Early voting in the April runoff elections runs Monday through Friday of next week (that's March 31-April 4). The pickings are slim, and you're loopy if you think turnout will look like it did in the first week of March.
The only statewide race on the runoff ballot is on the Democratic side, where Dale Henry and Mark Thompson are vying for the nomination for the Texas Railroad Commission. The winner will face Republican Michael Williams in November.
Two runoffs — one in each party — are on the congressional section of the ballot. Former U.S. Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs of Houston and Pete Olson of Sugar Land each want to challenge Democrat Nick Lampson of Stafford in CD-22. And Democrats Stephen Love and Eric Roberson of Dallas are vying for a shot at U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in CD-32.
No state Senate races have runoffs. The House has five — all on the Republican side.
In HD-52, where Rep. Mike Krusee decided not to run, Bryan Daniel and Dee Hobbs will face off, with the winner running against Democrat Diana Maldonado in November.
In HD-55, Ralph Sheffield and Martha Tyroch are angling for the spot now held by Rep. Dianne White Delisi; the Democrat waiting in the wings there is Sam Murphey of Harker Heights.
In HD-81, Rep. Buddy West of Odessa is battling to keep his seat after finishing second in the first round to former District Judge Tryon Lewis. There's no Democrat in that contest.
Either Angie Chen Button or Randy Dunning, both of Garland, will face Democrat Sandra Phuong VuLe in November. They're in a runoff for the HD-112 seat now held by Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson.
And in HD-144, where Rep. Robert Talton decided not to seek reelection, Ken Legler and Fred Roberts of Pasadena have another round. The winner there will face Democrat Joel Redmond in November.
It's apples and oranges in the Railroad Commission runoff.
Henry, 76, is a retired oil and gas engineer from Lampasas. He's done a lot of work with the Lower Colorado River Authority and alternative fuels. He's run in this race before, against Commissioners Victor Carrillo and Elizabeth Ames Jones, and he's run as a candidate from both major parties. He says he has no predictions about the runoff results.
"I wouldn't even want to try."
Henry has never met nor talked to Thompson, a 48-year-old former Austin police officer who's now an advocate for people with disabilities and a therapist for blind children.
While Henry is campaigning on his experience in the oil and gas industry, Thompson is doing just the opposite. "People like me because I work with blind children... I'm not in the oil and gas industry," he says.
If he wins, Thompson wants to change the name of the agency because it has nothing to do with railroads. He also wants to get the commission to stop taking PAC money. On his site, he asks Gov. Rick Perry and all three Railroad Commissioners — Carrillo, Jones, and Michael Williams, the Republican in this year's race, to resign and return all of their campaign money collected from energy corporations.
"It's like a bad movie from the 50s when you come in and everybody's corrupt," Thompson says. "I'm not saying the whole commission's corrupt, but there are segments that need to be changed."
Thompson says his lack of experience has given Henry some ammunition. "He recently attacked me... because I didn't do a lot of voting," Thompson says. "I voted in the last city council election in Austin and I've voted off and on, but there were always the same characters running. When it comes down to it, there's no change."
Apparently, Thompson didn't vote once between 1996 and this year's primary.
So what's he doing in a Railroad Commission race? He says his first real brush with politics was advocating for a blind friend at some Cap Metro meetings (Austin's mass transit agency) — apparently, some officials were pretty rude and Thompson got frustrated. Then he started researching gas explosions in Cleburne and Wiley.
"I asked the Railroad Commission about it and they just blew me off," Thompson says.
That's when he started considering a run for the office. "I heard politics were so slimy and bad," he says. "But finally I said, 'I'm going to do it.'"
They're getting a little testy in CD-22.
Olson's endorsements are piling up. The Olson for Congress Committee got some new members — Congressmen Sam Johnson and John Culberson, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, State Reps. Mike O'Day and Dennis Bonnen, plus a military trio of former CD-22 candidates: Kevyn Bazzy, Brian Klock, and Ryan Rowley. He's also got a list of city council folks and precinct chairs behind him. And he's got PACs and party groups, including the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America and the Republican National Coalition for Life and the United Republicans of Harris County.
"They're coming out of the woodworks," says Luke Marchant, Olson's campaign manager.
None of this scares Sekula Gibbs, according to campaign strategist C.B. Currier.
"Washington is in Washington," Currier says. "That would worry her if she lived in Virginia, like Pete. Unlike her opponent, who has a tremendous amount of connections in D.C., she's connected in the [House] district."
Sekula Gibbs got the most votes on March 4th. She's got endorsements from primary opponents Dean Hrbacek and Cynthia Dunbar. Currier says she's sticking to a clean campaign.
"Pete's always tried to paint her into a nasty corner, and that's an unfortunate thing for the general constituency of the district," Currier says. "Shelley's sticking with facts and reality."
Olson says he's sticking to the facts, too. His campaign just sent out a document on Sekula Gibbs' office spending during her short tenure in Washington in 2006, saying it raises questions about her claim to be a fiscal conservative.
Currier says the campaign is working on an official statement about the claims, but that Sekula Gibbs' spending was more cost-effective than the majority of Congressmen and that she returned $20,000 to the federal government before leaving Washington.
"Every statement just shows his desperation and out and out hypocrisy," Currier says.
Roberson and Love are fighting for air.
Love, 74, has financed his campaign out of pocket. The retired clergyman and therapist says he inherited a little cash from his parents and has run a "modest campaign" – no yard signs or bumper stickers. He says this race isn't generating much heat.
"With these bit fights between Obama and Clinton, nobody's going to listen to anything else," he says. "They're sucking up all the oxygen."
That said, he's zeroed in on two facts about Roberson — that he lives outside the district and switched parties in 2006.
"I live outside the district by 2.1 miles," admits Roberson, a trial lawyer. "I was honest with folks about that." He says he didn't move so his kids could stay in the same school.
As for the jump to the blue side, Roberson says after the 2006 election, he was fed up: "I couldn't take it anymore... I was displeased that the Republican Party was getting away with not being challenged."
The residency thing will prevent him and his wife from voting in the runoff, but Roberson says he's found plenty of support among Republicans who are cutting their ties to the party. He says friends and neighbors who never talked politics with him before are suddenly telling him all about their own skepticism of the GOP. He's also picked up endorsements from the Dallas Morning News and the Burnt Orange Report, plus Rep. Allen Vaught, D-Dallas, and some local government folks.
If he doesn't come out on top April 8, Love's not too worried. He had fun: "Anyone who feels like they're just brown shoes in a sea of tuxedoes should run for political office."
The candidates in HD-52 hadn't strayed far from their positions as friendly foes.
"I think it's certainly competitive," says Daniel, who's got endorsements from a list of conservative PACs, like Texas Right to Life and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. "Voters are beginning to draw distinctions on the issues, but there's no personal attacks and I think it'll continue in that vein."
Daniel says he knows the media is sick of hearing them say the campaign is issue-based.
The district just doesn't like dirty campaigning, says Hobbs, who picked up endorsements from the other two primary candidates, Vivian Sullivan and John Gordon.
The big challenge is getting voters back to the polls. Hobbs says he hears plenty of "Don't worry, son, I already voted for you!" He also says he and his opponent joked about making a commercial with the two of them dressed in sumo suits.
"Anything to remind people to vote again," he says.
But to dampen their clean campaigning, Daniel just sent out a mail piece with a quote from the Texas State Rifle Association that Hobbs is "hostile to 2nd Amendment issues." Hobbs says he and his opponent both got "A" ratings from TSRA, and that Daniel just has more money to send out mail.
Sheffield is smacking Tyroch for involvement in the Trans-Texas Corridor. She's smacking him for a history of delinquent taxes.
John Alaniz and Mike Pearce, the other two from the primary, are both endorsing Sheffield. So is the Empower Texans PAC, which made a parody of one of Tyroch's campaign videos and stuck it on YouTube. Tyroch requested they pull it. (You can see the original add and link to the parody here.)
Sheffield caught a bit of luck on TV. Fox News 44 did a story on how the Internet shapes campaigns — the anchor and reporter both refer to him as a state representative instead of just a candidate. You can see the report here. That'd be illegal if the candidate did it, but when the media does it, it's free advertising. They even mentioned his MySpace and Facebook profiles on air.
Sheffield, owner of Las Casas Restaurant in Temple, has been attacking Tyroch for her spending on the Temple City Council. He says she increased spending on culture and leisure services by over 100 percent, but gave highways and public safety much less. But, he does say she only has the endorsement of the firefighters and police force because she raised their salaries — so she hasn't completely left public safety in the dust.
Her return volley on the corridor is that the local panel doesn't approve or disapprove the thing — it's just an advisory committee.
The two haven't held any debates or forums since the primary. Sheffield says he's invited her, but she's refused. His answer on the taxes? He says he had some tough times but has paid all his debts and turned the business around.
Want some heat? Look in Dallas' northeastern 'burbs.
Craig Murphy, Button's consultant, contends the campaign wanted to stay clean — but after starting calling Button out for her campaign donations to influential Dems, they had to get serious. Button's campaign sent out a footnoted press release with all kinds of attacks: Dunning raised property taxes and spending while on the Garland City Council, wanted to abolish the public school system, and wore a bulletproof vest to a city council meeting. There's also talk of him having a bunker under his home and calling a co-worker a Nazi. State Sens. John Carona, R-Dallas, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, wrote a letter to Republican voters, encouraging them to read up on Dunning and support Button.
Even the Dallas Observer is on Button's bandwagon. One story on Dunning features his picture with the caption "Republicans: Want a body-armored, property-rights advocating survivalist with links to the Republic of Texas militia as your next state representative? Vote for Randall Dunning on April 8."
Dunning has a lengthy reply to all this posted by Suzyblitz, a blogger we mentioned in our last HD-112 report. There, Dunning says the main source for these rumors is Garland City Councilman Larry Jeffus — and that Jeffus does some expensive political consulting for Button. That's true — she paid him more than $25,000 over the past few months. Dunning admits to donning the bulletproof vest — but as a joke after a council colleague threatened him. His "bunker" is apparently a tornado shelter.
"All of these attacks are a desperate attempt to rescue Ms. Button's campaign which is sinking from the weight of her numerous contributions and decade of support for liberal Dallas County Democrats," Dunning says, returning to his original strategy.
One more: His latest press release claims his opponent endorsed him — the last time he ran for Garland City Council.
After the primary, we reported that Talton, the incumbent (he gave up the statehouse for an unsuccessful run for Congress), is backing Roberts. So is John Hughey, who ran against Legler and Roberts in the primary.
"Things are pretty status quo as far as information going out," says Roberts. "We send out one thing, they send out another."
Roberts says the most recent conflict involved Legler accusing Roberts of being responsible for tax increases — Roberts is a trustee of the Pasadena School Board.
"What he doesn't understand is that your taxes are associated with your appraisal caps," Roberts says. "Somebody coached him and had bad information."
Return fire? How's this: Legler has two homes, one in HD-144 and one in Friendswood, which is part of HD-129. That other house allows his daughter to go to Friendswood High School, where she's a junior and a Wranglerette. That's not only in a different House district; it's in a different school district, too.
One more thing. Legler's campaign site refers to him as "Legler, A Republican State Representative" across the top. Other banners on the site have the required "for," as in "Legler for state rep"; that one's missing.
—by Karie Meltzer
Miller, by.... Some
The counters in HD-73 say Doug Miller beat Nathan Macias, but this might not be over. It's tight, by all accounts.
A spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas puts Miller's margin of victory at 17. The question now: Will Macias — a Bulverde Republican and the current state representative — go to court to challenge the results?
If he does, it'll be a fight over which ballots were allowed into the count and which ones were not. Legal challenges are relatively rare, but not unheard of: Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, for instance, lost his congressional seat to Henry Cuellar after a primary election count, a recount, and a trial (he won his way back into Congress later).
In this one, Miller won — in the first, unofficial count — by 38 votes. The official count shaved a few off of that, but not enough to get Macias a second term. Miller won a majority in only one of the district's four counties — Gillespie — but that was enough.
On TV, but Not on the Ballot
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst recently completed a run of TV ads on Voter ID and immigration, geared to dovetail with non-binding GOP ballot questions on those issues. The Lite Guv's not on the ballot, but wanted to "talk to voters while they were paying attention."
Dewhurst does all of the talking in the ad, which starts with pictures of soldiers saluting at a cemetery, a shot of Dewhurst, pictures from polling places, of a driver's license with a fingerprint on it and then a final shot of Dewhurst's bumper-sticker logo, which says "David Dewhurst Lieutenant Governor."
"Americans have given their lives to protect our right to vote. That's why it's so critical only American citizens are allowed to vote. I'm David Dewhurst. We need to implement existing federal law and issue a tamper-proof driver's license or photo I.D. so we know who's here. And make sure that only U.S. citizens vote. Join me in protecting this basic American freedom. Our right to vote."
The text on the screen changes during the ad, starting with Dewhurst's name, and in time with the script, "Only American Citizens Vote", his name again, "Tamper-Proof Photo I.D.", then his web address — www.dewhurst.org— and finally a disclaimer.
In the second, an announcer starts things off: "Washington refuses to stop illegal immigration. So Texas added additional law enforcement, and surveillance technology. Texas is doing its part. Washington needs to do theirs." Then Dewhurst speaks: "Like you, I'm angry at Washington for failing to secure our borders while dangerous drug traffic and illegal immigration and gang activity are increasing. I'm David Dewhurst. We need to secure our borders and we need strong federal law enforcement to do it now."
The ad starts with pictures of the Rio Grande, of footage from helicopters, and a shot of the U.S. Capitol. Dewhurst comes on screen as he begins speaking, and the camera cuts away to graphics while he talks. The text on screen during the ad includes "26% increase in state law enforcement", "Plus over $100 million: helicopters, crime labs, overtime for border sheriff's deputies." Dewhurst's name comes up with his mug, as does his web address. The next graphics are headlines from ABC News and the Houston Chronicle: "Gang Crackdown on Illegal Immigrants", and "Six Illegal Immigrants Receive Prison for Smuggling Scheme." As Dewhurst says the words, the text "Secure Borders" and "Strong Enforcement" appears. The spot ends like the other one, with the bumper sticker logo and a disclaimer.
A media buyer we know found footprints of recent "buys" of TV time in smaller markets around the state, but a spokesman for Dewhurst says the ads have stopped running. The commercials didn't stop on Election Day, but did go off the air just a few days ago. That's verified, somewhat, by the dates on the ads' intros (the part that doesn't go on TV): The first was cut in February; the second, two days after the Texas primaries.
Let's Make a Deal
There's a tentative settlement in the fight over a state fund that subsidizes phone service in expensive-to-serve areas.
The competitors battling over the Universal Service Fund told state regulators they have a settlement in principle and need time to put the details on paper.
They didn't announce the terms, but the deal is expected to trim the size of those subsidies to AT&T and other phone companies, and to reduce the 4.4 percent levy on phone bills that feeds the USF. The Public Utility Commission's staff recommended huge cuts in the fund (see our earlier story), but the deal isn't expected to go as far as the staff recommended.
Generally speaking, AT&T was leading the fight to leave the fund alone — that company is the biggest recipient of the money — and competitors from cable and smaller phone companies were urging cuts in those subsidies.
The announcement means, for now, that the Public Utility Commission won't have to hold a planned April hearing on the USF.
Texas isn't bound by decisions of the World Court, and doesn't have to hold a second trial for Jose Medellin, a Mexican citizen who's now on Death Row, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court's 6-3 decision in Medellin v. Texas is a win for the state, which said it didn't have to abide by the World Court's ruling. It's a loss for the Bush Administration, which had tried to force the state to honor the terms of the Vienna Conventions — in particular, for provisions requiring states to tell foreign nationals they have the right to contact their consulates before they're tried.
Texas didn't notify Medellin before he was accused, tried, and convicted for his part in the gang rape and murder of two Houston teenagers.
The full opinion is online here.
Flotsam & Jetsam
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has added a blog to his campaign website and found — in a sea of liberal bloggers — a list of conservative bloggers who've endorsed him for reelection. You know things have changed when a politician takes an endorsement from something called yeah, right, whatever. His chief challenger, Democrat Rick Noriega, turned his campaign website into a memorial this week to honor Americans killed in Iraq on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of that country.
He can't vote in the election, but former Texas Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting endorsed Rosemary Lehmberg in the hard-fought runoff for Travis County District Attorney. She and Mindy Montford are battling to replace their boss, Ronnie Earle, in the DA's office that has jurisdiction over state political and government figures.
Now that he's committed to it, El Paso Democrat Joe Moody is trying to pull Republican Dee Margo into a self-imposed limit on the size of campaign contributions. Texas races have no limits; Moody's following the federal limits ($2,300 for individuals and $5,000 for political action committees) and says Margo should, too. The Republican's answer? Fuggetaboutit.
An international dispute most people didn't know about has ended: Texas will start exporting beef to Mexico after a four-year ban. Ag Commission Todd Staples blocked Canadian cattle from being shipped to Mexico through Texas almost a month ago. The other border states on the American side joined in and that little blockade forced a settlement. Mexico blocked the sales in December 2003 because of concerns about mad cow disease.
Political People and Their Moves
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Oscar Fogle of Lockhart to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. Fogle, owner of the Oak Hill Ranch, will replace John Schneider of Lockhart on that board.
The Guv appointed Pablo Schneider of Richardson, an exec with Fusion Mobile, to the Manufactured Housing Board. He'll replace Frances Shannon of Spring Branch.
Perry made Harold Hahn of El Paso the chairman of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority. He's the president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Mortgage Co., and replaces John Broaddus of El Paso.
Perry named John Paulo Flores of Dallas the presiding officer of the Texas Residential Construction Commission and reappointed Steven Leipsner of Austin to that board. Flores is an attorney; Leipsner is a principal of Leipsner Ventures Inc. Flores replaces Patrick Cordero of Midland.
And the governor named Stacee Bell of Horseshoe Bay and Catherine Estrada of Fort Worth to the Communities in Schools Advisory Committee, replacing Linda Navejar and Linda Mora on that panel. Bell is a community volunteer; Estrada is a marketing consultant.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed Bobby Ray of Plano to the Task Force on Higher Education Funding. Ray is a regent at the University of North Texas and an exec with Hovnanian Enterprises, a homebuilder.
Dewhurst is the Texas Legislative Conference's 2008 Texan of the Year.
State Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, signed with Austin-based Brown McCarroll as Of Counsel. The firm's announcement says he'll support their operations in Austin and El Paso.
The political versions of the Oscars, presented by the American Association of Political Consultants, are public. And the Pollies (in Texas) go to: The Fort Worth-based Eppstein Group, which pulled in five of the awards for work on several ballot issues and on a Dallas mayoral race; Strategic Perception Inc., which pulled in four awards for that "Coal is Filthy" campaign that ran in statewide papers a year ago; and Houston-based Bethel Nathan, for work on a local bond campaign.
As expected, Mark Yudof is leaving the University of Texas System, where he's the chancellor, to lead the University of California System. Texas will start the search for a replacement.
Quotes of the Week
Former University of Texas Regent Robert Estrada, telling The Dallas Morning News the requirements for the next chancellor, with Mark Yudof leaving to run the University of California System: "You'd probably start with, 'Must walk on water,' and you'd probably want to throw in, 'Win the Final Four and another BCS championship.'"
Yudof, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle after accepting the California job: "Gasoline is expensive here."
Presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, in Newsweek: "I will keep campaigning for as long as people are supporting me and the money is there and that's what they want. I feel badly about just quitting... So for me, it's indefinite."
Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about proposals to sell the state lottery to a private concern: "It's a matter of price. If somebody comes in and promises to give us more money than we're making now, I'd be for it. If they can't, I won't. It's pretty simple."
Leslie Paige with Citizens Against Government Waste, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on the $2.2 billion in federal budget earmarks for projects in Texas: "Why should a person in Seattle or Michigan be paying for the Houston Zoo?"
Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 13, 31 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.