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Point Shaving

Texas Democrats have been recruiting Libertarian candidates into state races for years. The conventional view is that a Libertarian takes more from a Republican than from a Democrat. In a close race, that can make all the difference.

Texas Democrats have been recruiting Libertarian candidates into state races for years. The conventional view is that a Libertarian takes more from a Republican than from a Democrat. In a close race, that can make all the difference.

The Republicans caught on, and got caught trying to talk some of the Libertarians off of the ballot. They may have fumbled, but their logic was sound: Several Democrats in the Legislature arguably won their seats only because a Libertarian was in their contest.

Most legislative seats were drawn in the last redistricting to elect Republicans. To bring the partisan margins in the House to current levels, Democrats have had to win in seats that were made for them to lose. Some are close enough that shaving three or four percentage points from the Republicans put a win within reach of the Democrats.

That's been going on for several years. Reps. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, and Mark Strama, D-Austin, beat incumbent Republicans in 2002 and 2004, respectively, in elections where Libertarians kept the major party candidates below 50 percent.

It made a big difference, and got attention, in 2006. In those elections, Republicans lost a mess of seats they didn't expect to lose. In a half dozen contests decided with less than a 50 percent majority, there was a Libertarian in the pile, and Democrats won five of the six. In the sixth race, the winning Republican changed parties a few months later. And Libertarians were in the middle of four more 2006 races that, without them, might have looked quite different.


• Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, won reelection in 2006 by 415 votes over Republican Tim Kleinschmidt. Roderick Gibbs, the Libertarian in that race, got 1,283 votes and kept both major-party candidates under 50 percent.

• Republican Rep. Gene Seaman of Corpus Christi lost to Juan Garcia in 2006. Garcia got 48.3 percent of the vote. Libertarian Lenard Nelson got 5.58 percent.

• Democrat Joe Heflin beat Republican Jim Landtroop by 217 votes in 2006. Libertarian David Schumacher's 793 votes could have made the difference there.

• Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, lost his seat in 2006 to Paula Pierson, who got 49.6 percent. The Libertarian, Max Koch III, got 3.44 percent.

• Rep. Kirk England, then a Republican, squeezed out a victory over Democrat Katy Hubener in Grand Prairie two years ago. Libertarian Gene Freeman got 2.8 percent. Neither of the big-party candidates broke 50 percent. And England has since changed parties. He's running as a Democrat this year.

• In HD-118, Libertarian James Thompson got 1,701 votes in a race decided by 900 votes. Democrat Joe Farias of San Antonio got the win over George Antuna.

Sometimes the Libertarian doesn't have a spoiler role, but comes close enough to prove that a third name on the ballot can tighten up a race. Tip the table just a bit and all four of these could have gone another way:

Paul "Blue" Story got 2.9 percent of the vote in a 2006 HD-11 race with Republican Larry Durrett and Democrat Chuck Hopson. Hopson cleared the 50 percent mark, but just barely. He got 51 percent.

Valinda Bolton won election in her Austin race with 50.2 percent that same year. The Libertarian in that contest, Yvonne Schick, got 4.2 percent. Republican Bill Welch got sent home.

• Republican Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, was held to 50.4 percent in his last reelection bid, but Democrat Karen Felthauser didn't break 45 percent; 5.3 percent of voters went with Lillian Simmons, the Libertarian.

• Democrat Allen Vaught of Dallas beat Rep. Bill Keffer in '06, breaking into the majority by just 35 votes. Libertarian Chris Jones got 1,038 votes in that contest.

One theory both parties are testing this year starts with polls showing Republican voters becoming grouchy and apathetic. The GOP's favorability ratings, here and elsewhere, have slipped in the last several years and some voters still identify themselves as conservative but are less apt to say they're Republicans. That much is in the polls. This is the theory: A Republican in the voting booth who is not exciting about the GOP candidate still might not want to vote for a Democrat. The Libertarian candidate is a way to lodge a protest vote without backing a liberal.

The margin in the Texas House, assuming for now that two empty seats remain Republican, is 79 Republicans to 71 Democrats. Libertarians on the ballot aren't the only reason the numbers are so tight, but it's easy to see why Democrats want them in close contests and Republicans don't. It's as simple as winning and losing.

Visible and Invisible

Here's one for the political scientists and other mooks: former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia will be on the presidential ballot in Texas in November and the unaffiliated Ralph Nader won't be. Who'll get more votes — the lesser-known guy with his name on the page, or the better-known guy working in the dark?

Without being on the ballot, it's highly doubtful that Nader will have any juice in this year's elections, at least in Texas. Election folks with the Texas Secretary of State say only the Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians qualified for ballot listings in November. Nader can still get certified as a write-in candidate, which means only that they'll count his votes if he gets any (write-ins who don't get certified don't get their votes counted, which is why we'll never know how many people vote for Mickey Mouse every year).

Nader has been on the Texas ballot almost as much as the various George Bushes: As a Green Party candidate (with Winona LaDuke) in 2000 and as a write-in in 1996 and 2004 (LaDuke was his running mate in 1996; in 2004 it was Peter Miguel Camejo). His best showing was in 2000 — the only year he had a serious impact on a presidential race — when he got 137,994 votes in Texas. That's just 2.15 percent — not enough to move the earth here like he did in Florida that year. In his other two races in Texas, he was a little more than a rounding error, getting 4,810 votes in 1996 and 9,159 votes in 2004. In percentage terms, that's 0.08 percent and 0.12 percent, respectively. Not exactly brute force.

If the past three elections are a guide, Barr won't do much better. Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate for president in 1996 and in 2000, got 0.36 percent of the vote each time, pulling 20,256 votes in the first round and 23,160 in the second. Michael Bednarik of Austin, the Libertarian standard-bearer in 2004, got 38,767 votes, or 0.52 percent, in Texas. (Third place in 1996 didn't go to Nader or to Browne, but to Dallasite Ross Perot Sr., who ran his second national race as an independent and got 378,537 votes — 6.74 percent.)

Green Report

Texas candidates and political committees had $142.4 million in the bank at mid-year, with more than half — $85.6 million — in the hands of the 100 biggest campaign treasuries.

The money's concentrated at the top: 10 candidates and PACs have 26 percent of the total, and half of the money is held by 50 of them. That's from a total of 2,474 political organizations that reported mid-year numbers to the Texas Ethics Commission.

The top ten includes six candidates — Attorney General Greg Abbott, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, Gov. Rick Perry, Comptroller Susan Combs and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. They're among the 16 with at least $1 million on hand. Abbott, who tops the list, had $8 million in the bank at mid-year.

Texas Realtors had $10.5 million, split between two PACs. The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC and the Union Pacific Fund for Effective Government rounded out the top ten.

We got the numbers by combining two TEC reports: One listing mid-year cash on hand totals reported by candidates and campaigns and another listing cash on hand reported in July by political outfits that file monthly with the state. The top 50 are listed in the chart below; if you click on it, you'll download a .pdf file of the top 500.

What (Some) Bloggers Want

Make 'em laugh and nudge them to the polling place — that's how some Texas bloggers are approaching this election season. But they aren't necessarily trying to find converts to their causes.

Anyone who's cruised the blogs knows not all the writers are trying for the same goal. Some work to raise money for a cause or candidate. Some are issue-based, covering a specific topic such as the criminal justice system or the environment. Others have a particular political bent and try to engage readers in discussion.

Eileen Smith, Austin blogger with "In the Pink" and Texas Monthly's "Poll Dancing" says she fits into the last category. Her "Pink" blog is obviously left (if you've read the blog, you know she's a big fan of Hillary Clinton), but she said she's different from activist blogs she calls "screechy." Instead of preaching, she uses humor to get her readers thinking.

She said her blog is a valuable forum for readers to discuss issues. But she's not convinced she'll sway many undecided Texans to support Democrats this year.

"For all the talk about how mainstream media or the blogs influence the voters, I don't really know how true it is," she said. "People can find so much information, I think people just find the information they want and make up their own minds."

Besides, most people who visit particular blogs do it because they like the ideas the writers espouse.

"In my opinion it turns into this big echo chamber," she said. "So we're all supporting blank candidate, we think blank candidate is great, and everyone's like, I agree."

John Rost, an Arlington maintenance supervisor, said he sees some preaching-to-the-choir happening on conservative blogs this year, too. Rost runs the blog site "A Keyboard and a .45," which he started about year-and-a-half ago to talk about guns and politics. He supports candidates who support gun rights and individual rights, and most of the time he finds they are Republican.

In the coming months, he's not expecting to change voters' minds about who they support, but he is hoping to get Texas Republicans who are not excited about John McCain — he counts himself as one — to pay attention to down-ballot races.

He wants to make sure locals like Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington; and Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, aren't defeated because of low Republican turnout.

"I don't think I'm going to change Jane Fonda's mind and have her say, 'Oh I've been wrong all these years,'" Rost said. "All I'm trying to do is find some people who are sitting on the fence to actually go out and vote this year."

Conventional wisdom and some research shows Rost is in the minority in the blog world. About 47 percent of bloggers say they're to the left of political center, compared with 31 percent to the right, according to a 2006 study by the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University.

That imbalance was obvious last month when political bloggers came to Austin. The liberal Netroots Nation drew thousands to the convention center. The conservative answer, RightOnline, was a smaller, shorter affair in the Arboretum.

Houston Democratic state Rep. Senfronia Thompson was at the Netroots convention. She said half jokingly that she was there because she's "nosy." Also, she wanted to learn more about the blogger types and what they'll mean in elections.

She expects the bloggers could play a role in deciding some of the tighter Texas House races, although hers isn't one of them. (She has a Republican opponent, architect Michael Bunch, but she represents a solidly Democratic district.) Thompson said that, unlike daily newspapers, bloggers delve more deeply into issues and less into the who-dislikes-who campaign punches.

"I find that bloggers a lot of times don't slant their information too much. They just give it to you right off," she said.

—by Elizabeth Pierson Hernandez

While We Were Out

Wendy Davis remains on the ballot in a hotly contested race for state Senate in Fort Worth.

Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, has appealed that decision; he contends she's ineligible because her term on the city council overlapped with her candidacy.

The appeals track is slow, though, and time is short: Brimer didn't appeal directly to the Texas Supreme Court, but to the appellate court in Fort Worth. The last day the Texas Secretary of State will take a name off the ballot is August 22. And it's difficult to put a new name on the ballot after August 26, so if the idea is to knock her off and give Democrats time to replace her, somebody needs to step on it. Judges have been known to bow out of election decisions once those timers have run out; they're not fond of deciding elections with gavels instead of ballots.

• Brimer, meanwhile, will hold a funder/rally aimed at the gender thing. "Women leaders of Tarrant County salute state Sen. Kim Brimer" will be hosted by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and a dozen-and-a-half other elected officials. It's a luncheon, August 19.

• Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones is headlining a fundraiser for former Rep. Todd Hunter, the Republican challenging current Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi.

• Houston Republicans are holding a fundraiser next week featuring House Speaker Tom Craddick and "special guest" Karl Rove.

Chris Bell picked up an endorsement from West University Mayor Bob Kelly in his bid for state Senate. Kelly's in a non-partisan office, but he's a Republican. Bell's a Democrat. Another candidate in that race, Joan Huffman, fires back with endorsements from the mayors of Bellaire (Cindy Siegel) and Southside Place (Richard Rothfelder) and sprinkles that with three city council members from those bergs. That's the seat opened when Kyle Janek, R-Houston, resigned. She's also picking up an endorsement from the Texas Municipal Police Association.

• Texas won't get a waiver from federal grain fuels rules, a win for farmers that was blasted by Republican state officials. Gov. Rick Perry asked for a partial waiver from a federal policy encouraging grain production for ethanol and other fuels. He and others say the policy is reducing the food supply and resulting in higher prices from feed grain to grocery bills. Perry was joined by Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who both agree that the Environmental Protection Agency should have granted the waiver. But the Texas Farm Bureau applauded, as did the Texas Corn Producers Board, which contends there's no link between using corn for fuel and rising food prices, and argues that ethanol lowers gasoline prices by up to a dollar per gallon. People in the cattle business were on Perry's side. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association says the feds are putting food and fuel in competition with each other and called that "a dangerous gamble."

• Citigroup will unfreeze accounts and pay investors for misleading them about the safety and liquidity of auction rate securities. That started with an investigation by the Texas State Securities Board and counterparts in other states and the federal government. Citigroup agreed to settle up with customers who lost money because of its actions on the securities and to pay $100 million in fines to the states involved. Regulators say they're still investing ARS dealings by other firms.

• Boring government stuff that actually involves money: Texas' short-term notes got the highest available bond ratings from Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch's. That'll keep interest lower on money the state borrows to cover cash flow each autumn.

Political People and Their Moves

While we were on break, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Esperanza "Hope" Andrade of San Antonio Secretary of State. She's the first Hispanic woman to hold that post in Texas, and she's the sixth SOS since Perry became governor (the answer to that trivia question, in order: Henry Cuellar, Gwyn Shea, Geoff Connor, Roger Williams, Phil Wilson). Andrade had been on the Texas Transportation Commission, and served as interim chair for a time there.

State Rep. Dianne White Delisi is dropping that title early; she resigned five months early and plans to work out of the offices of Delisi Communications — her son Ted Delisi's firm. That'll add a special election to the regular election already in progress in HD-55. Gov. Rick Perry hasn't called it yet, but most political speculators think he'll put the special election on November 4 to coincide with the general election. The candidates in the general: Republican Ralph Sheffield, Democrat Sam Murphey, and Libertarian Chris Lane.

Perry promoted Cathleen Parsley to chief administrative law judge at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. She's been general counsel there, and replaces Shelia Bailey Taylor, who retired.

Austin-based Biophysical Corp. hired former Sen. Kyle Janek, an anesthesiologist, as veep of business development.

Julie Caruthers Parsley is leaving the Public Utility Commission early next month after six years in that post. She's an attorney and before taking this job was the state's Solicitor General.

After 18 months working for Comptroller Susan Combs, Pete Slover is hopping to another frying pan. He'll join the Pedernales Electric Cooperative as "governance counsel" later this month, working on the utility's ethics and governance policies. Slover, a former reporter, was special counsel to the comptroller and more recently, head of the criminal investigation division there.

Rebecca Young is the new government affairs manager at the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas. She'd been at the Texas Education and had a variety of jobs at the Capitol before that.

Homero Lucero is leaving the Farm Credit Bank of Texas to head regulatory, legislative and external affairs for Embarq, the local phone company spinning off the Sprint-Nextel merger.

Brad Shields II is leaving the Texas Retailers Association to join the family outfit; he'll be with Shields Legislative Associates specializing in business taxes, telecom and retail regulations.

Terri Sprouse, who's been a public finance lawyer with the attorney general's office, is joining the Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta law firm to do similar work for their clients.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst put Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, on the Senate Finance Committee, filling the chair left empty when Kyle Janek, R-Houston, resigned a couple of months ago.

House Speaker Tom Craddick elevated Rep. Jodi Laubenberg, R-Parker, to chair the House Public Health Committee, a job opened when Delisi resigned (see above). Laubenberg had been vice chair.

Deaths: Former U.S. Ambassador Anne Armstrong, a Republican powerhouse, county commissioner and South Texas rancher, after a bout with cancer. She was 80...

Lobbyist, parliamentary wizard, political consultant, blogger, and former reporter Jim Warren, of complications from liver disease. He was 42. Services are tentatively set for Monday in Huntsville.

Quotes of the Week

Former Rep. Suzanna Hupp, telling the Austin American-Statesman why she's urging Libertarians to get out of competitive House races: "The fact is, we've got redistricting coming up in a few years, and if the Republicans lose the House of Representatives because there are a handful of people mad at them and vote for the Libertarians instead, then we could be in big trouble at the federal level."

Wes Benedict, the Texas Libertarian Party's executive director, from a press release that revealed the GOP effort: "We're telling our candidates to stand firm... It's no skin off my nose if Republicans lose."

T.J. Bonner with the union for Border Patrol agents, quoted by the Associated Press on how agents are assigned: "In many cases, they’re very political. Congress giveth and taketh away, so you can’t just thumb your nose at Congress and say, 'We’re going to make these decisions based only on our enforcement needs.’

Mexia printer Dickie Flatt, in a letter to the editors of the Wall Street Journal, vouching for an old pal: "It didn't take long to discover that if Phil Gramm tells you a chicken dips snuff, you can look under its wing and find a can."

Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 30, 11 August 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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