Official Spin: Sick, But in Recovery

If you stick with the riff that the bad ol' Democratic Party is dead, then be ready for this to turn into a slasher movie; the corpse will certainly rise for a sequel, if not soon, then certainly in a year's time when the Republicans are picking their way through a post-George W. Bush landscape.

If you stick with the riff that the bad ol' Democratic Party is dead, then be ready for this to turn into a slasher movie; the corpse will certainly rise for a sequel, if not soon, then certainly in a year's time when the Republicans are picking their way through a post-George W. Bush landscape.

The Democrats spent a rainy weekend in Fort Worth talking around their statewide ticket and talking up their hopes of controlling the Legislature next year, when it draws political districts for itself and for Congress. The media coverage focussed on the lack of headliners and on speculations about who might run in 2002, and there was plenty of talk among the delegates about that future.

The story might have been different if the convention had been held somewhere in East Texas, the Ground Zero of Texas politics this year. The speaker who got the most attention was David Fisher, the Democrat running for Senate in a race that will probably determine which party holds the Senate majority next year. His race against Republican Todd Staples, and a handful of House races in that same neck of the woods, will be the stories of this election year. The Democratic confab seemed to recognize that even as the main spin was something like "We might smell funny, but we're not dead."

The Republicans, meeting as this issue hits the streets, have the same focus this year but with better presenters. They too are concentrating their fire on East Texas because of all that's at stake. Sure, there are races of interest and import in Central and West Texas, but the war will be fought in the pine forests this year. The Democrats sent themselves a get-well card while they were really talking about legislative control; the Republican convention may orbit around themes of unity and surging popularity, but they'll really be talking about the same legislative control.

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Unofficial Spin: Money Likes a Winner

The Republicans, unlike the Democrats, have a lineup of stars to do their talking. The governor won't be there, but Texas First Lady Laura Bush will be. The statewide officeholders, from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, will be there to punch up the rhetoric.

The Democrats didn't have headliners like that, opting instead for legislators and, as noted, candidates in battleground areas. When they weren't in general session, the Democrats did hear from some of their former and possibly future candidates. John Sharp, who lost the Lite Guv race to Perry by about 70,000 votes in 1998, talked to various caucuses and worked the crowd. The line from Sharp, who wants to run again, was that the party needs an Hispanic surname at the "very top" of the ticket and that "gringos like me will have to get out of the way," running further down the ballot. Garry Mauro, who lost to Bush, was mainly on a mission to promote Bush's current rival, Al Gore.

The Democrats will probably have plenty of people wanting to run in two years. And the Republicans will certainly have a full docket. On both sides, conversations about who might do this and who might do that turn eventually to finance.

Will politically moderate donors give to Democrats if Republicans are in office and pushing the party line? Are all of the Republican candidates strong enough to keep donors from straying to Democratic candidates who, in this race or that one, might be more desirable?

The GOP's hold on the statewide offices swings the argument their way. After all, lots of folks want to back winners of whatever party. Control of the Legislature would give the Democrats some leverage if they win. But control could sew things up, for a while, for the Republicans. Thus, the GOP's Big Spin is about momentum, and the Democratic counterpoint is all about the Legislature.

Notes from the Democratic Convention

The Big Tent theory is generally credited to Republicans, but look who was in the middle of the exhibit space at the Democratic Party convention: Texans for Tort Reform. Matt Welch, a consultant to TLR who manned the booth, said the crowd wasn't particularly warm, but some delegates gave the tort-reformers points for chutzpah.

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• Delegates jumped to the microphones in the middle of the hall when Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, was ready to present the party platform for a vote. The delegates said some of them hadn't seen copies and said those who did have copies hadn't had time to read the document. That perplexed the folks on the podium for a minute, and Gallego ended up reading the whole platform to the delegates. Once it came to a vote, there were no objections.

• Who's running? The signs for a convention-closing party said it was sponsored by Bill White, the Houston businessman who used to be the party's chairman, and Jim Wright, the former Speaker of the U.S. House. Top billing, and a much bigger typeface, went to White.

• Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, now a lawyer with real estate interests, didn't speak at the convention, but he was there and says he'd like to get back into elected office. Mattox lost the governor's race in 1990, lost a race U.S. Senate in 1994 and another for attorney general in 1998.

• Congressional Democrats, led by U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, are paying particular attention to a couple of challengers in Texas, Regina Montoya Coggins, who's running against U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in CD-5, and Loy Sneary, who's running against U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Clute, in CD-14. Elevate one more, if only slightly: Frost has begun referring to the challenge Curtis Clinesmith is running against U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, in CD-13, as "interesting."

• Republicans and Democrats are angling to win legislative seats because of redistricting. That will be especially important in drawing lines for congressional seats next year, since the Legislative Redistricting Board, comprised of five high state officials and controlled by the GOP, doesn't get to look at congressional plans (legislative plans go to the LRB if they aren't settled by the Legislature and the governor). Texas and Mississippi are the only two southern states with Democratic majorities in Congress, according to Frost, and he contends Democrats here will prevail after reapportionment.

He also contends that "any fair plan" would give all of the current Texans in Congress their own districts to run in, without pairing any of them. Texas will probably pick up two more seats in Congress, but that doesn't automatically mean incumbents won't have to face each other in elections after the new lines are drawn.

Prep for the Republicans

The state convention of Texas Republicans is bigger than any other state's, naturally enough, but it's also bigger, with 17,000 delegates, than the national convention later this summer. The GOP last went to Houston in 1988, but the national convention was in the Astrodome in 1992.

For those of you who, like us, thought (or hoped) that there was a mystical correlation between interest in politics and interest in baseball, fuggetaboutit: The GOP is hitting Houston when the Astros, playing in a new stadium within walking distance, are out of town. The Democrats, who met near the Ballpark at Arlington a week earlier, did the same thing with the Rangers.

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If the Democrats didn't have many stars to offer to delegates yearning for speeches, the Republicans have the opposite problem. There are 29 statewide offices. Republicans hold them all. Most people would squirm in their seats listening to even half that number of speeches. So expect a lot of the GOP convention to fly by in a hurry and for some prominent folks to appear outside of prime-time. That lineup will include He won't stick around to talk at the convention itself, but U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Oklahoma, will speak at the Texas Christian Coalition's dinner on the first night of the convention.

Perennial Hole-Digging

Start with the news in last week's edition that Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and some of her friends up in Dallas have cooked up a highway bonding program. Add in that program's need for something like $100 million to $150 million to pay for those bonds. Throw in the part of the plan which says the money would come from a part of the state purse not currently used to build roads in Texas.

Let us start this by saying that nobody is picking at Shapiro's plan. Most lawmakers haven't had a chance to sit down and hear the details of it, much less to check around with contractors, budgeteers, lobsters, other members, and others who might contend their concerns outrank highways.

That said, run the highway bonding program by some of the state's budgeteers for vetting. Their first cut is what you expect if you've watched this before: "Where's she gonna get that much money?"

This is an argument you'll be hearing a lot over the next six months and well into the next session. It appears the state is bringing in money faster than it is spending it and that there will be some surplus funds at the end of the two-year budget. The size of that is a closely held secret, as always, because state comptrollers don't like to let their numbers trickle into public view unless they must. The rumor mill puts the surplus at over $500 million. Some optimists, who might even be correct, guess higher.

The Legislature is not immune to rumor, and there are a gazillion interim legislative committees simmering at the moment, trying to solve everything from Lyme Disease to lobbyist disclosure statements to highway funding. Because the rumors of money are out there, and because money is sometimes the easiest way to fix something, this is a natural time for lawmakers to come up with governmental repairs that have price tags.

Which means -- now we're finally getting to the point -- that this is a natural time for the budgeteers to start worrying about the stack of demands that are building up. Shapiro's bonding program is just an obvious example, and as we've noted, it's got some early support.

Totaling the Damage Before More is Done

The budgeteers, including Senate Finance Chairman Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and House Appropriations Chairman Rob Junell, D-San Angelo, folks from the governor's office, the Legislative Budget Board and both the Lite Guv's and Speaker's offices, have started some early number-crunching. The bottom line is that spending needs they already know about will easily eat up more than $1 billion, and that's without counting the regular budget-busters like rising school enrollments and insurance premiums for state employees and caseloads in various health and welfare programs.

The numbers are still soft at this point. But Medicaid problems are goosing up into the $300 million range, largely because of rising drug costs and lowered federal matching rates for state spending. Prison spending, what with the pay raises for prison guards and the new construction needed before the end of 2005, could easily zoom past the $400 million mark. Add some miscellaneous budget problems here and there -- money for retired teacher benefits, financial glitches at the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, shortfalls in the Smart Jobs fund -- and you quickly arrive at a number with three commas in it.

The spending problems are real. The timetable is standard. Before those interim committees begin voting on new programs and spending needs and the like, the state's budget-writers will put out the word that, even with new money coming in and things looking rosy, there are spending demands already lining up. Ratliff is, as usual, direct: "I'm not counting on any surplus from this biennium."

Shapiro is still making the rounds on her proposal for bond money for highways. Junell hasn't looked yet, but Ratliff says he's not automatically against the idea. Remember that he said earlier this year that the state needs money for highways and that he'd consider adding to the gasoline tax. That idea, dangerous at the time, would be a poisoned political pill with current gas prices. But Ratliff says the state should do something. He offers another idea, saying as he does so that it would probably be about as popular as the gasoline tax: Charging tolls on highways that are already built and in use but that need expensive work. The toll money could be applied to maintenance and repair costs.

The South Won't Quit

There could be future chapters in the war over the War of the States in Texas.

At the behest of the governor's staff, plaques commemorating Confederates were replaced at the Texas Supreme Court's building. There are several monuments still on the grounds of the Capitol, however, and scattered instances of people complaining about depictions of Confederate symbols and heroes in public places. For instance, a picture of a former Texas A&M University president, Gilbert "Gibb" Gilchrist, was pulled off of the building named for him because Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was shown in the background, according to the Bryan-College Station Eagle.

One plaque, across a hallway from the governor's offices, contains the "Children of the Confederacy Creed." It was installed in 1959 and says the group desires "to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army and upheld its flag through four years of war..." Among other things, the members said they would "study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery)..."

There aren't any plans to fiddle with that one, according to the governor's aides and some legislative folks we talked with. The line they're going to try to hold is that history is history, but the courthouse should maintain a strict appearance of fairness to everyone. Putting Confederate flags on brass plaques leading into the courtroom, they decided, looks unfair. Keeping memorials up on the lawn and in writings on the walls and floors of the Capitol doesn't cross their line, at least not now.

One idea for a long-term solution is to add to the number of historical items and memorials around the Pink Building instead of taking things down. Former Sen. Jerry Patterson, a Republican who calls himself a student of history and who thinks the plaques and monuments should be left alone, says the problem is that the history isn't broad enough. For instance, he says, there is too little information about Native Americans in the Capitol. A group called the Texas Heritage Coalition, now in the formative stages, will be promoting that "more history" idea.

Sensitive to Smoke; Slammed for Bad Grades

After last week's item about the Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Attorney General John Cornyn, he and his aides would like to point out that Cornyn does not accept money from tobacco company political action committees. This came up because a couple of the hosts of his fundraiser are, in addition to being stalwart Republicans, lobbyists. Among the clients of Haley Barbour and Charles Black are tobacco companies. Our scribbling about that juxtaposition didn't sit well with Cornyn's folks. They say he not only stays away from that PAC money, especially now, when he's involved in a courtroom fight with the lawyers hired by his predecessor to sue the tobacco companies for the state. Cornyn's no buddy of tobacco, an aide says. Cornyn even signed a legal brief supporting the Clinton Administration's proposal to regulate nicotine as a drug, according to aides.

• A push at the end of the enrollment period pulled up contract sales in the Texas Tomorrow Fund, but not enough to keep things going as before. While she was stepping up the promotions, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander had a consultant looking to find out what was wrong.

The end result? Most of the people working at TTF were fired, some permanently and some told they could reapply for their jobs or look for other work in the agency. More of the administrative details of the prepaid college tuition program were handed off to a long-time TTF contractor. And Rylander decided to get a new advertising agency and double the budget for promoting the program. Marketing will now be completely outsourced and will have a budget of almost $2.5 million.

The push from Rylander got sales up to 10,139 for the year, about 400 more than last year and enough to allow her some spin: This was the first time in the five-year history of the program that sales were higher than the year before. Rylander wants to make the program a priority, and the bigger budget should help. One criticism widely heard inside and outside the agency: They did no television advertising this year. That'll likely change next time.

Texas Crime is News Everywhere Else

We don't ordinarily do this, but the Chicago Tribune did a long, two-part report on the death penalty in Texas that's worth reading if only because it's one of a few stories that's being handed around by people on both sides of the debate. Since you're probably going to hear about pieces of it, you might want to see the whole thing, at the following, incredibly long Internet address: http://www.chicago.tribune.com/news/nationworld/ws/0,1246,45186,00.html

Add Gary Graham's case to the rush of news coverage of the death penalty in Texas. It's well-known here, in part because it has attracted celebrities like actor Danny Glover who have argued that Graham should not be put to death in Texas. But his date with the executioner is June 22, and state officials are already getting ready for another rush of news coverage. Before every execution, the attorney general's office puts out a narrative describing the crime for which the inmate is being killed. In Graham's case, the narrative from AG John Cornyn is unusually long and detailed, and is accompanied by a long statement from Cornyn in which he says he's sure Graham is guilty. You can see it on the AG's Internet site. Go to News & Publications.

Cornyn has been unusually busy with Death Row Cases, pulling the state's support from half a dozen sentences that depended on the testimony of a psychiatrist who said race was an indicator of whether someone was likely to commit future crimes. That doesn't get them off the hook, however -- they could end up back on Death Row.

Oddments, Follow-ups and Miscellany

Last week, one state agency said there were fewer people let out of prison during the first six months of the year than expected and that, as a result, Texas prisons were filling too quickly and more need to be built. This is unconnected, but curious: The Texas Department of Public Safety, a week later, notes a slight drop in the state's major crime rate. The number of crimes committed in 1999 was down 0.06 percent; the crime rate per 100,000 Texans was down 1.5 percent.

• Legislators can't hold everything until November: The Sunset Advisory Commission votes this week on recommendations for what to do with several agencies, notably the Texas Department of Economic Development and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The Sunset staff recommended giving each agency only two more years of life before another review (the norm is a dozen years), and there is still some legislative sentiment to wipe out TDED altogether. That might happen during the legislative session next year, but for now, expect major surgery for the agency instead of euthanasia.

• The News of Texas cleared out most of its executive management in San Antonio and most of its news employees in Dallas, saying it needs to retool. The statewide news network, whose lead financier is Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio, is dumping its radio and Internet news services and will concentrate on television. The company, conceived as a statewide news network something like CNN, hasn't yet shown a profit after 18 months in business.

• There's a new addition to the beer lobby, at least on paper. The Harris County Beer Wholesalers Association has morphed into something called the Beer Alliance of Texas and aims, apparently, to become a statewide group. Lobbyist Rick Donley, who has represented the Harris County group for years, changed the name months ago, but only recently mailed out announcements. The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, a statewide group of long standing, remains unscathed; the new group remains, for now, a coalition of half the beer wholesalers in Harris County.

• Gov. George W. Bush announced days ago that he wouldn't be available for the GOP's state convention, but it wasn't clear exactly where he would be until the day before. It turns out he'll spend the first day of the convention campaigning in Maine and Massachusetts, and the second in Kentucky and Ohio. Laura Bush agreed to be the keynote speaker in his place.

Political People and Their Moves

In 1968, he was running a high-speed Xerox to make copies of legislation for lawmakers. In 1980, he was named director of the Legislative Council and House parliamentarian, and now, 32 years, four lieutenant governors and seven House speakers after he started, Robert "Bob" Kelly says he will retire at the end of the fiscal year. He plans to hang out his own shingle and lobby, and is still working out the details. No word on who will replace him, or on whether his jobs will go to one person or two. Keep in mind that Lege Council, as its called, is the official keeper of numbers and maps and bill drafts during the redistricting process, and that the House has more votes than the Senate on the council's governing board... Jesse Ancira Jr. is the new director of Tax Administration for the Comptroller of Public Accounts. Ancira will succeed Harold Lee, who's retiring at the end of July. Ancira has been the agency's legislative liaison since Carole Keeton Rylander took over last year. He'll oversee the tax policy, audit, enforcement and property tax divisions for Rylander... Tim Schauer moves from the Texas Health Care Council, where he was the government affairs guru, to a similar job with Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston... Move John Hubbard from the Sunset Commission, where he has worked for nine years, to the offices of Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, where he'll be a legislative aide... Harold Cook, a political consultant who is also a former executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, has been named president and managing partner of Citadel Holding Group, an Austin-based firm with investments in several high-tech concerns... Press Corps Moves: Jim Moore, fresh out of the TV news business (see last week's issue), lands consulting work with Get Around Austin, a group that's pushing light rail in the Capital City... Mary Alice Robbins, who's been reporting for the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, off and on, since 1965, is leaving. She'll be the new Austin reporter for Texas Lawyer. Robbins has been in Austin since 1985, reporting for both the Lubbock and Amarillo papers... Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza was elected vice chairman of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. The group represents governors in 37 oil-producing states and Garza is Gov. Bush's appointee. Garza's term starts in December... Indicted: Florita Bell Griffin, a Bush appointee on at the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, on charges of trading votes on housing bids for money and property. She has said the investigation is racially motivated and that she'll fight... Appointments: Gov. George W. Bush named Kelly Moore of Brownfield to be the presiding judge for the 9th Administrative Judicial Region. He'll keep his job as judge of the 121st District Court. Moore replaces Ray Anderson of Lubbock, who died.

Quotes of the Week

Political consultant Jason Stanford, in a Texas Freedom Network seminar at the state Democratic Party convention on how to deal with religious conservatives: "Jesus Christ had more missing years than anybody other than George W. Bush."

San Antonio advertising exec Lionel Sosa, on how he knew the governor's nephew, George P. Bush (son of Gov. Jeb Bush), had star power when he saw him win over a group of California farm laborers: "They forgot he was a Republican."

Comedian Robin Williams on Gov. Bush: "Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some get it as a graduation gift."

Former state Rep. Doyle Willis of Fort Worth, a World War II vet who wants to strike a beloved coach's name from the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium where he coached: "The University of Texas can hang anything they want to on Bevo's tail, just so long as they change the name of the stadium to Veterans Memorial Stadium."

Rev. Jim Lewis, a member of the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance, a group that opposes efforts to replace workers who catch chickens for slaughter with a machine at Purdue Farms in Maryland: "It's designed to scare the workers and chill the union. It's more fear and intimidation by Big Chicken."

Larry Freisz, a fan of lawnmower racing, wherein people careen on riding mowers at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour: "This is going to go over big time if somebody doesn't get killed."


Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 1, 19 June 2000. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2000 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. 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 (800) 611-4980 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.


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