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Drip, Drip, Drip

You know the home inspector told you to fix that leak but hey it wasn't a flood or a lot of water and everything seemed okay and you let it go and now the insurance company is slow-paying and the contractor is shaking his head and your wallet and this is really a painful way to run a race for speaker... Joe Straus hasn't had a really good news day since the Republicans won 99 seats on Election Night and he announced the next day that more than four out of five House members wanted him back.

You know the home inspector told you to fix that leak but hey it wasn't a flood or a lot of water and everything seemed okay and you let it go and now the insurance company is slow-paying and the contractor is shaking his head and your wallet and this is really a painful way to run a race for speaker... Joe Straus hasn't had a really good news day since the Republicans won 99 seats on Election Night and he announced the next day that more than four out of five House members wanted him back.

They've been peeling off, one by one, ever since then. Warren Chisum renewed his candidacy, quickly killing the idea that the overwhelming GOP win would change his mind. Ken Paxton of McKinney jumped in next, declaring his candidacy for speaker and slowly accumulating votes from other state representatives (many of whom share a political consultant with Paxton). The latest of those are Kenneth Sheets and David Simpson, who beat Allan Vaught and Tommy Merritt, respectively. Cindy Burkett, who beat Robert Miklos, is in the wings.

Straus has said he's got a majority of Republicans as well as of Democrats. The conservatives in the party — inside and outside the Legislature — want to consolidate the win on November 2 and have a session without quarter for the Democrats. Their stated reservation with Straus, old news now, is that he got into office in the first place on Democratic shoulders; his rejoinder, also old news, is that he's a cradle Republican who doesn't have to prove his colors to anyone. The challengers want it settled in the Republican Caucus and Straus says he's not opposed. A vote from Republicans in his favor might stop this contest (or could just move it to a different phase, since there's no rule that says the other side has to quit after a caucus vote). But so far, his allies are presenting objections to a meeting of the House GOP.

This is a time thing. There are just more than 50 days left before the session starts and the vote for a new speaker — or a new term for the current one — is taken. And he's got to avoid the perception that his support is wobbly.

An alternate theory: This is all nothing, a product of Inertial Gossip. People talk politics right through the election and when it's open, they look for something new to talk about. It's true that the race for speaker is a big topic at the Capitol and within four or five blocks in each direction, but for all of that, it remains an inside game, of interest mainly to people who do political and government work for a living.

In the news over the last week:

• Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, stepped figuratively across the Rotunda and into the race, saying he had agreements from the three candidates to come to a private meeting mediated by the senator and featuring grassroots people with an interest in the race. Straus said he'd never agreed to such a conference.

• Chisum and Paxton, responding to news reports of anti-Straus mailings, emailings and phone calls taking anti-Semitic turns, disavowed any connection with anything like that.

Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, pulled his pledge to Straus and switched to Paxton.

• Straus distributed a letter from Republicans who serve as chairman to various committees, telling members in his introduction that "Like you, I believe in fiscal discipline and smaller government, and want it to be the guiding principle of a more conservative House as we address a large budget shortfall. From the budget to photo ID in order to vote to border enforcement, the issues we face are significant, and we all know that we have our work cut out for us." In their letter, the chairs say they're for Straus, that they're committed to passing a voter ID bill, a balanced budget, a Republican redistricting plan, and tougher border security and immigration laws.'

• Rumors spread that the Department of Public Safety was adding security for the speaker. Spokespeople for the speaker and for DPS said they don't answer questions about security and each referred calls to the other office.

Chop Shop

Lawmakers want state agencies to cut another 2 percent to 3 percent from their current budgets — on top of 5 percent cuts that were already ordered.

The Legislative Budget Board — comprised of members of both the House and Senate, along with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House — also adopted a spending cap for the next budget. The board, choosing from five estimates, took one offered up by the Texas Comptroller's office: The growth in the discretionary part of the state budget will be held to 8.92 percent in the budget lawmakers write next year. They had numbers as low as 4.63 percent, and as high as 13.13 percent from which to choose.

What's that in dollars? In the current budget, "state tax revenue not dedicated by the constitution" totals $71.7 billion. Under the new cap, that could increase to as much as $78.1 billion. Had they gone with the lowest estimate of how much the economy will grow over the two years starting next November, the limit would be $75 billion; the highest growth rate would have put the cap at $81.1 billion.

The letter asking for spending cuts will go to agencies at the end of the month. Earlier cuts of 5 percent produced about $1.2 billion in savings, according to the LBB staff. And those numbers are independent of 10 percent cuts the agencies were asked to submit as part of their requests for money in the 2012-13 budget lawmakers will start crafting in January.

Inside Intelligence: Tough Stuff

State finance people are not kicking out much information, but insiders think the budget shortfall next year will be in excess of $15 billion, and two-thirds of them think it'll be over $20 billion.

The latest Texas Weekly/Texas Tribune Inside Intelligence survey asked budget questions. How big is the problem. How do you think the Legislature will balance the budget? And what do you think they'll cut? The short answers: It's big. With cuts and the Rainy Day Fund. Education and health care programs are in for a tough session.

Our non-scientific weekly survey aims to find out what the insiders are thinking. Our list includes lobbyists, former officeholders, political consultants and others, and 163 of them responded this week. Virtually everyone thinks cuts will be the first response to the budget shortfall. Only 45 percent think taxes or fees will be raised by the next Legislature, and only 23 percent think lawmakers will approve gambling to help with the shortfall.

They had some ideas about what else might go into it, including, "bunch of fees, not taxes", "accounting tricks (delay payments, etc.)", "shift benefit costs to employees", and "force local school districts to raise local property taxes to maintain current funding levels."

Ask them what's in for cuts, and the short answer is "everything." Higher education looks, to insiders, to be the starting place; 95 percent expect cuts there. Medicaid is on the list for 83 percent of the insiders, followed by children's health insurance, public education, the governor's economic development funds, prisons and highways, in that order. Given a chance to suggest, they added: "agency consolidation ... staff reductions", "everything will be cut", "consolidation of agencies, introduction of innovative financing for projects and privatization of services", and "ten percent workforce attrition reduction in all agencies."

The answers to the last question — "How do you think the budget will play out, both politically and as policy?" — were even more detailed. A sampling (the complete answers, along with the names of this week's participants, can be found in our Files section):

• "If they make the right, tough decisions, the lawmakers will be unpopular. But they will have done what's right for the state."

• "I believe that while most onlookers think legalized casino gambling is on life support, ultimately the fiscal hawks that were elected will use it to close the remaining $1-2B shortfall."

• "The enormity of a $25 billion shortfall is staggering. The upcoming session will fundamentally change government as we know it ... the political fallout from cuts to higher ed and public ed could be devastating to the R's over the next five years."

• "Lots of screaming by CPPP [Center for Public Policy Priorities] and allied groups. Small Medicaid rate cuts. RIF of state employees. Early out option for some soon to be state retirees"

• "Perry presidential campaign would love to veto a tax bill. In 1999 Bush didn't want any special sessions so he could campaign. I think Perry will feel that way also."

*"I think it will be very ugly. Lots of name-calling and attempts at guilt trips. The true statespersons will be those who do not take absolute positions on rainy day, spending or revenue."

• "I think the Republicans will finally get that baby into the bathtub"

• "Politically: one or two special sessions, and everyone unhappy with the results. Tea Party, unhappy cuts weren't deeper. Dems, unhappy for the huge loss of services. Moderates, unhappy about the long-term impact on our state. Freshman House members, in treatment for PTSD."

• "Policy: terrible if you're sick, hungry, want your kids to go to good schools, desire stronger higher ed, or want better roads."

• "Very painfully. Watch for ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council] influence — the biggest pressure from the majority party will be in areas where privatization is realistically possible, incl roads, schools, and prisons."

• "The Republicans have used such strong rhetoric about government that they have no choice but to pass draconian cuts and there will be a political price to pay when the effects of those cuts are felt at the local level. The last election was all about national politics — if the Democrats message right, the next one will be all local."

• "A lose-lose for those in the majority party. No one wants higher taxes and no one will be happy with the required cuts."

One More

Ten candidates signed up to run for Edmund Kuempel's seat in the Texas House, a group that includes seven Republicans, two Democrats, and a Libertarian.

There's no primary this time, so the ten will run in a pack and, if nobody breaks 50 percent in the first round, the top two finishers will have a runoff.

Kuempel died of a heart attack earlier this month, and Gov. Rick Perry called a special election to replace him, to be held on December 14. A runoff, if one is needed, would presumably be held before the Legislature convenes on January 11.

Tony Gergely, a Seguin business owner, is the Libertarian in the race.

The Democrats are Daniel Rodriguez Andrade of Seguin, who lists his occupation as "real estate/business owner"; and Cheryl Dees Patterson, a Seguin Realtor.

The Republican list consists of Ron Avery, a Seguin architect; Chris Burchell, who's in law enforcement in Adkins; Jim Fish, a small business owner from Cibolo; Gary Inmon, an attorney and school board member in Schertz (and the incoming president of the Texas Association of School Boards); John Kuempel, a Seguin salesman who's running for the seat left open by his father's death; Myrna McLeroy of Gonzales, who's in petroleum land services; and Robin Walker, a self-employed business manager from Seguin who challenged the Kuempel in the March primary, gathering just 25.4 percent of the vote.

Patriot Games, Cont'd.

The King Street Patriots have filed a counter-lawsuit against the Texas Democratic Party. And they've retained some high-powered counsel: James Bopp Jr., of Citizens United fame.

The Houston Tea Party group has asked a Travis County judge to dismiss the state Democratic Party's suit against them and, in addition, rule some sections of the Texas Election Code that govern political speech unconstitutional, saying that they violate a slew of the group's rights, including those under the First, Fourth, and 14th amendments. Bopp, the prominent Republican lawyer and erstwhile Mitt Romney adviser, is representing the group on its constitutional claim.

"By using state law to try to silence citizens' political speech, the Texas Democratic Party has brought a political slap lawsuit that has nothing to do with the rule of law and everything to do with political retribution," Bopp said in a press release. "Our clients simply will not be intimidated by such despicable tactics. The only allegation against them is that they exercised their rights under the First Amendment, and we expect the Texas courts to vindicate those rights."

The Patriots face a suit from the state Democratic Party for alleged "1960s style" voter intimidation at the polls during the November election. In its complaint, the party also asks the court to end what it calls the Patriots' in-kind support of GOP candidates, which Democratic Party lawyer Chad Dunn says violates the group's nonprofit status. In an e-mail, party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray said, "The TDP will continue to pursue King Street and all others affiliated with it to ensure the public's right to know who is investing in the political process is not compromised."

The Tea Party group is also in the midst of 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, and the subject of an ethics complaint for illegally making in-kind donations to Republican candidates for office.

Election Daze

Poring through the election numbers again:

• Early voting in the average congressional district in Texas accounted for 53.3 percent of the total. The lowest early turnout (as a percentage of the full vote) was in CD-13, where only 43.6 percent voted early

The highest, 64.1 percent, was in CD-14 — Ron Paul's district. It's one of six districts where at least 60 percent of the vote came before Election Day, a list that includes districts 2, 20, 21, 22, 23. The incumbents, respectively: Ted Poe, Charlie Gonzalez, Lamar Smith, Pete Olson, and Ciro Rodriguez. San Antonio was an early adopter of early voting and still dominates it.

Early voting amounted to less than half of the vote in only nine of the state's 32 congressional districts: 1, 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 16, and 17. The incumbents in those are Louie Gohmert, Ralph Hall, Joe Barton, John Culberson, Mike Conaway, Kay Granger, Mac Thornberry, Silvestre Reyes, and Chet Edwards. All but two — Edwards and Reyes — are Republicans. And the Edwards seat flipped this year when Bill Flores of Bryan won the race. It's Republican now.

• The smallest turnout in a congressional district — 66,835 votes — was in U.S. Rep. Gene Green's CD-29 in Houston. Ted Ankrum, the Democrat who ran against U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, got more votes than that (73,934) while losing. He got only 33 percent of the votes cast.

The highest number of votes cast in a Texas congressional race was CD-21, where Republican Lamar Smith of San Antonio is the incumbent: 236,284 votes were cast there.

Bragging rights, Division 1: Smith got more votes than any other congressional candidate in Texas (162,763), followed by Kevin Brady, McCaul, Culberson, Paul and Olson.

Bragging rights, Division 2: Gene Green won with the least number of votes (43,185), followed by Reyes, Blake Farenthold, Ruben Hinojosa, and Gonzalez.

Bragging rights, Division 3: Donna Campbell got more votes (84780) than any other loser in the congressional races. That's more votes than nine of the winners in other races got. The Republican lost to Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

Bragging rights, Division 4: Bob Townsend got 31,633 votes in his losing race in CD-7, where the winner was Culberson. That's the most votes received in a Texas congressional race by a Libertarian (or, for that matter, any third party candidate).

• Comptroller Susan Combs, with no major party opponent, got the highest number of votes of any candidate on the state ballot. Her trophy has this on it: 1,789,977. Right behind her: Larry Meyers and Cheryl Johnson, judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and then Attorney General Greg Abbott. Nobody else broke the 1.7 million votes mark.

The statewide Republicans, of course, all won. Of that gang, the lowest vote-getter was Gov. Rick Perry, who also faced the best-financed and organized opponent.

• Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, got more votes than anyone else in the Senate (only half of that body's members were on the ballot this year), at 122,997. Rep.-elect Lyle Larson, also R-San Antonio, got more votes than any other House candidate. Those two and Lamar Smith overlap in the state's most vote-crazy turf.

• The Libertarian with the most votes this year? J. Randell Stephens, who ran for the Court of Criminal Appeals against Meyers in a race with no Democrat. He got 17.2 percent of the vote, well over the amount needed to keep his party on the ballot without petitions for the next two elections.

Edward Lindsay was the Green Party's top vote-getter, with 130,155 votes. That was 6.1 percent of the vote in the race for comptroller — and his party, like the Libertarians, has a spot on the ballot without petitions next time.

Bill White was the only Democrat with more than a million votes, getting 1,075,944 in his bid for governor. Next in line were Jim Sharp, Bill Moody and Keith Hampton — all running for statewide judgeships — and Jeff Weems, the party's railroad commission candidate. Nobody else in that party broke 900,000.

Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, got fewer votes than any other House winner in a contested race: 6,138. That's fewer votes than any of the 22 House Democrats who got beat in this election. The biggest total for a losing incumbent in the general was 27,738 votes pulled in by Valinda Bolton, D-Austin.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Officials at the Public Utility Commission gave a thumbs-down to a new transmission line through the Hill Country, instead endorsing a plan to upgrade existing lines and add a transformer that will allow additional wind power generated in West Texas to be transmitted for use across the state. The price tag for the alternative plan is about one-fourth the cost of building a new line. The commission is still slated to rule on the need for a new transmission line further to the west, between Kendall and Schleicher counties.

The National Women's Law Center has filed a complaint against the Houston Independent School District, claiming that it is in violation of federal Title IX standards. The center says the district isn't providing enough opportunities for girls to play sports. The district has responded that it will work closely with the Office of Civil Rights to raise those numbers.

Forensic evidence brought to light by the Texas Observer is casting doubt on the conviction and execution of another death row inmate. In the case of Claude Jones, executed in 2000, a strand of hair found at the scene recently underwent DNA testing, which had been rejected over the last decade, and was confirmed not to belong to Jones, but to the murder victim. His execution-eve appeal was turned down by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

The military hearing of Maj. Nidal Hasan wrapped after two weeks of testimony, with the military officer overseeing the case recommending that Hasan face a court martial and a possible death penalty. The case will be reviewed by another high-ranking officer and forwarded to a commanding general to make a final determination.

Prosecutors trying to prove that former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was part of a money-laundering scheme got a little help this week in the form of a recording in which DeLay seems to indicate to a reporter that he knew about the money transfer in question before it happened and had the power to stop it. DeLay had previously denied prior knowledge of the exchange. DeLay's side is presenting its defense now, and will do it without him taking the stand.

Instability on the border continues to manifest in new ways. Refugee shelters have sprung up along the border to help Mexican residents displaced by the ongoing drug cartel violence. The population of Ciudad Mier has fallen from 6,500 residents to about 200 after a gun battle earlier this month. And the town of Ciudad Miguel Alemán could become more than temporary shelter for refugees unless the Mexican government and army can restore the stability in the area.

Former President George W. Bush broke ground at Southern Methodist University on his presidential library, scheduled to open in 2013. The 226,565-square-foot, $300 million complex will include a library, museum and policy institute. Tuesday's festivities included a prayer and a ceremony honoring Fort Hood soldiers, speeches by Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney and protests against Bush's legacy.

A statistic Texas might not want to brag about: The National Transportation Safety Board ranks the state among the 10 worst for its efforts in preventing drunken driving. Among 11 recommendations made by the federal agency to reduce drunken driving, Texas has only implemented four in a 10-year period. Lawmakers have already discussed introducing updated DWI laws in the upcoming session, but the most popular option, sobriety checkpoints, faces opposition from both the right and the left.

Now that the election is over and estimates for the looming budget shortfall are growing, discussions about how to bridge the gap are including cuts to school funding for the first time. Districts have been told to expect $3 billion to $5 billion less in the two-year budget cycle, and some fear that lawmakers could even raid the money in the Foundation Program, which provides student stipends to districts.

Political People and Their Moves

As expected, Gov. Rick Perry was elected chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, a post he last held in 2008. The group met this week in San Diego, California.

The Texas Legislative Council has a new director: It's Debbie Irvine, who's been with the Legislature's in-house legal and research arm for more than 30 years. The agency drafts legislation for lawmakers and is also in charge of the non-political part of redistricting, that is, the gathering of information and helping lawmakers draw maps.

Brian Lloyd, who left the Public Utility Commission to work in the governor's budget office, is going back to be the agency's executive director. He's replacing Lane Lanford, who's been in the top job since 1998. Lloyd starts next month.

Perry made a number of appointments:

Bill D. Hicks of El Paso as judge of the 243rd District Court in El Paso County. Hicks is an assistant district attorney in the 34th Judicial District and a former special assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas.

Debbie Montford of San Antonio to the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents. Montford is a past board chairwoman of the Texas Cultural Trust Council, a founding member of the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation and former chairwoman of the San Antonio Symphony Board of Directors.

R.H. Wallace Jr. of Keller as judge of the 96th District Court in Tarrant County. Wallace is a partner at Shannon, Gracey, Ratliff and Miller LLP and a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas.

Jeff Rose of Austin as justice of the 3rd Court of Appeals for a term to expire at the next general election. Rose is judge of the 353rd District Court in Travis County.

Quotes of the Week

Outgoing State Board of Education member Dan McLeroy, R-Bryan, on whether he has any regrets about his tenure on the board and the media attention he received: "Oh, gosh, no. To put it in phenomenal God language, I'm thinking that maybe God's got something else for me to do."

Gov. Rick Perry to a San Diego TV station on economic woes in California, where he was visiting to attend the Republican Governors Association convention: "You have a government that is dysfunctional. You're over-taxing, you're over-regulating, you're over-litigating."

Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, on whether any form of new revenue should be considered now: "The people of this state — and of the nation, as a matter of fact, except for California — were saying, "Stop spending our money, and stop telling us how to live our lives." I don't believe there is any appetite in the public to increase taxation, to increase fees, to increase [revenue] through gambling. I just don't believe that people are interested in seeing revenues increased to the state."

Logan Spence, aide to Sen. Dan Patrick, on whether Speaker Joe Straus agreed to the sit-down meeting orchestrated by Patrick with the two other candidates for speaker, something Straus denies: "It's a conversation that Dan had with the speaker, and Dan came away from the conversation with the impression that he agreed to have the meeting."

Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans, talking about his efforts to encourage a challenge to the sitting speaker of the House: "I think it's going to be incumbent upon him to demonstrate in some way — other than 'Trust me' — that this would be a very different Joe Straus speakership. For the moment, all we have is what he has done, and that leaves something to be desired."

Humorist and perennial political candidate Kinky Friedman on a former president in a Daily Beast column: "There are two kinds of people who wear cowboy hats — cowboys and assholes. George W. Bush is definitely not the latter; he is, in truth, a gentle, humble man who loves his country and cherishes the quixotic notion of all the people from the world someday existing in peace and freedom."

Public Strategies founder Jack Martin on the current political and media environment: "There's a fine line between responding to the anger of voters and not demonstrating leadership about critical issues of the day, and we're going to struggle with that."

Rep. Leo Berman explaining to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal his bill that would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to show their birth certificates to the Texas Secretary of State: "This bill is necessary because we have a president whom the American people don't know whether he was born in Kenya or some other place."

University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan to the Houston Chronicle on the relationship between President George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry: "Bush is not likely to blow him any kisses."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas: "This may be the only shovel-ready project in America."

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


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 44, 22 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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