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Playing "If"

You'll hear Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst mentioned if you start a conversation about the next governor's race, but the stars are aligning to send him to Washington, if he's interested.

You'll hear Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst mentioned if you start a conversation about the next governor's race, but the stars are aligning to send him to Washington, if he's interested.

Nobody wants to run against Dewhurst in a Republican primary, even if they think they can beat him. He's got money, a political base, and it'd be an expensive and maybe harmful adventure for any opponent.


For all those reasons, Gov. Rick Perry, who is now saying he'll seek four more years in 2010, would rather see Dewhurst stay out of the race. And U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's talking openly about running for governor in 2010 — Perry or no Perry — would rather see Dewhurst stay out, too.

Add Attorney General Greg Abbott and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, each of whom has expressed interest either privately (Abbott) or publicly (Patterson) in running for lieutenant governor. They'd rather not run against Dewhurst, who has incumbency on his side in addition to that money thing.

If you squint and use a little imagination, that's four potential endorsements for a Senate run if and when Hutchison gives up the seat.

It would ease the competition for Perry and Hutchison, and clear the way for Abbott and/or Patterson. Bringing any of those onboard a Dewhurst candidacy would chill potential competitors in the GOP who might otherwise want to run for the Senate seat.

What's more, Dewhurst could set the table for his and other contests. Declaring for Senate before anyone else would raise the stakes for campaign donors, who have to deal with Dewhurst as Lite Guv during the 2009 legislative session. Don't want to oppose a fellow with a gavel unless you must.

It could box Hutchison a bit, too, which would make Perry happy. She's already said she won't seek another term, so the seat opens in 2012 for sure. If Dewhurst jumped in this year, or hinted strongly at it, she'd be on the spot to state her plans. That doesn't mean she'd have to say, just that everyone in the joint would be asking about it all the time.

The hardest sell, in spite of some self interest in a Dewhurst run, would be the governor. He's never named a favorite in the race for Senate if Hutchison were to resign. When Phil Gramm was talking about leaving the Senate a few years ago, Perry wanted to appoint Tony Garza. Gramm wanted U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla for the job. He didn't quit, and the appointment wasn't made. Garza is now U.S. Ambassador to Mexico — out of position for a Texas race. Bonilla lost his seat to Ciro Rodriguez.

Perry hasn't stated a preference for Hutchison's replacement. Dewhurst has some selling to do if he wants the gig.

Dance Steps

There's no such thing as a self-appointed U.S. Senator (from Texas, anyhow), and federal campaign finance laws don't apply to state candidates, most of the time.

Those are the short answers to two recurring questions about this political dance featuring Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison: What's the deal with her replacement if she quits the Senate to run, or if she quits the Senate to become governor after winning election? And what's the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law do to her fundraising ability in a state race?

We'll take them in order. A Texas governor can't appoint himself or herself to the U.S. Senate if an opening occurs. And who would do the appointing depends on who's in the governor's chair when a vacancy occurs.

Say, for fantasy's sake, that Hutchison quit early to run for governor. Perry, the sitting governor, would appoint someone to hold the seat until a special election could be held. That's how Hutchison got elected in 1993: Gov. Ann Richards appointed Bob Krueger. Two dozen candidates ran in a special May 1 election and Hutchison beat Krueger 2-to-1 in the runoff that followed.

The political path joining the Texas seats in the U.S. Senate and the Governor's Mansion is surprisingly well worn, or was, until about 50 years ago.

James Pinkney Henderson served two years in the U.S. Senate, but that term began in 1857 — ten years after he'd been governor. Sam Houston gave up his Senate post in 1859 to become governor. Richard Coke gave up the Governor's Mansion after winning election to the U.S. Senate in 1876. Charles Culberson was governor for two terms before running for the Senate, where he served 24 years starting in 1899. Price Daniel was a U.S. senator who ran for and won the governor's office in 1956. The appointee named in his stead in 1957, William Blakley, lost to fellow Democrat Ralph Yarborough after less than three months in office. Blakeley was appointed again in 1961, when Lyndon Johnson became vice president; he lost after five months that time, to Republican John Tower.

The closest a governor came to appointing himself followed the death of U.S. Sen. Morris Sheppard in 1941. Gov. Pappy Lee O'Daniel appointed Andrew Jackson Houston — the 86-year-old son of Sam Houston — to the post. When Houston died in office two months later, having attended just one committee meeting, O'Daniel ran for the seat, won it, and stayed in the Senate for eight years.

Say Hutchison kept the Senate spot while running for governor and won. She wouldn't have to resign until she took the oath, possibly cutting Perry out of the appointment of her successor. Again, there'd be a special election to fill the seat after the appointee had held it for a few months.

The second question, about campaign finance, has a quick answer and a slow one. Quick: If she decides to run or even explore a run, Hutchison can raise money for a state race for governor while she's still in federal office without regard to federal campaign finance limits. The state limits — in Texas, there's no limit at all — apply.

But according to the Federal Election Commission, there's some fine print on the side of the can: The state account can only be used for her own campaign and can only be spent on things that refer to her or other candidates in the same race. That means none of it could be donated, while she's in federal office, to something like a coordinated Republican campaign for all state officeholders.

All of the money in her federal campaign account could be transferred to her state account; money that goes the other way is subject to federal limits on contributions for individuals and PACs.

One other thing: Hutchison isn't included in the list of state officeholders who can't raise political money during a legislative session. Whether she's still in office or not, she'd be allowed to raise money while the other officeholders interested in being governor in 2011 — maybe Perry, maybe Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, to name two — were frozen out. They'd have time to catch up, but a head start's a head start.

Dingus Jumps

Bill Dingus, the Democrat hoping to challenge House Speaker Tom Craddick in November, quit the Midland City Council to make a run for statehouse possible.

Dingus isn't eligible to run for the state job while he's on the city council. A federal judge stated that in a ruling last week without actually ordering Dingus off the ballot.

Dingus blamed the state GOP for forcing him to give up the city job, by forcing the Democrats into court to test his eligibility.

His lawyer, Renee Hicks of Austin, says the resignation should cure the problem. He's reading state law to say the problem is that the terms of the offices would overlap; by resigning, Dingus puts that to rest.

Other lawyers have told us that's only the first step, that Dingus has to get off the council and off the ballot, then winning approval from party officials in the House district's five counties. They're charged with naming his replacement once he's off the ticket, and there's apparently no law against replacing him with his own self.

Hicks says "there's a very good chance this will end up in court." And he's hoping that's relatively quick, so that Dingus and the Democrats can get on the ballot "and the voters will be able to have a real choice on Election Day."

He wrote an open letter to the citizens of Midland blaming the Republican Party for challenging his eligibility. He ended it like this: "I thank you, good citizens of Midland, for the honor of serving as your City Councilman. God willing, I will serve you again."

Slow Cooking

The outcome of the HD-73 election won't be certain until the middle of May at the earliest.

State District Judge James Clawson set a May 19 trial date. The candidates have to file briefs by May 5 and come to a preliminary hearing on May 14.

Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, lost the election to GOP challenger Doug Miller by a handful of votes — 17 — but contends that a number of voters cast more than one ballot and that that group of double-voters was big enough to flip the election result.

His lawyers asked Clawson to remove himself from the case without saying why; he declined to do that. By the end of the week, they'd appealed that decision to the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin. Their argument: They've got the right to ask for a reassignment of the visiting judge in this civil case. Clawson's response: Election cases are different, and he'll remain.

Trey Trainor, a lawyer for Macias, said they were "extremely pleased" with the trial date. Craig Murphy, a spokesman for Miller, said, "we couldn't be happier."

A Tax Holiday for Business

Comptroller Susan Combs is putting off collection of the state's new business tax for a month, telling taxpayers they can miss the May 15 deadline by up to 30 days without a penalty.

That won her kudos from the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group that has complained long and loud about the new tax and about the deadlines facing taxpayers.

The new margins tax was approved by the Legislature in special session two years ago, but isn't due until May 15. The forms taxpayers have to fill out for the new tax weren't ready until the end of March, though the comptroller's rules for the new levy were in place before that.

"We want to make sure businesses and tax practitioners have adequate time to make sure they're complying with the revised franchise tax," Combs said in a press release. "Because they're dealing with new calculations and enhanced technology for filing reports, the one month penalty waiver will help taxpayers accurately complete their returns in the first year of this brand new tax."

The delay shouldn't affect state revenue by much, officials say, since companies will still eventually pay what they would have had to pay in May. Lost interest will cost the state about $4 million, according to the comptroller, but her office contends the resulting accuracy will save money.

NFIB was delighted with the delay and full of praise for Combs, but they say their members are deeply unhappy with the new tax. "This new business tax is proving to be too much for many firms to calculate and — in some cases — too much to pay,"says Will Newton, who runs the national group's Texas office.

NFIB spokeswoman Laura Stromberg says the group is planning a protest on the day the new tax comes due and will be forming a coalition with others before then. "We'll be coming at the Legislature with this coalition. This isn't just about the forms — this is peoples' livelihoods," she said. "The Legislature had no idea what they were doing with this — it's pretty evident now."

And she predicted the taxpayers will get louder as they file and pay the new tax: "It's kind of like a hurricane. We can't tell you what the damage is until it hits."

Tax Caps, and Bloggers with Money

House Speaker Tom Craddick named a group of lawmakers to the Select Committee on Property Tax Relief and Appraisal Reform, chaired by Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton. He'll be joined by Reps. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, Gary Elkins, R-Houston, Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, Dan Flynn, R-Van, Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, Phil King, R-Weatherford, Tracy King, D-Batesville, Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, Inocente "Chente" Quintanilla, D-Tornillo, and Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood.

They'll concentrate on some ideas that fell short last time the Legislature met, including revised caps on increases in appraised values. Dallas lawyer Tom Pauken (now the chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission) headed Gov. Rick Perry's effort to limit property tax increases last year; he lauded the effort and said it should be easier next time. The leader of the opposition, Rep. Fred Hill, R-Dallas, isn't coming back. And the Senate, he says, is open to caps this time.

• TexBlog PAC, a coalition of bloggers raising money for Democrats, is giving $5,000 to Democratic House candidate Diana Maldonado of Round Rock in HD-52. They say they'll be raising more money and naming five more "major" endorsees. They aim to win enough races to gain a Democratic majority in the House (it's currently 79-71 in the GOP's favor; five Democratic wins would flip it).

Very Open Meetings

This agenda for an "Open Forum for Election Discussion" is posted on the website of the City of Rhome, northwest of Fort Worth. There's a screenplay in here somewhere:

Meeting of members of the Rhome City Council in Open Forum for Election Discussion, Saturday, April 26, 2008, City Annex Building, 261 School Road at 3:00 p.m.

1. Questions and answers for candidates on their intentions if they win the election.

2. Discussion on violating the Open Meeting Act by City Council members

3. Discussion on the process of firing the former Police Chief K. C. Schoenthal.

4. Citizen petition to keep former Police Chief K. C. Schoenthal.

5. The process of hiring Rick Roebuck.

6. Discussion on investigation on the former Police Chief Rick Roebuck and his subsequent resignation.

7. Completion of former Police Chief Rick Roebuck’s F-5. 

8. Discussion of firing Kelli Baker.

9. Discussion of hiring Judy Palmore causing nepotism.

10. City Council members reporting to the Wise County Messenger.

11. Seizure of citizen’s property by city council.

12. Taxation of specific Rhome citizens at a higher rate.

13. Possible termination of Ramah Burns and violation of her rights.

14. Contract violations of Jena Hawkins and violation of her rights.

15. Beautification committee.

16. Time dedication of mayor.

17. Personal attacks on Former Chief Roebuck.

18. Parks

19. Curb & Gutter for Main Street

20. Riding of unlicensed vehicles on city streets.

21. Status of Death Threats made against council member Davis.

22. Public Input available on all of the above.

Political People

Former Texas Railroad Commissioner and three-term state Rep. Lena Guerrero, D-Austin, died after a long fight with brain cancer. She was 50. Guerrero, a close ally of former Gov. Ann Richards and former House Speaker Pete Laney, turned to lobbying after she left office. Guerrero, the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in Texas at the time (and since), lost to Republican Barry Williamson after voters found she'd claimed a college degree she hadn't earned. She fought brain cancer for more than eight years, worked while she was under treatment, and even endorsed an old colleague — Democrat-turned-Republican Rick Perry — in his reelection bid last year. There's a spot for Guerrero in the Texas State Cemetery; she'll be buried there on Saturday, after a mass in Austin.

Badly Kept Secret: Deirdre Delisi of Austin and Bill Meadows of Fort Worth are soon to be named commissioners at the Texas Department of Transportation. Delisi was Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff until last summer. Meadows is an exec with Wm. Rigg Co., a large insurance firm, and the vice chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority, or NTTA.

Add state Reps. Yvonne Davis of Dallas and Rene Oliveira of Brownsville to the luminaries list at the state Democratic convention. They'll be honorary co-chairs, and party Chairman Boyd Richie is keeping the tennis ball balanced on the net: Davis backs Obama, and Oliveira backs Clinton.

H.B. "Trip" Doggett is the new COO at ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, better known as the electric grid). Doggett has been a consultant to the agency, and landed the post after a nationwide search to replace Sam Jones, who retired.

Thompson & Knight added Ashley Phillips, an environmental lawyer, to their Austin shop. She's done time with the Environmental Protection Agency and with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The governor's latest appointees include:

Ben Gorzell Jr. and Carolyn Liner to the Texas Municipal Retirement System Board of Trustees. He's a CPA and the City of San Antonio's finance director; she's director of human resources for the City of San Marcos (and a re-appointee to the board).

Thomas Leeper, a Huntsville city attorney, and retired attorney Raymond Carter Sanders of Austin to the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation Board. Leeper will be the presiding officer on that panel.

• Williamson County Commissioner Lisa Birkman of Round Rock and Georgetown banker Stanley Ray to the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority Board of Directors. Ray's an exec at the Farm Credit Bank of Texas.

• Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes of Southlake, Tracye McDaniel of Houston, and Alejandro "Alex" Meade III of Brownsville to the Advisory Board of Economic Development Stakeholders. McDaniel is an exec with the Greater Houston Partnership and Meade is principal of P3 Economics, an eco devo consulting firm.

Thomas Oliver of Baytown, J. Russell Shannon of Andrews, and David Young of Grand Prairie to the state's Aging and Disability Services Council. Oliver is a CPA, Shannon is president of the National Bank of Andrews, and Young is a healthcare consultant. Shannon's new to the board; the others are being reappointed.

Indicted: Former U.S. Rep., state senator and representative Craig Washington, on a charge of aggravated assault with a gun on New Year's Day. He's accused of firing at another man's car.

Deaths: Former state Rep. Russell Cummings, D-Houston, of cancer. Cummings, who served two terms in the 1960s and later worked for the state for 20 years, was 82... Kevin Housley, a Christoval Republican who lost a bid for the state Legislature in 2006 and who had worked for Tom Loeffler, Bill Clements and Dick Armey. He was 45... Homer Scace, former assistant director of the Legislative Budget Office. He was 85.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, quoted in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: "Texas, I think, is a pretty reliable red state. But who knows with Obama-mania."

Sen. John Whitmire, talking about prison guard shortage in the San Antonio Express-News: "The state built most of its prisons in all the wrong places. They used prisons for economic development. The rural counties would give you the land and throw in other incentives. It might have looked like a bargain, but we're paying a huge price for it."

Eldorado resident Rita McWorter, quoted in The New York Times about the state taking custody of children from a religious group's compound there: "We used to have a duck one time. And a snake was trying to get at her eggs, and she fought it to the death. That's the way I am with my children."

The newest t-shirt from one of last cycle's independent candidates: "Kinky Friedman Governor 2010. Start Thinkin'."

Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 17, 28 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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