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Nobody Has the Votes Yet (Week 3)

The balance has shifted.

The balance has shifted.

House Speaker Tom Craddick is still in the race for his job next year, but he's lost the sheen of invincibility.

Did you watch the Olympics? The part in women's gymnastics when the favorite on the balance beam leaned way out and looked like she'd surely fall? She didn't fall, but the wobble removed her advantage over the competition and put the gold medal at risk.

Wobbling support has done the same thing to Craddick.

He doesn't have the 76 votes he needs to win, and the longer he goes without a majority, the weaker he looks to his enemies and to his friends.

It's one thing to have the usual suspects running against him. Not to diminish their importance, but the so-called ABC Republicans (Anybody But Craddick) have never been counted in Craddick's column.

It's the defections from his core supporters that put him off balance. Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, has always been in the Craddick camp. Now he's decided to run for speaker, talking openly about the need for change and about how Craddick's management style has failed.

Add in people like Joe Straus III of San Antonio and Dan Gattis of Georgetown, two young Republicans who have likewise left the fold, preaching the need for change. Others — names like Tuffy Hamilton and Patricia Harless go here — have shared doubts about Craddick with reporters, among others. Reporters are the last people most politicians confide in — by which we mean that they confide in a lot of others, like their colleagues and supporters, before they start yakking with the papers. Maybe they're with Craddick, maybe not. But it's weird that they're talking about his weaknesses.

And there's another list of members, those who have been loyal to Craddick and who are not yet putting their names on the record, who are talking to their confidants about their anxieties and their wishes for something new.

By our count, two of Craddick's 40 chairmen were defeated this year (Democrat Kevin Bailey and Republican Tony Goolsby). Another three (Dianne White Delisi, Fred Hill, and Mike Krusee, all Republicans) decided not to come back. Five of the remaining 35 have changed sides, saying they'll run for speaker themselves, that they won't vote again for Craddick, or both. That group includes Byron Cook, Joe Deshotel, Jim Keffer, Patrick Rose, and now, Burt Solomons.

Add in others who've jumped ship to run for speaker, some of them ABCs, all of them Craddick supporters at one point or another: Delwin Jones of Lubbock, Jim Keffer of Eastland, Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, Brian McCall of Plano, Tommy Merritt of Longview, Jim Pitts of Waxahachie.

As far as we can tell, nobody in the running has as many supporters as Craddick has. But it's clear that he doesn't have the 76 he needs to win. And it's starting to appear that the opposition has enough votes to knock him off.

You hear this line a lot: "You can't beat somebody with nobody." That's generally used to mean Craddick can't be beat until the other side settles on an opponent.

The formula only works if the question is "Who will run against Craddick?" That's no longer the question. Now it's "Which of these people is going to be the next speaker?"

And Craddick's is just one of several names in the hat.

Add One

Burt Solomons is official. He filed papers to run for speaker of the Texas House this week. Solomons, R-Carrollton, isn't shooting at House Speaker Tom Craddick or at any of the other real and potential speaker candidates. Craddick put him in the chairmanship of the House Committee on Financial Institutions.

"I'm not running against Tom," he says. "I'm running not so much against them as for how we govern. I'm a pretty conservative Republican. I'm not off the reservation. We need to change how we're governed. It doesn't have to be this hard."

He's not sharing his list, but says he's already got "several commitments" from other members who'll support him. Solomons says members are "timid and uncertain" about change, because that's how politicians are. But he said their public silence differs from their private conversations. "Everybody's talking about it... somebody's got to say, 'It's been three sessions — why can't we try something else?'"

What would members get from a Speaker Solomons? "I have a totally different management style," he says. "The body always has philosophical disagreements... but there's a hole to fill — people need to feel they can have their say.

"I like Tom personally. He was a great first choice as a Republican speaker, and he's a historic figure.

"After last session, I really think we need to try a different approach. The end result is important, but it's important how you get there."

Sooner, or Later

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is asking political leaders around the state to join an "exploratory committee" for her 2010 gubernatorial bid, telling them she'll make an announcement of some kind early next month.

If she's exploring, that won't be an announcement of her candidacy, exactly, though exploratory committees are usually imaginary beasts created to accumulate headlines for politicians as they prepare for battle. In Washington, meanwhile, Hutchison might be an important number in the Senate. Number 40, say, or 41.

After the elections but before the (national) recounts, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told a pack of reporters in Austin that she didn't see anything in the election results that would change her plans. Now there's a calculation about the GOP's status in the U.S. Senate to consider if she plans to step down early to run for governor.

Hutchison wasn't explicit about her plans, but she's a terrific political flirt, acknowledging her interest in running for governor without actually declaring her candidacy.

"I'm on the same course that I have been on. Nothing has changed my views about what I'll be starting to look at," she said.

"Let me say that I have looked at this from all angles, and I believe that from the standpoint of Texas in the Senate, if I did decide to step down in order to run for governor, that Texas would be, actually, well-positioned because John Cornyn will have had a full term and this is really a better time to be bringing someone new in, with seniority, to build seniority, when you've got someone that has it. Four years ago would have been less advantageous. But I think today is really the right time for Texas. I always think if you can that it's better to have one person with seniority and then the new person coming in, so that's about where we would be if I made that decision, which I have not," she said.

The situation in the U.S. Senate has changed some, but it's not clear that would affect her trajectory. And there's no requirement that she step down to run for governor. After all, Barack Obama and John McCain remained in the Senate while they were running for president.

So what if Democrats in Georgia and Minnesota pull rabbits out of their hats and bring their party's number in the U.S. Senate to 60? What if one comes through and brings it to 59? Does that play into Hutchison's decision?

Alaska finished an excruciatingly slow count to determine whether Ted Stevens, the Republican incumbent, won his reelection bid. He didn't, losing to Mark Begich. In Minnesota, they're recounting the results that put Republican Norm Coleman a couple of hundred votes ahead of comedian/writer Al Franken. And in Georgia, a runoff will decide whether Republican Saxby Chambliss comes back or is replaced by Jim Martin.

Those outcomes could bring the Senate closer to 60, which is the number of senators it takes to remove political minorities' legislative obstructions. If the GOP holds 41 seats, they have the power, if they can stay together, to block votes on legislation they don't like.

So Hutchison could have some extra things to think about. Should she resign early to prepare for a state election? If so, when? Would that open up a national fight over her seat, with both parties trying to get an edge on that magic number?

The arguments for leaving the Senate: She would be able to devote all of her time and energy to the governor's race — raising money and cooking up policy ideas — without the heavy workload and the risky votes that come with the start of a new administration. It would signal to any remaining doubters that she is serious about the state bid and isn't backing out. And it would let her spend her time in Texas instead of shuttling between her homes in Dallas and the Washington, D.C. area.

The arguments against: She gives up her power and a position that allows her to remain easily in the public eye and to do whatever is on her list of things to do before she leaves the U.S Senate. She isn't in Texas during a legislative session, with its temptation to do a running commentary on the Legislature and on the governor she's likely to face in the 2010 GOP primary. And she can raise as much, or more, money as a sitting U.S. Senator than as a former one. All of the federal money she raises can be converted, with few restrictions, to a state race. She doesn't give her next political opponent the right to pick her successor in the Senate, creating political debts that might be used against her in 2010.

If she bails early, Gov. Rick Perry will appoint her temporary successor and call a special election for the person who'll then hold the seat until 2012, when her term ends. Hutchison got to the job that way, knocking off U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger and a couple of dozen also-rans. The onus would be on Perry to appoint someone — and on the Republicans to back someone — who didn't mess up the numbers in the U.S. Senate.

If, after all that, the new Texas senator is a Democrat, the blame probably wouldn't go to Hutchison. It'd go first to the Republican who lost the race, and then to the governor who appointed that person. If the Republican wins, it'd be a statewide Republican indebted to Perry, which could hurt Hutchison in a competition with him. Stay tuned.

The Business End of the Leash

Rosemary Lehmberg, who'll replace Ronnie Earle in January, told the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas not to expect any change in that office's emphasis on ethics, and told the lobbyists that this is "a most troubling era for your profession in history, particularly in Washington."

As the Travis County District Attorney-elect, she's the new ethics sheriff in town. She said her background was in the trial courts, and that her approach is more "evidence-based" than Earle's "philosophically based" approach to cases, but left the impression that she's not going easy on people who get out of line.

"I am always ready to hear from someone who made a mistake, but I have little tolerance for those trying to work around the law and even less for those who thumb their nose at the law," she said.

An example of the latter? "Extravagant trips and benefits [to lawmakers] that we hear about... will always be given close scrutiny in my office," Lehmberg said.

The new D.A. said she wants to work with lobbyists and others when possible and said her office has published some guidelines on corporate involvement in politics.

She also said, unrelated to all of that, that her office will have a full-time environmental prosecutor on board early next year and that she's been talking to folks at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about that. Her office has statewide jurisdiction on some of the issues regulated by that agency.

• Republican pollster Mike Baselice, told that same crowd the base margin separating Republicans and Democrats in the most recent state election narrowed by 3.62 percentage points. Republicans retain an advantage, but it's skinnier than before. He had a couple other notes of note: Only a quarter of the total vote was cast in places where the GOP's fortunes improved, while 54 percent of the votes were recorded in places where Democratic fortunes improved.

• Premiums for storm insurance on the coast will rise 12.3 percent for residential and 15.6 percent for commercial customers. The rates for the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association will go up on February 1. The usual limit on such increases is 10 percent, but Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin, citing catastrophic losses, let them go up more than that. With this increase, will have risen 30.5 percent from the beginning of 2006 for residential customers, and 43.3 percent for commercial insureds.

• The Legislative Budget Board adopted a fairly conservative limit on budget growth that will hold increases in spending on undedicated state tax revenue to 9.14 percent, or about $6.7 billion. The LBB chose from five estimates of how the state economy will grow over the next biennium, ranging from a low of 7.74 percent to a high of 14.82 percent. And the limit they've chosen can be manipulated some. The comptroller's revenue estimate isn't out, and the numbers there set the actual numbers on the dollar limit. And any emergency appropriations that spend money in the current budget — that's spending that happens before next September — will raise the base amount. Raise the base, and you raise the limit.

A Date in December

The last empty office on the legislative ballot will be filled in a runoff between Democrat Chris Bell and Republican Joan Huffman next month. The date, set by Gov. Rick Perry: Tuesday, December 16. Early voting will run from December 8-12 (that's a Monday-through-Friday deal). The term they're seeking lasts until January 2011. Add some names to the guest list for Bell's Austin fundraiser: Every Democrat in the Texas Senate, including Sen.-elect Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst headlined a funder for Huffman.

• Republican Joan Huffman will go into her runoff for SD-17 with the endorsement of the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC. That PAC endorsed her in round one, and also endorsed Democrat Stephanie Simmons. The remaining candidates are Huffman and Democrat Chris Bell, whose supporters include a gaggle of trial lawyers who don't get Christmas cards from TLR.

• Two House members elected this month will take office before their fellow newbies: Ralph Sheffield in HD-55 and Tryon Lewis in HD-81 will take their oaths this week. Sheffield is serving out what's left of Dianne White Delisi's term. Lewis will serve the last weeks of the late Buddy West's term. Both candidates are Republicans, replacing Republicans, and both won their general elections for full two-year terms starting in January.

• There oughta be a "Speaker Summit" where all of the candidates for the House's top job could get together on how to conduct their warfare. That's the brainchild of Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, one of those candidates. "I don’t expect the Summit to result in a unified choice for Speaker." he said in a press release. "But I do hope we can at least agree to a set of ground rules that each candidate will adhere too, a fair process for voting, and an agreement between the candidates that whoever wins, that person will put Texas above politics and will not punish those who entered the contest." He says he'll call others in the race to see if they're interested.

• Secret ballots are legal in races for House Speaker, according to Democrats reacting to a newspaper quote from the Speaker's office. Alexis DeLee, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Tom Craddick, was quoted in the San Antonio Express-News saying, "The Texas Constitution requires a record vote to be open if requested by three members on any question. The House could close the ballot, but it will have to be open if requested by three members."

But such ballots were ruled constitutional when the issue arose two years ago, and the Texas Supreme Court gave them a green light just a few years ago when the Senate was electing a presiding officer to replace Rick Perry, who left that gig to become Guv when George W. Bush moved to Washington, D.C.

Secretary of State Roger Williams — presiding over the House two years ago — turned back a challenge to secret ballots, citing House history and practice and the court ruling. That's recounted in a memo to Democratic colleagues from Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, who ends with a towel snap: "So the next time you hear someone in Craddick's office say that the House can't use a secret ballot, you can tell them they're flat wrong."

Brian Walker, the Republican who lost by 103 votes to Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, wants a recount. He says that "credible reports" indicate some ballots in that HD-11 race were improperly rejected. That'll be the second recount: Bob Romano has asked the Secretary of State for a recount of the ballots that left him 20 votes short of knocking off Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, in HD-105.

Golf, Anyone?

The Republican Caucus met this week at a luxury resort near Austin, starting with the appearance of selling time with legislators to $10,000 and $25,000 donors.

The invitations offered big donors a chance to play golf with "Preferred House member" or "Preferred House Leader." Frank Corte, the San Antonio representative who heads the Republican Caucus, says the golf tournament and the policy conference were combined this year, but have been going on for some time. And he defends the fundraiser, saying it's no different than similar golf tournaments held by other groups, like the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

"I don't think it means a lot," he says about the wording of the invitations. "Some folks that have played golf in the past... just want to play golf with each other.

"It's not in any way inferring that there's some favor involved," he says. The event was closed to the public, but Corte says everything they do will be reported as required by the Texas Ethics Commission. "Everything we do is transparent," he says.

As it turned out, the meeting didn't draw the quorum needed to make some rule changes that were under consideration; less than half of the House's Republicans showed up.

Jim Mattox, 1943-2008

Jim Mattox, the former Texas attorney general and congressman, died at home of unknown causes. He was 65.

Mattox was a member of the Texas House and then congressman from East Dallas who took statewide office in 1982, the last time Democrats won all of the statewide offices on the ballot.

He lost a famously negative race for governor in 1990, running against Ann Richards and Mark White and losing the runoff against Richards. He lost a race for U.S. Senate. In 1994, Mattox lost a Democratic primary fight against Richard Fisher of Dallas, who went on to lose to Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. The last time he was on the ballot, in 1998, Mattox lost the race for attorney general to Republican John Cornyn, who's now in the U.S. Senate.

Mattox and his wife Marta were raising two school-age children in Dripping Springs. He remained active in Democratic politics, recently working to change the party's "Texas Two-Step," which combined popular voting and caucuses to select presidential delegates.

Cheney, Gonzales, Lucio Indicted

A Willacy County grand jury indicted Vice President Dick Cheney, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.

Lucio's lawyer, Michael Cowan, said the indictments were among several issued by "a crazy D.A. who's been voted out of office and has decided to leave in a blaze of glory. He's created havoc, closed two courts, and this is gonna take a while to sort out.

"He indicted Sen. Lucio on something that's a misdemeanor, that shouldn't have been in an indictment, and the senator didn't commit any crime," Cowan said. "It's just crazy."

In a written statement, he said they'll fight: "Senator Lucio is completely innocent and has done nothing wrong. We will file a motion to quash the indictment this week. We look forward to having the opportunity to have an independent, competent prosecutor review the facts, and are confident that once that happens these baseless charges will be dismissed."

The district attorney, Juan Angel Guerra, wasn't available for comment, and didn't show up in court for the first hearing on the matter; they'll try again Friday.

A grand jury had previously indicted Guerra, but those charges were dropped earlier this month after a special prosecutor decided they lacked merit. He'd been accused (with others on his staff) of using county property for personal use, tampering with records, and perjury. And he was the target of a removal petition from three other county officials — the sheriff, the district and county clerks — in mid-2007. They went to court to try to remove him from office, an effort that failed. He lost his bid for a fourth term earlier in the March Democratic primary, and his term ends in January.

Political People and Their Moves

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is the new head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — the guy raising money and standing over the political war maps in anticipation of the 2010 Senate elections. His rise was made possible by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's decision not to seek reelection as head of the Senate Republican Conference. She's clearing the decks for an expected gubernatorial run in 2010.

And U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas won the top spot at the National Republican Congressional Committee, where he'll try to pull the Republicans out of their minority status in the lower chamber.

Anne Heiligenstein will be the next commissioner at the state's Department of Family and Protective Services. She's currently the deputy commission at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, worked in the White House, for the governor's office, and for what was then the Texas Department of Human Services.

Trent Townsend, the legislative director for Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, is moving on; he's the new chief of staff to Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Brimer lost his reelection bid. Townsend replaces Celinda Provost, who left Watson a few months back for the private sector.

Shannon Dick Ghangurde is the new director of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. She's been Sen. Jane Nelson's general counsel for four years and will replace Amy Herzog, who is retiring.

Amber Moon signed on as communications director for the Chris Bell campaign, with Adrienne Fischer as her deputy. Fischer was already with the campaign in another role; Moon was most recently the spokeswoman for the Harris County Coordinated Campaign.

President George W. Bush is appointing R. Bruce LaBoon to the board of the Mickey Leland National Urban Air Toxics Research Center. LaBoon's an attorney with Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell and a former chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership.

Carmen Fenton is leaving her position as communications director for U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Georgetown, to become the director of public affairs for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in Austin. She'll be wrangling press and have other duties as well.

Abel Torres moves to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to work on federal health care issues; he's been at the federal Administration on Aging.

Dropped, for lack of evidence: April DWI charges against Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock. He said he was stopped after having one glass of wine, refused a blood and breath test, and had to spend that first night in jail.

Quotes of the Week

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, quoted in the Rio Grande Guardian from a speech to the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: "The reason last session we did so well is because you had these two warring factions going against each other with knives, clubs, and whatnot. And we are the peacemakers. We say, 'Hey, hey, let's work this out. How do we work that out, Mr. Speaker? Well, we need some more money directed to the Valley. So that's the way we are going to work it out. You send us some more money.'"

Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, in the San Antonio Express-News: "The House is seemingly coming apart. I am terribly, terribly dismayed that... apparently we have a handful of Democrats making demands for control of power and clout and title. A number of us, even though we're supporters of Tom Craddick, are just totally turned off."

Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, on the conversations among House members about the race for speaker: "There are some advantages to it. Everybody's being really nice to each other. They all want to know how your wife is doing."

Tony Garza, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, quoted in the Rio Grande Guardian from a speech to the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce: "The truth is, Mexico would not be the center of cartel activity or experiencing this level of violence were not the United States the largest consumer of illicit drugs and the main supplier of weapons to the cartels. The U.S. and Mexico must fight these criminal organizations together or we will fail together."

Anti-toll road activist Sal Costello, telling the Austin American-Statesman that he's left town, and the state of Texas, and giving up his excoriating advocacy: "I'm retired from that. It doesn't pay, and it's a long road. It's a lonely road."


Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 45, 24 November 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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