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Sparking the Speaker's Race

The law limiting speech and political contributions in races for Speaker of the Texas House is, in part, unconstitutional, according to a federal judge in Austin.

The law limiting speech and political contributions in races for Speaker of the Texas House is, in part, unconstitutional, according to a federal judge in Austin.

That's a big deal, like allowing parents to carry guns at spelling bees, or giving harpoons to coaches at swim meets. It lifts the restrictions against outside groups playing directly in speaker races, and it allows insiders and outsiders alike to spend unlimited amounts of money in their efforts to get the member of their choosing into the high chair in the House.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said that the law set limits so low that even a newspaper editorial could constitute illegal support of a speaker candidate. His ruling parallels an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, also based in Austin. Two provisions drew darts from both judges. The first prevents groups, corporations, unions and so on from giving money or other things of value "to aid or defeat the election of a speaker candidate." The second allows individuals to volunteer and to pay travel expenses, but limits to $100 what anyone can spend on any correspondence aimed at helping or hurting the chances of a speaker candidate.

What that means, apparently, is an end to restrictions on those who are trying to influence elections for speaker. A copy of the ruling is available here. There's a copy of Yeakel's earlier ruling here.

The lawsuit was filed by the Texas branch of the ACLU, the Texas Eagle Forum, and by the Free Market Foundation. They said at the time that the law had never been enforced, but said its very existence in the statutes had a chilling effect on anyone who wanted to have a say in who becomes speaker. That, they said, was the reason behind their challenge.

Some smart lawyers of our acquaintance say this opens the gates for rich folks and groups of not-so-rich folks to meddle in speaker races in ways they've avoided since the mid-1970s when this became law. They're not completely free, though. Legislative bribery — promising a benefit for a particular vote — is still illegal. And it's unclear whether this ruling allows unions and corporations to play, and in what ways.

A spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott says they're reviewing the ruling and haven't decided whether to appeal.

The Congressional Discount

Now that it's clear that U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, was not to be Barack Obama's pick for the vice presidential nomination — some say the higher profile he got from being on the list positions Edwards for an upcoming (maybe) race for U.S. Senate.

He'll need a bigger boost than that.

Only a handful of members of the Texas congressional delegation have won statewide office from those perches in the last 30 years. Democrat Jim Mattox had a Dallas Democratic machine and a statewide Democratic sweep in his favor when he ran for attorney general in 1982. Republican Phil Gramm had a national reputation — more importantly, a statewide rep — when he ran for U.S. Senate. Gramm got there after helping President Ronald Reagan's budget-cutting efforts from the Democratic side of the aisle. The Democrats ostracized him, so he resigned, changed parties, and won the special election to replace himself as a Republican. And Kent Hance had a national rep at the time, too, for some of the same reasons. He was a Democratic congressman, helped Reagan with his tax plan (the other half of that administration's financial package), lost a statewide race as a Democrat, switched parties, lost a race as a Republican, and finally won a place on the Texas Railroad Commission as a Republican.

Two others made it from Congress into statewide court positions, but we'd probably argue that those elections are more about the strength of a particular ticket than about the candidates. Even so: Jack Hightower, a Democrat, won a spot on the Texas Supreme Court after losing a bid for a sixth term in Congress in 1984. And Bob Gammage, a Democrat, won election to two statewide court seats (Court of Criminal Appeals and then the Supreme Court) in the years after serving one term in Congress in the late 1970s.

But the political field is littered with the carcasses of Democrats and Republicans who've tried to step from their congressional seats into statewide office. The odds of winning without a political wave or a bigger-than-normal reputation are skinny.

Jack Fields. Mike Andrews. John Bryant. Jim Chapman. Joe Barton. Ken Bentsen. Steve Stockman. None of them made it out of their post-congressional election bids (though Barton ran in a special election and still holds his seat in Congress, 15 years later).

Money helps, because a candidate can buy statewide attention with it, raising his or her profile to a competitive level. That's part of what boosted the handful of winners from local notoriety to statewide recognition. And several members of the current congressional delegation have the bucks to at least start statewide races. Edwards, with $1.5 million in his campaign fund, is one of them.

Others with more than $1 million on hand (and without serious threats against them in this election cycle): Ron Paul, R-Surfside, $4.0 million (largely because of his presidential campaign); Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, $2.4 million; Barton, R-Ennis, $2.1 million; Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, $1.4 million; Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, $1.1 million; and former U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, $1.0 million.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had $8.7 million in the bank at mid-year, but she's been a statewide elected official at either the state or federal level since 1990 and wouldn't have the congressional wall to hurdle.

For all of those officeholders, the federal campaign money would convert, in full, to state campaign accounts if the pols wanted to come home and run. Of the bunch, only Hutchison is regularly on the list of people who might come home for a state run.

If she were to leave office for a state race, some of the House mice might be interested in moving to the Senate. She beat two members of Congress from her own party — Barton and Fields — when she started her tenure in a special election in 1993. In a race like that, where they've raised all of their money with federal campaign limits in effect, federal officeholders start with a financial advantage. That could be important if Hutchison decides to run for governor and to resign early to make that race.

Deadline, Schmedline

Libertarians got their candidate lists to the Texas Secretary of State on time, but say the Democrats and the Republicans missed it by holding their national conventions after the deadline, which was Tuesday of this week.

Neither party's nominee was official by the deadline. The Democrats were convening and still talking about having a roll call vote offering the choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden had been named, but not nominated. And the Republicans were days away from their convention. John McCain is the presumptive nominee, but hasn't named his choice for veep. And so none of those names for the top two slots on the ballots of the top two parties was filled.

But the Texas Secretary of State says the parties filed their lists on time and are expected to file amended lists once their conventions are over.

No harm, no foul, they say.

The Libertarians say their candidate — Bob Barr — got knocked off the ballot in two states because he missed filing deadlines. And they say Ralph Nader, running as an independent candidate in 2004, was denied a spot on the Texas ballot for the same reason (Nader was a certified write-in candidate that year, meaning his votes were counted, and has that same designation this year).

"Texas law doesn't make any exceptions for absurdly late nominating conventions," said Wes Benedict, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Texas. "Although Bob Barr should win Texas by default, I expect the Republicans and Democrats will get away with breaking the laws they made. They get away with breaking their promises to voters all the time. It's a travesty that we have a double standard, where Republicans and Democrats are above the law, but other parties and independents have to comply with every letter of the law."

He cites the Texas Election Code, which we'll excerpt:

192.031. PARTY CANDIDATE'S ENTITLEMENT TO PLACE ON BALLOT. A political party is entitled to have the names of its nominees for president and vice-president of the United States placed on the ballot in a presidential general election if:

(1) the nominees possess the qualifications for those offices prescribed by federal law;

(2) before 5 p.m. of the 70th day before presidential election day, the party's state chair signs and delivers to the secretary of state a written certification of:

(A) the names of the party's nominees for president and vice-president; and

(B) the names and residence addresses of presidential elector candidates nominated by the party, in a number equal to the number of presidential electors that federal law allocates to this state; and

(3) the party is:

(A) required or authorized by Subchapter A of Chapter 172 to make its nominations by primary election; or

(B) entitled to have the names of its nominees placed on the general election ballot under Chapter 181.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Secretary of State, Ashley Burton, said elections officials are relying on a couple of Texas Supreme Court opinions that, in essence, hold candidates harmless when their parties' actions interfere with state deadlines.

Barr, a former congressman from Georgia, put out a press release saying he's the only candidate on the Texas ballot.

"We know all about deadlines," said Russell Verney with Barr's campaign. "We are up against them constantly in our fight to get on the ballot across the nation. When we miss deadlines, we get no second chances. This is a great example of how unreasonable deadlines chill democracy."

He said third parties don't get a break when they bust deadlines and that the major parties shouldn't get a break this time.

Neither the Republican Party of Texas nor the Texas Democratic Party seems particularly worried about it.

"Attorneys for the Texas Democratic Party spoke to the Secretary of State's Office and were told our filings were submitted in a timely manner," said Hector Nieto, a spokesman for the TDP. Hans Klingler with the GOP says they filed last Friday and, according to their lawyers, are in compliance.

On Hold

Kim Brimer has to wait until at least September 18 to find out whether he's got a legal opponent in his bid for reelection to the Texas Senate.

Fort Worth's 2nd Court of Appeals will hear his case against Democrat Wendy Davis that day, though there's no requirement that they also rule at that time. Brimer contends Davis' time on the Fort Worth City Council illegally overlapped her Senate candidacy and that she shouldn't be on the ballot.

Voters will apparently see her name whether she's legal or not. The deadline for pulling names off the ballot passed last week. If she's declared illegal, her own party will be stuck, since the deadline for replacing candidates or adding new names to the ballot passed this week.

Short form: The appeals court will be deciding whether she can serve if she beats Brimer at the polls in November.

Bell Ringer

Chris Bell's new poll has a little of everything in it.

• He's ahead in the SD-17 race, according to the poll, and since it was released by his campaign you would expect that. He's got 42 percent to Joan Huffman's 8 percent, Austen Furse's 5 percent and Grant Harpold's 4 percent. Bell is the only Democrat in the race.

• Bell is better-known (75 percent) than the other candidates, and since he's the one most recently on the ballot — two haven't been on the ballot at all and one has been there only as a judge — you'd expect that, too.

• President George W. Bush has negative job performance ratings from 61 percent of the respondents.

Bell's spin: He's ahead, well known, and Republicans aren't a slam-dunk in what should be a Republican district.

Spun the other way: He's well-known and still under 50 percent, the Republicans will do better when they advertise and match or approach his name ID.

The survey by Alexandra, Va.-based Cooper & Secrest was done a week ago (with a one-day break, apparently). They talked to 404 general election voters and put the margin of error at +/- 4.9 percent.

Flotsam & Jetsam

With the exception of the presidential candidates and pending lawsuits, the ballots for November are all but set. Republicans say the only drop they had before the ballot name deadline was James Masik, who had filed to run against Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin. The most current lists (still not certified; that comes later) are available on the Texas Secretary of State's website.

• South Texas politicos are talking about a Hillary Clinton swing through the Valley on behalf of Barack Obama and Rick Noriega. Details are scarce, but they're talking eight cities, late September, with some fundraising layered in between public appearances.

• U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will be among the speakers at the GOP national convention in St. Paul next week. She's got a prime-time spot on Wednesday to talk about energy independence.

• Democrats are passing around a poll that says voters aren't all that familiar with either of the candidates in HD-52. That's currently Republican Mike Krusee's district. Democrat Diana Maldonado is running against Republican Bryan Daniel (and Libertarian Lillian Simmons). The survey by Opinion Analysts has the candidates locked in a tie in a "cold test." When some biographical details and issues ("with a health mix of positives and negatives for each candidate") were added in, Maldonado pulled to a 55-30 lead. They didn't reveal any of those details in the memo that got leaked, but did include one tidbit — 77 percent of the respondents "agree that their state representative should oppose the [House Speaker Tom] Craddick agenda."

• State Senate candidate Chris Bell picked up endorsements from the Texas State Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers political action committee. Bell is the only Democrat in the race to replace Kyle Janek, R-Houston. Three Republicans have signed up: Austen Furse, Grant Harpold, and Joan Huffman.

• Follow-up: Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, re-invited supporters to a fundraiser to be held after Labor Day in Fort Worth. He's still asking for contributions of $1,000, $2,500, and $5,000. But the invites this time don't have any federal officeholders mentioned as hosts, guests, or anything at all. Zedler's earlier version had U.S. Reps. Joe Barton of Ennis and Kay Granger of Fort Worth on board. But federal officials cannot solicit donations for themselves — or anyone else — above the federal limit of $2,300 per donor.

• The political arm of the Texas Farm Bureau — AGFUND — endorsed Ralph Sheffield in the HD-55 race to replace Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple. Sheffield's the Republican in that contest and faces Democrat Sam Murphey and Libertarian Chris Lane in November. Sheffield's also getting out-of-town help: U.S. Sen. Hutchison is doing a fundraiser for him on October 2.

Hutchison isn't the only statewide official playing in House races. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is hosting a fundraiser in Austin on September 11 for Mike Anderson. The former Mesquite mayor beat Rep. Thomas Latham in the GOP primary and faces Democrat Robert Miklos in November.

• At least four Democrats in the state Senate are on the Chris Bell bandwagon: Rodney Ellis, Mario Gallegos, Kirk Watson, and John Whitmire all signed up as "special guests" for a fundraiser for Bell next week in Houston. Kyle Janek, who resigned from the seat Bell's trying to win, is supporting Austen Furse in the race.

John Cornyn and Rick Noriega will debate at least twice, at public television forums in Houston and Dallas in October. On Thursday, October 9, they'll be at KUHT during that station's "Red, White, and Blue" public affairs show. The KERA-TV event is a week later, and is co-sponsored by The Dallas Morning News, Texas Monthly and the Texas Association of Broadcasters. The League of Women Voters signed on as sponsor of both debates.

• The latest Rasmussen poll has Cornyn ahead of Noriega 48 percent to 37 percent. This next line is becoming standard with the two Senate candidates: It's generally bad mojo for an incumbent like Cornyn to be pulling less than 50 percent in a reelection bid. But Noriega, the Democratic challenger, hasn't yet been able to close the gap separating him from the Republican.

• Gov. Rick Perry has the government digging for its galoshes and batteries, issuing a disaster declaration while the weather folk watch Gustav in the Gulf of Mexico. That was a tropical storm at the time he pulled the trigger, but the machinery in several state agencies is geared up for a potential landing, or potential damage, in any or all of 61 Texas counties.

Political People and Their Moves

Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade named John Sepehri of Dallas to be her general counsel, replacing Jay Dyer, who left the SOS for a gig with Attorney General Greg Abbott. Sepehri was most recently with the Patton Boggs law firm.

Scott Haywood is leaving the Secretary of State's office, where he's been the spokesman for just over three years. His replacement, for now, is Ashley Burton. Haywood had been on Gov. Rick Perry's media staff before going to work for then-SOS Roger Williams. He's going to work for Houston-based Spacehab, which bills itself as a "space commerce" pioneer. He'll remain in Austin.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Brian Gary of Gunter to the 397th Judicial District Court in Grayson County. Until now, Gary was an attorney in private practice. That's a new court.

The Guv made a couple of insurance appointments. He named Rod Bordelon Jr. the commissioner of the Workers' Compensation Division at the Texas Department of Insurance. Bordelon has been running the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, which represents ratepayers before insurance regulators. He's replacing Albert Betts. In Bordelon's place, the governor tapped Deeia Beck of Fort Worth; she had been an administrative law judge in the Workers' Comp Division.

Chrissy Borskey moves to General Electric, where she's in charge of Mid-South government relations. In English: She'll lobby in Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico.

Deaths: Mary Ellen Murphy Hall, wife of U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, for 63 years. She was 83.

Quotes of the Week

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, riffing on Texas Democrat Jim Hightower's line from the 1988 national convention: "You know, it was once said of the first George Bush that he was born on third base and thought he'd hit a triple. Well, with the 22 million new jobs and the budget surplus Bill Clinton left behind, George W. Bush came into office on third base, and then he stole second."

Cecile Richards, daughter of the late Ann Richards, at the Democratic National Convention: "After eight years of George Bush, you might be surprised that a Texan is president of Planned Parenthood. After all, there aren't many people eager to see the words 'Texan' and 'president' in the same sentence ever again."

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, joking with the Houston Chronicle that Barack Obama might name him head of the CIA for keeping his silence during the vice presidential vetting: "In a town of leaks, I could keep a secret for 2-1/2 months."

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, asked on MSNBC (before the choice was known) whether she ducked consideration as a potential veep because she wants to run for governor of Texas: "Everybody knows that is where my heart is."

Former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, famous for his rough-and-tumble campaigns, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram what the national Democrats should be doing to the GOP ticket: "I'd never advocate using untruths or distortions, but we ought to be going at them blow-for-blow right here on this floor, and real soon."

John Goodman, from the National Center for Policy Analysis, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on Census reports showing Texas leads the nation in uninsured citizens: "So I have a solution. And it will cost not one thin dime. The next president of the United States should sign an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American — even illegal aliens — as uninsured. Instead, the bureau should categorize people according to the likely source of payment should they need care. So, there you have it. Voila! Problem solved."

Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 33, 1 September 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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