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Political Startups

It's the Labor Day break, a traditional starting point for political adventurers (as opposed to explorers) who will face the judgment of primary voters in six months.

It's the Labor Day break, a traditional starting point for political adventurers (as opposed to explorers) who will face the judgment of primary voters in six months.

The going is a little slow, what with so many people waiting to see what so many other people will do before they decide what they themselves will do.

That said, don't be surprised if — a month from now — you're already watching television ads in the governor's race, and if, shortly thereafter, you're hit with a volley of ads in a U.S. Senate race (or in the run-up to one).

The end of September is the point at which U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison could resign her seat without creating the possibility of a November election to replace her. That's tactically important because it delays the outcome of the special election until after the filing deadline for next year's regular elections, effectively blocking anyone who loses the Senate race from turning around and running for, say, governor.

Houston Mayor Bill White is generally the first name in that speculation. If he ran and lost a Senate race in November, the conspiracy theory goes, he could turn around and run as a prominent Democrat in a governor's race that's short on prominent Democrats. That's the sort of thing that could come back and bite Hutchison if she's the survivor of a Republican primary with incumbent governor Rick Perry.

The statewide ballots will take shape pretty quickly once Hutchison decides whether or not to resign early on her way to the primary with Perry. Some Republicans in Houston now think they've got Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst committed to run for Senate if Hutchison quits, but he's got at least one fundraiser on tap that is asking people for money for his state account to run for another term as Lite Guv. Dewhurst also has outstanding campaign loans of $2.5 million, and money from state fundraisers can be used to settle that debt even if he runs for federal office. Once Dewhurst's intentions are clear, it'll turn into a normal year in terms of political jockeying and so on. If he is running for the federal job, he's got the personal finances to start an ad campaign right away, to get an edge and to scare off the small fry. Put all that on your October calendar.

Things That Don't Depend on Kay or David

Candidates and interested parties whose thoughts are not on the statewide part of the ballot are pulling together their plans for statehouse races.

This will be the last election under the current political maps. It can be a bad time to run if the district in question is likely to change dramatically in the next redistricting fights, because a winner in 2010 will be a freshman in 2011 — last in line when political favors are doled out. It can be a good time, though, under the right circumstances: Survive the mapmaking and you get the advantage of incumbency when the field is crowded in 2012.

The state Senate's composition has been fairly constant under the current maps and Republicans would have to knock off two Democrats to gain the two-thirds majority necessary to have party control over the Senate's agenda. With only half of the senators up for reelection and with the absence of toss-up districts in play, that's a long shot. And the Democrats would have to win four seats to get a majority in the upper chamber. That's not likely, either.

In the House, 22 Democrats represent districts that voted for Republican statewide candidates, on average, in the last two elections. There's a Democratic six-pack buried deepest in red territory: Reps. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville, David Farabee of Wichita Falls, Joe Heflin of Crosbyton, Jim McReynolds of Lufkin, Mark Homer of Paris, and Alan Ritter of Nederland, are perennial targets for the GOP. They're also battle-hardened, having survived strong, well-financed challenges in previous cycles. In that bunch, Hopson had the closest race in 2008.

Others are in territory that's less solidly red, but they have less tenure, fewer of the reelection powers of incumbency and a couple won under circumstances — namely, the big election turnout in 2008 — that might not be repeated in next year's elections. If you're making a list of targets from that bunch, include Democrats Diana Maldonado of Round Rock, Carol Kent of Dallas, Kristi Thibaut of Houston, Chris Turner of Burleson, and Robert Miklos of Mesquite. Maldonado, Thibaut and Miklos already have serious opponents for next year's election.

The Democrats have fewer opportunities to pick up seats. The current House map was drawn to favor Republicans, and it initially did. But Democrats have cut an initial 88-62 majority to a 76-74 edge for the Republicans. The easiest gains are gone. Still, they've got targets, including Republicans Ken Legler of Pasadena, Tim Kleinschmidt of Lexington, Dwayne Bohac of Houston, and Linda Harper-Brown of Irving.

Checking the Fuel Gauges

PACs and candidates start the season with combined balances of $152 million — more than half of it in 50 bank accounts.

Twenty political accounts have more than $1 million. The candidates are led by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison at $12.5 million, Attorney General Greg Abbott at $9.4 million, and Gov. Rick Perry at $9.4 million, Comptroller Susan Combs at $3.8 million, Sen. John Whitmire at $2.8 million, Rep. Tom Craddick at $1.9 million, Sen. Kirk Watson at $1.4 million, Sen. Kip Averitt at $1.4 million, Sen. Troy Fraser at $1.3 million, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at $1.3 million, Sen. Rodney Ellis at $1.2 million, former Rep. Steve Wolens at $1.2 million, and Rep. Dan Branch at $1.1 million.

The top PACs: Texas Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC at $6.3 million, Texas Association of Realtors PAC AT $4.3 million, Magic Circle Republican Women at $3.4 million, Union Pacific Corp. Fund for Effective Government at $2.8 million, Border Health PAC at $1.3 million, Texas Dental Association PAC at $1.1 million, and Occidental Petroleum Corp. PAC at $1 million.

More than a third of the money in political bank accounts — 37 percent — is tucked into the top 10 accounts. The top 25 accounts hold $73.6 million — nearly half of all the money in political accounts that report to the Texas Ethics Commission. More than two-thirds of the cash in the 2,171 accounts that actually have money in them is stashed in the top 100 accounts.

The numbers will change rapidly after Labor Day, with fundraisers already crowding the calendars in September and October and candidates testing the financial conditions for campaigns next year. You can see the list of the top 500 accounts here, or download the spreadsheet of all of the reported balances here.

Act Two

Kinky Friedman says his mistake in 2006 was that he ran for governor as an Independent and not as a Democrat. He thinks he would have won. This time, he's a Party Guy.

Friedman made the rounds with reporters, announcing his candidacy in a series of one-on-one interviews in a dozen cities, saying he favors term limits for governors and other elected officials, wants to cap financial contributions to political candidates, thinks the state's insurance commissioner should be elected and that rates should be frozen for three years, and wants to increase pay for teachers and kill the standardized TAKS test, paying for all of his changes with legalized casino gambling in Texas.

Friedman said candidates for office should be drug-tested, prove they're paid up on their taxes, and put through criminal background checks before they run. He'd end toll roads, including those owned by private companies under contract with the state and those owned by the state itself. He wants a "Timothy Cole" commission that would reexamine questionable convictions and sentences to prevent cases like Cole's, who died in prison serving sentence for a rape he didn't commit. He would replicate the HOPE scholarship program in Georgia, which pays for college educations for that state's high school grads using lottery money.

"But we have never had a problem getting money," he said. "It's a lack of leadership."

Friedman calls himself a "man of the people" and refers to the other candidates — particularly Republicans Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison — as "the clash of the plastic titans."

He ran fourth behind Perry, Chris Bell, and Carole Keeton Strayhorn in 2006 and now says he should've stayed in the Democratic primary that year. "I should have run as a Democrat," he said. "I just think it was a mistake."

But he's not fond of the Democratic Party establishment in Texas saying they have "not run on ideas, but on demographics." In the process, he said, they've complied a 17-year losing streak.

Friedman is the fifth Democrat in the race, joining Felix Alvarado, Hank Gilbert, Tom Schieffer, and Mark Thompson. The musician, writer, and comedian has been hinting at this for months and already has a campaign committee and has a couple of fundraisers with Willie Nelson and Three Dog Night on the calendar. In addition to setting a date for the announcement, Friedman has hired veteran Democratic consultant Colin Strother to run his campaign.

Here's a taste:

House Invasions

Put Larry Gonzales in the race for HD-52 — the Round Rock seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Diana Maldonado.

Gonzales, a Republican, took a look at that seat two years ago, when Republican Mike Krusee decided to resign; four other Republicans made the primary and the winner, Brian Daniel, went on to lose a close race to Maldonado. The district tops the GOP's list of possible pickups, and the Democrats' list of toughest defenses.

Gonzales was assistant vice chancellor for governmental relations at the Texas State University System and has resigned from that job, the first step in making the House race. He's not saying, publicly, that he's in the race. But he did quit his job and says the conversations he's been having with folks in HD-52 "are going very well."

• In HD-133, voters get to see a second rematch between Rep. Kristi Thibaut, a Democrat, and former Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican. He was a first-term officeholder who beat her in 2006 and then lost to her in 2008 — a result Democrats credit to changing demographics and Republicans credit to increased turnout in the Obama-McCain contest. They agree, mostly, that it's a toss-up district, and both parties have it high on their priority lists.

• Former Rep. Thomas Latham, R-Mesquite, announced what he called his "reelection" campaign for a second term in the Legislature. He won the seat in 2006, then lost a GOP primary race in 2008 to Mike Anderson, who then lost the general election to Democrat Robert Miklos. Latham will take another crack at it.

• There won't be an incumbent in HD-127, where Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita, is retiring. But candidates are showing up. The newest one: Dr. Susan Curling, a Republican who lives in Humble. She's an anesthesiologist and chief of staff at a local hospital.

Political People and Their Moves

Tom Suehs will be the state's new executive commissioner of Health and Human Services, Gov. Rick Perry announced Friday.

Suehs (pronounced SEES) will head HHSC, which in turn oversees five health and human service agencies with more than 50,000 employees and annual budgets totaling more than $30 billion. He's replacing Albert Hawkins, who handled the consolidation of all of those agencies in 2003 and has been in the driver's seat ever since. Hawkins retired earlier this year.

Suehs has been Hawkins' deputy executive commissioner for financial services since 2003. Before that, he was executive director at the Texas Health Care Association, a deputy commissioner at what was then the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and president of the American Society of State Health Care Executives.

The appointment got approving nods from some key lawmakers. Sen. Jane Nelson, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee in the upper chamber, called Suehs "an excellent choice" and said naming an insider means there won't be a long learning curve. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, had the hometown senator's unwritten privilege of first approval, said he'll help the new appointee if he can: "I'm confident that Tom Suehs understands the mission before him, and I'm hopeful that he has the courage, creativity, and experience he'll need to fulfill it."

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, didn't quite endorse Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, but he sure was nice to her in a letter distributed by her campaign, calling her a "good friend" and saying, "I am sure we will look to Debra for leadership in my community and across our state for many years to come."

Jon Weizenbaum will be the interim commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disability Services while that agency does a national search to replace Addie Horn, who retired. Weizenbaum has been deputy commissioner there for three years.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Scott Fisher, a Bedford pastor, to chair the Texas Youth Commission. He also appointed five new members: Grayson County District Attorney Joseph Brown; Larry Carroll, who runs the Permian Basin Community Centers for Mental Health and Mental Retardation in Midland; Manson Johnson, a Houston pastor; Cameron County Judge Rolando Olvera; and Dr. David Teuscher, a surgeon at the Beaumont Bone and Joint Institute.

Sentenced: Former Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra, for helping Mexican drug smugglers move cocaine and marijuana through his county. He has five years and four months in federal prison ahead of him.

Quotes of the Week

Brian Olsen, head of a union representing prison guards in Texas, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on news that a pay raise for guards will be smaller than promised: "You talk about a morale buster — this is it. It's crazy to me that they'd take any percentage away from the officers, the lowest paid, so they can pay the supervisors more."

Antonio Gonzales, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, talking about redistricting with the Rio Grande Guardian: "You have to look ahead to strategically deploy your assets. In Texas, Dallas and Houston are the areas where there is pent up demand. You have large numbers of Hispanic voters but you don't have significant influence over who wins in congressional and legislative seats and even county commissioner districts."

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in The Dallas Morning News: "A lot of the illegal immigration in our country is economically motivated. There are employers who consistently and intentionally evade our immigration laws, so they're helping create that demand."

Ana Maria Salazar, a political analyst, quoted in the Washington Post on Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who just stepped up his war on the drug cartels: "What he's been through the last three years? It's just amazing he is still standing. He came in and declared war on drug cartels. Then the price of tortillas skyrocketed. His ministers died in a plane crash. There's the worldwide economic crisis. The influenza epidemic began here. The price of oil plummets. Now we have a drought. I wonder when a meteor is going to hit the city."

Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Volume 26, Issue 33, 7 September 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.

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