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A Different View of the Primaries

In seven of the state's 31 Senate districts, more people voted in this year's Democratic primary than voted in the 2006 general election.

In seven of the state's 31 Senate districts, more people voted in this year's Democratic primary than voted in the 2006 general election.

Another way to put it: This year's Democratic primary outdrew the most recent contest for governor of Texas in seven of the state's Senate districts.

The overall numbers have been known since March, when the primaries were held. But it takes a while for the state's number-crunchers to produce district-by-district numbers. Now that they're available, those figures reveal details that weren't apparent after the first round.

In five of those seven districts, Hillary Clinton smothered Barack Obama with between 64 and 70 percent of the vote. (Statewide, she got 50.9 percent of the popular vote to his 47.3 percent.) All but one of those districts elect Hispanics to the state Senate: Mario Gallegos of Houston, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen, Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso. Obama won in the two districts dominated by African American voters, getting about 73 percent of the vote there. The senators from those two districts, Rodney Ellis of Houston and Royce West of Dallas, are the only two Blacks in the state Senate.

Obama's election map looks better when you look at Senate districts than when you look at counties. Clinton won the state overall, defeating him in 230 of the state's 254 counties. But he won 13 of the state's 31 Senate districts (U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega, for comparison, was getting 51 percent of the state vote while winning 18 Senate districts).

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee beat John McCain in four districts, while McCain was getting 51.9 percent of the statewide GOP vote and Huckabee was getting 38.3 percent. Huckabee's four wins came in Senate districts held by Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, Brimer, R-Fort Worth, and West, D-Dallas. But the former Arkansas governor's margins in those districts were thin, and he didn't break 50 percent in any of the state's 31 Senate districts. Huckabee won in 50 counties in the primary — getting bigger numbers in the counties close to his native Arkansas.

Republican primary turnout fell short of the 2006 general election in all 31 Senate districts. And the Republicans outvoted the Democrats in only two Senate districts in the primaries (both held now by Republicans: Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay and Kel Seliger of Amarillo).

If you add the votes from the two primaries, turnout in March outdid the 2006 governor's race in ten Senate districts — each of which is currently represented by a Democrat.

Three Senate seats are on everyone's list of hot races, all three held by Republicans. Two of those were Obama country in the primary; he won the majority in Kim Brimer's Fort Worth district and in Kyle Janek's Houston district. Clinton won, narrowly in Mike Jackson's La Porte district on the coast.

The primaries aren't directly comparable, since the Republican contest was all but over and the Democrats were pitching cannonballs at each other. But out of curiosity, we compared McCain's numbers with those of the two Democrats whose fight drove the turnout. McCain got more raw votes in the Republican primary than Obama got in the Democratic primary in six Senate districts. The Republican got more votes than Clinton in two. In all of those cases, the districts in question are currently held by Republican senators.

What It Didn't Cost You

Property tax relief might not have put cash in your pocket, but without it, you'd have spent more money, according to a business group that studies tax issues.

The school property tax cut that legislators paired with increased business taxes lowered taxes for some, but not for everyone. What it did do, according to the Austin-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, was a combination of actual cuts and property taxes that would lower than they would have been otherwise.

Taxpayers might feel they were promised a pony, only to get a puppy instead. The message here: Count your blessings — it could've been a stuffed animal.

The $7 billion in tax relief, by their calculations, includes $2.3 billion in tax cuts and $4.7 billion in taxes that would have been owed without the swap. And their estimate is that the average Texan's total property tax bill — including school and other property taxes — would have been 20 percent higher without the Legislature's 2006 changes.

That's the amount those taxes would have gone up without the state-ordered cuts, according to TTARA. They built a spreadsheet you can use to look at property taxes in particular districts.

A couple of examples:

The owner of a $200,000 property in the Dallas ISD, according to TTARA's calculator, "saved" $920 in 2007 school taxes — the difference between the actual $1.20 tax rate and the $1.66 that would have been the tax rate without the Legislature's swap. That property owner would have spent $3,319 in taxes instead of $2,399.

The Houston numbers are similar for a property worth that much; TTARA says the taxes foregone amounted to $987.

In their write-up on the tax bills, TTARA noted a couple of reasons Texans didn't get the property tax cuts they were expecting. School property taxes only account for half of the average tax bill (the rest is for counties, cities, hospital districts and the like). And the property tax for business tax swap didn't include appraisal reforms that might have leashed the other big variable in property tax bills: The values of the properties being taxed. That's something lawmakers are working on now in anticipation of next January's regular legislative session.

Small businesses didn't get any break at all, according to the trade group NFIB/Texas. They didn't do a study, but say members they've polled are paying higher taxes on the business end and didn't get enough break on their property taxes to offset that new tax. Only 1.3 percent, according to that group, said they came out ahead.

Still Red

Texans aren't happy with the direction of the country or the economy, but remain conservative and favor Republicans over Democrats in both the presidential and U.S. Senate contests.

Those findings are from a poll conducted by the government department and the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. Poll Co-Director James Henson (with UT prof Daron Shaw) posted the findings — with all of the internal numbers and crosstabs and such — on UT's Texas Politics website if you want details. Some highlights:

• Two-thirds of Texans think the country is on the wrong track. They rated the economy the top issue facing both the country and the state — ahead of gas prices and energy. A huge majority — 81% — said the country is in worse economic shape than a year ago and 48 percent said they were personally less well off than a year ago.

• They favor John McCain over Barack Obama by 10 percentage points in the presidential contest, and John Cornyn over Rick Noriega by 13 percentage points in the race for U.S. Senate.

• In spite of those splits on the races, and their answers to issue questions, slightly more of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats: 23% as "strong Democrat," 12% as "not very strong Democrat," 18% as "strong Republican," and 12% as "not very strong Republican." Asked a different question about their views, 39% IDed themselves as conservatives, 41% as moderates, and 20% as liberals.

• U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick — as well as McCain and Obama — all outdid President George W. Bush when people were asked how they feel about various politicos. (Dewhurst and Craddick weren't as well known as the others, but their positive-negative ratings were relatively high.)

• Texans are split on public education — about as many give it good ratings as give it bad ones. Call it a C. Asked about improving education, Texans favor more accountability for educators over more spending on education.

• Almost three-quarters think funding for higher education should be increased to make it more affordable for students.

• They overwhelming support (70%) photo ID cards for voters.

• Texans strongly support the death penalty.

• More than half think it's unlikely that Iraq will be able to establish a stable, Democratic government. And they think the U.S. should withdraw, with 27% favoring immediate withdrawal and 38% saying the U.S. should begin a gradual withdrawal.

• They're split on illegal immigration. Asked what should happen to illegal immigrants who've lived and worked in the U.S. for two years, 49% said they should be allowed to stay and apply for legal status. But 46% said they should be deported to their native country.

• More than half think the state government works best when the governor and the Legislature are controlled by the same party, but they're split when asked which party they prefer.

• More than half — 51% — say they can trust state government to do the right thing "only some of the time."

• A slight majority — 52% — opposes abortion, with 35% saying it should only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother, and 17% saying it should never be legal.

• They're split on whether transportation is best handled by the government or by the private sector.

• Almost half say an independent commission should handle redistricting, but a large number — 35% — have no opinion about it.

This is the first in what the pollsters hope (these things cost money, you see) will be an ongoing series of quarterly polls. The survey, conducted online, included 800 Texas adults. The margin of error is +/- 3.4%. And questions asked of the 667 registered voters in the survey group, the margin of error was +/- 3.7%.

Bank Shot

Texas Republicans are trying to hit local Democrats with ricochets from the John Edwards scandal.

Edwards admitted conducting and then lying about an extra-marital affair during his presidential campaign. In the wake of that announcement, his campaign finance chairman, Dallas attorney Fred Baron, told The Dallas Morning News that he paid to move the woman, Rielle Hunter, and Andrew Young, another Edwards staffer who says he fathered a child with Hunter, to help them escape media scrutiny and pressure. Edwards and Baron have both said Baron did that without talking to the candidate.

The Texas angle?

Baron and his wife, Lisa Blue, jump-started Democratic political funding in Texas four years ago and are among the party's most generous donors. And in Texas, Republicans pounced on the Edwards/Baron news to try to poison Democratic causes and candidates they've helped fund.

Few were direct contributions; the attacks from GOP candidates are of the "Baron gave to a group who gave to a candidate" variety. And so far, no Democratic candidates have felt the need to run from the money. Hector Nieto, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, dismisses the whole line of attack, saying all Baron did was "help a friend (Hunter) who was being hounded by the press and others." He violated no laws, Nieto says, and there's no reason for anyone to return any money.

Baron and Blue have contributed $713,446 to political committees this year. In 2007, their total state political contributions, according to the Texas Ethics Commission, were $999,078. They gave $1,778,620 in 2006, and $332,201 in 2005. That's $3,823,345 over the last four years. Most went to Democrats, though the couple supported Republican-turned-independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn before switching to Democrat Chris Bell in the last gubernatorial race.

The lion's share of that money — $3,465,701 — went to the Texas Democratic Trust, which in turn pays a phalanx of Democratic consultants, gives the Texas Democratic Party around $50,000 monthly, supports a research group called the Texas Progress Council, and contributes to the House Democratic Campaign Committee. Baron and Blue also gave $55,000 to Annie's List, a PAC that supports pro-choice women running for statehouse spots, $40,000 to the Texas Values in Action Coalition, and $20,000 to the Texas Democratic Party.

Few of their contributions went directly to Democrats on this year's list of Republican statehouse targets. Two exceptions: Joe Jaworski, challenging Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, got $2,500 (and has now given it back; details here — WHOOPS, now he says he didn't), and Carol Kent, challenging Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, got $10,000.

The Republicans have fired at two candidates (that we're aware of) so far: Hubert Vo, D-Houston, who's being challenged by Republican Greg Meyers, and Diana Maldonado of Round Rock, who's running for an open seat currently held by a Republican. Both got money from groups that got money, indirectly, from Baron and other Democratic financiers.

Political Notes

Gov. Rick Perry will be in Big Spring next week toasting a restoration of the Settles Hotel, a historic structure owned and fixed up by G. Brint Ryan. The political trick here is that Ryan, founder of a Dallas-based tax-consulting firm, was a major supporter of Carole Keeton Strayhorn's challenge to Perry in the 2006 governor's race. He was also Democrat John Sharp's boss, both before and after Perry and Sharp ended their long political feud.

• You might remember the "Forgotten Children" report issued by then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn in 2004, detailing abuses at facilities for troubled kids. The owner of one such facility — the Woodside Trails Therapeutic Camp in Bastrop County — sued and won $300,000 from the state for errors it made in the report and in closing her facility. Betty Lou Grimes beat the state in court, though Strayhorn had long since been dropped from the lawsuit. The report and a follow-up to it are still available online at the state comptroller's website. It includes allegations of abuse from a child at the camp who recanted before the report was released.

• Republican Joan Huffman's latest list of endorsees includes three state representatives: Mike Hamilton of Mauriceville, Wayne Smith of Baytown, and Beverly Woolley of Houston. Huffman's one of four candidates (including three Republicans) running for Kyle Janek's former seat in the state Senate.

A couple of snarly emails wound through that campaign this week. Conservative activist Steven Hotze sent an email attempting to associate Huffman with "gambling, liquor, and nightclub" interests, and promoting the candidacy of Austen Furse. He pulled out contributions from Huffman's husband, Ken Lawyer, to Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and ended with a swipe at state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. Hotze said Bonnen's sponsoring a funder for Huffman "to raise money from the Austin liquor, gambling and union lobbyists."

Bonnen shot back, calling Hotze a surrogate for Furse. He noted contributions from Furse's wife to Democrat Barack Obama and her votes in past Democratic primaries. He wrote that Huffman is "unequivocally opposed to gambling" and won't vote for it as a senator. And he noted contributions to Furse from the Texas Lobby Group, which has gambling promoters on its client list.

Both writers accused the other campaign of making things easier for Chris Bell, the only Democrat in the race.

• The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has recently been giving good marks to U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, is against him in the election. That group endorsed Republican Pete Olson in the CD-22 race.

• U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will headline a fundraiser for Texas House candidate Ralph Sheffield. Keep your eyes peeled: This is one way to build support for a state race, if she's serious about running for governor in 2010. Sheffield is running against Democrat Sam Murphey in HD-55. That election's a two-fer: Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, resigned early. And Gov. Rick Perry put the special election on the same day as the general election.

• NFIB/Texas let one of their endorsements out of the bag: They like Republican Greg Meyers over Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, in HD-149. They plan to announce more endorsements in the next few weeks.

• The El Paso pitch to Democrats, short form: Vote a straight ticket. Two-thirds of the straight-ticket voting there in 2004 was Democratic, according to Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso. And they're trying to increase the number of voters from 174,000 to 200,000. That riff accompanied a trip to El Paso by Juan Sepulveda, Obama's Texas director.

Political People and Their Moves

Catching up on Gov. Rick Perry's appointments:

There's a twist to the appointment of Andres Alcantar to the Texas Workforce Commission. Alcantar will be the "public" representative, and TWC Chairman Tom Pauken will serve as the employer representative on that board. Alcantar worked in the governor's budget, policy and planning commission before taking this job.

Victor Kilman to the Texas Council on Purchasing from People with Disabilities. He's the director of purchasing and contract management for the City of Lubbock.

• Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch will get another term on the Judicial Districts Board that redraws those political territories.

• A dozen names for the Texas Health Services Authority: Manfred Sternberg, founder of Bluegate Corp. in Houston, will chair that board, joined by Alesha Adamson, head of health informatics integration at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, Fred Buckwold, medical director of Unicare in Houston, Raymond Davis, who works for Perot Systems in El Paso, Austin surgeon David Fleeger, Matthew Hamlin of Argyle, a regional veep with Quest Dynamics, Edward Mark, CIO at Texas Health Resources in Euless, Kathleen Mechler of Fredericksburg, COO of Texas A&M Health Science Center Rural and Community Health Institute, Darren Rodgers of Dallas, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Stephen Yurco, a partner at Clinical Pathology Associates in Austin, Dee Porter, COO at the Texas Department of State Health Services, and Luanne Southern, deputy commissioner at that agency.

J. Michael Bell of Fredericksburg and Patsy Nichols of Austin got new terms at the Texas Growth Fund. He's a venture capitalist. She's an attorney with Fulbright and Jaworski.

• Three attorneys — Peter Munson of Pottsboro, Rodney Satterwhite of Midland and Karen Roberts Washington of Dallas — to the Commission on Uniform State Laws.

Mark Jones, president of First State Bank in Brady, and Thomas Kelsey, a Houston attorney, to the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Council.

Zoe Milian Barinaga, a chemical engineer with ExxonMobil Chemical Co. in Houston, and Randy Jarrell, an insurance agent from Crystal Beach to the Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority Board.

• Add six to the Trinity River Authority's board, including Jess Laird, president of First State Bank in Athens, Nancy Lavinski, a retired teacher from Palestine, David Leonard, co-owner of Liberty Dayton Chrysler, Barbara Nash, an Arlington real estate investor, Jim Neale, president of Quorum Energy Co. in Dallas, and Carol Spillars of Madisonville, file manager at Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson.

Vandy Anderson and Sally Prill, both of Galveston, to the Board of Pilot Commissioners for Galveston County. Anderson is a part-time captain at the Texas Seaport Museum and a former radio station owner. Prill is retired from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

• To the Texas Medical Board's district review committees (they make recommendations on investigations of doctors and other health professionals): David Baucom, a Sulphur Springs insurance agent, Carlos Gallardo, manager of recruitment and selection at Texas Woman's University, Hari Roddy, a Fairview doctor, and Melissa Tonn, a Dallas doctor. A second district panel also gets new members, including Noe Fernandez, president of Dos Rios Textiles Corp. in McAllen, Chevy Lee, a McAllen ophthalmologist, Richard Newman, a San Antonio surgical oncologist, and Russell Parker, an Austin land developer.

• At the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners, Timothy Brown of Bryan will be the new presiding officer, joined by Gandace Guillen of La Feria and Nary Spears of Houston. All three are social workers.

Quotes of the Week

Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, in an interview with ABC News about an extra-marital affair during his campaign: "In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat me up, feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare."

Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist, quoted in the Washington Post about plans of liberal counterpart Tom Matzzie with "Accountable America" to intimidate donors to conservative causes and campaigns: "They're not going to be intimidated by some pipsqueak on the kooky left."

GOP consultant John Weaver, assessing his party's chances in an interview with Texas Monthly: We're sailing into a hurricane in a wooden boat."

Martine Apodaca, spokeswoman for U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega, after her boss was temporary knocked out of commission for work on an abscessed tooth: "It's not so much that he's incapacitated as it is he's incomprehensible."

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, telling the Pampa News he expects the Legislature to look again at eminent domain legislation vetoed last year by Gov. Rick Perry: "I voted for it last time, so I guess I'll vote for it again. I guess this governor won't last forever."

Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 31, 18 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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