In the only statewide runoff race — the Democratic battle for Railroad Commission — political novice Mark Thompson outran Dale Henry, who was making a third run for a job on that regulatory panel. Thompson got 59.2 percent of the vote, and will challenge Republican incumbent Michael Williams.
Voters chose challengers for two members of Congress. In Dallas' CD-32, Eric Roberson beat Steve Love, with 72.5 percent of the vote. He will face U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in November.
And in CD-22 in the Houston-Sugar Land area, Pete Olson got 68.5 percent against Shelley Sekula Gibbs. Olson, a former Navy pilot and chief of staff to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, was the favorite of Washington Republicans and the better of the two candidates for a general election race. Sekula Gibbs briefly held the seat after U.S. Majority Leader Tom DeLay resigned, and that bumpy tenure played against her. The winner will take on U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford.
In Republican runoffs for the Texas House:
HD-52: In this Williamson County race, Bryan Daniel beat Dee Hobbs, winning 53.6 percent of the vote. The incumbent, Mike Krusee of Round Rock, didn't seek another term. Daniel will face Democrat Diana Maldonado in November.
HD-55: Ralph Sheffield beat Martha Tyroch, and convincingly, with 63.5 percent support. The incumbent, Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, didn't seek reelection. That contest featured accusations that he went years with unpaid business taxes and that she overspent taxpayer funds on trips while a member of the Temple City Council. He'll face Democrat Sam Murphey in November.
HD-81: Rep. Buddy West of Odessa lost his reelection bid to Tryon Lewis, also of Odessa. Lewis got 5,171 votes to West's 1,631. West told colleagues last year he wouldn't be returning, then changed in his mind (a dire health report brightened) and decided to seek reelection. By then, he had three opponents, and he ran second coming into the runoff. That puts Lewis in the House, in all likelihood: His remaining opponent is Libertarian Elmo Hockman.
HD-112: Angie Chen Button, with 53.2 percent, defeated former Garland City Councilman Randy Dunning. That's the race to replace Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson. Still ahead: Democrat Sandra Phuog VuLe of Garland.
HD-144: With all the votes counted, Ken Legler held onto a 101-vote lead over Fred Roberts in the race to replace Robert Talton, R-Pasadena. Legler had 51.6 percent, but that might be close enough to prompt a recount request. Legler actually ran second on Election Day, but had racked up enough early votes to offset that and beat Roberts. The winner will meet Democrat Joel Redmond in November.
For the Prosecution
In races to replace district attorneys in Harris and Travis Counties, Pat Lykos and Rosemary Lehmberg won their respective primary runoffs.
In Harris County, Lykos, a former judge, out-polled assistant DA Siegler in the race for the GOP nomination for district attorney. Lykos got 52.7 percent in final and unofficial returns. The winner will face former Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford. And all of them are running to replace scandal-plagued former DA Chuck Rosenthal. Short take: Siegler was an assistant to Rosenthal and paid for that proximity; Lykos ran as an outsider to the office.
In Travis County, where Democratic primary voters will choose the next district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg got 65.2 percent of the vote against Mindy Montford. Both are assistant district attorneys to DA Ronnie Earle, who decided not to seek another term. Short take: Lehmberg accused Montford of being too close to the lobby and to Republican donors in a job where policing the Capitol is part of the assignment and in a primary where elephants aren't welcome. Montford said Lehmberg was getting her support, in part, from criminal defense attorneys who regularly do battle with the county's prosecutors.
Related: On the Friday before the election, House Parliamentarian Terry Keel filed a criminal complaint against political consultant Kelly Fero. At issue: An online posting accusing Keel of helping Montford in the runoff. Keel says the website that posted that belongs to Fero, who was on Lehmberg's campaign payroll (she sacked him in the wake of the Keel story) and who — in Keel's view — was "laundering" news he could then use to boost Lehmberg's chances against Montford.
Fero's lawyer, Buck Wood of Austin, called the complaint frivolous and said the statements on the blog weren't — in legal terms — campaign communications. There's no violation of state election laws, he said. "You can say anything you want on your blog. This is not an ad." And he suggested Keel wouldn't have filed a complaint if the election weren't imminent. "This all about Tuesday," Wood said. Fero called Keel "one of Travis County's most litigious Republicans," and pooh-poohed the complaint. "Terry Keel carries his law license like a bludgeon, whether he's trying to bully a judicial opponent off the ballot or punish a Democrat who caught him trying to affect a Democratic runoff," Fero said.
With the primaries now complete, none of the incumbents in statewide offices or in the Texas congressional delegation have fallen, nor have any state senators (put asterisks here for Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who will resign later this spring and will be replaced in a special election, probably in November).
But retirements and defeats thus far will mean at least 17 new faces in the Texas House — plus another, if you count the resignation of Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, last summer.
Nine House incumbents lost their primaries. The list of the defeated includes Democratic Reps. Kevin Bailey, Houston; Juan Escobar, Kingsville; Borris Miles, Houston; and Paul Moreno, El Paso. The defeated Republicans include Reps. Pat Haggerty, El Paso; Thomas Latham, Mesquite; Nathan Macias, Bulverde; Corbin Van Arsdale, Tomball; and Buddy West, Odessa.
The retirement list includes Democrats Robby Cook, Eagle Lake; Rick Noriega, Houston; and Robert Puente, San Antonio. The Republicans: Dianne White Delisi, Temple; Fred Hill, Richardson; Mike Krusee, Round Rock; Mike O'Day, Pearland; and Robert Talton, Pasadena. Mowery, who left last summer, was replaced in a special election by Democrat Dan Barrett of Fort Worth. He has to defend that seat before ever sitting for legislative session, in a rematch with Republican Mark Shelton in November.
The election season is already over for one Texas congressman, three state senators, and 33 state representatives, but in a good way — they've got no competition from here on out. There are 24 Democrats and nine Republicans in this group.
The Republican list: U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Tyler; state Sens. Craig Estes, Wichita Falls, and Tommy Williams, The Woodlands; and Reps. Warren Chisum, Pampa; Byron Cook, Corsicana; Charlie Howard, Sugar Land; Bryan Hughes, Mineola; Carl Isett, Lubbock; Lois Kolkhorst, Brenham; Jodie Laubenberg, Parker; Geanie Morrison, Victoria; and Wayne Smith, Baytown.
And the Democrats: Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., Brownsville; and Reps. Alma Allen, Houston; Roberto Alonzo, Dallas; Barbara Mallory Caraway, Dallas; Joaquin Castro, San Antonio; Norma Chavez, El Paso; Harold Dutton Jr., Houston; Al Edwards, Houston; Kino Flores, Palmview; Ryan Guillen, Rio Grande City; Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, Alice; Roland Gutierrez, San Antonio; Tracy King, Batesville; Eddie Lucio III, Brownsville; Armando "Mando" Martinez, Weslaco; Jose Menendez, San Antonio; Ruth Jones McClendon, San Antonio; Rene Oliveira, Brownsville; Aaron Peña, Edinburg; Joe Pickett, El Paso; Allan Ritter, Nederland; Sylvester Turner, Houston; Mike Villarreal, San Antonio; and Armando Lucio Walle, Houston.
Special Citation for Cakewalking: Roland Gutierrez will become a Texas House member without an election. The former San Antonio city councilman was the only candidate to sign up for the special election to replace Rep. Robert Puente, who retired. Gutierrez is also on the November ballot for a full term, but has no opposition.
It's all but over for major-party candidates who'll face only minor-party opposition in November, a group that includes a statewide judge, seven members of Congress, six state senators, and 46 House members and members-probably-to-be. Broken down by party, this bunch includes 21 Democrats and 36 Republicans.
The Republicans include Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cathy Cochran, Austin; U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway, Midland; Jeb Hensarling, Dallas; Ron Paul, Lake Jackson; Ted Poe, Humble; and Lamar Smith, San Antonio; state Sens. Robert Duncan, Lubbock; Troy Fraser, Horseshoe Bay; and Kel Seliger, Amarillo; and Reps. Charles "Doc" Anderson, Waco; Jimmie Don Aycock, Killeen; Leo Berman, Tyler; Dennis Bonnen, Angleton; Fred Brown, College Station; Bill Callegari, Katy; Brandon Creighton, Conroe; Drew Darby, San Angelo; Rob Eissler, The Woodlands; Allen Fletcher, Tomball; Dan Flynn, Van; Rick Hardcastle, Vernon; Will Hartnett, Dallas; Harvey Hilderbran, Kerrville; Jim Jackson, Carrollton; Delwin Jones, Lubbock; Susan King, Abilene; Edmund Kuempel, Seguin; Tryon Lewis, Odessa; Jerry Madden, Richardson; Brian McCall, Plano; Tommy Merritt, Longview; Diane Patrick, Arlington; Ken Paxton, McKinney; Jim Pitts, Waxahachie; Burt Solomons, Carrollton; Joe Straus, San Antonio; David Swinford, Dumas; Larry Taylor, Galveston; and Beverly Woolley, Houston.
The Democrats: U.S. Reps. Al Green, Houston; and Silvestre Reyes, El Paso; state Sens. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, McAllen; Leticia Van de Putte, San Antonio; and Royce West, Dallas; and Reps. Rafael Anchia, Dallas; Garnet Coleman, Houston; Joe Deshotel, Beaumont; Dawnna Dukes, Austin; Jim Dunnam, Waco; Craig Eiland, Galveston; David Farabee, Wichita Falls; Trey Martinez Fischer, San Antonio; Helen Giddings, Dallas; Scott Hochberg, Houston; Terri Hodge, Dallas; Marisa Marquez, El Paso; Richard Raymond, Laredo; Eddie Rodriguez, Austin; Marc Veasey, Fort Worth; and Tara Rios Ybarra, South Padre Island.
About half the state's races are already decided or all but decided, but 109 are still in play: seven at the statewide level, 24 in the congressional delegation, six in the state Senate, and 72 in the Texas House. In that number, Republicans now hold the seven statewide spots, 13 of the contested congressional seats, four contested Senate seats, and 32 of the contested House seats. The Democrats: 11 in Congress, two in the Senate, and 30 in the House. That leaves ten open seats in the House that have major party candidates on both sides of the ledger in November; eight are/were held by Republicans and two by Democrats. Here's the cheat sheet.
The Texas Supreme Court will rehear Entergy v. Summers, a case that prompted an outcry from labor and other interests when the court decided it last year. It's a workers' compensation case that turns on whether a company can avoid premise liability by labeling itself a general contractor. A worker hurt on Entergy property sued but was tossed because the company was acting as a general contractor, and paying workers' compensation premiums. The court didn't set a date for the rehearing. The rehearing of a unanimous ruling could take the issue off the table in this year's political races; three incumbent justices are on the ballot in November.
You'd have predicted this if you sat down and thought about it, but the fundraising pitch for House Democrats in Texas is the same one Tom Craddick and the Republicans used in the 1990s, when they were in the minority. The Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee says Democrats need "only five seats to a majority." They tout the distance they've covered, from a low point of 88 Republicans and 62 Democrats to the current 79-71. The leader of that group, Waco Rep. Jim Dunnam, is borrowing a page from the current Speaker, who ran campaigns called "76 in '96" and "8 in 98" on his way to winning a majority, after redistricting, in 2002. That election year flipped the Republicans from a 72-78 minority to an 88-62 majority.
The tax courts are out of the comptroller's control now (they were moved last year to the State Office of Administrative Hearings), and the people who practice before them are welcome at Susan Combs' fundraisers again. Brint Ryan — head of Dallas-based Ryan & Co. — was among the contributors at a Combs funder at the home of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones this week. "I've got a firewall now between us and the [tax judges]," Combs says.
Martin Cuellar — brother of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, R-Laredo — edged out the incumbent sheriff of Webb County in this week's runoffs. Cuellar, with 50.09 percent, defeated Sheriff Rick Flores. The margin: 48 votes, of 26,779 cast.
Put Austin Furse on your list of potential Republican candidates in SD-17. That's the spot currently held by Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who has announced he'll resign at the end of May. That probably sets up a special election on November 4 to fill the last two years of Janek's four-year term.
Democrat Kristi Thibaut got her second endorsement from Annie's List, a PAC set up to elect Democratic women to the Legislature. She had the group's endorsement two years ago, against the same Republican, Rep. Jim Murphy of Houston. Thibaut got 41.7 percent the first time, but her supporters are betting the presidential contest will change the math in HD-133.
Pay for Play
State and local governments will cover about $7 million of the costs of holding the NCAA Men's Final Four in San Antonio with a fund designed to make Texas attractive for big events like that.
Comptroller Susan Combs wants to expand the program in time for the 2011 Super Bowl in Arlington, allowing promoters to cover the expenses of more events that will, in turn, bring in more tax money.
The state has four funds set up to lure sporting and other events that could — without a competitive edge — go to other states. For big sporting events like the Final Four or the Super Bowl, the state figures up the economic impact and what it means in terms of taxes on sales, hotel rooms, motor vehicles and drinks. They agree to reimburse approved expenses based on that, and on local government tax breaks, and figure they'll make up the expenses and then some from indirect and induced spending that results from the event.
In the case of the Final Four, the state agreed to pay up to $6.1 million if the expenses were approved and if the local governments would put up $973,000. And they figured the state would bring in about twice that amount in taxes on spending associated with the event — money that wouldn't be spent, they figure, if the Final Four had gone to another state.
Texas already won the 2011 Super Bowl. But there's a move to expand the tax breaks to include event-related spending over a longer period of time and/or to include benefits from non-direct spending. Say the economists broaden their economic impact study to cover more than a two-week window, or to include indirect and induced spending in their numbers. Either would make more money available to the locals for reimbursement. Combs says they might be able to add to their event planning as a result, and bring more money into state coffers as a result.
"It's an incentive — not a subsidy," she says. "It's a net money-maker."
Utility regulators are considering a deal that would cut $144 million from a subsidy paid to phone companies that provide service in high-cost areas.
That's less than the $263 million in cuts proposed by the staff of the state's Public Utility Commission, but all of the companies involved in the fight have signed off on it (we wrote about the tentative deal last month). The PUC will get a chance to ratify it in a couple of weeks.
The so-called Universal Service Fund is filled with a 4.4 percent tax on all phone bills. The money goes to four companies that provide service in areas that were labeled "high-cost" when the fund was created in the mid-1990s. Right now, it's a $394.9 million per year deal. The new agreement would whittle that over four year's time. The four companies — AT&T, Verizon, Embarq, and Windstream — asked for $755 million annually. The PUC staff recommended a total of $132 million per year. This settlement puts the total at $236.5 million — somewhere between the current amount and the staff proposal. Verizon's subsidy would be cut to $69 million from $97 million. AT&T would be cut to $44 million from $160 million. Embarq and Windstream would get $37.5 million and $86 million, respectively, as against $44 million and $94 million now.
The agreement doesn't specify when or by how much that 4.4 percent charge on phone bills should drop, simply saying that it should.
Cruz for Ho
James Ho, one of a group of lawyers who successfully challenged the constitutionality of laws preventing non-legislators from participating in races for Speaker of the Texas House and co-author of a legal treatise on the status of terrorists and war, will be the state's new solicitor general.
Ho is a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and also worked for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Ho is also the co-author of a paper on the legal status of terrorists and what they're entitled to — and not entitled to — when they're in custody. (His co-author, John Yoo, wrote a confidential memo for the Bush Administration that's been making news; Ho was not involved in that and has spoken out against it). In their paper on terrorists and war, the two concluded that members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban are "unlawful combatants not entitled to the legal status of prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention." Ho's new job doesn't require Senate confirmation.
Ted Cruz, the current chief litigator at the Attorney General's office, is leaving for private practice later this year. He's been the Solicitor General for over five years and argued a string of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court during that time. The most recent: A successful challenge to federal officials who tried to overturn a death penalty case against a Mexican national because it violated a ruling of the World Court. The state argued that it wasn't bound by that court's rulings.
Political People and Their Moves
Dallas lawyer and former Judge Catharina Haynes won U.S. Senate confirmation to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, replacing Judge Harold Moss on that panel. She was most recently with Baker Botts, but serviced two terms as a state district judge before that.
Ken Welch is leaving the Health and Human Services Commission this month to be the new chief financial officer for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. He headed fiscal management at the comptroller's office before that.
Don Forse Jr. moves into the chief of staff job for Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, but he'll continue as communications director, too, at least for now. Forse replaces Todd Gallaher, who is under investigation for doing political work from his state computer. Forse has been with Deuell since 2003 and worked in the House before that.
There's a new business margins tax in effect and with it, a new committee to watch. Comptroller Susan Combs will chair the new Business Tax Advisory Committee. Four lawmakers are on board: Sens. Steve Ogden and Kirk Watson, and Reps. Warren Chisum and Myra Crownover. They'll be joined by a couple of non-government tax wizards: Dale Craymer of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, and Donna Rutter, a CPA. And by "taxpayer members," listed here with the industry they're representing: David Gilliland, Joe Mack Hilliard, and Mike Luther, services; Dan Hagan, transportation; Lynn Chilton, finance; Judy Lindquist, retail; Judy Kilgore, construction; A.J. Brune III, oil and gas; Gary Trudgeon and Emily Parrino, manufacturing; David White, communications; Sharon Aston, utilities; Eric Donaldson, trucking; and Andy Ellard, manufacturing.
Gov. Rick Perry named Karen Rankin of San Antonio the presiding officer at the Texas Veterans Commission and named Eliseo Cantu Jr. of Corpus Christi and John McKinney of El Paso to that board. Rankin is with Keystone International. Cantu is a retired exec with Driscoll Children's Hospital. And McKinney is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.
Perry named Brett Gilbert, an assistant business professor at Texas A&M University, to the Texas Emerging Technology Advisory Committee. She'll replace Elsa Murano, who's now the president of that university.
And the Guv named Allen Cline and Karen Siegel to the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners, which regulates that business. Cline is president of Turtle Dragon Health Services in Austin. Siegel's with the Acupuncture and Nutrition Clinic in Houston.
Quotes of the Week
Dave Palmer, a Californian who filed a campaign ethics complaint against Sen. Jeff Wentworth, quoted by the San Antonio Express-News on money the Texan spent on trips to Bohemian Grove in San Francisco: "Unless the state of Texas or San Antonio is paying him to dress up in drag, I don't know how that can be an official duty."
Kerr County Commissioner Buster Baldwin, quote by the West Kerr Current on the burn ban there: "This is the most unfavorite part of my job. Telling people what to do with their lives and property borders on insanity."
Trevor Kincaid, an aide to U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, quoted in The Wall Street Journal about his boss' leanings as a Democratic super-delegate: "It's nothing we're discussing."
Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, quoted in the Houston Chronicle after the state rejected school district claims that teacher bonus amounts should be secret: "Possibly HISD has learned that public money is public information."
Tryon Lewis, who beat Rep. Buddy West, R-Odessa, quoted in the Midland Reporter-Telegram in support of another term for House Speaker Tom Craddick: "I think we're very fortunate to have a speaker from West Texas."
Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, quoted in a Houston Chronicle story on the substandard condition of apartments he owns: "It's going to affect me very much. It's going to kill my reputation. I just have to move on and try to repair the damage."
Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 15, 14 April 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.