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The South Texas Way

The filing period for candidates is still a month away, but things are already getting ugly down in Senate District 21.

The filing period for candidates is still a month away, but things are already getting ugly down in Senate District 21.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who's been in office for two decades, has attracted two opponents: Louis Bruni, a former Webb County Judge who's running as a Republican for the first time, and San Antonio attorney Rene Barrientos, a Democrat who's hired a consultant, Colin Strother, and talked to other consultants, but who hasn't yet declared his official candidacy.

Both Bruni and Barrientos have deep pockets. Bruni, of Bruni Mineral Trust, has been running television ads against Zaffirini for several weeks already, and says he intends to self-finance his entire campaign. According to Strother, Barrientos is prepared to spend $2 million of personal money on the race.

Candidates willing to throw around seven-digit dollar amounts in a race like this have to be taken seriously, says Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, whose Precinct 4 in east Bexar County falls inside SD-21. "Anybody that's financially situated like Rene Barrientos cannot be taken lightly," he says.

For her part, Zaffirini had about $820,000 on hand in July. She is prepared to also raise and spend $2 million on reelection, but doesn't think it will be necessary. "I have been outspent before, and I will be outspent again," she says.

Adkinson predicted that the Democratic primary will hinge upon how voters judge Zaffirini's relationship with Republicans in the Senate.

"This is not a sleeping senator. This is a senator who had to deal with the Republicans," he says. "How a Democrat deals with Republicans and how the public sees it is like beauty in the eye of the beholder. Some will say they crossed the line. Some will say they had to work with them in order to bring home the bacon."

Strother contends Zaffirini's tenure in office is marked by "corruption and influence peddling that goes on for miles and miles and miles."

"I guarantee that we are going to put a bright light on all her ethical lapses and all her bad votes," he says.

Bruni chimes in: "Never in my life have I met such an evil, vindictive, mean woman in my life, and I feel sorry for her, and may God bless her."

In response, Zaffirini says that if Barrientos "is a serious candidate, he needs to talk to reporters. He can't screen calls, can't have someone speak for him. Does this mean that if he runs, will I have to debate Colin Strother, respond to Strother? He seems to be hiding behind Colin Strother's skirts."

As to Bruni, Zaffirini says, "He's angry. He's expressing his emotion. He has the right. He certainly can afford it. I still consider him a friend. There's no hostility."

Bruni and Zaffirini go back about 15 years, and used to be on the friendliest of terms. Carlos Zaffirini, the senator's husband, was Bruni's attorney, she says, and Zaffirini herself helped Bruni campaign successfully, as a Democrat, for Laredo City Council in 1994 and 1998, and for County Judge in 2002.

Zaffirini says her understanding is that Bruni is angry with her because she did not endorse him in his 2006 reelection bid, where he finished last in the Democratic primary in a four-person field.

"In 2006 I did not endorse him," Zaffirini says. "When he demanded that I endorse him, I told him that I could not. I voted for him. I defended him to reporters who asked baiting questions about his performance and behavior. I have always spoken favorably of him, but I did not endorse him."

"She will put a knife in your back faster than a pirate," Bruni says.

"He blames me for his loss," Zaffirini says.

"Now he's pissed. This is revenge," says Strother.

Bruni says their relationship fell apart in 2004, when his brother Raymond Bruni challenged Zaffirini for the Senate seat, a contest Zaffirini won with 79 percent of the vote. "We all have one in the family," says Louis Bruni of his brother.

Louis Bruni says that during the campaign, Zaffirini instructed him to read a script for a 30-second advertisement calling his brother an alcoholic, a drug user and bipolar. "Even though my brother was suing me at the time, blood is thicker than water," he says.

However, Bruni says his reason for running is not because of a personal vendetta against Zaffirini, but because he thinks she caters to special interest groups, corporations and wealthy donors instead of serving constituents. Specifically, Bruni accuses Zaffirini of holding local bills hostage in the Senate in order to pressure Webb County officials to pass policies favorable to her husband's clients. He also faults her for voting against a tax increase on cigarettes, alleging she sided with tobacco lawyers, and for helping to pass tuition deregulation for higher education.

Zaffirini says the allegations about her husband's business are ridiculous.

"He would do better, in fact, and so would I, economically, if I were not in the Senate. If we were only to concentrate on business, we would make more money, not less," she says, pointing to the $600 per month she receives for being a senator. "They simply do not understand that loss of income is one of the sacrifices I have made to serve in the Texas Senate. They can say whatever they want. They obviously are irresponsible in their allegations."

Zaffirini says she has been a champion for local and state interests, particularly in education and health and human services, and for the causes of area groups like the residents of colonias.

She says that because of the bond she feels with Bruni, she will not attack him during the campaign. She has no such reservations about Barrientos, but says she'll formulate and enact a campaign plan once (and if) her opponents file.

Meanwhile, Strother says Zaffirini has contacted, or had intermediaries contact, about half of his clients trying to pressure him to stay out of the race.

Zaffirini says Strother is the one urging Barrientos to run, and that mutual friends she has with Barrientos have been advising him against it.

Strother, she says, is "unfairly painting a rosy picture for a man he's unfairly trying to persuade to run for office. It's a disservice to his client, a serious disservice. I believe any consultant has a responsibility to be fair and truthful to a client or potential client. Rene Barrientos cannot win this race."

If she's incorrect, and if Barrientos becomes the Democratic nominee, Bruni says he will run a completely positive general election campaign, without any negative ads about Barrientos.

"My goal and Barrientos' goal is to get rid of a cancer that exists in the Legislature in Austin," Bruni says. Bruni calls Zaffirini "one dangerous individual with a razor blade for a tongue, because she has a PhD in communications. Unfortunately, she has met her match with me, because everyone else is scared of her. I am not scared of her. She is scared of me."

Zaffirini counters: "I've always treated all my opponents respectfully and seriously, but if you look at my reelection record, I've carried every county every time in every election, whether primary or general. I'm very confident I will win this time."

 "She obviously is a little worried or wouldn't be spending quite this much time trying to get me out of the race," says Strother.

All three predict their opponents will use whisper campaigns and potentially libelous, anonymously authored advertisements broadcast across the border into South Texas by the Mexican media.

"Tira la piedra y esconde la mano," Bruni says. "She throws a rock and hides her hand."

"I have not responded in kind. I have not attacked him. I have not rebutted him. I'm just letting him vent. What can I tell him?" Zaffirini says.

"This will be a classic South Texas blood-and-guts, go-for-the-throat campaign," Strother says.

• There are two other contested Senate races so far, though the tongues aren't likely to be as sharp in those. Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, is facing a challenge from Democrat Wendy Davis, who gave up her Fort Worth City council spot to jump in the Senate race. Neither could be reached for comment this week, but Davis looks serious — she quit the council and listed Ralph McCloud as her campaign treasurer.

And Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, has a pair of Democratic challengers: Joe Jaworski, an attorney and former Galveston City Council member, and Bryan "Cable Guy" Hermann, a NASA contractor who graduated from Embry-Riddle in 2000.

—By Patrick Brendel

No Kidding, There's an Election on Tuesday

What follows is a quick guide to the 16 constitutional amendments, so your friends will think you're a genius, or a mook, or both, and so you won't get caught wondering what's up if you vote. Your vote will likely count for more than usual: Only 1.6 percent of the state's registered voters had bothered to mess with this election with three days of absentee voting left, according to a tally of voting in the state's top 15 counties by the Texas Secretary of State.

Here's how the amendments appear on the ballot, and what each one does (some are clear, and some are obviously written by lawyers and legislators):

• Prop. 1: "The constitutional amendment providing for the continuation of the constitutional appropriation for facilities and other capital items at Angelo State University on a change in the governance of the university."

This one makes constitutional changes to move San Angelo State University's bond proceeds with the school to the Texas Tech University System from the Texas State University System.

• Prop. 2: "The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of $500 million in general obligation bonds to finance educational loans to students and authorizing bond enhancement agreements with respect to general obligation bonds issued for that purpose."

Just as it says: $500 million in bonds to fund student loans.

• Prop. 3: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide that the maximum appraised value of a residence homestead for ad valorem taxation is limited to the lesser of the most recent market value of the residence homestead as determined by the appraisal entity or 110 percent, or a greater percentage, of the appraised value of the residence homestead for the preceding tax year."

Limits homestead appraisal increases to 10 percent, changing the current limit of 10 percent per year, which can accumulate and cause evaluation changes of up to 30 percent.

• Prop. 4: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of up to $1 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for maintenance, improvement, repair, and construction projects and for the purchase of needed equipment."

A Plain Old Bond Program: $1 billion in bonds for construction, repair and maintenance of equipment and facilities for a number of state agencies, including Parks & Wildlife, State Health Services, the School for the Blind, the Youth Commission, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety.

• Prop. 5: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit the voters of a municipality having a population of less than 10,000 to authorize the governing body of the municipality to enter into an agreement with an owner of real property in or adjacent to an area in the municipality that has been approved for funding under certain programs administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture under which the parties agree that all ad valorem taxes imposed on the owner's property may not be increased for the first five tax years after the tax year in which the agreement is entered into."

Lets small towns — under 10,000 population — freeze appraised values of properties in redevelopment areas.

• Prop. 6: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation one motor vehicle owned by an individual and used in the course of the owner's occupation or profession and also for personal activities of the owner."

Just as it says: Allows the Legislature to exempt a taxpayer's personal vehicle used for business or occupation purposes.

• Prop. 7: "The constitutional amendment to allow governmental entities to sell property acquired through eminent domain back to the previous owners at the price the entities paid to acquire the property."

Lets governments sell back property acquired through eminent domain to the original owners at the original price, with any appreciation going to the original owner and not to the government that held it.

• Prop. 8: "The constitutional amendment to clarify certain provisions relating to the making of a home equity loan and use of home equity loan proceeds."

Modifies home equity laws, making it illegal, for instance, to fund a home equity loan if anything substantive was left blank when the homeowner signed, and allowing people to obtain such loans in emergencies even if they're currently in mandated waiting periods from previous loans.

• Prop. 9: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt all or part of the residence homesteads of certain totally disabled veterans from ad valorem taxation and authorizing a change in the manner of determining the amount of the existing exemption from ad valorem taxation to which a disabled veteran is entitled."

Exempts homesteads of disabled veterans from property taxes, on a sliding scale tied to the level of disability.

• Prop. 10: "The constitutional amendment to abolish the constitutional authority for the office of inspector of hides and animals."

Just as it says: Removes "inspectors of hides and animals" from the Constitution.

• Prop. 11: "The constitutional amendment to require that a record vote be taken by a house of the legislature on final passage of any bill, other than certain local bills, of a resolution proposing or ratifying a constitutional amendment, or of any other non-ceremonial resolution, and to provide for public access on the Internet to those record votes."

Requires the Legislature to record final votes on bills, but not on second readings and other procedural moves.

• Prop. 12: "The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds by the Texas Transportation Commission in an amount not to exceed $5 billion to provide funding for highway improvement projects."

Straightforward: $5 billion in bonds for transportation.

• Prop. 13: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a person who violates certain court orders or conditions of release in a felony or family violence case."

Allows judges to deny bail to people who've violated protective orders or who've violated bond orders in family violence cases.

• Prop. 14: "The constitutional amendment permitting a justice or judge who reaches the mandatory retirement age while in office to serve the remainder of the justice's or judge's current term."

Allows judges to serve out their terms even if they hit the mandatory retirement age of 75 while in office. One variant: Judges who become 75 in the first four years of a six-year term would have to leave after the fourth year.

• Prop. 15: "The constitutional amendment requiring the creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorizing the issuance of up to $3 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for research in Texas to find the causes of and cures for cancer."

$3 billion in bonds for cancer research. This is the amendment with the heaviest promotion behind it, and if there's a draw on the ballot (other than local issues), this is it.

• Prop. 16: "The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $250 million to provide assistance to economically distressed areas."

It does what it says: $250 million in bonds for water development in economically disadvantaged parts of the state, primarily along the Texas-Mexico border.

The Money Part

The campaign for Proposition 15 came in with about the amount of money and in-kind contributions the sponsors hoped for, but their campaigning hasn't yet spurred much voter interest in the constitutional amendments.

Turnout stinks so far. But there are ads popping up on cable, radio, the Internet and on billboards, so maybe things will turn. Here's a look at the last finance reports before the election:

• Yes on 15 — that's the group that's taking pharmaceutical contributions — raised $1.1 million during October. The vast majority of that was in-kind contributions from outfits with advertising space or air time: Time Warner Communications gave $500,000, Comcast gave $150,000, Clear Channel gave $135,000, Lamar Advertising gave $110,400, Suddenlink gave $72,500, and Reagan Outdoor gave $23,450.

• Texans to Cure Cancer — the group headed by former Comptroller John Sharp — raised $111,007 in October, most of that listed as in-kind contributions from the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

• A third group — called A Cure in Your Lifetime — raised $10,100 (everything in front of the comma came from the Fulbright and Jaworski law firm) and had that amount on hand with a week to run.

A Cowtown Special

One statehouse seat — the one vacated earlier this year by Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth — is on the ballot and with seven candidates in the hunt, it'll be surprising if there's not a runoff.

Dan Barrett, the lone Democrat in the pack, raised $26,793 in October, spent $35,877, and had $2,592 in his war chest with eight days to go.

Craig Goldman raised $60,314, spent $107,327, and had $115,084 on hand for the last week of campaigning. He raised a little more than $10,000 more after that report, according to telegram reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Chris Hatch brought in $5,355, spent $18,315, and had $436 in the till at the end of October.

Jeff Humber raised $1,950, spent $39,744, had $6,998 in the bank and owed $62,000 in loans.

Republican Bob Leonard raised $17,375, spent $83,096, and had $47,129 left for the last eight days of the race.

James Schull raised $1,100, spent $1,886, and had $211 on hand.

And Dr. James Shelton raised $25,225, spent $37,096, had $62,283 in the bank, and ended the month with $50,000 in outstanding loans.

McGrody Drops Out

Republican Jim McGrody, one of two challengers to U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, has decided not to run.

McGrody was relying on an aggressive Internet and word of mouth campaign, but said in an email to supporters that he's out for financial reasons:

"Due to financial considerations, I have decided to withdraw my name from contention for the Republican nomination for Texas Congressional District 23. My Campaign will officially terminate its filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and will return all financial contributions to its donors. My wife and I have appreciated the many kindnesses afforded to us along the way — and, we look forward to returning to a less hectic pace."

That leaves Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco as the sole declared challenger. Canseco started campaigning early — he's been running radio ads for weeks even though the primary's not until March. As it turns out, he might not have a race until next autumn, leading up to the general election.

McGrody wasn't on the financial map yet — the Federal Election Commission doesn't have any reports for him on its website. Rodriguez, the incumbent, had $592,062 in the bank at the end of September. Canseco, who sparked his campaign with personal loans, had $303,553 in cash, and $813,166 in debt at that date.

Political Notes

A couple of new candidate names — interesting names, as it turns out — are contained in the latest campaign treasurer filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Those filings don't constitute formal announcements that candidates will run, but it's the first sign they're serious and thinking about raising or spending some money for the effort. The actual filings for office will start in December and end in about two months. And if Halloween didn't give you the heebie-jeebies like it used to, try this: the party primaries in Texas are in four months.

Jesus Carrillo joins Michael Williams in the race for Texas Railroad Commission with a name that could be confusing to some; Victor Carrillo — no relation that we know of to the new entrant — is already on the commission.

Will B. King filed papers to run in HD-114, where Republican Will Hartnett of Dallas is the incumbent state representative. Read the challenger's name aloud. If you use names like that in a novel, you lose credibility; nonfiction has its advantages.

Angie Chen Button is officially in the hunt for Rep. Fred Hill's seat in the House. Hill isn't seeking reelection in HD-112. She starts with some names on her side: Republican hotshot Fred Meyer, the former Texas Party chairman and head of George W. Bush's inauguration committee; former Dallas GOP Chairman Bob Driegert, and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.

Mike Pearce, a Harker Heights Republican who's running to replace retiring Rep. Dianne White Delisi in the House, picked up an endorsement from the Texas Eagle Forum PAC.

• Annie's List endorsed Sandra Rodriguez, a Democrat running against an incumbent Democrat in South Texas. She'll face Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, in the March primaries for HD-36. The group, which generally stays out of incumbent Democrats' races, accuses Flores of "selling out to the Republican leadership in the Texas House."

• Put former Republican gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams Jr. in the Rudy Giuliani camp. Williams announced his support at a Midland fundraiser and told the local paper, "I didn't find a single thing I disagree with him on."

• Event Horizon: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will make an Austin fundraising appearance on November 17, appearing at The Backyard — usually a spot for big-time musical acts — for $25 per... And on December 6, presidential consigliere Karl Rove will be the headliner at an Associated Republicans of Texas fundraiser, also in Austin.

Political People and Their Moves

Dan Bartlett, a former top aide to Gov. and then President George W. Bush, will return to Texas with a job at Austin-based Public Strategies Inc.

• He's not the only Bushie headed for Texas. Karen Hughes is quitting her post as head of public diplomacy at the State Department. She was one of Bush's top three advisors when he was first elected, then left the administration to spend time with her family. After a few years, she took the current post.

• The Houston Chronicle's layoffs reached that paper's Austin Bureau. Polly Ross Hughes, who wrote about health and human services, among other subjects, during a decade at the paper, is looking. So is Amy Raskin, the paper's office manager, researcher and sometimes reporter. The layoffs are part of a five percent cut at the paper announced last week by publisher Jack Sweeney; that's about 70 people throughout the paper (not just in the news department). At another Hearst-owned Texas paper, the San Antonio Express-News is tallying the number of people who took that buyout; if too few took that option, the company warned employees that layoffs will follow.

• Lobbyist Joe DaSilva left the Texas Hospital Association, where he's been for almost three decades, to open his own shop. The DaSilva Strategic Group will do lobbying, communications and strategery.

• Gov. Rick Perry named Bryan Shaw — an associate professor at Texas A&M University — to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Shaw is an agricultural engineer and has focused on air pollution and related subjects there.

• The governor named A.W. "Whit" Riter III of Tyler the vice chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He's president of Riter Management Co. and of a family foundation named for his father. And he's been on the THECB since 2004.

Wendy Gramm is the new chairman of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. She held that position from 1999 to 2004; Gramm succeeds Houston businessman William McMinn.

• After 25 years with the comptroller's office, Elizabeth Blount has retired and plans to open a consulting and lobbying shop. She's part of a small circle of state employees who really know what's in the state budget, after following the doings of legislative budgeteers for years.

Kenneth Besserman is leaving the staff of Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, after nine years there. He's saving the news of where he's going next, but says he's been talking to people about several possibilities.

Deaths: Olan Brewer, political prognosticator and advisor to candidates, trade associations and others who followed Texas House and Senate races over the last 50 years. He was 77, and remained in the political game until the end.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, giving the latest iteration of her plans, on Fox & Friends: "Yes, I'm definitely looking at that [running for governor]. It's still 2010, it's a way away, but I would love to go home and serve if it all works out. It's certainly on the option list."

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, quoted by the Houston Chronicle after Washington reporters asked if she'll run for office when she returns to Texas in 2009: "I haven't ruled anything in or out, honestly. I love public service... I love my state."

San Antonio Republican Jim McGrody, after deciding not to run for office in CD-23: "I couldn't get the coverage. I couldn't get the money. That's my last hurrah."

Radio talker Sammy Allred, asked by the Austin American-Statesman what he'll do since he's been fired for something he said on the air: "I'm gonna go eat some oatmeal now."


Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 20, 5 November 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 biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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