Rick Perry and Bill White are starting to engage on a daily basis. The shape of their election fight is starting to solidify, ads are in the works on both sides and if you count third parties on the Democratic side, already running. Mark Barack Obama's fundraising visit to Texas and the campaign gyrations leading up to it in your diary as the public start of the 2010 general election for governor, get your pizza and wings, and settle in for the show.
Campaigns traditionally start around Labor Day. It's more accurate to say they start at about the same time public school students return to class (August 23, if you don't have a school calendar on the fridge). Vacation season is over for most folks at that point, and they're settling into the fall, the football and election seasons.
Maybe, however, not the debate season. Perry, after talking to the Texas Association of Broadcasters, told reporters he won't debate until White releases personal tax returns from his time as assistant U.S. secretary of energy. "I suggest there's something there, or he would have already laid them out and said, 'Not a problem,'" Perry said.
White countered a few minutes later (the two appeared about 20 minutes apart at the TAB's convention and weren't in the room at the same time), saying he's disclosed far more than the governor has. And he reopened his criticism of Perry's blind trust. "People know a lot less about Rick Perry's income, assets, and debts than they do mine. That's a fact. As governor, I would not hide assets in a blind trust."
They're sparring on ethics and each other's finances as much as on issues, and on similar tacks. White says Perry has become wealthy while serving the last quarter century in government jobs and raises questions about how that's possible. Perry accuses White of using his public positions in state and local government to create opportunities he's exploited floating between the public and private sectors. White unveiled an ethics proposal this week that would limit contributions from people a governor appoints to office; White himself has received roughly $2 million in political contributions over the years from people he appointed as mayor. He says the city's contribution limits were within what he's proposed for the state. And he says Perry has been particularly abusive of the appointment process, with more than 1,000 appointees listed among his donors and 44 appointees who've given $100,000 or more.
It's not all ankle-biting. Perry gave the broadcasters his standard stump speech on the strength of the Texas economy, on the problems the state has with the federal government and about some of his campaign proposals, such as requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature before taxes can be raised (right now, a simple majority can raise taxes). Perry again scolded the Obama administration for not sending more troops to secure the border and said, "it's only a matter of time" before drug cartel violence in Mexico spills over into Texas.
White's pitch shared some elements of Perry's. He touted the state's economic strength, but took the time to argue that Perry had nothing to do with the state's present prosperity, and he said the state should focus on education to maintain its economic position, cutting dropouts and increasing graduation rates.
The action in the state's SD-22 is all in a Dallas court now, with Democrats suing to knock Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, off the ballot, and Birdwell responding (in court filings) that the challenge itself is flawed and that he's eligible anyhow.
This is the paragraph where you catch up with Our Story So Far. Birdwell won a special election for the remaining few months of Kip Averitt's term after Averitt resigned and local Republican officials voted to put him on the ballot for a full term after Averitt gave up the nomination. Democrats voted a few days later to put John Cullar on the ballot in November, and the very next morning — that would be last Friday — he and they sued to knock Birdwell off, saying his recorded vote in a November 2006 election in Virginia means he was a resident of that state on that date. And if the courts agree, that means Birdwell won't be eligible to sit in the Texas Senate until November 2011. The state constitution says you have to be a citizen of Texas for the five years before you join the Senate (it's two year for House members).
Birdwell and the Republicans have now filed their response, saying the Democrats sued the wrong guy (Steve Munisteri, the GOP state chairman), and that the Virginia voting record doesn't, by itself, prove him ineligible to serve. They also argue that, since the Virginia records weren't available to election officials who put Birdwell on the ballot, those records can't be used against him now.
The Democrats and Cullar have to respond by the end of the week (Friday the 13th), and then it's in the hands of the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, and possibly the Texas Supreme Court after that. The deadlines are tight. August 20 — that's a week from now — is the last day parties can replace candidates who come off the ballot. The courts can stretch that, but you get the general idea.
How about the politics of this? It's a Republican district. The average statewide Republican walloped the average statewide Democrat in that district by 30.3 percentage points in 2006 and 2008, according to the Texas Weekly Index. It has also been, until now, a Waco district. Republican David Sibley held it before Averitt (and lost the special election to Birdwell, and could be back in the hunt if the courts kick Birdwell out of the race), and McLennan County civic leaders of both parties were hoping to keep the seat local in 2011, when lawmakers and the courts will be redrawing political district lines.
And even if Cullar loses in court, he's got the voting records to run on. Birdwell's records in Prince William, Virginia, and Tarrant County, Texas, show him voting in both places in the November 2004 elections. And the residency issue opens the door for a carpetbagger charge against the incumbent.
Birdwell's advantages are formidable. There's the makeup of the district. He's the incumbent. He's a retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army who was badly burned in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, now making his living as a motivational speaker and head of a non-profit set up to help other burn victims. And the geography, which has kept the district in Waco's hands for years, has shifted, with Johnson and Ellis counties swelling with suburbanites from the DFW metroglob. McLennan County has 29 percent of the voters in the ten-county district, but Ellis has 19 percent and Johnson has 18 percent; taken together, they can (and in the special election, did) swing the center of gravity to the northern edge of the district. Even without the partisan advantage, Birdwell has the map on his side.
The Texas Ethics Commission has July cash on hand numbers for 2,694 political committees and campaigns that together held $167 million last month. More of the money is at the top than at the bottom. Three hundred of those outfits reported no money on hand. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Less than half — 1,031 — had $10,000 or more. And $10,000 is chump change in a Texas political season. Only 459 had more than $50,000; only 274 of the reports show balances of $100,000 or more. That last bunch is a little over 10 percent of the total number of PACs and campaigns (10.2 percent, to be precise), and they hold $136.2 million, or 82 percent of the money reported by all the filers. Just 48 of the filers had more than $500,000 and they held $90 million at mid-year — more than half the money in all the political accounts. The top tier — those in the million-dollar-plus club — numbers 25. Those accounts had dibs on $73.4 million, or 44 percent of the total.
Enough of that.
The elite include Texans for [Attorney General] Greg Abbott, who led with $11.2 million in his account. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White was next, at $9 million, followed by the Texas Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC, with $7 million; Texans for Rick Perry, with $5.9 million; the Texas Association of Realtors PAC, at $5.1 million; Friends of [Comptroller] Susan Combs, $4.6 million; [Sen.] John Whitmire, $3.6 million; [Lt. Gov.] David Dewhurst Committee, $3.6 million; Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $3.3 million; [Sen.] Kirk Watson, $1.6 million.
The next ten: [Rep. and former House Speaker] Tom Craddick, $1.5 million; Texans for [House Speaker] Joe Straus, $1.5 million; Joe Straus [a separate committee], $1.5 million; [Sen.] Rodney Ellis, $1.4 million; [Sen. Troy] Fraser for Texas Senate, $1.3 million; [former Sen.] Kip Averitt, $1.2 million; Texans for [Rep.] Dan Branch, $1.2 million; [former Rep.] Steven Wolens, $1.2 million; Texas Dental Association PAC, $1.2 million; and [Sen.] Royce West, $1.1 million.
The rest of the top 25: Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $1.1 million; Border Health PAC, $1.1 million; Texans for [Agriculture Commissioner] Todd Staples, $1.1 million; [Sen.] Kevin Eltife, $1 million; and the North Texas Leadership PAC, $1 million.
Flotsam & Jetsam
The difference between news and news lite, in one announcement from U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. News lite: He won the endorsement of the Texas Farm Bureau. It's important, but not unexpected. News: He won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association Victory Fund, which he's won before but which you might expect to favor the Republican in a closely contested race important to conservatives in Washington. Edwards' challenger is Bill Flores of Bryan, who gets good grades from the NRA, but not its PAC endorsement. Edwards played it nicely, too, creating a diversion from the other story of the day — his non-appearance with visiting VIP Barack Obama, who was in Texas to raise money in Austin and Dallas.
Put this away for later, if San Antonio Republican Jeff Wentworth really does leave the Senate later this year to take a job (not yet offered, at last check) at Texas A&M. Former House member Bill Seibert, R-San Antonio, is kicking the tires, and Rep. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, has friends calling reporters to say he's interested. Others on the list, mentioned here previously, include former Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, who's running for the House, former Chamber of Commerce honcho Joe Krier, who is married to former Sen. Cyndi Krier, R-San Antonio, and Texas Racing Commission Chairman Rolando Pablos, also R, also San Antonio. Were Wentworth to win reelection in November and then quit, it would set up a special election. Miller and Larsen would be able to run without quitting the House (we're assuming here they'll both win in November), and Pablos would have to quit the racing panel to run.
Republican state officials are once again threatening to sue the federal government, this time over legislation to provide emergency funding for government employees jobs. Texas Democrats in Congress added language requiring the state of Texas to use money designated for education only for that purpose, prompting the governor and other state officials to accuse the congressmen of playing politics with more than $800 million in funding. The Guv says the provision would require the state to guarantee future spending, and that would violate state law.
Barack Obama was only briefly in Texas this week, but long enough to raise a reported $1 million for the Democratic National Committee. And that was just the Austin fundraiser. After a speech at UT touting the importance of higher education, the President jetted off to Dallas for another fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The DNC pledged to give at least $250,000 of the money raised here to the Texas Democratic Party.
The expected budget shortfall continues its path of destruction, as Texas universities, anticipating reduced funding, are offering to buy out tenured faculty members. The University of Texas and Texas A&M currently have offers out to qualified faculty members, and hope to use the savings to avoid cuts to degree programs. The University of Houston is also considering buyouts, after it considers the economic impact of such a move.
The states economy is improving, Comptroller Susan Combs said in an interview with the Associated Press. Her agency has been reporting increases in sales tax receipts since April, although months of drops that preceded that still have the state behind its targets to keep the budget in balance.
Political People and Their Moves
Val Perkins joins the lobby shop at Gardere Wynne Sewell and will work out of the Houston and Austin offices of the firm, where he'll also continue an administrative law practice. He was most recently with the Coats Rose firm.
After General Motors announced it made $1.3 billion in the second quarter, Ed Whitacre Jr., the San Antonio exec hired to run the company after the government took it over last year, said he plans to leave at the end of the month. Whitacre's the former head of AT&T and of the board of regents at Texas Tech University.
Dallas residential real estate legend Ebby Halliday endorsed Stefani Carter for the Texas House; Carter's the Republican challenging freshman Rep. Carol Kent, in HD-102.
This one slipped by while we were on break: Marina Garcia Marmolejo is President Obama's choice for the federal court seat left open by Samuel Kent's resignation (he quit after pleading guilty to sexually harassing two female assistants). She's from San Antonio and works in the Reid Davis law firm and is a former assistant U.S. attorney.
The president isn't the only out-of-stater dragging the sack in Texas: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, is having a fundraiser at the home of Lisa Luby Ryan and Jay Ryan in Dallas next weekend. It's $100 a head minimum.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Victor Negrón Jr. of San Antonio as judge of the 438th District Court. Negron is an attorney and a former judge.The Guv also appointed Marc Brown of Houston as judge of the 180th District Court. Brown heads the grand jury division of the Harris County District Attorney's office.
Deaths: Monsignor Fred Bomar of Austin, former chaplain of the Texas House and the Texas Senate and more recently, the pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church. He was 75.
Quotes of the Week
State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, discussing the legal status of undocumented immigrants, on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360: If they are over here illegally, they are not here legally. She also told a producer for the program that pregnant foreigners are visiting the U.S. as tourists to have babies they then take back home "with the nefarious purpose of turning them into little terrorists who will then come back to the U.S. and do us harm." And without naming names, she sourced that story: "That is information that is coming to my office from former FBI officials."
Former FBI official Thomas Fuentes, on the same show the next day: "There seem to be a lot of former FBI agents lurking in the halls of Congress and in the Legislature in the state of Texas, so I'm kind of curious about that issue as well."
Texas Commission on Jail Standards executive Director Adan Muñoz, after the Dallas County Jail passed its inspection for the first time since 2004, in the Texas Tribune: Dallas County is in compliance — in my lifetime.
Former Dallas mayor and current U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to The Dallas Morning News: "I'm done. I'm never running again for anything."
Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton, in The New York Times, on the Democratic candidate for governor not appearing with Barack Obama in Texas: I dont think it says anything broadly about the presidents coattails. I think it says that Bill White had something else going on today that he would rather do than campaign with the president.
Gov. Rick Perry, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News: Look, I'm a passionate guy. And when I'm passionate, my arms may get out. I may, you know, pound on the podium. I may walk around the stage. Now, if my opponents find that to be showboating, then, you know, I can't help it if they're dull."
Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 30, 16 August 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 716-8611.