A Sea Change in the Senate?

Several Senate races are tight, or at least loud and vicious and interesting to watch. And if the political winds blow in a particular direction in the primaries and again in the general election, a handful of conservative Republicans could take seats in the upper chamber and quickly change the philosophical compass there. A group that includes Gary Polland of Houston, Tommy Williams of The Woodlands, Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, Bob Deuell of Greenville, Ed Harrison of Waxahachie and John Shields of San Antonio is knocking hard on the door. That's a collection that would make the Senate a great deal more conservative than it is now. Deuell's race is in November, against Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas; the five others are in primaries that are likely–because of the way the districts are drawn–to determine who'll win in November. Those districts all lean to the GOP.

Several Senate races are tight, or at least loud and vicious and interesting to watch. And if the political winds blow in a particular direction in the primaries and again in the general election, a handful of conservative Republicans could take seats in the upper chamber and quickly change the philosophical compass there. A group that includes Gary Polland of Houston, Tommy Williams of The Woodlands, Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, Bob Deuell of Greenville, Ed Harrison of Waxahachie and John Shields of San Antonio is knocking hard on the door. That's a collection that would make the Senate a great deal more conservative than it is now. Deuell's race is in November, against Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas; the five others are in primaries that are likely–because of the way the districts are drawn–to determine who'll win in November. Those districts all lean to the GOP.

The race between Sen. Jeff Wentworth and John Shields is one of the loudest in memory. Republicans got stirred up against Wentworth because he didn't toe the line on redistricting. He acted independently at a time when the GOP was depending on him. They got the maps they wanted in spite of his efforts; now, they're in it for the revenge. Things are so bad that Wentworth threatened to file a libel suit. Shields is running some comical mail pieces and is getting help from the Free Market Foundation's PAC, which is sending out mailers and has even started a website bashing the incumbent (www.TheRealWentworth.com). Wentworth called a press conference to dispute a list of seven lies he accused Shields of spreading, including denials of several allegations made directly against Wentworth. For instance: Shields has Wentworth getting $25,000 to represent a client before a state agency. Wentworth says it ain't so. Shields says Wentworth doesn't support U.S. Sen. candidate (and San Antonio politico) John Cornyn. Wentworth says it ain't so. You get the idea.

The offense from Wentworth says Shields was district director for "liberal Democrat and convicted felon" U.S. Rep. Albert Bustamante, that he's not a retired teacher like he says (he did teach for seven years), and that he was one of only five lawmakers who voted to let kids have cigarettes. Nice. This Senate race is, as a friend likes to say, "ugly with a capital G." It's also very close.

In Houston, Rep. Kyle Janek and Polland are slugging it out in a primary contest that will probably pick the successor to Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson. Chances the seat will go to a Democrat are slim. Janek, an anesthesiologist, claims Polland, a lawyer, helped get dangerous criminals out of jail. Polland says horse-pookey to that: He was handling appeals by court appointment and got them affirmed, he says. That's all. He didn't free people to commit new crimes. He says Janek is falling behind and getting desperate and says the good doctor's voting record in the House is too liberal for voters in the conservative Senate district. Janek has help from Austin lobby groups, but some trial lawyers, convinced Janek will always be against them, are quietly supporting Polland.

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Rep. Kip Averitt is getting an unexpectedly stiff challenge from homebuilder Harrison in the contest for the Senate seat that had been held by David Sibley of Waco. Harrison moved from Desoto to run in the Senate district. He ran for Congress against Martin Frost of Dallas a couple of elections ago, and is getting help from elected officials on the northern end of the newly drawn district. We hear, with moderate reliability, of a poll that has Harrison running close in that district; another semi-reliable thermometer reader says Averitt should win. Harrison recently said school district consolidations might make some sense; Averitt's bashing him with that call for "abolishing" districts and saying it's an attack on local control of schools.

More Fun in the Senate

Senate District 4 is either Tommy Williams' to lose, or he's already lost it. It depends on who is talking. The Tarrance Group did a poll that shows Dr. Martin Basaldua (the client) and former Sen. Mike Galloway on their way to an April runoff, but the Williams camp still thinks their guy could win the thing outright on March 12. Without a runoff. The Williams camp says the Basaldua result came from an "educated voter" questionnaire. That's where the pollster asks if you'd vote for a candidate if you knew he worked nights in an X-rated video store. That's the seat left open by Sen. David Bernsen's decision to run for land commissioner. It would be difficult for a Democrat to win it, given the way the redistricting folk drew their maps.

While Barbara Canales-Black is in the last days of a tough race for state Senate, her family's oil and gas business is proceeding with an environmentally controversial new well on national park land on Padre Island. Her opponent, Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, doesn't even have to say anything about it: The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, who oppose the project, are doing his blasting for him. The Sierra Club is shooting out daily press releases about the drilling, and the LCV is preparing a radio ad that'll run in the district, knocking Canales-Black for a project the green folks say is unnecessary and environmentally harmful to the area. That's the seat held now by Sen. Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi. He's retiring after this term.

Craig Estes was installed in the Texas Senate after a special election to replace Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, after Haywood died. But the district has been redrawn to include Parker County, and the folks there want their own senator. David Deison isn't pulling any punches. He's running a mean ol' ad right at Estes, noting the new senator's EPA violations (Estes is in the chemical and fertilizer business), OSHA fines and unpaid taxes. It's a heavy buy, by most accounts, and Deison is getting some traction in a race many in Austin assumed would go to the brand-new incumbent.

Free Markets and Dirty Mailboxes

The Free Market Foundation does some of the nastiest mail in Texas each election cycle, and they're back in the game this year. The group has targeted a number of races, including the Wentworth/Shields Senate contest. They're also supporting challengers to Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, who is running for his Senate seat against former Rep. Jerry Yost, and Edmund Kuempel and Brian McCall, who drew challengers in the GOP primary even though, or more likely because, they are running for Speaker of the House in a field that includes incumbent Democrat Pete Laney and fellow Republican Tom Craddick. The Free Market folks are backing Craddick in that race, and come close to backing him in mailers sent to voters in McCall's district. State law bars outside groups and political action committees from taking active roles in speaker races, but that taboo–which restricts political free speech in a way that hasn't been tested in Texas courts–is being ignored by several groups this year.

Most of the group's hits are based on votes by the lawmakers, but they're selective about it, endorsing some candidates over others who got the same ratings, or even better ones, on Freepac's scorecard. In McCall's case, for instance, they put out a mailer saying he votes with liberal Democrats. He votes about the same as Craddick, according to the group's rankings. But he's running for speaker against Craddick, and would probably need Democratic votes in order to win. That's apparently where the group is coming from, but they don't say so in their mailer. They're not helping everyone they've endorsed, but the research on races where they are attacking is online at www.freepac.com.

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Getting to Know You

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, better known as the D-Triple-C, put a daily feature on its website last week encouraging folks to get to know Henry Cuellar, the former state representative from Laredo who is running against U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. They should get to know him, too: They ran a picture of state Rep. Richard Raymond, also a Democrat, also from Laredo, instead of a photo of Cuellar.

Houses on Fire

Names to put on the House's Endangered Species list: Jerry Madden and Manny Najera. That doesn't mean they're going to lose their primary races, just that it's highly possible. The only race where an incumbent is certain to lose is in Lubbock, where redistricting put Republicans Gary Walker and Delwin Jones in the same district. Jones is an institution, but Walker has been almost hyperactively knocking on doors.

Madden is being challenged by John Roach Jr., a former Plano councilman whose father has been on the ballot several times (including this year) as a judge. Roach worked for Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and is getting support from some in the Austin lobby who aren't fond of the incumbent. Madden could win, but people watching closely think that'll be a close race.

The early line from El Paso was that Reps. Joe Pickett and Paul Moreno were in for tough races. That's not necessarily wrong–Pickett has had to contend with opposition from fellow Rep. Norma Chavez and Sen. Eliot Shapleigh in addition to the heat from opponent Dan Chavez. But Chente Quintanilla has put up a good fight against Najera that has some of the incumbent's friends worried. That's one to watch.

Money, Money, Money

U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk, who spent some time making supporters nervous by staying out of the spotlight and on the telephone, raising money, is starting to bloom. He had two decent news hits in a row. First, he announced that he out-raised his chief opponent by a better than 2-to-1 margin. That means he'll be able to buy more television time than Brand X, which, in turn, increases his chances of advancing after March 12, probably to a primary runoff. Kirk and U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen are battling each other for second place; the assumption people seem to make is that one of the two will get into a one-on-one fight with Victor Morales in April. (There is also a cluster of pundits, wags and hacks who think Victor's fortunes will tail off as Dan Morales falls back. That could put one of the other candidates into first place going into a runoff.)

Second, a minor candidate in the race–football player-turned-sports agent Ed Cunningham–decided to stop actively campaigning and to throw his support to Kirk. That's probably not a ton of support, but it was good for a round of headlines, and that counts for something. Cunningham, who got the bug to run for office from John Sharp when the two were in a business deal together, said he didn't want his presence in the race to cut Kirk's chances. But his name stays on the ballot and he waited until several days of early voting had gone by to bow out.

Bentsen raised $331,459 during the first 50 days of the year and got to February 20 with $263,521 still in the bank. He'll be up on television in some parts of the state by the time you read this, following Kirk to the tube by about four days. Kirk hauled in $707,967 during the first 50 days of the year and had $957,614 on hand as of February 20. He'll have more firepower when it comes to TV and mail. Neither candidate can afford a carpet-bombing like, say, what Tony Sanchez is going. But both campaigns say voters will be able to get a look at their candidates and some issues before Election Day.

The Bentsen ad starts with the Bentsen most Texans already know: former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the venerated Texas Democrat who is also the uncle to the current candidate. The subject is health care, and starts with the elder Bentsen's support for Medicaid and ends with the younger Bentsen's promise to fight HMO's and to guarantee prescription drugs.

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That'll match up against Kirk's spots, which are less issue-oriented and more biographical. One has him talking about a church in Austin his family helped build and cutting a ribbon in Dallas. The other is almost an ad for the City of Dallas. It shows Kirk cutting ribbons, standing with a cop, then at a construction site and then a boardroom while text on the screen touts favorable job growth and property tax stats, followed by magazine covers featuring Dallas during the 1990s boom.

People Who Need People: Endorsements

After some of their leading members met personally with Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Association of Automobile Dealers decided to endorse Tony Sanchez, the gazillionaire Laredo businessman who's chasing the Democratic nomination to challenge Perry in November. They also contributed $25,000 to his campaign. The car dealers were angered and surprised at the end of the last legislative session when Perry vetoed a couple of bills they supported.

One of those was a straight-up consumer issue; the dealers wanted to tack an automatic charge onto the price of a new car. Perry whacked it after the Legislature approved it; some of the dealers say they could have swallowed that a little bit easier if the governor's office had preceded the veto with a heads-up, or some indication that they didn't like what the dealers were trying to do.

• Another big lobby/trade group incensed and invigorated by the Perry vetoes–the Texas Medical Association–endorsed Sanchez and gave him $5,000. That's a primary-only endorsement; the group left itself the option of going with either Sanchez or Perry in November. And the amount was less than TMA gave other non-judicial statewide candidates: John Sharp, running for Lite Guv, got $25,000; Greg Abbott, running for AG, got $15,000; and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander got $10,000. TMA maxed out its contributions to Republican John Cornyn and Democrat Ken Bentsen, giving each of those U.S. Senate candidates $5,000, the top amount allowed in federal races.

• The political unit at the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce put its seal of approval on Byron Cook, a Republican running for the Texas House in HD-8. That's an open seat, and he's one of three Republicans and four Democrats who want to represent the area.

• U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, joins most of the rest of the Democrats in the Texas delegation and tosses his support to Ken Bentsen, a fellow congressman who's running for U.S. Senate. Still notably absent from that list: U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, whose district is next to Bentsen's and who still hasn't publicly picked a favorite.

• Houston Mayor Lee Brown went the other way, endorsing fellow (former) Mayor Ron Kirk over Bentsen, the local congressman. That's a big boost for Kirk, who isn't well known in Houston and who needs to cut into Bentsen's base there.

• The Dallas Bar poll produced only a couple of straight-up winners; most of the people who finished first in their respective contests did so with less than 50 percent of the votes. On the safe side of 50 in that informal tally were Texas Supreme Court Justices Wallace Jefferson and Xavier Rodriguez and Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Tom Price. Price's former colleague on that court, Steve Mansfield, is running again, but the Dallas lawyers aren't keen on him: He got the support of only 74 out of 853 who voted in his race.

• The crowd at the annual fundraiser for the New Boston Chamber of Commerce was strongly Democratic, but the political poll of the attendees still produced some eye-poppers. For instance, Democratic comptroller candidate Marty Akins beat Carole Keeton Rylander, the Republican incumbent. And agriculture commission candidate Tom Ramsay beat incumbent Susan Combs, at least on that night and with that crowd.

In the Senate race, Ron Kirk got 59 percent of the informal vote, outdoing Ken Bentsen (19%), John Cornyn (14%) and Victor Morales (5%) combined. Gov. Rick Perry outpolled Tony Sanchez by two votes, getting 253 to the challenger's 251. Dan Morales had 76 supporters, followed by John WorldPeace, with 20, and Bill Lyon, with 4. The crowd overwhelmingly liked its local incumbents regardless of party label: U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, a Democrat, Sen. Bill Ratliff, a Republican, and Barry Telford, a Democrat. They only voted on races where at least one of the candidates was in attendance at the event.

Borrowed Popularity

The ads from Texas Supreme Court Justice Xavier Rodriguez are starting up, first in San Antonio and then in unspecified other areas of the state. That's a relatively light buy, given the costs of television and the restrictions on giving to judicial candidates (unlike other state races, judicial candidates have to abide contribution limits). But the ads are the first we've seen in this election cycle to use Gov. Rick Perry as a celebrity testimonial. Perry appointed Rodriguez to the court and does the last ten seconds or so of the judge's commercial. Several candidates are using photos of Perry in mailers and such, but his predecessor, George W. Bush, is still running first when it comes to officeholders that Republicans want to have by their side in campaign materials.

Rodriguez is running against Steven Wayne Smith, the lawyer who won the Hopwood discrimination case against the University of Texas. One of the defendants in that case, David Rogers, is now working on Smith's campaign. He takes issue with our note last week about George W. Bush "firmly endorsing" Rodriguez. This seems like a lawyer's distinction to us, but it's important to them: The president "supports" the incumbents, but didn't use the word "endorse."

Swinging Wide

Former Attorney General Dan Morales is following in the political footsteps of his predecessor, Jim Mattox, whose last campaign for office in Texas was underfunded and increasingly desperate for free attention from the media to offset his opponent's paid advertising. It didn't work for Mattox, and it doesn't appear to be catching on for Morales, either.

Morales is experienced at this and is running against a tenderfoot, Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez. But his last two attacks on the wealthy South Texan have misfired. First, he noted that a bank controlled by the Sanchez family lobbied against money laundering laws and suggested that the absence of those laws made the September 11 terrorist attacks easier to execute.

The second, an attempt to talk some more about Sanchez' business foibles, turned into a conversation about Morales' help for powerful companies while he was in office. Specifically, he took the side of telecommunications giant SBC in a fight with the state while he was attorney general, then took a lucrative job with the company after he left office. Oddly enough, the engineer of the Sanchez counterattack that got Morales talking about Southwestern Bell instead of Tony Sanchez was Glenn Smith. He's the campaign manager for the Sanchez effort, and worked before that for Austin-based Public Strategies Inc. Bell is one of that company's biggest clients, and Smith was one of the people lauding and defending Morales' position on market regulation when the AG took the position against the state he was elected to represent. Never mind that: the SBC hit took Morales off his message against Sanchez's business practices and put him on defense. Advantage Sanchez.

Points of Order

Remember David Hartman, the Austin banker who ran for state treasurer back in 1994? Okay, if you remember him, do you recall Molly the Bulldog? We didn't, but he says his voters remember the dog standing on top of a stack of money and near the words "taxpayers' watchdog." He says Rep. Tommy Merritt stole the image and the slogan to try to make it seem like Hartman was endorsing him. He's not. Hartman is with Curt Hinshaw III, a trial lawyer who's challenging Merritt in the Republican primary. Hartman's blast at Merritt says "a real taxpayer's watchdog would never vote for a budget that was 16 percent larger than the one two years earlier." Merritt was hardly alone. That budget passed the Senate by a 30-0 vote, the House by a 141-3 vote, and was signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Two of the three Nays were cast by Democrats.

• Former Rep. Bob Richardson is running in a crowded primary for an open seat on the north end of Austin, and he's touting the seniority he'll have if he's elected. Sounded like BS to us, but it's true: He would come in as a fourth-term member instead of a freshman. That would put him in front of newer members seeking the same committee assignments.

Political People and Their Moves

Jan Bullock, widow of Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, is going to work for Hillco, the lobby and public affairs firm started by Buddy Jones and Bill Miller. Bullock will be involved in everything the firm does except for its original business: She won't be going to the Pink Building and asking legislators for votes... Nicole Sherbert moves from the Texas State Network, where she had been helping on Capitol coverage, to the John Sharp campaign, where she'll be flacking for the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor... The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct delivered spankings to a couple of robed officeholders: Nelda Rodriguez of the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus was publicly admonished for driving around with a "Tony Sanchez for Governor" bumper sticker on the same car that had her judicial license plates on it. When the commission questioned her, she said, "I do not respond to anonymous complaints." And she denied putting the sticker on the car, but offered no explanation of how it got there. Judges are free to use bumper stickers, or to use official judge plates, but not on the same car... The commission also publicly admonished Mona D.L. Velasquez, a JP in Sabinal, for two things. First, she summoned a group of women who'd been arguing publicly into her court and then fined a couple of them, all before any charges were filed. Second, she wrote a letter of recommendation–on official court letterhead–for a woman who then used it in a campaign for Sheriff. Those are both no-nos... Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry named two new regents to the University of North Texas Board. One is Waxahachie Mayor Chuck Beatty, a UNT grad who has worked for the Boy Scouts of America for the last two decades; the other is Claude Daniel Smith Jr., another UNT grad who's now a businessman in Plano... Perry put three new people on the board of the Texas Youth Commission. They are Steve Fryer of Brownwood, a businessman and former Republican House candidate, Pete Alfaro, a retired engineer who is the mayor of Baytown, and Patsy Lou Guest of Duncanville, a special education counselor in the Cedar Hill ISD... Congressional candidate Jeb Hensarling got knocked off the road and might fare better for it, on two fronts. He and wife Melissa have a daughter, Claire Suzanne, that they didn't have a couple of days ago. And the guy subbing for Hensarling on a bus trip in East Texas is fairly good at politics: Hensarling's former boss, Phil Gramm, will campaign in Athens and Mexia and other scenic spots in the candidate's place. Hensarling is running in CD-5 in a crowded GOP primary–he's one of five candidates.

Quotes of the Week

North Carolina appellate Judge James Andrew Winn Jr., in a Dallas Morning News story on campaign finance in judicial races: "How can anyone have confidence in the strike calls of an umpire if you know the pitcher contributed $10,000 to select that umpire to call the game?"

Republican Jerry Patterson, who's running for land commissioner, admitting to the Associated Press that he was reaching a long way to compare a pension lawsuit against his opponent, Kenn George, to suits by former Enron employees: "Fairness is not a factor. This is politics. Politics ain't fair."

David Dewhurst, describing differences between him and the Democrat in the race for lieutenant governor to the Midland Reporter-News: "John Sharp is not the conservative a lot of people think he is. John has received a huge amount from trial lawyers, has union support and is known to be highly partisan. I am known to get along with people."

Sharp, on gubernatorial candidates Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "Both of them are good, honest men and good Democrats. Don't let anybody, including themselves, tell you any different."

Texarkana lawyer Ed Miller, a Democratic bigwig and a Ron Kirk supporter, quoted by the Houston Chronicle on the African-American former Dallas mayor's chances in the primaries: "He is intelligent, he is articulate, and I think the percentage of bigots in the state of Texas is decreasing."

Oklahoma basketball coach Eddie Sutton, after his players brought him his 700th career win, in the Austin American-Statesman: "I'd heard they planned to carry me off if we won. I hoped not. With the way we've handled the basketball, I thought they'd probably drop me."


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 34, 4 March 2002. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2002 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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