Kay Bailey Hutchison rebounded in the most recent poll from Rasmussen Reports, but one of Gov. Rick Perry's hottest arguments rests on the rhetoric of "I'm from Austin; she's from Washington." And while the latest polling has the two gubernatorial candidates locked in a tight race, it's a contest that initially — almost a year ago — was polling strongly in Hutchison's favor.
Pollsters say part of it was the Washington thing. Part of it is a partisanship thing. And if you listen to Democratic pollsters, the political market will change as soon as the economy turns and (they say with hope) Congress has approved legislation remaking the health care system. They could be whistling past graveyards, too: While the race for Guv is getting most of the attention, other races — for Congress, for potential statewide races like U.S. Senate, and even statehouse — could be pulled into the whirlpool, too.
"People out of Washington are not having a lot of success right now," says Mike Baselice, a pollster who counts Perry among his clients. Democratic incumbents in tough districts, like U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco, could have particular things to worry about. President Barack Obama's numbers have slipped. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has toxic popularity numbers in Texas. By Baselice's reckoning, 21 percent of Texans like her and 50 percent don't. She does for Republican fundraising what Tom DeLay used to do for the Democrats.
Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin says "there's a pretty big disconnect between Washington and Texas right now," but thinks it could pass if the economy turns and the health care fight ends. "Any Republican is going to try to nationalize the election," he says. "Democrats are going to try to talk about local issues."
Republican pollster Bryan Eppstein sees more bogies in partisanship and leadership than in Washington v. Texas squabbles. (Eppstein did some work early in the cycle for Hutchison but isn't attached to a gubernatorial candidate at this point.)
He's got an eye on voters who chose Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn in the last gubernatorial election, both of whom ran as independents. Those two candidates got just more than 30 percent of the votes. And he's looking at the huge number of registered voters who didn't vote last year — roughly 5.5 million people.
Those two groups are big, and could be pulled into the anger against partisanship and bailouts and health care and so on. They're not with the parties, and they'll be shopping for candidates.
The first group — the Friedman/Strayhorn bunch — won't be a factor in the March primaries, he says. They're not Party animals.
"The benefit of this outrage is to the Republican running in November, unless there is an independent running," he says. "Then it would go to the independent."
For Eppstein, that's not an anti-Washington effect (though he notes the remarkable distaste for Congress at the moment), but an anti-partisan effect. His takeaway is that the most partisan candidates are in the most trouble at the moment. And he's talking about 1992, when a group of voters angry with the political parties united behind Ross Perot: "When two-thirds of the registered voters are not voting (in governor's races), what does that mean?"
What Lawless Hordes?
—Brandi Grissom, The Texas Tribune
Border officials say their communities aren't being overrun with "lawless hordes" of Mexican drug runners and people smugglers, and they said Gov. Rick Perry is painting an inaccurate scary picture of their home.
Last week, Perry announced he was sending teams of Texas Rangers and Texas National Guard troops to protect border landowners from extortion and threats from violent criminal organizations and to prevent spillover violence from Mexico.
The Texas Border Coalition, a group of elected officials and business leaders, wrote Perry a letter taking issue with the impression they say he created — that the border is overrun with criminals and violence.
"While each of our communities has their own unique issues, being overwhelmed by criminal elements from Mexico is not one of them," wrote Chad Foster, coalition chairman and Eagle Pass mayor.
Crime is down in the region, Foster wrote, and apprehensions of illegal immigrants are declining, too.
Foster urged the governor to ensure that the Rangers and National Guard troops coordinate with law enforcement already in the region.
Some law enforcement officials have also expressed skepticism about the need for Rangers and National Guard troops. Juarez, the most violent spot in the ongoing Mexican drug war, is across the Rio Grande from El Paso. But local police on the U.S. side told the El Paso Times that there has been no escalation in crime.
"Unfortunately, we have always had crimes related to that, but they are very rare," El Paso police spokesman Javier Sambrano told the Times.
Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said state-led border security efforts that use local, state and federal officers, like Operation Border Star, are the reason for crime reductions on the border.
The so-called Ranger recon teams, she said, would continue that model.
"The mission of the Ranger Recon Teams is a specific response to a specific threat in remote areas along the border where criminals are exploiting cracks in the seams," Cesinger said via e-mail, "and we will continue to work with local law enforcement through Operation Border Star to ensure the safety of these communities."
Both Bases Covered
—Brandi Grissom, The Texas Tribune
Gov. Rick Perry and former New York Mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani traveled the state this week touting anti-gang legislation and state border security efforts.
The big-name tour started in Austin and San Antonio, moved through Houston and ended with a dinner fundraiser reception in Dallas for Perry, said campaign spokesman Mark Miner.
The governor supported Giuliani during his bid for the White House last year.
But could their continuing lovefest create some tension back at the office for Giuliani?
Pat Oxford, chairman of Houston law firm Bracewell and Giuliani, is a major supporter of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He in the past has been her finance chairman, and this year has given the senator about $5,000 for her bid to unseat Perry in 2010.
Oxford said this afternoon, though, that Giuliani is just returning the favor. Giuliani, he said, is a loyal guy.
"I understand fully why he is helping Rick, just like Governor Perry helped him," Oxford said.
Farabee and Flores: All Done, Thanks
Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, told his hometown paper that he won't seek reelection.
Farabee is in one of the most Republican districts represented by a Democrat, and holding onto the seat will be tough for his party. It's got a Texas Weekly Index of 32.6 — the average margin by which statewide Republican candidates beat statewide Democratic candidates over the last two election cycles in that district.
Wichita Falls Mayor Lanham Lyne announced he will run — as a Republican — for that HD-69 seat. He was elected in 2005 and reelected twice. In real life, he's the president of Lyne Energy Corp. and Lyne Energy Partners.
Pols in both parties question whether any Democrat who's not named Farabee can hold the seat. Democrats hoping to take over the Legislature's lower chamber will now have to win his seat and two more to overtake Republicans in the narrowly divided Texas House.
After the governor's race and a possible special election for U.S. Senate, the House is the main battleground on the 2010 ballot.
Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, won't run for reelection. Flores, who faces criminal indictments on several ethics charges in Travis County, has been in the Legislature since 1997. He succeeded his wife's cousin — Sergio Muñoz — and one of the contenders for his job, if he leaves, is Sergio Muñoz Jr. Another is Sandra Rodriguez, who unsuccessfully challenged Flores in last year's Democratic primary.
No Clear Favorite
—Matt Stiles, The Texas Tribune
The sniping between Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the GOP gubernatorial primary contest hasn't yet produced a clear frontrunner, according to the newest Rasmussen poll of GOP primary voters.
The telephone survey, conducted Wednesday by Rasmussen Reports, showed challenger Hutchison slightly ahead of incumbent Perry, 40 percent to 38 percent. The poll's margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.
The poll also found one in five of those likely Republican primary voters hadn't yet settled on a candidate to support in the March election.
"With the two running so closely and both being so well-known in the state, the key to the contest ultimately may prove to be how their supporters turnout for the primary vote," according to the polling firm, which surveyed 790 people it classified as "likely" Republican primary voters.
Three percent of those surveyed said they supported Debra Medina, a recent entrant into the GOP primary race.
The poll is positive news for Hutchison's campaign, especially given that Perry held a 10-point advantage in the same survey in mid-July, but her staff didn't trumpet the results.
"We're just letting the poll speak for itself," said spokesman Joe Pounder.
The results also contradicted scuttlebutt among some political observers who speculated that Perry enjoyed broader support than he had earlier this summer, when a University of Texas poll showed him ahead by 12 percentage points. Rasmussen had Perry in the lead by 10 percentage points in July and up by four points in a May poll.
Perry's campaign spokesman, Mark Miner, downplayed the results while noting that Perry fared better among conservative respondents. Hutchison leads among moderates and liberals, according to the poll.
"We're very pleased with where we are in the campaign," Miner said. "The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day."
Both candidates are viewed favorable by slightly more than 70 percent of the voters surveyed, the poll found. Roughly the same number approve of the job Perry is doing as governor.
State Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, reannounced that he's in the race for Texas Senate in SD-5, now that Republican Steve Ogden has opted out of a reelection bid.
Gattis said earlier this year that he'd run if Ogden stepped down. And now the contest to succeed Gattis in HD-20 — all of it conditioned on Ogden retiring and Gattis attempting to move up — can proceed. Gattis has a website up and running. He's actually the second candidate to declare — Republican Ben Bius of Huntsville jumped in a week ago (while Ogden's political shoes were still warm). And another — Dr. Sam Harrison of Bryan — is looking.
The Senate district includes 14 counties, with most of the population in Williamson (38 percent) and Brazos (23 percent) counties. That's population — voting is different. In Ogden's last run in 2006, 17 percent of the vote came from Brazos County — his home turf. Williamson County contributed 47 percent of the total that year. Gattis has endorsements from the GOP chairs in nine of those counties. He's running from a Williamson County base and has a legal cheat on name recognition: The county judge is his father, Dan Gattis Sr.
Put Dr. Charles Schwertner, a Williamson County Republican, on the list of folks looking at Dan Gattis' spot in the Texas House. Schwertner is an orthopedist who's been involved in the county medical society there, and he's from an old family, as you'll note if you look at a map of the area and find the tiny town called Schwertner. Other possible candidates in HD-20 include Milton Rister, who is, as of this week, officially in the contest. He's a former GOP political consultant, executive director of the Texas GOP, and former head of the Texas Legislative Council. Behind Door Number Three is Steven Thomas, who's on the Cedar Park City Council. (This is all semi-speculative on the part of the candidates. They have to file with the state if they're raising money and such, but the actual filing for the ballot doesn't start until the first week of December and doesn't end until the first week of January; that's when you'll see the real candidate lists after all of the tire-kicking going on right now.
Insert David Andrews into the HD-85 race against Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton. Andrews, an accountant, is chairman of the Jones County GOP.
Zach Brady, a Republican who said earlier this year he was considering a challenge against Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, isn't considering that any more. He's decided to run. Brady is a former Senate staffer (to Lubbock's Robert Duncan) who now practices law.
The list of folks who'll run again in 2010 now includes Reps. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, John Otto, R-Dayton, Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa, and Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Hank Gilbert starts a 13-city tour of the state next week to launch his campaign.
Present But Not Accounted For
—Abby Rapoport, The Texas Tribune
The State Auditor says the Texas Education Agencys process for monitoring average daily attendance in public schools needs a few adjustments.
Most disturbing was the reports discovery of 62 improper user accounts, 46 of which should have been deactivated. TEA is investigating the accounts, which could potentially access students' social security numbers and test scores. In its response, the agency asserted it would work with its private contractor — IBM — to close the security gaps.
Given the importance of the daily average attendance — the key component for determining school funding — discrepancies in measurement could have spelled a major mis-allotment in funds. None was found; the report was largely positive in terms of how the agency made adjustments and simply suggested better tracking and prompter reporting.
In its own audit attempts, TEA exams its database for those districts with the most errors, and it then exams every error within the district. Because of this, larger school districts are much more likely to get audited, and of the 227 school districts audited over the last four years, 111 had been audited twice or more, leaving approximately 1,090 completely unexamined.
State auditors want TEA to look at more school districts to emphasize statewide coverage, and to encourage districts to resolve some of the errors on their own.
Rita Chase, director of financial audits, said TEA has already begun sampling a wider array of districts, and many of the recommendations in the report were in the process of being implemented already.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
—Abby Rapoport, The Texas Tribune
It may not be Mad Men, but the State Board on Education began broadcasting its meetings online on Wednesday.
Audio files of SBOE meetings are already available, but Debbie Ratcliffe, TEA's communications director, said video will make it "easier to tell who's actually talking."
The audio broadcasts already have hundreds of listeners, and TEA currently has capacity for a thousand viewers. "I'm not sure that the numbers will be too different [for video]," Ratcliffe said.
The videos will stream from TexasAdmin.com, which also streams meetings for other agencies. TEA will link to live streams, and the files will remain online for another six months, and archived offline for another five years after that.
The change comes as a result of Austin Rep. Donna Howard's HB 772, which requires live and archived videos of the meetings be available to the public.
Their Coffee Had Better Be Good...
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is buying a Congress Avenue building, starting a $5 million capital campaign and naming the project after the late Michael Stevens of Houston.
The very local part (which was a surprise to the folks behind the counter this morning): It's the building where the Little City coffee shop — a popular hangout for political, lobby and media types — is located. That business is apparently looking for a new spot.
Political People and Their Moves
The U.S. Senate confirmed former Texas legislator Juan Garcia as assistant Secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs. The Corpus Christi Democrat lost a reelection bid in 2008 but won a presidential appointment this year.
Max Westbrook moves to the state comptroller's office, where he'll be the new chief of the criminal investigation division (mostly tax cases), from the Austin Police Department, where he was a lieutenant and where he worked on organized crime cases for five years.
ERCOT President and CEO Bob Kahn will leave that job in November after two years with that energy agency. The board there is still deciding whether to put an interim in place and how to handle the search for a replacement.
Public Citizen's Tom "Smitty" Smith won an award from the Heinz Foundation for being "one of the most effective energy advocates in Texas." That comes with a $100,000 prize.
Blaine Brunson will be the new chief of staff to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Julia Rathgeber will be deputy chief of staff. Dewhurst announced the promotions, filling in the spot left when Rob Johnson left to work on Gov. Rick Perry's campaign earlier this summer. Both of the newly titled have been on the Lite Guv's staff: Brunson as budget director, Rathgeber as policy director.
Coming up: Karl Rove is the headliner at a Texas Association of Health Plans even next month in Bastrop, talking about "the politics of health care reform."
Former lawmaker Kyle Janek, R-Houston, says he and the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists (he's one of them) will do CPR and defibrillator courses at the Capitol next spring. They were prompted, in part, by a close call last session when Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, had a heart attack in an elevator and was revived by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Houston, who's a doctor.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed:
Raymond "Ray" Wheless to the 266th District Court. Wheless is currently the judge of Collin County Court at Law No. 4.
Leslie "Les" Hatch of Lubbock to the 237th District Court. He's an attorney with Mayfield, Crutcher and Sharpee.
Mark Updegrove is the new head of the LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas. The author and presidential scholar will succeed Betty Sue Flowers, who resigned in May.
Quotes of the Week
Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, telling the Wichita Falls Times Record News why he won't seek a seventh term: "It was a goal of mine for some time to serve 12 years. When we had a change of leadership in the House, I considered an additional term. Then I revisited my plans and decided to stick with my original life goals."
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who won't seek reelection and who is expressing some interest in federal matters: "Just as an aside, do you have any idea how long one trillion seconds is? It's about 32,000 years... that's the size of the federal deficit."
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, talking about her bid for governor on Fox Radio: "Now, honestly, I'm trying to save the Republican Party in Texas. I'm trying to keep it conservative and open it up."
Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, telling the Abilene Reporter-News why voters elected and reelected him in what's supposed to be Republican territory: "Apparently, they think I know what I'm doing."
Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 35, 21 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.