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Dream Sequence

If your campaign plan depends on something that has never happened before, you're a long shot.

If your campaign plan depends on something that has never happened before, you're a long shot.

That's one of our favorite political axioms because it's usually right. When it's wrong, it's often as much a surprise to the winners as anyone else.

But there's always an enticing theory out there, like Tony Sanchez's wager that the state's demographics had changed enough to elect a Hispanic Democrat with a bottomless bank account. Or Carole Keeton Strayhorn's bet that Republicans and Democrats were tired enough of their own parties to go for an independent for governor. Or the nutty idea that the Democrats could sweep the Dallas County elections two years ago... the one shocker in that trio that actually came true.

The voting boom in the Texas primaries is the source of this year's pipe dreams. Who were all those people? Will they come back? Are Democrats resurrecting themselves after years in the political wilderness or was that Clinton-Obama thing just a bump in the road?

There's no knowing until the returns are in. But there are theories:

• Democrats got a rare chance to boost interest, voter registration, and the quality of their voter databases and should be able to convert that into bigger than normal numbers in November.

• Republican numbers will hold up better in November because their March turnout wasn't artificially driven up by a one-time fight or by the sort of political spending that goes with that kind of fight. The national Democratic candidates were working the state, staging massive ground wars, and won't be back for a similar fight in November. This is basically the idea that March was a glitch and that things will mostly snap back to normal in November.

• Democratic turnout will hold up, but will do better in places where Obama won in March than in places where Clinton was the favorite in the primaries.

• It doesn't matter if more Democrats come to the polls in November, because the number who vote for president and then stop voting was so high in March; downballot Democrats won't get any love.

• Much of the turnout in the primaries — the Democrats got all the attention, but the Republican numbers set records, too — were borrowed from November. The primary looked like a balloon, according to this one, because November Democrats and November Republicans came out in March. The November numbers will be closer to normal.

Primary Dissection

We started picking apart some primary numbers last month, when statewide district-by-district numbers became available from the Texas Legislative Council. It's the first publicly available look at how the Democratic and Republican primaries went, sliced by congressional, Senate, and House districts.

We knew the day after the election, for example, that Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in all but 24 of the state's 254 counties. But that's based on geography and not population. So when you look at political districts based on population, the view changes. Obama won in 13 of the state Senate districts. He won in 14 of the 32 congressional districts. And he won in 69 of the 150 House districts.

McCain got more votes than Obama in 29 House districts, six Senate districts, and two congressional districts. He got more votes than Clinton in 20 districts, two Senate districts, and one congressional district. All of those are held by Republican lawmakers.

Republicans outvoted Democrats in 16 of the state's House districts (Berman, Merritt, Eissler, Hilderbran, Creighton, Delisi, Keffer, King, Macias, West, Craddick, Jones, Smithee, Swinford, Chisum, and Van Arsdale), though they were getting outvoted statewide by a better than 2-to-1 margin. That happened in two Senate districts (Fraser, Seliger), and in three congressional districts (Conaway, Neugebauer, Thornberry). Not surprisingly, each lawmaker in office from those districts is a Republican.

In 32 House districts — all held by Democrats — the turnout in the Democratic primary exceeded the total turnout in the 2006 general election. More people in those districts voted in this year's Democratic primary than in the last general election for governor. In one House district, the primary vote also exceeded turnout in the 2004 presidential general election; that was HD-31, Guillen. And in 54 House districts, the combined Republican/Democratic primary turnouts exceeded the 2006 general election turnout. Democratic voters outdid 2006 voters in seven congressional districts and seven Senate districts.

We charted the numbers for the House, Senate, and Congress. For the true political nerds, we put the whole spreadsheet online so you can fool with the numbers. Holler if you find something interesting.

Suit Up

Two late entrants — a Democrat and a Republican — signed up at the deadline for the SD-17 contest to replace Kyle Janek — one of them prompting a lawsuit in the process.

That's one of three special elections on the November ballot, and the only one that'll determine a term of more than a few weeks. Janek, a Houston Republican, resigned earlier this summer. The race for the remaining two years of his term now includes four Republicans and two Democrats.

And one of the Democrats, Chris Bell, filed suit challenging the residency of the other, Stephanie Simmons, saying she voted in Harris County in March but said on her candidate forms that she has lived in Fort Bend County for at least 11 months. Her voting record, according to Bell, has been tied to a Harris County address for at least 14 years. More to the point, the Fort Bend address is in the Senate district and the Harris County address is not. That, according to Bell's suit, is a disqualifier that ought to knock her off the special election ballot. Simmons didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

That would make him the only Democrat in the race, which also features Republicans Austen Furse, Grant Harpold, Joan Huffman, and Ken Sherman (the other late entrant). Unlike the general election races on the same day, this will go to a runoff if no candidate breaks 50 percent on Election Day.

State District Judge Stephen Yelenosky set a hearing on all that for Monday in Austin.

The other two specials are for House seats and the winners will hold them only until new legislative terms begin in January. Still, they could get a small edge over the rest of the freshman class if they win — an edge that could result in stuff like better furniture, parking spaces and offices. And if you don't think that matters in a body formed on pecking orders, you've never watched chickens.

In HD-81, Republican Tryon Lewis of Odessa is the only candidate who signed up for the special election. He defeated the late Rep. George "Buddy" West in the March GOP primary. West, who was already ailing at the time, died several weeks later. Lewis is on the ballot for the general election, too, running against Libertarian Elmo Hockman of Odessa.

And in HD-55, where Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, resigned, three candidates will compete for the remaining weeks of her term. That field includes R. "Danny" Daniel, an independent; Sam Murphey, a Democrat; and Ralph Sheffield, a Republican. Daniel isn't in the regular election for that seat, which will be held the same day and will determine the winner of a full term in the seat. And Chris Lane, the Libertarian on the general election ballot, didn't sign up for the special.

Calling Names

An Austin judge set a post-election trial date for the Texas Association of Business, which is accused of illegal electioneering in two dozen 2002 legislative races. The timing could have an effect in this year's elections, as almost a dozen candidates have their names on this year's ballots and also in the indictments.

The case, winding through the courts for the last six years, is over TAB's efforts on behalf of Republican legislative candidates that year. The business group's political action committee issued a slew of mailings touting those candidates and/or criticizing their opponents, and they used corporate money doing so. TAB's lawyers say the advertising was legal "educational material" that didn't direct voters what to do with the information. Prosecutors contend the adverts were intended to influence the election and, because corporate money was used, were illegal.

It's hard to tell whether that's good or bad news for the candidates whose names have been linked — directly or indirectly — to the case. But some of their opponents are already teeing up on the names listed in the latest version of the indictment. None are charged — they're just listed, by name, as the candidates TAB was assisting in that election six year ago. Still, that's enough content for political mail.

The first such shot came from Democrat Ernie Casbeer of Oglesby, who's challenging Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville. Miller's one of the candidates who benefitted from (but like the others, isn't accused of coordinating his efforts with) TAB. Here's the headline on a recent press release from the Democrat's camp: "Sid Miller Named In Criminal Indictment For Illegal Campaign Cash." We haven't seen other mailers, but there are several current officeholders in the list of 24 candidates TAB helped in 2002: Reps. Betty Brown of Terrell, Mike Hamilton of Mauriceville, Dan Flynn of Van, Bryan Hughes of Mineola, Byron Cook of Corsicana, Miller, Wayne Christian of Center, Larry Taylor of Friendswood, Rick Hardcastle of Vernon, Bill Zedler of Arlington, and Sen. Bob Deuell of Greenville (who's not on the ballot this year). The rest of the candidates on the list have either left the Legislature or never got in.

That trial is tentatively set for November 10, a date that takes the court out of the election cycle while leaving the issue right in the middle of it. While there won't be a trial to muddy the campaign season, there won't be a verdict that could possibly clear (or sink) everyone involved before voters do their business.

Leaky Spigot

Auditors found holes in the payrolls of some of the biggest state agencies.

Five Health and Human Services agencies: Department of Aging and Disability Services, Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Family and Protective Services, Department of State Health Services, and the Health and Human Services Commission.

Five numbers: 5.77 percent, 7.31 percent, 10.09 percent, 2.95 percent, and 6.55 percent.

Connect those lists respectively and you have the percentage of terminated employees who were overpaid in each of those agencies in fiscal years 2007 and 2008, according to the State Auditor's Office.

The agencies employ around 50,000 people and have a combined annual payroll of $2.2 billion. The agencies, according to SAO, paid $738,192 to 1,229 people after those folks were no longer employed by the state. That's an average of $600.64 per person.

In their official response, which is part of the SAO report, HHSC officials said they've recovered $414,427 of the overpaid money and are in pursuit of the balance.

Debates, Matchmakers, and Money

It's starting to be debate season, by which we mean that the candidates are throwing sand over whether and when and how frequently they'll appear together in public so voters and political voyeurs can compare and contrast the competitors.

Pete Olson, running against U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, says it's not right that Lampson has agreed to only one debate, and in Clear Lake. That's an affront, according to the Republican challenger, to Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston. Olson wants to debate in all four districts in the county.

Ernie Casbeer wants to debate Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, so he can ask him in public about the Texas Association of Business indictments in which Miller is mentioned along with 24 other candidates. No resolution there yet.

And Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, says former Rep. Todd Hunter, his Republican challenger, backed out of a debate scheduled for September 22.

• Garcia's campaign (along with others) is touting a match offered by Austin Sen. Kirk Watson, who's taking sort of a Sally Struthers approach to legislative elections. He's got a website — AdoptAHouseCandidate.com — listing 26 Texas House candidates and offering to match small donations. He's capping his matches at $5,000 and is asking donors to give $20.08. They're all Democrats, as he is, and his list includes four challengers, six open set candidates and 16 incumbents. That's a way, among other things, to stack up favors if you want to someday run for statewide office. Not that anyone's saying anything like that.

• Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst already has a statewide office, but he, like U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, is helping Texas statehouse candidates raise money. His latest assist goes to Mike Anderson, the former Mesquite mayor who beat Rep. Thomas Latham in the primaries. Anderson has a Democratic opponent, Robert Miklos, in a contest targeted by both parties.

• A Republican consultant fired up a website taunting Democrats who've received contributions from Dallas attorney Fred Baron. GiveTheMoneyBack.com belongs to Anthony Holm, who works for the Austin-based Patriot Group and also is the media rep for Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. Baron is the biggest contributor to Texas Democrats; Perry is the biggest contributor to Texas Republicans. He says candidates who got money from Baron ought to pay it back now that Baron has admitted paying to relocate a woman who had an affair with former presidential candidate John Edwards. Baron's money overwhelmingly goes to Democrats (see here and here), but there are a couple of other names on his list from a couple of election cycles back: Baron gave $2,000 to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in 2003, and Baron & Budd, his law firm (he's sold his interest) gave $5,000 each to Dewhurst and to House Speaker Tom Craddick in 2003 and 2002, respectively.

Political People and Their Moves

Two top state police officials are leaving. Lt. Col. David McEathron, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety, and Chief Randy Elliston, who heads the highway patrol, both retired at the end of August. Meanwhile, the board there named one of the buildings at the DPS campus in Austin after the just-retired director of the agency: What used to be Building A is now the Colonel Thomas A. Davis Jr. Building.

Cherie Townsend is the new executive editor of the Texas Youth Commission, or will be on October 1. She's been running the Clark County (Nevada) Juvenile Services agency and was director of Juvenile Court Services in Maricopa County, Arizona (that's Phoenix), but worked for TYC for 18 years earlier in her career.

Ben Delgado moves over to the Department of Family and Protective Services, presumably for just a little while, as interim commissioner while they're doing a search for a permanent leader. He's the former COO at that agency and has been the agency's interim chief once before. He's normally at the Department of State Health Services, where he's the associate commissioner.

After a year of teaching (in Mesquite), Janiece Crenwelge is rejoining Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, as a legislative aide. She worked for him in the last legislative session.

James Bernsen, who moves around more than a beagle with fleas (we kid), is the new press secretary to House Speaker Tom Craddick. His boss and the new communications director is Alexis DeLee, who's been wrangling reporters up to now (and will still be the main spokesperson). And Chris Cutrone gets a new assignment, too: He's the media relations liaison for the House, working with members who need media help.

Officially now: John Sneed is leaving Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's employ to become interim executive director of the State Preservation Board.

Gov. Rick Perry named three new directors to the board of the San Jacinto River Authority, all of them owners of businesses named for themselves: David Kleimann of Willis, R. Gary Montgomery of The Woodlands, and Lloyd Tisdale of Conroe. Montgomery and Tisdale are being reappointed to the board.

Perry named five board members for the Nueces River Authority: Fernanda Camarillo of Boerne, an engineer; Manuel Cano, a Corpus Christi homebuilding exec; Robert Dullnig of San Antonio, an exec with Presidio Financial Services, Gary Jones, vice president at South Texas Children's Home, and Roxana Tom, a CPA and rancher from Campbellton.

Indicted: U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of Galveston, on charges of abusive sexual contact and attempted aggravated sexual abuse of his court's former case manager.

Quotes of the Week

Charlie Black, an advisor to John McCain, talking to The New York Times about Sarah Palin's lack of foreign policy experience: "She's going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he'll be around at least that long."

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, quoted by the Houston Chronicle on whether her home state cost her consideration as a vice presidential nominee: "I think that people have the image that Texas is maybe too big for its britches sometimes," she said. "I've read pundits say that my being from Texas was a deterrent, but of course I'd rather be in Texas than anywhere."

Republican guru Karl Rove, quoted by the Austin American-Statesman from his talk to Texas delegates at the GOP national convention on the subject of Republican seats in the Texas House: "Let's admit it. We lost a little bit of our mojo."

Author Tom Woods, quoted by the Houston Chronicle from his speech at the Ron Paul counter-rally in Minneapolis: "Once in a while the two parties get together and do something stupid and evil, and that's called bipartisanship."

Harrold ISD Superintendent David Thweatt, talking to The New York Times about the decision to let teachers and others carry guns at school: "Our people just don't want their children to be fish in a bowl. Country people are take-care-of-yourself people. They are not under the illusion that the police are there to protect them."

Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, quoted in the McAllen Monitor about Froylen Casares, a Honduran employee at Flores' ranch who is accused of killing another man with a baseball bat: "He was preppy. He looked the part. No indication. He fit in extremely well, he had family members here. It just looks bad in general. I certainly don't want to go around challenging people's status."


Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 34, 8 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 biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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