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She Does

Kay Bailey Hutchison answered the "Does She or Doesn't She?" question about whether she wants to run for governor, filing the papers required to run a campaign for state office.

Kay Bailey Hutchison answered the "Does She or Doesn't She?" question about whether she wants to run for governor, filing the papers required to run a campaign for state office.

She's not a candidate yet. This is the political equivalent of putting a quarter on the edge of the pool table to let everyone know you'll be playing the winner in the next game. It's Rick Perry's table now, and he's telling everyone he wants another term when this one's up.

"Texans deserve a Governor who, in the context of sound budgetary policies and low taxes, works for quality schools and universities, access to health care for our families, communities safe from crime and drugs, protection of private property rights, sensible transportation and a government that listens and responds to them," she said in her announcement.

The challenge has been building for some time, taking the surprise off of the thing. But it's an oddity: Texas Republicans haven't been winning statewide offices for all that long and it's rare for one of them to challenge an incumbent from their own party. When Carole Keeton Strayhorn set her sights on Perry in 2006, she quit the GOP and ran as an independent. Hutchison is telling supporters that she's stronger than Perry — even with Republican primary voters — according to her polls. Strayhorn wagered she could beat Perry in a general election but not in a primary; Hutchison is betting on the primary in March 2010.

Mark Miner, a spokesman for Perry, was not impressed, noting Hutchison's earlier looks at the governor's race in 2002 and 2006: "Kay Bailout has been talking about running for governor and passing bills since 2002 and neither has happened... this just continues her streak of indecision."

Key points:

• This is an "exploratory" committee and not an announcement of her candidacy, she says. There's not really any distinction in the state's campaign finance law, but it is a way of saying something short of "I'm In!"

• She's moving $1 million from her federal campaign accounts to the new state account. That's more than some statewide candidates spend on a race, but it's chump change in a gubernatorial contest in Texas. And all of her federal campaign money can be moved to the state account, with few encumbrances.

• She's got a website that went live with the announcement, with comments and a place where supporters can sign up and so on. It's at Kay4Texas.com.

• She hasn't, as rumored in the Perry camp, and written elsewhere (DallasBlog, and the Dallas Morning News), hired Karl Rove, although Todd Olsen, the Austin political consultant who bought Rove's business, is the contact for campaign news at this point. Olsen describes Rove and Hutchison as friends, but says his former boss isn't working for the senator. And while we're here, Olsen says Hutchison hasn't hired a general campaign consultant: "We haven't gotten that far." Bryan Eppstein, the Fort Worth consultant, has also been aiding her preparations.

• Hutchison, a federal officeholder, isn't banned from raising money during a legislative session. Perry and other state officeholders are prohibited from dragging the sack from December 13 (30 days before the session starts) until the session ends in June. That, along with the substantial balance in her federal account ($8.7 million at the end of September), gives her a potential advantage. Perry had $3 million in his coffers in his last report at the end of July.

• Since she's not running yet, she's not fully answering the question about whether she'll continue to serve in the U.S. Senate. That's not stopping conversations about who might be appointed to her spot if she vacates early for a gubernatorial run. Among the names we hear: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Sen. Florence Shapiro, former Secretary of State Roger Williams, Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones. Add your favorite here.

The governor would appoint the temporary successor and then set a special election to decide who'd serve out her term, which runs through 2012. Roger Williams hasn't filed an exploratory committee yet, but he'll run if Hutchison's seat opens up, according to Craig Murphy, his political consultant. Michael Williams' political aides are gearing up. Shapiro set up a federal exploratory committee earlier this year and had almost $300,000 in the bank at the end of September. Dewhurst might be able to self-finance a campaign. On the other side of the ledger, Democrats Bill White, the mayor of Houston, and John Sharp, the former legislator and comptroller, are sizing up a run.

They're all early: Hutchison and her consultants say the resignation question isn't settled. If she wants, she can run for governor as a sitting U.S. Senator. And in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, she said she's not going to leave her federal gig any time soon. "I have not made a decision to step down from the Senate at all... I haven't decided. And if I did resign to run, it would be late next year," she told the paper. "It's not going to be something very soon at all, because I do have a job to do in the Senate. It's a very important time. And I want to do this when it's right for Texas. And an early resignation would not be right for Texas."

A reader saved us (and you) a ton of research on the special election, if there is one. It would fall on the first uniform election date (May or November) that's at least 36 days after the Senate seat comes open. So if it were before April 3, the special election would be on Saturday, May 9. Between April 4, and September 28: November 3, 2009. Between September 29, 2009, and April 2, 2010: May 8, 2010. Between April 3, 2010, and September 26, 2010: the special election would coincide with the November 2, 2010, general election.

If Hutchison lost and hadn't resigned, she could stay in the Senate. Were she to win and give up the office to become governor, the special election would be held on May 14, 2011.

Hutchison's announcement didn't mention Perry by name, but threw an elbow his way: "There's too much bitterness, too much anger, too little trust, too little consensus and too much infighting. And the tone comes from the top. Texans are looking for leadership and results."

That sounds like something from the president-elect's playbook, and it's the start of a defense against what everyone expects could be a nasty campaign.

On the Down Low

A Republican survey making the rounds — one apparently done for Gov. Rick Perry or his friendlies — says 71 percent of Republican primary voters disagree with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's position on the financial bailouts.

She voted for them. And the numbers are more or less in line with national polls; a USA Today/Gallup survey said 63 percent of Republicans were against the stimulus packages now under consideration in Washington, D.C.

Hutchison, of course, is considering a run against Perry in 2010. And the Guv has said he wants another term at the end of his tenth year in office (they ordered a boatload of 2010 bumper stickers, for what that's worth). They didn't attach any horse-race numbers; other polls we've seen have her in the lead right now in a head-to-head. But that's without the, erm, rigors of a primary campaign and it's comparative advertising and debating and such. Some of which will apparently focus on bailouts of faltering financial and industrial companies.

Things Could Be Worse

Comptroller Susan Combs says the Texas economy is stronger than the national economy, but not invulnerable.

"We're not immune — just much better positioned," she says.

Combs won't estimate the state's income from taxes on that economy until next month, on the eve of the legislative session. She told reporters that the state is seeing the dip in the economy in sales tax returns, which are rising more slowly than a year ago, and expects to see the effects of falling oil prices in the taxes based on those. But other indicators show Texas in good shape compared with other places. For instance, she says the entire state had fewer foreclosures in October — about 9,900 — than the City of Las Vegas, which had more than 12,000.

And lawmakers here, unlike their counterparts in many other states, start with black numbers instead of red ones. Unofficially, she says, the state has about $2 billion in general revenue that isn't committed, about $3 billion set aside for property tax relief, and around $6.7 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. She's guessing lawmakers will need more than $3 billion for a supplemental appropriations bill early in the legislative session next year, but they won't be starting with a deficit even after that money is spent.

Combs was unveiling the newest phase of her effort to open the state's books to citizens on the Internet. She already posted a "virtual checkbook" online. Now she's added a site where state and local agencies can group their purchases to get better prices (that'll save $28 million right away, she says) and a spot that leads to other transparent government efforts on the local level in Texas. And she's pointing to a forthcoming report on how the state can get all of its agencies to set up their books the same way, making it easier to tell what's being spent and how it compares across state government.

No Chair for Labor

The governor's roundtables on the economy caught the attention of the state's unions, who haven't been invited and apparently won't be invited to future gatherings.

That prompted a PR missile from the Texas AFL-CIO — they say the governor is ignoring workers, consumers and environmental groups. "In three meetings to discuss and plan the future of the state economy, Gov. Perry sat with the usual business and political elites, ignoring the worker side of the equation except in so far as workers are viewed through the prism of management," said Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO.

Perry has held three of the gatherings — the latest one this week — to talk to government agencies and trade groups about the economy, get their feedback, and to set their expectations for the legislative session ahead.

The first meeting was with selected state agency execs, in early October. The second meeting, later that month, included the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, Texas Association of Business, Texas Association of Manufacturers, Texas Association of Realtors, Texas Bankers Association, and Texas Credit Union League.

Meeting number three, this week, included the Texas Motor Transportation Association, Texas Automobile Dealers Association, National Federation of Independent Business-Texas, Texas Association of Builders, Texas Restaurant Association, and the Texas Retailers Association.

"The people the governor has met with represent employers of hundreds of thousands of employees," said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry.

She said the governor will probably hold one more such meeting this month, but indicated that labor's not likely to be on the list of invitees: "From the tone of their press release it's clear they are motivated by politics, not protecting workers."

Ink Remover

Finding a seat at the media table could be a lot easier next session. And memorizing the faces in the Capitol press guide that the Senate puts out every odd year probably won't be much of a task, either.

Since lawmakers adjourned sine die a year and a half ago, at least three of the state's major daily newspapers have trimmed their Capitol bureaus, and the one-person operation that covered Austin for the larger papers in the Rio Grande Valley has been shuttered. Two years before that, Scripps Howard closed its bureau and the Hearst-owned Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News consolidated operations.

And even further reductions could be realized if recently reported negotiations between The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram bear fruit. They're trying to devise a plan to share content, and while they're not specific about what areas of the papers might be affected, sports and politics — where reporters from the two papers are often running in the same packs — are obvious candidates for consolidation. Or if one of the media conglomerates that already has a presence in the Capitol comes forward to buy the Austin American-Statesman, which owner Cox Communications put on the block earlier this year.

The cutbacks in press presence under the Dome and throughout the state agencies are the latest development in a trend that started in the 1990s when the Dallas Times Herald, the San Antonio Light, the Houston Post and El Paso Herald-Post toppled one after another like a row of dominoes.

And the trend is hardly unique to Austin. A 1998 study funded by the Pew Center and released by the American Journalism Review found that staffing levels for statehouse reporting nationwide had shrunk dramatically in the 1990s and that every major paper in the country had cut back.

"It's only gotten worse since then," says Gene Roberts, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland who helped spearhead the 1998 study. "At newspaper after newspaper, we are seeing fewer reporters and smaller news holes for state capital coverage. This is a huge problem."

In the interest of full disclosure, yours truly is among the faces likely to be missing from the 2009 press guide. After colleague R.A. "Jake" Dyer was laid off by the Star-Telegram and bureau chief Jay Root moved across the hall to the Associated Press, I accepted a buyout from the newspaper that included six months salary and three months of subsidized health coverage.

As a result, the Star-Telegram bureau went dark for about six weeks until Dave Montgomery came back from Washington, D.C., to take over what had been a three-reporter, one-clerk operation and turn it into a one-man band.

Dave McNeely, the former longtime writer for the American-Statesman whose freelance column on state government and politics is now carried by about two dozen Texas newspapers, said the shrinking press corps carries some ominous consequences beyond the prospect of having more reporters scouring the job ads.

"Each time we lose a reporter or a paper closes its bureau, there's a loss of accountability for the elected officials and state agencies," said McNeely, whose career in Austin dates back to the Connally Administration. "I had one of my lawmaker friends tell me once that every time we busted somebody for something, we stopped 100 others from trying something just as bad — or worse.

"When there are fewer reporters chasing fewer stories, that's fewer opportunities to bust them even once."

Tom "Smitty" Smith, who heads the watchdog group, Public Citizen, said that the diminished ranks of reporters has affected his ability to spread the word about his organization's investigations into such issues as energy policy and environmental awareness.

"Devastating. It has crippled our efforts to alert the public about issues that affect their pocketbooks, their health and their environment," he said.

Related: Cox Newspapers, owners of the Austin American-Statesman and other papers, announced it will close its Washington, D.C., bureau, a move that will send Jason Embry back to the Texas capital, where he'll return to state government coverage. And Ken Herman, the paper's former Austin bureau chief, will move back to Texas early next year for an assignment to be determined later. Both have been working in the Cox Washington Bureau.

— by John Moritz

Nobody Has the Votes Yet (Week 5)

Irving is still hung up (see below), but members are still burning up those cell phone batteries by mid-afternoon every day. New members came to Austin for orientation and noted how extraordinarily nice all the veteran members were to them.

No kidding.

That said, there's a lot of talking going on and not much apparent movement. Your cast of characters remains pretty much the same, but we're hearing San Antonio Republican Joe Straus' name in more conversations about potential candidates (that means he's entered the pack of candidates — not that he's emerged from it), and the first real soundings on "seconds." A second is when a member asks if he can be another's second choice, as in, "Should your favorite stumble, would you vote for me?"

Texas Democrats: Stop Counting

Texas Democrats contend a Dallas County election recount is being conducted in violation of federal voting laws and want the count halted until a federal judge takes a look at the HD-105 election.

In the lawsuit, the Texas Democratic Party says the counting of emphasis ballots amounts to a change in the rules of the election, and they contend any such change requires federal approval since Texas is covered by the federal Voting Rights Act.

They want the recount in the HD-105 race stopped temporarily while the courts work on this. Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, won reelection by just 20 votes last month. Democrat Bob Romano requested a recount. They and the political parties went to court last week over the counting of so-called emphasis ballots — ballots where voters pulled the lever for the political party of their choice and then emphasized that selection by voting for their party's candidate in HD-105. A state district judge who heard that case rejected it last week, saying he didn't have jurisdiction. That set the stage for a recount, and for the federal lawsuit filed Monday.

On optical ballots, those are counted as a vote for the party and for the candidate in question. On the electronic machines in use in Dallas County, the vote for the party is counted and the selection of the candidate is counted as an exception, as in "all of the Republicans (or Democrats) except this one."

Harper-Brown's side wants to leave the counting like that, with a voter who selected "Democrat" and "Bob Romano" effectively registering no vote in the race. In an earlier lawsuit (the Democrats attached it to their filing, below), the courts went along with the "deselection" argument, in part because the results of a voter's action was clear on the screen, which warned the voter that a change to the straight-party vote was being made.

The other side, with the TDP leading the legal fight, says that amounts to a rule change that wasn't pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department, a change prohibited by federal voting law. "As a result of last week’s ruling, it became clear the Texas Democratic Party needed to take further action and file a lawsuit in federal court in order to get this pressing matter addressed," said Boyd Richie, the party's chairman, in a written statement. "As a result of their partisan intervention in the HD 105 election, the Secretary of State’s office has forced the Dallas County Elections Office to change the election rules in the middle of the game, ignoring Department of Justice requirements that demand pre-clearance for changes."

That federal law, by their reading, allows the judge two options: Count all of the ballots the same way as optical ballots are being counted, or ditch the election and start all over again with federally approved rules in place before the voting starts.

• In the other recount, in HD-11, Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, nearly doubled the size of his win. On second count, Hopson's margin over Republican Brian Walker increased to 204 votes from 103.

A Blue Shift?

Texas could be the next Colorado, shifting from red to blue on the political map, according to a Houston pollster's report being circulated among Republican politicos and consultants.

Hill Research Consultants did a statewide poll after the election — November 15-17 — to find what it calls the "worst-case scenario" for future elections in Texas, the better not to lose the state's Republican advantage in the congressional delegation, the statehouse, and all 29 statewide offices.

In their conversations with 636 registered voters, the pollsters got an earful:

• Texas voters are unhappy with the status quo

• The economy is their highest priority

• Tax burdens are too high

• Voters don't think the GOP "is delivering government that is low-cost, in-touch, sensible, and devoted to the common good"

• The Republican "brand" is less appealing than the Democratic one

• A number of dead Democrats handily out-poll several living Republican officeholders in Texas in favorability ratings

• Generic Republicans trail on the most important issues to voters

• The GOP has been tagged with several negative traits, according to those voters: "arrogant, racist, corrupt, unwelcoming"

• Voters have "Bush fatigue" and are aware that the GOP isn't connecting with younger voters and Hispanics

• GOP job approval is under 50 percent — a potential advantage for Democrats.

• 50 percent think the state is on the wrong track, as against 37 percent who think it's moving in the right direction

• On generic ballots for governor, Texans favor the Democrat over the Republican, 44-31

The full poll is nearly 300 pages long (with cross-tabs). Here's the top, and here's the whole thing.

Chicken Lickin'

Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride, which calls itself "the world's largest chicken company," filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing massive losses the company blamed on "high feed-ingredient costs, an oversupply of chicken, weak market pricing and softening demand." That's making an appearance here because the controlling owner has been a major financier of Texas conservatives.

Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, and his wife, Patty Pilgrim, have given $2.7 million to state candidates in Texas since 2000. Bo Pilgrim got kind of famous when, in 1989, he passed out $10,000 checks to state senators — on the Senate floor — during a special session on workers' compensation laws. It was legal, but most of the recipients gave the money back when they saw the resulting headlines. He and his spouse are among the most generous givers to Republicans and, occasionally, to Democrats running for the Legislature and statewide offices. We ran their numbers at the Texas Ethics Commission for this decade. Here's a glance:

In 2000, they gave $194,500.

In 2001, $128,500.

In 2002, $822,209.

In 2003, $230,000.

In 2004, $338,295.

In 2005, $344,286.

In 2006, $317,327.

In 2007, $178,000.

And in 2008, the incomplete total is $166,179.

Want it by biggest recipients of the decade? Here's that list: Gov. Rick Perry: $532,370; Attorney General Greg Abbott: $359,238; Comptroller Susan Combs: $296,786; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: $240,220; Republican Party of Texas: $170,000; Then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn: $160,220.

Political People and Their Moves

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, accused of accepting a discount on legal services that amounted to an improper gift, was ordered to pay $29,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission. Hecht spoke on behalf of Harriet Miers when she was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct admonished him for it. He successfully defended himself but the discount on his legal fees generated a complaint from a watchdog group, Texas Watch. That complaint led to this fine. He can appeal the ruling; he hasn't decided what he'll do.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Solomon "Sol" Casseb III of San Antonio to the 288th District Court. He's a private practice attorney and will replace Lori Massey, who retired.

Carmen Fenton, who's been handling press for U.S. Rep. John Carter, moves to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association as director of public affairs.

Casey Haney, who was Sen. Kyle Janek's chief of staff, moved two blocks north to the Public Utility Commission as director of government relations. Damon Withrow, now out here in the private sector, had been in that post.

Add Michelle Apodaca and Denise Rose to the lobby team at the Texas Hospital Association. Apodaca had been at the Brown McCarroll law firm; Rose was previously at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

Tossed: That odd set of Willacy County indictments against Vice President Dick Cheney, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and two state judges. Up next: A motion for sanctions against Willacy County DA Juan Angel Guerra, who sought the indictments in the first place. A judge told Guerra he'd violated the state's code of criminal procedure by pursuing cases in which he was both a victim and witness.

Recovering: Former First Lady Barbara Bush, from surgery on a perforated ulcer.

Quotes of the Week

President George W. Bush, in an interview done by his sister, Doro Bush Koch, for StoryCorps, quoted by the Austin American-Statesman: "I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process. I came to Washington with a set of values and I'm leaving with the same set of values."

Lobbyist and political consultant Bill Miller, in a Houston Chronicle story on Gov. Rick Perry's recent blasts at the federal government: "I think his criticisms are his attempt to raise his profile, and if it slows down Sen. [Kay Bailey] Hutchison, that's a good thing."

Gov. Rick Perry, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on the state of the state economy: "The fact is we're not an island. Our economy is interlaced with the other 49 states. We're certainly starting to feel the effects of this meltdown, and we expect that they will increase."

Tom Johnson, head of the faculty association at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, quoted in the Galveston Daily News on a lawsuit filed after UT Regents decided to fire 3,800 people there: "We hope that in the act of discovery and act of executing the lawsuit, we find the real reasons behind this move. It's been our suspicion for a long time — more than a suspicion — that UT wants to build a teaching hospital in Austin. They have been steadily disinvesting from UTMB."

Speaker candidate Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, on the prospect of another term for Midland Republican Tom Craddick, the incumbent speaker, in the San Antonio Express-News: "One bump and the whole place is going up in flames. Republicans don't want that kind of session, nor, believe it or not, do the Democrats. No one wants the war wagon to keep blowing up."

Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas, arguing in the San Antonio Express-News that House Speaker Tom Craddick isn't to blame for the rough ride in the last few sessions: "The House is volatile because Democrat members detest being in the minority and vigorously strive to obstruct the agenda of the Republican majority. That tension will only lessen if there is a Republican speaker who is a puppet of the Democrat members."

Frank Sturzl, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, talking to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about the upcoming legislative session: "It's become routine for us to spend most of our time opposing things."

Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, in the Waco Tribune-Herald: "Thirty-five years ago, if you called yourself an environmentalist, you were considered a communist, and you couldn’t get elected. Now if you're not an environmentalist, you're a goober, and you can't get elected."


Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 47, 8 December 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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