Twice as many people showed up for the first three days of early voting in the state's top 15 counties as came out four years ago, according to the Texas Secretary of State. Through the end of the day Wednesday (there's a lag in the reporting and those were the latest numbers as we published), 435,007 people had voted, compared with 219,436 four years ago. As a percentage of registered voters, that's 5.22 percent this year as opposed to 2.7 percent four years ago. Early voting continues for another week. During the 2006 gubernatorial election, 13.2 percent of the registered voters in those top 15 counties voted early.
If you look at the whole state, the early turnout was 13.2 percent in 2006 and the overall turnout was 33.6 percent. Put another way, two in five voters cast their ballots before Election Day in 2006. All told, 4.4 million people voted in that governor's race; don't be surprised if that rises to around 5 million this year.
The cheerleading from partisans is about where it was a few weeks ago, with Republicans outshouting Democrats and the political climate still appearing to favor the Red Team. Talk of a Democratic takeover of the Texas House is hard to find. And as we've noted all along, most of the swing seats in the Lege's lower chamber are held by Democrats anyway; any change at all, for that reason, tends to favor Republicans. Our watch list has 29 statehouse races on it and only seven of those are held by Republicans.
Current polling underscores that. Gov. Rick Perry is maintaining an 11-point lead over Democrat Bill White, according to a survey from Fort Worth GOP consultant Bryan Eppstein (through his Lighthouse Opinion Polling & Research), done on behalf of the Texas Civil Justice League, Texas Medical Association and the Texas Farm Bureau. He's got the split at 48-37, with 11 percent undecided and the rest going to minor-party candidates. It shows Perry with a 15-point advantage in the Houston media market, tied in Dallas and ahead in every other geographic area except for Austin and the border. Is it a national thing? Maybe: The poll has Sarah Palin beating Barack Obama among Texas voters in a hypothetical matchup with a result that looks a lot like the Guv's race: 51-36. (White's a point above Obama; Perry's three points behind Palin.)
The last financial reports from campaigns have to be filed with the state on Monday based on spending and fundraising from September 23 through Saturday (10/23); telegraph reports will cover large contributions from there until Election Day.
Friends in Low Places
Third parties are dumping money into the state's 17th congressional district, either seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, or protect him from Republican Bill Flores of Bryan. According to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, various groups have spent $816,827 trying to knock off the incumbent, while others spent $57,597 in opposition to Flores. The "pro" money has been slight by comparison: $3,408 spent in support for Edwards, $3,212 on Flores' behalf. The biggest blasts at Edwards have come from the National Republican Congressional Committee ($401,440), followed by the American Future Fund ($251,301) and American Crossroads ($164,086). More than a quarter of that spending was made in the last week, according to the report. The third-party shots at Flores have come from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, all in the last week.
The same thing's happening in the other hot congressional race in Texas, but the third parties are more favorable to the incumbent than to the challenger in that one, according to CRP. U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio has seen $120,883 spent supporting him and $310,880 against him. Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco, on the other hand, has had $1 million spent against him and only $17,531 trying to say nice things about him. The big players? The DCCC, spending $652,301, the NRCC, spending $267,501, and The American Worker, spending $386,340.
And here's where the money's going: The National Republican Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee both released new ads in CD-17 attacking their respective opponents. The NRCC hit Edwards over ties to Speaker Nancy Pelosi; the DCCC attacked Flores over what it called his plan to privatize Social Security. National conservative group American Crossroads released its first ad in the CD-17 race, attacking Edwards for his support of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
The King Street Patriots are racking up their legal fees for offenses connected to their pre-election activities in Harris County.
The Texas Democratic Party is seeking monetary damages against the Houston-area Tea Party group for the "1960s style" voter intimidation Democrats say already occurred at the polls on the first day of early voting. The complaint also asks the court to halt what it characterizes as in-kind support of Republican candidates in violation of its nonprofit status. During a conference call with reporters, Texas Democratic Party lawyer Chad Dunn accused the group of "blatantly ignoring our election laws" and said that, even in the first "three or four hours" of early voting, witnesses in minority precincts had reported representatives from the group "shouting misinformation" and "following voters and standing behind them" as they tried to vote. The party is also trying to employ a Texas law that requires state-chartered nonprofits to reveal where they're getting their money in an attempt to find out who's funding the Patriots.
In an ethics complaint filed last week, watchdog organization Texans for Public Justice accused the Patriots and their anti-voter fraud initiative, True the Vote, of making in-kind donations to political parties and candidates worth "tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars," which Texas law prohibits it from doing as a nonprofit corporation. Those contributions include promoting Republican candidates for office and producing professional videos and communication materials to recruit "conservative" poll watchers for the Harris County Republican Party.
In a statement, the Liberty Institute, the conservative legal foundation that represents the group, called the lawsuit an "embarrassment" and an attempt to "bind and gag citizens from speaking out during an election.
The group also faces a defamation lawsuit for statements made by one of its leaders, Catherine Engelbrecht, linking a Harris County voter registration drive to the New Black Panthers.
Traveling Texas lawmakers are finding out just how fascinating redistricting is to average Texans in a series of public hearings around the state. After the final U.S. census count is completed, demographers say, Texas could gain three or four additional seats in the U.S. House. South Texas could grab one of those spots due to its population growth over the last decade. Initial estimates had Texas gaining as many as four seats, but a less-than-stellar census has some thinking that will drop to three.
Meanwhile, the Abilene Reporter-News reports that lawmakers and stakeholders in West Texas have growing concerns over how the census results could affect their representation in Washington. U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, said the area could ultimately keep the three seats it has but that the districts they cover could grow in size, the paper reported. But Craig Goodman, an assistant professor of political science at Texas Tech University, said the process could be really brutal for the area. Growth in the area hasnt kept pace with the rest of the state, he said, which could lead to an inter-party showdown.
In a Huff
Williamson County has a new Democratic Party chairman — Brian Hamon — and that's news more because of the way the job came open than because of the new guy.
On Tuesday, Williamson County Democratic Party Chairman Gregory Windham endorsed Republican Larry Gonzales, the Republican running to unseat state Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock, in HD-52, and abruptly resigned his post. Now, both sides are claiming that the other one got the raw end of the deal.
It is quite apparent that many members of the Williamson County Democratic Party leadership are interested in following a more liberal national agenda than listening to the majority of their constituents here locally, Windham wrote in a letter to his former fellow Democrats. I have a hatred of tyranny and contempt for its tools and being that I cannot sit down quietly and allow my mind be used for the spreading of an agenda that will further divide our citizenry, I choose now to resign as Chairman.
Shortly after his resignation, the party detailed its grievances in a press release. Among them, that he hijacked the communication tools of the party, advised Democrats not to donate to Democratic candidates, engaged in personal attacks against party members, has a criminal history and has endorsed the legalization of marijuana.
Luis Zervigon, the first vice chairman of the Williamson County Democratic Party, says the party was so relieved to see Windham go — a move they had been advocating for months — that there has been little need for damage control. We see him as doing damage to Larry Gonzales, Zervigon says. Hes Larry Gonzales problem now, and not ours. Were proceeding with the business of the party.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Eva Guzman, the Republican facing her first election on the Texas Supreme Court, picked up an endorsement from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
Jeff Weems, the Democratic candidate for railroad commissioner, released his first TV campaign ad, which will run in select cable markets in North and East Texas.
Gov. Rick Perrys campaign released two new Spanish-language ads online, both emphasizing the governor's record of creating jobs and supporting small businesses.
Pat Boone and his white shoes have taken sides in that Edwards-Flores congressional race; he doesn't live in the district, but the former music star says the group he now heads — the 60 Plus Association — is for Flores.
Bill White's got a singer, too; he's touring college campuses Friday with Robert Earl Keen, hitting Denton, Nacogdoches, College Station and San Marcos.
Late hit: The Republican Party of Texas revives an attack on state Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, saying he doesn't live in the district he represents, but next door, in St. Augustine. They say he's got a homestead exemption there and bolstered their case with "photo surveillance of his farmhouse with his vehicle and State Official license plates parked in front."
The Week in the Rearview Mirror
The case to reexamine the arson evidence used to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham saw another twist as the 3rd Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay to stop the proceedings. District Judge Charlie Baird was conducting a court of inquiry and was preparing to rule on the question of whether Willingham was convicted using faulty science. The plaintiffs have until Oct. 22 to respond.
Following the recent spate of suicides by gay teens nationwide, one Texas political voice has become part of the national discussion. Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns used time at a City Council meeting to reach out to teens who are being bullied and to let them know that it will get better, the theme of an online video project aimed at struggling gay youths. Burns speech, posted on YouTube, has been viewed about 2 million times and has been linked to thousands of times on Facebook. The response has been so overwhelming that Burns has a team sorting through the thousands of e-mails and phone calls hes been receiving to identify issues he can help with.
Three of the candidates in the governors race participated in a debate sponsored by five of the states largest newspapers and Austin public television station KLRU. They spent most of their time talking about the one candidate who wasnt there: front-runner Rick Perry, who took hits on every topic that came up, including education, spending and border security. Democrat Bill White used the opportunity to continue his characterization of Perrys administration as a political machine, while Libertarian Kathie Glass attacked Perrys conservative credentials with some pointed one-liners. Green Party candidate Deb Shafto was unable to think of a single positive thing she would credit Perry for during his 10-year tenure as governor.
The military hearing of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of killing 13 people and injuring 32 at Fort Hood in Killeen in November, proceeded with a string of witnesses testifying against Hasan. The pretrial hearing will determine whether Hasan will stand trial on the charges of murder and attempted murder and possibly determine whether he faces the death penalty. Witnesses testified that they saw Hasan bypass civilians and shoot only at soldiers.
The trial against Rep. Kino Flores, D-Mission, whos facing 12 counts of falsifying governmental records and three counts of perjury, is under way in Travis County. The South Texas Democrat faces a myriad of charges against him relating to ethics and financial disclosure statements. Although he pleaded not guilty to the charges and his attorney argued that the case was strictly about proper procedure and paperwork, the prosecution presented testimony linking Flores to a man convicted of Medicaid fraud. Eliseo Sandoval, serving 10 years for his part in the theft of over $4 million from Medicaid, testified that Flores helped him avoid Medicaid auditors and fraud investigators while accepting money from Sandoval.
Bill Whites newest corruption allegation against Rick Perry is that the governor rewards friends by using the power of his office to ensure they are hired for investment work at the Teacher Retirement System. White based his statements on a memo written by Michael Green, a former employee at the agency, that attempts to blow the whistle on what he says are unethical practices. The system already had an outside consultant investigate and make recommendations based on his conclusions, which uncovered no wrongdoing.
Political People and Their Moves
The National Republican Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee both released new ads in CD-17 attacking their respective opponents. The NRCC hit U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards over ties to Speaker Nancy Pelosi; the DCCC attacked Flores over what it called his plan to privatize Social Security. National conservative group American Crossroads released its first ad in the CD-17 race, attacking Edwards for his support of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, hired Servando Esparza as a legislative assistant. Previously, he worked for Sen. Kip Averitt in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources during the 81st legislative session.
Quotes of the Week
Gov. Rick Perry opening up during a discussion on the effectiveness of programs that promote abstinence in Texas, in an interview with The Texas Tribune's Evan Smith: "I'm going to tell you, from my own personal life, that abstinence works."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White when asked by Smith if hed sign legislation legalizing medical marijuana: Its like if somebody said, Hey, theres a giant iceberg moving across the Panhandle, would you go ask people to evacuate, and where to?
Former White House adviser Karl Rove: "I am delighted that the president seems to be so obsessed with me. [Im like] the great white whale, and theyre Ahab trying to spear me."
Fort Worth-based Republican consultant Brian Eppstein: "This is not a race between Republicans and Democrats. It's a race between conservatives and Obama."
Bill Flores campaign manager Matt Mackowiak, defending his candidate's recent comment that indicated he supported raising the retirement age on Social Security, quoted in the Bryan-College Station Eagle: "The absence of evidence is evidence."
Marisol Valles García, the 20-year-old female student now heading the police force in El Porvenir, quoted in the El Paso Times: "It is my community. We all dream about peace."
Former U.S. Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine, describing in a new book what he shouted at President Lyndon B. Johnson after mistaking the latter for an intruder in Johnson's home immediately after the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy, in The Huffington Post: "Let me see your face, you bastard!"
Former first lady Laura Bush on the Tea Party and the future of the Republican Party, to the Tribune: "Itll be interesting to watch from the sidelines. Thats what George and I are doing. Were not in politics anymore, and we dont really have to answer politics sort of questions."
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, quoted in the Washington Post on asking for stimulus money for his district after opposing the legislation that created it: "What I have not done is allow my strong, principled objection to the bill to prevent me from asking federal agencies for their full consideration of critical infrastructure and competitive grant projects for North Texas when asked to do so by my constituents."
Glenn Shankle, former head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, asked during state Rep. Kino Flores' ethics trial how many public officials have called him over the years seeking jobs for friends and relatives, quoted in the Rio Grande Guardian: "Is 'a lot' a number?"
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on Staples' opponent, Hank Gilbert, as quoted in The Dallas Morning News: "I think I would have shot him by now, if I was you."
Contributors: Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Ceryta Holm, David Muto and Morgan Smith
Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 40, 25 October 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.