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The Dead Zone

Enjoy the lull. It won't last.

Enjoy the lull. It won't last.

The last elections until November appear to be out of the way, and candidates went quiet (sort of) after the June 30 fundraising deadline passed. But their campaign finance reports will be out next week, giving insiders and political nerds an early look at the strength of the campaigns going into the last four months before the elections. And given the (expected) financial strength of the two major-party candidates for governor, big spending in the campaigns could start in August.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, has now been sworn in, and the guy he replaced — Kip Averitt, R-Waco — has now withdrawn his name from the November ballot (he gave up the seat, you'll remember, after he won the GOP primary in March). That sets up a summer of fun for the county chairs of the two major political parties, who'll pick the nominees for the general election. the Republicans will be replacing Averitt as their nominee, presumably — but not certainly — with Birdwell. They're not required to go with the incumbent, but if they don't, they'll be committing news. And the Democrats, who didn't have a candidate in the race, get a second bite. Since Averitt left the way he did at the time he did, it'll be a two-candidate race instead of a Republican cakewalk. Last month's Birdwell-David Sibley race is the last special election on the books until November, according to the Secretary of State's office. The choosing of the candidates will make some local noise this summer — the parties have until August 24th — but the elections that involve money, signs, polls and voters are over for now.

Campaign finance reports come out next week, and the details in the big accounts aren't leaking yet. The Guv's campaign said it raised more than $1 million from a "money cannon" that included phone calling and Internet appeals. Associated Republicans of Texas — a venerable PAC that's added new blood to its board and more ambition to its fundraising — pulled in almost $1.5 million and will report having about $1.1 million in its treasury at midyear. ART also announced it gave money to ten candidates for the Texas House. They didn't name them, other than to say the list doesn't include any incumbents — only challengers. ART, which has been working on House numbers since then-U.S. Sen. John Tower, R-Texas, fired it up in 1975, says it's aiming at Republican victories in areas where Republicans haven't won before. Think conservative districts held by Democrats.

Summer Blockbuster Fizzles

A brief meeting in judge’s chambers cut short the brewing turf war between HillCo Partners and its former associates, Brandon Aghamalian and Snapper Carr; HillCo dropped the suit, the parties put out a "Kumbaya" letter and said they weren't going to spill the beans about their settlement agreement.

Ignore the capitol crowd's interest in what promised to be a brutal and fascinating set of depositions and hearings — the other sound you hear is the sigh of relief from a lobby that doesn't like airing its fights in public.

What was it all about? HillCo accused Carr and Aghamalian of tampering with contracts to make it easier to lure away clients when they left and of sharing business secrets with their new firm, Curt Seidlits' Focused Advocacy, which HillCo also sued. In their responses (here, here, and here), Aghamalian and Carr said they left because of conflicts of interest involving the firm’s municipal and private sector clients. They also described an “increasingly hostile” workplace environment that that allowed firm employees to "continually use unprofessional, insensitive, and derogatory references to both clients and elected officials" and a "lack of attention and disregard for regulatory and ethical compliance."

That's a lawyerly way of making a fist, and within 24 hours — prompted by a judge — both sides stood down.

Neither side would comment about where the clients in question would end up, but several current Focused Advocacy clients said that they hadn’t yet heard of the latest development in the suit. Charles Anderson, the attorney for the city of Irving, said he was not even aware that the two firms were in litigation. Though the city had been a long time client of HillCo’s, Anderson said, they chose to go with Aghamalian and Carr when they left to join Focused Advocacy because they had been the city’s main contacts at HillCo. The city is still evaluating what its lobbying needs will be for the coming session, Anderson said, and hasn’t decided whether it would stay with Focused Advocacy or not.

Aghamalian and Carr also counted the city of Fort Worth among their largest clients while the two were working at HillCo. Now, it's unclear where Fort Worth's lobbying dollars will wind up next session. Reid Rector, Fort Worth's director of governmental relations, said the city is currently without a contract lobbyist for the 2011 session. Its contract with HillCo expired in the spring. "We weren't even aware of tensions when we decided not to renew earlier in the year," Rector said. Later this year, he said, the city is likely to re-open the bidding process for its business.

Seeing Green

The Green Party of Texas was previously prohibited from the November ballot by a district judge because of the alleged use of corporate funding for their petition drive. Then the Texas Supreme Court allowed the Greens to go ahead and certify their candidates.

“In this legal challenge, round one went to the Democratic Party, and round two in the Supreme Court went to democracy,” said Kat Swift, statewide coordinator for the Green Party of Texas. Democrats suspect the Green Party has been revived in a GOP-fueled effort to drain votes for Democratic candidates. They continue to raise questions about the backers of the party’s resurgence, which was orchestrated by Arizona-based GOP operative Tim Mooney. In the past, Mooney has worked with Gov. Rick Perry advisor Dave Carney. A similar plan to fund a Green Party petition drive was secretly pushed by Perry associate Mike Toomey.

The latest name to be tossed around is that of GOP political advisor Anthony Holm. He was mentioned in an email by Swift, found in the court proceedings and circulated by the Democratic Lone Star Report. The subject of the e-mail from Swift reads: "So I just got a call that a republican in texas [sic] wants to give us 40% of the cost of petitioning…" In the body, Swift says: "But I got his name! Anthony Holm (?)"

Holm and Swift both say the information she got was wrong and Holm didn't fund the Green Party’s effort. Similarly, Perry and his campaign have repeatedly asserted that they have no knowledge or involvement of the matter.

At this point, the Democrats’ focus has shifted more toward tying the Green Party to the Republicans and less to preventing them from being on the ballot. While they are continuing their legal proceedings, they've dropped their effort to keep the Greens off the ballot. That saves face, if nothing else: The Greens have four statewide candidates, two for Congress, only two for the statehouse and one for the State Board of Education. Unlike the Libertarians, they're not really in position to affect the outcomes of a lot of races.

“Although the motion we filed today means it is almost certain that Green Party candidates will remain on the ballot in 2010,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie in a statement that also called for the Green candidates to remove their names of their own will, “the facts demonstrate that the participants in this petition gathering scam acted improperly and we continue to seek the penalties allowed by law.”

Swift, via email, says the Democrats should drop the whole thing and "prevent the TDP from seeking endless depositions from us and injunctions against our participation in the electoral process. The net result of such a ruling would be to remove the Green Party of Texas and our candidates from the ongoing fishing expedition by the TDP for mud to sling at Rick Perry."

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Debating the terms of the debate was as close as the candidates for governor came this week. Although the League of Women Voters held a forum for the contest in Kerrville, only Democrat Bill White and Libertarian Kathie Glass showed up. The two attacked Perry’s decision not to participate as a tactic to avoid tough questions from the taxpayers he serves. White and Glass presented their ideas for changing the course of things in Texas, but mainly stayed focused on criticizing Perry’s policies in office.

• Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams proposed this week that natural gas utilities be required to replace steel pipes with plastic ones. Why? To prevent degrading steel pipes from exploding. Williams’ plan is based on a scale with differing requirements based on the actual leakage rates in each service area. A rule would take the commission months to craft, and who would bear the cost of the massive undertaking wasn’t spelled out.

• Texas tends to brag about being the biggest, not about its waist sizes. A report by the Trust for American’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation pegs Texas adults as the thirteenth fattest in the nation and Texas kids as the seventh fattest. Last year, Texas adults ranked fourteenth in obesity.

• School districts that received stimulus money now find reporting requirements somewhat arduous, while the public finds the information reported not as informative as it ought to be. Administrators are struggling to comply with the new reporting system that goes along with receiving federal stimulus dollars. And taxpayers curious to see where their money has gone have been disappointed by the lack of detail in the reports-districts are only required to account for whom they’ve paid stimulus funds to when the amount is over $25,000. The rules don’t direct districts to detail their purchases.

Bill White’s campaign mounted new attacks on Rick Perry this week, along with the Texas Democratic Party and the Lone Star Project. White’s accusing of Perry bestowing political appointments on large campaign contributors. The Democratic Party filed a formal complaint with the Ethics Commission, claiming that Perry neglected to report a loan for a house that he owns. Perry’s name came up again in connection with efforts to get the Green Party on the Texas ballot, as the Lone Star Project released an email claiming a link between the governor and the controversy surrounding Green Party funding.

• Texas has so far escaped the effects of the massive oil spill in the Gulf, but that might be over. Tar balls were spotted on Bolivar Peninsula this week, prompting both the mayor of Galveston and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to go into spin mode. Mayor Joe Jaworski was optimistic that the tar-balls were a one-time occurrence and resulted from being carried in on a ship that traveled through the oil slick. Patterson's General Land Office confirmed that the oil had come from the Deepwater Horizon spill and that BP would pay for the cleanup required. He also pointed out that the modeling his office had done on the potential effect of the spill on the Texas coast proved to be accurate, and predicted a quick and efficient cleanup.

• In Laredo, authorities closed bridges and called for evacuation of at least 3,000 residents as the Rio Grande flooded. Meanwhile, another tropical storm was forecast to come ashore and dump more rain into the already saturated area. Officials were forced to release water from the Amistad Dam, which was at its highest level in twenty-five years.

• The Department of State Health Services released its summary of proposed budget cuts, totaling $245 million. Of the total, $134 million would be cuts to mental health services. Included in that number are reductions to psychiatric crisis services, publicly funded community mental health centers, and state hospitals. Smaller cuts were outlined for EMS trauma, children with special health care needs and immunizations for children.

Political People and Their Moves

The Texas Values in Action Coalition — a Democratic operation in the Dallas area — filed ethics complaints against state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, for not including a car on the list of things she owns or uses. The car in question, according to Harper-Brown, is owned by the company where her husband works and is part of his compensation, and thus, doesn't have to be reported. Even so, she's given it up.

Attorney General Greg Abbott picked up an endorsement from the Texas Alliance for Life PAC. "As Texas Attorney General, Abbott is responsible for defending the rights of all Texans, including the unborn," his campaign said in a press release.

Terral Smith joined the Greenberg Traurig lobby shop in Austin. The former Texas House member was later the legislative director for then-Gov. George W. Bush and chief of staff to then-Speaker Tom Craddick.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Brenda Pejovich to the University of Texas System Board of Regents. She's a CPA and is CEO of BFG Management Co. And she's a graduate of UT Austin.

Perry named Lee Gabriel of Sanger as justice of the Second Court of Appeals, effective August 1. She's a state district judge now.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, on embattled GOP Chair Michael Steele, after Steele made remarks suggesting the war in Afghanistan could not be won, in Politico: "(Steele is) guiding the party in the right direction, and we are on the verge of victory this fall. Chairman Steele should not back off. He is giving the country, especially young people, hope as he speaks truth about this war.”

Green Party lawyer David Rogers on the Democratic Party's withdrawal of its Supreme Court suit against the Greens: “Deb Shafto, the Green candidate for governor, looks forward to debating Rick Perry, Kathie Glass of the Libertarian Party and whoever the Democratic sacrificial lamb is.”

Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Richard Dayoub, on the rumors circulating about Juárez Mayor-elect, Hector "Teto" Murguía and his ties to organized crime, to the Texas Tribune: “Not only do I not have that basis to make a comment, but because I don’t engage in the political side of it, I would certainly not be comfortable making any comments."

Democratic land commissioner candidate Hector Uribe, upon learning that an individual in Indiana has been using his photo on a dating site: "Lord only knows how bad this guy looks in real life, if he's using my photo to look better. I don't know whether to be flattered or to be creeped out, but I certainly hope he hasn't duped anybody."

Gov. Rick Perry to reporters after speaking on the phone with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano: "She was a little testy."

Sen. Florence Shapiro in an interview with FOX News on the prevalence of K2, a synthetic marijuana that she will seek to ban next session: "You can get it ... in gas stations, hooka lounges, tobacco stores — they're selling it everywhere."

State Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, on his strategy for a hearing on proposals to expand legal gambling in Texas: "Let 'em vent. Just let them talk. Pros, cons, in-betweens, fors and againsts, independents … just bring it on."

HillCo and Focused Advocacy, on their recently dismissed litigation, in a prepared statement: "All the parties hereto have resolved their differences to the mutual satisfaction of the respective firms and individuals. HillCo Partners, Focused Advocacy and their members look forward to continuing their working relationship with each other and wish the other continued success.


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 26, 12 July 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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