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A Herd of Headless Chickens

Maybe nobody will remember this in six months, but the people who want Texans to approve $3 billion in cancer bonds are having a hard time keeping their act together.

Maybe nobody will remember this in six months, but the people who want Texans to approve $3 billion in cancer bonds are having a hard time keeping their act together.

At the end of the legislative session, this was a unified effort involving Democrats, Republicans, legislators, private foundations, advocacy groups and a passel of medical folks. But internal squabbling over big stuff (like whose donations to take and whose are poisonous) and little stuff (the logo for the group ate up a significant amount of meeting time) has dominated the run-up to this campaign.

They all appear to be working to pass the amendment and have started — with a celebrity boost from athlete and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong — to publicize their efforts. So there's that. But they'll do it from different perches. Cathy Bonner, an Austin businesswoman who started the ball rolling on the cancer bonds last year, remains on the board of Texans to Cure Cancer, but also has a separate organization called Cure in Your Lifetime. Consultants tied to Gov. Rick Perry have started a separate PAC called Yes on 15.

The three political committees aren't taking money from the same types of donors, and are trying to cut up their roles to minimize the opportunities for bickering while they all work on the constitutional amendment.

Texans to Cure Cancer won't take money from pharmaceutical or tobacco companies, and will concentrate on grassroots campaigning and publicity. Yes on 15 apparently plans to accept drug company contributions, and possibly money from tobacco, too. "We won't have any restriction on ours," said Chris Cronn, who's on leave from the governor's office to work on the constitutional amendment. "We welcome anyone's help."

The reason for the first PAC's tobacco ban is obvious; among other things, some members of the coalition don't accept tobacco donations and won't belong to a group that does.

The dispute over money from drug companies goes back to the legislative session and the battle over the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Perry issued an executive order to vaccinate all 12-year-old girls in the state, as HPV is a leading cause of cervical cancer. But he sparked two political grassfires with the proposal. Lawmakers balked at the idea of requiring a vaccine for sixth graders against a sexually transmitted disease. They didn't like the governor's attempt to do by executive order something they believe is a legislative prerogative. And they freaked out when they discovered that Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff, represented Merck — the only provider of the vaccine. Two Republican lawmakers on the front line of that fight — Sen. Jane Nelson of Lewisville and Rep. Jim Keffer of Eastland — also happen to be sponsors of the cancer bond legislation. And they're on the board of the PAC that's promoting the constitutional amendment that'll be on the November ballot.

That committee includes the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and doctors from several of the state's medical schools. The board members are Nelson, Keffer, Bonner, and former Comptroller John Sharp, who is the treasurer.

The Yes on 15 committee will focus on advertising on TV, cable TV and billboards, with a budget in the $1 million range. The supporters of the amendment hope to have a total budget — across all of the PACs — of up to $1.5 million.

For Love or Money?

Psst. It's the money.

Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina, won the Texas Democratic Party's straw poll, bringing an end to the latest partisan forays in to the presidential race. Texas voters won't officially register their opinions on the Republican and Democratic nominees until March. By then, voting will be over in all but 18 states, six of which have their primaries on the same day as the Texas parties.

It'll be over by then, but Texas remains a key part of the finance primaries, which is why you're seeing all of these people here. Elizabeth Edwards, spouse of the straw poll winner, was in town to accept the accolades and free press on the candidate's behalf, and to do a fundraiser, too. She said her side liked a proposal that would have moved Texas to the front of the pack of primary states, on the theory that her husband would do well here. And she said he'd be better for Texas Democrats than his competition. "I don't think the Republican Party wants to see John at the top of the ticket," she said. Later, she added: "John Edwards is popular in red states. He can run in red states." That's been echoed privately by some Texas Democrats, who think other presidential contenders — U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton is usually the example given — could prove to be unpopular here, dragging on the rest of the ticket.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was in Texas, too, raising money in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney touched down in Midland to collect checks. Former President Bill Clinton planned stops in Austin, San Antonio, and Laredo raising money for the former First Lady as we went to press this week. Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani threw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game before pitching his campaign to some potential financiers.

Richardson, who's running behind better-known Democrats in that half of the race, said he hopes to do well in Texas, with its large population of Hispanics. He admitted that the late primary here takes some of the punch out of that, but he's hopeful: "There are going to be several candidates [still] on their feet when it comes time for the Texas primary."

You've seen this number, but it illustrates the point: Through mid-year, the last reporting point, the presidential candidates had raised $14.9 million in Texas. Republicans were at $8.2 million, Democrats at $6.8 million. And the results of the Texas presidential poll that really matters to the campaigns — for now, anyhow — was like this: Giuliani, $3.8 million; Clinton, $2.1 million; Edwards, $2.0 million; U.S. Sen. John McCain, $1.8 million; Romney, $1.8 million; Obama, $1.5 million; everybody else, below $1 million each. The numbers are from the interactive presidential map on the Federal Election Commission's website.

The Democratic poll results, for the record: Edwards, with 37.7 percent; U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, 21.4 percent; Clinton, 20.43 percent; U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, 11.9 percent; Richardson, 5.2 percent; U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, 2.4 percent. Nobody else got more than 100 votes of the 8,101 cast. The Democrats said their poll was more democratic than its Republican counterpart, since voters didn't have to travel to Fort Worth. It didn't even require voters to be Democrats, or old enough to vote, though party officials said they found a way to block out-of-state Internet users and to prevent people from voting more than once.

Getting to Know You

A Republican friend of ours likes to say that whenever people in the GOP assemble for a project, they start by filling out index cards.

We always thought he was exaggerating, but we're now in possession of an 11-page questionnaire sent to Republican candidates by Stars Over Texas — the political action committee set up to defend incumbent House Republicans in general election races. Some of the questions are mundane, but some ask about things most experienced politicians won't commit to paper.

There are blanks for normal biographical information, like name, address, phone number, and all of that. It asks whether the candidate lives in the district, and the length of time they've been in the district, their county, and the state. It asks how many hours they work in a week, and how many are available for campaigning.

The questionnaire has a section on lawsuits — past and pending — and public contracts or "taxpayer-related business relationships," and political contributions made by the candidate. It's got essay questions on reasons for running, qualifications, principles and issues, current political positions, past involvement, and "how you can make a difference."

The campaign section asks for some tactical information, with blanks for vote goals in the primary and general elections, budget targets for both races, the size of the candidate's email address database, and a list of consultants. It asks if the candidate's ethics reports are current and error-free, and for finance information, including stuff that's in the ethics reports, and average monthly campaign expenses.

It doesn't say who'll have access to the filled out questionnaire or how the information will be used, but has an address and fax number where it can be sent.

Running Shoes

Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, gets a slot on the House Public Education Committee, taking the chair left open by Rep. Anna Mowery's resignation last month. That throws a relatively obscure House rule into play: Macias is giving up his place on the Pensions and Investments Committee because of a rule that says you can't be on more than two "standing substantive committees" at the same time. No word on who House Speaker Tom Craddick has in mind for that second slot.

Macias, a freshman who upset Rep. Carter Casteel of New Braunfels in last year's GOP primary, faces a challenge of his own this time. Doug Miller, an insurance agent, former head of the New Braunfels chamber and former mayor of New Braunfels, plans to run in the HD-73 GOP primary next year. He's currently the chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Authority board.

Brian Birdwell, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, is pondering a run for the Texas House. He's filed initial papers to challenge Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, in HD-60. Birdwell worked in the Pentagon and was seriously injured in the 9/11 attack on that building six years ago. He's now a motivational speaker, running Face the Fire Ministries, which works with burn victims and their families. He and his family recently moved to Granbury, near Fort Worth, from Springfield, Virginia. Keffer is chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee and is one of several members who have filed papers to run for speaker of the House when the Legislature convenes in January 2009.

• Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville, will have an opponent in the Democratic primary. Tara Rios Ybarra, a dentist and alderman from South Padre Island, is putting a campaign together.

• And Eddie Saenz wants a rematch against Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. He cites Peña's support for Republican Tom Craddick, a flip from the last time the two ran, when Peña accused Saenz of sympathizing with the Republicans. Both men are Democrats.

Keep Your Eye on the Road

The federal highway bill making its way through Congress has (at least) two Texas bits in it.

One is a ban on Mexican trucks on U.S. roadways that's been getting national attention. The second is a prohibition against adding tollbooths to existing interstate highways — an idea proposed by the money-hungry Texas Department of Transportation. TXDOT officials and their commissioners say the state needs roads they don't have the money to build.

One proposal — made in a report to Congress called Forward Momentum — would have raised money for Texas construction by adding tolls. Here's how TXDOT put it: "Congress has enacted specific legislation to allow states to 'buy back,' or reimburse the federal government for federal funds applied to a highway segment, thereby relieving it of the prohibition against tolls. Congressional efforts to make this option as accessible as possible will greatly assist future endeavors as we seek new ways to fund our tremendous transportation needs in Texas."

The political blowback was predictably swift, and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison jumped in with an amendment to the federal highway bill (the other Texas senator, John Cornyn, signed on, too) prohibiting Texas or any other state from using that financing scheme. We should mention here that the TXDOT proposal called for voter and county commission approval before any such deal could have gone forward.

Flotsam & Jetsam

When U.S. Senate hopeful Rick Noriega, D-Houston, went to the Texas Association of Broadcasters and compared bloggers to vitriolic radio talk shows, he ended up having to apologize. Radio people are used to this stuff; it was the bloggers who were peeved. You'll find his online mea culpa at the firedoglake blog. He says he wouldn't be in the race without the "net roots," admitted he said what he was quoted (in the San Antonio Express-News) as saying, and recanted, referring to the bloggers' "democratic influence" as opposed to the "corporate right-wing noise machine."

Mikal Watts — he's the Democrat running against Noriega for the opportunity to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — put another $3.7 million into his campaign accounts. That's it, he says, for the primaries. Everything else he raises will be for the general election, assuming he's the winner in March. The latest contribution from the candidate brings the total of his donations and loans to himself to $7.4 million. He had raised $1.1 million from others at mid-year, according to campaign finance reports.

Luke Marchant, son of U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, will be field director for Pete Olsen's congressional campaign. Olsen, former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, one of several Republicans who wants a shot at U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, in CD-22. That's Tom DeLay's old seat, and the GOP has it high on the target list.

• U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Republican whose district runs east from Dallas, endorsed Craig Goldman, a Republican who's running in Fort Worth (that's west of Dallas, if you're new) for an open statehouse seat. That's the subject of a special election in November; Goldman is one of seven people vying to replace Rep. Anna Mowery, who resigned last month.

• State Rep. Kevin Bailey, D-Houston, has some Democrats after him for supporting Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, and he refers to them as partisans in a fundraising appeal for his primary race. That's usually a term that comes out in November, when the parties are battling each other. Bailey's pitch: "Already I have an opponent, in the March primary, who is engaging in petty, partisan attacks. As a result, I am forced to begin our campaign early."

• It turns out you can create and mail in Uniform Commercial Code filings from state prisons to the Texas Secretary of State's office and make it look like somebody hasn't been paying their debts. And Mycal Antoine Poole did that to a couple of federal judges — Sam Sparks and Andrew Austin. He also taught some other inmates how to do the same thing, according to court testimony. He got caught. The attorney general's office says he'll get 20 years added to the 60 years he was already serving.

Political People and Their Moves

Two guys who've spent millions trying to get Republicans into office in Texas are being inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame. Not for the politics, but for how they made their bucks. Former gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams Jr. of Midland and GOP financier James Leininger of San Antonio are both on this year's slate. Williams made his money in oil and gas, and his political spending was mostly on his own run for the state's highest office, in 1990. Leininger, a doctor who turned around a defunct hospital bed company and made a fortune, is one of the Texas GOP's most prolific donors.

Debra Wanser moved to deputy commissioner at the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services from the Department of Family and Protective Services. She had been assistant commissioner for Adult Protective Services there.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed Donald Wood of Odessa to the Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board. That's the panel that oversees the state's dormant Texas Tomorrow Fund and its active 527 college investment plan. Wood is an executive with Southwest Energy Distributors and president of Permian Enterprises LTD.

Katherine Cesinger is leaving Gov. Rick Perry's press office for the policy shop. Her replacement is Allison Castle, most recently with ROSS Communications in Austin.

The governor named Louis Sturns of Fort Worth to the 213th District Court, replacing Robert Gill, who retired. Sturns will give up his spot on the state's Public Safety Commission to take the job. He's a former Texas Racing Commissioner and a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 

Perry named three people to the State Board of Social Worker Examiners, which regulates that profession: Jody Anne Armstrong of Abilene, retired from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services; Denise Pratt, a Baytown lawyer; and Mark Talbot, a McAllen lawyer.

Perry named eleven Texans to the new Border Security Council, including Brownsville County Judge Carlos Cascos, who'll be the presiding officer. The panel will include Brewster County Judge Val Clark Beard of Alpine; Fred Burton of Austin, vice president of STRATFOR, a private intelligence company; Hudspeth County Judge Becky Dean-Walker of Sierra Blanca; Texas Commissioner of Environmental Quality Buddy Garcia; Robert Holt of Midland, a rancher and oil producer and former Texas Department of Public Safety commissioner; Maverick County Sheriff Tomas Herrera of Eagle Pass; Scott McLaughlin of El Paso, president of Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution; Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor of Victoria; San Antonio attorney Allan Polunsky, who's a current Texas Public Safety Commissioner; and Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson.

Quotes of the Week

Republican media consultant Lionel Sosa, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "Anytime anybody says, 'We've got to get those people out of here, and we've got to build a wall to keep those Mexicans out,' it's going to come off as unfriendly, period. If (Republicans) don't pedal back on the rhetoric, they are going to be in big trouble."

David Sklansky, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley, on former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman's corruption conviction, quoted in The New York Times: "It's unusual to see a bribery prosecution where the payment wasn't to the defendant. It seems to me the conduct in this case was similar to a lot of what we take as normal for politics."

U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News: "We've seen talk radio become an organizing tool for the die-hard right, while liberals are credited with turning the blogosphere into a political weapon. Each of those media has a targeted demographic group and works them into an ideological lather. This, I believe, is damaging to the political culture in this country."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who's hoping to win support of his fellow Latinos in his bid for president, on the obstacles: "The name Richardson doesn't help."

Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 13, 17 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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