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Hopson's Choice

Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, will seek reelection, but as a Republican — a move that might save his neck while wrecking his former party's chances at winning a majority in the House.

Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, will seek reelection, but as a Republican — a move that might save his neck while wrecking his former party's chances at winning a majority in the House.

Hopson, who barely scraped by in the 2008 election, plans a weekend rally with invitees like U.S Sen. John Cornyn and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples at his side.

"President Obama and the Democrats in Congress just don't reflect the values of this district," he said.

He and his new allies are also working to keep others out of the GOP primary. At least one candidate — Jacksonville dentist Michael Banks, who's known Hopson for more than three decades — says he'll run in the primary. "I'm a better Republican than Chuck because he's been a Democrat," Banks said. Banks said the GOP wins whether he or Hopson comes out of the primary and there's no reason for the outside Republicans to get involved.

"They don't have a dog in this fight," he said.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie's response was combative. “It takes strength and integrity to stand against the special interests — and while some members have that strength, others like Chuck Hopson, apparently do not,” he said. “In the Democratic Party, there is room for members who are conservative and progressive — the only reason anyone would leave is for crass political reasons and a refusal to stand up to special interests.”

Hopson's is the second Democratic seat to fall; David Farabee of Wichita Falls said earlier this year that he won't seek reelection. Both seats are in strongly Republican turf, and incumbent Democrats stand a better chance than new ones do. Losing the two seats, before the election cycle is really underway, is a huge setback for Democrats who hope to take a majority in the House. Right now, there are 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats there. Unless the Democrats pull pigeons out of their hankies, the starting count is effectively 78-72. They'll have to win at least three seats now in GOP hands while successfully defending what they currently hold. And if you look at the list of vulnerable seats, you'll find more Democrats in defensive zones than Republicans.

Both Farabee and Hopson are so-called "WD-40s" — white Democrats over 40 — who've demonstrated an ability to hang onto their seats while Democrats around them are falling to Republicans.

Hopson, in fact, occupies the most Republican Texas House seat held by a Democrat — a legislative district where the average statewide Republican beats the average statewide Democrat by 33.4 percentage points. (Farabee's is the second-most Republican, with an index of 32.6). The two were among the GOP's top targets as it tries to bolster its narrow majority in the House and win another term for House Speaker Joe Straus III.

Democrats start this election cycle with dreams of regaining the House majority they lost in the 2002 elections. This significantly raises the level of difficulty, because the Republicans they have to beat to get their numbers are generally in Republican districts. It's not impossible — Texas Democrats have been as strong in legislative races as they have been weak in statewide contests — but it'll be difficult.

Hopson is the first House member to switch parties since Kirk England, D-Grand Prairie, who went from the Republicans to the Democrats two years ago.

A Little History

Switching parties is nothing new in Texas.

Ronald Reagan, a Democrat-turned-Republican himself, started the modern round of party switching in Texas. The new Republican president turned to two Texas Democrats in Congress in 1981 to pass his tax and budget plans. Their fellow Democrats turned cold shoulders to Phil Gramm and Kent Hance (and took away some of their privileges). Gramm quit Congress in 1983, announced he was changing parties, and then won the special election for the seat he had given up. That, he said, gave voters a chance to throw him out if they didn't like his choice.

The two were both on the ballot in 1984 — Hance as a Democrat, Gramm as a Republican — when John Tower's U.S. Senate seat came open. Hance lost the Democratic primary. Gramm beat Ron Paul in the Republican primary and then beat Lloyd Doggett in the general election (both Paul and Doggett are now members of Congress).

Hance switched parties in 1985, and lost the 1986 and 1990 Republican primaries for governor. He won the 1988 race for Railroad Commissioner in between — his only electoral success as a Republican — and is now the chancellor of Texas Tech University System.

There's at least one more thread in that story. In 1989, Gramm and others got a North Texas state representative to switch parties and then run against popular Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. Gramm, a former Texas A&M economics professor, tapped a former yell leader from the school for that job: Rick Perry. Perry has held statewide office ever since that 1990 election, first as ag commissioner, then as lieutenant governor, and now as governor.

Other state reps jumped the fence in the 1980s, going from the donkey pen to the elephant yard: Charlie Evans of Fort Worth after the 1987 legislative session, Anita Hill of Garland after the 1981 session, Ray Keller of Duncanville after the 1981 session, and George Pierce of San Antonio after the 1981 session. The late Ric Williamson switched from the Democrats to the Republicans after the 1995 session.

The Legislature remained in Democratic control until the late 1990s, when Republicans began making inroads and Democrats started regularly losing statewide elections.

Warren Chisum of Pampa switched parties after the 1997 session, but stuck with House Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat and fellow resident of the Panhandle, until Tom Craddick became speaker in 2003.

Kirk England of Grand Prairie jumped from the Republicans to the Democrats after one session in the Legislature, saying he felt Craddick and the Republicans were forcing him to vote the party line even when going the other way would be better for his district.

Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi served four terms as a Democrat, quit after the 1997 session to go home, practice law, and raise kids. He returned last year, after running as a Republican in 2008.

Delwin Jones of Lubbock served four terms in the 1960s and 1970s before losing a Democratic primary to Laney. He sat out for 16 years and ran — as a Republican this time — in 1989. He's still in the Legislature, and is seeking another term next year.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall switched parties in 2004, after redistricting changed the composition of his already conservative district. He'd been a candidate for years, with one of the most conservative voting records of any congressional Democrat. Hall took a long time, though; he was first elected to office, as a Democrat, in 1950, when he became Rockwall County Judge.

One that doesn't quite count, except as a story: Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, faced a number of tough elections, running as a conservative Democrat in a Republican district. Leading up to the 2004 race, he publicly considered leaving the Democrats for the Republicans, then decided not to run for reelection, then reconsidered and won reelection as a Democrat. He won again in 2006, and decided not to seek reelection in 2008. That's now a Republican seat.

Switching usually works in the next elections — see above — but it's hard on friendships and there are a couple of cautionary tale that comes up whenever Texas pols are telling flipper stories. Greg Laughlin, a Democratic congressman from West Columbia, won four elections as a Democrat and then switched to the Republican ticket before the 1996 race. He had all the endorsements and backing — including that of then-Gov. George W. Bush — but he lost the GOP primary to Ron Paul. And in the Texas House, Republican Bernard Erickson of Cleburne switched parties in 1994 and ran as a Democrat (in what turned out to be a watershed year for the GOP). He lost a very close race to Arlene Wohlgemuth, a Republican who'd worked on his earlier campaigns and was not pleased with the switch.

The lesson, which Chuck Hopson is working on today, is that a flipper is most vulnerable right after the flip, and particularly in the primary. It's best to clear the field.

Targets

What do these folks have in common?

Reps. Steven Frost, Mark Homer, Alan Ritter, Yvonne Gonzales-Toureilles, Patrick Rose, Pete Gallego, Joe Heflin, Chris Turner, Carol Kent, Kirk England, and Allan Vaught?

They're the targets of an email campaign spearheaded by Dr. Steven Hotze, a conservative activist in Houston with a long history of successful direct mail campaigns behind him.

On behalf of something called the Conservative Republicans of Texas, he's encouraging the people on his list to either sign up to run against one of the list Democrats or to recruit someone who will. Those aren't the only targeted districts for Republicans who want to increase their strength in the House, but those are the ones with the shortest lists of Republican contenders.

A Slow Convalescence

Texas will see a "mild" economic recovery next year, but it will be muted by questions about consumption and commercial real estate, according to an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Keith Phillips, speaking at a Texas Taxpayers and Research Association gathering in Austin, called consumption — that's consumer and business spending, in English — "the elephant in the room" in terms of the Texas economy. Housing in Texas isn't the disaster it has been in other states, and spending is the bigger problem here.

The Texas comptroller's office has reported double-digit declines in sales taxes for five months in a row — a direct measure of what Phillips is talking about. For the state, that raises serious questions about the budget over the next year-and-a-half; at some point, it becomes unlikely that the economy will grow quickly enough to bring in expected levels of state revenue. That could turn what initially looked like a balanced budget — when lawmakers finished writing it last May — into one without enough revenue to support the spending plan. The people who watch the state budget for a living already expect to face a huge revenue and spending mismatch in 2011, when they write the new budget. If the economy remains sick in bed, it'll just add to those problems.

Phillips is betting things will improve "gradually" and "mildly" next year. He forecasts the state will end up losing a net 319,000 jobs this year and think that will improve next year, but slowly: His prediction is that jobs will grow by about 1 percent. The normal rate of growth, when the economy is rolling, is about 2.8 percent, he said.

Looking back, he said Texas probably started its version of the recession in the second half of 2008, and he said October of this year might turn out to have been the low point. He hedged on that last point: "I wouldn't put money on it and probably don't even care what they call it," he joked.

Phillips is a senior economist and policy advisor in the bank's San Antonio branch, expects holiday retail sales to be "a little better than expected." He used the phrase "mildly positive" to describe what he's expecting.

He's got misgivings about commercial real estate, which he called "the bogeyman behind the door."

"One of the things that will keep the economy from bouncing back strongly next year is commercial real estate," he said.

Double the Caffeine

In a speech to the Midland Republican Women's Club, Gov. Rick Perry blasted the Obama Administration for being "hell-bent" on socialism and "punishing Texas." And he added this: "I am not bashful to get up and say I believe in the Tenth Amendment."

This got some press, both national and local, after it was posted on the community boards of the Midland Reporter-News — and it's worth watching.

Perry focused specifically on the recent healthcare legislation, and the implication such legislation has for states' rights.

"I say it's time to make tea parties twice as big as what they were," Perry declared. "I think it's time for us to stand up and say to Washington, D.C. that we are no longer going to accept that kind of stuff sitting down and being quiet."

Perry shifted between problems specific to Texas (like the new national policy of deporting undocumented workers from Presidio) and rhetorical tropes with nation-wide significance (like the need for bigger tea parties). The talk works on at least two levels, letting Perry keep up his anti-Washington drumbeat (he's running against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and painting her with that brush), and feeding some fuel to talk that he's considering a national race in 2012.

—Abby Rapoport

Emergency Response

Tragedy struck at Fort Hood and the GOP gubernatorial frontrunners couldn't have responded more differently. On the day of the attack, Gov. Rick Perry kept a low profile, staying away from Fort Hood until, he said, he believed his presence wouldn't be a distraction. From Washington, Kay Bailey Hutchison, took to the airwaves, appearing with David Shuster and with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, with Neil Cavuto and Shepard Smith on Fox News, with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and more.

Hutchison spokesperson Joe Pounder brushed aside questions on whether the decision to respond so noticeably in a time of crisis was a political calculation, saying, "She plans on doing everything she can in the days and weeks ahead to ensure that the Ft. Hood community has the support they need as they recover from this tragedy." Besides being one of Texas' most prominent public officials, Hutchison can claim a vested interest as the Ranking Member on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee.

Both Hutchison and Perry attended Tuesday's official memorial for the 13 fallen soldiers. Afterward, in a rare moment of solidarity with Washington, Perry was widely quoted as saying President Barack Obama's eulogy was "spot on."

—Reeve Hamilton

Standout

The Texas delegation voted along party lines (Democrats for, Republicans against) on the healthcare reform bill, which passed 220-215, in the U.S. House of Representatives — with one exception. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, was the lone Texas Democrat to vote against the measure.

Edwards, who holds the most Republican congressional district in the U.S. that is represented by a Democrat, explained himself this way: "Given the huge federal deficits facing our nation, I believe there is too much new spending in this bill. I am especially disappointed that the bill does not have a fiscal trigger in it to cut spending if actual costs of new programs turn out to be higher than projected."

The National Republican Congressional Committee, led by Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions, has been eyeing Edwards seat and didn't take Edward's allowance lying down. They issued a statement titled, "Edwards Trades Political Cover for Rubber Stamp Vote."

—Reeve Hamilton

Easy Being Green

Hank Gilbert's sixth position paper is green. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate wants to combine the Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality into a new agency, the Texas Environmental Commission. Gilbert advocates more money for parks, raising efficiency standards, and easy incentives for alternative energy.

Gilbert promises three more papers before Christmas, and in fact, he's the only gubernatorial candidate putting out such papers at all. But like most of his fellow Democrats, he's lagging behind Kinky Friedman in name recognition. As the only one staking out positions, he might ultimately raise his status among Democratic voters.

—Abby Rapoport

Running Shoes

• Democratic El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez, first elected county-wide in 1992, is definitely running for the SD-29 seat currently occupied by retiring Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso. Rodriguez is the first to jump into the race to succeed Shapleigh. Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, said she'd decide whether or not to challenge him by Thanksgiving. Former Tigua Gov. Albert Alvidrez is also mulling a run.

• Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, has drawn a second primary challenger. ""You know an incumbent has been in Austin way too long when he votes against showing a photo ID to vote, opening up our elections to fraud and ineligible voters," said business owner and CPA Charles Perry in a press release. Perry's announcement makes it a three-way fight between himself, Jones, and Lubbock attorney Zach Brady.

• U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa will run for reelection to represent CD-15. He will face Republican Eddie Zamora, a McAllen businessman, for the third straight time. Last time, Hinojosa got 72 percent of the ballots.

• U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, will seek an eighth term in Congress. Reyes is the first Hispanic chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Republican Tim Besco, a registered nurse and war veteran, is challenging him.

Keith Hampton filed to run as a Democrat for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Hampton, an Austin criminal defense attorney who has also worked as legislative director for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, is going after the seat currently held by Judge Michael Keasler.

—Reeve Hamilton

Question of the Week

A year before the election, we asked the chairs of the two major parties to put their arguments down, to pull together a "Why we're right and you're wrong," that could be paired against the opposition. Here you go:

The Texas Way

By Cathie Adams, Republican Party of Texas Chairman

Every day it seems we can't pick up a paper or access one online without bleak news confronting us. New York State may face bankruptcy by Christmas. California is sending out IOUs to its creditors to avoid defaulting on its credit lines. The federal government is swimming in trillions of dollars of debt that our children and their children won't be able to pay for.

And yet, at least at the federal level, the Democrats who are in control haven't made the obvious connection: Spend too much, and it eventually catches up with you.

Instead, the Democrats under the leadership of President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are proposing and passing even more government spending. The health care bill that they passed on a nearly party-line vote late Saturday night will end up costing us trillions of dollars, while it also raises taxes on families and businesses in the middle of a recession. The new debt will cause inflation which, combined with the tax increases in the health care bill and the tax increases in the Democrats' cap and trade bill, will squeeze the American economy like an anaconda. Texas families will suffer for policies that we don't support and had very little say in crafting: Pelosi all but locked Texas out of negotiations over the health care bill last week. And Texas Democrats let her do it.

The Democrats are also criminalizing private health care choices. Buried in their mammoth "reform" bill is a provision to charge massive penalties on those who choose not to buy private health insurance, whether because they cannot afford it or because they would rather pay for health care on their own as they need it. And those who defy the Democrats' fines could face five years in prison. This is reform? No, it is insanity. It is certainly not the Texas way of doing business.

Taken together, these Democratic policies will greatly hurt the state of Texas. The health care bill will cost us at least 15,000 jobs, as doctor-owned hospitals slowly close, while cap and trade may cost us up to tens of thousands more jobs by demolishing the Texas energy sector and then rippling out from there. These are unacceptable policies that most Texans oppose, but the Democrats keep shoving them down our throats.

There is a bit of good news out there, but Texas Democrats don't want to hear it. While they continually run down and badmouth the Lone Star State, the fact is, since Texans opted for Republican leadership a few years ago, our state has become the nation's economic model. We inherited massive debt that the Democrats left for us, and have eliminated it. We now have lower unemployment than the national average, our housing markets are more stable, our cities are resisting the recession better, and our tax burden is lighter than states like California and New York. Our public schools have started to outpace California's too. We spend less, but what we do spend, we spend more efficiently. All of this tells us that the Texas way is working.

At the Republican Party of Texas, we're not resting on success. We're working to make things better. By standing firm on our conservative principles and standing up to the Washington Democrats and their me-too chorus in Austin, we are attracting new voters every day. We're recruiting strong conservatives to expand our majority in the state House in 2010. The Democrats plan to use congressional redistricting to give them power that the voters haven't, and we won't let them. As the Democratic leadership continues to lurch left, conservative Democrats, including at least one State Representative so far, have switched to become Republicans. Many at the local level have already switched, and many more are planning to.

While we grow our party by shrinking the Democrats, we are also engaging with the state's vibrant and growing Hispanic population. Texas' future is as a Hispanic-majority state, and the Republican Party is the natural home of everyone who believes in a family-centered, opportunity-filled life. In the past six months we have brought on three very accomplished spokesmen — George P. Bush, Rey Garza and Adryana Boyne — to take the Republican case to Spanish-speaking media and Hispanic communities and organizations.

It's clear from the examples of California, New York and the federal government that the Democratic way just doesn't work. It strangles economic activity, penalizes innovation and creates unsustainable debt. But that is what the Texas Democrats will bring here if they're given the chance. Next year's elections will be critical to the future of Texas. Texans will have a choice between continuing the Texas way – lower taxes and expanding choices, resulting in one of the nation's strongest economies – or the Democratic way of tax hikes and government coercion, leading to stagnation. We're confident that the Texas way will continue to win here, and we're hopeful that other states will adopt it and begin the process of real reform across the nation.

Texas Democrats Work for Solutions, Not Sound Bites

By Boyd Richie, Texas Democratic Party Chairman

The first great Texas Democratic leader, Sam Houston, set a standard for public service that defines the difference between today's Texas Democrats and Republicans.

Houston said, "Do right and risk the consequences," reflecting the Democratic Party's belief that government exists to protect and serve "we the people." That belief stands in stark contrast to a Texas Republican Party that has surrendered doing what's right to serve the special interests and satisfy ideologues who want government to tell us how to live.

Texans are proud, independent people who don't back down in the face of great challenges. Like all Americans, Texans are fed up with today's self-serving politicians. In Texas, Republicans have run the show for the past decade, but Texas remains strong despite their failure to lead.

Too many students are dropping out of Texas schools, but Republican politicians have dropped out of the solution business. Texas has the highest percentage of citizens without health insurance, but with Republicans in charge, the doctor is out. Our roads are congested with traffic, but Rick Perry only offered us a ride on a toll road operated by a foreign company.

Texans have the skill, ingenuity and ability to solve these problems, but the Party of Rick Perry and Tom DeLay used the offices of government to enhance political power and serve the wealthy special interests instead. Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Cathie Adams demands that its officeholders don an ideological straightjacket that makes it harder to reach out to solve problems.

Texas Democrats have a natural advantage in the problem solving business. We come from all walks of life. We welcome moderates, conservatives and progressives. We are workers, small business owners and teachers who know we have to listen and work with each other to find common ground.

Texas Democrats have been winning recent elections in what was once considered safe Republican territory. We've won a dozen Texas House seats, a Texas Senate district and scores of local races in major Texas counties because voters — Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike — are supporting candidates who will put partisanship aside to represent their communities.

Voters know that shouting partisan slogans doesn't improve their neighborhood schools and they understand that politicians beholden to special interests aren't going to cut sky-high insurance premiums or utility rates.

The 2009 legislative session showed how things can improve by electing mainstream Democrats and sending 74 Democrats to a more equally divided Texas House.

House Democrats led the effort to end the freeze on school funding imposed by a 2006 Perry-Republican school finance plan that had forced hundreds of local school districts to consider property tax hikes, teacher layoffs and reduced academic offerings. Likewise, House Democrats worked successfully to restore CHIP coverage for hundreds of thousands of Texas children and put a roadblock in the path of Perry's Trans Texas Corridor. These are not the long-term solutions, but by electing a stronger Democratic minority, Texans forced the Legislature to move in the right direction.

Ironically, it took $14 billion of the federal stimulus funds Republicans love to hate to accomplish this modest progress while preserving billions in the state's Rainy Day Fund. Still, the "Party of No" refused to say thank you for a Democratic economic plan that bailed Republicans out of a state budget bind while starting the difficult task of recovering from a Republican recession that cost over 200,000 Texas jobs.

Recently, the Hill Country Times reported that GOP Chair Cathie Adams told a Republican audience that the idea first advanced by FDR that everyone has a right to a job, home, medical care, and education is wrong, because this mindset can only lead to total government control. Ms. Adams' mindset recalls claims that Social Security would lead to socialism and communism. Yet 74 years later, Social Security has served generations of Americans while Democrats have presided over periods of free enterprise economic growth and elected the last two Presidents who balanced the federal budget.

Like Sam Houston, Texas Democrats don't cotton to talk about secession and we don't look down on others, but we'll fight for the Texas we love and do our best to build a better Texas for generations to come.

Political People and Their Moves

Clayton Wolf will head the Wildlife Division at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. That's an internal promotion, after a national search. Wolf, a biologist, had been the agency's big game program director.

Dr. John Howe III was named president emeritus at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. He was president there from 1985 to 2000.

Quotes of the Week

Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, on switching parties, in The Texas Tribune: "I'd be lying if I said I didn't mull it over back in the early days. But, it'd be like someone standing at the Alamo going, 'I'm not gonna survive this thing,' and all of a sudden he jumps up and starts speaking Spanish!"

Keir Murray, who didn't have a client in Houston's race for mayor, talking about the results in the Houston Chronicle: "Another important factor was the low turnout. We had a small enough electorate that those who were showing up were actually fairly knowledgeable about the race, even though they may not have received much in the way of paid media from [Roy] Morales."

Hardeman County District Attorney John Staley Heatly, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman about a diabetic cattle rustler whose supporters say jail could wreck his health and maybe kill him: "He stole from a large number of people. As you might imagine, there's not too much sympathy up here for him... The cattle business is a lot about trust."

Labor lawyer Rick Levy, quoted in a Houston Chronicle story about the state increasing business taxes to cover a shortfall in unemployment insurance: "We haven't been good squirrels. We haven't put away nuts for the wintertime. In fact, we deplete our fund so that when wintertime comes, not only is there not anything there, but we have to start charging extra. It's just a backwards way of doing it."

Keith Phillips, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, talking about the economy: "The good thing about building permits is they can't go below zero."


Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 43, 16 November 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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