Skip to main content

Third Time's the Charm

After exploratory dry runs in 2002 and 2006, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison formally announced her bid for governor of Texas before a sparse crowd in La Marque, starting a 19-stop, week-long tour of the state with a series of broadsides at the incumbent and a promise to return the state to Republican glory.

After exploratory dry runs in 2002 and 2006, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison formally announced her bid for governor of Texas before a sparse crowd in La Marque, starting a 19-stop, week-long tour of the state with a series of broadsides at the incumbent and a promise to return the state to Republican glory.

Under Republican Gov. Rick Perry, she said, the state has the highest property taxes in the U.S., state debt has doubled, college tuition is "skyrocketing", dropout rates are high, the number of uninsured children is high, and private property rights are at risk. She said Texas unemployment outstrips the region and that more people lost jobs here last month than in any other state but California.

She said she'll address those problems, but offered few specifics. Hutchison said her focus will be on five areas: fiscal policy, education, transportation, health care, and government reform. She said Pre-K and two years of college should be part of the state's basic education package. She'd increase the size of the state's transportation board and end anything that resembles Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor. She said she would try to build a health care system that is the "exact opposite of what is proposed in Congress today." And she said governors of Texas should be subject to term limits — a jab at an incumbent who is seeking four more years after ten in office.

She offered one of those political line-in-the-sand promises that could make or break her later, if she wins this time: "I will spend less, tax less, and borrow less." She closed with a promise to rebuild the Republican Party in Texas — she cited losses of seats in the Texas House as evidence of decay — and then a call for improvement of the state: "We can do better."

You can listen to the speech here, and look here for a written copy of her prepared remarks (the actual delivery varies, but not in a significant way).

Some of the senator's lines are flat, or easy for Perry to lob back. She and he were elected to state office the same year and she's been in the Senate for seven more years than he's been governor. It's hard to land a blow for term limits or time on task, but that's a key component of her pitch to voters. The red meat is hard to find in a speech that sounds more like a general election argument than one aimed at Republican primary voters. High state (property) taxes and rising spending are in there, but Perry's magic word is "Washington" and it bounces those issues back at her. They're also perennial themes that previous Perry opponents have tried, unsuccessfully, to tag him with: uninsured kids, high dropout rates, skyrocketing tuition, and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Here, for instance, is Carole Keeton Strayhorn from four years and two months ago, stating her case against the Guv: "It is time for a change. It is time to send Governor Perry packin'. I am a fiscal conservative. I am a common sense conservative. I am not a weak leadin', ethics ignorin', pointin' the finger at everyone blamin', special session callin', public school slashin', slush fund spendin', toll road buildin', special interest panderin', rainy day fund raidin', fee increasin', no property tax cuttin', promise breakin', do-nothin' Rick Perry phony conservative."

You get the idea.

Hutchison says the state's citizens don't have it good enough, but hasn't added policy proposals or ideas to her sales routine. Ever had a car dealer take you outside and walk you around the car you drove in, pointing out all the dings, to lower your expectations on the trade-in? That's always done after they've sold you on the new car. Hutchison is talking about the old car and hasn't unveiled the new one yet. It's an unusual approach.

It's not all messaging. One old-school rule: Don't roll out a campaign in August. Wait until after Labor Day, after the squirts are in school and football has begun and vacation season is over and it's not so bleeping hot. Hutchison's crowds were roughly the same size and enthusiasm you see when people announce for mayor. Political folk keep making comparisons with the 1990 race and its tough-fought Democratic primary. But those candidates — Jim Mattox, Ann Richards, and Mark White — weren't doing announcement tours in the August before the primary. And it was vaguely unusual that Richards went on a weeklong environmental tour of the Texas Coast, with reporters tagging along, before Labor Day rolled around.

That press corps isn't as big as it was. Hutchison's troops offered the press a ride on any leg of the five-day tour. They got three takers (The Dallas Morning News, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Associated Press), and only for a day. Sometimes, old-school just won't work.

Hutchison's Pre-game: Texas is a Mess

Hutchison foreshadowed her opening week as a candidate with a video that skipped new policy ideas, instead touting her own strengths and setting up a line of attack on incumbent Rick Perry. Hutchison popped up a web video a day before starting a 19-city announcement tour of the state. Her ad quotes Perry calling her "a true champion for Texas" and saying "she led the charge against the state income tax" and without proposing any policies, says she'll be an education reformer and will put an end to "toll road land grabs."

It doesn't name Perry (except when it quotes him saying nice things about Hutchison back in the day). But it slams the state of the state on his watch, starting with the line, "It's time for a government worthy of its people again." It refers to "grandstanding in Austin," says Texas is losing jobs faster than other states, that dropout rates are out of control, and that property taxes are higher here than anywhere else in the country. It also raps Perry's promotion of a vaccine against cervical cancer two years ago, saying the governor shouldn't "wedge the state between you and your family." See for yourself:

Another Maybe

Tom Pauken isn't running for U.S. Senate, but he says he might be interested in the job if Kay Bailey Hutchison steps down and nobody from his part of the GOP gets into the race.

"I've gotten increasingly frustrated... we had a strong Reagan majority and we've squandered that capital," he says.

Pauken, a former Texas GOP Chairman who currently heads the Texas Workforce Commission, aims his criticism at Republicans in federal office and is particularly focused on Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, a Republican who's been mentioned as a candidate and who, in Pauken's view, isn't a true conservative. And the TWC chairman let the folks in the Pink Building know he's thinking about becoming a candidate.

But Pauken hasn't pulled the trigger. "I'm not interested in a kamikaze race," he says.

Watson Won't

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, will seek reelection next year. That news, in a weekly email to supporters, takes him out of the conversation about Democratic candidates for governor and that, in turn, is a huge relief to Fort Worth bidnessman/lawyer Tom Schieffer.

Schieffer is already running as a Democrat and it didn't help his effort to have a competitor out there causing the money people to hesitate. Now, if they hesitate, it won't be Watson's fault.

In his email, Watson said he wants to have time to spend with his youngest son, who's just entering high school, and four years as governor would get in the way of that. He doesn't lack for confidence, though: "Despite those reasons, this has been a very tough decision. It's hard, in part, because I believe I would win the race for Governor."

Schieffer, in a statement, sounded... happy: "I welcome Senator Watson’s statement today. He would have been a formidable opponent in the Democratic primary."

Schieffer's the only announced candidate on the Democratic side of that race. Kinky Friedman, who ran as an Independent in 2006, is also considering a run as a Democrat.

Stompin' at the SBOE

Despite their sprawling districts and power over public school curricula, State Board of Education members can often coast through election season with little opposition and money spent. That isn't the outlook for 2010.

Widely publicized actions by the SBOE concerning math textbooks, science education and social studies have engendered a lot of controversy over the past couple of years. It has grabbed people's attention.

"The more coverage the better. I think this is awesome," says former board chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan.

Challengers — including the son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff — have popped up for four of the eight incumbent members up for reelection next year. Just one victory by a challenger would shift the ideological balance of the 15-member board, which is composed of 10 Republicans and five Democrats. (Typically, board members split into two sides — seven social conservatives vs. seven not-as-conservatives — with Democrat Rick Agosto of San Antonio operating as the swing voter who picks which end of the teeter-totter goes up or down.)

A trio from the social conservative group has already attracted challengers, months before the January filing deadline. McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond face opposition in the GOP primary, and Ken Mercer of San Antonio is looking at a general election contest. A member of the not-as-conservative group, Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, R-Dallas, also has an opponent, James Southward George Clayton of Richardson, but he's done little more — at least publicly — than set up a campaign account. Miller does intend to run for reelection, says Alexis DeLee, who was the spokeswoman for then-House Speaker Tom Craddick and is now working as a consultant for Miller.

All of the challengers we spoke to (we didn't reach Clayton) put themselves in the not-as-conservative group, which would hold an outright majority of the board if even one of them defeats an incumbent. Their estimates of how much money it will take to mount a serious campaign range from $100,000 to $250,000.


McLeroy's district stretches from Paris to Bryan, including part of Plano and Dallas' eastern suburbs. In 2006, McLeroy spent about $8,000 to defeat Democrat Maggie Charleton, 60 to 40 percent. According to the Texas Legislative Council, Gov. Rick Perry drew 45 percent of the district's vote in the four-horse gubernatorial campaign, out-doing his statewide take of 39 percent. Democrat Chris Bell got 24 percent of the votes in that district that year, while getting 30 percent statewide.

Voters may recognize McLeroy's new opponent, Thomas Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, as the son of the former Lite Guv. A lobbyist, the younger Ratliff says he wants to give more control of schools to local districts. While he calls himself "deeply religious," Ratliff says, "Constantly pushing religion in the classroom provides the constant threat of lawsuits. When you start blurring the lines, you put schools at risk."

Not only does McLeroy defend his record on the board, he intends to highlight it, saying that he is following through on campaign promises he's been making since 1998.

"I am so excited. Excited to have an opponent who has good connections. Hopefully we'll be able to get the discussion going. I'm going to run a super-positive campaign. I have so much to talk about," McLeroy says. "This is cool. I may not win — I imagine Thomas Ratliff is a good politician like his dad. But I can't think of a better opportunity than to have the well-known son of a well-known Texas politician running against me."

In July, Ratliff reported having $3,650 in the bank. That's $3,650 more than McLeroy had.


Dunbar's district includes northern Travis County, Williamson County, Cuero and down to the southwestern Houston suburbs. In 2006, Dunbar spent about $45,000 to beat Tony Dale in the GOP primary, 64 to 36 percent. She spent almost nothing to defeat a Libertarian opponent in the general, 70 to 30 percent. In the general, Perry inched out Democrat Chris Bell, 36 to 34 percent, in the district.

Dunbar has one declared opponent in the GOP primary, Round Rock schoolteacher Rebecca Osborne.

"There's a disconnect between the State Board of Education and the classroom," Osborne says.

Osborne says she's not an ABD (Anyone But Dunbar) candidate. She says, "I am not running as a reaction to Cynthia Dunbar. I am running because I believe there are things that I can do, because of my own qualifications... My agenda would simply be different from Cynthia Dunbar's."

Another Republican, Julie Cowan of Austin, is still in the exploratory phase. One consideration weighing on Cowan's mind is whether her candidacy might split the vote with Osborne and allow Dunbar to win.

"I don't need to be the one to run, but there needs to be someone to run," Cowan says. "Cynthia Dunbar isn't doing it for me."

Additionally, two Democrats have opened campaign accounts for the race. Austinite Judith Jennings, who formerly worked for the Texas Education Agency and now works for Resources for Learning educational company, reported $8,500 cash on hand in July. (Neither Dunbar nor Osborne reported having much on hand.)

University of Texas Prof. Lorenzo Sadun of Austin raised about $1,200 and had about $3,800 on hand, including loans. In 2004, Sadun ran a write-in candidacy as a Democrat for U.S. Congress against Michael McCaul. He only drew six percent of the vote. That was a protest candidacy he says, claiming the whomping demonstrates his ability to raise money — about $33,000 in all during that election.

Sadun points out that the district split almost evenly (50-48) between John McCain and Barack Obama in the 2008 elections. "That means this is a district where if people become aware of just how extreme Cynthia Dunbar is, I'm expecting moderate Republicans to vote Democratic, and for it to be a solid Democratic win," he says.


Mercer's district starts on the north side of San Antonio, stretches west to Harper and as far north as Killeen, and includes the south side of Austin. In 2006, Perry won 39 percent of the vote. In the GOP primary (and runoff) that year, Mercer, a former representative, spent about $50,000 to defeat incumbent SBOE member Dan Montgomery. Mercer reported having $263.13 in the bank this July.

Unless another Republican surfaces, he will face the winner of the 2010 Democratic primary. Texas State University Prof. Rebecca Bell-Metereau filed for that race last week, so there are no money figures to look at yet, but her campaign treasurer is Teresa Hobby, who is the daughter-in-law of former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby.

Bell-Metereau says she wants to take partisanship out of curriculum decisions. "We need to have Texas get in line with the national curriculum. It shouldn't be that we're this weird little ghetto that can't handle the kind of information and level of sophistication that you see in curricula around the country, and I'm afraid that's what's happening. We have people who think critical thinking is "gobbledygook,"" Bell-Metereau says.

Also in the race is Daniel Boone, who lost by about 44 percentage points in 2008 to Rep. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels. Other candidates are James Rath, whose campaign website is a portal to an ActBlue fundraising page, and Josiah Ingalls, who received less than one percent of the vote in the May 2009 Austin mayoral election, finishing last in a field of five that also included former Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn (who finished third).

The other board members up for reelection in 2010 are Agosto, Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Houston, Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, and Rene Nuñez, D-El Paso.

Looking ahead to 2012, one Democratic SBOE member is already saying that she's not going to run again. Corpus Christi's Mary Helen Berlanga, whose tenure since 1982 makes her the senior member of the board, says, "I think it will be time for someone else to get involved and dedicate some time to the state and to schoolchildren."

"It's quite critical during any election that we look for individuals who are fair-minded, open-minded and have the interest of the children at heart and really believe in public education," Berlanga says. "We have some individuals [on the board] who are not interested in public education and have said so openly."

—by a Texas Weekly Correspondent

Brister Resigns

Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister will leave that post next month to join a private law firm. Brister, appointed six years ago by Gov. Rick Perry, said he will join the Austin office of Andrews Kurth on September 7. He was an appellate judge in Houston before joining the Supremes. He's the second of the three justices up for reelection next year who won't seek more time on the court. Harriet O'Neill said earlier that she doesn't want another six-year term.

Brister's resignation gives Perry a chance to name a new justice (and to put someone in the position of incumbency before next year's election). O'Neill's decision not to run leaves her on the court, so there's no appointment opportunity for the governor.

Paul Green, who joined the court at the beginning of 2005, is also up for reelection in 2010.

Running Shoes

Put Rebecca Simmons on the ballot for Texas Supreme Court. She's currently a justice on the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio and wants to run for the seat now held by O'Neill (see above). Simmons is a former trial judge and was appointed to her current post in 2005 by Gov. Rick Perry and then won election in 2006. She's a Republican.

Debra Lehrmann, a family district court judge who lives in Colleyville, is running for the Place 3 seat, too. Lehrmann is also a Republican and will join Simmons and at least two others in the GOP primary: Jim Moseley of Dallas, and Rick Strange of Eastland.

Rose Vela, an appeals court judge from Corpus Christi, will run for Brister's spot on the court. She won a 2006 election that made her the first Republican ever to serve on the 13th Court of Appeals. She was a district judge before that, and is the daughter-in-law of the late U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela Sr.

Billy Briscoe will challenge Rep. Al Edwards, who lost a seat in the Texas House in 2006 and won it back in 2008. Briscoe, an attorney, worked for former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby 2002 comptroller candidate Paul Hobby (son of the former Lite Guv) and spent years with Austin-based Public Strategies Inc. He's from Houston, and grew up in what is now HD-146. He says he's not so much running against Edwards as he is trying "to gravitate to where I can have the most impact." Edwards was first elected to the House in 1978. He got beat by Borris Miles in 2006, but with that two-year exception, has been in the House for the last three decades.

• Rep. Robert Miklos, D-Mesquite, picked up a reelection endorsement from CLEAT — the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas. His predecessor in that seat was vulnerable in part because of votes on legislation CLEAT and other police groups were watching.

• Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, will seek a seventh term in the Texas House in HD-30.

• Take Dan Huberty out of the tire-kicking phase — he says now he'll run for Rep. Joe Crabb's seat in the Texas House. Huberty is a Republican, president of the Humble ISD board, and is an exec with a firm that sells natural gas for transportation. Crabb, R-Atascocita, said earlier this week that he won't seek reelection in HD-127.

Political People and Their Moves

Democrat Tom Schieffer hired Yaël Ouzillou and Rebecca Leal — the fundraisers who dragged the sack for Hillary Clinton in Texas and nearby states during the 2008 presidential race and raised money for Senate candidate Rick Noriega of Texas last year.

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, will be in this season's contestants on the Dancing with the Stars TV show.

Former Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, had a stroke and is recovering in an Austin hospital. He's 55 years old.

Jennifer Lee Cafferty is the new staff attorney for original proceedings at the Texas Supreme Court. She was most recently with the Baker Botts law firm.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed:

Nandita Berry and Tilman Fertitta of Houston, and Jarvis Hollingsworth of Sugar Land to the board of regents at the University of Houston System. Berry is an attorney at Locke, Lord, Bissell and Liddell. Fertitta is chairman and CEO of Landry's Restaurants. Hollingsworth is an attorney with Bracewell and Giuliani.

• Lubbock County Sheriff David Gutierrez to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Robert Marbut of San Antonio chairman of the OneStar National Service Commission, which works with the OneStar Foundation and the Americorps Texas program. Marbut is president of Haven for Hope and a prof at Northwest Vista College.

Durga Agrawal and Dennis Golden of Houston, and Wallace Hall Jr. of Dallas to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Agrawal is president and CEO of Piping Technology and Products. Golden is an optometrist. And Hall is president of Wetland Partners LP.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry, on the coming GOP gubernatorial primary between him and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison: "This is pretty simple to me. This is going to be Washington vs. Texas. Does Washington got the best answers or does Texas got the best answers?"

Hutchison, first elected to statewide office in 1990, the same year Perry was first elected to statewide office: "I think Rick Perry is a dedicated public servant and I know he loves Texas, but he is trying to stay in office too long."

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound, introducing Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's challenging Gov. Rick Perry: "If you've been governor of a state for ten years, you should have gotten everything accomplished that you set out to do."

Ray Hutchison, who ran for governor in 1978, after his wife announced for that job: "Nobody wants to hear from the husbands."

Alan Sims, a member of the North Texas Transportation Authority board, quoted in The Dallas Morning News about his problem with a $416 million project that gave less than he wanted to firms run by women and minorities: "We stood before the Dallas County commissioners a few weeks ago and — let me find the proper way to say this — we were grilled, drilled and roasted. I'm embarrassed to go back... This is pathetic."

Democrat John Sharp, who hopes to take Hutchison's place in the U.S. Senate, quoted in the Cherokeean Herald, on the national debate over health care: "For years, the Bubbas were told that we were spending too much on health care. Now they are telling the Bubbas that to solve the problem, we need to spend $1 trillion more. The Bubbas are thinking to themselves, 'This doesn't compute.'"

Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 31, 24 August 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

Wait! We need your help.


Explore related story topics