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The Decider

It's like finding out the last season of your favorite TV show was a dream sequence: Kay Bailey Hutchison was never really leaving the U.S. Senate after all.

It's like finding out the last season of your favorite TV show was a dream sequence: Kay Bailey Hutchison was never really leaving the U.S. Senate after all.

Don't act so surprised. Hutchison promised she would limit her time in office to two terms and is currently serving her third. She said she would resign the federal job to run for the state job. She decided she needed to remain in office until after the primaries, until health care and cap-and-trade energy legislation were out of the way. And now that the primary season is over and she finished more than 300,000 votes behind Gov. Rick Perry, she says she intends not to leave but to instead serve out the remaining two years of her term.

In fact, nothing she has said so far would prevent her from running for reelection to a fourth term in 2012. After all, Perry wasn't going to seek a third full term this year, was he?

Hutchison's choice saves the state the cost and trouble of a statewide special election and cheats political consultants of the windfall it would bring (two dozen people ran for Senate when Hutchison won a special election in 1993). It leaves an experienced hand in Washington, important on matters determined by seniority. It denies Texas Democrats a chance at their first Senate seat since 1993, when Lloyd Bentsen left and Hutchison replaced him. And it assures Republicans will hold on there for at least two more years.

Her gyrations inspired more than just political speculation: People changed their career trajectories and now have to piece things back together. Senate seats don't open up often, so the prospect draws a crowd. Republicans hold all of the statewide offices in Texas, and while that's great news for the GOP, it's hard on the political careers of ambitious officeholders who can't move up unless somebody quits, makes a job-ending blunder or dies. This particular exercise exposed the ambitions of a bunch of Texas politicos who are now backing out of campaign mode. How'd that work out?

WINNERS

• David Dewhurst. Probably the Republican in the best position to succeed Hutchison. Dewhurst is the lieutenant governor and the winner of three statewide elections so far. He's got enough money to compete with anybody, and he actively looked at the Senate seat without openly declaring for it. Now he has to wait, which probably puts him on many if not most loser lists. But here's the counterintuitive upside: A special election this year might have him out of position, since he filed for re-election to his current post and is on the November ballot. Hutchison's job comes up in 2012, a year when Dewhurst could run without resigning from the job he now holds.

• Rick Perry. The governor gets to appoint the person who serves between the time a senator quits and the time the replacement wins a special election, and Perry was going to have to tell all but one of his supplicants "no." That's a bad word in politics, and now he doesn't have to use it. He won his re-election primary. Everybody's still his friend. And there's this: The Senate seat remains in GOP hands.

• Bill White. The former mayor of Houston was going to run for Hutchison's spot until he decided that she wasn't going to quit and, probably, that she wasn't going to be the Republican nominee for governor. Conventional wisdom is that he'd rather run against Perry. More conventional wisdom: A Democratic win in the governor's race would be an upset. Hutchison's timing lets White have it both ways: He runs for governor, and if that doesn't work out, the Senate race is in front of him instead of behind him. And he'd be better known statewide, to boot.

LOSERS

• John Sharp. The former legislator, railroad commissioner and comptroller was the best-positioned Democrat to succeed Hutchison, but only in a special election. A special would have given him the chance to skip the Democratic primary, where some liberals feel he's too conservative — and they haven't forgotten that he crossed party lines in 2006 to help his old college buddy, Perry, pass legislation raising business taxes to offset cuts in local property taxes. And a bazillion Republicans were set to run in a special election, fracturing the GOP vote and potentially moving things too far to the right to keep independents on board.

• Roger Williams, Michael Williams, Elizabeth Ames Jones, Florence Shapiro. The four Republicans — a former Texas secretary of state, two railroad commissioners and a state senator — have been actively raising money, building organizations, and exposing their flanks for more than a year in anticipation of an opening that isn't there. It's awkward, for one thing, and their desire to move on caught the interest of their own would-be replacements. This is the sort of thing challenges are built on. Shapiro has ended her run for Senate. Jones says she'll be in the running in 2012. Michael Williams met yesterday's news by saying he "will be a candidate for this seat whenever it comes up."

• Greg Abbott. The state's attorney general had his sights set not on the Senate but on the job Dewhurst now holds. Abbott feinted at a Senate run, but he's a prolific fundraiser and energetic campaigner and has a daunting head start on the field for lieutenant governor on the GOP side. But Hutchison forces Dewhurst to freeze, and that forces Abbott to freeze. And that brings us to ...

• Ted Cruz. The former state solicitor general under Abbott at the attorney general's office raised prodigious amounts of money in an effort to amass a big enough treasury to scare other Republicans out of the race to replace his old boss. Now he's frozen, too. He sent a note to supporters yesterday offering to return their contributions — pro rata — and promising that although 2010 is out, he'll be running for public office "very soon." Give Rep. Dan Branch an honorable mention here, if only because he was the first one to call "Bull" and get out of the race. He was the first to publicly give up on Hutchison's vacillations, getting out a race for AG that he decided, correctly as it turned out, would never happen in 2010. He's still interested in the job, though, if it ever comes open.

• Kay Bailey Hutchison. After hearing their senior senator flip-flop over her resignation for 18 months, do voters trust her less? Do they think she's decisive? The whole episode dragged down her bid for governor, and to make that race, she resigned from her leadership positions in the U.S. Senate. None of this would matter much if she had won the race against Perry. Now she's an apparent lame duck in badly weakened political shape. The road back could start in November. If the GOP wins back the U.S. Senate in this year's general election, Hutchison would rank high enough in seniority that she could become chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. That, in turn, could become her rationale, if she needs one, for seeking another six-year term in 2012.

Trying to Duck a Fight

Republican and Democratic members of the Texas congressional delegation are discussing a possible compromise designed to cool off the overheated politics of congressional redistricting by dividing the expected spoils once U.S. Census figures are in and the reapportionment process begins in 2011, two members of the delegation say.

According to U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, the plan on the table would split the expected four-seat gain in Texas congressional seats into two for the Republicans and two for the Democrats, shifting the focus of a likely fight from which party gets what to where the new districts are drawn. That would take the current make-up of the delegation from 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats to 22 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Raise your hand if you think the Democrats in the Legislature would take a deal that gives them 39 percent of the congressional contingent for 10 years. That matches what they've got now in the state Senate, but Democrats are in the high 40s in the House.

Smith is presenting the possible compromise to Speaker Joe Straus and Gov. Rick Perry. Cuellar says he briefed Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst when they were together in South Texas earlier this year. "I talked to both of them," Cuellar said. "They said, 'If you guys come up with something bipartisan, we'll support you.'" A spokesman for Straus says that while the Speaker recalls the conversation with Cuellar and appreciates the delegation's work, it's too early in the process to be considering any compromises. Dewhurst says he told Cuellar that a bipartisan deal within the delegation would be "a big step forward" but that he couldn't commit to supporting any plan that he hasn't seen.

The last time redistricting was a live issue in Texas, in 2003, the Legislature ground to a halt, with Democrats skipping town in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart Republican reapportionment plans. "It wasn't a win-win — it was a win-lose," Cuellar said. "Republicans made all the decisions and Democrats were left in the dark as the lines were drawn. This time it's going to be different. We're trying to do something bipartisan."

The "something" hasn't been worked out in detail beyond the prospective agreement in principle that each party would get an equal number of new seats. "Generally speaking," Cuellar said, "if we do get four, we're hoping that two go to the Republicans and two go to the Democrats." He was quick to note that other specifics haven't been addressed: "We've just been talking about concepts. We don't want to get into where things go, where we draw the new lines."

Of course, all this assumes that the expected number of new seats will actually come to pass. One potential monkey wrench, Smith says, is that the fourth seat hinges on how much growth the Census Bureau finds in Texas, which in turn depends on how many Texans return their Census forms. Smith said the state was about expected to be 40,000 residents ahead of the threshold for getting that fourth seat. If it ends up being three rather than four additional seats, Cuellar says, the proposed compromise would be "one and one and a swing district."

It also assumes that the members of the Texas Legislature, and not just their leaders, agree to such a compromise, as they and not the state's members of Congress are the ones who control the redistricting process. "Being in the state House for fourteen years, I know that the power goes to the Legislature," Cuellar says. "Ultimately, they're going to decide where the lines are. But because we're talking about congressional redistricting, hopefully they'll give us due consideration."

As Lubbock Goes...

Primary runoffs attract notoriously low numbers of voters, especially when there's not a hot top-of-ticket race to swell turnout. In a downballot statewide race like that between Debra Lehrmann and Rick Green for an open seat on the Supreme Court, that means the winner could be decided by chance — whose name comes first, or whose name sounds the friendliest.

But Green and Lehrmann are working to combat that dynamic by focusing their attention on a county where too-close-to-call local races make it more likely the turnout will be higher. They're showering attention on Lubbock, where two close Republican House runoffs — the Delwin Jones/Charles Perry showdown in HD-83 and the John Frullo/Mark Griffin standoff in HD-84 — ensure an engaged electorate.

Chris Winn, the Lubbock County GOP chair, says the Supreme Court candidates have already visited several times since the primary and will probably come again. "Every voter that comes out for those personal relationships in the local races, then benefits a statewide candidate that is running," he says. "It makes the value of the vote about 50 times its normal worth."

So in addition to targeting the traditionally high-vote metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, it makes sense to give some play to Lubbock in this race, too.

But that isn't happening in Travis County, says Michele Samuelson, the county's GOP chair, even though runoffs there between Holly White Turner and Paul Workman in HD-47 and Marsha Farney and Brian Russell for the State Board of Education, are sure to ramp up turnout. Samuelson says Green has devoted more resources to wooing voters than Lehrmann. She attributes that to the nature of the races: "Rick's issues tend to coincide with what the State Board of Education candidates are talking about. Those voters are going to be his voters."

The Count

The U.S. Commerce Department's effort to get a complete head count of who lives where in the United States hit its first deadline April 1. That marked what is known as "Census Day," the date the federal government asks residents to have their forms filled out and returned. Progress in Texas has been slow. The most recent update indicates Texas' response rate, so far, is 45th out of the 50 states. That translates into potentially billions of federal dollars, for transportation projects, education and health and human services that could instead be doled out to other states. Census data will also be used to draw new congressional maps during next year's legislative session. But this isn't over. On April 12th, the feds start a statewide media blitz urging participation by the great uncounted, and also will set up locations around the state where residents who lost their census forms can go be counted. After that, census workers will be out in droves next month tracking down people who, for whatever reason, chose not to send in the forms.

Fighting on the Airwaves, in the Streets, and on the Web

The art of the attack website continues to be on full display in the GOP runoff in House District 66, where businessman Van Taylor and former Plano City Councilwoman Mabrie Jackson are battling to replace Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano. Before the primary, Jackson unveiled planoresumefraud.com, accusing Taylor of being a "political carpetbagger." Last week, Taylor, the self proclaimed "true conservative" in the race released mabriefacts.com. It invites voters to "learn the facts" about Jackson — including that she received money from "liberal special interest groups" like the Texas State Teachers Association, voted to increase spending while on the city council, and hasn't been returning questionnaires from conservative groups.

Now, Jackson, the race's self-proclaimed "true Plano Republican" is hitting back with a new site, movingvanrepublican.com, further elaborating on the "carpet-bagger" charges leveled against Taylor, whose last race was an unsuccessful 2006 bid to replace U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. The highly interactive site allows users to track the history "Moving Van" Taylor, as he's called, from Midland to the Northeastern U.S. to Waco to Plano. "The difference between us is the fact that I have roots in the community. People move to Plano for three reasons: good schools, low taxes, safe neighborhoods." Jackson says. "Nowhere has anyone ever put, ‘I moved here to find an office to run in.'"

Taylor responded to the website by saying, "Mabrie Jackson has spent too much time in Austin, courting some of the same liberal special interests who backed Obama, so it's no surprise she's trying to rescue her failing campaign with negative, false attacks instead of answering questions from respected conservatives."

Political Notes

Former Sen. David Sibley called in the artillery, getting an endorsement from former President George W. Bush and a headline appearance from Bush at a Waco fundraiser. Sibley, seeking to win his seat back in a special election following Sen. Kip Averitt's resignation, also picked up endorsements from U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, picked up a couple of endorsements in what looks like a very close fight for reelection. Zach Brady, who lost out in the first round, blasted Charles Perry at an event endorsing Jones, saying his support for the incumbent is based on what he characterized as Perry's lack of integrity. And Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, is throwing in with Jones, too. He stayed out of the first round; he has supported Jones in the past, but Brady worked in Duncan's Senate office before leaving to start his career in law and politics.

Duncan will surface next week in the other runoff in Lubbock, appearing in ads for Mark Griffin, a former school board member and Texas Tech regent who hopes to succeed Rep. Carl Isett. Isett didn't seek reelection; he's backing John Frullo, a printer to whom Isett has contributed more than $35,000.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

When it comes to estimates about how much recently passed federal health care reform will cost Texas, there are some discrepancies. Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs told lawmakers it would likely cost the state more than $27 billion between 2014 and 2024, up $3 billion from his most recent estimate. That's a fair distance from Congressional Budget Offices estimates that between 2010 and 2019, the reforms will cost Texas $1.4 billion. The Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, estimated the federal reform would add up to 1 million adults to the state's insurance rolls, and cost Texas next to nothing until 2017.

• The Environmental Protection Agency flexed its muscle against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, striking down a state air pollution program it said violated the Clean Air Act. The state is already suing the federal agency over its proposed regulation of greenhouse gases. The move also presages a tougher crackdown over the summer, when the federal agency will likely throw-out a separate permitting system that regulates industrial plants.

• El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles doesn't necessarily believe the theory — offered up by Mexican authorities — that an El Paso corrections officer murdered in the Juarez was targeted for mistreating inmates. The officer, Arthur Redelfs, and his wife Lesley Enriquez, both U.S. citizens, were shot last month after they left a friend's party. The initial reaction was that Enriquez could have been the target because she worked for the U.S. consulate. Another consular employee, Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, was shot at about the same time in a separate but related incident.

• Texas may soon grant its first divorce to a same-sex couple. A Travis County judge declined the request of from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to intervene in the split-up of two women who had married in Massachusetts. The AG has already appealed a Dallas court's judgment granting two men a divorce; the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in that one at the end of this month.

• Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst found himself pitted against free speech advocates after he issued a statement condemning a staging of Terrence McNally's controversial play Corpus Christi, which imagines Jesus and his disciples as gay men in small-town Texas. Ultimately, the class professor canceled the performance, four hours after Dewhurst chimed in and 12 hours before it was to be performed. Dewhurst argued that he's all for the First Amendment, with the exception that taxpayer money shouldn't be spent on something "completely contrary to the standards of decency and moral beliefs of the vast majority of Texans." The play was not a part of the University's theatre season — it was a student project in an advanced directing course. And the student — not the state — was footing the bill.

• An appellate court in Austin upheld the removal of two plaques on the Texas Supreme Court building that include confederate symbols and were installed in the 1960s. The NAACP applauded the decision, saying, "no one should be offended by state-sanctioned symbols in public buildings."

• On Monday, Rasmussen Reports released a survey of the media coverage of Texas' gubernatorial candidates for the week leading up to March 28. It found that 80 percent of media mentions for Democratic candidate Bill White were positive, while only 46 percent of the mentions of Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry were positive. They also found Perry stories outnumbered White stories eight to one.

Political People and Their Moves

Retiring Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, is returning to college. He's the sole finalist to be the next chancellor of the Texas State University System, replacing Charles Matthews, another North Texas politician-turned-academic (Matthews was a railroad commissioner and mayor of Garland). Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, says he told he was the runner-up for the job.

President Barack Obama last weekend named Alan Bersin the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Obama nominated Bersin in September but his nomination got stuck in the Senate Finance Committee, due to what Obama termed partisan gridlock. Bersin's was one of 15 recess appointments Obama made last week.

Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller will get to argue her case before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on June 18. She's battling efforts to remove her from the court that began with the execution of a murderer whose last-ditch appeals were denied, his lawyers say, because Keller wouldn't accept legal filings after the court's 5 p.m. closing time.

Joe Pounder, former spokesman for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's gubernatorial campaign, moved on to another hot primary race. He's in Florida working as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Communications for U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Mission resident Dennis Burleson, first vice president of investments for Wells Fargo Advisors in McAllen, has been appointed to the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority. His term will expire Feb. 1, 2012.

Deaths: Houston energy magnate Dan Duncan died on Sunday at the age of 77. He was ranked 74 on Forbes Magazine's list of the world's billionaires with an estimated worth of $9 billion. He was 77.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, at the press conference where she announced she won't resign: "I certainly intended to leave in the last year, but I also, something has happened in our country that maybe none of us could have anticipated."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, to The Texas Tribune: "Houston is no sanctuary city. If you break a local law in Houston, we will arrest you, we will take you to jail, we will run your information, and if you are in this country illegally, we will turn you over to the appropriate federal agency."

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, to The Dallas Morning News, on the passage of federal health care legislation: "This will have to be what the next election is about. One-party rule has caused a huge abuse of power."

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, opening his press conference on health care with a jab in Hutchison's direction: "In addition to this subject today, I want to thank you all for being here and announce that I've decided to complete the remainder of my Senate term."

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw testifying before the House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness: "Colombia was never threatened like the government of Mexico is with the level of violence."

Former Secretary of State James Baker III, a Hutchison supporter during the primary, on switching his allegiance to primary winner Gov. Rick Perry: "I happen to think Kay Bailey Hutchison would make a damn good governor of Texas. That doesn't say anything about a lack of support for Gov. Perry in the general election... He would be my preference over any Democrat who was running."

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, in a letter congratulating Rep. Brain McCall, R-Plano, on being chosen the sole finalist as chancellor of the Texas State University system: "Just between you and me, coming in second out of 38 applicants, as I've been told I did, is not fun — but I wish you and the system well nonetheless."

— Contributors: Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Morgan Smith, and Evan Smith (nope, they're not related).


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 13, 5 April 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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