From Texas Weekly, this same week a year ago: "Kay Bailey Hutchison's term in the U.S. Senate runs through 2012 and she now says she won't resign earlier than the end of next year if she runs for governor. She has formed an exploratory committee."
That was correct at the time and sounds correct now, but was wrong for a while in the middle period, when early resignation seemed likely and all of us pointy-headed analyzers were thinking the air and ground wars in the governor's race would be well under way by, say, last October.
Reading it now has a Groundhog Day quality to it. But after the holidays, you'll forget it was slow. It's entirely possible that the candidates in the Republican primary for governor will spend $40 million in the first two months of 2010. The election is on March 2. The filing deadline for candidates is Monday, January 4. And the weekend before that is full of parades and football games and ads for department store sales and gubernatorial candidates. Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry won't be alone on the Goob Tube: Farouk Shami is already advertising and has promised to spend $10 million of his own while running for the Democratic nomination. He'll face Bill White, who's got money in his federal account that can be moved — a couple of million or so in seed money — and is a proven fundraiser and also has a swollen wallet of his own. When the tally is taken after the election, don't be surprised if those four candidates together average $1 million in spending every day of the first two months of the year.
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It could have been even louder had Hutchison decided to get out of the Senate before the deadline for candidates to file. The folks waiting to climb the food chain don't have full control of their destinies. Part of that's been written to death — the begat-begat-begat litany of who would move if that one moved and what might happen to that office, and all of that.
The other part is the dates to watch.
Candidates have to file for office by January 4, whether they're Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians.
December 30 is the last day candidates can get their names off the ballots unless they become ineligible to serve for the offices they seek. Ineligible generally means one of two things: They moved out of the district (or the state itself), or they're physically or mentally unable to do the job. That's interesting on the statewide level in particular. If you're incapacitated or move out of the state to get off of the regular ballot in 2010, you're not eligible to turn around and run for a statewide position in, say, a special election in 2010. Anyone who signs up to run after that December 30 date will be in it for the distance; it'll be past the deadline for backing out.
March 2 is the date of the primaries for the Republicans and the Democrats (the Libertarians hold local and district conventions in March and then will pick their candidates at a state convention in June).
Runoffs will take place on April 13.
The uniform election dates in front of us are May 8 and November 2. The former is a possible date for a special election to replace Hutchison, if she resigns before April 2. That's the last day to order an election on May 8. If Hutchison resigns after that date, the governor has broad discretion to set a special election more or less whenever he'd like. One potential trap: Were the Guv to put the special election on the same date as the general election in November, nobody who's on the general election ballot would be eligible to run in the special election.
Campaign finance reports are due on January 15 (for the six months ending on December 31), 30 days before each election, and eight days before each election.
Is Seven Enough for Isett?
Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, has his hometown buzzing with rumors that he won't seek an eighth term in the Texas House. Isett didn't return calls and texts to confirm, and his office said simply that he'll have an announcement on Friday.
Chris Winn, the chairman of Lubbock's GOP, acknowledged the rumors but said he hadn't talked to Isett and couldn't confirm or deny anything.
Isett, an accountant first elected in 1996, is on the Appropriations and Insurance committees, and also serves on the Sunset Advisory Commission. He's an officer in the Navy Reserve, and his wife Cheri served some of his time in the House while he was called to duty.
Isett didn't have an opponent in 2008, either in the general or in the primary election, and won the two elections before that without breaking a sweat. He tromped Democrat Pearlie Mayfield in 2006, winning by a two-to-one margin. And he got 68 percent of the vote in the 2004 general election against Democrat Freda McVay. Isett got 58 percent of the votes in his worst general election, in 1996. It's Republican territory: The average Republican statewide candidate beat the average Democrat there by 26 percentage points in the 2008 and 2006 elections.
Only a few members have said they won't be coming back, but there will likely be more when filing ends in a couple of weeks. The list so far includes: David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls; Kino Flores, D-Palmview; Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown; and Brian McCall, R-Plano. In the Senate, only Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, has announced he won't run.
Four out of five state and federal legislators won't suffer any real competition next year in their primary or general elections.
Their districts are secure because their maps are secure. Only one state senator got knocked off in last year's elections. Four fresh faces were among the 31 senators in 2007. In 2005, it was zero. More than two-thirds of the senators now in office were in office at the start of the decade. Congressional seats might be even safer; only three newbies from Texas have joined that body in the last two elections. Not three each year — three, total.
Most of the state's legislative districts are in safe hands, at least in the electoral sense. The political maps are redrawn every ten years, after the federal census. They're dangerous at first, with members paired against each other, members running on unfamiliar ground, seeking the support of voters who used to be represented by others. But by the end of a decade, most of the districts are no longer really contested, and we're at the end of a decade.
Voters in a few scattered districts — 12 or fewer — can expect to see real contests in House races. Only one senator — Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso — is leaving, and the race to replace him is becoming almost sedate. No other senators up for election next year face serious challenges at this point (candidates have until January 4 to file for the 2010 elections, so there's time for this to change). Three spots in the congressional delegation are competitive, at least on paper. (What's competitive? Look here.)
With notable exceptions, Texans don't change legislators all that frequently. Over the last 40 years, they've changed an average of 4.5 senators every election cycle (out of 31 total) and even fewer in the last decade.
In the House, Texans like to see some turnover; on average, about 20 percent of the 150 seats in the House are occupied by new members at the beginning of each legislative session. That's around 30 fresh faces.
Congressional numbers are a little squirrelly: 40 years ago, the state had 23 members. Now it has 32, and will probably get three or four more after next year's census shows which states lost people and which states gained.
Texas is expected to be a gainer in those calculations, picking up seats from places like Ohio and New York. Pity the pols in places like those, who'll have to knock off incumbents unless people retire. It's like musical chairs, with the stopped music and the scramble and the loser left standing, but with higher stakes.
And the new federal representatives who grab those new seats will, on average, hold them for a while. Only four freshmen make it into the typical Texas delegation.
Turnover at the statehouse has slowed considerably over the last 15 years. Instead of flipping one seat in five every election cycle, voters are flipping fewer than one in six.
The numbers still peak every ten years, though, after the Census numbers are out and most of the state's political maps are redrawn. Throw out the numbers from 1973 — the 1972 elections in Texas were colored by the Sharpstown scandal and major redistricting changes and voters replaced more than half of the Senate and more than half of the House.
Redistricting changes more seats than scandals or money or hot causes. More than a quarter of the House usually changes. The Senate number leaps to seven. The Texas congressional delegation returns to Washington after a redistricting with a half dozen freshmen in its midst.
That's something to look forward to, in the 2012 elections. But the election year we're entering, at least at the legislative level, will be a yawner for most Texans.
Dialing for Dollars is Optional
Farouk Shami, the wealthy hair product manufacturer who now seeks the Governor's Mansion, has already pledged his own campaign $10 million. And he's not the first one. Just eight years ago, Tony Sanchez's 2002 losing bid for governor relied heavily on the candidate's personal funds. And that's just recent memory.
Recent Texas political history is full of wealthy candidates from both parties, including some winners and some losers, some who used their own money and some who didn't: Dolph Briscoe, Bill Clements, Clayton Williams, Lloyd Bentsen, Ben Bentzin, Van Taylor, Mike Moncrief, Bill Hobby, David Dewhurst, Michael Skelly, and on and on.
For political consultants, the hired guns responsible for winning elections, obvious ethical questions can arise around such candidacies.
Having a wealthy candidate means there will be plenty of money for the campaign, but it doesn't mean the candidate can win. Political professionals, who often get paid the same regardless of the outcome, have to decide on the rules for taking on wealthy clients. While they may not agree, they all acknowledge that rules for self-financing candidates are a little different than for everyone else.
Many profess concern that consultants will simply prey on those with hefty bank accounts.
"You've built in a motivation for consultants to say, 'You can win! You can win! You should run! You should run!'" says Glenn Smith, a Democratic consultant who worked on the Sanchez campaign.
Smith and others argue that the motivational structure allows consultants to take advantage of their clients. And without the need to raise money — to ask others for support — the candidates may not even improve their campaign skills.
"Part of the beauty of putting your name on the ballot is convincing others that you should be the one and having them selflessly help you," says Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, who chooses not to self-finance despite his wealth.
McCall has a point, according to Matt Angle, the Democratic consultant who oversees the Texas Lonestar Project. Angle says fundraising can often strengthen a campaign. Donors, he said, will "defend you to other people."
Sometimes those who have shown good sense in making money don't keep the same control when spending it on a campaign.
"They were like children in a candy store," Bryan Eppstein, a GOP consultant, exclaims of wealthy pols he's observed. "They were gullible and bought everything in front of them."
The consultants agree that it takes a different set of considerations to work with a wealthy client. But at the risk of taking advantage, how does a consultant choose which clients to take on?
"I'll take on a candidate if I know that their motives are true and right," says Mark Sanders, who's worked for rich candidates like Sanchez, a Democrat, and Dewhurst, a Republican. He immediately apologizes for his display of idealism.
Others, not so surprisingly, take a more hard-nosed approach.
For Jason Stanford, giving preference to those who can self-fund just makes good business sense. "If you can eliminate risk from a business perspective, why not?" he asks.
But is that okay, even if a victory is all but impossible? After all, Stanford, a Democrat, just got a rather public pink slip from one of those self-funders, parting ways with the Shami campaign after less than three weeks on the job.
Eppstein says those who take on campaigns that cannot win come close to violating professional trust. Giving a candidate false hope, he says, is just plain unacceptable.
"If statistically a race cannot be won, there's no amount of money in the world that can elect somebody," says Eppstein. "The least important thing in a political campaign is the candidate."
Sanders and Stanford both readily acknowledge the difficulties in being honest with wealthy, long-shot candidates.
When giving bad news to clients, says Sanders, "it's best to be delivered starting out with the word 'Sir.'"
Stanford concurs: "It is challenging... to make sure you're telling someone the truth, even though they really, really don't want to hear it."
Especially if everyone assumes the candidate can win.
"My job is not to tell them they can't win," Sanders says with conviction. "My job is to find a way that they will."
Others worry that the motivational structure for consultants can lead to a constant denial — bordering on delusion.
Tell that to Stanford, as he outlines the scenario he once envisioned for a Shami victory: "His $10 million could carry the day in the primary. And... Rick Perry could be so fatally flawed after a campaign against Kay Bailey [Hutchison] that, despite his challenges, a self-made billionaire could present a compelling story."
When he initially joined the campaign, Stanford says he could imagine that scenario.
"When a lump of clay shows up on a sculptor's doorstep, you don't think, 'Well, it's a lump of clay,'" he explains.
But you can't assume it will be a masterpiece either.
"[Shami] has got to know he can't win," says Smith, just hours after Shami made his candidacy official by filing with party officials. "Nobody could be that naïve."
— by Abby Rapoport
Flotsam & Jetsam
Kinky Friedman has some cows and some dogs and an ag exemption on part of the Echo Hill Ranch that he and his siblings own on the Kerr County-Bandera County line. That's enough to qualify, he says, to file for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. That takes him out of the governor's race on the Democratic side and puts him into the race with Hank Gilbert, another gubernatorial refugee who's already in the race for ag commissioner. Former Commissioner Jim Hightower is one of Friedman's advisors (you can find highlights of an interview with Hightower here) and steered him to choose between Ag and the Land Commissioner.
Three Democratic legislators who came out early for Fort Worth's Tom Schieffer in the race for governor say they'll go with Houston Mayor Bill White, who entered the race as Schieffer exited. Legislative leaders Garnet Coleman of Houston, Jim Dunnam of Waco, and Pete Gallego of Alpine are announcing they'll go with White.
Former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla endorsed Elizabeth Ames Jones for U.S. Senate, if Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns next year and there's a special election to replace her. Jones, is one of two Railroad Commissioners (the other is Michael Williams) coveting that job, and one of a small herd of Republicans.
Beto O'Rourke's bid for Congress — at least the public part of it — didn't last long. He decided not to challenge U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, opting to finish his term on the city council instead.
It's been a while since someone with a union card ran for statewide office in Texas, but Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president emerita of the Texas AFL-CIO and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, is looking seriously at a run for lieutenant governor. She's a Democrat, reared in Lubbock, who now lives in San Antonio. She came up in AFSCME. Austin restaurateur Marc Katz has said he'll run as a Democrat, and Republican David Dewhurst, first elected Lite Guv in 2002, is expected to seek a third term.
Political People and Their Moves
Robert Hutchings will be the new dean at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT-Austin. He's a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council and is currently attached to Princeton University. He takes over in March, replacing James Steinberg, who left to become assistant U.S. Secretary of State.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Caroline Baker of Houston to the 295th District Court. She was a judge for 12 years and got knocked off by Democrat Mike Engelhart in 2008. He named Jennifer Balido of Dallas to the 203rd District Court. She is a Dallas County public defender and worked as an assistant district attorney before that.
And Perry named Dr. Nizam Peerwani of Fort Worth to the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Peerwani is medical examiner for Tarrant, Denton, Johnson and Parker counties.
Kristeen Roe of Bryan got an appointment to the Texas County and District Retirement System Board of Trustees. She's Brazos County's tax assessor and collector.
Perry named Sheri Sanders Givens the state's Public Utility Counsel, heading an agency that represents residential and small business owners in cases before the Public Utility Commission. She'd been an assistant at OPUC and was assistant general counsel at the Texas Workforce Commission before that.
Jennifer Ransom Rice, chief of staff to Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, is leaving that post for the non-profit world. She's joining the Texas Cultural Trust as director of development.
Quotes of the Week
Stephen Klineberg, a professor of Sociology at Rice University, quoted on the outcome of Houston's mayoral race in Politico: "In the end, it was better to be a homosexual than a lobbyist."
Houston Mayor-elect Annise Parker at her first press conference after the elections: "I am concerned that in the first months of my administration, I am going to be spending all of my time telling people no and doing things that people aren't going to like."
Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of Texas, quoted in Esquire: "We should have abandoned the idea of removing the U. S. attorneys once the Democrats took the Senate. Because at that point we could really not count on Republicans to cut off investigations or help us at all with investigations. We didn't see that at the Department of Justice. Nor did the White House see that. Karl didn't see it. If we could do something over again, that would be it."
Kinky Friedman, telling The Dallas Morning News about a conversation between him and Farouk Shami, who's running for governor: "I told Farouk if he's going to put 10 million bucks into a race, why not consider putting in another 200 bucks and change your name? You know? He did not find that amusing."
Friedman on assertions that he's not a real Democrat: "That's like saying who's a real cowboy and not. Those judgments are best left to God and small children."
Secessionist Larry Kilgore, in a post on Facebook announcing his departure from the governor's race: "The campaign has always been about Texas Secession and not about me; therefore the campaign for Texas Secession has not ended."
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, explaining in an interview with C-Span why CO2 should not be regulated in the Clean Air Act: "On a net basis, there's ample evidence that warming generically, however it's caused, is a net benefit to mankind."
Town Commissioner William Sciscoe of Dish, asking Congress to investigate state environmental regulators, quoted in the Denton Record-Chronicle: "The field agent stood in my driveway and said he smelled gas at the time, but when the report was written, it said: 'No odor was detected at this time.'"
Paul Wageman, chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority, after being congratulated for putting away the swords in an NTTA feud with state transportation officials: "It's sheathed but can be pulled back out at any time."
Camille Miller, head of the Texas Health Institute, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on the proposed "Botax" in the healthcare bill: "Folks who can afford tummy tucks for Christmas can afford to pay a tax that helps pay for poor people health insurance."
Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 48, 21 December 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.