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Spooked

Not every Democrat we know is twitchy or nervous or jumpy or scared — maybe they're not in the Halloween frame of mind. But candidates and consultants who ordinarily aren't worried at all are uncertain, and in a negative way — not the state you want to be in during the closing days of a campaign.

Not every Democrat we know is twitchy or nervous or jumpy or scared — maybe they're not in the Halloween frame of mind. But candidates and consultants who ordinarily aren't worried at all are uncertain, and in a negative way — not the state you want to be in during the closing days of a campaign.

This is all over but the voting, the lawsuits, recounts and ethics fines. Voters are angry, by most accounts, but their anger isn't necessarily consistent. It's aimed at incumbents here, Democrats there, mainstream Republicans over there, and so on. The political economy is humming, with $44 million in transactions during the last 30 days and a half-dozen House races that have surpassed the $1 million mark. Rick Perry pulled ahead of Bill White on the financial front (by about $4.3 million) and in the latest polls, including a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll that found Perry up by 10 points and a survey for the state's major newspapers that found Perry ahead by 12 percentage points.

Democrats began the political season with hopes of knocking off two or three Republicans in the Texas House, enough to return them to that body's majority. There were all kinds of theories way back then, ten months ago. Perry was facing the most popular Texas Republican in office, in Kay Bailey Hutchison. And White, the former mayor of Houston, was on the Democratic ticket, ready to go toe-to-toe financially and otherwise with whichever Republican escaped the primary. But the winds of anger at Washington swept Perry easily past Hutchison and have propelled him through a general election campaign in which he largely ignored his opponent

It's the time of the political year when you have to excuse some of the liars. Not the ones running for office — the ones working for them, spinning reporters and donors and others with tales of how well everything is going. Half of them will be issuing apologies next week, saying they knew all along that their candidates were croutons, but they had to keep their spirits up just in case lightning hit the spot.

We'll send you to the charts, including the final Hot List of the cycle, a link to the full 8-day reports in comparative, interactive form, and our own concoction on campaign finance, in which we add the money spent by each campaign since mid-year to the amount they had on hand in their latest reports. The big Kahunas are the aforementioned gubernatorial candidates, but there are some whoppers down the ballot. State Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, is the prizewinner so far, having spent and/or hoarded $1.1 million in a race that's gobbling up TV minutes in the Austin market. Jim Dunnam, the Waco Democrat who makes some Republicans sputter like Elmer Fudd in the presence of Bugs Bunny, faces a seriously well-financed challenger in Marva Beck. She jumped over the half-million mark in contributions in her latest report.

The viewer's guide to next Tuesday is pretty simple. Two of the state's 32 congressional seats are hot and could easily flip from the Democrats to the Republicans. There aren't any races worth attention in the Texas Senate (tip your hat or raise your middle finger to the people who drew that particular redistricting map). And the House will be a pretty good measure of what kind of year this is. The Democrats who started with the idea that they might be able to get a majority face the very real prospect of losing a half dozen seats or more. The post-election House mix will provide a pretty good measure of just how Republican a year this really is.

And the money:

Inside Intelligence

We're starting a new weekly feature with our sister publication The Texas Tribune: A survey of insiders on questions of the moment, called Inside Intelligence. We sent questions to more than 400 lobbyists, consultants, former officeholders and others to see how they think things are going in the last week of the governor's race. We didn't ask current officeholders or their staffs, and we used an Internet service that prevents non-invitees from voting and prevents invitees from voting more than once. We'll do a new one every week, running in Texas Weekly on Friday and sometime the next week in the Tribune.

We got a good response to this first effort — 121 took the survey, saying how they'll vote in the governor's race, who they think will win, and their short analysis of what's up. Our respondents identified their own party preferences: 48 percent Republican, 31 percent Democrat, and 19 percent independent. That leaves 2 percent "other".

How'd they vote? Rick Perry beat Bill White 55 percent to 38 percent in this unscientific poll. And the insiders think it's over: 95 percent said Perry will win, only 3 percent picked the Democrat and the rest would undecided or didn't want to choose.

Here's where it got interesting, and why we wanted to ping the insiders for their opinions; the insiders gave verbatim responses to the question, "What are the biggest factors affecting the outcome?" A sampling follows (you can download the full set here):

• "Economy and jobs"

• "Turnout among urban African Americans and Hispanics in South Texas and the Valley"

• "Turnout, message, style of candidate"

• "Disgust with the Democratic Party generally and nationally, more specifically."

• "The Texas economy in comparison to the rest of the nation. Tea party fervor and negatives of national Democratic party positions on key issues to Texans."

• "For some inexplicable reason, White tried to make this race a referendum on himself rather than a referendum on Perry."

• "Turnout in Harris County and the Libertarian vote"

• "Anger at the Democrats in Washington. Perry has effectively become a "cheerleader" on that issue."

• "Texas is doing better than the rest of the nation. Perry is a monster campaigner. White could have been competitive but ran a poor campaign."

• "Disaffected Democrats in an overwhelmingly Republican year. It is a real Double-Whammy."

• "Obama and the dismal Democrats (who ever thought I'd be missing Lyndon?), Money, Lack of 'effective' coverage of the issues and positions, Bill White can take any issue and wonk it out"

• "Houston turnout for White"

• "anti-Obama, anti-Washington, anti-spending"

• "Perry fatigue being outpaced by anti-Washington fervor"

• "Perry's done a good job and Texas works well compared to every other state in the nation. White may be a good person individually but I would be worried about his appointees and staff as having too many 'community organizers'."

• "Perry staying on message. White not being able to find a consistent meassage. White running from The President."

• "National trend for Republicans."

• "The White campaign didn't drive a coherent message that effectively exploited Perry's vulnerabilities."

• "Texas is a politically conservative state. The Democratic candidate has not generated any excitement among his base. More importantly, he has not done anything to move independents. He ran the same campaign as the Hutchison campaign."

• "Voter turnout, national backlash against Democrats, concern re Bill White's ties to trial lawyers and organized labor"

• "Three decades of confusion (make it five)"

• "Anger and the mobilization of that anger."

• "It's Texas. Obama, Pelosi and Reid are a millstone around Bill White's neck."

• "1) National tidal wave and Obama back-lash, 2) Bill White's micro-management of his own campaign, and specifically that he do all the talking in his ads. He is terrible on camera. His low energy makes David Porter interesting."

• "Perry's ability to use Obama's negatives; the national economy; subpar White campaign organization."

• "Fear"

A Familiar Brew

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston announced the formation of yet another Dan Patrick-led group in response to the Tea Party movement.

In April, he rolled out the Independent Conservative Republicans of Texas, dedicated to five core principles (not to be confused with the five slightly different guiding principles of The Common Sense Texans Network, the main network of Tea Party organizations in Texas). Patrick’s group was quickly joined by 15 other Republican senators and 54 House members.

Now Patrick has announced the formation of the Tea Party Caucus. According to the corresponding press release, a board of 11 legislators from both chambers will lead the caucus, though Patrick says that number could expand given high levels of interest. Known board members include Republican Reps. Wayne Christian of Center, Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Ken Paxton of McKinney and recently elected Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Waco, each listed in the release. On the phone, Patrick later added that Rep. Sid Miller of Stephenville, Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville and Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls should be on that list.

Patrick said that the new caucus is “vastly different” from ICROT. The latter, he said, was “designed to make a statement of who we were as Republican legislators, that we put people before party. It was not intended to be an active caucus. It served its purpose well, and that work is pretty much done.”

The Tea Party Caucus will actively work with Tea Party leaders to push a conservative, Tea Party-approved agenda. Continued membership in the group is contingent upon supporting that agenda, as well as signing the Texas Conservative Coalition Pledge with Texas and getting high marks on that group’s legislative report card.

"The main mission is that I want to be sure that the Tea Parties across the state of Texas now have their voice heard,” Patrick said. “The Tea Party has been a bottom-up organization and is, politically, the greatest thing to happen to in my lifetime.”

The formal announcement of the caucus will come at a rally at the Capitol shortly after the beginning of the legislative session.

When Patrick announced the creation of ICROT, he appeared on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s show on Fox News as well as conservative pundit Laura Ingraham’s radio program. What the pick-up will be for this very similar-seeming organization remains to be seen.

Polling the 17th

A new independent poll shows Republican Bill Flores up 12 points over U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. The Hill, a newspaper that covers the Capitol, surveyed likely voters in the Central Texas district by phone between Oct. 19 and 21. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

The crosstabs reveal that both candidates' support breaks down strictly along party lines — something that could be deadly for Edwards in this anti-Democrat year. Edwards attracts 9 percent of Republican voters, while Flores attracts only 3 percent of Democrats. Another detail: The incumbent is more popular among women and the young, but Flores takes the lead among the 35-to-54 and 55-plus age groups.

Fifty-six percent of voters surveyed in CD-17 have a favorable view of Flores, well above his unfavorability rating of 31 percent. The numbers aren't as good for Edwards: 45 percent of voters have a favorable view of the incumbent, compared to the 49 percent who view him unfavorably. Sixty-six percent of the voters polled disapprove of the job President Barack Obama is doing; 78 percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

Flores campaign manager Matt Mackowiak said in an e-mail that the poll confirmed what they've already seen in the district, adding that "regardless of what any poll says, Bill Flores is continuing to work like we are twenty points behind to ensure we finish strong on Election Day."

Edwards spokeswoman Megan Jacobs said their internal numbers showed the race to be "very close." In an e-mail, she pointed out that the poll was taken "before seniors and voters started learning that, despite his denials to the contrary, Mr. Flores has proposed privatizing Social Security and raising the retirement age to 70." She's referring, in part, to Flores' stumble two weeks ago, when he indicated that he would support raising the retirement age, and then later retracted it, blaming a headache for the misstep.

Doling Out Against Dunnam

The Texas for Lawsuit Reform PAC has spent more than a half million dollars in its bid to help Republican challenger Marva Beck oust House veteran Jim Dunnam, D-Waco. Finance reports disclosed Tuesday show that Beck received more than $404,000 in in-kind contributions from the PAC for the filing period that began Sept. 24 and ended Oct. 23. Add to that an additional $64,000 it doled out this week, according to pre-election telegram reports, and the $60,000 reported on her previous finance report and it adds up to what Jeff Rotkoff, the executive director of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, says is more a TLR subsidiary than a campaign.

TLR spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester told The Texas Tribune last week that Dunnam could be considered the most disruptive member of the Texas Legislature in recent memory after leading the charge during the chubbing strategy against the Voter ID bill in 2009 and the walkout over redistricting in 2003.

Kino’s Conviction

Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores could face several years in a state prison after a Travis County jury found the Palmview Democrat guilty of several counts of perjury and tampering with government records. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the South Texas lawmaker, who has represented HD-36 since 1997, is guilty of five counts of misdemeanor tampering with a governmental record, two counts of misdemeanor perjury and four counts of felony tampering with a governmental record.

Flores was indicted last year for failing to comply with state ethics laws for failing to disclose sources of income, gifts and other information in personal financial statements. Prosecutors said the omissions were not clerical errors, as Flores maintained, but instead closer to bribes.

Following his indictment last year, Flores announced he would not seek re-election. In March, South Texas attorney Sergio Muñoz Jr., the son of Flores’ predecessor, Sergio Muñoz, defeated Sandra Rodriguez in their bid to replace Flores. There is no Republican or Libertarian on the ballot.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Amarillo made the cut with the Gates Foundation to participate in its Partners for Postsecondary Success initiative. The city will use the grant money it was awarded — $100,000 — to devise a plan to increase the percentage of adults who complete college or earn a technical certificate. The Amarillo Area Foundation will use the seven-month window to identify ways to help young adults succeed, creating a model for other cities to follow. Upon submission of the plan, the Amarillo Area Foundation hopes to earn $1.5 million to implement it.

The Dallas Morning News found itself in the uncomfortable position of retracting one of its endorsements. It previously recommended Stephen Broden in the race for CD-30, but withdrew the recommendation after Broden said during a TV interview that for dissatisfied citizens, armed revolution is “on the table” this year. The paper concluded that it could not endorse Broden or his opponent, incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson, the longtime Democratic congresswoman, who was found to have awarded to scholarships to family members and associates.

A body found in a shallow grave on a ranch near Athens was confirmed to be the son of former Gov. Bill Clements. Gill Clements had been reported missing and when sheriff’s deputies went looking for him, they were forced to shoot his neighbor, Howard Granger, when he opened fire on them. Authorities discovered a man’s body in a shallow grave behind a house on the property and called Granger the likely killer.

Prosecutors wrapped up their portion of the Article 32 hearing of Maj. Nidal Hasan after 56 witnesses testified to the events of the shooting rampage last November that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30. The defense has requested a delay in presenting witnesses until Nov. 15, when it will have results from psychological assessments that it hopes to present as mitigating evidence and a counter to the threat of the death penalty.

Early voting numbers across the state continue to show dramatic increases over 2006, prompting speculation about what’s driving it. Analysts suggested that Texans are enjoying the convenience of voting early, while party officials try to spin it as an enthusiastic reaction to this year’s candidates.

Protracted jury selection didn’t pan out the way it was predicted in the run-up to the money laundering trial of Tom DeLay. A jury was chosen quickly from the pool of 91, in spite of accusations of racism by the prosecution. The defense struck several African-Americans jurors, leaving only one African-American on the six-man, six-woman jury. The trial is set to begin Monday in Travis County and is predicted to run three weeks.

As the poverty rate increases in Texas, so goes the rate of increase in food stamp usage. The number of food stamp recipients in Texas increased by 34 percent during the last two years of economic downturn. Census data show Texas has the eighth-highest poverty rate in the nation, and social services cannot always keep up with the demand. Food banks statewide are stretched thin and are struggling to provide basic necessities to the growing number of people affected by layoffs and the weak economy.

San Antonio-area schools fought off a spate of sudden absenteeism linked to rumors about teenage members of so-called wolf packs planning shooting rampages in local high schools. The rumors spread quickly through at least nine districts in the vicinity, helped along by social media and instant messaging. Absenteeism was so rampant that districts are said to have lost more than $80,000 in state funds. Districts labored to calm parents and students’ fears, and absenteeism now appears to be returning to normal levels.

Political People and Their Moves

Ismael "Kino" Flores, about whom legislators and lobbyists have traded a million stories over the years, was convicted by a Travis County jury this week for not reporting various sources of campaign and personal income.

The biggest of the 11 convictions carries a maximum prison time of two years; sentencing is set for November 22, and Flores still has the right to appeal. Prosecutors said Flores was peddling his legislative influence; what they actually charged him with was tampering with government records and perjury, a set of 11 charges that included four felonies. He argued that the records issues were clerical errors and denied taking money in return for legislative favors.

The Palmview Democrat didn't run for reelection in the face of the charges, and the convictions don't automatically remove him from office, either. His successor will take office in January. Flores was, under then-House Speaker Tom Craddick, chairman of the House Licensing and Regulation Committee, with oversight over alcohol and gambling regs, among other issues.

Quotes of the Week

Criminal Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller on misconceptions about her judicial record, quoted in The Texas Tribune: "The idea that I don’t care about defendants, or indigent defense, is ridiculous."

Dick DeGuerin, attorney for former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, after picking the jury for the Sugar Land Republican's trial on money laundering charges, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman: "I'm very encouraged. We have a great jury. We have a great case. Tom DeLay is a great client. We're ready."

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg on the verdict returned against former Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview: "This verdict represents the public saying ... that accurate and full public disclosure is an important part of public service and that the public will not accept excuses like ‘I was too busy’ or ‘I just didn’t know.’”

Mark Miner, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign, to NBC-DFW after one of the campaign’s YouTube channels was shut down for copyright violations: “Some of the sitcoms didn't like the humor. They didn't have any problem with the facts in the ads."

Stephen Broden, the Republican running against U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, in a web video explaining his interview with WFAA-TV in Dallas, in which he said violent overthrow of the government was on the table: “My remarks were intended to be historical and philosophical in nature. They were taken out of context by a reporter and only part of what I said was heard.”

Charlie Garza, a GOP candidate for the State Board of Education, to the Midland Reporter-Telegram on his desire for a stricter focus on teaching the U.S. Constitution and other founding documents: “If studying the foundation of the country is bad, I concede I’m bad.”

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte on Gov. Rick Perry's latest ad implying challenger Bill White should be blamed for the death of a Houston police officer due to his so-called "sanctuary city" policy as mayor of the city in 2006, in a conference call with reporters: "My reaction to Rick Perry's ad, there is not an English word for it. It's called asco. It makes you gag. It's in disgust."

Jeff Rotkoff, the executive director of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, on the infusion of more than $600,000 in campaign contributions from the Texas for Lawsuit Reform PAC into the campaign of Republican Marva Beck, who is trying to oust Democrat Jim Dunnam, D-Waco: "TLR is doing everything for her. If she’s being honest in her ethics disclosures, TLR has bought everything except her toilet paper.”

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


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 41, 1 November 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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