There's one week to go 'til the state convention for the Democrats and some counties are still ironing out what they see as kinks in their delegate selection. The Texas Democrats haven't been so divided about their candidates in decades, so the selection process is about as competitive as the presidential race itself.
"This is the first time this system is under the microscope," says party spokesman Hector Nieto. "But the chairman says he likes the system in place... it encourages participation and turnout, and that's exactly what we saw."
El Paso, Bexar and Harris Counties are among those who've had complaints about the selection of delegates for the state convention. Here's how the whole thing is supposed to work, from the very beginning:
Back on March 4, anyone who voted in the primary could go to their local precinct convention. We'll call this Round 1. They sign-in, filling out their presidential preference and other identifying markers required by the party. These are new qualifiers, said Nieto, such as whether a person is under 35 years-old, disabled, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, African American, Hispanic or Asian American. Nieto said the party wants to see people who fit those categories moving forward.
"We will look at those numbers to help determine what our delegation looks like," he said.
So, the night of the precinct convention, anyone who signs in (plus anyone who didn't make it, but has a proxy to speak) is in the running to move forward to the conventions at the county or Senate district level. We'll call this one Round 2. Only a certain number of delegates go to Round 2, a number based on the precinct's Democratic turnout in the last gubernatorial primary election. Party officials count the sign-ins to see the percentage of possible delegates each candidate won, plus any who are undeclared. That ratio must be used when electing the delegates who can go to the next round. For example, if there are 100 sign-ins and 30 spots for Round 2, and 40 percent go to Barak Obama and 60 percent to Hillary Clinton, Obama would get 12 delegates (40 percent of 30) and Clinton would get 18 (60 percent of 30).
The delegate selection at the county and Senate district conventions is basically the same as in Round 1. (If a SD includes more than one county within, they have county conventions. Senate districts that don't cross county lines — the ones in populous counties — hold their own conventions.) Delegates who make it this far list their candidate selection and relevant personal info. They can change their minds or even write "undeclared." The sign-ins are counted and the percentages recorded. Again, the number of delegates that can head to Round 3, the state convention, is derived from gubernatorial voter turnout in that county or SD. That number has to reflect the sign-in percentages.
Meanwhile, these delegates are basically running their own campaigns.
"You'll see people with big budget campaigns... lapel pins, T-shirts, flyers," said Harold Cook, former executive director of the party. "It can get pretty sophisticated. Everybody goes about half crazy before the state convention. Tempers flare. Feelings get hurt."
Once delegates are elected for the state convention, "it's a pretty elite group," Cook said. "You're narrowing it down from about a million to about 8,000."
Delegates in various counties have complained that Party officials did all sorts of things wrong during the selection process.
"A lot of people have never had to practice these rules in a competitive situation," said Ed Martin, also a former executive director of the party. "But there's a reason to have this three-step process. It makes sure you get all these things done appropriately, to reflect the will of the people who go through the convention process."
Martin said the complaints seem to balance out, with about as many counties upset over too few Obama delegates as there are complaining over too few for Clinton. Party officials were still working through those complaints with a week to go before the state convention in Austin.
"Rules were not intentionally broken," Nieto said. "It is clear that the majority of these challenges were due to technical errors and were not intentional. But, change could be good. It may be time to update the system from paper to electronic."
228 Texas Democrats will head to the national convention in Denver: 126 will be based on the popular vote, 67 on the convention and 35 superdelegates. With a week to go, Clinton had an edge in the popular vote and superdelegates, Obama in the delegates.
— by Karie Meltzer
The Stuff Conventions are Made Of
A Democratic committee decided to balance the numbers of El Paso delegates going to the state convention so they reflect those of the county convention — 75 percent will go to Hillary Clinton and 25 percent to Barak Obama.
A slew of El Paso's Obama supporters, led by attorney Don Williams, had challenged the Party, saying the Nominations Committee unfairly tilted the delegate count in Clinton's favor.
"We never should have been here in the first place," said Williamsafter the hearing, "but we got what we asked for."
Here's why it got messy. Delegates are selected at precinct caucuses, county conventions and then state conventions. It could almost be called the Texas three-step. Based on the sign-in sheets, votes at the El Paso County convention in March were first totaled to show 75 percent of the delegates went to Clinton and 25 percent to Obama. After the convention, the official numbers were recorded as 76 percent to Clinton and 24 percent to Obama. But another count from the precinct caucuses shows about 90 percent of the delegates went to Clinton and 10 percent to Obama — the raw numbers were 120 to 7. So, the Party was going to send a delegation (175 can go) reflecting that 9:1 ratio to the state convention.
Williams and his group weren't happy with this. They said Obama should at least get 37 delegates to reflect the county numbers. On May 21, Williams met with the Nominations Committee in El Paso. The committee decided to up the Obama delegates going to the convention from 7 to 40, with 40 alternates standing by. Williams agreed, but not for long. He dropped the compromise and, with his crew of Obama people, headed to Austin to try to gain three more.
"We're talking three delegates," said Ken Sutherland, Clinton supporter and chair of the Nominations Committee. "The Clinton delegation will still be over 130 when this is over. It's not going to change the complexion of the delegation."
Before it could all end, there was still the matter of Tony Escobedo. He's an Obama supporter, but Sutherland said Escobedo "isn't in the group, the clique with Williams." He wasn't selected as a delegate at his precinct. Escobedo approached Sutherland to be considered as a delegate and succeeded — only Williams didn't want to recognize him because a Clinton supporter was behind the nomination, Escobedo said in a letter to the Credentials Committee.
"I am being victimized by Don Williams and his exclusive group on the nominations committee," Escobedo said.
In the end, Williams got his three additional delegates – Escobedo included.
— by Karie Meltzer
The Couple That Votes Together
Barack Obama picked up two more Texas superdelegates, evening the count at 14 each for him and for Hillary Clinton.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie and his wife, Democratic National Committeewoman Betty Richie, both announced they'll vote for Obama.
That leaves seven of the state's 35 superdelegates in play. The party chairman names three at the convention (not alone; he's gonna get some input on that) and four others are named. Here's the current version of our chart:
A Little Red Mixed In
Republican John McCain has the support of 9.4 percent of the people who voted in the Texas Democratic primary in March, according to a poll done at the behest of the Texas Observer.
They were trying to find out whether Republicans could have had an effect on the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama contest here.
Leland Beatty, who did the polling, says there's no way to tell how those McCain supporters actually voted. Clinton beat Obama in Texas by 3.4 percent, so you can say there were enough there to change the result even though you can't prove it.
Beatty found other curiosities. Only 34.5 percent of the Democrats who voted in March have voted in previous Democratic primaries, while 10.8 percent were crossover voters who have some Republican voting history, and 54.7 percent hadn't voted in previous primaries. He polled them about their presidential preferences. For the newbies, Obama got 37.6 percent, Clinton got 34.8 percent, and McCain got 13.7 percent. Among the crossovers, McCain got 33.1 percent, Obama 25.1 percent, and Clinton, 21.7 percent.
Beatty also maintains that the state's entering a partisan realignment, an assertion he bases on Democratic gains in new voters, voter registration, and higher numbers of crossover voters. The donkeys beat the elephants in each of those categories, and he thinks that's a sign of lasting changes.
The polling was paired with some linguistic analysis by James Pennebaker, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin. He said he's not a political guy, but was asked to analyze the things people said when they were talking about the three candidates. His observations:
Clinton supporters use shorter words. They used more first-person words like "I, me, and my." They used more concrete, less abstract, language. They used more present-tense words than supporters of the other candidates. They tended to be more positive and optimistic.
Obama's supporters used bigger words, were more abstract in their language and tended, along with the Clinton supporters, to refer to past events more than McCain's bunch. They use the first person less than supporters of the other two. And they were more positive than the other two groups.
McCain's group uses big words, fall somewhere in the middle on the concrete/abstract language, were less likely to talk about the past, and were more likely to use negative and "inhibitory" language. Pennebaker said they were more likely to emphasize avoiding bad things, and less like to talk about pursuing good things.
The surveys included 2,500 people interviewed between May 8 and May 19. The margin of error is +/- 2.7 percent.
A Lot of Red?
Republican John McCain would beat either Democratic candidate for president in Texas right now, according to a poll by Austin-based Baselice & Associates.
Their numbers: McCain would beat Barack Obama 52 percent to 36 percent, and would beat Hillary Clinton 51 percent to 36 percent.
From the limited crosstabs they shared, McCain led either Democrat in each of the state's large media markets.
The Republican would get about 64 percent of the Anglo vote in either contest. Obama polled better with Blacks, getting 86 percent, while Clinton would get 66 percent. She polled better with Hispanics, getting 57 percent against McCain to the 48 percent Obama pulls against the Republican.
Those numbers are from a telephone poll of 1,005 registered Texas voters May 20-25. Pollsters said 48 percent of the voters in their sample usually vote for Republicans; 40 percent said they usually vote for Democrats. Margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has a 16-point lead over his Democratic rival, state Rep. Rick Noriega, according to poll results dribbled out by Austin-based Baselice & Associates.
But there's a clinker for the incumbent, too: Fewer than half of the people surveyed say they'd vote for Cornyn.
This survey has Cornyn at 49 percent and Noriega at 33 percent, similar to numbers released by the pollster a month ago. Cornyn is better known than the challenger and the candidates are winning the partisan voters you'd expect. More than a quarter of the independent voters in the survey don't yet name a favorite. And the numbers in the biggest metro areas of the state pretty much track the statewide numbers. In Houston, Noriega's home base and the only part of the state where he has previously run for election, Cornyn holds a 45%-34% lead.
It's the same survey, with the same underlying numbers as the presidential poll released by the Republican firm earlier this week. They interviewed 1,005 registered voters between May 20-25, and the margin of error is +/-3.1 percent.
Dueling Banjos and Other Political Notes
The Texas attorney general and state Democrats have laid down their arms, both claiming victory, in a voter ID case in East Texas. Then they started kicking.
Each side says the other dropped the case. AG Greg Abbott's office says it made no new commitments about voter ID cases, other than to reiterate a general policy of going after cases that involve more than one person.
The plaintiffs sued the state for discriminating against minority voters in its enforcement of voter ID laws. They wanted part of the state's election law declared unconstitutional and to prevent the state from enforcing other provisions, and they wanted attorney fees. They got none of that. But they say the case forced a rewrite of some prosecution guidelines and what's in the instructions people get when they help others vote by mail.
From the AG's office: They'll continue to prosecute the same sorts of cases they've been prosecuting. From the Democrats: "By agreeing to this settlement, Greg Abbott is acknowledging that his office was engaging in improper prosecutions."
And check out the headlines on the press releases spawned by this. From the Plaintiffs: "Breaking News: Texas AG Abbott Settles Vote Suppression Case; Terms Favor Plaintiffs." From the AG: "Plaintiffs Drop Lawsuit That Attempted to Prevent the State from Enforcing Election Code Provisions."
Make it official: Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, handed a resignation letter to Gov. Rick Perry over lunch. He's leaving office effective June 2 and will be replaced in a special election later this year.
The date of the election isn't set, but is significant. It'll be on the same day as the November general election unless Perry decides it should be earlier. If it's on that date, candidates won't be able to run on the regular ballot while running on the special one; that forces House members to decide whether to run for Senate or seek reelection. Perry has the power to call an earlier election if he wants, which would give House members and other officeholders a free shot at the Senate seat.
In the race now: Republicans Austen Furse (Janek's pick), Grant Harpold, and Joan Hoffman. Democrats have tried to recruit former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell to run, and if the election's a freebie for House members, Reps. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, and Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, would be on the list.
If they change the rules for picking Democratic delegates in Texas, they'll do it in two years and not in the middle of a presidential election. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie appointed a committee to look at the process that got national attention this year. That panel, headed by Dallas Sen. Royce West, will have a report at the next convention — in 2010.
With their state convention a week away, Texas Democrats are waiting to see what speakers they'll get from the two remaining presidential campaigns. Best case? Clinton and Obama. Next best? They — and we — don't know yet. LBJ's family will headline the traditional Blue Star Breakfast, a fundraiser for the party.
Court: State Shouldn't Have Taken FLDS Kids
The Texas Supreme Court ruled the state didn't have the evidence it needed to remove children from the FLDS compound in Eldorado earlier this year.
In a 6-3 ruling, the state's highest civil court upheld a lower appeals court, saying that, "On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted."
That's not the end of it. The Supremes ended their opinion by saying the district court still has issues to consider: "While the district court must vacate the current temporary custody orders as directed by the court of appeals, it need not do so without granting other appropriate relief to protect the children, as the mothers involved in this proceeding concede in response to the Department's motion for emergency relief. The court of appeals' decision does not conclude the SAPCR [suits affecting the parent-child relationship] proceedings."
Those SAPCRs, as they're called, could allow the state to retain custody of some of the children. And the Supremes wrote that the state can keep the parents from moving the children out of Texas in an attempt to dodge the state's investigation.
In her dissent, joined by two other justices, Harriet O'Neill wrote that the state's Child Protective Services agency had the right to take custody of pubescent girls in the compound, but not the boys and the prepubescent girls who did not appear to be at risk. "Evidence presented thus indicated a pattern or practice of sexual abuse of pubescent girls, and the condoning of such sexual abuse, on the Ranch — evidence sufficient to satisfy a 'person of ordinary prudence and caution' that other such girls were at risk of sexual abuse as well," she wrote. "This evidence supports the trial court's finding that 'there was a danger to the physical health or safety' of pubescent girls on the Ranch."
The state's actions were challenged by 38 mothers represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Copies of the opinions are online:
Fire Up that Calculator
For the school finance nerds there in the back row, the Equity Center has put together a big spreadsheet that'll start or settle some fights. It's a list of the so-called Chapter 41 school districts — the ones that send more money to the state than they get in return.
How many are there? Depends on who's answering the question, and how they figured up the numbers. The standard way: 172. The way the Equity Center does it: Only 78.
The Austin-based outfit — an advocate for school districts that are more reliant on the state for funding because of low local wealth — counts all of the direct state aid that comes into districts and subtracts all of the money those districts send to Austin.
If it's a negative number, that's a true Chapter 41 district, by their reckoning. Their list of "true" 41s includes the Highland Park ISD in Dallas, which sends the state a net $51.2 million annually and the Eanes ISD in Austin, which sends the state $33.7 million. Seven more districts send in $10 million or more each, and the entire group shoots $365.7 million to the state treasury every year.
The other 94 districts — this study calls them "false recapture districts" — actually bring in $737.5 million more from the state than they send in. This is where you'll hear some squeaks. The list includes Austin ISD, Beaumont ISD, Frisco ISD, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD, Plano ISD, Richardson ISD and Spring Branch ISD.
Political People and Their Moves
Don Cain, the middle brother of the Pampa clan, is the new president of AT&T Texas. Former state Sen. David Cain and lobbyist Randy Cain got to Austin first. Cain, who's been with AT&T since 1979, is replacing James Epperson Jr., who's moving up the food chain to a national position with the San Antonio-based company.
Jake Bernstein, editor of the Texas Observer, is leaving for New York City and a gig with an investigative journalism startup called ProPublica. That outfit is massing two dozen reporters to do the kind of investigative reporting other organizations find too expensive to do.
Lauren Donder, chief of staff to former Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston, has joined the intergovernmental affairs staff for Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Add director of criminal investigations to Pete Slover's title at the Comptroller of Public Accounts. The former investigative reporter is special counsel to Comptroller Susan Combs.
Cathy Bonner will be the new president and CEO of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, a Washington, D.C.-based cancer advocacy group. She got the ball rolling on the $3 billion cancer bond program approved by Texas voters last year.
Walt Borges is actually getting his PhD in political science, which means we lose the office pool and means the former journalist will be teaching next year at Grinnell College in Iowa. Between now and then, he'll be doing research projects in Austin.
Spankings meted out by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct include one for a documented grab-ass episode: State District Judge Hal Miner got a Public Warning and Order of Additional Education for first "slapping" and then "making contact" with the rear end of a female attorney at a law firm Christmas Party.
That commission gave the same to Brent Keis, a County Court at Law judge in Fort Worth, for starting a conversation about slavery with a Black attorney who was presenting a case; and for talking to that attorney an his clients about the risks of going to trial with an accident a case with a Republican judge in a county where juries tend to be Republican, too, a talk he said was designed to encourage settlement negotiations.
And the commission Scrooged Gary Geick, a Rosenberg Justice of the Peace who has a habit of refusing eviction notices that come to him in the weeks leading up to Christmas every year. Officially, that got him a Public Admonition.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed:
James Dyess, founder and CEO of Horizon Bank in Austin, to the Texas Optometry Board.
Todd Barth, president of Bowers Properties in Houston, to the School Land Board.
Richard Figueroa of Houston, Allyson Ho of Dallas, and Henry Nuss of Corpus Christi to the Texas Judicial Council. Figueroa is a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch. Ho is an attorney with Baker Botts. And Nuss is an attorney with Welder Leshin.
Seven to the Nueces River Authority's board of directors, including Karen Bonner, an exec with Christus Spohn Health System Foundation in Corpus Christi; Rebecca Bradford, a vice president at Unique Staffing in Corpus; Joe Cantu of Pipe Creek; Dan Leyendecker, president of LNV Engineering in Corpus; Scott Petty, manager of Petty Ranch in Hondo; Curtis Raabe, an engineer with CDS/Muery Services in Poth; and Thomas Reding Jr., president of an eponymous company in Portland. Cantu, Leyendecker, Petty, and Reding are being reappointed; the other three are new to the board.
Patrick Gordon of El Paso to another term on the Rio Grande Compact Commission. Gordon's a CPA.
Deaths: Former Rep. Joe H. Allen, a member of the House's "Dirty 30" who went on to become a lobbyist for Getty Oil and then for Enron, from complications of Alzheimer's Disease. He was 68... Houston developer, Sunset Advisory Commissioner, and Republican financier Michael Stevens, credited as a major player in the renewal of his city's downtown, of pneumonia. He was 58.
Quotes of the Week
Former White House spokesman Scott McClellan, writing about his former colleagues in his book What Happened: "Many of them, I'm sure, remain convinced that the Bush administration has been fundamentally correct in its most controversial policy judgments, and that the dis-esteem in which most Americans currently hold it is undeserved. Only time will tell. But I've become genuinely convinced otherwise."
Trent Duffy, McClellan's former deputy, calling the Texan a turncoat in the Washington Post: "Tomorrow maybe we're going to learn he's rooting for the Oklahoma Sooners."
Wayne Paul, brother of presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas, telling the Washington Post why his accounting firm gets paid by the campaign: "It was a matter of ensuring there were no more third parties that attempted to screw up my brother's campaign by not filing proper returns. If that's impropriety, by God... have at it."
Democratic consultant and pollster Leland Beatty, who thinks the state's voters are moving toward his party and away from Republicans: "One thing I've learned in a lifetime of politics is that we can always screw up a good deal."
San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, asked by the San Antonio Express-News about his short fuse with the media: "It's a flaw. I should be less judgmental and more accommodating to ignorant questions."
Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 22, 2 June 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.