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Reality Check

You're looking at a strong election year if your downgraded forecasts have you picking up four to seven seats in the Texas House. Republican prognosticators are getting over some of their Labor Day exuberance (the predictions then, from the mouths of people who are usually sober about these things, was for a dozen-seat pickup). And they're learning that some of their candidates aren't perfect, a set of revelations that befalls everyone in politics around this time of the election cycle.

You're looking at a strong election year if your downgraded forecasts have you picking up four to seven seats in the Texas House. Republican prognosticators are getting over some of their Labor Day exuberance (the predictions then, from the mouths of people who are usually sober about these things, was for a dozen-seat pickup). And they're learning that some of their candidates aren't perfect, a set of revelations that befalls everyone in politics around this time of the election cycle.

People watching Texas politics close have got seats they think their side should win, based on the numbers and the political environment and the qualities, good and bad, of their candidates and the opposition.

They've got seats they think they should win but which have become uncertain because the other side is strong or their own side has newly discovered weaknesses.

And they've got seats they should win but might fritter away, because their own candidates tripped or because the opposition is unexpectedly good.

In other words, what works on paper doesn't always work in the field. We've remixed our rankings of the hot seats this week to reflect new things coming from Out There. On paper, Republicans have more opportunities to win seats in the Texas House than the Democrats do. Democrats still have more incumbents in peril. As they've taken swing seats from the Republicans over the last several election cycles, they've left their folks defending the electoral castles they once stormed. For example, five of the six seats at the top of our rankings are held by Democrats. Four of five in the next group are held by Democrats.

Take Mark Homer, D-Paris. He's in a tough race against Republican Erwin Cain of Sulphur Springs and could lose it, especially in this Republican year. But he's been in this situation every two years for a while now, and knows how to dig out. Joe Heflin, from West Texas, is similarly situated but has, by many accounts, a tougher challenge coming from Republican Jim Landtroop of Plainview. Five Republican challengers in the most competitive races are seeking to knock off Democrats who won for the first time two years ago. Unlike candidates like Homer, they're not battle-hardened from constant challenges. And they haven't been around long enough to show off their legislative wins for constituents.

Statewide candidates are becoming media presences; don't expect that down the ballot for another couple of weeks. What you see will depend on the amount of money available; week after next, we'll all get a look at the 30-day finance reports. Candidates had until Thursday (9/23) to raise money for those reports. Their results are due in the mitts of the Texas Ethics Commission by Monday, October 4. And there's another report due three weeks after that, on October 25.

Down on the Farm

The Texas Farm Bureau, which has had a testy relationship with Gov. Rick Perry for at least a dozen years (dating from his 1998 race for Lite Guv against Democrat John Sharp) is staying out of the general election, endorsing none of the major or minor candidates.

The organization's AGFUND aggressively backed Kay Bailey Hutchison in the GOP primary, announcing in late 2009 that it favored the state's senior senator over the incumbent. They're not with Perry now, but they're not signing on with Democrat Bill White, either; their board of directors voted unanimously to remain neutral.

The group was instrumental in getting Perry into statewide office in the first place, supporting his bid for agriculture commissioner in 1990 against Democrat Jim Hightower, who at the time appeared to be a politically formidable incumbent. The tension from the 1998 race blossomed with the group's opposition to Perry's proposal, as governor, for a Trans Texas Corridor — a now-abandoned plan for a vast network of roads and rails and infrastructure spanning the state

AGFUND usually backs Republican candidates in statewide races and has endorsed GOP candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and agriculture commissioner.

What Would Sarah Do?

On Tuesday evening, Sarah Palin’s thoughts turned to Texas’ 30th Congressional District. “It’s an honor to support Stephen Broden,” she posted to her Facebook page, referring to the little-known challenger to U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas. “As a Commonsense Constitutional Conservative, he is committed to getting our country back to the founding principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility."

Palin’s post may have marked the first time most Texans ever heard of Broden, a man who describes himself as someone “deeply interested and concerned about the direction of our nation.” A founder and senior pastor of Fair Park Bible Fellowship and president of the affiliated outreach organization Fair Park Friendship Center, he has been active in politics and social issues, particularly the pro-life movement, since the early 1980s.

When he announced his candidacy in 2009, Broden threw himself into an uphill, seemingly unwinnable battle against Johnson, an 18-year incumbent who won her last two elections by more than 80 percent. The polling gurus at The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog forecast a 100 percent chance of Democratic victory. But these things don't always work like it says in the recipe: The Dallas Morning News reported that Johnson funneled Congressional Black Caucus scholarship money to her relatives and those of a top aide while denying other applicants. D Magazine's headline was "The Worst Grandmother in America." Not long after the scandal broke, Palin privately let Broden know she’d be sending a blast of support to her fans.

While it may not propel Broden to certain or even likely victory (the Times hasn't revised its prediction), Palin’s nod of approval and the ensuing media attention can’t hurt. He says the Times and others that doubt his chances of success are using an old paradigm to analyze the district. “They’re looking at a history that doesn’t include the current attitudes, the current atmosphere, the current disdain and disgust that is out there — the current situation with respect to the economy, with respect to unemployment and with respect to this scandal,” he says.

Polls Apart

The American Future Fund's newest ad attacks U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, for his ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and his vote for President Barack Obama's stimulus package. Among four TV ads the Iowa-based conservative advocacy group released this week targeting Democrats nationwide, the spot urges voters to take the "right path" on Election Day: "against Chet Edwards." That's the second national group to enter the CD-17 race against Edwards. The National Republican Congressional Committee is also running ads across the district. This is the second ad the American Future Fund has released in CD-17. The first one, "Tricked," launched Sept. 15.

Republic Bill Flores released part of an internal poll that — consider the source — shows the Bryan challenger leading Edwards by 19 points and has Flores above 50 percent in Brazos County, home to Bryan-College Station, and the populous Fort Worth suburbs of Johnson County. Conducted by Wes Anderson of OnMessage Inc., the poll surveyed 400 likely voters on Sept. 19-20 and had a 4.9 percent margin of error. It also included Libertarian candidate Richard B. Kelly, who got a mere 3 percent. With the Sept. 30 closing date approaching for the Federal Election Commission's October reporting deadline, the decision to publicize the poll could be an effort to galvanize last-minute donors. No independent polls have been made public in the race. The Edwards camp has refused to make its own internal numbers public, but they say their polling indicates the contest is competitive.

Texas vs. Washington, Cont’d.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed another legal challenge against the federal government — this time over language that prevents Texas from receiving $830 million in federal education money. The provision added by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, requires Texas to use the federal money in addition to what the state is spending on education, and not instead of what it's now spending. The governor and others say they're prohibited by the Texas Constitution from binding the hands of future legislatures and thus can't legally promise the feds they won't cut education funding between now and 2013, as the Doggett amendment requires.

"No” isn't necessarily the Education Department’s final answer. A day before Abbott filed suit, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he thinks Texas will ultimately get the money. “I'm very hopeful they will. There's a huge need there," Duncan told reporters.

Gov. Rick Perry remains doubtful, however, since his office has been unable to get written assurances that the Education Department will reserve the funds for Texas. Meanwhile, Doggett isn’t buying Abbott’s argument. He issued a statement responding to the legal challenge, saying, “This is another act of political theatre, reflected in a press release longer than the accompanying legal petition.”

Another Choice

Texas Libertarians are going after Latino voters. “In 45 days there are going to be over 150 Libertarian Party candidates on the ballot,” says party Chairman Pat Dixon. “This is part of the vehicle that’s going to deliver our message to Texas.”

The “vehicle” is the recently launched Texas Libertarios, a new political action committee aimed at courting the Latino vote. Events in the Rio Grande Valley are already being discussed, and Dixon is convinced the party’s message will resonate with Hispanics.

He says Republicans and Democrats have alienated Latinos with their stances on immigration. Republicans want to close the door, and Democrats want to limit the number of hard-working immigrants the U.S. lets in, Dixon believes. Instead, the Libertarian Party believes in less paperwork and fewer bureaucratic hurdles.

Dixon said he knows the perception is that Libertarians usually help Democrats by taking votes from Republican candidates, but said he believes votes intended for Democrats are just as likely to make their way toward Libertarian candidates. The Rio Grande Valley isn’t a bad place to try to switch some of that support.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Texas First Lady Anita Perry will host a fundraiser for New Mexico gubernatorial candidate at an Austin steakhouse next week. Susana Martinez is one of the Republicans from other states being touted in campaign stops by Gov. Rick Perry. He says he's doing that not because of national aspirations — he says he has none — but because he's involved in the Republican Governor's Association and because his pushback on federal policies and programs is easier if there are more Republican governors out there. You'll remember that New Mexico is a swing state in presidential elections. Just saying.

Stefani Carter, the Republican trying to knock off state Rep. Carol Kent in Dallas County's HD-102, got the endorsement of Garland Mayor Ronald Jones. She bills Garland in her press release as "the second-largest city in this north Dallas County district." The biggest? Dallas.

• State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown has put up liberalloretta.com to attack Democratic challenger Loretta Haldenwang with, among other things, what appears to be a stumbling answer to a question about education at a voter forum (a spokesman for Harper-Brown says it is an unaltered recording) and a charge that, as a House staffer, "she tried to pass legislation to raise taxes on working families and dramatically increase government spending." It also features a page listing the groups that support Haldenwang (Annie's List, Back to Basics PAC, the Texas Democratic Trust, etc.).

• Gov. Rick Perry, who decided to snub the editorial boards at the state's newspapers, did go in front of all of them together, talking to the National Conference of Editorial Writers at their conference in Dallas. But he made them mad just the same, declining to take questions after his talk. That prompted their president, Tom Waseleski of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to post a cranky letter on the group's website, protesting his explanation that he didn't have time for the back and forth. To wit: "... Had it been due to a tight schedule, we would have understood. But, clearly, you had ample time to work the room by shaking hands both before and after your talk. You also gave an extended interview before TV cameras in the hallway, in full view of NCEW members for whom you indicated you had no more time. ... If you had hoped to make a positive impression on this national press group, I must tell you that you utterly failed."

• Press releases, Part One, from the Libertarians: "Libertarians fight to break cycle of battered gay voter syndrome... Like abused spouses who keep returning to their aggressors, gay voters keep handing their votes to the Democrats who abuse them."

• Press releases, Part Two, from the Democrats: "You may vote early by mail if you are ... confined in jail, but eligible to vote."

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Still just giddy with anticipation over how big the budget shortfall will be next year? Although Bill White and other Democrats have pressed for specific numbers now, Comptroller Susan Combs is sticking with her original plan of releasing the tally in January. Gov. Rick Perry says it’s impossible to tell what the final total will be but says he thinks it will be somewhere between the $10 billion to $21 billion dollar estimates being floated.

Other budget battles are being waged across the state as tax revenues and property values continue their decline. Dallas County, while cutting its current operating budget by 3 percent, still required a property tax rate increase. Also included in the budget: 130 job cuts. Remaining employees will see no salary increases for the third year in a row.

In the race for agriculture commissioner, Democratic candidate Hank Gilbert accused his opponent, Todd Staples, of running a lax inspection program of gas pumps and says he’s hurting rural Texans. Gilbert made the charge in front of a station whose pumps hadn’t been inspected since 2004. Staples’ campaign responded with a laundry list of all the reforms the current ag commissioner has made, including a phone number Texans can call if they suspect noncompliance.

Texas college students who rallied in support of the so-called DREAM Act were disappointed to learn that the U.S. Senate wouldn’t even take up the bill in question, killing it. The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act spelled out a path to temporary resident status for students who had entered the country as children. Conditions were attached that would require immigrants to attend college or serve in the U.S. military for specified lengths of time. The University Leadership Initiative, which sponsored the rally, released a statement noting its commitment to continue pushing for the measure.

Farouk Shami might not have been able to get elected governor, but he accomplished something that major media organizations have not been able to this fall. At the inaugural event of his new nonprofit organization Arab-American Voters, Shami had Rick Perry and Bill White on the same stage to talk politics and the future of the state (albeit at different times). The organization aims to get Arab-Americans registered to vote and to the polls.

A Houston Chronicle review produced some interesting figures on the effects of emergency federal stimulus funds. Total amount spent in Texas: $4.6 billion. Total jobs saved or created: 47,704. The money went into projects throughout the state and includes road-building, public transportation, digitizing of medical records, roadway and waterway improvements, and clean energy. Critics contend that the money did not stimulate private sector job growth and that advocates can only speculate on what the economy would have looked like without it.

Just when the Forensic Science Commission appeared poised to put the whole Cameron Todd Willingham matter to rest, a pair of commissioners are requesting more time for questioning. The commission has been tasked with determining if the investigators of the 1992 fire used appropriate and up-to-date scientific techniques in their investigation of the fire that claimed the lives of Willingham’s three daughters. His conviction on arson charges led to his execution in 2004. There is a lingering dispute over whether the evidence used in his conviction was based on faulty or outdated arson investigative techniques. Since the whole commission is not satisfied with the answers put forward, it looks like the controversy will live on until it meets again.

Texans have an image to maintain, and they’re working hard at remaining the gun-toting citizens the rest of the country thinks they are. Texas Department of Public Safety records show a huge jump in the number of concealed handgun licenses in 2009. Statewide, the figure was up 61 percent over the previous year. DPS says it’s needed extra staff just to handle the demand.

Nonprofits in Texas are under the gun to get paperwork filled out protecting their tax-exempt status. The Internal Revenue Service published a list of 23,000 nonprofits that haven’t filled out the proper forms and could have their tax-exempt status revoked. New rules that took effect three years ago are now being felt — if an organization didn’t have to file before the reporting requirements changed, it may not have filed in the intervening years. The IRS is giving groups until Oct. 15 to get their forms in to avoid losing their 501(c)(3) status, allowing donors to take a tax credit for their donation.

Political People and Their Moves

Add Eddie Solis to the roster at Hillco Partners, the Austin-based lobby firm. He'll join their municipal and pension practice. Solis has been at the Texas Municipal Retirement System for three years and worked for 16 years before that the Texas comptroller's office.

Kevin Koller, until recently the assistant director of tax administration for the state comptroller, is joining the DuCharme, McMillen and Associates tax consultancy.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has been named chairwoman of the Texas Steering Committee for TechComm, a new endeavor trying to secure patents and expand technology to help business.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed H.J. “Jay” Shands III of Lufkin to the Finance Commission of Texas. Shands is president and CEO of First Bank & Trust East Texas.

Quotes of the Week

Gov. Rick Perry speaking in Midland on the projections of a budget shortfall as reported by the Midland Reporter-Telegram: "I think it's a little bit premature to be getting your crystal ball out or your Ouija board or whatever these people are using."

Bill Flores, the Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, to The Washington Post on whether he’d vote for U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, for speaker of the House: "The real answer is, 'I don't know.'"

Linda Chavez-Thompson, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, on why she continues to support President Barack Obama, to The Texas Tribune: "I am proud to have supported him. I am proud he is our president. He has taken on some of the toughest issues that he was left with in his presidency, whether that's health care, the wars, the economic problems that we have. He is trying to deal with them. At least he is trying to do something about them. That's what I want to do."

Democratic judicial candidate Jim Sharp, talking to the Austin American-Statesman about having lieutenant governor candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson on the ticket: "Are you trying to lose? Is this a recipe for complete disaster?"

Author Terrence Poppa, a former reporter with the El Paso Herald-Post and author of Drug Lord, on U.S. drug policy, to The Texas Tribune: "Is it really worth compromising the security of the United States and unraveling the fabric of Mexican society in order to keep X number of people in this country from using drugs — something they are going to do anyway?"

Gov. Rick Perry, on former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami, at a kickoff event for his Arab American Voters organization, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "He's got better hair than I've got."

Texas Forensic Science Commission Chair John Bradley, on the board's next meeting on the Cameron Todd Willingham case, quoted in The Texas Tribune: “I seriously doubt the next hearing will be anything more than a political farce."

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


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 36, 27 September 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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