Skip to main content

Texas Democrats Look for a Turnaround

Boyd Richie might get his wish. The head of the Texas Democratic Party has been hoping to start his state convention with a little love at the top of the ticket.

Boyd Richie might get his wish. The head of the Texas Democratic Party has been hoping to start his state convention with a little love at the top of the ticket.

"I would hope that that's where we're going," he says. "I would love for this to be done and I would love for both of them to appear arm in arm and say 'We're unified and we're going on to victory in November.'"

But it's not all about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He wants the convention to draw some attention to the rest of the Democratic ballot and to reinvigorate the new voters who swarmed the party primary in March. He hopes those voters kiss and make up, too.

"We've got to have a successful convention in the sense that people come out of it energized and understanding that unity is going to give us victory, not this business about 'If she's the candidate, I'm not going to vote in the primary' or 'If he's the candidate, I'm not going to vote in the primary.'

"The true answer to that is that neither one of them is going to vote for McCain," he says of the Democratic candidates. "We've got to get out of that mindset."

Richie contends the party — which holds no statewide seats and is in the minority in the congressional delegation and both chambers in the statehouse — is making progress, becoming more competitive. It's already started at the local level and he thinks that'll spread: "I'll be shocked if Harris County doesn't perform as Dallas County did this last time."

He has high hopes for statewide judicial candidates in particular, but is clearly thinking about the number of people who voted in the presidential race in March and didn't continue to other races on the ballot.

The party won't have the money to play everywhere it wants to, but Richie hopes to have enough to run active Get Out the Vote efforts from El Paso to the Coastal Bend along the Texas-Mexico border. He said he thinks the national Democrats will spend some money in Texas, "at least to the extent that they're going to force John McCain to defend [in] Texas. I think both campaigns would do that. I'm hopeful that we'll see a robust presence."

The pitch?

"You've got to go out with a message that we are not what the Republicans have portrayed us, number one. We are not anti-business. We traditionally have been a party that supported small business and that supported mom-and-pop.... We are in favor of people making money. We are in favor of success. We are in favor of people having an opportunity to live the American Dream. But the way to get there is not by short-changing public education.

"Republicans seem to me to be chasing, as my wife says, "Ghosts what ain't." They're chasing the Voter ID bill, for a problem that their own attorney gen has proven doesn't exist. A voucher plan without even trying to take a serious look at public education short of teaching a damn test. I mean, we're not teaching critical thinking skills. We're teaching children how to take a test," he says. "Has it given us an educated work force? I don't think so. Why don't we deal with the real problems that affect working class, middle-income Texans?"

The economic environment favors the party out of power, he says. "I drive back and forth from Graham, Texas, to Austin — about 230 miles. And granted, I drive a big car, because I'm on the road a lot. When I filled up the other day, it wasn't shy of $100. It's not going to take too many trips before I use up that [federal] stimulus check... I'm kind of like the girl in the Exorcist: My head's spinning around and I'm spitting up green pea soup."

Democrats will be talking about those prices, insurance premiums, college education costs and other economic issues. In his view, Republicans have had their attention elsewhere, to their detriment: "I think they've been entirely off base on trying to win on wedge social issues, more than dealing with the real problems that affect everyday people."

Republicans — and some Democrats — have said Obama or Clinton won't provide easy coattails to Texas candidates. Richie says he's not sure.

"I know that I've talked to what I would consider to be conservative Texas Democrats, some of whom are prime officeholders, who have told me that they're perfectly comfortable," he says.

"How that will play out, obviously... each one of our candidates has got to run his or her race in the district, and tailored to that district," he says. "If that means trying to distance themselves from the national people, that's what they'll do."

Richie says that's just practical when you're a Democrat in a state that has voted consistently with the GOP since the mid-1990s.

"There's too many folks ready to jump up and say, you know, we ought not to vote for [a candidate] because he's not casting a vote on this issue in the way that Democrats from the national party or whatever. I'm sure there comes a point beyond which I would be unhappy with someone, but I have seen too much of what's happened to my state when people take that position," Richie says. "What happens is, Republicans get elected."

Not Dead Yet

John McCain may have already earned the prefix of presumptive candidate, but supporters of other Republican presidential candidates are still putting up a fight.

Take Ron Paul's supporters here in Texas.

They, with others, have prevailed thus far in a legal bid challenging the way the GOP runs its state convention. Delegates are heading to the Republican convention in Houston next weekend with plenty of steam, regardless of whether their candidate has a real chance. Some have cooled their Paul fever to ensure the convention goes smoothly, but others are hanging on to that towel.

"If people treat us fairly, we're prepared for a healthy debate with the party," says Lisa Mallory of Austin, a Paul supporter and delegate to the state convention. "If we don't have the vote, we don't have the vote. But if we aren't treated fairly, we are prepared and organized to be disruptive and create chaos to demand a fair process."

The lawsuit has turbocharged some of them, including Paul Perry of Ellis County, who decided this week to challenge GOP Chair Tina Benkiser's bid for another term.

Perry says he finally decided to run for chairman upon learning that the group filed its lawsuit only after trying to negotiate with the party for weeks. But the idea has apparently been brewing for a while.

"At the last convention, I didn't believe the floor was properly recognized for motions," he says, in a reference to a battle over the state's new business tax two years ago, a fight that never really got rolling.

"I would characterize myself as a grass-roots Republican... who's tired of the party drifting away from the philosophy and eloquence of Ronald Reagan," he says.

He fears the party's leaders in Texas are unwelcoming to newcomers the GOP needs to survive. He says he supported Paul in the primaries and voted for George W. Bush in each of the last two elections, but says he's not trying to overrule Texas voters: He'll back John McCain in November.

Mallory and other Paul supporters have set up a website —— stressing GOP convention rules and the reasons for the lawsuit, and outlining recent credentials challenges.

One challenge is aimed at Robin Armstrong, the party's vice chairman. It says he was selected as a delegate at an improperly held county convention in Galveston County, where they were supposed to have two local meetings and had only one.

The party is trying to calm everyone.

"This convention is not a referenda on Ron Paul vs. the Republicans," says GOP spokesman Hans Klingler. "We'll be talking about the issues... and we will caution everybody to do it within the rules."

Klinger says it's impossible to know how many delegates will be at the convention to support Paul. "But there won't be a massive groundswell of people supporting Paul," he contends.

Dave Nalle, Libertarian candidate for the House in HD-46, thinks there will be a 30 to 40 percent showing for Paul. That's on the high end of the estimates, even from Paul's side.

"Paul supporters are going to try to do as much as they can to influence the progress of the convention," says Nalle. "But the state convention is very heavily managed... It's very difficult to be a newcomer and have influence."

Nalle says he's got friends in both camps, meaning mainstream Republicans who are wary of too much influence from the Paulites, and Libertarian-leaning Republicans who want their voices heard loud and clear next weekend. He fears that first group has a plan to "decertify as many Ron Paul delegates as they can before the convention. They'll show up and be told they're not delegates."

Nalle says, too, that the Paul supporters aren't helping their own cause. "Ron Paul delegates want things to happen too quickly... they're not making any effort to coddle the rest of the Party or bring the rest of the party with them," he says. "The hard-core nature of some of them makes us very nervous."

Don Zimmerman of Austin thinks the Texas congressman is the only one who could win the presidential race by a landslide: "He draws the most broad base of support, but he is opposed vehemently by the political establishment. In the 12 years I've attended the state conventions, the only elected official I've ever heard affirm and support the Texas Republican platform is Ron Paul. But he's the one guy who is almost persecuted and ridiculed as not being a Republican."

Zimmerman will be at the convention to support Paul, but other supporters, like Jean McIver, Texas field coordinator for the Paul campaign, don't want the convention to be all about the candidate.

"I don't think there's anybody out there who's trying to take over the party," McIver says. "We've taken the emphasis off the presidential race."

She says the emphasis is now on the issues. Still, some McCain supporters are worried the Paul people will cause a few minor problems.

"I'm not sure they'll have a large showing," says Michele Connole, a convention alternate and McCain supporter. "My concern is they'll bring a lot of confusion about the convention process to new people. We've chosen our nominee for better or for worse, and now our convention is about placing national delegates... I'm not anymore worried about leftover Ron Paul supporters than I am leftover Mike Huckabee supporters."

Paul won't have enough delegates to influence the national convention, so Connole says this is the time to just unite as a party. Most seasoned convention-goers say a little dissent before and during the weekend is nothing new and nothing they can't get past.

"I've been involved in party politics a long time," says Gaylord Hughey, a Tyler attorney and member of McCain's Texas committee. "At every convention, there's an issue that people are emotional about... I think that builds a stronger party."

So, will the Paul supporters let bygones be bygones? McIver thinks so.

"I think the media has put a lot of emphasis on the presidential nominees," says McIver. "We have serious things going on in our country... This job is bigger than the presidential nomination."

— by Karie Meltzer

Seeing Red

On the eve of its state convention, the Republican Party of Texas got sued by some of its own delegates. And the party lost, at least in the first round.

A Houston judge says the state GOP has to put a convention boss in place before it starts conducting convention business. That's a win for delegates and activists who were challenging the party bosses over who gets to be a delegate and what the delegates control once they're chosen.

State District Judge Tom Sullivan says the state GOP has to follow the state law that says it should elect someone to run its convention before it seats delegates. A group of Republicans led by Wharton County GOP Chair Debra Medina sued after trying to negotiate with state party leaders.

Medina says the law is on her side and that the current method is akin to "extending a CEO's contract before we talk about the condition of the company."

Hans Klingler, a spokesman for the GOP, says the conventions already follow state law. "We follow what the law says, and the curative period here would seem to be 140 days every two years, during a legislative session, instead of going to court six days before the convention."

The dissidents say the standard operating procedure works against political minorities, stripping them of any real chance of getting their way on platforms, procedures and what have you; here's how their lawyer, former Harris County Chair Gary Polland, put it in the suit:

The harm that will result if the temporary restraining order is not issued is irreparable because failure to elect a permanent chair at the convention's first general session delays the hearing of the credentials committee report on all delegates challenges which delays resolution of same and thus prevents a true convention majority being had on all subsequent votes. In addition, failure to resolve credential issues with a permanent chair means a challenged delegation is unable to participate in the senatorial district caucuses set for June 12, 2008 which elects permanent committees, state Republican executive committee members and nominees for state party chairman and vice chairman.


Polland said in an interview that the GOP ought to let as many people into the convention as possible without a battle, especially in a political climate like this one: "If we lose 10 or 15 percent of our base vote, Obama wins Texas." He says he talked to the party for a month before filing suit and couldn't reach a resolution on how the convention would operate.

The judge issued a temporary injunction in their favor and another hearing could be held before the convention starts, in Houston, on Thursday of next week.

The Texas Weekly Index

A quick look at (and update of) the partisan history of the Congressional, Senate, and House districts in Texas, and as they say on Wall Street: Past results don't necessarily predict future results.

The fine print: This index is based on competitive statewide elections in the last two cycles: 2004 and 2006. Competition is defined here as a statewide race with a Democrat and a Republican in it, no matter how lopsided or close that might be.

The TWI isn't meant to predict anything, but is a look at how each district has done in recent elections. A lot of critical variables aren't included here, like money, incumbency, competence, weather, scandal and all the stuff that makes politics both entertaining and excruciating.

One of our more numerically inclined readers noticed a while back that legislative races are competitive with numbers that would freeze a statewide candidate. A Republican in a district with a favorable TWI of 17 or less is probably in a competitive district, even though statewide Republicans win there by an average of 17 points. Conversely, no congressional or legislative Republican holds a district where a statewide candidate from the GOP won with less than 9 percent of the vote.

Draw an imaginary line, then, between Linda Harper-Brown and Mike Krusee in the state House, between John Carona and Kyle Janek in the Senate, and between Pete Sessions and Ciro Rodriguez in the congressional delegation.

It's a place to start your argument and since the state party conventions are just ahead, you'll have plenty of people with whom to argue.

Not So Special

The special election to replace Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, will coincide with the general election on November 4. Which means any sitting House member who wants to run for that seat would have to give up reelection hopes.

State Reps. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, and Charlie Howard of Sugar Land, both expressed interest in the seat.

Republican businessmen Austen Furse and Grant Harpold of Houston are campaigning openly. Democrats have lately been trying to lure Chris Bell into the race. Furse is a first-time candidate. Bell, a former congressman and Houston city council member, lost the 2006 governor's race to Gov. Rick Perry.

Add this: In an unusual move in a race that's got more than one Republican in it, Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill is endorsing Furse.

Perry's declaration of the special election gives candidates until the end of business on August 29 to put their names in the hat.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Both of the major Texas parties are luring potential vice presidential candidates to their state conventions. The Republicans — who'll convene next week in Houston — will get former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Now the Democrats — and the Barack Obama campaign — say Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will be the featured speaker at their convention in Austin.

• The Texas Libertarian Party's convention in Fort Worth will draw national candidates, even if the Texas Democrats and Republicans couldn't get their headliners to show. Their presidential candidate, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, and his vice presidential candidate, Wayne Root, will both talk at the Texas event. Michael Badnarik — the party's 2004 presidential candidate — will be there to introduce them.

Larry Joe Doherty, the Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Austin, in CD-10, is touting a poll showing the two candidates only five percentage points apart. That survey has McCaul at 51.7 percent and Doherty at 46.7 percent. It has U.S. Sen. John Cornyn ahead of state Rep. Rick Noriega 54 percent to 44 percent, and John McCain ahead of Barack Obama 55 percent to 41 percent. IVR Polls did the survey on June 2, using an automated system to talk to 528 "likely voters" on the phone. The margin of error is +/- 4.3 percent.

• From the government, and here to help you, is Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who sent an email note to supporters with the title "Protest your property taxes — Monday deadline." No telling how many took him up on it, but he included a tip to what's coming next: "Until we finally achieve a statutory cap, this is the best way to resist the continual growth of our property taxes."

• If the state sells property that's leased to someone, it has to include that "encumbrance" in the price of the property, since the new owner will have to honor the terms of the lease (or the state could buy out the lease and then sell the unencumbered property, but the net value would theoretically be the same). The case in point: The Brazos River Authority wants to sell the property around Possum Kingdom Lake to the people who are leasing it now (mostly individuals and mostly for residential properties). The agency asked Attorney General Greg Abbott if it had to discount its prices to account for those leases. His opinion: Yup. And they asked if selling that discounted land to those lessees would violate constitutional bans on " gratuitous transfers of public funds to individuals or private parties." His opinion: Nope.

• The newest member of the Texas House will serve, for now, on the Natural Resources Committee and the Local Government Ways & Means Committee. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, replaced Robert Puente in HD-19; those were Puente's committee assignments. And they'll be juggled, along with everyone else's, when the next Legislature takes office in January.

• Comptroller Susan Combs postponed the due date for the new business tax by a month, to June 15. Rep. Juan Garcia wants her to delay it until after the elections, to November 17. He doesn't mention how to pay for the delay in his letter. Combs' postponement was a freebie, since the taxes are still due during the current fiscal year. Moving the due date to November would temporarily put the state budget out of balance.

• U.S. District Judge James Nowlin's orange blood was running when he settled this dispute over where — in Texas or in Arkansas — to conduct a legal deposition. Just read it.

Political People and Their Moves

Paul Hudson says he'll leave the state's Public Utility Commission in August after five years on that panel. He was appointed to the job Gov. Rick Perry; Hudson had been the Guv's policy director.

Mark Vickery is the new executive director at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The commissioners there decided to keep it in house and gave the job to the number two guy. He's been the deputy ED for four years and started with the state 21 years ago at the Texas Water Commission, one of TCEQ's ancestors. He's replacing Glenn Shankle, who retired.

Lisa Woods, who worked for Susan Combs, left for Colorado and then came back to Texas when Combs was elected comptroller, is leaving state government. She didn't announce a destination, but is giving up her gig as associate deputy comptroller. That's one of several moves at the top of that agency. Sara Whitley, a "senior advisor" to the comptroller, got promoted to chief of staff of the agency, and Combs hired Chris Kadas as special counsel for tax hearings. Kadas has been general counsel of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation for the last six years. Combs also named Ashley Harden, the former counsel for tax hearings, the new chief deputy general counsel.

Allen Betts, the commissioner of workers' compensation at the Texas Department of Insurance, is retiring in August. He's been in that job since 2005 and was the agency's chief of staff before that.

Add Washington political veteran Rich Galen to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's staff, where he's listed as "senior counselor." His career visa includes stamps from Dan Quayle, Fred Thompson, Newt Gingrich, and recently, from a blog/email site called Mullings. He said in a final posting there that he's known the Texas senator since the 1990s, when he lived in Dallas.

Rachael Schreiber, who you might know from the offices of Rep. Thomas Latham, R-Mesquite, is now a special assistant to House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Kirsten Gray's the new face in the Texas Democratic Party's media shop; the new deputy there was most recently the legislative director for state Rep. Allan Ritter, D-Nederland.

Gov. Perry appointed a mess of new commissioners and board members and whatnot.

Michael Seiler of The Woodlands to the 435th Judicial District Court. Seiler's an assistant Montgomery County district attorney. That's a new court that was supposed to start up later this year; Seiler won the Republican primary for the job and doesn't have a general election opponent.

• A former teacher, Karry Matson of Georgetown, to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

• Three new members of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. Buford Abeldt Sr., a pharmacist and owner of Abelts Gaslight Pharmacy in Lufkin; L. Suzan Kedron, an attorney with Jackson Walker in Dallas; and Dennis Wiesner of Austin, senior director of privacy, pharmacy, regulatory and governmental affairs for H.E.B. Grocery Co., will all join that panel.

Bob Jones of Corpus Christi goes to the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation Board. He's pastor of the Messianic Fellowship Church and host of a morning radio show.

Patricia Clapp of Dallas to the Texas Board of Nursing. Clapp is an exec with the Greater Dallas Chamber.

John Flieller of Floresville and Jeffrey Neathery of San Antonio to the San Antonio River Authority Board of Directors. Flieller is an insurance agent. Neathery is an exec with DNA Geosciences.

Joseph Stunja of Kingwood and Joseph Turner of Willis to the San Jacinto River Authority Board of Directors. Stunja is a real estate agent and the former president of Friendswood Development Co. Turner is vice president of Alliance Development.

David McKinney to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, a panel that includes representatives from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. McKinney owns Three Springs Ranch in Cypress Mill.

And Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named his appointees to the Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness. That group includes John Baldwin, president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock; Ernest Cockrell, chairman of Cockrell Interests in Houston; Lowry Mays, chairman of Clear Channel Communications in San Antonio; Bobby Ray, president of Hovnanian Enterprises in Plano, and Beth Robertson, president of Cockspur in Houston.

Quotes of the Week

Houston attorney Ed Cogburn, quoted in the Houston Chronicle about an influx of first-time delegates to the Democratic convention this year: "What the hell; we've been losing elections for years. We are not going to quit losing elections until we get more people."

Stephanie Chiarello, a delegate to the state Democratic convention and a Clinton supporter, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (before the fact) how she'd handle a loss: "If she's not the nominee, I suppose I'll feel bitter and jaded — but only briefly. Then I'll work my tail off to help Barack Obama."

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute, talking about the Republican Party in the Houston Chronicle: "What's this talk about a Big Tent? You come along and have someone who believes in the Constitution, limited government and a balanced budget, and all of a sudden they don't want you in there."

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, in the Tyler Morning Telegraph: "We don't have any leadership in Texas that's committed to real immigration reform... If we can't do anything on those bills, then at the end of the session, I will announce my candidacy for governor, on the pledge that if elected, I'll do something about the issue."

Fernando Reyes, talking to the San Antonio Express-News about his exploratory bid for mayor of that city: "I want to know: Do I even have a chance, or is this a lot of talk from my friends?"

Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 23, 9 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

Texans need truth. Help us report it.

Support independent Texas news

Become a member. Join today.

Donate now

Explore related story topics