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Cannibals

Political cannibalism is a bipartisan activity.

Political cannibalism is a bipartisan activity.

Rep. Lon Burnam is the first (this year) to cross over (openly) and endorse challengers to some of his fellow House Democrats.

Burnam endorsed Sandra Rodriguez, Brian Thompson, and Armando Walle. Those are the challengers, respectively, to Kino Flores, D-Palmview, Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, and Kevin Bailey, D-Houston.

Burnam, who was the first House Democrat to openly spurn Speaker Tom Craddick, voting against Craddick's first election in 2003, cited their support for the Republican speaker as the reason he's opposing the other reps.

He's never openly endorsed against an incumbent Democrat, he said: "But after five years in outer Siberia, it was time to change the way we do things."

He's not the first one to endorse challengers — five Republican members went against Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, in a previous election, and House Democrats have been purging their ranks of Craddick supporters for a couple of cycles. But he's the first to do it this year.

If all that's not In Your Face Enough, Burnam says he'll announce a new political action committee next week that could help fund his efforts. The name? "Too Close to Craddick."

On a semi-related note, Geren is holding an election event that's expected to attract several of his colleagues from the House (including just about everyone we've heard mentioned as a potential speaker candidate other than Craddick).

And if you catch yourself trying to think of past episodes of cannibalism, here's a start. The five who supported Geren's opponent in the 2006 GOP primary were Linda Harper-Brown of Irving, Bill Keffer of Dallas, Jodie Laubenberg of Parker, Bill Zedler of Arlington, and Mary Denny of Denton. Denny retired, Keffer got beat (though he's in a rematch against his former challenger this year), and Harper-Brown and Zedler have serious opposition this year.

On the other side, the Democrats have made a specialty of this over the last few cycles. Former Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, lost to Alma Allen, a candidate recruited by Sen. Rodney Ellis and supported by Rep. Garnet Coleman, among others. Houston Democrats helped oust Al Edwards, who's back this year for another crack at Borris Miles.

And this year, several of the so-called Craddick Ds — Democrats who support the Republican speaker — are running against Democrats recruited by their colleagues in the lower chamber. And some of the ABC Republicans like Geren (it stands for Anybody But Craddick) have drawn opponents recruited by Craddick's allies inside and outside the House.

Watching the Pot Boil

Ballots are just about set — the parties have to tell the Secretary of State by next week what their lineups for state offices will be (you're likely to keep finding errors in everybody's lists — including ours — until that final set is complete).

The parties decide who's eligible and who's not, but candidates in some circumstances can still be challenged in court. We're catching some hints of challenges in the works, in races where city officials and school board members are challenging incumbents. It might amount to nothing, but it's one of the weapons open to the combatants.

The lists, in their current form, can be downloaded from our files section. We'll put up the finals when the parties provide them.

'Not' is a Taxing Word

This is arcane, unless you're an exec with a big company that has a lot of inventory and operates and pays taxes in Texas: "A taxable entity that elects to capitalize costs on its first report due on or after January 1, 2008, may not include any costs incurred prior to the accounting period upon which the report is based."

It's the kind of thing that puts humans to sleep and keeps tax people awake all night. And businesses are waiting to see whether Comptroller Susan Combs will change it before she sends notices to taxpayers later this month.

The rule jolts some high-inventory businesses — homebuilders, car dealers, retailers, and some manufacturers. Some would be forced to change the way they account for cost of goods sold, which is a key component in figuring the state's new margins tax. Others — homebuilders, already facing an economic slump, are at the top of this list — would have to pay a higher tax the first year with the rule than without it.

Taxpayers and lobbyists and some legislators have been talking (that's a mild term, in some cases) to Combs and her staff for weeks about the rule. They're hoping for a "letter ruling" that retracts it. We should know soon. The comptroller is publishing instructions for the new tax this month, and those will probably reflect whether they're sticking with the zero inventory rule or letting businesses compute it like they compute their other taxes.

Zaffirini Escapes a Primary

Rene Barrientos, the San Antonio lawyer who filed last week to run in the Democratic primary against Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, doesn't have the stomach for it. He dropped out, saying he didn't want to run the negative campaign he thought would be required.

Zaffirini will still face former Webb County Judge Louis Bruni Jr., who's running as a Republican, in November.

Barrientos apparently didn't want to run the negative campaign his consultants presented as the best way to defeat Zaffirini, a 20-year incumbent. "He's a good guy and a good Democrat... and he wasn't willing to run a campaign based almost entirely on negative attacks," said Colin Strother, who was going to be the campaign manager for the challenger.

The two had already traded some shots — if half of what has been hinted is true, this was gonna be a nasty fight on both sides — and Barrientos has been in the hunt for months. But he pulled up in the week before the parties give their official ballots to the Texas Secretary of State.

"I originally filed for public office because I strongly believe that our political system has been unduly influenced by special interests, that college costs have made higher education too expensive for middle class families, that teachers lack the funding and resources they need to educate our youth, and that we need universal health care," he said in a written statement. "... I do not wish to be involved in a campaign where important social and political issues take a back seat to heated, negative attacks. I just will not do it. There needs to be civility in politics and such a campaign would not be healthy or productive for this district or the Democratic Party."

Zaffirini, who's been running television spots since the week before Christmas, says she's not sure why her opponent decided not to run, but she's happy about it. "I thank Rene Barrientos for withdrawing and for his statement about his distaste for negative advertising," she says. "I agree that voters of Senate District 21 want to focus on issues, not on dueling messages."

The primary that disappeared promised to be a spirited one. Zaffirini started off with a fundraiser at the South Texas ranch owned by Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett. To get there, you have to drive by a ranch owned by Barrientos. His guys thought it would be funny to put a Bruni sign on the gate; sure enough, the Zaffirini crew stopped and took pictures. And then they used them in her announcement, making fun of Barrientos "confusion" over whom to support.

There's still plenty of vinegar left for the general election, though. She still has Bruni ahead, and he's also running commercials (they began nearly a year ago), most of them negative. You can find his spots here, and her TV commercial here.

Bruni accuses Zaffirini of pushing Barrientos out of the race and says he's not afraid of her. "She's met her match, and God bless her. She's the most vindictive person in the world, in my opinion, besides [Osama] bin Laden."

Bruni, a former Laredo city councilman and Webb County Judge, has run in the past as a Democrat. This time, he's running as "a non-partisan Republican."

Politics, Churches, and the IRS

An Austin group wants the IRS to investigate a Houston non-profit to see whether it helped get Gov. Rick Perry reelected in 2006.

The Texas Freedom Network is accusing the Niemoller Foundation of funding partisan political efforts, through the Texas Restoration Project, that were meant to help Perry mobilize churches and their congregations to vote.

Their logic: The Niemoller Foundation funded the Restoration Project, which held six events around the state with Perry as the only invited gubernatorial candidate (other speakers included Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, according to a Perry spokesman). The chairman of the Restoration Project, Rev. Laurence White of Houston, is a director of the foundation. We couldn't immediately reach him for comment. The foundation's tax reports say it raised more than $1.2 million, and name four "substantial contributors" — Jim Leininger of San Antonio, Bob Perry of Houston, Bo Pilgrim of Pittsburg, and Don O'Neal of Colleyville — who are all Perry contributors. And the foundation spent more than $470,000 on consultants who also did substantial work for the Texas GOP.

A spokesman for Perry says the Restoration Project did nothing overtly political, other than encouraging people to vote. "[TFN] is a secularist, leftist organization and does not like people of faith," said Robert Black. "Tough." Asked what he meant by "secularist," Black said the group "believes that faith should not be in the public square." He says the Restoration Project never told people who to vote for and didn't campaign for Perry.

The TFN complaint points to a list of pastors it says were used by the Perry campaign for mailings. The letter and the documents behind it are on the TFN website.

Flotsam & Jetsam

El Paso's HD-78 got a late addition to the ballot in Joe Moody, an assistant district attorney and the son of Bill Moody, the El Paso judge who led the losing Democratic ticket in 2006.

The elder Moody's results in each legislative district provide a rough measure of how the parties stack up in each locale (we even did a handy chart last year, which is in our Files Section). He's local, so the results are probably skewed, but Moody got 59.3 percent of the vote in that legislative district in 2006. But Republican Rep. Pat Haggerty now holds it. He frequently votes with the Democrats in the House and probably wouldn't see a full press if he wins his primary. But if his challenger, Dee Margo, is the Republican nominee, it's likely to be a district both sides move to the top of the target list next fall.

Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg, will find some of her colleagues on the other side of the stage this year. One of her opponents, Ron Reynolds, was an intern to Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, at one time, and got in the race at a point when some members thought Olivo was going to retire. She had a primary challenge in 2006 and won with 60.4 percent of the vote.

Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, got the season's first endorsement from Texans for Lawsuit reform. That group has been squiring some other candidates around — notably South Padre Island's Tara Rios Ybarra, who wants to replace Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville. Brown's in a March rematch with lawyer Wade Gent of Forney; the winner of that tussle will face Democrat Victor Morales in November.

Brian Klock, a Republican in that pack of ten candidates who want the nomination, says he'll eat military MREs — meals ready to eat — until the primary to show his solidarity with American troops. Klock's a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and gave up a job at Merrill Lynch to run for Congress. The winner of that ten-way primary will face U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, in November.

Gov. Rick Perry's On My Honor, Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For comes out next month. The publishers are pitching it as a look at the battles between the values of the Boy Scouts (who'll get all the proceeds) and the "secular culture warriors of the left" — comes out next month. It's got a website of its own and you can order a copy in advance there. Dallas businessman Ross Perot Sr. wrote the foreward.

Department of Corrections: We squib-kicked a number last week. Democrat Rick Noriega, who's running for U.S. Senate, says he raised $968,000 through the end of last year. They worded their announcement oddly, and we reported that amount as the fourth-quarter total. No, no, no. He raised $581,000 of that total before the end of September. Campaign finance reports for the federales and the state candidates will be out next week. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

New Names at Sunset

Sens. Glenn Hegar and Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and Houston businessman Michael Stevens are the newest members of the Sunset Advisory Commission. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named those three, and said Hegar, R-Katy, will also be the panel's vice chairman. He and Hinojosa, D-McAllen, will serve through September 2011. Stevens, one of the biggest financiers of Republican candidates in the state, will serve through September 2009. On the list of agencies Sunset will review this cycle: Transportation, Public Safety, Insurance, the Texas Youth Commission, the Racing Commission, and Parks & Wildlife. The newbies replace Sens. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, and John Whitmire, D-Houston, and public member Howard Wolf of Austin.

James Hull, the state forester and the director of the Texas Forest Service at Texas A&M University, will retire in June. He's been in that post for 12 years.

Charles Patton, president and COO of AEP Texas, is the new chairman of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas. Walt Baum and Russell Mullins got promotions from AECT. Baum, formerly the legislative director, is now an executive vice president. Mullins, who was helping with legislative duties, is now corporate secretary and legislative director.

Seven companies — three of them independent subsidiaries of the company formerly known as Dallas-based TXU Corp — have joined the Association of Electric Companies of Texas. That association represents the companies on industry-wide issues before state government. The new guys are Direct Energy, Exelon Generation, Luminant, NRG Texas Power, Oncor, Southwestern Electric Power Co., and TXU Energy.

Susan Barnes, associate commissioner for standards and programs at the Texas Education Agency, is retiring at the end of the month. She'll be replaced by her number two, Sharon Jackson, who worked as a teacher and a principal earlier in her career.

Chris Cronn, who worked for Gov. Rick Perry and then headed one of three temporary outfits formed to promote the cancer bond amendment approved by voters in November, will lobby for UnitedHealth Group here and in Oklahoma. That's a new position; he'll join Leah Rummel, who's already on that lobby staff.

Jess Calvert, a former analyst with the Legislative Budget Board and the House Appropriations Commission, is coming back, sort of. After four years with GMAC, he's joining the Texas Dental Association as director of public affairs.

Move three squares on the org chart at the Texas Department of Transportation. John Barton of Beaumont is the agency's new assistant executive director for engineering operations; David Casteel of San Antonio is the new AED for district operations, and Phil Russell of Austin is the new AED for innovative project development.

House Speaker Tom Craddick put the newest member of the Texas House, Dan Barrett, D-Fort Worth, on the Land & Resource Management and Pensions & Investments committees. Those assignments will hold until the Legislature meets in January 2009.

Gov. Rick Perry made some appointments:

• To the Sabine River Authority of Texas, including Don Covington, chairman of Beacon Marine in Orange; J.D. Jacobs Jr., a Rockwall farmer and rancher; David Koonce, an exec with General Shelters of Texas Ltd.; Cliff Todd of Carthage, executive director of the Marshall Economic Development Corp; and Earl Williams, an exec with Tool Tech Machining and two other companies in Beaumont. Koonce and Todd are new members; the others are reappointees.

• To the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, Edne Reyes-Wilson, a program director for the El Paso Center for Children.

• To the Texas Optometry Board, Larry Fields of Carthage. He's an attorney and a real estate broker, and a municipal judge in Tatum.

Quotes of the Week

Republican Kirby Hollingsworth, on why he filed at the last-minute for a third challenge to Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, in the Paris News: "I wasn't planning on signing up because I didn't know enough people were really interested in it. I got some phone calls that encouraged me I would have the support I needed."

NBC's Tom Brokaw, talking to the Washington Post about pundit's jumping from one Democratic ship to another on New Hampshire's election night: "The pirouettes are amazing. The utter confidence with which everyone had been wrong 20 minutes earlier, they have the same utter confidence about what produced this surprise. It's intellectually dishonest."

U.S. Senate candidate Rhett Smith, a former Republican now running as a Democrat, blasting conservatives at a Democratic luncheon in Austin: "We have no place in Texas for Redneckism or what I would call Redneck Religion."

Former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska, now a presidential candidate, talking to students in New Hampshire, quoted by the Chicago Tribune: "I'm sure a lot of you have tripped out on alcohol. It's a lot safer to do it on marijuana."


Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 2, 14 January 2008. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2008 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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