by Matt Stiles, The Texas Tribune Gov. Rick Perry appointed Houston appellate court justice Eva Guzman to the Texas Supreme Court, making the 48-year-old the first Latina to serve on that court.
Guzman, now a member of the 14th Court of Appeals, will replace Scott Brister, who left the bench last month to return to private practice.
[Her bio is online here, and you can find a copy of her application with the governor's appointments office here.]
One of at least 26 applicants for the job, Guzman is Perry's first female appointment to the panel. The governor has selected at least seven other justices since March 2001.
"Justice Guzman is known throughout legal circles as a strict constructionist with an unmatched work ethic, and has demonstrated a proven record of sound jurisprudence," Perry said in a written statement. "I am proud to appoint this principled, conservative judge as the first Hispanic woman on the Supreme Court of Texas."
Guzman is married to a police sergeant and graduated from Austin High School in Houston in 1979. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Houston before attending the South Texas College of Law, where she graduated in 1989.
She has been a state judge since 1999, first at the 309th District Court before being appointed by Perry to the appellate post in 2001. She won re-election in 2002 and 2004.
Democrats are expected to be in the hunt, but Eva Guzman will have a primary opponent even though she's got Perry's seal of approval.
Rose Vela, who had already said she'll be running for that seat in next year's Republican primary, followed the Guzman announcement by saying she'll stay in the race. That could be lively, what with a noisy governor's race that could increase attention on politics and on other races like this one. She was a district court judge and has been on the 13th Court of Appeals since 2006. She's also going to be in mid-term next year; if she wins, she's on the Supreme Court, and if she loses, she keeps her current job.
Only the Guv knows why he picked a Latina from Houston instead of one from South Texas, but here's one bug in the soup: Vela's husband, Filemon Vela Jr. (his dad was the late and well-known federal judge), gave $4,000 in two installments to the gubernatorial campaign of one Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is running against the guy who was in charge of the appointment. It couldn't have helped.
Put a marker here for analysis later. If the two judges stay in, and if they're tied — by their own or by other hands — to the gubernatorial candidates, their fates could rise or fall with Perry and Hutchison. That's an insider game, but this is, after all, a primary election.
It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a... Dirigible?
by Brandi Grissom, The Texas Tribune El Paso district Judge William "Bill" Moody plans to float his Texas Supreme Court campaign message to Texans next year.
Moody, who is making his third run for the state's highest civil court, said Thursday he plans to use a bright orange blimp in his campaign to become the first Democrat elected to statewide office in more than a decade.
"Our plan is to fly across Texas stopping in dozens of counties to listen and talk to the voters... and impress upon them the importance of the Texas Supreme Court," Moody said.
It won't be Moody's first unorthodox campaign.
Moody — father of state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso — ran twice before for the court.
He lost a conventional campaign in 2002 to now Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.
Then, in 2006, he walked more than 1,000 miles, from one end of the Lone Star state to the other, in his campaign against Justice Don Willett.
Moody said the idea for the blimp campaign came to him when he saw a dirigible overhead as he trekked through Central Texas in 2006.
"I said, 'You know, there might be an easier way to do this,'" Moody recalled.
Moody lost the 2006 race, but he was the best performer on the Democrats' statewide ticket that year, with nearly 45 percent of the vote.
This time, Moody plans to run against Justice Paul Green for Place 5 on the court.
He said he thinks his chances for success are better in 2010 because recent elections have been trending toward Democrats in Texas' largest urban counties.
Moody said he doesn't plan to launch the blimp until then end of the campaign, because renting a blimp isn't cheap. Moody said he estimates it will cost $400,000 to $500,000 to use one for just a month or two, and said he's still looking for a pilot to fly the thing.
The blimp, he said, is just a tool to help get out his message of reform for the court.
Big campaign contributors have too much sway in the court's judicial decisions, Moody said, and justices should be chosen in non-partisan elections separate from the primary and general elections.
"Justice is not Democrat or Republican, and the people who come before the courts do not want political judges," Moody said.
The Moody blimp will launch from El Paso and head to points eastward next fall.
Farm Bureau Deserts Perry
The Texas Farm Bureau's political action committee — called AGFUND — endorsed Kay Bailey Hutchison over Rick Perry in the 2010 race for governor, saying they split with the governor over eminent domain and the Trans-Texas Corridor.
Perry has won the group's endorsement almost every time he's run for statewide office — the exception coming in 1998, when the group endorsed Democrat John Sharp over Perry for lieutenant governor. Perry won that race and the group endorsed him the first two times he ran for governor.
They've endorsed Hutchison every time she has been on the ballot since 1990, when they were encouraged — by Perry — to back her bid for state treasurer. Their strategy was to endorse everyone running against a Hightower, for impact. Perry beat Democrat Jim Hightower and Hutchison defeated Democrat Nikki Van Hightower that year.
Steve Pringle, the group's legislative director, said Perry's support of the Trans Texas Corridor and his 2007 veto of an eminent domain bill sealed the deal. They'll back Hutchison, primarily through contact with their 400,000 member families. That includes people who joined the Farm Bureau for traditional reasons and those who are its insurance customers; Pringle said there are about a million voters in the families that get the association's publications.
The Farm Bureau didn't endorse in the Democratic primary. "We generally pick one candidate and stay with them as long as they're standing," Pringle said.
Hutchison Calls for Limits on Donors
Standing in the stables of a ranch in Waco gave Hutchison the opportunity to take on "Austin insiders and lobbyists."
In a new twist to her stump speech, Hutchison added a call for a cap on campaign contributions and an end to the "revolving door" of lawmakers becoming lobbyists. Currently, there's no limit for campaign contributions in governor's races Texas.
This year Hutchison's campaign accepted more than $2.3 million in individual contributions of more than $25,000, according to her July state campaign-finance report. That total included six $100,000 donations, records show. But her average donation amount during the first half of the year was $860.
Hutchison didn't suggest where to set the limit.
"There have to be some details worked out. But I do think that there should be some amount beyond which we don't go. There shouldn't be the impression that people can buy their way in order for the governor to meet with people," she said.
—Elise Hu in Waco and Matt Stiles in Austin contributed to this story.
What's in a Name?
by Julian Aguilar, contributing writer, The Texas Tribune In a place where a surname could carry with it perks that range from getting out of a speeding ticket to a landslide election victory, a newcomer from the Rio Grande Valley with name recognition is insisting he is his own man.
His opponent, a two-time candidate married to a former elected official, is also taking steps to be an independent voice despite the benefits that come with name-dropping in Texas politics.
Sergio Muñoz, Jr., 27, is the son of former Rep. Sergio Muñoz. He will face Sandra Rodriguez, the wife of former state District Judge Fernando Mancias, in his bid to replace embattled Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.
Flores announced last month he would not seek reelection for another term in HD-36 following his indictment by a Travis County grand jury for allegedly failing to disclose required information on personal finance statements.
In the world of Texas border politics where patronismo — the long-standing tradition of bully politics and quid-pro-quo campaigns — runs rampant, Muñoz Jr. realizes he is prone to attacks accusing him of being from the old guard. Not so, he said.
"The decision to run was made on my own and I am thankful to have the support of my family," he said from his law office in Edinburg.
Rodriguez could be considered the savvy veteran in the race after losing the 2008 Democratic Primary to Flores by less than 1,000 votes, or about four percent.
The former school-board trustee for the Pharr-San Juan Alamo Independent School District said that one aspect of patronismo politics has taken a back seat this time, with Flores out of the running.
"People are not intimidated anymore," she said. "People will sit down and talk to me."
Rodriguez' experience as a candidate has at least one Rio Grande Valley heavyweight predicting she will be part of 2011's freshman class.
"While he (Muñoz) has some name recognition, it's his first time running and so he's going to have to get organized pretty quickly," said State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "The additional plus is that she's a woman," he added.
"Here in Hidalgo County women tend to vote for women," Hinojosa said. "It's just a trend that's taking place here in South Texas. You look at the (Thirteenth) Court of Appeals. Out of six judges, five are women."
He stopped short of endorsing anyone and said he would support the eventual Democratic candidate. He cautioned, however, against leaning too much on the "double-edged sword" of a familiar political name.
"It could be positive or it could be negative, but my take is that people will associate Sergio Muñoz Jr. with his dad," he said. The perceived allegiance in the district between the Muñoz and Flores families might not bode well for the younger candidate either, he added.
"They could be very loyal to Rep. Flores and probably follow his lead but at the same time, as we all know, Rep. Flores has some issues," said Hinojosa.
Muñoz said he plans to reach out to state Reps. Eddie Lucio III, the San Benito Democrat and son of Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., and Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, the son of U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz Sr. Those lawmakers have been able to make their own paths, he said.
Married to a former state district judge, Rodriguez also could depend on a proven ballot name. She's chosen not to, using her name instead of his.
"Going back to the patrón system, there were men who had a hard time supporting me to run with the Rodriguez last name," she said. "They kept telling me, 'You need Mancias to win. You need Mancias.' I've been out there and I've always been Sandra Rodriguez."
Next year's primary election will likely determine the seat, despite a new effort by Republicans to convince Hispanics in traditionally Democratic districts to look its way.
Texas GOP Executive Director Eric Opiela, a native of South Texas, conceded the party could be more proactive, particularly on the border, and that putting forth a winning Republican candidate in HD-36 next year was more than a long shot. But fans of Spanish-language media outlets should expect to hear more messages from the GOP that it is the party that best represents Hispanic values.
And in a move reiterating that name-dropping is not just enlisted by Hispanic Democrats, Opiela said the Texas GOP has recruited George Prescott Bush, grandson of Bush (41) and nephew of Bush (43) to deliver Spanish-language messages on Univision stations across the state.
Add to that a small list of "shining stars" already in the Rio Grande Valley, like Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos, and GOP prospects are improving along the border, Opiela said.
Hinojosa sees no cause for alarm.
"I think Republicans have shot themselves in the foot," he said. "When they criticize the immigration policies their shots are so broad that they don't differentiate between Hispanics who are here legally and those who are not."
A year before the 2000 General Election, Bush held a slight advantage – about 2 percent – among Texas' Latino voters over Vice President Al Gore, according a poll conducted by the Willie C. Velasquez Institute. At the ballot box during the General election, however, Bush landed only 33 percent of that vote to Gore's estimated 66 percent. Later, Bush's support for construction of the border fence enraged many Texas Hispanics and contributed to the president's plummeting approval ratings his second term.
Cathie Adams, head of the Texas Eagle Forum and a prominent endorser of Gov. Rick Perry, says she's running for chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Tina Benkiser, the Houston attorney who had that job, left to work directly for Perry's campaign. Adams says she wants the job now and for a full term after the party's convention in June, and says simply that she wants to bolster Republicans' chances of winning elections.
Tom Mechler of Amarillo is running for party chair at the GOP convention next summer. That's the regular election time for the spot and it's open to both genders, so long as the vice chair is not the same gender as the chair. Mechler is on the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) and says in his pitch that the party is in a time of "crisis" because its "ranks are being fractured" — that'd be a reference to the race at the top of the ballot — and because of "a lack of a consistent message being offered to the voters." He's also a Perry appointee, serving as vice chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice.
Melinda Fredricks, a former SREC member from Conroe, wants to run and serve only until the June 2010 election. " I have worked for decades to build a Republican Majority, and I am deeply concerned the work many of us have done is in grave danger after two poor election cycles," she said in an email to the SREC members who'll pick someone to finish Benkiser's term. She's a Perry appointee, too, to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission now, and previously to the Texas Medical Board.
Democrat John Sharp picked up an endorsement from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, in his bid for U.S. Senate. That's a slap to Houston Mayor Bill White, who's also in the hunt. Whether they actually get to run is up to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has said she'll quit that post to concentrate on her campaign to knock off Gov. Rick Perry. Sharp and White are, so far, the only Democrats to express serious interest in her job. Van de Putte leads the Democratic caucus in the Texas Senate and has been involved in Party affairs at the national level, too.
Maverick County Judge Jose "Pepe" Aranda Jr. told the Rio Grande Guardian he might challenge Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, in next year's Democratic primary. He's in his second term as judge and has said he won't seek a third term. He's also a former mayor of Eagle Pass. He hasn't made a final decision. King said he takes all comers seriously, "especially county-wide officeholders from counties in my district," but says he's not sure yet what Aranda will finally do. This isn't the first time the challenger has looked at challenging King. And, for the record: King says he'll seek an eighth term in HD-80.
Republican Lisa Luby Ryan says she'll have the support of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach if she runs for the Texas House in HD-108. That's the Park Cities seat held now by Republican Dan Branch. He's interested in running for attorney general if Greg Abbott doesn't seek reelection; if he does, Luby Ryan would run for his spot. That's four stops on the political bus line: If Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns, and if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst quits to run for that, and if Abbott decides to go after the Lite Guv job, and if Branch goes for AG, then Luby Ryan, a high-end interior designer, will run for the House.
Stephen Thomas has named a treasurer, resigned from the Cedar Park City Council and plans to run for the HD-20 seat in Williamson County. Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, is giving that up to run for the Texas Senate (where Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, decided not to run again). Thomas will join Milton Rister and Charles Schwertner in the GOP primary. One other tidbit: Thomas picked up the endorsement of local businessman Jarrod Weaver, significant because Weaver was thinking about running himself.
Barry Cooper, a former cop running for Texas attorney general on what he calls a "pro-family, pro-gun, pro-pot platform," has an offbeat fundraiser coming up in Austin. The main act? Hip-hop artist Devin the Dude, described as "a brilliant oddball with a spaced-out flow."
Gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina claims to have raised $111,000 in one day last week — part of a Ron Paul-style "Money Bomb." The campaign said the money — which doesn't get officially reported until January — came from all over the country.
Political People and Their Moves
Gov. Rick Perry appointed:
Jeff Rose of Austin to the 353rd district court, replacing the late Scott Ozmun. Rose is deputy first assistant to Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Former Plano Mayor Jeran Akers to the Texas State Affordable Housing Corp.'s board.
Robert "Rob" Kyker of Richardson to the Credit Union Commission. He's the owner of R&D Sales and Leasing.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named Charles McMahen and Sens. Glenn Hegar, Joan Huffman, Robert Nichols, and John Whitmire to the Sunset Advisory Commission. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa will remain on that board, and Hegar, who was also on the board before, will chair it.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples added two seats to the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority Board and named Will Coward of Coryell County and John Paul Dineen III of Waxahachie to that panel. Coward is a rancher. Dineen is a farmer.
When Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, married Joyce Feinberg, a few days ago, the name of the biggest celebrity in the deal got left out. Sandra Day O'Connor, the former U.S. Supreme Court justice and an El Paso native, performed the ceremony.
Tom DeLay bailed out of Dancing with the Stars. The former U.S. House Majority Leader, a Sugar Land Republican, had stress fractures in his feet that he said forced him out.
Texas Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo is recovering and waiting for a diagnosis after feeling ill enough to go to the hospital for three days last week.
Deaths: Jessica Hobby Catto, journalist and conservationist daughter of a Texas governor, William P. Hobby; a cabinet secretary and first leader of the Women's Army Corps, Oveta Culp Hobby; and brother to former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, after a struggle with cancer. She was 72.
Quotes of the Week
Former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, asked by The Dallas Morning News whether he considers himself a tragic figure after his conviction on public corruption charges: "Oh, I don't know, I'm going to have to think that through a little bit, but it's a good question."
State Board of Education member Pat Hardy, quoted in the Houston Chronicle about questions over the SBOE's choice of an investment firm that allegedly had ties to a board member: "I have never had anything in my whole life shake my faith worse than this, because [some board members] claim to be such goody two-shoes. We have people on the board who are using that as a conduit to advance themselves."
State District Judge John McCraw Jr., hoping to conclude a long-running property fight involving SMU and the George W. Bush Library, in The Dallas Morning News: "This case is five years old and Im retired. I can't go another five years."
One of the Texas Department of Transportation's five appointed leaders, at a press conference announcing the death of a Trans-Texas Corridor route that would have paralleled I-35: "I am Ted Houghton, the most arrogant commissioner of the most arrogant state agency in the history of the State of Texas.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, asked by The Atlantic how he addresses "birthers" and conspiracy theorists at public gatherings: "When I go to town-hall meetings, say, 'You're crazy.' In a respectful way."
Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 38, 12 October 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.