The Last Episode for the Political Sorting Hat

In the new districts drawn for the Texas House, and in those drawn for Texas seats in the U.S. House, there are several seats that voted for Republicans on average in 1998 while voting with the Democrats on closer races, like the one for comptroller. That's a measure of the coattail strength of then-Gov. George W. Bush. And it's useful if you're trying to figure out whether a seat that initially appears to belong to the Republicans is actually theirs. Bush's strength added as few as two percentage points to overall Republican numbers in some districts and as much as 16 percentage points in others.

In the new districts drawn for the Texas House, and in those drawn for Texas seats in the U.S. House, there are several seats that voted for Republicans on average in 1998 while voting with the Democrats on closer races, like the one for comptroller. That's a measure of the coattail strength of then-Gov. George W. Bush. And it's useful if you're trying to figure out whether a seat that initially appears to belong to the Republicans is actually theirs. Bush's strength added as few as two percentage points to overall Republican numbers in some districts and as much as 16 percentage points in others.

That brings us to this strange stat: Not one of the newly drawn Senate seats flipped when you look at the two measures: Each seat has the same partisan tendency–though it's sometimes weaker–with or without Bush in the formula. Strictly by the numbers, the Republicans start as the favorites in 20 of the 31 seats. Only 12 seats are contested, and the numbers lean to the Republicans in ten of those.

The 19 races that are already decided split almost evenly, with 10 Republican incumbents returning and eight Democratic incumbents coming back. The Democrats also have already effectively elected Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to replace Carlos Truan, who's serving his last term. That's 10-9.

Half of the remaining seats lean only narrowly to one party or the other and four of those feature candidates who've never served a session in the Senate. Democrat Ken Armbrister is in a slightly Republican district, but has won under similar circumstances. Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, is in a slightly Republican district but originally won his seat in Democratic territory. Four Republicans who were in the Texas House last session–Kip Averitt, Kim Brimer, Kyle Janek and Tommy Williams–are running in districts where Republican strength in the 1998 comptroller's race was under 53 percent. It's tough to imagine all four races staying tight, but the numbers say they could.

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The race that's drawing the most attention is in SD-2, where Bob Deuell is mounting a second (not third, as we mistakenly wrote last week) challenge to Democratic Sen. David Cain. The district has been dramatically redrawn–Cain had to move from his Dallas house to a Mesquite apartment to remain eligible–and the numbers are daunting to Democrats: Statewide Republican candidates got 60.2 percent of the vote in 1998, and Carole Keeton Rylander won with 54 percent of the vote (in a race she won with less than 51 percent statewide). Cain has prevailed in GOP territory before, but it wasn't this strong before. During the last legislative session, the Senate had 16 Republicans and 15 Democrats in it; January will probably see GOP strength increase to 18, and perhaps 19.

All but two of the state's U.S. representatives want to return to office next year. The state got two new seats because of population growth. Those four seats should break 3-1 in favor of the Republicans, and maybe 2-2, if the Democrats show well in the CD-5 district that goes east from Dallas.

Only nine of the 32 congressional seats are uncontested. Republicans hold four; Democrats five. In the contested races, five members of the Texas delegation start out in enemy territory where their party label differs from the voting in that 1998 comptroller race we're using for a baseline. Three Democrats–U.S. Reps. Ralph Hall, Chet Edwards and Charlie Stenholm–are in districts where the numbers favor the GOP. Hall has the worst numbers and is arguably the safest of the three. He's in one of the state's strongest Republican districts but votes conservatively and has stayed out of election trouble as a result. On the other side, there are two Republicans in Democratic territory–U.S. Reps. Ron Paul and Henry Bonilla. Six races fall in that troubled real estate where neither party has more than a marginal advantage. It could split 16-16, or even 17-15 in favor of the Democrats.

Fighting Farmers

The Texas Farm Bureau's AGFUND put out an endorsement list that includes three Democrats, three women, no minorities, and any number of surprises on it.

The political action committee picked Democrat Sherry Boyles over Republican Michael Williams, an incumbent Texas Railroad Commission chairman. They didn't offer any explanation of their picks, and didn't signal any displeasure with Williams–a George W. Bush appointee and personal friend. But after interviewing the candidates, the group, which normally leans to the Republicans, picked the Democrat. Boyles said the people who did the selecting seemed to like what she said about alternative fuels and ethanol. They also focused a lot of attention on merging the RRC with the Public Utility Commission, an idea Boyles is pushing. Trivia: She won a farm bureau scholarship in her senior year of high school for a paper on entrepreneurship.

Another surprise was that Democrat Ron Kirk, who's running against Republican John Cornyn for U.S. Senate, snubbed the Farm Bureau. That's bad form, even if you think (as some hacks in both parties believe) the Democrat had little chance of getting the group's nod. There's no reason to provide a rationale for their decision, but that's just what Kirk did. The organization endorsed Cornyn, and one reason for that–however small–is that Kirk didn't give them the time of day. Cornyn, on the other hand, did the standard thing and politicked for their support. Kirk did have an opening: The Farm Bureau was unhappy with the legislative redistricting plans that benefited suburban Texas at the expense of rural Texas. And many of them blame Cornyn, who headed the Legislative Redistricting Board and oversaw the development of those plans.

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The PAC picked Democratic Sen. David Bernsen in his bid for land commissioner over Republican Jerry Patterson, a former senator. Bernsen is a trial lawyer. The Farm Bureau is, in large part, more insurance company than agricultural concern. It would seem the two are incompatible. But there's that pesky memory thing again: Patterson was the loud and successful sponsor of state legislation allowing home equity loans (where you borrow against the equity in your home that's not already mortgaged). The Farm Bureau didn't like that, and the scars remain. The group endorsed Bernsen in the Democratic primary (he helped them on some legislative issues last session), and endorsed Kenn George over Patterson in the Republican primary earlier this year.

For the second election cycle in a row, Democrat John Sharp got AGFUND endorsement, but only after what was described to us as a close vote and a long discussion. The group tends to be Republican, but spurned David Dewhurst in the contest with Sharp. That's partly history, and partly familiarity. They don't hate Dewhurst: They gave him $5,000 in 2000 and supported him in his primary that year against Jerry Patterson. But the group risked greatly for Sharp in 1998, and he's been in government, and around trade groups, for years longer than the Republican. Before deciding on Sharp, the PAC folks talked about a dual endorsement or none at all. But Sharp got the nod.

The louder bang was four years ago, when Sharp beat out Republican Rick Perry, who was the state's agriculture commissioner at the time, for the farm group's endorsement. Sharp lost the election and the Farm Bureau lost its gamble. This time, they're sticking with Sharp, but they're also endorsing Perry, now the governor, over his Democratic challenger, Tony Sanchez Jr.

Finally, the group gave its seal of approval to Greg Abbott in the AG's race, to Carole Keeton Rylander in the comptroller's race and to Susan Combs, who is running for reelection as Texas Agriculture Commissioner. They'll look at judicial races in mid-summer, and at legislative contests sometime after that.

CORRECTION: Former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger's name is spelled correctly in this sentence. It wasn't spelled correctly in last week's issue. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Fighting Doctors & Other Endorsement Tales

Here's a relatively safe bet: Democrat Margaret Mirabal, who's running for a spot on the Texas Supreme Court, is going to get more trade group endorsements–particularly from Republican-leaning groups–than any other Democrat. She's running against Steven Wayne Smith, who beat a favorite of the GOP hierarchy–Xavier Rodriguez–in the March primaries. Mirabal, a moderate, is even getting some attention from tort reform groups that usually shun Democrats. She's picked up the endorsement of the Texas Medical Association, which has mostly stuck with the GOP in court races.

That might be one of the few spots where the docs and the tort reformers are on the same page. TMA's affiliated political action committee, endorsed Democrat Tony Sanchez Jr. over Gov. Rick Perry. That's led to a fair-sized revolt among some doctors, who tend to be Republican and who said in a TMA poll that they favor the incumbent over Sanchez.

Perry is among the politicos who are forming doctor groups in an effort at counter-spin. And there are some policy ideas floating around, like putting new limits on damage awards against doctors in lawsuits and state-designated courts that would try to develop an expertise in medical lawsuits. Perry's program also includes caps on fees for lawyers who sue doctors, more power for the state's Board of Medical Examiners (which is supposed to police the industry but hasn't had the resources to do that job), and allow doctors to pay judgments on the installment plan instead of all at once.

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Perry's angle: Malpractice insurance premiums are rising and lawyers are to blame. Go after them and collect the votes of doctors who agree with that. At the same time, other conservatives are stepping up their accusations that the Texas Medical Association is too close to the state's trial lawyers.

That siege gets some help from unexpected corners. TEXPAC endorsed Greg Abbott for attorney general over Kirk Watson, a Democrat who is also a trial lawyer. Watson, like Perry and others who didn't get the group's endorsement, has started a counter-attack to show that lots of doctors are on his side. He's got a letter making the rounds that touts him as a successful Austin mayor and as an "attorney with a demonstrable track record of litigation on both sides of the docket."

The letter makes no mention of TEXPAC's endorsement of Abbott and says Watson is supported "by a number of doctors throughout Texas." The kicker: It's signed by Dr. Joe Cunningham, who is on the same TEXPAC board that voted to endorse the Republican and who heads TMA's legislative committee; and by Dr. William Gamel, past president of TMA. Gamel's signature has some in TMA in a particular uproar, because he used his TMA titles on the letter. Cunningham didn't. The letterhead for all of this? "Physicians for Watson."

• The Texas Right to Life PAC endorsed Republicans Michael Burgess and John Carter in their congressional races. Burgess is running to replace U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound; Carter is the Republican nominee for congress from a new district that runs from suburban Houston to suburban Austin. Both districts, by the numbers, are safely Republican. The group also endorsed Corbin Van Arsdale and Debbie Riddle, both Republicans, both from Houston, and both running uncontested general election races for the Texas House. Riddle is already a member: She won a special election to finish the term of the late Rep. Paul Hilbert.

• Add this to last week's item about the Associated Republicans of Texas. That group, which invested heavily in redistricting on behalf of Texas Republicans, was $500,000 in the hole when they wrote the fundraising letter we reported. They're still running red, but by a lot less: The Republican National Committee came up with some money to cover expenses: $269,758.47.

• The so-called Friendly Incumbent Rule is eroding in the lobby. That's the idea that the worst a lobster or trade group would do to an incumbent is stay out of his or her race. But sometimes, the relations aren't worth saving, apparently. Lobbyists Buddy Jones and Thomas Ratliff (son of the lieutenant governor) were among the hosts for a recent fundraiser for Republican Ben Bentzin. He's challenging Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, in the November elections. Bentzin is a tech exec, and both lobby for tech companies.

Head Bangers

David Dewhurst and John Sharp have done several public appearances together, and although they haven't done a plain old debate, they've had plenty of opportunities to snarl at one another. If a recent Austin appearance is any indication, there's plenty of snarl in them.

In the most recent episode, the sniping started before the event and peaked in the middle when Sharp attacked Dewhurst for a press release from the Republican Party.

The Democrats have been trying to build a case that Dewhurst is afraid to debate or to appear on stage with Sharp. Dewhurst's folks say it ain't so, and that's how the list of this year's previous joint appearances became available. This time, Sharp's side contended Dewhurst was trying to change the format of the joint appearance. Dewhurst's aides denied that, and produced papers dated in early March as proof that what was proposed then was what happened when the event finally took place on May Day. That had the hosts rattled enough that they started the event by praising both candidates and prompting them with a hopeful introduction: "We'd like to keep this a very statesmanlike event."

It didn't take. A couple of hours before the event, the Republican Party of Texas put out a press release claiming Sharp got more money from trial lawyers than any other candidate in the state.

That was based on something on a website, www.triallawyermoney.org, that was once linked to the Texas Civil Justice League's website. They're a tort reform group, and they disowned the information and undid their link to the trial lawyer site.

The reason that came up is this: Dewhurst pointed out in his remarks that Sharp gets a lot of his money from trial lawyers. When it was Sharp's turn to talk, he went on the attack, comparing Dewhurst to Joe Isuzu (see Quotes of the Week). He also pulled out a letter from the head of TCJL disowning the website and the information on it. He pointed out that that tort reform group endorsed him over the Republican. And he said the information on the website was compiled and put on the Internet by the brother of Dewhurst's campaign finance chairman. The audience looked uncomfortable, but it worked in the newspapers the next day.

That blocked out a couple of things that might have made news otherwise. Dewhurst answered a question about economic development by saying one thing that would benefit small towns or shrinking economies would be to move some state agencies or parts of them out of Austin to other parts of the state. Asked about it later, he said he wasn't proposing any specific moves. He said a few things could be moved from his own General Land Office to other locations, but didn't want to make any recommendations at this point.

Both tout their budget experience in their stump talks, with Sharp saying he learned the ropes in the Legislature and in the comptroller's office and Dewhurst saying his experience in business would be more useful in dealing with a large state shortfall. Both are against taxes and said so. Both are for education and said so. Sharp downplays party labels and says he can work with Democrats and Republicans. Dewhurst says he can work with both, but also pegged Sharp as a Democrat and asked the audience how they'd like having Tom Daschle running the Texas Senate. Both skirted math problems of their own making. Dewhurst said he would like to end the Robin Hood school funding system, would not raise state taxes and would not raise local taxes, either. Sharp said he wants to spend more money on higher education "after the state is out" of the current budget mess, but didn't say where the money to send more kids to school would come from. And then, of course, they had that little difference over trial lawyers and torts.

The Lite Guv's race isn't the only contest with a candidate who's anxious to debate. And it's not the only place where the anxious candidate is trying to goad his opponent into more appearances. Gov. Rick Perry wants to see more of Tony Sanchez Jr., apparently. Sanchez has said he's not afraid, but their joint appearances have been limited. The latest trick from the Republican: He accepted a June 25 invitation to appear before the Texas Association of School Administrators along with Sanchez, and he sent the letter of invitation and his acceptance to political reporters. Hide and watch.

It Isn't Easy Being Green

The state of Texas pulled in more tax money in 2001 than all but two other states, but has the third-lowest per capita tax burden, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The federal agency collects info about taxes from all of the states and sorts it out; Texas brought in $29.4 billion in taxes that year, third behind California ($90.4 billion) and New York ($44.8 billion). The per capita number was $1,380 here, behind only South Dakota ($1,292) and Tennessee ($1,363). The trick in those new numbers is that they only include state taxes, so that whopping property tax bill you might have seen earlier this year wasn't in the total. The latest numbers for all taxes from the Census folks were for 1999, and had Texans paying $2,456 per capita in state and local taxes. In spite of the higher numbers, the overall tax burden was still small relative to other states. Texas ranked 40th in 1999. So who was really choking? On the state-only numbers, residents of Connecticut paid $3092 per capita in 2001, and California and New York both made the top ten.

• The first run at finding money to bolster the Texas budget found as much as $1.3 billion that is allocated to agencies but that might go unspent. State leaders asked agencies to scrub and see what they could come up with, and the first run produced that number. That amount–reported by the San Antonio Express-News–isn't enough to cover the $5 billion difference between what the state expects to have and what it expects it will need. And it's not all usable: Some of the savings is in dedicated funds that can only be used for certain kinds of spending. Caution: The numbers are preliminary.

Topsy's Neighbors

Right after they kicked out numbers about growth during the 1990s, the Census folks came up with numbers for growth during the 12 months that ended in April 2001. You can get the detailed charts on the Internet at www.census.gov, but here are some of the high spots:

• Four Texas counties–Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Bexar–are among the 25 largest in the country.

• Six Texas counties were among the top 25 in the U.S. in sheer growth during that year, and two more made the top 30. Harris, Collin, Tarrant, Denton, Williamson and Dallas each added more than 25,000 new people during that year.

• Run the numbers on percentage growth during the year and Texas makes the list again, with three counties–Rockwall, Williamson and Collin–in the top ten and eight in the top 30.

• This isn't from the Census, but it's related. For those of you who live in West Texas (and those of us who started there), this is confirmation of something you already know, perhaps painfully: The population center of the state is east of I-35. According to the Texas Society of Professional Surveyors, the center of the state is in Bell County if population is the measure of things. It's in Holland, due South of Temple. The geographic center is about 15 miles northeast of Brady, in McCulloch County, according to the Texas Almanac. That's a little north and a lot west of Holland, about 120 miles away.

Remodeling Job

The Texas Lottery was reorganizing its staff as we went to press and it sounded like anywhere from zero to 55 employees could be looking for work. A spokesman said 50 to 55 positions would disappear, but said about that number would be created. The people fired from the first set would be allowed to apply for the newly created jobs, and the net effect won't be known until that's complete. The agency didn't let go of details right away, saying it wanted to tell employees what was going on before letting everyone else in on it. The reorganization followed a state auditor's review of lottery operations–requested by the lottery.

While we're here, scotch that rumor that Lottery chief Linda Cloud is leaving. One story has her retiring. Another has her taking an unspecified job in Washington, D.C. Through a spokesman, she says she has no plans to leave the state agency.

Political People and Their Moves

Lobbyist Galt Graydon and some of his gang are splitting off from Jenkens & Gilchrist to open their own lobby practice. That bunch includes Machree Gibson, Jay Brown, and Shannon Swan from the law firm. They'll be joined by Jay Propes, who recently left the Bickerstaff, Heath, etc. firm. Graydon, Gibson and Brown are also lawyers, which will be handy in cases where clients want to take advantage of attorney-client secrecy. Graydon says the relationship with the law firm is still good and says the lobbyists will continue to do some work for J&G's clients... Robert Spellings will remain in Washington, D.C., but is the first name on the list of lobbyists opening an office for Gardere Wynne Sewell in Austin. That group will include several folks who are peeling away from Akin Gump's Austin operation: Melissa Eason, A.W. "Woody" Pogue, Mark Vane, and Kim Yelkin,. They'll be joined by Carl Richie, who is leaving Andrews & Kurth Mayor Day Caldwell & Keeton to join Gardere Wynne. Pogue is a former insurance commissioner, and the new office is weighted heavily with expertise in insurance and health care... After six years at the Texas Hospital Association, Marsha Jones is leaving to open her own lobby practice. Jones started working in the Pink Building in 1985, and left to become a lobbyist after the 1993 session. No word yet on what the hospital association will do to replace her... Appointments: President Bush tapped David Laney for the AMTRAK Reform Board. Laney, who's not related to the Speaker of the Texas House, was a Bush appointee to the Texas Department of Transportation when the president was merely governor. He's a Dallas lawyer... Patricia Hayes is leaving the lieutenant governor's office to take a lobbying job at the Independent Colleges and Universities. She's part of a slow exodus that started when Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff decided to attempt a return to his Senate seat instead of the Lite Guv's office... Appointments, unannounced, but working their way through the system: Former Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger is Gov. Rick Perry's choice for an open spot at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. And Jim Cox Jr., an accountant who's now at the Building and Procurement Commission, is apparently Perry's choice for an open spot at the Texas Lottery Commission... Michael Hanson is leaving U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, after ten years. He'll be lobbying for something called the C2 group in Washington... Justin Keener, who'd been working for Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, is outta there. He'll be doing some political and legislative consulting in Austin, he says... Bill Minutaglio, the Dallas Morning News reporter who wrote one of the better George W. Bush bios–First Son–has left that paper to go in a whole new direction. He'll open the Austin office of People magazine... Political news dominated the Texas Medical Association's most recent gathering (at least for us), but they also named Dr. Frederick Merian of Victoria as TMA's new president... The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee gave the nod to federal judicial jobs for Leonard Davis of Tyler and Andrew Hanen of Houston, and the U.S. marshal nomination for Randy Ely of Fort Worth. Those go to the full Senate.

Quotes of the Week

Republican David Dewhurst, at a forum with Democrat John Sharp: "He is strongly supported by plaintiff trial lawyers." Sharp, a few moments later: "Let's stop the Joe Isuzu act and let's start telling the truth–you'll feel better about yourself when you do."

Rick Perry campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan, telling the Associated Press why he thinks the Every Texan Foundation is affiliated with the Democrats: "Bill Clinton was one of the most partisan presidents in recent history, and one of the most divisive presidents in recent history, so his appearance on behalf of this so-called bipartisan group does raise serious questions."

Tony Sanchez campaign spokesman Mark Sanders, shooting back: "If I was Rick Perry, I'd be worried about people registering to vote, too. The more who register, the more who vote, the more he's going to lose by."

Stephen Safe, a Texas A&M University toxicology professor, quoted in a New York Times story on the cancer-causing effects of starchy foods: "It's just dumb, dumb, dumb. There are carcinogens in everything you eat. Maybe they'll just ban food."


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 43, 6 May 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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