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The Purity Test

If the rainbow flavors of the Tea Party feature a common taste, it’s that of fiscally restrained government — and the anti-Washington and pro-state fervor that comes along with it. Not coincidentally, that was the overwhelming theme of the Republican Party of Texas’ convention last weekend.

If the rainbow flavors of the Tea Party feature a common taste, it’s that of fiscally restrained government — and the anti-Washington and pro-state fervor that comes along with it. Not coincidentally, that was the overwhelming theme of the Republican Party of Texas’ convention last weekend.

Gov. Rick Perry railed against the “shameful excesses” of Washington in his opening address. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Friday night’s keynote speaker, praised a limited government that acts within its “jurisdictional boundaries,” and excoriated the “unlimited credit card people” that make up the “cabal” of the nation’s Democratic leadership. And Attorney General Greg Abbott’s constant assurances during his speech that he was defending the state’s rights against the overreach of the federal government was characteristic of all the statewide officials’ nods toward the Constitution and states’ rights. Does all this rhetoric mean the Tea Party’s growing influence within the state GOP has initiated a shift in focus from social to fiscal issues?

It’s easy to read the ascendancy of Steve Munisteri as party chairman as a token of this movement. Munisteri campaigned on his business bona fides and the contemptible state of the party’s finances. Adams, a former leader of the Eagle Forum and Perry favorite who came of age politically prior to the Tea Party’s insurgency, is known for her ferocious social conservatism, not her fiscal know-how. Debra Medina, the self-appointed flag-bearer of grassroots conservatism who has a history of scrapes with state party leadership, is claiming Adams’ defeat as part of her legacy.

Still, Munisteri’s victory was as much about organization as it was ideology. His supporters were visible and vocal at the convention, swarming the place in their “STEVE” shirts and up early Saturday morning distributing campaign swag. They were also youthful, a telling characteristic when Adams has had to deal with the perception that she wasn’t receptive to the concerns of young Republicans.

If there is a tide change underway, it’s not one completely dominated by an increased focus on fiscal issues. Immigration continues to be a flashpoint, and the far right wing of the party won that war in the platform committee. The 2010 platform includes a plank that calls for the adoption of an Arizona-style law that would require local police to check legal residency when making arrests, even as Perry has said such a law would not be right for Texas. Antagonism at the convention toward Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who grapples with accusations of RINO-ism from far-right elements of the party, concentrated on his perceived weak stance on life issues. (A resolution that was drafted calling for his removal as speaker and accompanied by a letter from David Barton, a former party vice chairman and current WallBuilders activist, also cited his appearances at fundraisers for Democrats.)

All this could reflect an absorption into mainstream Republicanism of the Tea-fueled anti-incumbency rancor that claimed Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, and Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, in GOP primaries in March. The first indication of what the army of Republicans that descended on Dallas took away with them may be the outcome of Tuesday night’s special election runoff between David Sibley and Brian Birdwell in SD-22. Sibley, who earned 45 percent of the vote to Birdwell’s 37 percent in the primary election, used to represent the district and has been lobbying in Austin ever since. Birdwell, a Christian motivational speaker who was injured in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, plays well with the Tea-sipping crowd — and his supporters were out in throngs at the convention.

But Republicans will surely do their best to ensure these internal machinations stay just that — internal — and don’t become an issue in November. As Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Saturday’s keynote speaker, urged the crowd: "We cannot forget unity because some people will let purity be the enemy of unity. It’s a big party, and we need everybody who is on our side."

No, He Doesn’t Want to Be Your President

Dave Carney, the general consultant to Gov. Rick Perry's re-election campaign — and to his campaigns in 1998, 2002 and 2006 — lives in New Hampshire and commutes and telecommutes to the Texas governor's headquarters (and to other political contests around the country). Perry is his biggest client, and he's been on board since Perry ran for lieutenant governor in 1998. Then agriculture commissioner, Perry had been a client of Karl Rove, before Rove was swept to the national stage in the presidential run of George W. Bush.

Carney sat for an interview with The Texas Tribune at the Hyatt Regency in Dallas during the GOP's state convention last weekend. Many believe Perry is positioning himself for a presidential run, despite his repeated denials and disdain for Washington. But Carney says Perry isn't doing many of the things you'd expect a budding presidential candidate to do, like travel to early primary states and raise money for congressional candidates in strategic areas nationwide.

So why are political people talking about him as a presidential aspirant? “He has passion, emotion, authenticity and all that leads to credibility.”

He also says Bill White is too constrained, trying to not be a Democrat in a race where a contrast might work to his advantage. If you can't address a state problem with a program because the solution would cause a tax increase — an increase you don't think you can safely recommend — you're stuck in "the Kabuki dance on taxes," and you can't campaign from the heart: “It would be more difficult to run against an authentic liberal, an unabashed liberal, who got up an said we’re going to raise taxes, stop dropouts by doing A, B, and C … because then you’re having a debate about ideas.

Perry's opponents like to call him a 39-percent governor; that's the margin that won him the last election. But Carney says it's a canard. “Because you get elected with 91 percent of the vote, it in no way translates to what you’re going to do in your next election. But it gives you a sense, and I would say a false sense of something — that 80 percent of the people love you — and in fact gives you no comfort that they are going to vote for you.”

If Perry doesn't want to be president, it's not because he has no interest in issues bigger than the state. Carney says his passion — this would be the message of the campaign, folks, if you haven't been watching since the governor's first appearance at a Tea Party rally more than a year ago — the governor's passion is making Texas and other states more powerful relative to the federal government.

“He wants to help drive this movement to put some balance back into this federal/state relationship,” Carney says. “And he wants to work with Democratic governors and Republican governors and get them fired up on this encroachment on this basic structure of our government.”

Other candidates have been making regular visits to Texas, tapping Perry for help, for appearances — and probably, to take his measure as a potential rival for a White House run. Carney's read is that his boss wants to do what he wants to do from outside Washington, D.C.: “He thinks, and I think he’s probably right, that he can have more impact by being in the countryside, trying to rally the troops, than to be to the inside.”

The Third Man

By any standard, Katherine Youngblood Glass' victory over Jeff Daiell to secure the Libertarian Party of Texas' nomination for governor was a blowout. Seventy three of the 100 or so delegates that congregated at an Austin Holiday Inn chose Glass over Daiell, the party's nominee in 2002. But history indicates it's only a matter of time before Glass is handed the same fate as Daiell in the general election — by an even greater margin.

Since 1992, no Libertarian candidate for Texas governor has ever garnered more than 1.5 percent of the vote. The last person who came close was Daiell, when he received about 67,000 votes — 1.46 percent — in the same race that saw Rick Perry trounce Tony Sanchez with 58 percent of the vote. Candidate James Werner had to contend with independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Richard "Kinky" Friedman in 2006 and mustered a mere 0.6 percent — about 26,750 ballots. Glass points to the party’s growth since then and says a reinvigorated base could help her achieve 34 percent of the vote, the number she needs in a three-way race to claim victory.

Glass' optimism sounds far-fetched. But that doesn’t mean a Libertarian candidate doesn’t have a real effect in lower ballot races. Particularly in the Texas House, a Libertarian candidate can be the political boogeyman who derails a major party candidate. In 2004, Democrat Mark Strama defeated Republican incumbent Jack Stick by 569 votes because Libertarian candidate Greg Knowles collected about 2,400 in the race to represent HD-50.

In the 2006 general election, there were several close races where Libertarians affected the outcome for both parties. HD-17 Republican challenger Tim Kleinschmidt lost to incumbent Democrat Robbie Cook by 415 votes while Libertarian Roderick "Rod" Gibbs hauled in about three times as many votes. That same year, Democratic challenger Juan Garcia ousted Republican incumbent Gene Seaman by 767 votes, while Libertarian Lenard Nelson made out with slightly more than 2,000 in the race for HD-32. In HD-85 Democrat Joe Heflin beat out Republican Jim Landtroop by 217 votes, while Libertarian David K. Schumacher had 793 ballots cast in his favor. In HD-93, Democrat Paula Hightower Pierson beat incumbent Republican Toby Goodman by 587, while Libertarian Max W. Koch III received 759. That same year, then-Republican Kirk England could have been the beneficiary, as he beat Democratic challenger Katy Hubener by 235 votes. Libertarian Gene Freeeman hauled in 591 votes. (England has since switched parties as in now a Democrat.) The open seat for HD-118 in 2006 witnessed Democrat Joe Farias triumph over George Antuna by 900 votes while James L. Thompson received 1,700 votes.

The trend continued in 2008 when challenger Wendy Davis defeated incumbent Sen. Kim Brimer in the race for SD-10 by 7,095. The Libertarian candidate in that race, Richard Cross, received 7,501. State Rep. Chuck Hopson, who has since switched from Democrat to Republican, squeaked by Republican challenger Brian Walker with 120 more votes while Libertarian Paul Bryan received 875 of his own. The race for the open seat in HD-52 witnessed a surprise victory by Democrat Diana Maldonado over Republican Bryan Daniel by fewer than 900 votes. Libertarian Lillian Simmons could have been Maldonado's good luck charm, as she collected 2,850 votes, a bulk of which could have gone to Daniel.

The November general election features 28 House races where Libertarians are a third option to Democrats and Republicans. Chances for a Libertarian house member are less than slight, but the candidates could be play a significant role in the future composition of the Texas House, which is currently composed of 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats.

Worldwide Web Wars

A new map of Texas is causing a mild stir. Released on Wednesday by Connected Texas and commissioned by Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, it lays out the extent of broadband access in the state. The big reveal is that more than 250,000 Texas homes — less than 4 percent of the population in Texas, but more than the total households in Vermont have — no access to high-speed internet.

Staples said he hopes the map will inspire private businesses to reach out to the unserved and underserved areas, which are mostly rural communities. And he wants the Legislature to enact policies that entice companies to do so.

But Staples’ Democratic challenger, Hank Gilbert, isn’t buying it. “This is yet another stupid, sleazy, 'look-at-me' political trick designed to cover up the fact that he's one of the best at wasting tax money in the history of the state,” Gilbert said in a statement about the map, which was paid for with funds from President Barack Obama’s $7.2 billion broadband stimulus program.

As a way of demonstrating that this problem has been around for a while, Gilbert points to a 2-year-old academic study that demonstrated that a 1-percent increase in Texas broadband penetration would bring 21,000 new jobs to Texas.

Not only does he believe that broadband access should have been dealt with earlier, but Gilbert says that all parties — businesses, legislators and citizens — are already aware of the issues and don’t stand to learn anything from this new service.

"I'm sure people on landline modems will be grateful to Todd after the 45 minutes it takes them to actually view the map to determine, sure enough, that their area isn't served by broadband," said Gilbert, who hopes those internet users also take a gander at hankgilbert.com.

In response to Gilbert’s criticism, Staples’ campaign recommends another website in addition to the broadband map. “Our opponent has a criminal conviction for theft, unpaid taxes, current tax liens, and allegedly accepted a bribe for $150,000,” said campaign manager Cody McGregor. “We hope all Texans will use the internet to view www.guiltyguiltygilbert.com and get the facts about our opponent and his campaign’s trouble with telling the truth.”

Budget Busters

Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, wants the public to have more input on the state budget. To that end, he has launched a new website: TexasBudgetBusters.com. Visitors are invited to vote on whether or not the lawmakers should “keep” or “bust” certain items or programs.

An example: “In the 2009 Legislative Session, a member of the Legislature added an earmark to spend an additional $4.2 million to buy a helicopter and station the helicopter in his district in Longview, TX.”

Currently, the site stops short of naming names on bust-able budget items, but that’s not a steadfast rule. “I hadn’t really thought about that yet,” Paxton says. “This just our first week of doing it.”

Paxton isn’t restricting the site to casting negative attention. Some budget proposals —the ones found in the “Budget Fixers” section — get a positive spin. For example, users can also vote to “forget” or “go for” the idea of establishing stricter spending limits.

Paxton says he was inspired after hearing that the budget shortfall could reach $18 billion. “We were trying to think of positive ways that we could impact how the budget process worked,” he says. “People normally don’t have any say in the budget process, and they can’t express their opinion or vent. This is a way to do that.”

He says he intends to keep the site running through the upcoming session and “for as long as we think we’re providing useful information.”

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The GOP partied in Dallas this week, creating a platform and electing a new chairman. The three-way race for chairman of the state party resulted in the ouster of its current chair, Cathie Adams, and the election of retired Houston lawyer Steve Munisteri. Although ideologically similar, Munisteri’s fiscal conservatism appealed to the party faithful as he pledged that reducing the party’s debt would be his top priority. There was also a nascent move to endorse removing Joe Straus as speaker introduced by a Tea Party group. The sentiment was echoed by boos in the audience as Straus was introduced, but the resolution, accompanied by a four-page letter penned by David Barton, never came up on the floor for debate.

Republicans weren’t the only ones partying this weekend. The Libertarian Party held its convention in Austin this week, nominating Katherine Youngblood Glass as its candidate for governor. Although the party hopes to capture voters from across the political spectrum, the Houston lawyer focused on issues similar to the Republicans' hot-button issues: fiscal conservatism and immigration. Glass claimed that 25 percent of the budget is spent on illegal immigrants, so eliminating that spending would be an easy fix for the upcoming budget shortfall. The party’s goal is to garner 34 percent of the vote in November in the (currently) three-way gubernatorial race.

Although the Green Party is unsure of its ballot status in November, it also nominated its candidate for governor this week. She is Deb Shafto, a co-founder of the Texas Green Party and a retired teacher. To get on the ballot, the Greens were forced to collect signatures. Take Initiative America provided the funding, as an in-kind donation, for the paid signature gathering, but it remains unclear where the money originally came from — some think it’s the work of Republican political operatives. The Texas Democratic Party has sued the Greens in an effort to force disclosure of the origin of the funds.

State lawmakers face a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall next year, redistricting, a brewing battle over immigration, and yet the Voter ID issue may take center stage again. The House Elections Committee met this week to hear testimony on the issue. Chairman Todd Smith, R-Euless, declared that support for requiring additional identification to be shown at the voting booth was still strong. Opponents contest the importance of the issue, citing statistics that show a miniscule percentage of complaints filed relate to voter fraud.

Squabbling and positioning continues to dominate environmental wars in Texas. State officials are outraged that the Environmental Protection Agency thinks Texas is doing such a poor job of regulating air quality that it wants to take over that regulatory function. Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, hoping to get the decision on qualified facilities reversed, and allow the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to continue regulating emissions permits falling under the Clean Air Act.

As the June 7 shooting death of a Mexican teenager continues to generate controversy on both sides of the border, the Border Patrol expressed concern this week about the threats against agents its office received. Agents have come increasingly under attack, not only from rock-throwing incidents like the one that precipitated the shooting, but also with those involving weapons. Reports of bounties placed on agents are not uncommon.

Texas weather is famous for its unpredictability, and sudden storms can wreak havoc. The PUC recently instituted a new rule for power companies that seeks to establish more stability for Texans in storms’ aftermath. The agency will require electric utilities to formulate and publish detailed contingency plans for dealing with power outages. The plans will have to be updated every five years, and an annual progress report will also be required.

Fresh off his nomination as the GOP candidate for governor, Perry headed to China to participate in “Texas Week” at the Shanghai Expo. The governor plans to promote Texas and hopes his goodwill trip will translate into increased tourism, exports and, of course, jobs. The delegation traveling with him includes representatives from more than 30 organizations who will be pitching Texas as a business partner.

Stories of a fight club — where residents were encouraged to fight each other for snacks — at a residential treatment center have led the state to ban placement of foster children there. The Department of Family and Protective Services has suspended new placements at the Daystar Residential Inc., a Houston-area treatment center for troubled youth, based on allegations of abuse at the facility. The agency has also assigned a monitor to ensure the safety of the children currently living at the center and will proceed with a review of the allegations against Daystar.

Even in a state full of football fanatics, the fever pitch debate this week about college conferences was dramatic. College teams switching conferences was the hot topic, and everyone who had an opinion felt it necessary to weigh in. At the end of the day, however, Texas teams decided to stay put, and because their conference lost two teams, they will garner a bigger share of the television money previously split between the 12 teams in the conference.

Political People and Their Moves

President Barack Obama appointed Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James E. Graves Jr. to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to replace Judge Rhesa Barksdale.

Gov. Rick Perry reappointed Cathleen Parsley of Austin as the chief administrative law judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings, which oversees hearings in contested cases to ensure they are conducted objectively, promptly and efficiently, for a term to expire May 15, 2012.

Gov. Rick Perry named Edward Marx of Colleyville chair of the Texas Health Services Authority Corporation for a term to expire at the pleasure of the governor. He also appointed the following eight members to terms that expire June 15, 2011:

• David Fleeger of Austin, a surgeon at Austin Colon and Rectal Clinic.

• Kathleen Mechler of Fredericksburg, a registered nurse, and co-director and chief operating officer of Texas A&M Health Science Center Rural and Community Health Institute.

• Dee Porter of Austin, a chief operating officer of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

• Judy Powell of The Woodlands, a community volunteer and former chair of the Texas State Board of Professional Counselors.

• J. Darren Rodgers of Dallas, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.

• Adolfo Valdez of Austin, an assistant commissioner of Prevention and Preparedness Services at the Texas Department of State Health Services.

• Stephen Yurco of Austin, a licensed pathologist and partner at Clinical Pathology Associates.

Quotes of the Week

Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri on his relationship with outgoing chair Cathie Adams, quoted in The Texas Tribune: "Well, I went up and thanked Mrs. Adams for her service and said I have respect for her activism. And I have not had the opportunity to talk to her since.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington/Ennis, apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward for being asked to put up $20 billion for a fund for victims of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: “I do not want to live in a country where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure, that is again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize."

Stefani Carter, a Republican challenging Rep. Carol Kent, D-Dallas, to The Dallas Morning News responding to accusations that she was plagiarizing President Barack Obama on the stump: "It's going to be a funny year. Democrats are running away from Obama to the extent they feel the need to compare Republican candidates to Obama, but voters are smarter than Democrats think."

University of Texas President Bill Powers when asked at a press conference what the Big 12 Conference should call itself now that it only has 10 teams: “The Conference Formerly Known as the Big 12.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, in response to a question about his financial holdings in energy companies, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "I'm not a member of the millionaires' club," Cornyn quipped in response to a question during a telephone conference call with reporters.

Politician and humorist Kinky Freidman, addressing what he sees as the connection between Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and the Texas Tea Party, in The Texas Tribune: “The Tea Party folks are like Barbara Jordan: They think the Constitution is important. In fact, the Tea Party is what the Democrats used to be."

Libertarian candidate for Texas Governor Katherine Youngblood Glass, on her odds at beating Gov. Rick Perry and former Houston Mayor Bill White, quoted in The Texas Tribune: "It is going to be hard, but we can do hard things. In a three-way race, 34 percent of the vote can take this thing, and that’s within reach."

Contributors: Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Ceryta Holm, David Muto and Morgan Smith

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