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A Short Season

March 2 just seems early, but that's the date, and it's almost upon us. The Republican gubernatorial candidates are through with their debates, the Democrats have one on Monday, early voting starts in ten days, and that election date is less than four weeks from now.

March 2 just seems early, but that's the date, and it's almost upon us. The Republican gubernatorial candidates are through with their debates, the Democrats have one on Monday, early voting starts in ten days, and that election date is less than four weeks from now.

The runoffs, if there are any, are on April 13. Mark your calendar.

The Republicans

What we learned from two Republican debates:

1. Debra Medina hasn't been in politics long enough to sound as phony as people who've been in politics for a long time, and that quality is attractive to voters in a year when the people in power aren't the people in favor. She did nothing but advance her case in the first debate, and glossed over some rough spots in the second one with a stinging denunciation of the incumbent's record in office. Plus, she knew within a few dollars what the average teacher makes — one of the few pop quiz questions in the debate that didn't seem like a gotcha (did you know the first governor of the state was James Pinckney Henderson? Really?).

2. Rick Perry, who was impatient and anxious in the first debate, recovers well. He was seemingly more relaxed in the second debate — forgive him the clenched jaw when Medina was chewing him out — and he didn't have any moments in either debate that shook his supporters. As the post-debate polling showed, his numbers didn't move.

3. Kay Bailey Hutchison was more comfortable and assertive than some (us included) expected in the first debate, and she tapped the governor on the chin a couple of times. But she got lost behind Medina and Perry to some extent, and it showed in the buzz (or non-buzz) and in the polls after the debates were over.

You can look at the Republican primary for governor and think it's over. It's not. We have $20 million to $30 million to go on the TV, and if voters are going to tune in this time, it'll be in response to the heavy advertising and negative messages that are now getting started.

Medina has to change gears and get serious about marketing. The free TV of the debates and the chance to be seen statewide by anyone who watches debates is now past. She doesn't have the kind of money in her campaign to do significant statewide advertising and will have to rely from this point on free press and grassroots support. That's rare. It worked for Democrat Victor Morales in a Democratic primary and runoff 14 years ago, but he had the combination of an interesting story and a field of candidates (including two sitting members of Congress) who had never run statewide and who didn't recognize his popularity until the wave knocked them off their surfboards. Morales couldn't keep it up; he lost the general election to the incumbent, U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, a Republican.

The governor's race, if today were Election Day, would be going to a runoff, with Perry in front and Hutchison in second. If Medina holds voters' attention, it could remain that way. But she could easily become old news between now and the start of early voting on the 16th and Election Day on March 2. If she fades, a runoff becomes less likely, and the two career politicos will be fighting for an outright win.

Hutchison's got to convince Texas Republicans to leave Perry in less than four weeks, and if she can get a win or even (and more likely) push this to a runoff, she'd have time to convince those same voters that they ought to come to her side. She started within a week after the debate with ads attacking Perry's "cronies" — her sharpest attack to date and a step in the direction of convincing fellow Republicans that Perry shouldn't get another chance.

Perry has to get to a number he hasn't seen since the GOP primary in 2006: 50.1. You can win a general election with less, and he did that in 2006, gaining his current perch with 39 percent. But it takes 50 + 1 to get out of a primary or a runoff, and no poll we're aware of has him at that mark. It's the so-called reelect number, and his is bad. That's been masked by the performances of the other two candidates, but it's something for the Perry camp to fret over.

The Democrats

The talk about runoffs has been confined to the Republican side of the ballot, but the Democrats have seven candidates in their primary, none of whom has run before, two of whom are well-financed (and getting all of the attention). But seven candidates provide a lot of room for protest votes. In alphabetical order, they are: Alma Ludivina Aguado, Felix Alvarado, Bill Dear, Clement Glenn, Star Locke, Farouk Shami, and Bill White.

If White and Shami don't have any other reason to spend money on ads, they have to break out of that pack and hopefully by March 2.

Those two will debate in Fort Worth next week in the only statewide televised forum that's on the schedule. They don't have the star power the Republicans have — Perry and Hutchison are the two best known of the state's active politicians — and won't draw the same size crowd. So the news value of the Democratic debate could actually outweigh the value of being on television for an hour on a Monday night. Still, they've got a shot at prime time and if they make news — of the good kind or of the bad kind — it'll get played for a few days after.

Both men need to introduce themselves — Shami to virtually everyone and White to everyone outside of Houston, where was a popular mayor. The two haven't engaged each other much, although Shami's public statements are recently taking aim at White (in pretty mild terms, so far). And to date, their commercials have been biographical — part of their introductions to voters.

Of the two, Shami's probably got the most to gain by drawing a contrast with his opponent, and since he's running against a mayor, he's probably got more things to criticize. The danger, for either of them, is that their first impression on a voter could be a negative one. Don't be surprised if they play nice.

The Mood, a Month Out

A new Rasmussen survey has Gov. Rick Perry holding his numbers, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison dropping, and Debra Medina gaining ground. By their numbers, the race is clearly in runoff country with a month to go before Election Day: They've got Perry at 44 percent, Hutchison at 29 percent, and Medina at 16 percent. Perry's about where he was in the last survey by Rasmussen Reports. Hutchison has dropped four points and Medina has added four. The telephone survey of 538 "likely Republican voters" was done on Monday, February 1 — after both GOP debates — and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Any of the three, according to that poll, would beat Democrat Bill White in the general election: Hutchison by 13 percentage points, Perry by 9, and Medina by 3 points. That part of the poll included 1,000 "likely voters" with an MOE of +/- 3 percent.

Justice Denied

Two former Texas Supreme Court justices and a Goliath of state judicial politics have lined up to drive him from the Waco courthouse where he once worked as a janitor.

Tenth Court of Appeals Judge Felipe Reyna says that doesn't matter.

Reyna, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2003 and elected to a full-term in 2004, was the first person in his family to graduate from high school and worked cleaning the courthouse to pay for law school. He faces a primary challenger in Al Scoggins, a district court judge from Ellis County.

Scoggins carries the endorsements of Scott Brister, who served on the Texas Supreme Court from 2003 to 2009, Tom Phillips, who served as chief justice of the court from 1988 until 2004, and TEXPAC, the Texas Medical Association's political action committee.

Reyna characterized Brister, Phillips, and the Texas Medical Association as "special interest groups" — citing the former justices' reputation as tort reform backers — and said it was "common knowledge" that they want "judges to rule their way irrespective of the law or the facts."

The scuffle between Reyna and Scoggins does have the markings of that age-old clash between tort reformers and trial lawyers for the jugular of the Texas judiciary.

Reyna insists he hasn't been a "rubber stamp" for either side, saying, "Hell, I've got the Texas trial lawyers mad at me, too."

And Brister pointed to the high reversal rates of the Waco bench, which he said in an email that while he was there, the Supreme Court had overturned more frequently on a per justice, per curium basis than any other Court of Appeals, as the reason for his unusual endorsement against an incumbent in his own party.

"I don't know either of the candidates personally," he said, "But my individual opinion is that the 10th Court needs someone who might be a little bit better at following well-established law."

Sid Miller, who in addition to Byron Cook and Jim Pitts is one of three state representatives with counties in the 10th Court's district who endorsed Scoggins over Reyna, cut straight to the chase. "I have a problem with Judge Reyna's stance with the trial lawyers," Miller said, "He's just sided with them more often than I think he should."

Cook, who supported Judge Reyna in his re-election bid in 2004, did not return calls for comment. His biography on the Texas House of Representatives site might offer a clue as to his allegiances: it lists him as a recipient of the "coveted 'Friends of Medicine Award' from the Texas Medical Association." The TMA itself endorsed the judge in 2004.

Darren Whitehurst, the organization's chief lobbyist, explained the about-face: "The difference between now and 2004 is what he told us back then and what's he's done have been different things." Whitehurst acknowledges the TMA tends to follow the "friendly incumbent rule" when endorsing candidates, but said "you look at the candidates and you see that Judge Reyna is not a friendly incumbent."

For his part, Scoggins says he is "a conservative and a strict constructionist," and he doesn't "believe in legislating from the bench," but declined to say how his judicial philosophy differed from Reyna's.

As for his bench's high reversal rate, Reyna dismissed claims that number indicates he isn't right for the job. "When you start talking about reversal rates and all that stuff, that's hard to separate," he said, "Because when you say Justice Reyna wrote an opinion and he got reversed, well that's true, but so did another member of court, or maybe all three of us."

Despite the prominent endorsements stacked against him, Reyna significantly leads his opponent in fundraising. Since June 2009, the judge has collected at least $31,000 from donors. Scoggins has raised $5,190, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. That amount notably includes $500 from Wade Durbin, who works for Reyna and his colleagues as a staff attorney on the 10th Court of Appeals.

Reyna said he will post his own tally on the endorsements section of his campaign site soon, which as recently as last week included supporters Attorney General Greg Abbott and Cook, who have now been removed. (View a cached version of the site here).

The judge says there will be doctors on that list — oral surgeon and former Waco state senator David Sibley, for one. Sibley, who supported tort reform legislation as a senator and is "sure not a trial lawyer," says he is "disappointed" that Scoggins' endorsers had made "an incorrect judgment."

"I look for an honest judge and one that's not beholden to anybody, and that's what I see in Judge Reyna," he said.

— Morgan Smith

Membership has its Privileges

The six Texas congressional candidates who ended the year with $1 million or more on hand are incumbents. Only two of the candidates with the 20 biggest bank accounts are not.

Incumbents generally had the biggest numbers in year-end reports filed by the candidates with the Federal Election Commission. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, was at the top, with $3.1 million in the bank (and no primary opponent). Ron Paul, R-Surfside, had $1.9 million, followed by Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, $1.9 million; Joe Barton, R-Ennis, $1.8 million; Chet Edwards, D-Waco, $1.3 million; and Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, $1.1 million.

Of that pack, only Edwards is expected to face serious opposition. In fact, one of the Republicans who wants a crack at him — Bill Flores — had $369,683 at year-end, including $250,000 in borrowed money. He was one of two non-members in the top 20. The other, Jack McDonald of Austin, decided in December to drop his challenge to U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and to send his money back to the people who contributed. That effort is just underway; McDonald had $860,888 in the bank at the end of 2009.

Our rundown of money in the hands of U.S. House members from Texas (there's no Senate race on the ballot this year, but that could come later if Kay Bailey Hutchison leaves office this year) includes contributions, loans and spending for all of 2009. It's all in a sortable chart with links to the individual reports.

A half dozen spent at least $500,000 last year: Barton, Paul, Sessions, McCaul; Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land; and Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.

Four raised (including loans) more than a million bucks: Edwards, $1.4 million; McCaul, $1.4 million; Barton, $1.2 million; and McDonald, $1.1 million (a number that tells you why it was such a political surprise when he backed out). A dozen raised less than $1 million, but more than $500,000.

The most expensive race on the state's congressional map? The McBucks winner was going to be McCaul-McDonald, but that's off. Looks like the big money at this point is in Central Texas, where Edwards will face the winner of a five-way Republican primary. Together, those five raised $797,719; the winner will face Edwards, who raised nearly twice that amount, in November.

Our chart includes all of the candidates listed as active by the FEC who had numbers to report (some reported zeroes, and we left them out). If you click on a candidate's name, you'll get details of the totals shown on the chart; click on "reports" to go to a candidate's full set of reports on the FEC's website.

— Matt Stiles

An SBOE Carol

For State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, it must seem a bit like the Ghost of Elections Past is here to haunt him. Dan Montgomery, the former board member that he defeated in 2006, has endorsed Tim Tuggey, the Republican lawyer and lobbyist now challenging Mercer for his seat. And the dynamic only emphasizes the repetitive history of District 5.

While the board now has a large and vocal socially conservative bloc, it wasn't always that way. Former member Bob Offutt led a much smaller group of social conservatives in the 1990s, until Montgomery ended his reign in 2000. Montgomery, much like Tuggey, supported a less politicized SBOE, and both challengers argued for the board to move away from so-called wedge issues like evolution. Montgomery found support in high places — from former senators Bill Ratliff and David Sibley. Ratliff's son Thomas Ratliff is engaged in a similar social-conservative vs. moderate Republican primary against board member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan.

"I think he's a very common-sense type conservative," Montgomery says of Tuggey.

In 2006, Mercer raised over $50,000 to oust Montgomery — much of it coming from GOP financier James Leininger of San Antonio. Tuggey has found support in other deep San Antonio pockets; Red McCombs, for one. They've helped Tuggey raise over $60,000, while Mercer raised around $8,000. On hand, Tuggey has $26,000, dwarfing Mercer's $3,500.

But Montgomery says there's more luck in SBOE races than anyone wants to admit. He believes that having a common name is the single greatest factor in these small, down-ballot. That's why he beat Offutt, he says, and why Mercer beat him. "I don't know that there's any particular lessons learned except maybe you should have a common name."

— Abby Rapoport

Familiar Names

State Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores and his former rival Sandra Rodriguez have something in common: Support from a well-known and wealthy South Texas family. She's working to claim Flores' HD-36 seat, and her opponent — Flores isn't running this time — says her contributions from the LaMantia family are hypocritical.

Flores is accused in a multi-count indictment of allegedly failing to report income, properties and gifts on his campaign finance reports, including flights on a LaMantia plane. According to her latest finance report, Rodriguez accepted about $5,000 from Joe LaMantia, whose family has gambling interests in South Texas and owns L&F Distributors.

That got the attention of her opponent, Sergio Munoz Jr. "She talks real bad about Kino and that he took money from (people involved) in gambling, and she's taking money from the same people," said Oscar Elizondo, the Munoz campaign's treasurer. "

Rodriguez said she has a good relationship with the family and doesn't think there's any food for critics here. "The LaMantia family and my husband (former State District Judge Fernando Mancias) and I have all been friends for a long time," she said. "I've sat on many boards as a member and every time I've gone to the LaMantias to help me out and give a donation when we do fundraising, they've always been very kind." Plus, she said, the donation was a tiny fraction of the $189,000 she raised during the filing period.

Meanwhile, Munoz picked up the support of Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas and the city council members.

— Julian Aguilar

Notes from the Field

Victor Leal may have the support of retiring state Rep. David Swinford and sitting state reps like Pampa Republican Warren Chisum, but his opponent, Walter "Four" Price IV has more cash. In the first few weeks of January, according to a recent filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, Price raised $118,770. That's over double the $54,255 raised by Leal in the same period.

Lyle Larsen continues on his endorsement streak, picking up support from the Texas Association of Business (BACPAC), the Empower Texans PAC, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association PAC, the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Apartment Association, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Clear Channel Chairman Lowry Mays, and General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre.

Holly Turner's campaign released her first TV spot, with the tagline, "not just a Republican, but a conservative Republican." Another HD-47 candidate, David Sewell, picked up an endorsement from Holly Mills-Gardner, a former Miss Texas USA.

• David Simpson, who's running to unseat Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, got endorsements from EMPOWER Texans and the Young Conservatives of Texas. Merritt got TEXPAC, the political arm of the Texas Medical Association.

• In HD-20, Republican candidate Milton Rister added Texas Right to Life, the Texas Apartment Association and the Austin Apartment Association to his list of endorsers for his bid in the GOP primary. Charles Schwertner, a doctor, officially said Texas Medical Association's PAC, TEXPAC, is on his side.

Zach Brady, one of the primary challengers to Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, got a $10,000 check from Melissa Neugebauer, daughter-in-law to Congressman Randy Neugebauer. According to Brady's campaign, the congressman's son is a longtime business associate and personal friend of Brady. Jones has friends, too: Speaker Joe Straus will be coming down to help rally Jones' supporters next week.

—Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Abby Rapoport, Morgan Smith

The Week, in the Rearview Mirror

1. State Rep. Terri Hodge pleaded guilty to a federal charge of falsifying her tax returns and agreed to quit the Legislature. That got her out of a March trial on that and other charges. Her departure should pave the way for her challenger, Dallas attorney Eric Johnson, to claim her HD-100 seat. Hodge's name will still appear on the ballot for the March primary, however, and some of her constituents have promised to support her. Should she win, party operatives would pick a nomine to run in her place.

2. If you're in the public realm, a word of caution: Don't say "retarded." Such was the lesson that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel learned, as did Perry advisor David Carney, and even SBOE member David Bradley. All three men were criticized by special needs groups and, in the case of Carney and Emmanuel, Sarah Palin's staff.

3. Cameron Todd Willingham's case won't be discussed until the Forensic Science Commission's next meeting in April, which could be safely out of election range. Willingham was executed for murdering his three children in a house fire, but some scientists say he was convicted on the basis of flawed evidence. FSC Chair John Bradley told the board at a meeting this week that "our actions today are limited to what's on the agenda."

4. It's finally here. Powerball, the multi-state lottery game with a jackpot currently around $107 million, is now available to Texans. Some worry this will mean that Texas' lottery games, like Mega Millions, will see a significant decrease in sales. State budgeteers hope it'll bring more money into the treasury.

5. Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, is taking his swats from the Texas Ethics Commission after a hearing in December. He must pay $2,800 in fines for "improperly reporting" his spending in 2006 and 2008.

6. The Obama Administration is pushing to tighten smog-standards but that doesn't mean TCEQ will comply. In a Houston meeting on Wednesday, state officials argued against higher standards and said Texans would not make the lifestyle changes necessary to make the changes realistic.

7. On Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood publicly blamed Texas for not getting more federal transportation aid: "If Texas had had its act together, it would have gotten some high-speed rail money." Thirty-one states received money from an $8 billion pot of grant money for rail projects. Texas did get $4 million for a project in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

—Julian Aguilar, Abby Rapoport, Morgan Smith

Political People and Their Moves

Jason Stanford signed up with Kinky Friedman's campaign; four years ago, Stanford was Democrat Chris Bell's campaign manager in a race against Friedman. All that's to catch you up. Now, Mike Lavigne has signed on with Hank Gilbert — at least in part as a foil to Stanford. The winner of the primary will face Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in November. It's like the joke about a town with one lawyer, who was going broke. The solution? Get another lawyer.

Sometimes a nationwide search begins and ends at the home office: Robin Riechers has been selected to lead the Coastal Fisheries Division at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He's been with the agency since 1988.

The new guy on the board at Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas is Will Jones IV, who runs an eponymous law firm with offices in Austin and San Antonio, and who is married to Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones.

We're late to this, but move Brandon Aghamalian and Snapper Carr from "H" to "F" in your phone directory. They've left Hillco Partners and joined Focused Advocacy, where they'll work on local government and trade association issues. That's the firm started by former Rep. Curtis Seidlits to market policy ideas.

Quotes of the Week

J. Larry Davis, chairman of the Anderson County Democratic Party, in an e-mail to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami on why the candidate should drop out: "Nobody is going to vote for anyone named Farouk."

Republican candidate Debra Medina in the second gubernatorial primary debate, describing her competitors, Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison: "Together they are a team of economic tricksters intent on destroying our freedoms and selling Texas to the highest bidder."

A Debra Medina fan expressing his love for the candidate on YouTube to the tune of B.W. Stevenson's My Maria: "Oh, Medina/ I really like what you have to say/ I've been owning my property/ Don't want no government to take it away."

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn on why she wants Dallas state Rep. Terri Hodge's sentencing to occur as quickly as possible: "Ms. Hodge will have pleaded guilty today to a felony and will still be representing her district. I'm not real keen on that notion."

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, explaining why the state is looking for other options, besides toll roads, to fund transportation: "I'm looking for someone to come and defend to me that a privately built toll road is less expensive than a free road 'cause it just ain't so,"

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on his opposition to allowing openly gay and lesbian people to join the military: "I just don't think that it's helpful to do anything that might discourage more people from enlisting or reenlisting. And so, I think, this is the sort of thing that causes uncertainty, which may affect our ability to recruit and retain volunteers."

State Board of Education Member David Bradley on why board members with no financial background making investment decisions for state funds was no different from other boards: "If you sit on the mental health commission, do you have to be retarded? If you sit on the [Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission], do you have to be a drunk?"

Renée Cross, associate director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston, on Democratic candidate Bill White's speech skills: "People aren't going to be jumping up and down and saying 'hooray' or 'hallelujah' when he speaks, necessarily, but he's learned to use that self-deprecating humor... to his advantage."

Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 5, 8 February 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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