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That Didn't Take Long

The first political ads bought by a corporation in Texas appeared in East Texas newspapers just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended the state's ban on that kind of spending.

The first political ads bought by a corporation in Texas appeared in East Texas newspapers just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended the state's ban on that kind of spending.

The ads appear to mark the first instance of a corporation directly playing in a Texas election since the nation's highest court lifted a century-old ban on political spending by corporations and labor unions. That January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission doesn't affect contributions to candidates, which remain restricted, but does mean corporations and unions can spend money as they wish on politics and run all the ads they want — so long as they don't coordinate their efforts and messages and plans with the campaigns they're promoting, or with other third-party groups that have similar political interests.

The ads in the Jacksonville Daily Progress, the Tyler Morning Telegram and the Panola Watchman took issue with the Republican bona fides of Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville, a Democratic incumbent who jumped to the GOP in November and ran in a three-way race in the Republican primary this month. He got 61 percent of the vote, easily besting Michael Banks and Allan Cain.

The newspaper ads ran on the Sunday before the election (a week earlier in Panola), urging voters to vote for anyone but Hopson. They were paid for by KDR Development Inc., a real estate company whose president, Republican Larry Durrett, lost to Hopson in 2006, when Hopson was a Democrat. Durrett is also the president of Southern Multifoods, a Jacksonville-based company with dozens of franchised Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, A&W, and Long John Silvers restaurants. The two companies are closely related, sharing addresses, officers and directors.

"I think we're on solid legal ground," Durrett said in an interview. "We checked it out every way from Sunday."

He wanted to run ads against Hopson and had been reading and hearing about the Supreme Court ruling on corporate politicking, Durrett said. He checked with a lawyer in Tyler, who sent him to a specialist in Austin, did "a significant amount of discussion about this," and then went to the papers with the ads.

"My businesses do better under conservative people and not under people who aren't," Durrett said. "There are an awful lot of folks on the Republican side of the House who aren't all that conservative, and that's an irritant."

He felt the other two candidates were more conservative than Hopson and went from there. He used corporate money for a simple reason. "You take the money out of the pocket that's got some money in there," he said.

Durrett doesn't consider Hopson's win a complete loss for his side: "If you continue to point out that people aren't as conservative as you are, it moves them to the right."

The ad has a quote on one side and the copy on the other is standard fare for a House race, written in the form of a letter.

The quote, from the Austin American-Statesman: "House Democratic Caucus leader Jim Dunnam said Hopson informed him of the move Friday morning. 'He told me he didn't have any intention of changing his voting patterns, but he just thought it was an easier way of getting elected,' Dunnam said."

And the letter:

Dear East Texas Republicans,

For several years Chuck Hopson has represented East Texas House District 11 as a Democrat. As he ran for office as a Democrat throughout these election cycles, he continued to support the Democratic platform and agenda. He even traveled to Ardmore, OK to fight a redistricting plan and promote the Democratic agenda in East Texas.

Chuck Hopson is now running in the Republican primary and will be facing Allan Cain and Dr. Michael Banks. There are records that show that 90% of Hopson's contributions have come from outside the District from special interest groups and Democrats and not the voters of HD 11. We need to vote for someone INSIDE our district that is a true conservative Republican.

In this election, vote for your choice, but please vote for one of the two true conservative Republicans, in this crucial redistricting year.

Sincerely,

KDR Development Inc

Before the Supreme Court ruling, that would have been an illegal ad in Texas, purely based on the corporate funding. So long as KDR didn't work with the campaigns or with anyone else on the copy, it now appears to be the sort of direct corporate expenditure the Supremes are protecting.

"It raised some issues with us, and I asked some people in the organization to look at it," says Amy Miller, publisher of the Daily Progress. In the end, they decided to accept the ad: "It's a pre-paid political ad, and I didn't see anything wrong with it."

The ad does bear some similarities to printed mailers sent by others. Cain, for instance, used that same quote from Dunnam in a mailer that also carried the "Hopson is not conservative" theme. Former state Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage, paid for ads in the race, too, using that Dunnam quote again, and using a chart very similar to the one used in Cain's flyer. Signed by three of the four GOP county chairs in the district, it was more direct in its hit on the party-switcher: "Make no mistake, Chuck Hopson is a Democrat."

But as long as the corporation wasn't in league with anyone else, they appear to be the first example of what might be possible under the court's ruling. The Texas Ethics Commission, which regulates these things, is still working on a full opinion of this new world of campaign finance. The agency posted its first impression online right after the court issued its ruling.

"... We believe the Texas Legislature intended laws under our jurisdiction to prohibit political expenditures by corporations to the full extent allowed by the Constitution, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court. In light of the recently issued United States Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, it is our position that corporations are allowed to make all types of direct campaign expenditures ... It is also our position that corporations are still prohibited from making political contributions unless specifically allowed..."

TEC now has a draft opinion in circulation — not yet voted out by its board — that goes further: "For the reasons stated in Citizens United, we cannot ... prohibit a corporation or labor organization from making a direct campaign expenditure or ... prohibit an individual or other association from making a direct campaign expenditure."

They can still block corporations and labor organizations from making contributions to candidates, but they can't do anything if those outfits want to spend money for or against the candidates without the candidates' knowledge.

Something Special in May

The short version: Kip Averitt quit, David Sibley and Brian Birdwell and Darren Yancy are running, and the special election for the rest of the term is in May. No Democrats have been spotted in the vicinity of this tire-kicking extravaganza.

The long version starts the same way. Sen. Averitt, R-Waco, resigned from office a week after winning the GOP primary for reelection to a seat he no longer wants to hold. Averitt announced in January — after it was too late to get off the ballot — that he didn't want to serve another term. Yancy of Burleson was the only other major party candidate who signed up to run, and although Averitt didn't campaign, he won handily. He resigned his current term as of St. Patrick's Day. What he didn't do is important. Averitt hasn't yet taken his name off of the 2010 ballot, so the election for the rest of his current term can proceed while he's still the GOP's nominated candidate for the November election. If and when he withdraws from the ballot, the GOP chairmen from the ten counties in SD-22 will pick a replacement. If that comes after the special election to replace Averitt in May, they'd be hard-pressed to name anyone other than the candidate chosen by the voters, but the law allows them to do as they please. And in any case, four of the chairmen are new and won't be eligible to settle this until after the first week of May anyway.

And then Gov. Rick Perry declared there would be elections in Waco and in Dallas on May 8 to replace legislators who quit early. Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, resigned after pleading guilty to federal charges of lying on her tax returns. Averitt you know about. The winners of the elections to replace them will serve until January, when their terms end.

Democrat Eric Johnson won the Democratic primary for Hodge's seat and will take office in January, whether he runs in May or not; nobody else was on the ballot.

In Averitt's race, Sibley, who's been a lobbyist since leaving office in 2002, announced he wants his old job back. The senator-turned-lobbyist has been hinting for a couple of weeks and now says he'll be a candidate for his former. Yancy wants another crack at it and was bragging earlier on that he had the support of more than half of those ten chairmen who'll be picking the party nominee. And now, Birdwell, a veteran injured in the 9-11 attacks on the Pentagon, says he'll be in the race. He lives in Granbury and mulled a race against Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, a while back. Birdwell hadn't lived in Texas long enough at the time to be eligible (he's from here, but had been living in the Washington, D.C area). Now he has, and he'll be in the special election. Candidates in either of the two specials have to file for office by the close of business on April 7.

Runoffs and Recounts

Dogpile! Former state legislator Rick Green got everyone's robe in a wad by getting into a runoff for Texas Supreme Court against Debra Lehrmann of Fort Worth. She's a judge; he's never been one. And while Green is a lawyer, he's never practiced courtroom law. So: Five TSC Justices endorsed Lehrmann: Tom Phillips, Craig Enoch, Deborah Hankinson, Barbara Culver Lack and Alberto Gonzalez. Former Justice Scott Brister is sticking with Green.

• The GOP primary runoff in the race to replace Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita, has divided the two houses of the Texas Legislature. Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, endorsed Humble school board president Dan Huberty. Meanwhile, Huberty’s opponent, anesthesiologist Dr. Susan Curling, claims Crabb’s endorsement. "They’re both my constituents and I don’t typically get involved," said Williams, "but I feel very strongly that Dan Huberty’s the right guy to represent that House district. I think because he served as president of the school board over there, he brings a unique perspective to the Legislature that’s going to be very helpful." Huberty led in the four-way primary race. In a press release from the runner-up's campaign, Crabb is quoted saying, "The greatest demand on a legislator is the ability to say ‘NO.’ Dr. Susan Curling can say ‘NO.’ I am voting for Texan, Dr. Susan Curling." Also supporting Curling is former Rep. Peggy Hamric, R-Houston: "Dr. Susan Curling will have the backbone and integrity to make the tough decisions on behalf of the citizens of HD-127."

• After Borris Miles squeaked through the March Democratic primary with only a 10-vote lead in HD-146, incumbent Al Edwards filed for a recount. Miles’ original 11-vote lead dropped by one after Harris County officials counted absentee ballots. Edwards asked for a recount because "in a highly contested race … I strongly feel that it's important that we take all necessary steps to ensure that no errors have been made." A candidate can request a recount if the difference between the winner and the second-highest-vote-getter is less than 10 percent of the winning candidate’s votes, or if the total votes received by every candidate amounts to less that 1,000.

• In HD-47, former candidate David Sewell endorsed Paul Workman in his runoff with Holly White Turner. Sewell cited Workman’s history in the district as well as his "rock-solid conservative values" as the reason for his endorsement.

— Reeve Hamilton and Morgan Smith

The Third Way

The primaries may be pretty much over, but the Libertarian Party has only just begun — and they're hoping this will be a big year for the perennially losing party. Last Saturday at the party’s county conventions, members chose their candidates for non-judicial county offices, and according to state party chair Pat Dixon, these downballot races are the ones Libertarians are most likely to win. This Saturday, districts will make their picks.

Currently only nine Libertarians hold political office, but momentum may be on their side. According to their own website, the Libertarians successfully fielded 193 candidates, including someone for every statewide office — something Democrats failed to do. Dixon says the party's operating budget leapt from $120,000 last year to $320,000 this year thanks to big increases in fundraising.

The major parties aren't too worried for themselves, each saying the Libertarians hurt the enemy. On the Democratic side, party spokesperson Kirsten Gray said, she expected any increase in Libertarian votes would come at the expense of the Republicans. "The Libertarians do seem to be more closely in line with the Tea Party messaging," she explained. The Republicans took a similar approach. "I think the Democrats ought to be [concerned]," said state GOP spokesman Brian Preston. Not too concerned though. "The major parties are where viability is for a candidate," he continued. "I think people have wised up to that."

— Abby Rapoport

Legislator, Lobby Thyself

The shoe was on the other foot this week as State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, flew to Washington, DC, to lobby against Pres. Barack Obama’s health care reform legislation.

"I had the tables turned on me a little bit," said Williams. "For the most part, people were very nice. I guess I got a little bit of a feel to know what it’s like for a lobbyist to stand outside."

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission forecast that Obama’s proposed changes would cost the state $24 billion over the ten-year implementation of the plan. Williams, who worked on the Health and Human Services budget last session, says he was "shocked" by the number. "I felt it was incumbent on me to explain to the members of the Texas delegation that we just can’t afford that based on the budget shortfall that we’ve got coming," he said.

In the less than 24 hours he was there, he spoke with U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, Kevin Brady, Gene Green, Chet Edwards, Ted Poe, Michael McCaul, Lloyd Doggett — who didn’t agree to meet with Williams but was tracked down in a hallway — among others. Williams made sure the report reached the entire delegation, even those he did not meet. "My priority was to visit with Democratic members, especially those who had served in the Legislature before," Williams said, "Because those folks know what it’s like to balance a budget and I just felt it was important for them to hear."

— Reeve Hamilton

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

1. Three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate’s office, including two U.S. citizens, were killed across from El Paso in Ciudad Juárez. Lesley Enriquez, 35, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, 34, were shot dead on Saturday as they left a daytime party. Enriquez worked at the consulate’s office. Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, a 36-year-old Mexican national married to a consular employee, was gunned down in a separate attack. The killings prompted Gov. Rick Perry to revisit his argument that the federal government is ineffective at securing the borders, and U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn urged President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to pay more attention to the situation.

2. The U.S. Department of State, in light of Saturday’s attacks, authorized the return by U.S.-citizen employees and their relatives to leave Mexico if they so chose. The agency also upgraded what had been a travel advisory to a travel warning and advised against all necessary travel to the Mexican border states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Durango. El Paso Mayor John Cook also publicly warned El Pasoans against unnecessary travel to Juárez.

3. The Texas Supreme Court upheld the state’s 10-year limit on medical malpractice suits. The decision upholds an opinion rendered by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The AG's reading of the verdict: "The state’s tort reform law ‘... is a reasonable exercise of the Legislature’s police power to act in the interest of the general welfare.’"

4. Economically, 2009 was the worst year for the state in two decades, but six Texas cities ranked in the top 20 in economic performance during the last three months of that year. The Dallas Federal Reserve reported that in 2009, the recession was harder on Texas than previous downturns in 1982, 1985, and 2001, according to measurements of unemployment, job losses, and the state’s GDP. The Brookings Institute, a Washington public policy think-tank, found that the Dallas-Fort Worth area, San Antonio, McAllen, Austin, and El Paso were in the top twenty U.S. cities based on employment, economic output and housing prices.

5. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality may loosen water quality rules in an effort to save money. Dairy farmers and wastewater utilities support proposed regulations that would create new categories for waterways depending on the amount of human contact, and raise the amount of allowable bacteria in waterways before they are considered impaired. The Lower Colorado River Authority, along with environmental groups, opposes the measures.

6. Congressional candidates are on track to spend a record amount of money in their midterm elections this year. Nationally, they are expected to spend at least $3.7 billion, an amount that political scientists say reflects just how much voters feel is at stake for this cycle. Texas races have drawn $23 million in contributions, including $1.5 million to Chet Edwards, D-Waco, $1.2 million to Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and $773,000 to Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.

7. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions has worked hard to defeat the national healthcare bills and not all of his constituents are happy about it. Sessions' district has the highest uninsured rate of any Republican in the country based on census data (and the Democrats who pointed it out). He says the rate isn't accurate since it includes undocumented residents.

8. The U.S. Census will count the number of same-sex couples who identify as married, even if they cannot technically do so. The census is advertising in various LGBT publications and hosting town hall meetings to encourage same-sex couples to participate. According to the census officials, the goal is to see how Americans assess their relationships.

9. It's too late for Tim Cole, the exonerated inmate who died in serving a 25-year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit, but the governor will take a step towards making amends on Friday. Perry will formally present Cole's family and supporters with a posthumous pardon, the final step to clearing Cole's name after a 25-year effort.

10. Neither Perry nor his opponent Bill White supports full-bore casino gambling in Texas, but the news isn't all bleak for the state's gaming supporters. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that given the gloomy economic forecast, gambling advocates hope to convince the legislature that casinos would bring a sizable revenue to the state which will struggle to balance next year's budget. White's against gambling, he says; Perry's against "expanding the footprint," a turn of phrase that would allow casinos where gambling already is legal, like at racetracks.

— Julian Aguilar

Political People and Their Moves, Appointments Division

The election's over, and the spigot is open. Gov. Rick Perry has appointed:

Anna Jimenez, currently the assistant district attorney of Nueces County, was appointed District Attorney of Nueces County. Her term will expire at the next general election.

James Oakley of Spicewood to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. His term will expire Aug. 30, 2011. Oakley is the Texas representative of GovDeals.com, a government auction website.

Garrett Weber-Gale of Austin to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Physical Fitness for a term that will expire July 26, 2011.

Victoria Camp of Austin, Ben M. Crouch of College Station, and Nancy Ghigna of The Woodlands to the Crime Victims’ Institute Advisory Council.

Sarah Abraham of Sugar Land to the Texas State Board of Professional Counselors.

James Clancy and former state Rep. Thomas Ramsay, D-Mount Vernon, to the Texas Ethics Commission for terms that will expire Nov. 19, 2013. Clancy, a Portland resident, is an attorney and partner at Branscomb P.C. Ramsay is a licensed real estate broker.

Margaret K. Bentley of DeSoto to the Texas Physician Assistant Board. Her term expires Feb. 1, 2015. Now retired, Bentley is the former COO/CFO for Autism Treatment Centers of Texas. She is also a co-founder and former president of Dallas Accounting Administrators.

Retired teacher Estela Quintanilla to the Texas Juvenile Justice Advisory Board for a term that won’t expire until the Guv decides it’s time.

Garland resident Chris Culwell, chairman of the University Interscholastic League Legislative Caucus, to the State Board of Educator Certification, which develops certification and conduct requirements for public school teachers.

The Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists has a new public member — Justin McNamee of Rowlett was appointed to a term that will expire Feb 1, 2015. He is a senior schedule analyst for the Raytheon Company.

Montgomery-based Larry Jacobs, owner of Jacobs Properties, to the State Soil and Water Conservation Board.

Bryan Tucker to the Texas Department of Rural Affairs. The Childress city manager and owner of Jachin Construction will serve a term that expires Feb. 1, 2011.

William "Bill" Materson to the Brazos River Authority Board of Directors. He's a Guthrie rancher and a member of the National Cutting Horse Association — a group with which avid rider Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is frequently associated. His term will expire Feb. 1, 2013.

Christopher Moss, the vice president of The Advanced Financial Group, to a term on the Texas Retirement System of Texas Board of Trustees that will end on Aug. 31, 2015. Moss hails from Lufkin.

Scott C. Sanders of Austin to the OneStar Foundation. Sanders, a Texas Tech University graduate, is the CEO of Womens3D, which places automated ultrasound imaging technology in physician practices and provides off-site 3D reconstruction services.

Amarillo’s Patricia Bryant to chair the Texas Commission on the Arts. Perry also appointed Dale Brock of Wichita Falls to the commission. Bryant is the owner of Patty A. Bryant Communications. Brock is the North Texas regional senior relationship manager of Citibank.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, named Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, co-chairman of the Windstorm Legislative Oversight Board, which is made up of four senators and four state reps. Taylor’s Senate counterpart is Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.

House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding chairman Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, formed three subcommittees to focus on specific categories of stimulus expenditures. Dallas Rep. Carol Kent will chair the Education Subcommittee, which will include Houston Rep. Garnet Coleman and Keller Rep. Vicki Truitt. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr., D-Corpus Christi, will chair the Energy Subcommittee, which features Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie and Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston. The Transportation Subcommittee will be chaired by San Angelo Rep. Drew Darby and include Kent and Denton Rep. Myra Crownover.

Quotes of the Week

Comedian Stephen Colbert on the recent State Board of Education decision to strip Thomas Jefferson from the required curriculum: "You see, Jefferson coined the term ‘separation of church and state.’ So Texas has coined the term, ‘separation of Jefferson and history.’"

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg, to the Houston Chronicle on state Rep. Al Edwards’ request to recount a race he lost by ten votes: "[It’s] a waste of money. … With electronic balloting, there’s nothing to recount."

Austin ISD Superintendent Maria Carstarphen on finding money to invest in schools: "In education, particularly public education, we are the pack rats of ineffective programs. We have more resources than we think we have."

Cultural icon Chuck Norris in an editorial on conservative site Townhall.com defending the State Board of Education’s decisions on curriculum: "You can hide behind your No. 2 pencils, but our branding irons will find your tail sides."

Texas Association of Business leader Bill Hammond in the Waco Tribune-Herald urging TAB members to call and support U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco: "Tell him three things. Tell him No. 1 that you love him, tell him No. 2 that he’s good-looking, and tell him No. 3 to stick (and) vote against this bad bill."

CD-22 Democratic candidate Kesha Rogers on the threat of "Imperial Britain" to the U.S. economy: "Protecting ourselves against the British doesn’t mean necessarily everyone going out and grabbing their muskets and getting ready to fight in a war. "

State Board of Education candidate Brian Russell on why his opponent’s teaching credentials don’t necessarily qualify her for the job: "This is not an expert system, this is system of citizen input."

Todd Olsen, a judicial campaign consultant, on the dynamics of this election cycle: "It’s kind of a year where ‘Hey, Bubba, the insiders are going against our guy’ is a powerful message."


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 11, 22 March 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) 716-8600 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 716-8611.

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