Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison kicked off the first day of filing, saying he'll run in the GOP primary against Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford. And then the flood began.
Filing for next year's elections started this week and continues through January 2.
The two major parties are taking applications and money from candidates who want to be on the 2008 ballot. And they're updating their lists of people who've signed up. Here are the links to those lists:
After the parties close the books in early January, they'll turn things over to the Texas Secretary of State, who runs the March 4 elections. Other parties — Libertarians and Greens — select their candidates later in the year without primary elections, and they'll be added to the general election ballot once they've got their lists together.
The state parties aren't the only place where you'll get this stuff, so we're sharing the charts we keep to follow the election filings.
Our spreadsheets include candidates who've actually filed and those who've announced their filings in announcements, whether they've done the party stuff or not. If you see an incumbent with nothing in the "Returning?" column, don't freak out. They just haven't filed yet. The sources for all this are the state parties, and where we could get information, the county parties. State legislative candidates file with the state if their districts cross one or more county lines. Otherwise they file locally. One last thing: We'll change these as we get new information, and the date at the top of each chart will tell you the last time it was updated.
You Don't See This Every Day
With a tough election 12 weeks away, this might seem like a funny time for a Republican to propose new taxes. But Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, says he wants to raise sales taxes enough to do away with school property taxes.
King, who'll face Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison in the March 4 primary, won't exactly how he'd get more money out of the sales tax. "I don't really want to get into the specifics about that," he says. Local property taxes pay more than half the costs of public education. Shifting that to the state might help homeowners and business property owners, but they and everyone else would pay a sales tax to make up the difference.
The idea suddenly has King in the local newspapers and has given Tison something to talk about.
"It's a bad idea that would make it even harder for businesses and families who are already being squeezed enough — another example of how politicians initiate something without asking their local constituents what effect it has on their schools, their government, or their living standards," Tison says.
King is sticking to his guns. He says he's been talking to groups around his district for months and that they "overwhelmingly" prefer sales taxes to property taxes. Lawmakers have fixed school finance repeatedly, but property taxes keep rising: "It's headed for a train wreck... I'm real comfortable with [his proposal]. I have yet to find anyone in the district who tells me they'd rather pay the property tax."
He says the tax doesn't work, that it forces people "to rent their homes from the state" and that it should be killed with a constitutional amendment in favor of higher sales taxes dedicated to public schools.
He would leave other property taxes — those that fund local governments other than schools — in place. Those amount to less than half the average property tax bill and don't rise as fast as school taxes have. He'd rebate money to low-income people at the end of each year to make up for the harder hit they take, relative to their incomes, from the sales tax.
King says he and other members of the Texas Conservative Coalition have been talking about the sales tax-property tax swap for months. And he says House Speaker Tom Craddick plans to announce that a new legislative committee will look at alternatives to the property tax before the next legislative session. Craddick's office isn't making public promises. "The issue of eliminating school property taxes and replacing them with sales tax is an interesting idea, and the speaker will visit with the members about the viability of that idea in the coming days and weeks," says Alexis DeLee, a spokeswoman for Craddick.
Tison, speaking before the tax flap, told us he has no particular problem with King, but said the incumbent has spent his time on utility and telecommunications issues and that "the people in Parker and Wise Counties need someone to work with them on their issues."
King is one of House Speaker Tom Craddick's top lieutenants; Tison says he hasn't got a position on Craddick. "I don't know anything about the speaker," he says.
In a written statement, he was a little harder on King than in an interview: "This fast-growing area needs a representative whose top priorities are the hard-working families and small business owners of Parker and Wise counties, not the partisan agendas of politicians in Austin," Tison said. Tison's finishing his fourth term as mayor; before that, he was Weatherford ISD's superintendent.
Danger in the Details
A lawmaker tinkering with sales taxes can do one of two things to bring in more money: Raise the rate or add to the number of things that the state taxes. Both have economic and political risks.
The first option is a complicated piece of math that we'll oversimplify for illustration. The state's current sales tax of 6.25 percent brings in about $21 billion annually, or about $3.4 billion per penny of the tax rate (that's a rough calculation based on the comptroller's current revenue estimate, which is based on expected levels of taxable sales in the state this year and next).
These next numbers are even gamier, so we'll apologize in advance to the revenuers who do this for a living: If you want to raise, say, $3.4 billion, you add a penny to the sales tax. If you want to get rid of all local school property taxes, you'd have to add four or five cents to the current rate. And you'd have to guess how much you were going to hurt sales by doing that, since sales tax increases amount to price increases on everyday goods. Higher taxes can lower sales, so you have to raise taxes even higher to get the money you wanted, which can lower sales. It's full of trouble
The second way is easier to explain, if politically more dangerous. You raise revenue by getting rid of sales tax exemptions currently in place, choosing from a cafeteria array of items like home sales, food, medicine, farm equipment, utilities, car repairs, haircuts and perms, and on and on. Apply the existing rate to an untaxed item, and you get that much more revenue without raising the tax rate.
But each of those exempted items has one or more constituencies. Local reports of Rep. Phil King's comments on sales taxes, for example, set off the Realtors, the medical associations, and others who sell goods and services that aren't subject to taxes. That was based on newspaper reports that he'd suggested taxes on their transactions. King says he's not endorsing any specific changes right now. He also declines to name anything he definitely wouldn't subject to sales tax. As far as he's concerned, it's all on the table.
It's All in the Timing
For a few months, the regular limits on campaign contributions didn't apply to Democrats giving to U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega.
But the Houston Democrat and his supporters didn't make much of the opportunity.
Now, with multi-millionaire lawyer Mikal Watts out of the race, some Democrats are wondering if Noriega lost more than just a primary opponent.
Noriega's chances to be the Democratic candidate against U.S. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in next year's Senate race improved when Watts dropped out of the race in October. Noriega, a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard who has served in Afghanistan, was at a huge financial disadvantage against Watts, who bankrolled his own campaign with millions of his own money.
But strategists say that Watt's early exit dried up the media interest and, more importantly, the money that comes with that interest in the race. And he'll need money — raised at a clip of $800,000 a month or more — if he makes it to the general election next November and spends enough to head-to-head against Cornyn on advertising and organization.
"The great narrative of the Watts/Noriega saga was there," says one Democratic strategist speaking on background. "And now that it's gone, it's left a great void."
Also gone is Noriega's ability to ask deep-pocketed donors to go above and beyond the usual campaign limits of $2,300 per election. Because of the "millionaire's amendment" in federal campaign-finance law, opponents of wealthy, self-financed candidates can ask for up to six times the individual giving limit, which amounts to $13,800 per election this election cycle.
Now that Watts is out, Noriega's limits have snapped back to normal. The window of opportunity lasted almost five months — from June 1st, when Watts reported to the Federal Election Commission that he'd given his campaign $3.8 million, until Oct. 23, when he dropped out of the contest. But only seven individuals (one was former Gov. Dolph Briscoe) donated more than $10,000 to Noriega up through the end of September, FEC records show, and only a handful more crossed the standard $2,300 barrier. Noriega's campaign said three individuals gave the full $13,800 maximum to Noriega in October before Watts dropped out, and says several others during that same time gave more than the normal $2,300 per election but did not max out.
Sue Schechter, Noriega's campaign manager, says the campaign did its best to take advantage of the higher maximums while it could, but persuading donors to part with 13 grand was no walk in the park.
"It's not easy, that's a lot of money," she says.
It's hard to raise money against a self-financing candidate — some donors see a bad investment there — but for whatever reason, Noriega's camp missed a chance.
Whether Noriega, who raised about $580,000 through the end of September, has the money-raising chops to take on Cornyn is a concern among some Democratic strategists. Cornyn already has a big lead, with $6.6 million on hand at the end of September. He also got big money shots in the arm a few weeks ago when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney came back to the Lone Star State to raise dough for his campaign.
In a state as big as Texas, strategists estimate that $10 to $15 million minimum is needed to have a shot at winning. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who lost to Cornyn in 2002, made it into that financial park and still fell short on Election Day. Noriega says money and "making my name a household name" isn't the issue, and told reporters in Austin this week, "It's not about how the media looks at Cornyn's bank account, but how [voters] look at their own bank accounts."
"[Noriega] has got to wake up and live and breath raising money everyday," one Democratic consultant says.
That hefty price tag may also deter fat cat, out-of-state Democratic donors from opening their pocket books to Noriega, strategists say, when they could get a bigger bang for their buck by donating to a Senate race in a smaller state — New Mexico's an easy example — where campaigns costs less.
Schechter says claims that the Noriega campaign slowed down after Watts dropped out are false, and they have remained as aggressive as ever in their efforts. She says they plan to spend in the six-figures in the primary alone to increase Noriega's statewide visibility. With Watts out, little-known Ray McMurrey, a high school teacher and tennis coach from Corpus Christi, is the only other declared hopeful to be the Democratic nominee and isn't expected to put up much of a fight.
Jason Stanford, who was with the Watts campaign until it fizzled, says it's easy to criticize Noriega's campaign from the sidelines but points out that no one has figured out how to beat a Republican in a statewide office in many, many moons.
"There's no playbook on how to do it," Stanford says. "[The Noriega campaign] is going to have to feel their way through this."
— by Alan Suderman
The 3 Percent Solution
It'll be the biggest steroid testing program in the world. Officials aren't quite sure what it's going to look like, and they won't know its consequences until at least 2009. But the passage of Senate Bill 8 turned the eyes of the nation upon Texas, and its restrooms.
Texas high schools will become one great big laboratory during this school year. The experiment will show how many kids actually use steroids, and will determine whether the threat of randomized urinalysis tests hinders steroid use.
Tests get most of the attention, but the legislation mandates that all athletic coaches, for grades 7 and up, go through an educational program designated by the University Interscholastic League or by the individual school district.
"The whole point of this program is to ensure safety, and a fair and competitive environment for our young athletes," says the House sponsor, Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van.
The program's specifics aren't set in stone yet, he says. The UIL released a tentative set of rules and is taking public comments until Dec. 19. The UIL is reviewing bids from 14 private testing companies, Rogers says.
About 3 percent of high school athletes would be tested each school year, with test subjects spread around 30 percent of state high schools. That translates to about 20,000 to 25,000 students per year, out of the more than 700,000 students who play sports.
According to the nationwide Monitoring the Future Study, from the University of Michigan, about 2.7 percent of American high school seniors in 2006 reported ever having tried steroids, down from a high of 4 percent in 2002. About 1.8 percent of seniors said they used steroids in the past year, and 1.1 percent in the past month. (Those figures are comparable to stats for the use of crack cocaine.)
If the MTF survey is accurate, and the testing is fair, testing 25,000 students would catch about 275 steroid users. Officials aren't sure what the UIL is going to do with its statistics or how long records will be kept.
"That is one of the questions that has been asked," Flynn says. "We don't want schools to be answering that in courts."
The UIL will produce the statistics and results at the behest of lawmakers, says Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, stressing that legislators aren't interested in which individuals tested positive or not. "We're looking for prevalence," he says.
But there will be consequences for those who fail. For the athletes, the first confirmed positive test result carries a one-month suspension from competition, and the student must pass a subsequent test before being reinstated. A second failure brings a one-year ban. A third strike, and you're out of public school sports.
Details are still being hashed out, but a student who tests positive will have the same chance as everyone else (3 percent) of getting tested during the next school year.
Dust off the abacus again, and that means about 88.5 percent of student-athletes will never be tested in four years of competition. A student has about an 11 percent chance of being tested once in four years, a 0.51 percent chance of being tested twice, a 0.01 percent chance of being tested three times (that's 1-in-10,000), and a 0.000081 percent chance of being called to duty four times in four years (that's an 8-in-10 million chance).
If you assume 150,000 freshmen will play sports during all four years, about 16,500 will be tested once, 765 will be tested twice, 15 will be tested three times, and one-eighth of a kid will be tested four times.
Even though a 3 percent chance of being tested each year "is still a relatively small amount, even that little bit of fear could be a deterrent," Janek says.
Thus far, the limited amount of science on the topic of drug testing is inconclusive. A two-year, randomized controlled study of 11 Oregon high schools (five that had testing policies and six that did not), showed no difference in past-month drug use between students at testing schools and students at non-testing schools.
The authors of that study (the Student Athlete Testing Using Randomized Notification, or SATURN) appeared in the Nov. 2007 Journal of Adolescent Health) conclude in the abstract, "More research is needed before DAT [drug and alcohol testing] is considered an effective deterrent for school-based athletes."
Janek hadn't seen the SATURN study, but he says an important goal of the statewide testing program is to pinpoint the level of steroid use by students, and to ascertain if testing — whether that means testing more or less students someday — is a way to address the problem.
Flynn scoffs at the results. "That's somebody's opinion. Everyone has an opinion," he says.
He adds, though, that legislators will be keeping an eye on future research, and "if something comes up that says this program is not one that's going to curtail steroid use, then, yeah, we're going to look at something else."
Janek says the money for the first two years of testing are coming from general funds. The bill's fiscal note estimates the cost of the program at $4 million per year.
Officials are sorting out how to pay for testing beyond the 2008-2009 school year. Two possibilities are that the money could come from the state budget, or it could come from an increase in the price of tickets to UIL events.
— by Patrick Brendel
Political People and Their Moves
Carter Smith is the new executive director of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Until now, he's been head of the Nature Conservancy of Texas. And he's replacing Robert Cook, who resigned earlier this year.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, got the number three spot in the Senate's GOP leadership. We mention it here because of who he's not. He won after U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas — who's got the number four spot — gave up her effort to move up. That also pushed John Cornyn of Texas out of the running. He'd made a play for Hutchison's spot in case she moved up.
Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, won a $420,000 settlement from the city, ending a lawsuit over the city's decision to terminate his job at the Fire Department when he was elected to the Lege in 1991. The money is for back pension benefits.
Les Trobman got a promotion: He's the new general counsel at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson is the new president of the Texas Association of Counties. The new president-elect is Roberts County Judge Vernon Cook, and Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant is TAC's new vice president.
Gov. Rick Perry's appointment machine has been on. He named:
• Former Transportation Commissioner Johnny Johnson of Houston to the "Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Projects." He'll be joined by Robert Poole, a transportation consultant with the Reason Foundation, and Grady Smithey of Duncanville, a former city councilman who's now secretary of the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition.
• Former Highland Village Mayor William Lawrence and Janelle Shepard of Weatherford to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Lawrence owns and runs a dispute resolution firm. Shepard is a registered nurse case manager at Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital.
While Perry was making those last two appointments, the Texas Supreme Court was appointing Justice Jan Patterson of the state's 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin to that panel. And the State Bar of Texas named Tom Alan Cunningham of Houston to the panel; he's the founding partner of Cunningham Darlow LLP.
Quotes of the Week
Former President George H. W. Bush, telling the Houston Chronicle why he's not working on an autobiography: "Well, one, you've got the president there, and so you know to the degree that it would be published soon, people would always try to find differences between father and son, nuances of difference in personality, differences in policy, and I just don't want to risk something that would come out that in some way would complicate his life. I'm confident that historians will be kind to us in a lot of ways and maybe critical in others. But I have confidence that those things will happen. Some good historian will write something."
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, in The Dallas Morning News after she dropped out of a race for the Senate GOP's number three post: "I never made the decision to run. I'm very happy where I am... It's one rung difference but it's not, I think, important at this point. I'm in every meeting that leadership has."
Hutchison, in the Houston Chronicle, on her reputation for ducking tough political fights, like the 2006 governor's race: "It's a bad rap. I didn't run for governor because I thought it would split the party, and the party wasn't ready. That's not the case today."
Democratic political consultant Colin Strother, in the Austin American-Statesman, on Rep. Dawnna Duke's vote this year to keep Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick at the helm: "That whole line of Dawnna voting for Craddick has no traction. It hasn't come up. This is Austin, probably the most politically aware city in the state, and they have no idea who he is."
Bowling Green statistician Jim Albert, in The Wall Street Journal: "You can prove any silly hypothesis... by running a statistical test on tons of data."
Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 25, 10 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.