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The Other Season to Greet

You think they decorate the malls too early? Here's our version: There are only 90 money-raising, commercial-running, attack-mailing, town hall-squabbling, sign-stealing, robo-calling, finger-pointing, voter-abusing days left until the Texas primary elections.

You think they decorate the malls too early? Here's our version: There are only 90 money-raising, commercial-running, attack-mailing, town hall-squabbling, sign-stealing, robo-calling, finger-pointing, voter-abusing days left until the Texas primary elections.

Candidates for state and federal office start filing with the major parties on Monday, December 4, and have until January 2 to put up or shut up.

You won't know what the money looks like in most of those races for another 60 days. And if history is tradition, there'll be some races where you don't get a good look at the money until it's too late for anybody but voters to do anything about it, when candidates file the reports due eight days before the March 4 election.

If history is the pattern, you won't be sure who's safe until the sun sets on January 2. Recent political history is full of contests that didn't start until the last minutes before the filing deadline. It's not paranoia that tells you there are candidates out there in the weeds — that's experience.

So far, nobody in the Texas congressional delegation has volunteered to leave. Nobody in the Texas Senate has a hand in the air. And only nine of the 150 members of the Texas House have said they won't be back for the next regular session.

That's not unusual.

Texas elected four new members of Congress in 2002, thanks to redistricting and seats added because of the state's growth. Another seven took office after the 2004 elections, the result of a second round of redistricting. Last year, two congressmen who'd been displaced battled their way back into the delegation. But nobody, so far, is offering to leave voluntarily.

The Texas Senate got five freshmen last year, four from retirements and one from an overthrow. Two came in 2004, after retirements. And redistricting and retirements put a half dozen senators in office in regular and special elections in 2002. This year, so far, nobody's retiring or quitting.

The last election cycle put 23 new members into the Texas House. If you add special elections into the mix, 26 of the 150 members were showed up for their first regular legislative session last January. The freshman class before that had 17 members. And the group that started its first regular in 2003 had 36 tenderfeet, a jump in the numbers you can attribute to redistricting.

For state government, it's not shaping up to be the most exciting election year. But the speakership is at stake in the House. If you're playing a long game, this is the first of two elections that'll determine who draws the redistricting maps for Texas after the 2010 census.

The Legislature that makes the first attempt at that will be elected using the current maps. Republicans control both chambers now and it would take something seismic to change the Senate from Red to Blue. But House Republicans have lost ground in two straight elections, dropping from a high of 88 seats to the current 79 (they can retain number 80 if they win a special election in Fort Worth this month). They've got their fingers in the dike, but a five-seat swing would give the two parties exactly equal footing.

The 2010 election will determine who's on the board that draws political maps if, as happened in 2003, the Legislature locks up and can't do it. The Legislative Redistricting Board includes five officeholders: lieutenant governor, speaker, attorney general, comptroller and land commission. The GOP's got all five of those.

Long-term planners in both parties see the better chance in the Legislature. Maps are usually drawn there and edited by federal judges. And it's cheaper for the political financiers to win several legislative races than to win statewide seats and hope the next maps go to the LRB. And with the Senate likely to stay in Republican hands, their focus has to be on the House in 2008 and 2010.

Krusee Won't Run

Mike Krusee, the Republican state representative from Round Rock says he won't seek reelection next year. Krusee, who's 48, is chairman of the House Transportation Committee and has been in office since 1993.

"I will be leaving elective office, but I intend to stay active in the issues I care about, transportation and New Urbanism, both here in Texas and nationwide," Krusee said in a press release announcing his decision not to run.

He's an advocate of increased funding for highways and a supporter of toll roads as one way to pay for new and improved transportation. That's made him a target of opponents of those roads and of the Trans Texas Corridor, but allied him with Gov. Rick Perry and other advocates of TTC and highway overhauls.

"I am proud that Texas has taken bold, visionary steps toward our looming infrastructure problems... time will show that we were right to take bold steps on transportation policy," he said.

Krusee had a hard race last year and opponents began seriously looking at his HD-52 seat last summer. He got just 50.4 percent of the vote in last year's general election, after winning 63.8 percent against a Republican challenger in the March primary. He's been unopposed just once in his eight successful campaigns. The 2006 result was the tightest since he unseated an incumbent Democrat in 1992 with 51.7 percent of the vote.

This year, Democrat Diana Maldonado, a Round Rock ISD trustee and a state employee, announced her intention to run before Krusee got out and was planning a campaign based on his perceived weaknesses. This week brought the announcement of her endorsement by Annie's List, an Austin-based political action committee that gives to pro-choice Democratic women running for state office. She is, for the moment, unopposed.

Republicans say privately they'll have a better chance with a fresh face — that the results of the last election were about Krusee and not about Democratic growth in Williamson County. So far, though, they don't have a candidate.

Potential Republican candidates — being talked up by fellow Republicans in the district — include Larry Gonzales, a House staffer and political consultant long involved in Williamson County GOP politics; Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell, who recently announced he won't run for reelection next year; Brian Daniel, a former Texas state director of USDA Rural Development; and former Round Rock City Councilman Gary Coe. That's not to say they're likely, or that they're in — just that those are the names we're hearing in the wake of Krusee's announcement. Maxwell told the Austin American-Statesman he's not interested. Gonzales didn't say he will or won't: "My only interest is making sure this seat stays a Republican seat."

Krusee bridled under former House Speaker Pete Laney and came into his leadership position by supporting Tom Craddick's successful bid for that job in 2003. But by the end of the last legislative session, he was among those questioning Craddick's management of the House. While he never openly threw in with any challengers, he made a personal privilege speech in the last days of the session calling on Craddick to loosen his grip on the reins.

After the session, there was talk that Craddick was offering support to potential Krusee challengers in the GOP. And Krusee was among six House members — each with adversarial relationships with Craddick — who joined in a legal brief prepared for the Attorney General on the limits of a speaker's powers. Even with that, Craddick put his name on a Krusee reelection fundraiser earlier this year. That quelled talk of a feud, but didn't stop rumors about whether Krusee would run again.

That fundraising came after the latest mid-year reports. At the end of June, Krusee reported cash on hand of $321,505 in his political accounts.

Krusee is No. 9 on the list of folks who won't be back. Candidates start filing for office next week, but these names won't be among them, at least for their current spots:

Robby Cook III, D-Eagle Lake, HD-17, won't seek reelection.

Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, HD-55, won't seek reelection.

Fred Hill, R-Richardson, HD-112, won't seek reelection.

Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, HD-97, resigned in August.

Rick Noriega, D-Houston, HD-145, running for U.S. Senate.

Mike O'Day, R-Pearland, HD-29, won't seek reelection.

Robert Puente, D-San Antonio, HD-117, won't seek reelection.

Robert Talton, HD-144, R-Pasadena, running for U.S. House.

Every Fifth Chairman

Eight of the 40 lawmakers who chair House committees are either quitting — that's five — or are either running against or opposing the reelection of House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Make it nine if you include Speaker Pro Tempore Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat who says at the end of last session that he'll be a candidate for speaker in January 2009.

All of them supported Craddick at some point — some to the end — but that's nine votes he can't count on next time. As the filing season begins on Monday, Craddick's supporters and his opponents will be trying to fill those holes. It's a two-edged sword: You lose chairs and votes, but you have empty chairmanships to dangle in front of the people whose support you seek. You can't legally promise anything, but the plums still get talked about.

More chairs could open up as various legislators decide not to run, or get beat in March or November. In addition to the mostly honorary speaker pro tempore gig, three chairs are in the hands of members who are either running for speaker or supporting a change in speakers: Civil Practices, chaired by Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana; Human Services, Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs; and Ways & Means, Jim Keffer, R-Eastland.

Five chairmen are leaving. Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, resigned earlier this year. She chaired the Committee on Land and Resource Management. Four won't seek reelection: Local Government Ways & Means, Fred Hill, R-Dallas; Natural Resources, Robert Puente, D-San Antonio; Public Health, Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple; and Transportation, Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock.

Nine of Craddick's chairmen are Democrats. Two are listed above. Three more already face serious challengers to reelection: Reps. Kevin Bailey of Houston, Kino Flores of Palmview, and Aaron Peña of Edinburg.

Suiting Up

Tom Annunziato, a Fort Worth optometrist, says officially now that he'll run against Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. And the trade group he used to head, the Texas Optometric Association, put $75,000 into his campaign treasury (he says he's raised $175,000 in all).

That's more — by a factor of more than ten — than their political action committee gives other candidates. But there's no optometrist in the Lege, and they want one. The last big contributions from that PAC came in Stacie Virden's 2004 unsuccessful race for a Waco House seat; the committee gave $21,000 over the course of that run, supplemented by individual contributions from other optometrists, including Annunziato.

Since 2000, he's given $43,500 to Texas political candidates and PACs, including $2,000 to Geren. His favorites? Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, $9,400; and Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, $6,750. Geren's been a large thorn in the paw of House Speaker Tom Craddick. King is one of Craddick's top lieutenants. And it's not hard to find people who attribute the challenger's interest to the urging of Craddick supporters.

For his part, Annunziato says he's wanted to run for office for a few years and has been active in GOP politics; he's challenging Geren, he says, because "I looked and just didn't like his politics."

Special Elections and other Notes

Republican Mark Shelton bagged endorsements from Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC and from BACPAC — the political action committee affiliated with the Texas Association of Business.

The Democrat he's running against is Dan Barrett, who's also a trial lawyer. It's only natural. Shelton's a doctor — the Texas Medical Association's PAC is playing here, too — who works at Cook Children's Medical Center. He also picked up the endorsement of the NRA's Political Victory Fund.

• Officially: Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, says he'll seek reelection. No surprise, but it's official... Same for Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, who'll seek an 11th term in the House.

• U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, let the rarity of a televised football game host his fundraiser. He invited donors to watch the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers at Dallas' Granada Theater. The game wasn't on the local cable outlet.

• Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, has some cranky Republicans in her district, and they've started a website at www.bettybrown.org. The author is Elicia Sanders, a one-time aide to Carole Keeton Strayhorn, among others. She lives on a small horse ranch in Brown's district with her husband, political consultant Mark Sanders. There's a counter on the bottom of the website's homepage, and more than 3,000 people had visited at our last check. The site, while highly critical of Brown, doesn't promote another candidate. She's the sole focus. Brown faces a GOP primary rematch against Wade Gent.

• The good news from the audit of the state's voter rolls is that only 0.4 percent of the 12.4 million registered voters in the state might be ineligible to vote, and that none of the possibly illegal voters actually voted. So they didn't find any voter fraud. But the State Auditor's Office identified 49,049 voters who possibly shouldn't have been there (we're not being cute; the report included the "possibly" label since it's difficult to tell for sure on these things. Among the potential stinkers were records for 23,114 "possible felons," records for 23,576 voters "who may be deceased," and duplicate records for 2,359 voters. They didn't identify any cases where those folks voted (the May 12 special election was the test case).

Homework

The subjects in the speaker's interim charges to the Legislature come right out of the headlines, past and future:

Voter fraud, financial aid for college students and incentive funding for colleges, a laundry list of budget and cost-estimating reforms, pay rates for Medicaid providers, identity theft, hunting and fishing on state lands, mortgage foreclosures, health insurance, streamlining government, the Houston crime lab, the state's new business tax, border security, a review of the prison system, drunk driving laws, human trafficking, political use of government email, the marketing and sale of college textbooks, energy conservation, the state's jury system, eminent domain, concealed handguns on school campuses, online public school courses, and judicial redistricting.

And that's just a quick sampling of what had been released when we published. The between-session work for lawmakers and lobbyists is trickling out of the House (no puffs of smoke from the Senate yet) in three parts. House Speaker Tom Craddick released it in three parts.

Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. And Part 3 is here.

Central Planning

The governor named 29 people to an advisory panel called the Governor's Competitiveness Council with this charge: "identifying impediments to the state’s ability to remain competitive in a global marketplace and recommending steps the state should take to improve its economic footing." They haven't met yet, but if and when they do, it's an interesting bunch.

There's an industry group: Charles Thomas "Tom" Burbage, executive vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company; James Epperson Jr., president of AT&T Texas; Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers; Michael Greene, CEO of Luminant; Johnny Edwin Lovejoy II, president and CEO of Lovejoy and Associates; Gray Mayes, director of public affairs at Texas Instruments Inc.; Ronald McMillan, regional vice president of governmental affairs, Time Warner Cable; Zebulun Nash, site manager of ExxonMobil Chemical Company; Joseph O'Neill III, managing partner of O’Neill Properties Ltd.; Kip Thompson, vice president of global facilities and strategic growth at Dell Inc.; Jeffrey Wade, executive vice president and general counsel of Lexicon Genetics Inc.; and Paul Zmigrosky, group vice president of procurement and logistics for Frito-Lay.

He included some elected officials: Comptroller Susan Combs, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy and Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson, who'll chair the council.

And he rounded it out with other government officials and private sector education and economic development people: Aaron Demerson, executive director of the Governor’s Division of Economic Development and Tourism; Buddy Garcia, presiding officer of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; attorney Sandy Kress, who chairs the Commission for a College Ready Texas; Texas Workforce Commissioner Ron Lehman; Charles McMahen, chairman of the Governor’s Business Council; Bill Morrow, presiding officer of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund; Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes; Education Commissioner Robert Scott; Public Utility Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman; Texas Workforce Investment Council Chairman John Sylvester Jr.; Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson; and Bob Wingo, chairman of the Texas Economic Development Corporation.

Political People and Their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Daniel Rios of Edinburg to the new 449th District Court. Rios is a private practice lawyer and a former Hidalgo County prosecutor.

He named David Farr of Houston to the 312th District Court. Farr is an associate judge in the 257th District Court. Those are both family courts. He'll replace James Squier, a Republican (one of several) who's running for Congress in CD-22.

The governor named three new regents at the University of North Texas: Don Buchholz of Dallas, co-founder and chairman of SWS Group Inc.; former Rep. and Texas Secretary of State Gwyn Shea of Irving; and Jack Wall, a rancher and investor who lives in Dallas. All three went to school at UNT.

Perry is keeping James Lee of Houston on the Teacher Retirement System of Texas board. Lee is president of a private investment firm.

He named John Brieden, a Brenham insurance agent, to be presiding officer of the Texas Veterans Commission.

And the Guv named four to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education: Midland County Constable Charles Hall, who's been on the commission but will get boosted to chairman; Ada Brown, a Dallas attorney and former judge; Sugar Land Police Chief Stephen Griffith; and Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson.

After six years with the Texas Hospital Association, Greg Knaupe is joining Santos Alliances, an Austin-based public affairs outfit.

Deaths: Bill Wells, the original director of the state's Sunset Advisory Commission. He ran it from its start as a division under the Legislative Budget Board through the transition to a standalone agency and into the early 1990s, when he retired after the Legislature nearly killed the commission.

Quotes of the Week

Will Newton, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Texas, telling the Houston Chronicle about his group's opposition to the state's new business tax: "I don't know how on Earth someone can run for election saying, 'Hey, you're not making money. Give the state a little extra money.' "

Michael Maresco, who's been bicycling around the U.S. to show his support for presidential candidate Ron Paul, in the Brazosport Facts: "The hardest thing, other than the hills, has been seeing people that don’t care."

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a unanimous ruling in Lawrence v. State of Texas: "The Supreme Court has emphasized that states may protect human life not only once the fetus has reached viability but 'from the outset of the pregnancy,' The Legislature is free to protect the lives of those whom it considers to be human beings."

U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, on undocumented immigrants, in the Tyler Morning Telegraph: "I can't reward people for breaking our laws. But I can't punish them forever for trying to get a better life. That's what we've got to reconcile."

McAllen developer Alonzo Cantu, telling the Washington Post why he helped raise $640,000 so far for Hillary Clinton in South Texas: "To me, there's two things that will keep us from being ignored. Money and votes. I think we've shown we can raise money. That will get us attention, or at least get us a seat at the table, get us in the room."


Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 24, 3 December 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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