Kyle Janek isn't in a political race this year, but his money will be. The Houston Republican resigned from the state Senate in mid-term and the special election to replace him is underway.
At mid-year, Janek closed his political accounts, spent some of the $510,957 on charitable and political contributions, political work, bonuses for employees and a last, large payment to his political consultant, Blakemore and Associates. Then he sent the $302,334 balance to a political action committee set up to keep the Senate seat in Republican hands.
The reports for both committees included statements that he's shutting things down. Janek has moved to Austin and signed on with a biomedical testing firm.
The mid-year report for the "Best for Texas PAC" recorded that contribution and five small expenditures for "political promotion: sponsorship." One, to Victoria Ellis of Houston, was for $25. The other four were for $5 each, and included separate payments to Mark and Stacey Clark of Houston, and to Joan Huffman and Keith Lawyer, also of Houston. All five were among the donors who started the PAC last October with token contributions, and each was refunded what they gave.
The main point of interest there is Huffman, one of several candidates vying to replace Janek in the state Senate; Lawyer is her husband. The Clarks are both listed among the sponsors of a Huffman fundraiser coming up early next month. Janek has been supporting another Republican, squiring Austen Furse through introductions to potential supporters and donors in both Houston and Austin.
And it looks like Furse will be the beneficiary of the Best for Texas PAC.
"I made the decision that I didn't want to hold onto the money. That money was given to me to campaign, but I'm through campaigning," Janek said. "I wanted to make sure the district stays in good hands. I suspect they'll use it to help Austen, but I have nothing to do with it."
The new PAC has the same Houston address and phone number that was listed on Janek's campaign accounts. The treasurer, replacing his father, Eddie Janek, is Joe Slovacek, a Houston attorney. The address and contact numbers listed on reports for the PAC and for the campaign match the contact information for Blakemore & Associates, the Houston political consulting firm that has worked for Janek in the past and is working for Furse in this year's special election.
A spokesman for Huffman says she and Lawyer didn't get an explanation for why they got their $10 investment in Best for Texas returned. Chances are they'd have eventually demanded it: Allen Blakemore says Slovacek, the treasurer of the PAC, is a Furse supporter. He notes Janek's support for Furse. And he says the committee's money "may well be spent in a way not supportive of Huffman."
The committee hasn't spent any money so far and Blakemore said he doesn't know whether it will donate to Furse, spend its money on his behalf, or what.
Another curiosity from Janek's last reports: He spent $27,170 on "research" from an Austin-based polling firm, Baselice & Associates. Put that on the calendar: Janek announced his resignation at the end of January, but paid for the polling on March 10. Opponents are wondering if that went to Furse's benefit, but Blakemore says Janek "wanted to get an eye on the landscape of the district and be apprised of what was likely to happen as he left."
Janek also gave $25,000 to the Twenty One PAC, set up to make sure Republicans hold at least 21 seats in the Texas Senate — the number it takes to control the agenda. It reported contributions to Sens. Chris Harris of Arlington, $25,000, Kim Brimer of Fort Worth, $100,000, John Carona of Dallas, $25,000, and Mike Jackson of La Porte, $100,000. Raise your hand if you think you know the address and phone number for that one. Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, is listed as the treasurer, but the address and phone are for Blakemore's office in Houston.
The race to replace Janek isn't limited to Furse and Huffman. Republican Grant Harpold is in, too, as is Democrat Chris Bell. Several of the Republicans we talked to while working on this think the infighting about their candidates will benefit Bell, the only Democrat in the race. Something like that happened in Fort Worth last year, when several GOP candidates in a special election for an open House seat cut each other up and lost the runoff in what looked like a Republican district to Democrat Dan Barrett.
Down to the Wire
Sen. Kim Brimer went to the Texas Supreme Court Monday to try to knock his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, off the November ballot. On Tuesday, they turned him down.
That leaves the legal fight in Fort Worth's 2nd Court of Appeals, which has set a schedule that'll quickly make election law specialists of the consultants on both sides. A state district court ruled earlier this summer that Davis is legally on the ballot. Brimer is arguing that she wasn't off the Fort Worth City Council in time to qualify as a candidate for Senate.
Briefs were due on Thursday, as this newsletter's deadline approached. Friday, 22 August, is the last day the Texas Secretary of State can remove someone from the ballot. Next Tuesday is the last day (with some technical exceptions) that someone can be added to the ballot. That appeals court hasn't set a hearing date.
But the deadlines could leave that court with the job of deciding whether she's eligible after the law has made it possible to take her off the ballot or to replace her with another Democratic candidate. The Supremes could still be involved later, if either side appeals whatever ruling comes from the appeals court in Fort Worth.
If the court were to declare Davis ineligible after Friday, her name would still appear on the ballot. And if they were to wait until say, a week from Wednesday, Tarrant County Democrats would find it difficult, if not impossible, to put up another candidate for the November election.
Two new bits of paperwork have been added to the pile in that case. Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, was party to the lawsuit that threw the eligibility laws into a new gray area. In an amicus brief filed this week, he said the courts need to clear up confusion over when someone is deemed to be holding an office that prevents them from seeking another. In his case, he'd given up his position and someone else was serving by the time he sought another office. In this case, Davis was (arguably) a candidate for Senate before she'd been replaced. Another "friend of the court" brief, from Fort Worth Councilman Chuck Silcox, argues that Davis' replacement wasn't sworn in before she became a candidate. He was sworn in twice — the question is whether the earlier one counted and whether, in the eyes of the courts, it makes a difference.
"An Insane System"
A federal judge stayed the execution of Jeffrey Lee Wood, saying Wood deserves legal help and time to show whether he is sufficiently mentally competent to be executed.
Wood was convicted under the state's "law of parties" for participating in a robbery and killing even though someone else did the killing. His requests for legal help were refused in the trial court, and that refusal was the basis for U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio to stay the execution and appoint a lawyer and a mental health expert to assist Wood in his appeal.
The judge said the evidence falls short of proving Wood is mentally incompetent, but said the state's system for letting him prove it is out of whack, because it requires him to do alone what lawyers are highly trained to do. "With all due respect, a system which requires an insane person to first make 'a substantial showing' of his own lack of mental capacity without the assistance of counsel or a mental health expert, in order to obtain such assistance is, by definition, an insane system."
State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, flew too close to the bug zapper with a mailing inviting folks to a fundraiser featuring Republican U.S. Reps. Joe Barton of Ennis and Kay Granger of Fort Worth among the "honorary hosts."
The September 9 fundraiser at Fort Worth's City Club also features House Speaker Tom Craddick as "special guest" and Attorney General Greg Abbott and Sens. Kim Brimer and Jane Nelson as honorary hosts. The invite asks supporters to sign on as hosts for the luncheon at the $1,000, $2,500, or $5,000 level.
If you're a campaign finance lawyer or a political nerd, you'll find the same violation in the previous paragraph that the Democrats at the Lone Star Project found: Federal officeholders solicit more money — even for an unregulated state candidate — than they're allowed to collect for their own campaigns. And for members of Congress like Barton and Granger, that's $2,300 per person.
That group — which supports Democrat Chris Turner in that House race — says Zedler should cancel the event. Jeff Fisher, the former Republican Party of Texas executive director who is now running Zedler's campaign, says it was "a layout mistake" in the mailer sent to supporters. Fisher says only 51 were sent. He says Barton and Granger should've been listed as guests. Asked whether he plans another mailing correcting the first one, he sighed. "I don't think sending a correction fixes it, necessarily."
The state agency that regulates homebuilders should be abolished, according to the staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission, which says the Texas Residential Construction Commission's regulatory structure is worse than no regulation at all.
The TRCC "was never meant to be a true regulatory agency with a clear mission of protecting the public," the staff report says (here's a link to the full report). "... Current regulation of the residential construction industry is fundamentally flawed and does more harm than good."
That got a quick and negative response from Duane Waddill, the executive director of the agency, who said it would leave the state's homebuilding industry unregulated.
Builders want to keep it, too, according to their trade group. The Texas Association of Builders called the recommendation "short-sighted." But Texas Watch, a longtime critic, applauded the idea of killing TRCC.
The Sunset panel periodically reviews most state agencies, but those reviews rarely recommend — or result in — abolition of the agencies in question.
That's the first recommendation for TRCC. The report — not yet made public — says that would result in the layoffs of 80 state employees. It would also cost about $300,000 annually. That's the amount by which fees charged to builders outpaces the costs of running the regulatory agency.
The report is critical of the agency's regulatory setup, which requires homeowners to navigate through its procedures before going to court to sue a builder. "No other regulatory agency has a program with such a potentially devastating effect on consumers' ability to seek their own remedies," the report says. "... Sunset staff did not trust that the commitment exists to establish the true regulation needed for the protection of the public."
The full commission will take its first public look at the report next month, and is slated to make its official recommendations on TRCC at its December meeting. TRCC's commissioners will meet in early September to talk about an official response.
Their first response? Sunset has a bad idea.
"The Texas Residential Construction Commission ardently disagrees with the Sunset Commission staff recommendation to abolish the agency," Waddill said via press release. "Accepting Sunsets staff recommendation would free nearly 28,000 builders from regulatory oversight. Nearly 600,000 homes have been registered since the commissions inception. Those Texas families will be left to fend for themselves if an issue arises with their home.
"The commission has stripped or denied the right to operate from nearly 500 builders/remodelers in the state. Repealing this legislation would turn back the clock and allow these builders to return and compete in the receding housing market. With the downturn of the market and the ongoing crisis among lending institutions, eroding consumer confidence in the housing industry by deregulating the building industry could be strike three to a fragile economy."
Texas Watch, a longtime critic of the agency, hailed the Sunset report and said TRCC should be replaced with something that regulates builders instead of regulating homeowners. "Lawmakers should replace the feckless TRCC with real reforms that ensure builder accountability, quality building standards, and true oversight and regulation of the homebuilding industry," said Alex Winslow, that group's executive director.
Joe Jaworski got a $2,500 contribution from Dallas lawyer Fred Baron last year, and we reported it last week. Before the pixels were cool, one of his campaign consultants called to tell us the candidate had given a check in that amount to cancer research at the University of Texas Medical Center in Galveston as soon as he could after learning about Baron's role in the John Edwards mess. (Baron was Edwards national finance chairman and has said he paid to move the woman with whom Edwards had an affair to help her avoid hectoring from the press and others.)
Looked like Jaworski was the only Democrat in Texas running from the money.
But Jaworski got on the blower a few hours later to say the gift to UTMB wasn't related to the donation from Baron. He says now that his campaign isn't worried about funds received the Dallas lawyer, isn't returning it or donating the money, and that the campaign consultant who called on Jaworski's behalf got it wrong when telling us about it.
So the check that he wrote for cancer research at the University of Texas Medical Branch has nothing to do with the check he received for the same amount from Baron, Jaworski says, and he's got no problem taking the Dallas attorney's money.
"I was happy to take his money in 2007 and I daresay I spent it fairly quickly," Jaworski says. "I would accept it again. Fred Baron is a good Democrat and his heart is in the right place."
Jaworski, who's running for the Texas Senate, is one of a handful of legislative candidates who received direct contributions from Baron in this campaign cycle; most of Baron's donations go to Democratic groups and political action committees.
Republicans have started pushing Democratic candidates to disavow the money now that Baron has been tied to Edwards' problems. Jaworski says he's not going to do that.
We mentioned Jaworski and Carol Kent of Dallas last week as a couple of legislative Democratic candidates who got money directly from Baron in this election cycle. We left out a few state candidates with competition, to wit: Jim Jordan, challenging Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, $5,000; Emil Reichstadt, who's running against Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, $2,500; Chris Turner, challenging Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, $5,000; and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who's trying to fend off Republican Louis Bruni Jr., $2,500. Out of harm's way, at least in November, but on Baron's list: Reps. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, $2,500; Jim Dunnam of Waco, $2,500; and Richard Raymond of Laredo, $5,000; and Sen. Royce West of Dallas, $5,000.
Highways, Constitutions and Trips Behind Enemy Lines
State government's top three officials say they'll work to take state police funding out of the gasoline tax account that's also used to pay for highways and other roads, that they'll create a transportation finance operation allowing state investment funds to help finance highways, and that they'll put highway bonds approved by voters into the state budget. That's all in a letter to the Transportation Commission, and it includes instructions to get ready to sell $1.5 billion in bonds also approved by voters to get some money into the highway pipeline. The signatures at the bottom of that letter belong to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick.
A legislative proposal to limit increases in property taxes has a flaw: It's unconstitutional. Sen. Dan Patrick and Rep. Dwayne Bohac, both Houston Republicans, say the state could effectively halve annual property tax increases by simply appraising properties biennially instead of annually. The thinking? The state limits increases in taxable property value to 10 percent from one appraisal to the next. If those appraisals were done every two years instead of every year, it would take two years for a property to increase — for tax purposes — by 10 percent.
Credit the catch to former state district Judge F. Scott McCown, who now heads the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. The state constitution, he points out, limits the property tax increases to 10 percent "of the appraised value of the residential homestead for the preceding tax year." To change it, the Lege would have to change the constitution. That requires a two-thirds vote in each House, and there weren't enough votes in 2007 to make a similar change by amending the constitution to limit increases to something less than 10 percent.
Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams is going to the other political party's convention. Williams, a Republican, will be in Denver to talk about energy issues, among other things.
Sick of Boots?
Only three-and-a-half times since 1960 has the national ticket for federal office not included a Texan as either the presidential or vice presidential candidate.
Chances seem slim that a Texan will make the list this year. Only a couple of Texans have won mentions this year, including U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison as a potential Republican veep candidate, and U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco, as a maybe on the Democratic side.
So there could be a breather for Texas (from Texas?) for the first time in almost 30 years. And like the last time the state saw a drought on the national ticket, this one would follow a Texan's term as president.
Nobody from here made the major party tickets in 1968, 1972, or 1976, the three elections that followed Lyndon Johnson's term. Johnson was on the ballot in 1960 and then in 1964. Since that break, it's been Bush country, with George H.W. Bush on the ballot in 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992 and George W. Bush on the ticket in 2000 and 2004. We're not even counting Vice President Dick Cheney, though he was living in Dallas when he got on the ticket as a candidate from Wyoming. U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen was the Democratic veep candidate in 1988, and Ross Perot was, in 1992 and 1996, a high-profile third party candidate.
Political People and Their Moves
With two open positions on the powerful Public Utility Commission, Gov. Rick Perry raided his own staff. He appointed Ken Anderson Jr. — his former appointments secretary — and Donna Nelson — one of his policy advisors — to that three-person regulatory panel. Anderson is an attorney and recently left the governor's office to return to private practice (the PUC is a full-time gig). And Nelson was the Guv's special assistant and advisor on energy, telecommunications and cable issues. She worked at the PUC before that, as director of the telecommunications section and she's a former assistant Texas attorney general. They'll replace Julie Parsley and Paul Hudson, who are both resigning from that panel.
Texas state police Major Stan Clark of Garland will take over as interim head of the Department of Public Safety. He'll hold the post while the board decides on a permanent replacement for Col. Tommy Davis, who resigned.
Mark Miner, formerly the press guy for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is moving from his present gig in the private sector to be communications director for Gov. Rick Perry, starting Monday. Allison Castle will be press secretary (she's been in the press office there for some time). That takes care of both of Robert Black's titles; he's leaving Perry's shop for the private sector. One more: Krista Piferrer is leaving to handle media for Baptist Child & Family Services in San Antonio. Katherine Cessinger returns as deputy press secretary in her place.
Wallace Jefferson, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, is on track to become president of the Conference of Chief Justices, which represents top judges in the top courts all over the country. He's first vice president this year and slated to be president-elect and then president after that.
In the works: John Sneed, who worked for Dewhurst at both the General Land Office and through his time (so far) as Lite Guv, will be leaving soon to take over at the State Preservation Board. Gaye Polan is retiring from that post. Sneed is Dewhurst's director of intergovernmental relations.
Phil Fountain, late of Rep. Dianne White Delisi's staff (because she resigned early), is joining the Senate Health and Human Services Committee as a policy analyst to Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville. But that new gig will wait until later this year. He's in the Texas Air National Guard and is up for a brief deployment to Iraq starting next month.
Name-calling: It's now called the Anita Thigpen Perry School of Nursing at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, after the First Lady. She took some classes at Tech, but got her undergrad degree at what was then West Texas State University and her nursing degree at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Perry appointed James Matz of Harlingen and Bob McCan of Victoria to the Coastal Coordination Council. Matz, a property manager, is a former county commissioner and mayor. McCan is general manager of McFaddin Enterprises.
House Speaker Tom Craddick named Sarana Savage of Midland to the Health Disparities Task Force, replacing Dr. Hilton Perez, who quit. Savage is a former teacher and state health worker; she's now president of the Midland Community Healthcare Services board.
Quotes of the Week
Dallas lawyer Fred Baron, asked by The New York Times about whether he lent money to either the woman who had an affair with John Edwards or the former Edwards employee said to have fathered her child: "I have a brief recollection of giving someone some cash. My assumption is I loaned some small amount of money to the both of them."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, asked about his personal wealth by the Associated Press: "We're not going there. Do I look stupid today? In Texas, we have a long tradition of not talking about the number of cattle you own or your net worth."
Gov. Rick Perry, telling reporters he's not opposed to teachers and staffers carrying guns at schools: "I'm pretty much a fan that if you've been trained and you are registered, then you should be able to carry a weapon. Matter of fact, there's a lot of instances that would have saved a lot of lives."
Texas Ethics Commissioner Ross Fischer, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on a proposal to require politicians to pay campaign finance fines with personal funds instead of campaign funds: "If you are paying a fine with someone else's money, there is no personal accountability."
Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, talking to Utah lawmakers and quoted by KCPW-FM: "Guess how many roads pay for themselves in taxes? Zero. Not a one. Most of them are less than 50 percent. Imagine if you're a grocery store owner, and you decide, I'm gonna sell sirloin at a buck a pound, and I'm gonna sell milk at a dime a gallon. That's basically what's happening with transportation. We're letting people use our roads for three cents a mile, when it costs us 20 to 30 cents a mile."
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's latest answer on whether she'll run for governor in 2010, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I'm not undecided at all. But I really don't think this is the time to be telling of it. This is not the time to be building a political organization. But it is my hope to come home. It's just I don't know what's going to happen in the next two years."
Carl Shepro of the University of Alaska, quoted in the Los Angeles Times about scandals there involving U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and U.S. Rep. Don Young: "People are — I don't know if 'disgusted' is the right word, but — with the appearance that you can do these things and think you're going to get away with it. And the other thing is: It seems like they've all sold out for very little money — and that's kind of embarrassing."
Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 32, 25 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.