a Pearland Republican elected at the beginning of the legislative session, won't seek reelection to the Texas House. And as expected, Randy Weber, who lost in a runoff to O'Day in January, says he'll run for the spot. That was originally a four-way race last time — there could be more candidates out there.
• Jason Skaggs joins the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association as executive director of government affairs and public relations. That's a new position there; he'll oversee lobby efforts in Austin and in Washington, D.C. Skaggs was until recently the executive assistant to Kathleen White, who was on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He worked for state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and for former U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, before that.
• Gov. Rick Perry appointed Fred Heldenfels IV of Austin to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He's the president and CEO of Heldenfels Enterprises, a company that makes precast and pre-stressed concrete.
Perry appointed Alan Sanderson of Missouri City to the Veterans Land Board. He's a CPA and managing partner of Sanderson, Knox and Belt, and a retired officer in the Texas Army National Guard Corps of Engineers.
And the governor appointed Adrian Arriaga of McAllen and Chris Day of Jacksonville to the Texas Real Estate Commission. Arriaga is the owner of AAA Real Estate; Day is a partner with the Norman Law Firm.
• Department of Corrections: We'll come back around on our chart of the political action committees with the most cash on hand. It turns out that the Texas Ethics Commission leaves a bunch of them off the agency's list, so there's more money out there and richer PACs to talk about. Like, for instance, the Texas Association of Realtor's fund, which has $3.2 million in it.
Quotes of the Week
Robert Black, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, on the House Speaker's efforts to hold onto his position into the next legislative session, in the Houston Chronicle: "The governor has always had a good and a strong relationship with [Tom] Craddick. It does not matter who the speaker is."
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, quoted in the Dallas Observer on last year's election of a fellow Democrat, Dallas County Judge Jim Foster: "The problem is sometimes the people elect an innocent man."
Republican consultant Bryan Eppstein, after the House member from Seguin had to revise his ethics report to detail his campaign credit card purchases, a listing that included a purchase at a Jockey outlet: "Edmund Kuempel is the only politician in state history to get in trouble for having clean underwear."
Sign outside El Arroyo, an Austin restaurant, this week: "Our bathrooms are senator-free."
Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 11, 3 September 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.