A year ago, Dr. John Coppedge of Longview was one of the biggest supporters of Gov. Rick Perry in his part of the state. But they had a falling out over Perry's vetoes of the "prompt pay" legislation pushed by the Texas Medical Association.
Last summer, Coppedge quietly told the Perry people he would be dropping out of his political role with the governor, chairing events and raising money and the like. He also backed away from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. He had been one of the names on that group's letterhead, but pulled out because some of the people in TLR helped convince the governor that the prompt pay bill was a dog. Coppedge has been busy since then working on House and Senate races and stirring the battle between the docs and the groups that oppose prompt pay legislation. And it was Coppedge who wrote the widely circulated memo about the activities and the money behind Free PAC that started the storm over that group's tactics in opposition to a handful of moderate Republicans.
That's all a long lead-up to this: At the end of April, Coppedge is hosting an event for Democrat Tony Sanchez at his home in Longview. Aides to Sanchez say that they have tentatively scheduled a fundraiser there. Perry's campaign declined an offer to comment.
• Nolan Ryan has a lot of name ID. He's popular. And various political people have tried to recruit him into the public sector over the years. The Texas Farm Bureau, which was spittin' mad at Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower in the late 1980s, tried to get Ryan to give up baseball and run against their Democratic nemesis. Ryan stayed in baseball, but he did commercials for then-Rep. Rick Perry of Haskell, who went on to win and serve two terms before climbing the career ladder.
Ryan toyed with the idea of running for that job himself when Perry decided to move up. But he found out that the commercials he was doing for various products would count against him in the federal government's equal time rules. Every time he pitched for Advil, an opponent would have to get an equal amount of free time. In 1997, the Hall of Fame baseball pitcher told the Houston Chronicle that his long-term contracts to do commercials would bar him from politics for a while. That cleared the way for another rural state rep–Susan Combs–to run for agriculture.
That history is what made a surprise of Ryan's latest political endeavor: He's endorsed former Comptroller John Sharp, who's making a second bid to become lieutenant governor. Sharp, a Democrat, is running against Land Commissioner David Dewhurst; Ryan will head a group of Republicans who favor the Democrats.
• Mark Sanders is not switching parties, but he is switching sides in this year's gubernatorial race. Sanders has been spokesman and/or aide to a list of Republicans that includes Bill Clements, Kent Hance, Rob Mosbacher, David Dewhurst and Carole Keeton Rylander. Now he's going to work for Tony Sanchez, the Laredo Democrat who wants to replace Republican Rick Perry in the Governor's Mansion. There's an old relationship at the bottom of this: Sanders worked for the late Houston Post with then-Austin Bureau Chief Glenn Smith. Smith is now the campaign manager for Sanchez, and the two have remained friends across the party lines. Though he says he'll remain a Republican, expect Sanders to be the leading voice in Sanchez' attacks on Perry. He'll be the second spokesman for the Democrat's campaign, teaming up with Michelle Kucera, who's been on board for several months. Oops: Sanders was out of town when the press release announcing his new job was written and distributed. That's apparently why it went out with Rylander's first name misspelled.
Late-Breakers in Runoffs
Republicans and business groups, still stinging from last month's defeat of Supreme Court Justice Xavier Rodriguez, are rallying behind Dale Wainwright, an African-American judge running for the Texas Supreme Court. Wainwright is running against Elizabeth Ray, another judge, another Republican, and a candidate who's getting slammed by tort reformers for raising money from trial lawyers. Wainwright's crowd includes the Texas Civil Justice League, the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce, and some of the large trade groups for doctors, hospitals, apartments, restaurants and engineers. They'll hold a press conference–the better to make TV on this issue–that'll include those groups along with Railroad Commissioners Tony Garza and Michael Williams. Ray's consultants dismiss that gathering as "a bunch of special interest groups who want to influence the courts." They're claiming an edge in experience: She's been a judge for ten years to his two, a lawyer for 24 years to his 15, and has handled 11,000 cases (as a judge) to his 2,000.
• In the hotly contested SD-20 race, Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, gets a boost from Diana Martinez. She's a Democratic activist from Corpus Christi who finished out of the money on March 12. And in spite of the fact that the race has been largely about geography, she's going with the Hidalgo County candidate instead of Barbara Canales-Black, who's also from Corpus. She and Canales-Black had agreed that the loser would support the winner to try to keep the seat in Corpus. But when it came time, she said she wouldn't endorse. Canales-Black, she says, told her she should "do what was right for my community. I have decided that she was right." She's with Chuy.
• Denton County Judge Scott Armey gets some help from U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, in the form of a letter and a radio ad. In both the ad and the letter, Gramm praises both of the candidates trying to succeed Armey's father–U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound. But he says he'd vote for Armey over Dr. Michael Burgess.
• U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, ran against Peter Wareing two years ago to win a seat in Congress. And now, he's writing to papers in a new Central Texas district to knock Wareing's current bid for office. Wareing is in a runoff with John Carter for that spot, and has money on his side. Carter, however, is gaining some allies. He's claiming the support of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and of Brad Barton, who moved from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to the new district, only to finish third. And the Texas Medical Association, which stayed out of the March primary, will support Carter. Culberson's letter to papers in the district says he was drawn into the race because Wareing was telling voters that Carter was repeating "false" charges Culberson made two years ago. He says he has to defend his integrity, and in his letter attempting that, Wareing gets the worst of it: Culberson says the Houston businessman (who moved to the new district for the election) voted as a Democrat for years and supported Ann Richards and Richard Fisher in their bids against Republicans. Culberson admits to talking about all of that stuff two years ago. But it was not him but another candidate who said that other bad stuff, and he details it in his letter with an artful backhand: "I never mentioned the failure of any of his business ventures or their failure to pay taxes, or his personal life..." Those issues "were all discussed by another candidate in our race."
• Marcos De Leon didn't make it out of the pack in the race to succeed Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin. He's officially throwing his support to Lulu Flores, who'll be in a runoff against Eddie Rodriguez. Flores lost to Maxey more than a decade ago; Rodriguez is a former aide to Maxey who's making his first run for the House. De Leon had 18 percent of the vote in that HD-51 primary. Flores got 38.3 percent, and Rodriguez got 23.4 percent.
• Texas Republicans, if they can pull it together, want to assemble a $6 million coordinated campaign for the elections. That's a bigger number than in the past, but the Victory 2002 idea is a standard feature of a big election year. The first meeting was bumpy, though: They don't yet have a finance chair, and the guy leading the group–U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio–sent a representative to the planning meeting with Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General John Cornyn.
A Political Perennial with Thorns
Now that he has everyone's attention, Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff isn't saying anything about his proposal to overhaul the financing of the state's public schools. He didn't really mean to get anyone's attention in the first place, but Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, mentioned Ratliff's plans at a legislative conference. Reporters were there. News flew, as it will, and then spread when the governor was asked for comments (wait and see, he said). Ratliff won't let the details loose until April 3, when he testifies before an interim legislative committee that's studying school finance. What he has said to other officeholders is that his plans could include a statewide property tax.
That leads to questions: Would it completely or incompletely replace local property taxes? Would it apply to all kinds of property? Would the state honor property tax exemptions that are in place because of local deals? How would the state make sure all of the tax jurisdictions reported all of their property values the same way to keep the tax load even across the state? How would the money be distributed to school districts? Would they be allowed to add local funds? How much?
That's just a quick scratch at it. The political questions are even thornier, but they can be boiled down to this dilemma: Wealthier Texans (a relative term) don't like sending money to other school districts around the state, especially when their own districts don't have everything those Texans what them to have. At the same time, if the gap between what's available to students in wealthy districts and what's available to their peers in poorer districts is too great, the courts throw it out as unfair.
In the current system, designed and shepherded by Ratliff in the Legislature and supported by a Supreme Court opinion written by then-Justice John Cornyn, the richer districts have to send some of their locally raised money to poorer districts. That's the same thing that would happen with a statewide plan, but it's more transparent now than it would be if a statewide tax were collected and then doled out by the state. In the current system, Wealthy ISD sends money directly to Poor ISD; in a state system, the state would collect taxes from property owners in those and other districts and send it out on a per-student basis (or something like it). The transfer of money to poorer areas from richer ones would still be in place, but it would be a little harder to trace.
Two historical notes: 1) The state got rid of its property tax, in part, because different areas of the state administered it in different ways; in part, because conservatives didn't want a tax "vehicle" floating around, tempting politicians to raise rates to finance new programs; and in part, because the state tax was small and outmoded and could be replaced, for purposes of revenue, with local levies; and 2) Gov. Ann Richards and state Sen. Carl Parker, D-Beaumont, proposed a statewide tax on business property that lasted, as a political possibility, for almost one day. Their idea, like Ratliff's, was that a statewide school system ought to be financed, at least in part, by a statewide tax. Their problem, like Ratliff's, was that they proposed a new tax that would require both legislative and voter approval. The question now, as then: Are Texans mad enough about school finance to approve a new tax?
Cancel That Runoff
Put a fork in the Republican primary for HD-56 in Waco–it's done. That's the sex, lies and videotape contest we've been scribbling about. When last we wrote, Walt Fair was planning to stay in the race while promising to drop off the ticket if he won the April 9 runoff. That would have allowed local party officials to name their best candidate for the November elections against Democrat John Mabry. But after thinking some more, Fair dropped out altogether. That leaves Holt Getterman as the GOP nominee. He finished first in the three-way race in March, garnering 41 percent of the votes cast.
The third-place contestant, Charles "Doc" Anderson, had been talking about getting back into the race, probably angling for an appointment in the event that Fair won and resigned. But he told local party officials he'll fade away. There won't be a runoff, but there will be a special election on May 4. That's to replace Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, who resigned after winning the GOP primary to replace Sen. David Sibley, also R, also Waco. Sibley quit the Senate to become a lobbyist. Averitt will run for what's left of Sibley's term next month while someone is running to finish Averitt's.
An Expensive Lunch
Texas might or might not be a Republican state, but it's apparently still a George W. Bush state. With Bush as the headliner, Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Cornyn raised $1.4 million for his own campaign and another $400,000 or so in soft money for the Republican Party. That was a lunch at the Hyatt next to Dallas' Reunion Center; Bush rode a helicopter up from his ranch in Crawford, spoke for about 20 minutes, shook some hands, schmoozed a bit and went home. He gave four reasons he wants Cornyn and other Republicans in the Senate: appointee confirmations and help with legislation on energy, taxes, and terrorism.
• That overshadowed an impressive month for former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who raised $934,898 during the last thirty days. That gives him almost $1 million to spend on his runoff against Victor Morales. Morales, as he has in the past, is running a shoestring campaign and trying to capitalize on news coverage and his name identification to collect attention and votes. The money will buy Kirk television and ground support he needs in Dallas and Harris Counties. Morales, meanwhile, is playing to his strength by traveling in the Valley, where a fair number of local runoffs could draw voters to the polls in the area of the state where he got his heaviest support.
• U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, after spending a couple of weeks getting over his third-place finish in the Senate race, endorsed Kirk. That was good for a day of news in Houston, where Kirk needs votes to offset support Morales is expected to get along the Texas Border. With Bentsen's endorsement, Kirk has the support of all but one of the Democrats in the Texas congressional delegation. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall, is staying out of the endorsement business.
And Counting and Counting and Counting....
If you're wondering why you can't get the final vote counts from the March election, don't bother the Texas Secretary of State. Sure, that's the repository of election data, but the folks there have to wait on the political parties for numbers from party primaries. And those numbers keep changing. The Democrats did their first canvass after the vote, for instance, and found that Victor Morales didn't really outperform Ron Kirk on Election Day. The first count had Morales ahead, but the canvass put Kirk on top (either count produces a runoff). Just when they were about to turn that over to the state, however, a glitch was found in the count in Denton County.
The result, at our deadline: Morales beat Kirk. The final numbers will get posted on the Secretary of State's website (www.sos.state.tx.us) when the parties are comfortable that the counts are accurate.
Incense and Peppermints
Suppose you were a baby-boomer who went into politics and got the question about using drugs and listening to Strawberry Alarm Clock and wearing orange pants that had bell-bottoms as big around as the waist. Cool at the time, but clearly in the realm of youthful exuberance. Unless, that is, you're in politics, where people are still jumpy about smoking funny plants. The latest: Carroll Robinson is kicking Chris Bell for "admitting he used illegal drugs" when Bell told the Houston Press last year that he'd smoked marijuana "maybe four times" more than 20 years ago. Bell gives the news a dismissal, and announces that the two guys who fell out of the race after the first round–attorney Steven King and former state Rep. Paul Colbert–are endorsing him over Robinson. The winner of that Democratic runoff between two members of the Houston City Council will face Republican Tom Reiser in November. Reiser ran two years ago, losing to Phil Sudan in the Republican primary. Sudan went on to lose to Ken Bentsen, and the reason the seat is open now is because Bentsen gave up his spot in the House to run for U.S. Senate.
Rumor Patrol, Political Careers Division
It's already clear that Rep. Ron Lewis, D-Mauriceville, isn't coming back next session: He announced he'd had enough and didn't file for reelection. But now the rumor mill has him quitting early so he can either A) help his buddy, Gov. Rick Perry, win reelection; B) start up a lobby business; or C) just to get out of public office a smidgen early. Lewis says the rumors are premature, at best. He says he's not sure himself which career road he'll take after the legislative gig is over. And he says he doesn't want to force a special election to fill his seat in the Legislature. It's difficult (but not impossible) to completely avoid a special election. It's easier to quit at time that puts the special election on the same day that voters were going to the polls. Say Lewis or anyone else wanted to quit the Lege so that the special election would fall on the November 5 Election Day: They'd want to resign somewhere between the middle of August and the end of September. Any earlier than that could force a special election in September; any later could force a special election in November or December.
• If you ask Barry Williamson if it's true that he'd like to be the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, he says that's a matter that should be decided by Gov. Perry. Ask him if he'd take the job if it was offered to him and he'll laugh and tell you that's a good question. Perry's office says they're not asking for changes. Ask people close to RPT Chair Susan Weddington and they'll tell you she has no plans to leave. Weddington caught some flak from moderate Republicans over her support of Rep. John Shields' challenge of incumbent San Antonio Sen. Jeff Wentworth. And some thought, for some reason, that the party should have had a better handle on the whole mess with Free Pac, the Dallas group that attacked several incumbent Republican lawmakers with graphic direct mail to their voters.
Zero Dollars an Hour
Thought the first round of redistricting was over? They're still arguing over attorneys' fees. The three-judge panel that made the final decision on maps for the Texas House also said the state should pay lawyers for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and for MALDEF (the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund). They said that those two groups prevailed in their arguments that some of the districts drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board were unfair to Hispanics. That resulted in changes in three legislative districts. The court said the state should pay their court costs and attorney fees at the rate of $325 an hour (outside lawyers for the state are being paid $375 an hour). But the state hasn't paid, and the bills are piling up: MALDEF's chunk amounts to about $120,000, while Rolando Rios and Jose Garza, the lawyers for the caucus, would be due almost $500,000.
Attorney General John Cornyn is appealing that, saying the two groups did not prevail and using as part of his argument an appeal the groups filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. If they prevailed, the argument goes, why are they appealing? The original judges are looking and could rule soon.
Holding a meeting of the University of Texas Board of Regents in Mexico City might be a goodwill gesture, but it would be an illegal one. Attorney General Cornyn, in an official opinion from his state office, says such a meeting would violate the state's Open Meetings laws. The UT folks wanted to have a meeting that included their peers from a large Mexican university. But state laws say meetings need to be physically accessible to the public, and breaking bread in another country doesn't pass that test. They can still meet in Mexico, but only if there are two few of them to establish a quorum.
• In that same stack of opinions, Cornyn says a city can regulate a sexually oriented business that doesn't fall within its borders. There's an SOB (yup, that's what they call them) in San Antonio that's close to its border with Windcrest. On the other side of the line is the Windcrest United Methodist Church. San Antonio doesn't want the case, but Windcrest does. Cornyn's opinion says San Antonio is not prohibited from forcing the SOB to move under a law that says you can't have such a business within a certain distance from a church. Windcrest can't move the church, but San Antonio–if it wants to–can move the SOB. Bexar County, the AG says, doesn't have jurisdiction.
Political People and Their Moves
Ray Sullivan, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, is moving to the governor's reelection campaign operation. Sullivan will be joined later, as political activity picks up, by Kathy Walt, Perry's press secretary. That won't happen for a while, but Sullivan starts in the political shop on April 1... John Greytok promised Attorney General John Cornyn he would be around for at least two years. He's well past that, and has left government to resume his private law practice (which includes a fair amount of government law) in Austin. Greytok, son of former Public Utility Commissioner Marta Greytok, left that practice to work on redistricting and other issues for Cornyn... The City of Fort Worth's new lobbyist is Brandon Aghamalian, who spent the last five years working for Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington. Before that, he worked for Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless. Aghamalian replaces Joe Paniagua, who scooted up the food chain to become an assistant city manager in Fort Worth... The task force designing an indigent defense program for Texans who can't afford lawyers to defend them from criminal charges has a new director: James Bethke, special counsel to the Texas Office of Court Administration, will take that on. He led the group that did initial planning; now he'll work on the new program's standards and financing... Gary Joiner, part of the lobby team for the Texas Farm Bureau, is leaving Austin, and Texas, to join the Farm Bureau in Olympia, Washington. Joiner has been with the Texas outfit for 14 years, including five years in the legislative office. He'll be doing similar work in his new, more temperate climate... After 13 years with Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, Paige Cooper is leaving for the semi-private sector. She'll be lobbying for the Trust for Public Lands, an outfit that uses private donations, grants and some public money to buy undeveloped land for conservation and public use... The latest on Dallas Morning News political writer Sam Attlesey: He's been to M.D. Anderson in Houston for the finest second opinions money can buy. He's got small-cell lung and liver cancer, but he's upbeat and is talking with doctors about what to do next. In the meantime, he says he'll be slow to respond to notes and flowers, but he's very appreciative. Keep praying.
Quotes of the Week
Midland oilman and former gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams Jr., in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, on his financial ups and downs: "I ran my company like Christopher Columbus. When he left Spain, he didn't know where he was going. When he got here, he didn't know where he was. When he got back, he didn't know where he'd been. And he did it all on borrowed money."
Allan Parker, head of the Texas Justice Foundation, in an Austin American-Statesman story on judicial bypasses that allow teenagers to get abortions without telling their parents: "It's harder to get cigarettes or alcohol in this state than it is for children to get around abortion laws."
Waco Mayor Linda Ethridge, who's been dueling with state regulators over pollution in the North Bosque River, giving the Waco Tribune-Herald her take on plans to change the name of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission: "If I had performed as poorly as TNRCC has in this watershed, I certainly would want to change my name."
Senate candidate Barbara Canales-Black, reacting to a Sierra Club stunt protesting her company's oil exploration on the Padre Island National Seashore, in the Corpus Christi Caller Times: "It's unbelievably hypocritical for the Sierra Club to put a dump truck on top of our park where grass grows. It's the ultimate irony of ironies that they would be concerned about the environment and park a dump truck on the park."
Laura Gillig, a spokeswoman for the Southern Company (a major utility) in a New York Times report about industry influence over the Bush Administration's energy policy; the paper reported a proposal by her company made it into the final report: "It's very flattering to think that one e-mail can determine energy policy."
Consultant Chuck McDonald, pooh-poohing Victor Morales' shtick in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "On your third run for political office, you're no longer common-man John Smith who wants to go to Washington. You're a political hack just like everybody else."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 38, 1 April 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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