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Senate, Anyone?

Kay Bailey Hutchison's term in the U.S. Senate runs through 2012 and she now says she won't resign earlier than the end of next year if she runs for governor. She has formed an exploratory committee.

Kay Bailey Hutchison's term in the U.S. Senate runs through 2012 and she now says she won't resign earlier than the end of next year if she runs for governor. She has formed an exploratory committee.

To the political ear, that's the sound of a starting gun. In the last week:

• Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams is officially in the race. The Weatherford car dealer and Republican fundraiser, is the third candidate to get in. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, formed an exploratory committee last summer. And former Comptroller John Sharp, a Democrat, announced his plans to file for office — no exploring — on January 1. Williams made his exploratory announcement via email and on his new campaign website,

Season's Greetings! This is the last issue of Texas Weekly for 2008. The newsletter closes for two weeks for the holidays (daily News Clips will continue) and will return in the first week of January. Thanks for your support this year — we appreciate your business and wish you a wonderful holiday season.

• Add Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones to the list. She said in a short press release on a Friday afternoon that she quietly filed papers a few weeks ago. She's the fourth candidate to openly express an interest, and she's a candidate, not an explorer.

• Her colleague, Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, is the fourth Republican to file and says he is in — he's not exploring.

• Houston Mayor Bill White, who considered running for governor in 2010, decided to go for federal office and announced his intentions on a new website:

• Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson weighed in, too. "After a great deal of consideration, and much soul-searching, I am today formally announcing my intention to join many of my fellow elected officials and not seek the U.S. Senate seat. I have been urged by many of my fellow Texans to seek this seat... actually only a few Texans... truthfully just a couple members of my staff and a few others officeholders who want my job... so I'll to sit this one out. I will form an unexploratory committee to be sure, but my heart tells me that I am deeply ambivalent about being a U.S. Senator."

Hutchison' announcement — the exploratory committee — seems to have uncorked the bottle. And this isn't nearly over: There are zillions of other people in Texas who think they're seeing a future United States Senator when they look in the mirror.

Hutchison is "exploring" a race for governor and had been telling supporters she would resign as early as this month. In public statements recently, she has said that if she resigns early at all (her term runs through 2012), it would probably come about this time next year. She also moved a fraction of her federal campaign money — $1 million of more than $8 million on hand — into her state account.

The governor's race is in 2010, and Hutchison isn't required to quit the Senate to run in that contest; she'd have to resign only if she won and was sworn into the state office in January 2011.

If she resigns, Gov. Rick Perry would appoint an interim senator to hold her job until a special election could be held. And the Republicans on this growing list would all presumably be lobbying Perry for that appointment.

But even with the prospect of a year-long wait for the race, the candidates are lining up, talking to political financiers and seeing if they can put together the kind of statewide organizations needed to win a Senate seat.

• Add this to your ruminations about Hutchison's decision not to resign — if at all — before late next year: It takes some options away from potential rivals.

Say she quit the Senate today. Perry would appoint someone to replace her, call a special election, and by June at the latest, you'd know the name of the new U.S. senator from Texas. You would also know the names of candidates who took a chance on that and were ready to get up, dust themselves off, and run for something in 2010.

By waiting until the end of next year, she forces those candidates to choose between, say, running for U.S. Senate and running for governor or lieutenant governor or whatever. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for instance, has expressed interest in running for U.S. Senate or for reelection or even for governor. Hutchison's delay forces him to choose, taking away the no-lose option of running for Senate now and something else in 2010. The same goes for Houston Mayor White, who openly considered the race for governor before deciding to run for Senate.

Nobody Has the Votes Yet (Holiday Edition)

The speaker candidates are stirring like mice in their holes — How does that go? Anyhow, the number of announced candidates has not changed and the visible action has been light. Even so, there are some items to report:

• Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, announced a platform of sorts, with calls for party parity in committee chairmanships, selection of a temporary parliamentarian for the speaker election next month, a review of the heads of legislative agencies, and a five-point "speaker's ethics reform pledge."

He's recommending term limits for speakers, removing speakers from the elections of sitting legislators, a ban on special interest groups and lobbyists operating from the speaker's office during floor debates, a ban on lobbyists and political consultants serving on transition teams, and a ban on using the appropriations bill to reward patronage.

• Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, wants some changes to the House's rules, too, including sealed ballots for the election of a speaker, a parliamentary mechanism for ousting a sitting Speaker of the House, more oversight of large House expenditures, and changes in the formation of House committees.

• Those two and others in the hunt met with Secretary of State Hope Andrade to talk about the opening hours of the legislative session next month. Andrade will preside over the election of the speaker and the initial organization of the House in January. In the words of one participant, "We wanted to make sure she knows just what she's in for." One concern they expressed was over who'll be advising her while she's got the gavel; some want Parliamentarian Terry Keel off the dais, replaced with someone who's not so closely allied with Craddick.

A Do-Over

The House will host an election contest when the legislative session starts, but it might not be the one you expected.

Republican Brian Walkermailed in his protest before the midnight Monday deadline, asking that the House have a look at the election he lost by 121 votes to Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville. That's in HD-11.

That wasn't the closest result in the certified election numbers. The honor there goes to HD-105, where Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, defended her post against Democrat Bob Romano, winning by 19 votes. Romano missed the Monday deadline, so there won't be an election contest there. But he was still saying, a day later, that he hadn't made a decision and that he was considering his options.

The election contest window is closed, but he's still party to a federal lawsuit on the counting of so-called emphasis ballots cast on electronic voting machines. Lawyers say there weren't enough questionable votes there to flip the result, but that appears to be one of the few avenues of protest still open to the Democrat.

The election contest in HD-11 won't affect the speaker's race, if that's still underway on January 13. Hopson, the winner of the certified vote, will be sworn in and allowed to vote on anything and everything with the exception of votes on his own election contest. If Walker prevails, he'd replace Hopson. But by the time that's investigated and gets to the floor, the speaker's race will be old news.

Walker's petition for election contest — basically an appeal of the election, to be judged by the Texas House itself — says the number of questionable ballots is greater than the 121-vote margin. It drills in on Cherokee County, and contends there are enough irregularities in Hopson's home precinct alone to justify a challenge.

"He doesn't even allege the outcome of the election would have been different," says Renea Hicks, the lawyer for Hopson. And he doesn't think a challenge will change the result: "Even if all of this happened, you could not make up 121 votes."

He said Hopson will "quickly and vigorously" respond to the filing, including a request for attorney fees from Walker.

The procedure: Those filings go from the Secretary of State to the Speaker, who appoints a "master of discovery" and a committee to hear the contest. The master can throw out the contest as frivolous or investigate it, take it through the committee and then to the full House with a committee recommendation.

The odds are against the challenger. According to the Texas Legislative Council, there were no election contests in the state Legislature from 1949 to 1979. Since then, there have been ten in the House and one in the Senate. And in those eleven attempts, the candidate who lost the election and filed the contest failed to overturn the results. They're eleven for eleven, and not in a good way.

Ho, Ho, Huffman: Chris Cringled

Republican Joan Huffman shredded Democrat Chris Bell in the special election runoff in SD-17, with 56 percent to his 44 percent. She won easily in early voting, and as Election Day returns came in, she maintained a strong lead over the Democrat who finished first among the candidates on November 4.

Full results are online at the Texas Secretary of State's website.

The mail-in and absentee ballots from last week belonged to Huffman. And while her margins were smaller on Election Day, maintained a strong advantage with all but a couple of the 211 precincts reporting.

She won in Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Harris counties. Bell won in Jefferson and Galveston counties but didn't get enough votes to offset her wins elsewhere. Huffman did best in Brazoria, where she won 2-to-1, and in Harris, where she got 56 percent. His bright spots were Jefferson County, where Bell won 5-to-1, and in Galveston, where he won 2-to-1. The two counties where Bell did well accounted for the smallest vote totals among the five counties where votes were tallied.

Voting in the runoff was a fraction of the special election total: 43,535 voters as against 223,295 a month ago, when the race was on the ballot with the presidential candidates and other federal, state and local races.

Huffman will replace resigned Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston. The Senate will have 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats this session — a net change of one in favor of the Democrats. With the Senate's two-thirds rule, that effectively blocks the Republicans from bringing up an issue without Democratic support. And it means the Democrats can't get anything going without a mess of Republicans.

Huffman will be the sixth woman in the Senate's ranks — an all-time high. And the females will be split evenly: Three Democrats and three Republicans.

Bell and another Democrat, Stephanie Simmons, together won 53 percent in the first round, with Huffman and three other Republicans splitting the votes of their party's supporters. Had only one of the two Democrats run, their party might have taken the Senate seat out of the GOP column. Bell, who'd been talking about a run for the U.S. Senate, was coaxed into the race by trial lawyers and Democrats in the state capital, who ensured him a well-financed campaign. Their polling showed that, with the name ID he built up during a race for governor in 2006, Bell might be able to win what has been a Republican seat.

But Simmons was recruited by former state Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, and others, including Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which backed her and Huffman in the November 4 race. Bell beat Simmons in the first round of the special election — in fact, he led all six candidates — but fell well short of the 50 percent he needed to win in that round.

The loss is the fifth in Bell's political career, which includes service on the Houston City Council and in Congress. He lost races for the Texas House, mayor of Houston, a post-redistricting congressional reelection bid, governor of Texas, and now the state Senate. Huffman, formerly a state district judge, was making her first bid for legislative office.

One Last Round of Fundraisers

Senator-elect Joan Huffman ends the week with fundraisers aimed at paying down her campaign debts.

Huffman, who beat Democrat Chris Bell in a special election runoff on Tuesday, won't be sworn in until next week and says in her invitations that she's not subject to the ban on fundraising by state officeholders until then.

According to her last full campaign finance report — filed eight days before the runoff — her campaign debts totaled $890,000.

She'll hold a funder in Austin tonight (Thursday) and another in Houston on Friday (a nod here to the Houston Chronicle for catching the first invitation).

Bumpy Road

The agency once known as the Texas Highway Commission could be changing lanes once again.

The Sunset Commission this week voted 7-5 to scrap the five-member panel that oversees the Texas Department of Transportation and replace with a single commissioner who would run the agency with pretty much the same autonomy now wielded in their domains by the executive commissioner for health and human services and the Texas insurance commissioner.

And at least two members of the Sunset panel said they'll pursue legislation beginning next month to make the transportation commissioner an elective office.

Any changes to the management structure at TxDOT must be ratified by the full Legislature once the 2009 session starts next month. But while the vote to overhaul the agency was close, there was a pretty clear consensus that TxDOT has been heading in the wrong direction for quite some time.

"You inherited a mess," Sunset Chairman Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, told TxDOT Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi, adding that the agency "has been in gridlock since the 1920s."

The Sunset staff report was equally blunt. The staff said that "an atmosphere of distrust had permeated most of TxDOT's actions" and that simply "tweaking the status quo" would be an insufficient remedy to bringing about accountability and efficiency to the sprawling department that oversees Texas' transportation infrastructure.

The staff recommended greater transparency in TxDOT's contracting procedures, more transparency in deciding which projects go forward and which remain stuck in neutral and more thoughtful long-range planning for the state's transportation needs.

Finally, the staff said, the agency should be placed under "legislative conservatorship" until its problems are ironed out.

Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, who co-chairs the Sunset panel, spearheaded the effort to put a single commissioner at the helm, saying that lawmakers and the public could hold a single person accountable for "changing the culture" of that agency. He also said the commissioner should be limited to a two-year term, at least in the short run.

Rep. Isett disagreed: "You give all the power to the bureaucrats because they're the only ones with institutional knowledge."

The term-limit idea went nowhere. But Hegar did prevail on the motion to have TxDOT run by a single honcho.

That idea didn't go far enough for two House members on the Sunset panel. State Reps. Ruth Jones McClendon, D- San Antonio, and Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, said they'll push legislation to have the commissioner elected statewide and be held accountable by voters.

"We have to send a really dramatic message to the public," said McClendon.

— by John Moritz

Split Over a Merger

The recommendation by the Sunset Commission to combine the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission with the more highly touted Juvenile Probation Commission appears to drive a wedge between two of the Legislature's most respected voices when it comes to criminal justice.

But the tandem in question, Democratic Sens. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen and John Whitmire of Houston, are playing down any talk of schism. Both predict that they'll craft legislation to keep the juvenile justice system operating for at least another two years and make sure that the TYC reforms enacted in 2007 are not derailed in the process.

"We're not that far apart," said Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and favors merging the two agencies. "We both know that TYC is broken and doesn't work. He's saying, 'Give them more time.' I'm saying, 'How much more?'"

Hinojosa opposes the merger. He carried the far-reaching 2007 legislation to clean house at TYC after a highly publicized sex-abuse scandal (TYC officials were abusing inmates) forced state leaders to place the agency into conservatorship. During this week's Sunset Advisory Commission meeting at the Capitol, he was among those warning that bringing the agencies under a single umbrella would likely allow TYC's incarceration mindset to overrun the more rehabilitative juvenile probation commission.

"The Texas Youth Commission is dealing with the kids who have the most problems," Hinojosa said in an interview. "Their mission is different from probation, which deals with kids who still have a chance (to be deterred) from incarceration.

"I think we need to give the reforms we passed last session time to work before we dismantle TYC and merge it with probation."

Hinojosa said he expects to carry the TYC Sunset bill during the upcoming session that would keep the myriad juvenile justice agencies (in one form or another) in business until 2015 — if the Sunset staff's recommendation is followed. And his bill won't have the merger component, he said.

But the bill will likely be heard on the Senate side by Whitmire's criminal justice panel. And the Houston lawmaker said he's pretty adamant that TYC needs a healthy dose on whatever positive influence the probation side can give it.

"TYC is still being run like it was in the '50s," Whitmire said. "They're taking kids out of the urban areas and shipping them off to some rural unit where they ain't getting the services they need and the support they need. Something's got to give."

The Sunset staff said the merger could save the state some $28 million a year beginning in 2011 by reducing the workforce by nearly 600 and shuttering five youth lockups.

Whitmire and Hinojosa both like the idea of closing down units, especially after the 2007 legislation helped slash TYC's inmate population from 5,000 youngsters to around 2,200.

"Whatever we do with TYC, we've got to keep on eye on them," said Whitmire. "I think whatever bill we pass should have a provision that we sunset them again in two years."

— by John Moritz

Election Law Nerds Only

An addendum to our recent item on special elections (We found this next to having a toothache on the list of things to do).

We left out a mention of the very important provision that allows the governor to declare an emergency and ignore the uniform election dates in May and November. Under normal circumstances, a governor calls special elections for the next appropriate uniform date when, say, a U.S. Senator quits to run for another office. If the governor wants to hold a special election on something other than a uniform election date, all he or she has to do is call an emergency — the law leaves it to the Guv to decide what constitutes an emergency — and set it for another date.

So, to condense: If Kay Bailey Hutchison quits her term in the U.S. Senate to run for governor, Gov. Rick Perry will appoint someone to serve on an interim basis and call a special election to replace her. That election will be held in May, or November, or on a date Perry chooses. If she doesn't quit, but runs and wins, she'll be in position to appoint her own interim successor once she's sworn in as governor in January 2011. And then it would be up to her to set the special election, opting for the uniform date in May, or calling an emergency and picking a date of her own.

If she doesn't quit and then loses the race, she'll still be a U.S. senator. And if she quits the Senate and loses the governor's race, she'll be a private citizen like you.

Another provision that brought to our attention turns out to be a red herring. Texas law says that if you resign after January 1 in an election year, and if your resignation takes place at least 62 days before the primary, your successor is chosen in that year's regular election. But that's not going to happen in 2010: January 1 and March 2 — the primary date — aren't 62 days apart. It'll be a special election whenever Hutchison resigns.

While we're at this nutball legal stuff, take a look at this: State law blocks state candidates from raising campaign money during a legislative session — a ban that starts a month before the session and is already in effect for this year. But candidates for federal office — even those who are also state officeholders — can raise money for their federal races during the legislative session. As of now, that provision allows state Sen. Florence Shapiro and Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams to raise federal money while the Pink Building is busy this spring.

And if any of them drop out of the federal race, they'll be free to transfer that money — with few restrictions — from the federal accounts to their state campaign accounts. Put on your schemer's cap: What prevents a sitting legislator from declaring for federal office, raising money while bills are being considered, then deciding against the federal office at the end of a session and moving the money into the state account? Nothing, apparently.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

Two-thirds of the general election voters in Texas have a favorable impression of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, according to a poll done at her behest.

Gov. Rick Perry gets favorable ratings from 51 percent of those voters, followed by former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, 48 percent; Houston Mayor Bill White, 28 percent; former Comptroller John Sharp, 27 percent; and U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, 17 percent.

Her pollsters also say she'd win a GOP primary against Perry if it were held today, getting 55 percent of the vote to his 31 percent of the vote. Only 14 percent were undecided, with 15 months to go before the next such primary.

They didn't release numbers for it, but said in a two-page memo that Hutchison would beat either John Sharp or Bill White in a general election. And they say Perry wouldn't break 50 percent against either Democrat.

The poll was done by Jan van Lohuisen of The Woodlands-based Voter/Consumer Research, a Republican outfit whose clients include President George W. Bush. They telephoned 601 general election voters and 466 Republican primary voters and got margins of error, respectively, of +/ -4.1 percent, and +/- 4.6 percent. The survey was done December 7-9.

They didn't release all of the numbers, but the two-page summary is available here.

Political People and Their Moves

Ron Kirk, the former Texas Secretary of State, Dallas mayor and U.S. Senate candidate, is President-elect Barack Obama's pick for U.S. Trade Representative. Kirk's been working as a lawyer and lobbyist for Vinson & Elkins since leaving electoral politics; he lost the Senate race to Republican John Cornyn in 2002. But he's been very involved as a non-candidate, heading Obama's Texas efforts in the presidential run.

Antonio "Tony" Leal is the first Hispanic chief of the Texas Rangers, and the youngest ever. He's been with the state police for 24 of his 44 years, starting as a state highway trooper. He joined the Rangers in 1994, and took over as chief earlier this month.

The regents at University of Texas named Dr. Francisco Cigarroa the sole finalist for chancellor. They interviewed Cigarroa, a surgeon who is president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and former Texas Tech Chancellor and state Sen. John Montford, and then picked Cigarroa. They have to wait 21 days to ratify that. Cigarroa will replace Mark Yudof, who left UT to run the University of California System.

John Neal, chief disciplinary counsel for the State Bar of Texas, is leaving to become first assistant to Travis County District Attorney-elect Rosemary Lehmberg. Neal is a former DA — for Stephens and Young counties, and also headed the Texas Attorney General's statewide prosecution division. Lehmberg's office has jurisdiction over some statewide issues, like campaign finance and some of the doings in the state Capitol.

The Texas Workforce Commission's economic summit next month in Austin has these names on the agenda: T. Boone Pickens, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Public Utility Commissioner Barry Smitherman, former Comptroller John Sharp, former Secretary of State Phil Wilson, and TWC Chairman Tom Pauken. Sounds like a ballot or something, no?

Jan Newton is the new chairman of the board of ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. She's been on that board for two years, since retiring from SBC.

Mary Elen Williams is on her way to Austin, where she'll work for Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler. She's been working for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

Fritz Reinig will be chief of staff for Rep.-elect Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels; he had that job with Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas.

Sen.-elect Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has assembled her staff: Hector Nieto, chief; Stephanie Leavitt, legislative director; Marshal Dooley and Dan Buda, policy analysts; Sonya Grogg, legislative aide; and Bernie Scheffler, communications.

Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, hired Harriet Brodie of Salado to run his district office in Temple. She was director of development at Central Texas Christian School.

On Friday, December 19, Rick Perry becomes the longest-serving governor in Texas history, and that's with just more than two years left in his term. Republican Bill Clements was the previous record-holder.

The Guv's latest appointments include:

• To the Texas Youth Commission Advisory Board, Catherine Evans of Dallas, Scott Fisher of Bedford and Matthew Hay of Galveston. Evans, who'll chair the board, is director of young families at the Park Cities Presbyterian Church and a former district judge. Fisher is senior pastor at Metroplex Chapel in Euless. And Hay is an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Medical Branch in Galveston.

• To preside over the Texas Medical Board, Dr. Irvin Zeitler of San Angelo, vice president of the Shannon Medical Center there. He'll replace Dr. Roberta Kalafut of Abilene, who resigned the state board and will serve on its District Three Review Committee.

• To the Central Colorado River Authority, David "Lance" McWorter, an exec with First Coleman National Bank in Coleman; Patrick Justiss, a banker at Coleman County State Bank; Kimberly Horne of Valera, a real estate broker with Centex Land Co.; and Roger Nelson of Santa Anna, executive director of the Coleman Economic Development Corp.

• To the Texas Fire Protection Commission, Art Pertile of Katy, an attorney with Olson & Olson; Gilmer Fire Chief Michael Melton; and Lubbock Fire Chief Rhea Cooper.

• To the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, Glenn Brooks of Austin, grants management director at Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates.

• To the OneStar Foundation, Bruce Esterline, vice president of grants at the Meadows Foundation in Dallas; and Joanie Haley, who heads the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation in Houston.

Quotes of the Week

GOP consultant Ray Sullivan, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the developing contest for U.S. Senate: "If there is a vacancy, the governor will appoint someone to fill that position. I would expect a lot of the statewide officeholders and other would-be candidates will be especially nice [to the governor] in the coming months."

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, asked by the San Antonio Express-News if she'll run for the U.S. Senate and how she'd be different from John Sharp and Bill White, the two Democrats already in the race: "The U.S. Senate is full of people who look just like that."

Gov. Rick Perry in the Austin American-Statesman: "We have a built-in obstacle to dealing with restructuring of higher education. It's called the Legislature."

House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, telling the Houston Chronicle what should be done with a state report on the costs of services for illegal immigrants: "Show it to our congressman, I guess. Tell him, 'Merry Christmas.' This is something we can look at the federal government and say, 'You guys ought to do a better job of guarding your borders or at least pay for 'em if you're going to allow them to come over here.'"

Texas Workforce Commissioner and former Texas GOP Chair Tom Pauken, talking in The Dallas Morning News about a conference on the health of the party hosted by members of the Texas congressional delegation: "They've made a mess of things in Washington in the last eight years. Now they're going to come home to Texas and tell us how to fix the Republican Party in our state?"

Texas Transportation Commission Fred Underwood, quoted in the Houston Chronicle after the agency got hammered in a legislative hearing: "I feel like I've done more for TxDOT than the Titanic did for the cruise business."

Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 49, 22 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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