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A Challenge Flag

State election officials have asked for an investigation of voting in a Republican House race that was decided by just 38 votes.

State election officials have asked for an investigation of voting in a Republican House race that was decided by just 38 votes.

More than 200 people complained about the GOP primary in HD-73, according to a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State. Lawyers there, concerned about allegations that people were counting ballots before the polls closed, turned the matter over to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for investigation.

In unofficial returns, former New Braunfels Mayor Doug Miller defeated freshman Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, by 38 votes out of 29,324 cast. An official count confirmed that number, setting the table for a recount.

The post-election debate centers on Box 5 in Gillespie County. Officials there ran short of ballots, so they made copies, let voters use those, and then did a hand-count of the results. It took until the wee hours of the morning to get a full count, and some of Macias' supporters aren't happy with the process or the result.

They've raised questions about the extra ballots, the slow count, the fact that Miller's sister-in-law was initially among the vote-counters (they started the counting over again after asking her to move along), and about whether some of the officials involved were more friendly to the challenger than to the incumbent. Miller's folk say that Macias supporters were also among the counters and that the results were the same no matter who was counting.

What's gone to Abbott are allegations that some of the counters were tabulating votes before the polls closed. That's illegal whether it helps a particular candidate or not, though the complaints in this case came from the loser's side.

Macias lost in early voting, but pulled to almost even on Election Day.

In Gillespie County, Miller won by 1,131 votes. He won 63.6 percent in early voting there and 60 percent when all the votes were counted.

But Macias won in the other three counties in the district, by 28 votes in Bandera County, by 820 in Comal County, and by 245 in Kendall County. (They split the counties in early voting, with Bandera and Kendall favoring Macias, and Comal and Gillespie favoring Miller.)

Since Gillespie's votes were the last ones counted, at least some Macias followers hit the sack that night thinking their guy had won a close race.

The investigation is separate from the counting going on now. Macias has asked for (and will have to pay for) a recount. If that falls short, his camp could go to court to contest the election. And if the AG turns something up, the results could be questioned on that basis.

Chicken Nuggets

The leading tort reform group in Texas gave $20,000 to a candidate whose law firm was suing Oklahoma poultry producers on a contingency contract with that state's Democratic attorney general.

Former state Rep. Bill Keffer, R-Dallas — defeated in 2006 but in a rematch this year with Rep. Allen Vaught, D-Dallas — received $20,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform in December, as the two candidates geared up for the elections. He also got a $5,000 donation from Houston developer Richard Weekley, one of TLR's leading lights.

At the time, Miller Keffer Bullock Pedigo was one of three firms under contract with Oklahoma AG W.A. Drew Edmondson to sue poultry firms in the Illinois River watershed. Edmondson contends the tons of waste from those operations pollute the water. He signed up the three firms in July 2004 to handle the case and agreed to pay them one third of what they win. He also agreed to pay expenses, but capped what the firms can make — fees plus expenses — at 50% of what they win in court.

Keffer says the lawsuit is being handled by his partners, and that the Miller Keffer firm is actually more a "marketing partnership" than a traditional law firm.

He's not financially involved in the lawsuit, he says: "I'm not involved in it... I don't have any financial interest in it." Keffer said he's not on the hook for expenses incurred by the firm, and won't get a check if the lawyers win the lawsuit for the state. A spokesman for the Oklahoma AG says Keffer wasn't one of the lawyers with whom they worked. And the issue was never raised in this or past races when Keffer won the support of tort reformers in his bids for state office.

As of January, his name is out of the deal altogether. In January, the state broke off its arrangement with Randy Miller, one of Keffer's partners. Another, Louis Bullock, took over the business. And Keffer's name is no longer tied to the deal in any way; Bullock, a partner in another law firm, is doing the business under that banner now.

Edmondson's spokesman gave no reason for the breakup, saying that was a matter of attorney-client privilege. Keffer shared a copy of the disengagement letter.

The defendants sued unsuccessfully in federal court last year to throw out the law firms (that group Tyson Poultry, Tyson Chicken, Cobb-Vantress, Simmons Foods, Willow Brook Foods, Cal-Maine Foods, Cal-Maine Farms, George’s, George’s Farms, and Peterson Farms). They say the AG violated both the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions by hiring firms on a contingent fee basis (that's the same arrangement Texas used to sue big tobacco companies in the 1990s, and it brought controversy here, too).

The suit against the chicken interest got national attention: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Tort Reform Association filed briefs supporting the poultry interests and saying the private lawyers shouldn't be doing state business.

Keffer says he was never financially involved in the lawsuit, though the Dallas Republican's name was on the law firm's flag and thus in the contracts with the state. He said he didn't know much about it; in fact, he didn't even know his firm was no longer involved until a reporter started asking about the case. And he says the issue has never come up in his conversations with TLR and other tort reformers.

A spokeswoman for TLR confirms that, saying the group "did know know about that poultry lawsuit, and we are looking into it."

All Behind Them Now

Ray McMurrey, the Corpus Christi teacher who ran for U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary, says he'll back Rick Noriega in the November election against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Noriega finished first in that race with just enough votes to avoid a runoff with the Gene Kelly who doesn't dance in the movies. McMurrey was third, and he finished an endorsement note with a link to the winner's fundraising site on the Internet.

• Republican Pete Olson picked up endorsements from 13 members of the Texas congressional delegation in his runoff fight against former U.S. Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs in CD-22. Gibbs had that gig for a few months after Tom DeLay left office, then lost to Nick Lampson. She and Olson are vying for a shot at Lampson in November. Olson snagged some of her former colleagues, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (his former boss), and U.S. Reps. Michael Conaway, John Culberson, Louie Gohmert, Kay Granger, Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson, Kenny Marchant, Michael McCaul, Randy Neugebauer, Pete Sessions, Lamar Smith and Mac Thornberry. That bunch lent their names to a fundraising effort. Olson also picked up endorsements from Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert and Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace (who once considered running for the congressional seat). One more note from CD-22: Olson fired up a new website whacking Gibbs for her votes on the Houston City Council. It's at www.ShelleySaysAnything.com.

• Rep. Buddy West, R-Odessa, picked up endorsements from the two losers in the four-candidate GOP primary in HD-81. West came in second to former state District Judge Tryon Lewis. Randy Rives and Jesse Gore now both say they're throwing their support to the incumbent. Gore told the local paper he was painting over his signs so that GORE would now read GO WEST.

• In the HD-52 race to replace Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, Candidates Three and Four endorsed Candidate One in the runoff. Both John Gordon and Vivian Sullivan say they’ll support Dee Hobbs over Bryan Daniel in the April race. Hobbs, Daniel, and Gordon finished within a few hundred votes of each other in the primary.

• In HD-55, Ralph Sheffield picked up an endorsement from John Alaniz. He already had Mike Pearce's nod. There's only one other candidate left, and she — Martha Tyroch — is in the runoff with Sheffield. That's the seat now held by Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple.

Randy Dunning, a former Garland City Council member trying to win Rep. Fred Hill's seat, won endorsements from a pack of conservative legislators that includes Sen. Bob Deuell of Greenville and Reps. Betty Brown of Terrell, Dan Flynn of Van, Bryan Hughes of Mineola, Jim Jackson of Carrollton, Jodie Laubenberg of Parker, Phil King of Weatherford, Tan Parker of Flower Mound, and Ken Paxton of McKinney. Dunning's in a runoff with Angie Chen Button for the GOP nomination in HD-112.

• The Travis County District Attorney race — of interest here because that "local" office is the one that prosecutes miscreants in state politics and government — is in runoff mode. The incumbent, Ronnie Earle, isn't seeking reelection. Four candidates — all assistants in his office — ran in the first round. The survivors are Earle's first assistant, Rosemary Lehmberg, and Mindy Montford, a prosecutor who's also the daughter of former legislator and Texas Tech Chancellor John Montford, who's now an AT&T exec. Lehmberg has Earle's endorsement, and just got a nod from Gary Cobb, who finished third.

Political Notes

That political committee formed by gambling interests to play in state elections got the attention of Austin lawyer Bill Crocker (who's also the Republican National Committeeman from Texas).

He filed a complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle about Texans for Economic Development PAC and its use of corporate money. You might remember this from a few weeks ago: The operators of TEDPAC refiled their campaign finance reports to show a separation between their corporate and non-corporate funds, so as to avoid tripping laws that prevent corporations and unions from messing in elections for state office. Crocker didn't buy that explanation, and asked Earle's office to investigate. That office got the letter but hasn't made any comment on it.

• Watching the race for Speaker of the House? Speaker Tom Craddick hosted a fundraiser for three March 4 primary winners: Mike Anderson of Mesquite, Dee Margo of El Paso, and Randy Weber of Pearland.

• Musical chairs: Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, is the new vice chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Robert Puente, the chairman, retired. Craddick moved the vice-chairman, Rep. Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, into that spot, and Creighton into Hamilton's spot.

Labor Relations

Tom Pauken, a Dallas mediation attorney and the former chairman of the Texas Republican Party, will join the Texas Workforce Commission as chairman in the "public member" slot (one from business, one from labor, one from the public).

Texas Labor immediately blasted that appointment, saying Gov. Rick Perry's pick "will continue the agency’s bias toward management and away from workers." Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, pointed to the GOP platform when Pauken was chairman and its call to abolish minimum wages and prevailing wage laws. She says the unions will oppose it when the appointment goes to the Senate. Pauken disavowed those bits of the GOP platform, calling himself a "supporter of the labor movement" and saying he's never taken a position opposing minimum wages.

" I don't know what they're talking about..." he said. "I hope we can work together. I'm baffled that they would not call or ask about my positions before saying these things."

Pauken, who headed ACTION during the Reagan Administration, says he wants TWC to specialize in helping veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, like the other agency did for veterans of the Vietnam conflict.

Political People and Their Moves

Diane Rath is resigning from the Texas Workforce Commission this month, after 12 years there. TWC's chair is waiting for Senate confirmation to a federal appointment; George W. Bush, who as governor first put her at workforce, appointed her last July to an assistant secretary post at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed:

Carin Barth of Houston and Tom Clowe of Waco to the Texas Public Safety Commission and put Allan Polunsky of San Antonio in the chairman's seat. Polunsky, an attorney, was on the Texas Board of Criminal Justice for 13 years. Barth is president and co-founder of LB Capital, an investment firm. Clowe, until recently a member of the state's lottery commission, is a nursing home investor and ranch land developer. There's still one empty slot on that panel, but it's got four members for the first time, and two female members for the first time. Polunsky dispatched Clowe to work on possible reorganization of the Department of Public Safety, Barth to dig into the agency's budget, and tapped Commissioner Elizabeth Anderson to take the commission's spot on the Texas Racing Commission and to take a look at the agency's intelligence database projects and information technology. (Coastal Alert: Polunsky asked the agency staff what it would take to move the regional office now in Corpus Christi to San Antonio.)

Fernando Reyes Jr. of San Antonio to the Texas Lottery Commission. He's the president of Reyes Industries and Reyes Automotive Group, and Perry put him on that panel until early 2011.

Steven Weinberg of Colleyville to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. He's the retired associate director of the Peace Corps, and has degrees in medicine and law. He'll replace Gail Madden of Dallas.

Travis Bryan III of Bryan, the former Brazos County District Attorney, to preside in the 272nd District Court. He'll have to run in the next election for a full term, and was already on the ballot (alone). Bryan was most recently a criminal defense lawyer. He'll replace Rick Davis, who gave up the robes to run for district attorney.

• To the newly created Cancer Prevention and Research Institute Oversight Committee, watching the state dole out $3 billion in grants approved by voters in November: Malcolm Gillis, former president of Rice University and now a professor there; Jeanne Phillips, an exec at Hunt Consolidated in Dallas; and Scott Sanders of Austin, owner and CEO of River City Sportswear.

Carol Becker of Aledo, Joyce McCown Odom of San Antonio, and Norberto Salinas of Mission to the Texas Funeral Services Commission. Becker is a retired counselor; McCown is a retired Delta Airlines flight attendant; and Salinas, former mayor of Mission, is president of S&F Developers and Builders.

Malcolm Beckendorff of Katy to the Texas Facilities Commission. Beckendorff is an exec with Costello and a former city councilman.

Two appointments buried (until now) in the heaps of candidate press releases around here: The Guv named Janiece Longoria to the Board of Regents at the University of Texas. She's a Houston attorney (Ogden, Gibson, Broocks & Longoria) and a Port of Houston Authority Commissioner. She got both of her degrees —undergrad and law — at UT Austin. She replaced Robert Estrada of Fort Worth. Perry also named James Herring of Amarillo to the middle seat at the Texas Water Development Board, and named two new members to that panel: Joe Crutcher of Palestine and Ed Vaughn of Boerne to that board. The new chairman is president and CEO of Friona Industries, a cattle-feeding company. Crutcher is co-chairman of East Texas National Bank, and Vaughan is an attorney.

Deborah Fulton takes over as head of the legal division at the Texas Legislative Council. She's been around TLC for 17 years, and replaces Mark Brown, who left the agency earlier this year.

Talmadge Heflin is leaving the Republican Party of Texas, where he was executive director, for a fulltime gig with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Eric Opiela, a former Capitol aide and one-time House candidate, will replace Heflin at the state GOP. Heflin, meanwhile, will become director of the Center for Fiscal Policy at TPPF. The former House Appropriations chairman has been working with the foundation for a little more than two years.

House Speaker Tom Craddick named Kay Alexander of Abilene to the Commission on State Emergency Communications. She's with the American Heart Association.

K.C. Jones is the new political director of the GOP's Texas Victory 2008. Jones, a Midland native, was most recently attached to the Rudy Giuliani campaign for president.

Lindsey Hughes, who worked for retiring Rep. Mike Krusee, left the Pink Building to take a job with former Rep. Paul Sadler at the newly formed Wind Coalition.

Out: Todd Gallaher, chief of staff to Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, after The Dallas Morning News caught him posing as one of its reporters, and for attacking a Corpus Christi sheriff candidate under what appeared to be an email address for Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi. Gallaher resigned after the paper raised questions and said it appeared he used state computers for the candidate attack.

Deaths: Joe Wagner, former doorkeeper of the Texas House of Representatives. He was 100.

Quotes of the Week

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, talking to the Houston Chronicle about his party's delegate system: "It's time to end the Texas two-step — the music is over. Is it necessary to the democratic process, or to the candidates themselves, for these people to have to come back later in the evening after they have voted?"

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on 1,091 people who voted in both primaries there, and another 884 who voted early and again on Election Day in the Democratic primary: "[They] took literally the admonition that they should 'vote twice.' It's also a criminal offense."

Dr. Steven Weinberg, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he was caught off guard when Gov. Rick Perry offered him a spot on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission: "I told them that I, personally, don't drink."

Duval County Attorney Ricardo Carrillo, quoted by the Associated Press, describing the past electoral success of Sheriff Santiago Barrera Jr., whose 20-year tenure ended with a primary election loss last week: "He's a great politician and a terrible sheriff."

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, introducing Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler, taped by 99.5 FM: "How am I gonna stand up and say, I'm a vagina-friendly Mayor to these cameras after 'Chocolate City' and some of the other stuff that I've done. But you know what? I said, I'm in."


Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 11, 17 March 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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