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Crash Test Dummies

Dan Barrett and Mark Shelton — a lawyer and a doctor, a Democrat and a Republican, an opponent and a supporter of the current Speaker of the House — will face each other in a runoff in HD-97 in a few weeks. The money is big, the stakes are big, and there's nothing else going on in state politics at the moment. It's a Petri dish full of what'll be happening in House races for the next 12 months.

Dan Barrett and Mark Shelton — a lawyer and a doctor, a Democrat and a Republican, an opponent and a supporter of the current Speaker of the House — will face each other in a runoff in HD-97 in a few weeks. The money is big, the stakes are big, and there's nothing else going on in state politics at the moment. It's a Petri dish full of what'll be happening in House races for the next 12 months.

Barrett, a Democrat, led a seven-man pack of candidates in the special election to replace Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth. He got 31.5 percent of the vote. Next was Shelton, who got 22.9 percent, followed by former Rep. Bob Leonard with 18.6 percent and Craig Goldman, with 16.7 percent. Three others — Jeff Humber, Chris Hatch and James Schull — brought up the rear.

Barrett, who ran an unsuccessful challenge against Mowery last year, will have to make up some ground to win a primary. Republicans got 68.5 percent of the vote on Tuesday, while he didn't have to share his base vote with anyone. He'll have to get the rest of what he needs from new voters or from people who voted for a Republican in the first round.

Keeping score at home? Barrett would vote against another term for House Speaker Tom Craddick, and Shelton would vote for the speaker.

Round One featured some Election Day shenanigans. Somebody — there are theories but no hard evidence yet — paid for professional phone calls that said, in essence, that the Goldman campaign had turned up some dirt on Leonard's voting record in the 1980s. They were after him about a tax bill he supported (voting with Leonard, ironically, was Rep. Tom Craddick — now the speaker, and Republican Gov. Bill Clements was on board, too). We heard a tape of the calls, which sounded like a radio commercial played over the phone. There was no disclaimer, and the only two candidate names in the piece were the two supposed front-runners.

Goldman sent a note to supporters in the middle of the day disavowing the calls, and you'll find some talk that the calls pulled Leonard down — he made those votes, see — and then pulled Goldman down for what appeared to be a late hit from his campaign. They finished 753 and 1,100 votes out of the running, respectively.

The Austin money had Goldman in Craddick's corner, and vice versa, but Shelton is also a pro-Craddick, pro-voucher Republican, and has the support of his fellow doctors besides.

The other prevailing theory of the upset — we use that term loosely, to mean that the people in Austin didn't see what was coming in Fort Worth or, in many cases, that voters were talking about immigration and not the race for speaker — is that Shelton out-worked his rivals. He hit the streets. Other doctors and their families and friends hit the streets. Shelton has been more involved in recent Republican politics in Fort Worth than either Leonard or Goldman. Those two have well-known names and more money, but Shelton had a better ground game, by some accounts.

The biggest money in Shelton's campaign was Shelton's. He had $50,000 in outstanding loans to himself when his last report was filed a week before the election. The PAC affiliated with the Texas Medical Association was next, with $10,000 in the race.

Goldman had a number of large contributors, including his old boss, former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, who gave individually and through his PAC. And the late angel in Leonard's campaign was HEB's Charles Butt of San Antonio, who gave $25,000 in the last week.

The winner ran one of the cheaper campaigns, spending just a little more than the guy in fifth place. And if you're doing an efficiency study, well, just look at this chart.

(***This chart's been corrected, to account for a reporting error made by the Leonard campaign. Look here for details about that.***)

Election officials in Fort Worth are hoping the Guv will put the HD-97 runoff on December 11, to match up with the city runoff elections. The governor can't officially set a date until after the votes are canvassed — probably next week — and then has a 20- to 45-day window within which to hold an election. That city election features a runoff between two Democrats, and there's a significant overlap between the districts. The House district is on the redder edge of purple — it's Republican, for the most part — but if the elections are on the same day, there's a chance the Democrats would be more motivated.

All In

Each of the 16 constitutional amendments on the ballot passed easily on Tuesday.

The headlines went to the $3 billion bond issue for cancer research, but voters also approved $6.75 billion in bonds for transportation, state buildings and parks, water projects in the colonias, and college loans for students.

They approved homestead exemptions for veterans — that got 91 percent of the vote — and limits on appraisal increases for themselves.

They struck inspectors of hides from the state constitution and gave the Legislature permission to give tax breaks to people who use their cars in their work.

Governments can sell property acquired through eminent domain back to the original owners for the original price and voters cleared up some murky practices in the home equity loan business. The second most popular measure — it got 84.5 percent of the vote — requires the state to post final votes on legislative issues on the Internet. Texans also overwhelmingly voted to allow the state to deny bail to people with repeated family violence offenses. Old judges will be able to serve out their terms if they turn 75 — the retirement age — while in office.

We found some interesting lint in the election numbers. Only five amendments won approval in each of the state's 254 counties.

Only one proposed amendment — a $1 billion bond issue for state construction and maintenance projects — got less than 60 percent of the vote. It got 58.2 percent.

The least friendly place for changes to the constitution was in Loving County, where 15 people voted and where 11 of the 16 amendments went down in flames. Only one person there voted for construction bonds. Only two voted for transportation bonds.

Four amendments had trouble in 60 or more counties. Prop. 4, with its $1 billion in bonds for construction, repair and maintenance of state buildings and parks, lost in 111 counties. Some relatively big counties — Williamson, Smith, and Galveston — were among the naysayers. Prop. 12 — $5 billion for transportation bonds — lost in 64 counties, though no big populations were in that bunch. And Props. 15 and 16 — $3 billion in cancer bonds and $250 million in water development bonds for economically distressed areas — were unpopular in 60 and 66 counties, respectively. Williamson, Lubbock and Smith counties said No to the cancer bonds; Smith, Midland, and Lubbock counties were in the No column on water development bonds.

Turnout was miserable. The high-water mark was on Prop. 15, which attracted 1,088,252 voters, or 8.65 percent of the registered voters. Don't laugh too hard at the turnout in Loving County. It was only 15 people, sure, but that was 13.3 percent turnout. They outdid the state.

Winds of Change?

Looking for a noisy and expensive political brawl? Consider the challenge to Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte. Jackson, a state lawmaker since 1988, faces his first real fight in a decade.

If he has his druthers, then voters will be thinking of windstorm insurance and the margins tax, two issues he'll campaign on.

If challenger Joe Jaworski, D-Galveston, gets his way, voters will be talking about Jackson's support from special interests like insurance, refining and electricity.

"I think [Jaworski] will be a serious candidate," says Heber Taylor, editor of the Galveston County Daily News. "I think he will. I know he'll try to raise more than a million dollars for this race, and from what I've heard he's already gotten a sizeable portion of that."

Taylor's got a hometown interest. Jaworski is a partner in the Jaworski Law Firm, and from 2000 to 2006 he served on the Galveston City Council, stepping down due to term limits.

As of July 15, Jaworski had a little more than $200,000 on hand. After steady fundraising, including a recent event at the Westgate Towers in Austin, Jaworski estimates he's now got about $350,000 in his account. His target is to raise between $1 million and $1.5 million on the campaign.

By comparison, Jackson had about $900,000 on hand in July. "We will be working to raise at a bare minimum an additional million," says Lee Woods, Jackson's general campaign consultant.

Jackson is seeking his third reelection to the Senate, and he hasn't had to run a serious Senate race since his first victory over Democrat Edward Wesley in 1998. (Jackson was in the House for ten years before running for the Senate.)

Woods says they're putting together the infrastructure of the reelection campaign, which they plan to get in place by the end of the year. "By January we're going to begin an aggressive campaign pretty much at all levels," he says. "We'll keep the drumbeat very active and alive until the first Tuesday in November [2008]."

Taylor, the editor, says of Jackson: "Most people here who consider him involved in local issues will probably mention his support of coastal residents on windstorm insurance. That's what he would be best known for."

Woods says Jackson's campaign will revolve around the aforementioned windstorm insurance, as well as the senator's so far unsuccessful efforts to mitigate the effects of the margins tax on small business owners (Jackson himself owns an industrial construction firm). The campaign will also stress Jackson's involvement in the $13.5 million beach restoration project announced at the end of October by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

Taylor's not sold on the beach project influencing voters, though. He says one item on the local ballot this week was an increase in the sales tax for economic development, including raising money for beach "renourishment" projects.

"That proposition failed by the widest margin," Taylor says. "I'm not so sure, even if that is a card in somebody's hand, I'm not sure what it's worth."

For now, Jackson's focused on meeting with groups within the district and updating them on the last legislative session, says Woods, in addition to concentrating on his business.

Jaworski's main issue, he says, is "restoring confidence in government through leadership, honesty and transparency." Second and third, respectively, are "advocating for strong laws to clean up our air," and "standing strong for my constituents against deregulated, for-profit special interests like insurance, electricity, etc."

Jackson, according to the challenger, "has a record of voting on an industrial and corporate platform," specifically insurance and refinery interests within the district.

He says those are good things, but adds they shouldn't get the nod every time over causes like clean air and reasonable insurance regulation.

That's not inline with the district, according to Woods. "There is a greater concentration of petrochemical companies in Senate District 11 than in any kind of Senate District or legislative district in the nation," he says.

"They are huge economic drivers for the Senate District and the nation. If Mr. Jaworski thinks it's out of place for Sen. Jackson to be supported by employees and companies that he represents, then I'll let him take a stab at that."

Jaworski, though, says he will speak for constituents whom he says Jackson has failed to represent: "People are not happy at UTMB" (The University of Texas-Medical Branch).

He says 80 to 90 percent of UTMB's 12,000 employees live in SD-11, and haven't been able to rely on their own guy in Austin. "Mike won't stand up for them, and represent them, and help them," he says. "Other senators have had to stand up. That's one of the reasons that doctors are helping me, to see someone actually be their advocate."

Jaworski says the district, comprising a portion of Galveston Island, the southeastern suburbs of Houston and the city of Angleton in Brazoria County, has voters, who in the past were willing to elect a "reasonable Democratic candidate," and he thinks he can attract independent and moderate Republican backers.

Woods is skeptical, saying 61.5 percent of SD-11 voters went for statewide GOP candidates. "Mr. Jaworski seems to be fairly energized about this campaign, and that's all fine and good. But numerically speaking, we're starting from a substantial advantage," he says.

Jaworski thinks voters are ready for someone new.

"It's a change election like none other," he says. "Since 1980 — that's when I first started voting — there's been a shift in people's tolerances as to how much more of the status quo they are going to take. Now is a time when a fresh, serious candidate can get a fair hearing in this state."

Taylor is picking up the same scent in the sea breeze: "Maybe one of the things [Jaworski]'s got going for him is there is a lot of is there a lot of sentiment, just for change. I'm not saying just a change of parties — it's much more complicated than that. It's a desire for some type of change of direction. Whether that helps him or not, I don't know. It's a little bit early to tell. I expect this will be a serious race."

Before Jaworski can swing at Jackson, he's got to secure the Democratic nomination. Opposing him is NASA contractor Bryan Hermann, who describes himself as "one of the average people," whose top three issues are education, auto insurance and frivolous lawsuits.

Hermann says it is a misinterpretation of the law to allow undocumented immigrants to attend state public schools, and he thinks school funding problems could be addressed in part by denying educational services to those whose parents don't pay taxes.

He says Texas should require insurance companies to notify the state whenever a person drops their car insurance coverage. Hermann says that guaranteeing that everyone with a driver's license has valid insurance will, in the long run, help to reduce insurance rates.

Also, Hermann wants to make sure that lawsuits belonging in small claims court start in small claims court, rather than dragging out for years and taking up court space and tax dollars.

Hermann, who lives in Nassau Bay, has never run for office before, but he says, "It's supposed to be representation by the people for the people. I do believe that I can represent the district accurately."

He says that Jaworski is being funded by people who live outside of the district, and questions where Jaworski's loyalties would lie if he becomes a senator. "Joe's a nice guy. I don't have any personal issues with him. I don't believe he's running for the right issues, but that's his choice," Hermann says. And he says he has challenged Jaworski to a series of debates within the district and that Jaworski's response was, "Absolutely not."

Jaworski, though, says that he did accept Hermann's offer to debate, but that Hermann's choice of location was Sugar Land, which isn't in the Senate District.

"I have not heard back from him since," Jaworski says.

— by Patrick Brendel

Flotsam & Jetsam

• The new candidate list includes Robert "Bobby" Vickery of Frost, who'll run in the Republican primary against Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, in HD-8. Vickery says in an email note that he's running "because I believe that we need a change," and didn't offer many other details (we asked about issues, and financing, and House management and such), but said he'll be organized and talking soon. He's filed a treasurer's report, but hasn't raised money yet.

Allen Fletcher is in. The exec at the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce will run against Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Tomball, in HD-130. The challenger has Sen. Dan Patrick's support — that'd be the senator for that district. Fletcher is a retired Houston cop who started a security company in 1998. Van Arsdale isn't on the ledge yet; a group of Houston-area business bigwigs hosted a fundraiser for him this week.

• Walking around the lot, kicking the tires, not sure he's a buyer: Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison, a former school superintendent, is being touted as a possible opponent to Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford. Tison's not returning calls from out-of-town political reporters and hasn't filed any papers with the state (or given up his city gig).

• Put Ray McMurrey in the hunt for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. McMurrey, a Corpus Christi teacher, is gathering signatures to get on the ballot. He doesn't mention the primaries on his website, but includes several digs at U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican incumbent. McMurrey includes a list of 20 promises on his website. Among them: He'll never vote for a pay raise. He'd vote to prohibit senators from lobbying for ten years after they leave public office. And he'd support lowering interest rates on college loans.

• U.S. Sen. John Cornyn got two fundraisers out of President George W. Bush in Houston and in San Antonio, following an earlier one in Dallas headlined by Vice President Dick Cheney. His best-known opponent, Democrat Rick Noriega, got an endorsement from Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate.

• Former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, a Republican, endorsed Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, for reelection. She's a former school board member. He's the statewide spokesman for Raise Your Hand Texas, a group promoting public schools in the state.

Political People and Their Moves

Leaving, but slowly: Bob Strauser, who'll retire from Baker and Botts and hasn't decided, fully, on the next step. As they'd say in Monty Python, He's Not Dead Yet!

Rusty Kelley, Carol McGarah, Michael Johnson and a small staff have finished their spin-off from Austin-based Public Strategies. Kelley says the growth of his lobby shop and of the PSI mothership were raising the possibilities of client conflicts, and says the split is an amicable one.

Gov. Rick Perry made some appointments:

Jay Michael "Pat" Phelan of Levelland as judge of the 286th District Court for Hockley and Cochran counties. He's currently Hockley County Attorney and a partner in a family law firm, and he'll replace his dad on the court — the out-going judge is Harold Phelan.

Carl Dorrough of Longview as Gregg County District Attorney. He's been an assistant in that office for 15 years. He'll fill out the rest of the term of Bill Jennings, who retired from as DA after 11 years in office to seek a judgeship.

Charlotte Hinds of Bastrop as judge of the 423rd District Court. She's been in private practice for 22 years. That's a new court.

• Marshall attorney William Abney, a re-appointee to the Red River Compact Commission. That commission settles water fights between Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

Another newspaper chain is trimming its coverage of state government and politics. California-based Freedom Communications closed the Austin bureau for three of its Texas papers — the McAllen Monitor, the Valley Morning Star, and the Brownsville Herald, and sent reporter Elizabeth Pierson Hernandez packing.

Lisa Kaufman, who's been working for Sen. Robert Duncan for ten years, is joining the Texas Civil Justice League as executive director and general counsel. She's been Duncan's general counsel and director of the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Department of Corrections: We misspelled Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson's name in some editions last week. It's spelled correctly here. And while we're here, we made Dale Wainwright an appointee to the Texas Supreme Court. He had a temporary appointment to the court, but not to a full justiceship. He got that from the voters. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Quotes of the Week

Ben Shepperd, executive vice president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, talking to The New York Times about the current good times in the West Texas oil patch: "You will have trouble finding anyone out here who will use the word boom. Everybody calls it the 'B' word."

Scott Savin, COO of the company that owns the Corpus Christi Greyhound Race Track, in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times about plans to close the track at yearend: "I think everyone in the state of Texas who has anything to do with horse racing or dog racing is hoping there will be poker."

Klaus "Sonny" Brown of San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Co., quoted in The Dallas Morning News about legislation that was supposed to slow the use of tolls roads in Texas: "I read SB 792 about 12 times. Happily, it was Swiss-cheesed with loopholes. I read it to find out whether I still had a business or not."

Clayton Williams Jr., at the Texas Book Festival (he was flogging his new biography Claytie: The Roller Coaster Life of a Texas Wildcatter), telling a story about a "controlled burn" that temporarily got out of hand on land he owns in West Texas in the early 1990s: "Wouldn't that have been great? The guy who lost the governor's race just burned down the town of Marfa?"

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, talking to The Dallas Morning News about his political plans when his second term is up: "I said that I was going to run for re-election. I didn't say I was going to die here."

Bob Buford, a voter besieged by campaigns for city council, statehouse, constitutional and local initiatives, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "We just don't answer the phone anymore."

Editorial cartoonist Joel Pett, to an audience of students at Indiana University, which posted a report on its journalism department's website: "The Christian right is one of my favorite things to focus on. No matter what I draw, they have to forgive me."


Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 21, 12 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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