The Political Sorting Hat

Now that the primaries and runoffs are out of the way, some of the numbers are firming up. We'll save the prognostication for a bit so the real numbers and the imaginary ones don't get mixed.

Now that the primaries and runoffs are out of the way, some of the numbers are firming up. We'll save the prognostication for a bit so the real numbers and the imaginary ones don't get mixed.

Texas voters have already decided to send nine incumbent members of Congress back to Washington next year, including four Republicans and five Democrats. There aren't any non-incumbents who've locked their races up; all of the new congressional candidates still have races to run in November. And so do the remaining incumbents who are running–a group that includes eight Republicans and 11 Democrats. Texas has 32 seats in the U.S. House.

The lowest legislative turnover will be in the state Senate, where ten incumbent Republicans and eight incumbent Democrats will definitely be returning to office next year. Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is the only other Senate candidate who's finished campaigning for the year, so a total of 19 of the upper chamber's 31 chairs are already filled. Sens. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, and Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, were both elected to the Senate to fill vacant seats and haven't ever taken a vote in that body. If you count them as incumbents, there are six Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate who still have contests in November. Side note: Averitt's official swearing in by Gov. Rick Perry is set for Wednesday, April 24 in the Senate Chamber. That's ceremonial: He's already taken the oath (from House Speaker Pete Laney), and the office.

In the Texas House, 40 Republican incumbents have no more major party opposition and 31 Democrats are in the same boat. That's 71 members who already know where they'll be in January, barring a suddenly successful write-in campaign or a death or something weird. The House has 68 races still in progress, including 52 involving incumbents. Of those current members under some kind of political stress, 24 are Republicans and 28 are Democrats.

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Put it another way. According to our own back-of-the-envelope arithmetic, 64 of the 72 Republican incumbents in the House are still in the game, either because they've locked up their race or because they're still in the contest. On the other side of the political ledger, 59 Democratic incumbents have either locked up their races or are still in the game. If you don't count Reps. Holt Getterman, R-Waco, and Debbie Riddle, R-Houston–they, like the senators above, won special elections during the interim–as incumbents, that means as few as 28 members of the House will be newcomers next time. If everything goes badly for incumbents this year, the number of tenderfeet could be as high as 80. (If the numbers seem off by one, it's because two incumbents–Republican Rick Hardcastle and Democrat David Counts–are paired. One of them will return.)

Pick a Magic Number

Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has been telling people that he'll give Democrats a proportional number of committee chairmanships if he's elected Speaker of the House next session. That's a two-edged sword, but think about it in terms of the number game for a moment. If you're a Democratic House member and you don't chair a committee–and don't think you're in line for one even with all of the vacancies left by departing chairmen–Craddick's comments might interrupt your dreams at night. The Republicans are hoping a dozen or so Democrats will take the bait and pledge their loyalty to Craddick. The Democrats who want another term for Laney are hoping other Republicans will get cranky about the idea that Democrats will be in power even if the GOP takes over, and will complain loudly enough to back Craddick down. Their theory: Republican shutouts dream, too.

It is Too About Race. And Money. And TV.

We've been informally checking with out of state political hacks and with writers who cover national politics, and to hear them talk about it, the combination of Ron Kirk and Tony Sanchez running as Democrats in President George W. Bush's home state is pretty interesting to non-Texans. Washington, D.C., political handicapper Charlie Cook moved the U.S. Senate contest between Kirk and John Cornyn into his "tossup" column. If nothing else, that's an indication that Republicans are considered vulnerable in what has been dismissed until lately as a Republican state.

That race has emerged as a bright green blip on the radar of some national political reporters. So? Well, that'll suck some of the attention away from other campaigns. And it puts the "Historic" label on a different contest. The Democrats' company line has been about how unprecedented levels of Hispanic turnout will turn the election–an interesting idea that has yet to be proven in the political marketplace. Add this for outside observers interested in history: Texas has put an African-American on a major party's ballot for U.S. Senate. Because that's already an established fact (unlike the possibilities of a new kind of electorate in Texas) and because it's embodied in one person instead of in a statistical analysis, it's an attention-grabber. That'll increase the outside interest.

It'll probably increase the amount of outside money coming into that race and into other Democratic races in Texas. National Democrats who've been mining Texas for money for the last 30 years are suddenly interested in maybe, possibly, investing in races here. If they do that, and if the Democrats can hold together, it could even up the odds a little bit in what is still a conservative state.

Some of this interest, whether it makes Texans comfortable or not, is about race. Can a black get votes from Anglos and Hispanics? How will the Hispanic do with the other two groups? What happens to Anglo Democrats if the Democratic turnout is different?

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On the strategic level, there are interesting questions, too. Kirk is supposed to do well in the Metroplex area. Sanchez, you might muse, will probably run behind Gov. Rick Perry in that part of the state. Sanchez does well, you guess, in South Texas. But that's not great turf for Kirk, and his opponent, John Cornyn, is from San Antonio. Put it together: Are Kirk's voters poisonous to the party's gubernatorial candidate? Are Sanchez voters harmful to Kirk?

On the level of political messages, race is already in the room. Cornyn called a sudden press conference after his spokesman was quoted talking about the Democrats' "quota" ticket. Cornyn said he won't be talking about race in the campaign and denounced the remarks. But what he and other candidates really want to know is how to maneuver, how to talk, and how to act without getting popped for it. In some states, racial politics are more ingrained and more comfortable. Here, the candidates are cutting new paths. That's what makes it news.

Squeeze Play

Political news can be a finite thing, and high interest in the U.S. Senate race will decrease interest in other races down ballot. An educated guess: It'll mean fewer resources poured into coverage of the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general. Unless the combatants–Republican David Dewhurst and Democrat John Sharp in the first one, and Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Kirk Watson in the second–commit bona fide, genuine news, they won't see much ink. Their chances of attracting attention from TV, which is what campaigns really want anyway, recede to almost nil.

That puts the combatants in the AG's race, in particular, almost in the position of state judges. Even when they have a lot of money to spend, candidates for the Texas Supreme Court are heavily dependent on what happens elsewhere on the ballot. A candidate can do everything right and still lose a judicial race, just because most voters aren't familiar with the contest. The AG's race often shares that problem, but two hot races at the top of the ticket will probably cut deeply into coverage of all politics, and the AG wannabes will have a hard time getting on camera where voters can see them. If you can't get attention for free, you have to pay for it. The AG's race could get more expensive as a result.

Hammers and Tongs

It's difficult to tell whether they're in a really focused fight or are just stretching their rhetorical limbs, but the contestants for Texas governor are getting downright loud. Since the runoff, Gov. Rick Perry and challenger Tony Sanchez have been banging on each other, and in this initial exchange, they're talking about numbers. That's pretty boring so far, to be honest about it, but one side or the other might produce something that works later in an ad or in a debate.

To date, in no particular order: Perry wants Sanchez to let loose of his detailed tax returns so that voters can see whether he's got any conflicts of interest between his investments and what he would be in charge of as governor. Sanchez wants Perry to open up the detailed records of his blind trust so voters can see how Perry got wealthy while serving in public office. This has featured a session for the media with Perry's personal financial advisers and accountant, and a flurry of press releases that rivals what you usually see in the last, heated weeks of a campaign.

Perry, a Republican, did a little rich-bashing, saying Sanchez should explain how he supported a Clinton Administration tax cut and how it saved him a bunch of dough. The Sanchez campaign replied that Perry wasn't using the right numbers and suggested tartly that he take his own Master Math Initiative. Perry's camp replied that the taxes dropped no matter how it's figured. Sanchez said the tax cuts were good for the country.

Sanchez lit into Perry's finances, saying the Guv should list details of business deals that involve both him and lobbyists and political appointees and others. He pointed out that Perry has made more than $2 million since 1990, according to published reports and asked how he got rich in office. Perry, he said, has been hiding his assets (they're in a blind trust) for six years. And he said Perry hasn't "held a meaningful job outside of politics and government..." That prompted a blast from veterans. The Perry camp's reply was that since Perry used to fly a cargo plane in the military, and since Sanchez said his work had been meaningless, that Sanchez was "disrespecting military service."

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We'll also mention that this is all available to you, free of charge, on the Internet. Sanchez has started a site at www.PerryTales.com to tell stories on the governor. Perry's own website is the source for his shots at Sanchez. It's at www.RickPerry.org.

The early heat in the governor's race tracks what we've been hearing from several campaigns: They expect the contests to start early this time and stay active. The campaigns won't talk about it, but there are persistent rumors that TV could start this summer in both the Guv and Lite Guv races.

Say Aaaaahhhhhh

As we went to press, the Texas Medical Association was starting its annual convention, and there are some serious politics in play. Some of TMA's members have been trading darts with Gov. Perry over his vetoes of legislation dear to them. That hasn't come to official blows, but it could: TMA's political action committee will decide over the weekend what to do with its money and its endorsements in the top two races on the ballot. They've already made their picks in the lieutenant governor race (Democrat John Sharp) and in the attorney general contest (Republican Greg Abbott). But they held their general election endorsements in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races because of the contested primaries on the Democratic side.

The governor's contest is where the real friction is: Many doctors are Republicans, but some of them are ticked at the incumbent. The group could pick a candidate or wait until later to do so. The Perry campaign seems to be betting on a loss: They've been assembling a list of doctors who support Perry, and they've been telling political reporters for weeks that they'll probably lose TMA's beauty contest. In the U.S. Senate race, anything is possible, but the group has a longer history with Republican John Cornyn than with Democrat Ron Kirk. Like Perry, Cornyn has made some decisions that gave the doctors adverse reactions, but unlike Perry, he's managed to stay on mostly friendly terms in spite of their differences. If the docs give Kirk their endorsement, score it as an upset.

Statistics, Amazing Facts, & Other Speech Fodder

The US Bureau of the Census has released county statistics for the entire country (in a form that's useful to people who didn't get what they wanted from redistricting numbers). You can look at more detail, if you want, at www.census.gov, but we've collected some of the high points.

• Seven states accounted for more than half of the country's growth during the 1990s. Texas added more than 3.8 million people, second only to California, and second only by about 200,000 people. Texas, Florida and Georgia were the only states among the ten biggest with growth over 20 percent. Ours was 22.8 percent–a giant number for a state that was already as populated as Texas in 1990. The country's population grew by 13.1 percent.

• As in 1990, only four counties in the state have populations over 1 million. That's enough to make those counties bigger than eight states (Harris County, as a stand-alone, would rank 30th among the states in population).

• 34 Texas counties have at least 100,000 people, compared with 28 counties in 1990. Seven counties (up from six) have more than 500,000 residents. On the other end of the scale, there are seven counties with fewer than 1,000 people in them, up from five such counties in 1990. Loving County, with 67 residents as of April 2000, is the winner and still champion of the smallest population contest. That county had 40 more people ten years earlier, but was still the smallest in Texas.

• Urban counties won the growth contest, if you're counting heads. If everyone who moved to Harris and Dallas counties in the 1990s had said "To hell with it," and started their own county, that county would be the fifth largest in the state, with 948,685 residents.

• The top 20 counties in Texas were home to 69.2 percent of the state's residents in April 2000. Seven counties accounted for half of the state's growth, and for all the talk of suburban clout, six of the seven are urban counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis, Collin, Bexar and Hidalgo.

• If you prefer percentage growth to numerical growth, the suburbs did better. Collin County leads that list with 86.2 percent growth, followed by Williamson, Rockwall, Bandera, Kendall, Montgomery, Denton and Fort Bend. Add in Bastrop, Burnet and Comal and you've got a list of counties that grew more than 50 percent during the decade.

• Texas grew like a weed, but part of the weed was shrinking: 68 counties lost population. Reeves County led the way with a drop of 2,715; all together, the 68 counties lost 35,397 residents. They weren't suffering from overpopulation. After the losses, those counties together had a population of only 490,607 and an average population of only 7,214.

• Brags and Boasts: Tarrant jumped past Bexar on the list of biggest counties, and Travis leapt over El Paso. Collin, Montgomery and Williamson moved up. Fort Bend, Nueces, Jefferson, Lubbock, Brazoria, Bell and McLennan all moved down. Those are rankings: None of those counties lost population over the 1990s.

• The top ten, in order of living bodies counted by the federal government: Harris (3,400,578), Dallas (2,218,899), Tarrant (1,446,219), Bexar (1,392,931), Travis (812,280), El Paso (679,622), Hidalgo (569,463), Collin (491,675), Denton (432,976), and Fort Bend (354,452). The next ten, for the benefit of the economic development types: Cameron (335,227), Nueces (313,645), Montgomery (293,768), Jefferson (252,051), Galveston (250,158), Williamson (249,967), Lubbock (242,628), Brazoria (241,767), Bell (237,974), and McLennan (213,517). Coincidentally, none of the remaining 234 counties had a population of 200,000 or more.

• King County had the smallest change from April 1990 to April 2000, growing from 354 residents to 356. Red River lost 3 residents, but the impact was tiny: There were 14,314 folks there when the census was taken in 2000.

Flotsam & Jetsam

• It's the money, honey. John Cornyn ended the latest reporting period with three times as much cash on hand as his Democratic opponent. Ron Kirk had a hot primary and a hot runoff to pay for, but that was then and this is now. He started his victory lap in Washington, D.C., to try to get the national fundraising going. But Cornyn, with a huge boost from President George W. Bush, starts the general election contest with a healthy lead in the money department.

• The National Federation of Independent Business jumped out early and endorsed Cornyn over Kirk in the U.S. Senate race. The group said it did a fax poll of its members and got Cornyn votes from 82 percent and Kirk votes from 5 percent.

Tony Sanchez picked up the endorsement of the Texas State Association of Firefighters. Although candidates eagerly seek it out, that's not usually a headline endorsement. But after 911, it's a bigger deal, and a better photo op. The group claims 11,600 members in 130 local affiliates.

• Texas pollster Lance Tarrance is joining the board of the Associated Republicans of Texas. He replaces John Hurd of San Antonio, who died last year.

• Texas Democrats are in the middle of redesigning their website, which used to be a red, white and blue assault on the eyeballs. They're still tinkering, but you can look at it at www.txdemocrats.org. The party of the elephant has won a bunch of awards for their site. It's at www.texasgop.org.

• Legislators who are lawyers can go to court and ask for more time if the Legislature is in session. That allows lawyer/lawmakers to do their public jobs without getting whipped in court. But somewhere along the way, some tricky someone got the idea that if you wanted a delay in your trial, all you had to do was hire a senator or state representative during a legislative session. Now, Texans for Public Justice is pestering lawyers in the Lege to come up with explanations of their legislative continuances, if they have them. That's mostly getting a non-response from lawmakers. But Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, told the group that the attorney general's office said he didn't have to cough anything up. The group decided that was a request for an official opinion and sued when it didn't get one. Green gave up his two continuances, and now the group is going after 47 other lawmakers who didn't respond to the initial request.

• With a new football team cranking up, an Olympic bid on the front burner and a number of other civic hoopla underway, Houston has decided to stay out of the bidding for the national political conventions in 2004. The city, which hosted the Republicans in 1992, was supposedly on the short list for both parties, but city mothers and fathers have decided to opt out.

• This next bit is a response to a question about an earlier item on the immediate political future of Victor Morales, who lost his Democratic runoff this month. He's not eligible to run in any form or fashion for U.S. senator from Texas. He's lost that race and can't be a write-in or anything else. He also is barred from being nominated or placed on the ballot by any other political party for that or any other office. He can't run, for instance, as the Green Party's candidate for agriculture commissioner. What he can do is become an official write-in candidate for any race other than the U.S. Senate. Voters are free to do what they want already–Mickey Mouse always gets some votes, and we have a pal who votes regularly for Eugene Debs. But if Morales pays the fees and becomes an official write-in in a given race, the state will actually count the number of times his name is added to the printed ballots.

• The turnout in Cameron County during the Democratic runoff election can be attributed, in part, to races for county commissioner and a couple of other local offices. We goofed last week and gave the credit to the heated state Senate race in the next county over. Cameron County's voters went for Morales in the runoff, but not nearly like they did in the March primary. He got 69.7 percent of the vote in March, when it was a five-man race with three well-known candidates. But with U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen and two minor candidates out of the contest, Morales faltered. He was more dominant in percentage terms in April, but he lost more than 2,500 votes from his March total. Kirk actually gained votes in spite of lower turnout for the runoff.

Political People and Their Moves

Political wiring isn't always as strong as it seems. Barry McBee, the governor's former chief of staff, was one of the candidates for the top job at the Texas Water Development Board. Gov. Rick Perry appointed three of the six board members just two months ago. On top of that, the chairman, a George W. Bush appointee, was elevated to that spot from his spot on the board by Gov. Perry. In spite of all that preparation, the board unanimously (one member was absent) went with a different candidate, appointing J. Kevin Ward to the agency's highest posting. Ward, an accountant by training, has been with the agency for 15 years, most recently as one of the agency's four deputy executive administrators. He'll replace Craig Pedersen, who is retiring from the top post, in mid-May... Jason Johnson, who worked for Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, and then for Brad Barton's unsuccessful congressional campaign, is the new campaign manager for Republican attorney general candidate Greg Abbott. He'll replace Mona Taylor, who is mere days away from the birth of her first child and decided not to return to the campaign after the baby comes... Call the Texas Department of Health, or Toys R Us: Five women who work in the Lite Guv's office are either currently or recently pregnant. The latest Native Texan is Chloe Alexandra Hancock, daughter of Denise Davis, general counsel to Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff... Three Texas residents on their way to becoming U.S. Attorneys–U.S. Magistrate Jane Boyle and acting U.S. Attorneys Matthew Orwig and Mike Shelby–have won approval from the full U.S. Senate... More law enforcement: Danny Defenbaugh, the head of the FBI's Dallas office, is quitting the agency at the end of the month. Defenbaugh, who had an otherwise stellar record, was blamed for withholding documents from defense attorneys for Timothy McVeigh after the Oklahoma City bombing... Appointments: Gov. Perry named Tegwin Ann Pulley to the board of regents at Texas Woman's University in Denton. She's a vice president at Texas Instruments in Dallas.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Senate hopeful John Cornyn, after a spokesman dismissed the Democratic ticket as one "based on a racial quota system," telling reporters that's not the message he'll be using in a campaign against Democrat Ron Kirk, an African-American: "I want to make it absolutely clear that race is not going to play any part in this campaign, not on my part, not on the mayor's part, I trust."

Republican Greg Abbott, who's running for attorney general against Democrat Kirk Watson, speaking to a Bexar County Republican group and quoted in the San Antonio Express-News: "They can choose between a former Texas Supreme Court justice and a former mayor of the People's Republic of Austin. We don't need Austin liberalism exported to the rest of the state of Texas."

Gov. Rick Perry, after his Democratic opponent alleged he has become a millionaire while in public office: "I didn't realize I was rich, for one thing. I guess that's all relative. We'd kind of like to know how Mr. Sanchez is going to govern with his wealth."

Democrat Tony Sanchez in response to a similar inquiry from the Austin American-Statesman: "I'm going to do what the law requires and what other governors have done. Now what that is–do I put my assets and my businesses in trust?–I don't know yet what we're going to do."

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, answering an audience question at a church where someone caught him on tape and passed it to the Houston Chronicle: "Don't send your kids to Baylor, and don't send your kids to A&M. There are still some Christian schools out there–good, solid schools."

Lieutenant governor candidate John Sharp, telling the Houston Chronicle why he'd rather not have former Vice President Al Gore and other national Democrats speaking at the state party convention in El Paso: "I just think this side of the Red River ought to be reserved for Texas candidates."

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos telling the Austin American-Statesman he wants to talk to comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, who succeeded Sharp, about her opinion that the state won't have enough money for employee pay raises: "During the last interim, Rylander found a way to set up a career ladder to pay correctional officers. There are some sharp people at the comptroller's office. I'm going to be following up and finding out what are some of the avenues here.


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 41, 22 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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