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PAC Pack

Texas Republicans are starting a critical election cycle with a gaggle of competing political action committees, a muddle that could hamper efforts to hang onto the slimmest possible majority in the Texas House.

Texas Republicans are starting a critical election cycle with a gaggle of competing political action committees, a muddle that could hamper efforts to hang onto the slimmest possible majority in the Texas House.

House Speaker Joe Straus III wants a second term and the Republicans want to keep control of the chamber next year. In 2011, lawmakers will draw new political districts for the state's congressional, Senate, House, and State Board of Education candidates. If Republicans lose the House, they'll lose a critical piece of redistricting machinery. If they hold their majority, they'll have a chance to draw maps that help them keep control of state government well into the century's second decade.

Straus has said he won't work against sitting members of the Legislature, from either party. He's a Republican, and he wants more Republicans in the House, but he's not going to oppose any Democrats who are already there.

His political action committee, which will spring into being this summer, will help Republicans running in open seats and Republicans defending their current seats.

GOPAC Texas ­— the state branch of a venerable federal effort that predated Ronald Reagan's rise to power — will focus on seats now held by Democrats that Republicans think they can flip to their column. On paper, that doesn't look so hard — 22 of the House's 74 Democrats represent districts that voted for Republicans in statewide contests during the last two election cycles.

Another PAC, forming with guidance from congressional and statehouse Republicans, would target all of those races — challenge seats, open seats, and defense seats.

So, apparently, would a political action committee started by the Republican Party of Texas. That has the advantage of lower mail rates that are available to the political parties but not to outside PACs and candidates. It has a disadvantage, too: Many officeholders in the GOP hold the state party in remarkably low esteem.

And they've got several ways to do their politicking without the party's help. Straus is the speaker; that's a no-brainer for Republican members. GOPAC Texas is headed by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and fellow members of the House's Conservative Caucus. Some in the Straus camp grumble that the GOPAC group is full of supporters of former House Speaker Tom Craddick — the guy Straus knocked off — but they're still House members. The congressional/statehouse effort has a number of state representatives in the boardroom, including Dan Gattis of Georgetown, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville, Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, and Larry Phillips of Sherman.

Those are all, if you'll forgive the pun, in-house efforts that members feel they can control. One advantage to outside efforts like GOPAC is that members who don't contribute and don't help in the operations can maintain their good relationships with Democratic colleagues. It's hard to smack someone in the head in November and then get their help on legislation in the session that follows. Possible, but uncomfortable. Consultant-driven PACs protect members from that sort of thing, to some extent, but often come apart when good capitalism and good politics collide. It might be politically stupid to cut another commercial or drop another round of mail, but it's profitable. It's a balancing act.

That's an opening for the Associated Republicans of Texas, a PAC that's been around since John Tower was the only Republican in statewide office. Pat Sweeney Robbins, who runs that operation, says they'll do what they always do: Try to put more Republicans in the statehouse. She's happy to have help, but worries about so many PACs crowding into an election season that will end with fewer than a dozen seats seriously contested. "Each group has their own issues. It confuses the heck out of contributors," she says.

ART has also focused in the past on Senate seats, but most watchers don't think any of those will be seriously competitive this year. In fact, Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston is spending his time working with GOPAC to try to win some House seats for the Republicans.

The new committees are just getting started. Don't expect to see big war chests when campaign finance reports are filed next week. In January — when reports for the second half of the year are due — it'll be apparent who successfully appealed to the Republican money folks, and who whiffed.

Poll: Perry Leads Hutchison

Rick Perry would beat Kay Bailey Hutchison handily in a Republican primary held right now, according to a poll done by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Politics project.

Registered voters in this poll who said they are likely to vote in the GOP primary favored the incumbent over the challenger 38 percent to 27 percent. (The margin of error on this part of the poll is 5.24 percent, since it's a subset of the full set of those surveyed). A quarter of GOP voters haven't made up their minds, and another 7 percent would favor another unnamed candidate.

Likely Democratic primary voters don't have a strong favorite but know one name better than the others. Kinky Friedman got 13 percent to 7 percent for Leticia Van de Putte (who has now said she won't run), and 3 percent for Tom Schieffer and 2 percent for Mark Thompson. Another 14 percent said they have another unnamed candidate in mind and 62 percent were undecided. (The Democratic section of the poll has a margin of error of +/- 6.05 percent.)

If Hutchison quits to run for governor, Democrat and former Comptroller John Sharp and Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lead a pack that's chasing a huge — 62 percent — undecided vote. Sharp got 10 percent, Dewhurst got 9 percent, followed by Houston Mayor Bill White, at 7 percent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, at 6 percent, state Sen. Florence Shapiro, 3 percent, and Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams, and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, each at 1 percent. The pollsters didn't attach offices or former offices to those folks, but did identify their party affiliations.

The Internet poll of 924 adults was conducted June 11-22 and (with the exception of the subsets for the primaries) has a margin of error of +/- 3.22 percent. You can see the full results, along with some charts, at the Texas Politics Project.

Asked a series of questions about words describing President Barack Obama, 70 percent said "intelligent" describes him well; 54 percent said "leadership" is a good description; and 45 percent said "honest" fits him. On that last one, 42 percent said "honest" does not describe him well. A third didn't like the "leadership" description for him. In this poll, 46 percent of Texans disapprove of the way Obama is doing his job as against 43 percent who approve. His handling of the economy gets worse marks: 51 percent disapprove, while 38 percent approve. Congress gets similarly bad marks: 20 percent approve of the job federal legislators are doing, and 58 percent disapprove. The poll included a presidential horse race question: In Texas right now, Obama would lose a reelection race to Republican Mitt Romney 39-34.

Two in five Texans said they approve "somewhat" or "strongly" of the job Perry has been doing as governor; 32 percent don't approve; and 28 percent don't lean one way or the other. The Legislature's approval ratings were 29 percent positive, 35 negative, and mainly neutral.

The respondents narrowly agree with the state's decision not to accept federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance. The Guv and the Lege turned down $555 million in federal money for that program; 43 percent agree with them, 36 percent disagree, and 21 percent didn't have a preference.

Public Policy

The biggest problem facing the country? The economy, with 29 percent, followed by federal spending/national debt, with 15 percent, and unemployment/jobs and political corruption/leadership, tied at 12 percent. A few issues — health care, immigration, national security, and moral decline — were in the 4 percent to 6 percent range. Others — gas prices, education, gay marriage, Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iraq, voting system, environment, crime — barely registered.

The most important problems in Texas were similar but immigration lead the list, at 18 percent, followed by the economy, 16 percent, and unemployment/jobs and border security, both at 13 percent.

Most — 69 percent — said the country is worse off economically than it was a year ago, but only 43 percent said that also applies to their personal and family financial standing. And 82 percent said poverty is a "big problem" or "somewhat of a problem."

• More Texans oppose (41 percent) than support (33 percent) the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

• They support reinstating legislative control over tuition rates at state colleges and universities (54 percent to 23 percent).

• They strongly support deputizing local police and sheriff's deputies to enforce federal immigration laws (61 percent to 27 percent).

• Requiring Photo IDs from voters is a winner with 70 percent; only 17 percent oppose it.

• Most Texans would allow expanded gambling in some form (full casinos, 40 percent; expansion in existing locations only, 13 percent; expansion on Indian reservations only, 7 percent), while only 18 percent would leave the law as is and only 10 percent would ban gaming altogether.

• A third of Texans don't think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry or join in civil unions, but 29 percent favor the right to marriage and another 32 percent favor the right to civil unions.

• Texans favor a ban on smoking in most places by a two-to-one margin (63 percent to 31 percent).

Cha-Ching!

Gov. Rick Perry raised $4.2 million for his reelection during the last nine days of June, and has $9.4 million on hand as that campaign gets underway.

Campaign finance reports are due next week (July 15), reflecting fundraising efforts during the six months ended June 30. Perry and other state officeholders are barred from raising money during a legislative session, for the 30 days leading up to it, and for the three weeks after a session during which a governor still yields a veto pen.

But he shared a peek at his report, saying it'll show 1,076 people gave him $4.2 million — including $454,094 online — from June 21 to June 30.

No dollar numbers yet from anyone else in the race for governor. And Perry released only the totals, saving the details of spending and of who gave how much for next week. Kay Bailey Hutchison's campaign issued a brief statement: "Kay Bailey Hutchison is proud of her strong statewide support, which is both broad and deep."

By mid-week, Hutchison was Twittering (sending messages to followers on Twitter) about her fundraising: "98% of KBH’s money raised is from Texas. Texans TRULY appreciate and value results, not politics." ... "Nearly 80% of contributions to KBH were $500 or less! A TRUE outpouring of support for Kay’s vision for Texas!"

This is a personal best for Perry during the truncated fundraising periods in legislative years. In 2007, he raised $881,488; in 2005, $2.3 million; in 2003, $272,771; and in 2001, $2.2 million. Both 2001 and 2005, like this year, were leading into election seasons.

Why release it early? Let us speculate for a minute: Hutchison probably raised more money and if Perry let his number loose at the same time she did, he'd lose that day's headline contest. Also, Perry's release came a day before a scheduled conference call for Hutchison's finance team: That's got to be discouraging.

The Movie Business

Twittering isn't all of it: U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is popping out a series of online videos in a new effort to use social media to promote her run for governor.

One: She's got 6,500 financial supporters (she didn't say what they've contributed, or what period that number of people covers).

Two: Donors by region of the state. The slogan appears for the first time: "Results. Not Politics."

Three: A towel-snap aimed at Gov. Rick Perry's derriere. Hutchison's video says Perry was against stimulus money publicly — in fundraising letters and speeches — while pleading for more of it in meetings with federal officials. And it closes with a tag you'll probably see later on TV: "Rick Perry: All you get is politics. Texas can do better. Kay Bailey Hutchison for Governor. Results. Not politics."

Mark Miner, a spokesman for Perry, said Hutchison's attack is hypocritical, since she voted against the funds she now says the state should accept. Plus, he said, it would be irresponsible to leave the education stimulus money on the table: "These are Texas taxpayer dollars and they would otherwise go to other states."

Perry convinced legislators to decline $556 million in unemployment insurance stimulus money, freeing that money for other states and increasing the size of an expected payroll tax increase next year. Miner says that was different, because the UI money came with federal strings attached. The education money, he said, does not.

A Non-Surprise Announcement

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples wants four more years in that post.

A win would start his second term there and he doesn't have any announced opposition at this point. Staples, an East Texas Republican, starts the 2010 race with endorsements from the political arms of the Texas Farm Bureau and the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

While they were at it, the Farm Bureau's AGFUND also endorsed Comptroller Susan Combs, who announced her reelection bid a couple of weeks ago. Like Staples, she doesn't have any announced opposition.

Million-Dollar Maybes

Republicans Ted Cruz and Dan Branch each have pulled together more than $1 million to run for attorney general. Neither Cruz, the state's former solicitor general, nor Branch, a state representative from Dallas, plan to seek that job unless the current occupant, Greg Abbott, decides to quit or run for another office.

Branch, limited by a state law that prevents officeholders from raising money during a legislative session, had only seven days during the first half of the year during which he could raise money. He raised $600,000 from more than 200 people, he said, bringing his cash on hand total to more than $1 million. Cruz wasn't restricted, and raised more than $1 million during the five months since he announced his interest in the job.

Branch said the money would be used for his reelection bid if Abbott decides to seek reelection. Cruz said that, "in that very unlikely case," he'd leave the issue to donors, refunding the money or stashing it for a future run for office. Abbott has been considering a run for lieutenant governor next year. Current Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst plans to run for reelection, but is also considering a bid for U.S. Senate if Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns early to run for governor.

Neither Branch nor Cruz released exact numbers — their reports are due next week — but Cruz released a list of financial supporters, starting with his treasurer, former Texas GOP chairman and statewide candidate George Strake Jr., of Houston. The full list is here.

Her, and Not Him

Plano Republican Florence Shapiro got three more of her colleagues in the Texas Senate to support her bid for the U.S. Senate (she's running for Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat if Hutchison quits early).

Fellow Republicans Kip Averitt of Waco, Joan Huffman of Houston, and Mike Jackson of La Porte join a list that includes 17 current and former pols who serve or served with Shapiro in the Senate. Four of her current Republican colleagues haven't signed on. Another way to look at it: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is undeclared but signaling that he might be in the hunt to replace Hutchison in the U.S. Senate. All but four of the 19 Republicans in the Senate — over which he presides — will be with Shapiro. The holdouts: Steve Ogden of Bryan, Dan Patrick of Houston, Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, and Tommy Williams of The Woodlands.

Stump: Tea, and Red Meat

Gov. Rick Perry ran through a circuit of Tea parties on Independence Day; we caught his Austin speech to several hundred hot (clear skies, 102 degrees!) Texans who gathered on the South grounds of the state Capitol for a day of talks from conservative political folks. You can listen to his speech (about 10 minutes) here. Perry was also scheduled to make stops in Sulphur Springs, Rockwall, and San Antonio. TEA, in this case, stands for "Taxed Enough Already." At one stop over the weekend, Perry made a bit of news, trading endorsements with Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler. That means Berman, who might've drawn anti-immigration voters in a GOP primary for governor, won't be in that race. Conventional wisdom is that those conservative voters, who might or might not be in line with Perry on immigration issues, are probably in his camp on other matters. In a contest with Kay Bailey Hutchison, he can't afford to lose any votes.

Dueling Mandates

State education officials want to spend federal stimulus money on across-the-board teacher pay raises, but local school officials say federal rules bar the state from making that decision for them.

And their diverse plans have a common problem, spending one-time federal money on educator pay, an ongoing expense. Either state or local school taxpayers will have to finance those larger payrolls once the federal money is gone.

Last week, Gov. Rick Perry applied for the first part of $4 billion in federal stimulus money available for Texas education. Aides say he's been assured the state is getting the money, and soon. But some local officials are balking at the state's attempts to tell them how the federal dollars should be spent. Officials with the Texas Association of School Boards say the districts aren't against raises, but want local flexibility the state doesn't want to extend.

State officials want that money to fund $800 pay raises for teachers — salary boosts that were approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor. But the regulations around that stimulus money give the spending discretion to local school officials.

The difference, really, is that state lawmakers voted for across the board raises of at least $800 (estimates are that average educators would get raises of $900 to $1,000, depending on what districts they're in). Local officials would probably give raises, too, but would prefer, in some cases, to vary the size of the pay hikes to encourage, say, teachers in tougher schools to stay put, or to attract and retain employees. Also, the state version of the raises would only apply to "each classroom teacher, full-time speech pathologist, full-time librarian, full-time counselor, and full-time school nurse." Some districts might want to give raises to office staff, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, part-timers, and others not directly involved in educating kids.

"It's a false issue to say districts are not going to spend money on teachers," says J. David Thompson, a Houston attorney who represents school districts around the state. "... but the state is trying to jump in and add a mandate."

Officials at the Texas Education Agency say the Legislature directed school districts to spend the money on the one-size-fits-all pay raises. And they say the only decision left is whether they can do that with the federal money or have to use local funds for the raises and the federal funds for other spending. That's not exactly what the Legislature said, though. In HB 3646, lawmakers said Education Commissioner Robert Scott has to decide the federal funds can be used for pay increases before the districts can increase salaries.

Either way, TEA and the local districts are waiting to see whether federal officials will allow the stimulus money to be used for pay hikes. And the districts want to see whether the feds allow the state to tell the locals what to do. And in two years, both will be trying to figure out whether the resulting payrolls are funded by state or local taxpayers, or some combination.

Political People and Their Moves

Alberto Gonzales will teach political science at Texas Tech University next fall. The former U.S. attorney general, Texas Supreme Court Justice and Texas Secretary of State will also help the school — and Angelo State University —recruit minority students.

Ted Cruz has his campaign management in place. If he runs. The possible candidate hired John Drogin to run his campaign (which will launch if and when current AG Greg Abbott says he wants to do something else). Drogin has been doing some legislative consulting but most of his background is in politics, with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and on the 2004 Bush reelection campaign. Jason Johnson is Cruz's general consultant; Susan Lilly is his fundraiser.

Rich Oppel Sr., former editor of the Austin American-Statesman, signed on with Public Strategies as a "senior advisor." He's not yet sure what all that entails, but it's a public affairs firm and he's got 46 years of newspapering behind him and they'll figure out something. His new office is right across the Colorado River from his old one.

John Pitts Jr. changed jobs, moving to Simple Solar as VP of development from his more general lobbying for clients including renewable energy firms. He'll stay involved in the Texas Renewable Energy Association, but will spend his time building solar projects in the U.S., Canada, and in Mexico.

Eric Johnson, who's challenging fellow Democrat Rep. Terri Hodge in Dallas' HD-100, says his campaign finance report will show contributions of $65,000.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry, talking to the Houston Chronicle about running for reelection while other governors are dropping out or moving on: "You know, eight years is probably enough to be governor of Minnesota. Four years may be enough to be the governor of Alaska. My deal is I still enjoy my job a great deal."

Former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who opened a campaign account while he considers a run for state office, in the Austin American-Statesman: "I basically haven't decided whether being a candidate for governor is the best way to make Texas safer and more prosperous."

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, talking to the Washington Post about the political and the economic outlook for the Obama Administration and Democrats in general: "I think they're going to have some significant problems, and I view those as opportunities for us."

State Board of Education member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, in the Houston Chronicle, on talk that Cynthia Dunbar could be the governor's pick to head the SBOE: "It would certainly cause angst among the same members of the pagan left that rejected Don McLeroy because he was a man of faith."

East Texas farmer Hank Gilbert, a toll road opponent and former agriculture commission candidate, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on the Legislature's decision not to authorize new public-private toll roads: "I am as happy as a hog taking a bath in a pond of slop. It just couldn't be no better than this."


Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 27, 13 July 2009. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2009 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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