Scorched Earth, Part 1

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, criticized last year for raising questions about a political opponent's sexual proclivities, is running radio ads referring to a lawyer who helped Dan Morales on tobacco litigation as "an intimate friend" of the former attorney general.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, criticized last year for raising questions about a political opponent's sexual proclivities, is running radio ads referring to a lawyer who helped Dan Morales on tobacco litigation as "an intimate friend" of the former attorney general.

In a radio ad that is running in some of the state's biggest markets, an announcer says that while Sanchez was creating jobs, Morales "was busy killing affirmative action and lining the pocket of an intimate friend with hundreds of millions of dollars who did no work for it."

The friend Sanchez refers to is Marc Murr, an attorney whose role in the state's tobacco lawsuit is in dispute. The ad is about allegations that Morales, as attorney general, worked with Murr to try to get a half-billion of the tobacco lawsuit money for themselves. Murr claimed that much was due him, but gave up his claim after the deal got some attention. A federal investigation ensued and Sanchez has claimed Morales still faces the possibility of federal indictment. The feds don't admit they ever investigated in the first place, and thus won't say whether such an investigation is still underway or completed. Morales has denied wrongdoing, but the incident is the basis for one of Sanchez's attacks during their night of debates, and in some of his television and radio commercials.

The Morales campaign blasted the frontrunner for setting "a new standard for viciousness in campaigning. First, he tried to divide and conquer using race, then he tried to use language, and now he's making sexual implications."

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In Sanchez's television ad, Murr is referred to as a "close, personal friend" of Morales. But in the radio version, that's amended to "intimate friend," leading some listeners to wonder whether Sanchez is implying Morales is homosexual. In Sanchez's defense: Murr isn't mentioned in the spot by name, and isn't identified by gender, either. A Sanchez spokeswoman says the word isn't meant to imply anything except that the two "are just close friends, as opposed to business colleagues."

But this isn't the first time Sanchez has been accused of labeling a political enemy as gay. Former Laredo Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Sanchez's hometown, resigned his elected position when Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to be Secretary of State. That put him on the Republican's side of a contest between his benefactor and his constituent. Sanchez, the constituent, hired lawyer Tony Canales to investigate a threatening letter he said he received (the letter has never been made public or had its existence confirmed by a third party). That was apparently unrelated to Cuellar's appointment. But Canales, in turn, hired some private investigators who used their questioning of people to spread a rumor that Cuellar is gay. Cuellar angrily demanded that Sanchez apologize to his family. Sanchez took a long time to apologize, then sloughed off most of the blame on the investigators. Cuellar hasn't endorsed Sanchez and said last year he would probably help Perry. Now, Cuellar is running for Congress and is staying clear of the race for governor.

That same spot, which the Sanchez campaign is running "around the state, in bigger markets," also makes a direct racial appeal, saying "a vote for Morales is a vote for Perry, the Republicans and all the right-wing Republicans who want to turn back the clock on our people and jeopardize our future."

The advertising is overheated on the other side, too. Morales has a radio ad on the air shooting at Sanchez's position on affirmative action by repeating one of his standard stump lines. Morales, who does his own talking in the ad, says Sanchez "would give his own children, the children of a billionaire, a special preference over others just because they are minorities."

Scorched Earth, Part 2

Watch those mailboxes for the next few days, because Richard Ford has another volley in his cannon. The head of the Free Enterprise PAC, or Free PAC, won't say what it is. But he does say he wouldn't change more than "about one percent" of what he's done so far.

What he's done is four mail drops in each of six Senate or House districts. Only the last round, with its photographs of men kissing, hugging, and cutting wedding cakes, set off the general alarms. He says mildly that the mailers were geared to get attention from voters who aren't even aware of the upcoming elections, and that he's got every right in the world to keep sending them.

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But the opposition has turned its guns from political candidates to Ford and his organization, and he's taking shots from Democrats, from mainstream Republicans, and from some of his past supporters. Albert Huddleston of Dallas, for instance, is sending Ford a letter decrying the mailers; he might ask Ford to refund $25,000 he's donated to the group.

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff is leading the charge against Ford, calling the mailers political pornography and then starting an attack of his own on Ford and anyone who supports him. In a heated lecture disguised as a press conference, Ratliff compared Free PAC to Nazis, to skinheads, to the Taliban, to the KKK, and to Al Queda. He paraphrased what George W. Bush said about terrorists, naming some of the people on Free PAC's board and saying that he considered them and Free PAC's donors as guilty of political pollution as the people who actually put the stuff together and sent it to the post office for mailing.

Ratliff called out other elected officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and House Speaker candidate Tom Craddick, saying their statements against the mailers weren't strong enough and ought to be revised. Ratliff didn't accuse Craddick of orchestrating the mailings, but said he found it curious that two of the six legislators targeted are also running for Speaker. And he said he regretted not stepping forward during the last elections, when the same group sent out similar, if milder, mail. All in all, it was a butt-chewing worthy of Bob Bullock.

And as far as Free PAC is concerned, it fell on deaf ears. Ford was unrepentant and went so far as to accuse Ratliff and the other legislators who held the press conference of abusing their official positions to try to stifle free speech. He said the group picks its targets based on their records, does some research on their voting, then runs polls to see which of those votes most incense voters. That's how a vote for a Hate Crimes bill turns into a mailer accusing a legislator of putting rights for gays and lesbians in front of rights for everyone else, and how photographs of men with "Censored" labels stuck over them get into political mail in a race for the Texas Legislature.

Ford said the polling, design and other work were done by a Virginia firm, and said he had the mailers printed in Dallas by a non-political firm. He said nobody but him, including his donors and his political confederates, decides which races to target or what should be in the mail.

He also expressed surprise when told that all of the six lawmakers he targeted had the same political consultant for this or for past campaigns. Each of the six—Senate candidates Ratliff, Kip Averitt, and Jeff Wentworth, and House candidates Ed Kuempel, Brian McCall, and Tommy Merritt—is a client of the Fort Worth-based Eppstein Group.

We goofed last week, commingling the work of the Plano-based Free Market Foundation and the Dallas-based Free Enterprise PAC. What they have in common is that Richard Ford founded both. But he isn't associated with the foundation anymore, according to Kelly Shackelford, a lawyer who works at the foundation. Ford does political work and is no longer associated with the foundation (as of about three years ago), Shackelford says. He says the foundation does policy stuff and argues for conservative ideas, but doesn't get into election politics. Finally, the foundation was not involved in rating candidates or sending out nasty mailers about those candidates.

Things to Watch on Tuesday

The level of bull in politics always peaks right before it stops, and then you get to see what's what. Start at the top of the political pyramid and work your way through:

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• Do the negative ads against Dan Morales in the governor's race have any effect on Victor Morales in the Senate race, and is it really possible, as some Democrats seem to think, that both Ron Kirk and Ken Bentsen will make it into a runoff?

• If Tony Sanchez is comfortably ahead of Morales in the governor's race, as his aides claim, why is he running a heavy campaign of negative ads? Why attack if you've already won?

• Does a huge flood of commercials, as in the governor's race, produce bigger turnout?

• How big is the Democratic Party's Absolutely Anglo vote—people who will vote against Hispanics even if they're dominating a race? Is it a disadvantage in a Republican primary to have a Hispanic surname, like Xavier Rodriguez?

• How big is the Hispanic vote in the Democratic primary? What's the result in the races for land commissioner and agriculture commissioner, where two Anglo legislators face Hispanic opponents?

• What's the effect on Republican primaries when turnout is very low? Does that concentrate the activists and conservatives or do moderate candidates prevail?

• Can the Border outvote the rest of the state in a Democratic primary?

• Can Harris County determine the winners in statewide GOP primaries like the one for land commissioner between Jerry Patterson, who's from the Houston area, and Kenn George of Dallas?

• Do over-the-top negative mailers like those sent to voters by Free PAC affect the outcomes of political races? Did the press attention to the problem educate voters or just give wider exposure to the attacks that, until then, was limited to the people on the mailing lists?

Cash for the Finish

With two Republican appointees to the Texas Supreme Court in harm's way, the Republican National Committee has started writing checks. The RNC gave $25,000 each to Supreme Court Justices Wallace Jefferson and Xavier Rodriguez. Both were appointed to the court by Gov. Rick Perry, and neither has ever run for office. And because it's a judicial race, there's not a lot of money being thrown around to help boost their popularity. The folks backing them are chewing fingernails, but the contributions will help: $25,000 is the maximum allowed in Texas judicial races. Republicans are especially worried about the judge they call X-Rod, at least in part for fear that his name won't look attractive on the ballot next to Steven Wayne Smith, his opponent. We put it that way on purpose; some of them are worried that some Republican primary voters won't support a candidate with a Hispanic surname, and some just think the Smith name works better with voters who might not be familiar with the two candidates. And Smith has some traction of his own: He was on the winning side of the Hopwood lawsuit that forced the University of Texas law school to ignore race when choosing who would get into the program and who would not. Jefferson faces Sam Lee in the GOP primary.

If It Ain't Broke, Keep Using It

It didn't work in New York, but it worked for Todd Staples, and now Kip Averitt is trying ads that use children to tell voters that he's got an opponent who is new to the district.

Averitt's running a "Kids for Kip" TV spot showing a bunch of youngsters who have presumably been alive longer than Ed Harrison has lived in the Senate district. Harrison is from Desoto, right next to the Senate district, and moved in when the political lines were finally decided last year. Averitt's house was already in the district, so he's labeling the other guy a carpetbagger. Staples, now a state senator from East Texas, used the same ad (and the same consultant) when he was getting elected. The idea started, as nearly as we can tell, in New York. Rick Lazio used it against Hilary Clinton to try to pin her as a carpetbagger who hadn't lived in the state until deciding to try for a federal office using it as a base. As everyone with a newspaper subscription knows, she's now a U.S. senator.

On Second Thought

Former state Comptroller John Sharp says he knows the money from the state lottery is dedicated to public education, but says that's a sham and says the state should use that money instead to send Texas kids to college. He was quoted in the Longview paper about a week ago saying the state should dedicate lottery proceeds to public schools.

That wasn't the way things were originally set up, but in 1997—when Sharp was still comptroller—the law was changed so that all of the gambling money would go to schools. The paper had him advocating something that's already in the law. He says he knew that, and that the reporter must have misunderstood.

Sharp's story now is that the lottery isn't boosting education at all. The lottery money goes to education, sure enough, but an equal amount of general revenue is subtracted and spent on something else. He says the money should be dedicated—as it is in Georgia—to paying for tuition and books for Texas high school students who go to public universities in the state. How would he make up for that expensive program? He doesn't say. Sharp says the state's budget shortfall ranks in front of the scholarship program he was talking about in Longview. "This ain't gonna be the first thing out of the box," he said of the lottery scholarships.

Sounds Like a Fun Job

Between bites at Dan Morales, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez stopped to poke at Gov. Rick Perry, who'll face the winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary. Perry is on the verge of nominating a state education commissioner, and Sanchez took the opportunity to kibitz. He served notice he'll be applying a litmus test: Any education commission who supports vouchers will lose the job if Sanchez wins next week and again in November. "I suggest they not buy a new home in Austin and settle down," he said. Perry's office isn't commenting much on the search for someone to replace Jim Nelson, the Odessa attorney who resigned from the job last year.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Felipe Alanis, a former deputy education commissioner, is getting the job. A Perry spokesman said only that the governor has made his decision and is waiting for approval from the nominee's hometown senator. That's an informal but strictly enforced step before a nominee can win approval from the full Senate. Alanis apparently lives in Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos' district; Barrientos, a Democrat, is helping the Sanchez campaign in its effort to unseat Perry.

Political Notes

More than 100 media went to the gubernatorial debates in Dallas to cover the first Spanish-language debate in the recent history of statewide elections in Texas. The sponsors said the usual state media showed up, but they were bolstered by a surge of interest from the Texas Border and from international networks.

• Tony Sanchez mail program is so heavy that some of his stuff is going to solid Republican voters. The most recent piece is a four-page pro-choice piece that was sent to women of both the Democratic and GOP persuasion. Sanchez says the right to choose is personal. He says protect the right to choose. But the mailer never once uses the word "abortion."

• The Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce is changing its name this spring. The trade association is dropping Chambers of Commerce and will be known at some point simply as the Texas Association of Business. That was the name of one of the groups that merged not so long ago. The other was the Texas Chamber of Commerce. TAB will try to keep its affiliations with local chambers in spite of the new moniker.

Endorsements

Mark Cole, running for an open House seat in Houston (HD-134), got the endorsement of the Texas Right to Life PAC.

• Sen. David Bernsen, seeking the Democratic nomination for land commissioner, got the seal of approval from the Sierra Club. He's running against Ray Madrigal in that primary.

• Texans for a Republican Majority, a new group set up to boost GOP candidates, isn't giving money. Instead, they're traveling around the state making endorsements aimed at getting some local media coverage for the candidates TRMPAC prefers. Among the picks who got visits during a week of press conferences by the group: Supreme Court Justices Wallace Jefferson and Xavier Rodriguez; Kris Gillespie, who's in a hotly contested primary race in an open district in Austin (HD-50); Corbin Van Arsdale in HD-130 in Houston; and Dan Gattis in HD-20 in Round Rock.

• The Texas Women's Political Caucus endorsed Democrat Kirk Watson in the AG's race.

• The Texas League of Conservation Voters endorsed Tony Sanchez, David Bernsen, and Sherry Boyles in the races for governor, land commissioner and railroad commissioner, respectively.

Poll-Vaulting

The Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce planned a big press conference to announce the results of a poll on health care, but pulled the plug after looking at the results and estimating the blowback from doctors and hospitals. TABCC and the Texas Medical Association, in particular, have been battling over health care issues, and the business group doesn't want to escalate the war or make things worse than they already are.

Their poll included two results they feared would be the focus of news stories and the source of new exasperation for docs. First, the respondents put a low rank on prompt payment for doctors waiting for money from insurance companies and HMOs. It matters dearly to the medical folks, but it's not a real issue with the public. Second, doctors are fairly high on the list of blame when people are talking about who's in the best position to control high medical and health insurance bills.

The rest of the survey has some interesting stuff in it. Crime and transportation and education and taxes have lost their juice with Texans. The pollsters found health care, and jobs and the economy, at the top of the list of things Texans find important to their families on a daily basis. Each was listed first by 26 percent of the voters and second by 19 percent. Education got 19 percent of the first-place votes and 20 percent of the seconds. Everything else trailed those three issues.

Given a list to choose from, the respondents ranked costs, access and quality of health care in the top three spots. And they say holding down health care costs should be a legislative priority ahead of providing coverage for people without health insurance. Only 11 percent had prompt pay of doctors and hospitals as their first or second priorities. And asked who can do the most to hold the line on costs, they ranked government regulation first (24 percent), followed by drug companies (22 percent), doctors (12 percent), HMOs (11 percent) and hospitals (11 percent).

The TABCC gang was so antsy about the results they decided to release the entire poll, including the questions and responses. That's an effort to show the doctors and the rest of us that they're not trying to pick a fight. They also don't want to shoot at their favorite candidates, like Gov. Rick Perry; transportation, his cornerstone issue, finished low on the list of citizen priorities. His pollsters—Baselice & Co.— did the poll in mid-February. Fine print: They polled 800 people and say the margin of error is ±3.5 percent at the 95 percent test level.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, or CALA, calls itself the local, citizen-based wing of the tort reform movement, but the CALA folks are putting together a website that treats it like a statewide group. The new site (www.tala.com) features a section on judicial races that lists the answers state judicial candidates put on the group's questionnaires.

Political People and Their Moves

The other shoe dropped: After a year of speculation and whispering, House Appropriations Chairman Rob Junell is being recommended for a federal judgeship. U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas put his name on the list for President George W. Bush, who then can ask the U.S. Senate to consent and make the San Angelo Democrat a federal judge. Junell was one of a handful of high-profile Texas Democrats who helped on the Bush presidential campaign... The two U.S. senators also recommended Ed Kinkeade for a federal judgeship. He's currently on the state bench, serving on the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. He's in line for the seat left open in Dallas by the resignation of federal Judge Joe Kendall. Junell would be based in Midland; Judge Royal Ferguson is moving to San Antonio to replace the late U.S. District Judge Hippo Garcia...

Perry hired Victoria Ford to work on health services for his policy department. She had been an aide to Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio. Stacy Gaston, who had been at the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, will move to Madla's office to take Ford's place... Cathy Teague, press secretary to Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, for the last five years, is moving down the street to Public Strategies Inc. Teague, a former TV reporter, will work in that company's press relations shop... Cliff Angelo, who had been at the U.S. Commerce Department, is also going to PSI. His dad is Ernie Angelo, a well-known Republican activist from Midland...

Bruce Hight, who's been a Capitol reporter for just under 600 years, is leaving the newsroom of the Austin American-Statesman to join that paper's editorial staff. Hight had most recently been covering law and the courts. He has covered almost every facet of state government and politics... Mark Shewmaker, a legislative aide to Rep. Bob Hunter, R-Abilene, is leaving to start a daily Internet-based business digest called Texas Business News. He'll crunch headlines from papers around the state and the U.S. and send the results along to subscribers...

Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry named Gary Swindle to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. Swindle is the police chief in Tyler... The governor named Dr. Kelly Rising, a Beaumont physician, to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission... The Enterprise Foundation, a national outfit that builds and renovates homes for low-income people, named Jeff Baloutine as its Southwest regional director. Until last year, he was a community development officer at Bank United in Houston... Deaths, apparently: The Texas Chili Parlor, closed by Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander for $36,039 in back taxes (and after writing six hot checks to pay those taxes).

Quotes of the Week

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, blasting direct mail sent by the Free Enterprise PAC to voters in his and five other legislative districts to convince voters to side with more conservative Republicans over incumbents: "You are either the purveyors of this filth or you are with those of us who are willing to come forward and condemn it."

Free PAC founder and honcho Richard Ford, in reply: "If you want to make people angry, lie. If you want to make them absolutely livid with rage, tell the truth."

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who was named one of Free PAC's top ten legislators in spite of the fact that he voted in favor of the Hate Crimes legislation that is the basis for the group's attacks on other lawmakers: "Some people get a pornographic mailout. Some people get a plaque."

Former Rep. Bill Ceverha, in a memo telling Ratliff he went too far: "To compare the support of Free PAC's contributors to those who 'harbor and finance terrorists' is an insult to those individuals... Your statement is irrational at best and certainly slanderous of those involved."

U.S. Senate candidate Victor Morales, confusing handlers with old maids while explaining that his comments are not prefabricated by professionals: "People look at me and say that's me talking... It's not something said at election time or because some pollsters or spinsters told him to say it."


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 35, 11 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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