Time's Up

The political window is about to close: Today's the last day to become a candidate in the 2010 state elections. What we know so far is that the ballot will have a fireworks show at the top, with contested and well-financed gubernatorial primaries on both sides. A couple of statewide Democratic races will be competitive, but with incumbents seeking reelection on the Republican side, there's little action there.

The political window is about to close: Today's the last day to become a candidate in the 2010 state elections. Democrats and Republicans will run in the March 2 primary. Libertarians will choose their nominees in a series of meetings leading up to the state convention in June, but like the Ds and the Rs, they've got to file by the close of business today.

Some candidates wait until the deadline to file, but many politicos have been filtering in with their applications and their fees for a month. What we know so far: This ballot will have a fireworks show at the top, with contested and well-financed gubernatorial primaries on both sides, between Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Debra Medina for the Republicans and Farouk Shami and Bill White for the Democrats. A couple of statewide Democratic races will be competitive, but with incumbents seeking reelection on the Republican side, there's little action there (all-purpose caveat on this point and for the rest of the story: Anything can happen before the end-of-day deadline).

Labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson of San Antonio, who's been openly talking about the race for lieutenant governor over the holidays, is reportedly ready to file. That would put her in a primary with former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and  Austin restaurateur Marc Katz, who has promised he'll have millions in his campaign coffers (though he also promised to say just how many millions by New Year's Day, and then didn't). Incumbent David Dewhurst is the only Republican in that slot.

The Democrats also have two characters from the 2006 ballot set to face off against each other for agriculture commissioner. Hank Gilbert, who ran for the job last time, and Kinky Friedman, who ran as an independent for governor, are each running for agriculture this time. Both were in the governor's race until White and Shami showed up with political histories and/or millions in their treasuries. The winner of the Friedman-Gilbert primary will face incumbent Republican Todd Staples, who beat Gilbert last time by more than 500,000 votes (Gilbert's folks prefer to say that their guy got more votes than any other Democrat that year).

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An open seat on the Texas Supreme Court and another filled by appointment just three months ago have attracted multiple candidates from both parties. Justice Eva Guzman, appointed in October, will face Rose Vela — who was on the same list, but didn't get appointed — in the GOP primary. Congressional races in Texas look dull, at least in the primaries, as do state Senate races.

You'll find more conflicts in the Texas House, where eight incumbents have already decided not to run, and where power struggles and party switches have set the table for some family fights. A notable race: Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville jumped from the Democrats to the Republicans but has a tough primary fight ahead of him. Speaker Joe Straus and most of the House Republicans are siding with Hopson, but others in the GOP are backing Michael Banks, who's been a Republican all along, over Hopson, who was a Democrat on Halloween and a Republican on Thanksgiving.

Texas Republicans have been trying for several election cycles to replace dissidents in their own primary — to knock off colleagues they don't agree with in favor of new ones they find more agreeable. That might be over for a while. Straus' election over Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland a year ago put a new group in charge — a group that included some of the targets of those earlier purges — and the partisan cleansing might be over for a while. The first part of the answer will come with the filing deadline — who drew an opponent? The second will come after January 15, the deadline for filing campaign finance reports. Several Republican political action committees formed last summer will have to show whether they've got the financial teeth to put up a fight. If either the candidates or the money is missing, March will be relatively quiet.

An exception: Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, is getting serious competition in the primary from Zach Brady and Charles Perry, an attorney and a CPA, respectively. Jones has been on that purge list in the past, but this could just be pent-up demand: The 83-year-old has held the seat since 1989 as a Republican. As a Democrat, he served from 1964 to 1973.

Some of the people in office now won't be there after the elections, and we already know who some of them are. Nobody in the congressional delegation has volunteered to leave, but one state senator and eight state representatives have already announced they won't seek reelection. That's nine out of 213 — a pretty low voluntary attrition rate. It'll grow: Over the last 40 years, voters have replaced an average of four members of Congress, four or five senators and 32 state representatives in every election. It's a little lower in years — like this one — that precede the Census and the political redistricting that follows. But not much: Expect bigger numbers than you see now come November.

Some members are volunteering. The list of open legislative seats, at this point, includes those of Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso; and Reps. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio; Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita; David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls; Kino Flores, D-Palmview; Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown; Carl Isett, R-Lubbock; Brian McCall, R-Plano; and David Swinford, R-Dumas.

Looking for patterns? All of them have enough years to qualify for legislative retirement pay, some right away, some in a few years (it takes four terms to make it into the retirement pool). Among the House members, several were part of Craddick's team (Corte, Crabb, Flores, and Swinford were chairs, Isett was a Craddick go-to on the budget). West Texas — in for expected trouble when the Census shows growth and political power has moved to other parts of the state — loses Isett, Swinford, Farabee right before the battles over redistricting. McCall, who in his 18th year in the House finally got a coveted chairmanship — Calendars, which controls the House agenda — is the mystery. He's leaving on top, saying 20 years is enough. And leaving 148 other representatives coveting the position he held.

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That said, it's an ordinary number of retirements, and there could be a couple more when the filing is done. It's not unusual for a departing member to clue in a favored successor and then to step aside at the deadline as the successor files. It leaves no time for potential rivals to react.

The year ahead has several possible plot twists. Hutchison has said she'll resign from the U.S. Senate sometime after the GOP primary, whether she beats Perry or loses to him. A resignation would set up a special election. It would also create billable hours for election lawyers. A number of currently employed Republican officeholders have expressed interest in Hutchison's job, should it open up. Some don't have to worry about election law: Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams aren't on the ballot this year and could run for Senate without disrupting the ballot — and without giving up their current jobs. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, could disqualify herself from her Senate reelection by declaring that she's moved to a residence outside the district. She could run for U.S. Senate while local Republicans selected a new candidate for her suddenly open ballot spot. Statewide officials who are on the ballot — Dewhurst comes to mind — would have to get some lawyerly help with the intricacies of election law. He could run in a special election for U.S. Senate, so long as it's not on the same day as the general election in November. Were he to win the Senate spot, it'd create an opening at the Lite Guv's office, and the musical chairs would begin again (Attorney General Greg Abbott has expressed interest in Dewhurst's job, which would open his job, and ... you get the idea). Something to worry about later, if and when Hutchison resigns.

The parties will double-check their ballots — make sure people's checks clear and all that — and then submit names to the Texas Secretary of State. That agency will have full and complete ballots in a few days (they have to collect them from the state parties, which collect some of the filing information from county affiliates. Even with the Internet, getting verified ballots is frustratingly slow.

Early voting in the Democratic and Republican primaries starts in just 42 days. Election Day is on March 2, for those who wait; about 66 percent of the Texas electorate voted early in 2008; 39 percent in 2006.

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