"A Gathering of Elephants" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
The Republican Party of Texas expects to have a relatively smooth state convention: Nobody is throwing fits about positions taken by prominent state officeholders, nobody is opposing the reelection of Chairwoman Susan Weddington, and there haven't even been any juicy scandals lately. Expect something of a love fest when the GOP meets in Dallas this week.
Look for an addition to the platform that's pointed at the current race for Speaker of the House. The GOP flat-out expects to win a majority in the 150-member House, where they now have 72 seats. But there are real questions about whether a small Republican majority would be enough to elect a Republican speaker. Many House watchers think Democrat Pete Laney, the current gavel-holder, could hold on if the partisan balance of the House remains close.
The Republicans assembling in Dallas like that about as much as a poke in the eye, and they're pushing a platform plank imploring their own House members to vote as a bloc.
There are two flavors of pledges available to those candidates. The first—simply saying they'll vote for a Republican for speaker—isn't good enough. That's because there are enough renegade Republican members in the statehouse to throw the election to Laney if the GOP's overall majority is small. Add a couple of renegades to a bloc of Democrats and you get a sixth term for Laney. The second flavor is what'll be pushed in Dallas: It asks the Republicans to vote amongst themselves, choose a Republican candidate, and then vote together when it comes to the floor.
And An Effort to Stampede Them
The delegates to the convention—by definition, these are the party faithful—don't see any point in winning a majority in the House if the other party still gets to drive. And conservative Republicans were unhappy when the Senate named Republican Bill Ratliff to take Rick Perry's place in the lieutenant governor's office. Ratliff is a moderate, first of all.
Also, he was elected because Democratic senators came to his side and so he put Democrats in charge of some major committees. He gave the plum to Houston Democrat Rodney Ellis, naming him chairman of Senate Finance. "They (the delegates) don't want the same thing to happen in the Texas House that happened in the Texas Senate," says Weddington. "They understand that very well."
The proposed mechanism would elect a Republican if there was a Republican majority. Here's one reason for discord: There is more than one GOP candidate for Speaker. Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has the most Republicans pledged to him. If you're another of the GOP candidates, say Reps. Edmund Kuempel or Brian McCall, you're dependent on Democrats to get elected. Their candidacies work only if neither Laney nor Craddick can assemble 76 votes. McCall, for instance, has been collecting "seconds"—asking people to vote for him if their first choice doesn't make it.
Another reason for discord: Say, for conversation, that Texas voters put 81 Republicans in the House. A vote amongst the Republicans could produce a winner with only 41 votes, and if the Republican Caucus then voted as a bloc, somebody would get to be speaker with the solid support of less than one-third of the legislators in the room. Some argue that the winner would have a hard time running the show. It would also replace majority rule with party rule, which is a different game. Some legislators like that idea, and some don't.
With the smell of a majority in the air for the first time in more than a century, Republican Party officials like the idea a lot. It'll go in the plank.
Mice on the Floor
At least one of the GOP's perennial fights will be repeated. Inside the party, it's referred to simply as "Rule 43." That's a rule that says candidates are to be given a copy of the party platform along with a form that they "may" fill out saying, item by item, whether they agree with the platform.
The form is 32 pages long, and most candidates treat it like an enraged skunk. But some think the "may" should be a "shall" and want the party to enforce it by removing from the ticket any candidates who won't play. That's not legal in Texas, but the folks who want to change things think the Legislature will follow the party or—this is more of a long shot—that the federal courts will back the party. That last bit is based on one interpretation of a two-year-old California case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. And the Party would have to try to enforce the provision to force the state's hand to get it into court in the first place. Did we mention that it's a long shot?
Another possible grenade would close the GOP's primaries, allowing only those voters who officially declare themselves Republicans. Some other states do it—the idea is that the other party's voters and independents can't come in and make mischief. But it, like the idea of removing people from the ballot for failing to sign a pledge, is currently illegal in Texas. The backers, including national committeeman Tim Lambert of Lubbock, cite that same California case as proof that their plan would stand. But getting it to court also requires a standoff with the state.
Lambert says he has no ulterior purpose. He says he isn't convinced that the candidates nominated by the party in a closed primary would be any different from the ones nominated now. But he thinks Democrats have at times jumped into GOP primaries and had an effect on the results. He said, for instance, that Democrats voting in the GOP primary in Central Texas helped Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio fend off a challenge from Rep. John Shields, also of San Antonio, in March.
Both his proposal and the Rule 43 fight are attempts to scratch the same itch: Some of the state's conservative Republicans grate at the success of moderate Republicans. "The two poster children for this would be John McCain and Jeff Wentworth," he says. "... there is a frustration in our party with Republican elected officials who don't hold the core values of the party." The moderates argue that the conservatives are holding to a hard-line philosophy that won't win in general elections.
Winners and Losers
The lawyers for some of the groups that were involved in the legislative redistricting fight still haven't been paid by the state, and a new order from the federal judges who heard that case says the state should pay up. Attorney General John Cornyn had argued that the state didn't lose the case and shouldn't have to pay the people who did.
But the judges said in their original order—and again in the latest one—that the defendants did win on discrete points in the litigation and ought to get their money.
The court told the state to pay about $115,000 to the lawyers for two Texas congresswomen—U.S. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston—for the work they did on the state's congressional redistricting plan. The judges ruled the same way on the Texas House plans, but they said the San Antonio lawyers who represented the League of United Latin American Citizens should be paid less than they requested. Those two lawyers originally asked to be paid $175 and $200 an hour, respectively. They later upped the price, to $325 an hour. The court said no and ordered the state to pay them a total of almost $125,000. The biggest chunk of change would go to lawyers for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. The top lawyers for MALC asked for $325 an hour from the outset and got it: The court said the state should pay them a total of $419,160.
A spokeswoman for Cornyn said the AG's staff is reviewing the order and has about three weeks before it has to either appeal it or start writing checks.
Holy Mackerel! Candidates Talking Issues!
Abortion is a big political question, but doesn't usually move to the front burner in elections. Candidates on both sides have learned to be careful, stating their positions in whatever words are safe at a given time. On the Republican side, the state party platform says the GOP's "final goal" is complete constitutional rights for unborn children. Most people don't read platforms and what most anti-abortion Republicans say when they're running for office is that they personally oppose abortions, but would make exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake. Another common answer is for candidates to say they agree with the president's position, which is essentially the same thing, but with a popular Republican's endorsement of the idea.
For electoral purposes, that's usually the end of the subject. But abortion could be a front-burner issue in this year's race for attorney general. For one thing, the attorney general is the guy who issues legal opinions when asked about state laws. And the AG is the lawyer who represents the state when its laws are being challenged. For another, the candidates are on opposite sides of the issue.
Republican Greg Abbott says he is pro-life—against abortions under any circumstances—and has filled out candidate questionnaires that, as a political matter, lock him into that position. Democrat Kirk Watson says he is pro-choice, and clearly thinks the difference between his position and Abbott's will be a big deal in the election. In his view, female voters in particular will migrate to his side "as they become aware of the difference in our points of view."
Abbott's camp, on the other hand, doesn't see it as a critical issue in the race because, he says, the attorney general's personal feelings on the matter shouldn't make a difference. To Abbott, the AG's job is similar to that of a judge—he "is going to enforce the law and not make it." Abbott says he'll defend whatever laws are in place if he's elected AG regardless of his personal feelings about those laws. When he was running for lieutenant governor last year, Abbott was running as a pro-family candidate. In a fundraising letter last August, he said he was one of "only three" justices on the Texas Supreme Court who "sought to preserve the intent" of the state's parental notification law. As AG, however, he says he wouldn't allow his personal views to keep him from enforcing the law.
The two AG candidates have also found room to disagree on open records. This is a jumble, because a number of things happened at the same time: While Abbott and Watson were at a joint appearance on open meetings and records before a gathering of media types, the Supreme Court was being sued by activists who want the justices to reveal how they vote on which cases they'll take and which cases they won't take.
In Houston, Abbott attacked Watson's record on open records when the Democrat was mayor of Austin. But the incident he cited happened under a previous mayor and Abbott's campaign had to back down. Score one for Watson. Both candidates say they want records to be open whenever possible, and that might have been the end of it.
But they disagree on the court issue. Neither candidate will talk specifically about the lawsuit. Each one, after all, is trying to win the job of representing the Supreme Court and other state agencies in court and the winner doesn't want to be in the position of acting as a lawyer on a case he prejudged during a campaign. Couch the question in public policy terms, however, and the candidates are on different tacks.
As a matter of policy, Kirk says the Supreme Court should keep records of those votes and should make them available to the public. Abbott says it would be impossible because of the way the court does its business. Abbott, who resigned from the court to run for AG, says the judges decide not to look at cases for a variety of reasons. They often turn down cases for reasons other than the facts at stake: For instance, the court might not find any legal errors that would allow them to take a case. Requiring the judges to say how they voted in every case would, he says, effectively require them to write an opinion each time explaining their actions. He says he's for open records, but he doesn't see a practical way to make the denials of cases public.
The Little Truck Moves On, & Other Notes
Don't be surprised if Victor Morales, who lost to Ron Kirk in the Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate, goes the other way and backs Republican John Cornyn in the general election. Morales told the San Antonio Express-News that he's quitting the Democratic Party and considers himself an independent. He told the paper he had a "nice" meeting with Cornyn, and pointed out "important influential people in the Democratic Party who have never called me in years, never called to have coffee with me." He hasn't had a concession call with Kirk and has some obviously bitter feelings. He's not stepping into the race now and says he doesn't intend to. Morales lost a run for Congress—against U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions—in 1998. His real moment in the sun came in 1996, when he came out of nowhere to beat three others, including two sitting congressmen, in the Democratic Party primary for U.S. Senate. He went on to lose to U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, but not by as much as he was supposed to. Morales held Gramm to slightly less than 55 percent of the vote, without spending a dime on television or direct mail. He got about the same result against Sessions two years later. Keep watching.
• She didn't have anything bad to say about Ron Kirk, but U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison went to Dallas not to endorse the former mayor but to back Republican John Cornyn, who's running against him. Hutchison aped George W. Bush, who recently told a TV reporter that he needs Cornyn so he'll have someone who backs his agenda in Congress. Hutchison's version was that she likes Kirk but needs "a cooperative partner" in the Senate.
• Not everyone wants to get into a Torts v. Docs tangle in the tight state Senate race that starts on the eastern edge of Dallas and runs towards Louisiana. That contest features Sen. David Cain, a Democrat, and Dr. Bob Deuell, a Greenville Republican. Cain is and has been a favorite of the Texas Medical Association, which under normal circumstances might be expected to endorse a doctor. And Deuell has been backed by Texans for Lawsuit Reform and other business groups. Some of those folks—emphasize the word "some"—see the battle in stark terms. But Deuell is pouring water on that idea and so is the state's biggest tort reform group, the Texas Civil Justice League. Deuell says he hopes to win support for both sides. True, he won't have the TMA endorsement, and true, TLR will be in his corner. But he says he's got plenty of medical types on his side who don't necessarily buy the full tort reform line. And the TCJL folks say they'll be on Cain's side: The incumbent has been reasonable on tort issues in spite of the fact that he's a trial lawyer, they say, and they're sticking with him.
• Invitations to give money to politicians often look like bloated pitches from public radio, or from cosmetics companies, promising more "freebies" to people who give more. Sometimes that backfires, as it did on the recent Republican pitch that included a 9/11 photo of George W. Bush in a package meant for $150 donors. Those come-ons are the norm, which is what made an appeal from House Speaker Pete Laney stand out. It came in with the headline "Last Chance to be Listed on the Invitation" but didn't promise more or less on the basis of the amount given. That's not to say it didn't make suggestions of how much the donors should contribute—the amounts started at $25,000 and worked their way down from there.
• The Texas Conservative Coalition's annual fundraiser later this month will feature a gubernatorial candidate. A Republican. From Oklahoma. U.S. Rep. Steve Largent, who is also a former Seattle Seahawk, will be the headliner at that event. It'll be held at the University of Texas Club, overlooking the stadium where the Texas Longhorns play football. But don't fret: Largent went to the University of Tulsa, and not the dreaded OU.
• Last year, Tony Sanchez Jr. moved his campaign out of the middle of Austin and into the burbs to get away from everything. That left them isolated from just the kind of information and gossip and elbow-rubbing that makes things work, so they're moving back to downtown Austin. This time, they'll be just six blocks from the Capitol, in the basement of a skyscraper that's three or four blocks from the building where Gov. Rick Perry has made camp.
We agreed to hawk a seminar coming up in July for people who want to hear just what's wrong with the Texas budget and how it might be fixed, with enough detail to choke a good-sized quarter horse. It's sponsored by the Texas Lyceum, the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of Regional Councils. They've assembled a one-day session for July 12 with elected and other public officials talking about the state's $5 billion spending problem and what to do about it. The speakers include Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, several legislators and policy experts. It'll be in Austin and details are available at www.texaslyceum.org.
A Really Great Idea, for Nearly 500 People
It has been ten years since Ann Richards walked into Polk Feed in Oak Hill, scratched the first Texas Lottery ticket and said "Oh, Rats." During that decade, sales totaled $28,514,594,763. The lottery paid out $15,538,870,069.09 in prizes while keeping $9,471,780,206 for the state (the totals don't add because of retailer prizes and lottery expenses. Here's something to chew on: Of the 28.5 billion tickets sold, only 443 have had the right numbers on them to win jackpots. The lottery is marking the occasion with a street party in downtown Austin. And there's something significant about the bass player in the last musical act on the schedule, the David Spann Band. He's Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, who sponsored the lottery bill in 1991.
• The state might have a buyer for Woodlawn, an Austin mansion designed by Abner Cook, the same architect who designed the Governor's Mansion. The $3 million price tag is just the start—the state estimates it will cost more than that to restore the 10,870-square-foot mansion. Jeff Sandefer, the buyer, has a month to look at the property to make sure he wants to take on the job. The state bought the property several years ago with the idea that it might be a better residence for governors, but the repair and maintenance costs convinced officials to sell it.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Westlake Hills, an affluent close-in suburb of Austin, is one of the hot spots in school finance, because it's relative wealth forces the district to collect taxes that have to be sent to other school districts that are less well off. The Eanes ISD that serves Westlake Hills and the area nearby is a poster child, in other words, for the so-called Robin Hood method of financing public education.
And there's an ugly turn to that: A White Supremacist group called the National Alliance papered the district with flyers detailing how much money the school district is sending to other districts and calling the result "the 'browning' of our unique European culture." It closes with this: "Given the dramatic shift in statewide racial demographics, can whites truly afford any more 'cultural enrichment'?" Nobody is claiming credit for the flyers, but they do list an Austin-area phone number, an address in West Virginia and the website for the National Alliance. It's www.natall.com.
• We botched the date in an item last week on Patriot Academy: That program for kids interested in politics and government will be in the second week of June, as we said, but it'll be next year and not this year. Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, says the venture is owned by a non-profit called the Torch of Freedom Foundation that he and others started.
Though he says he's not making money on the deal, Green said he "almost didn't run for office this year" because he wanted to devote more time to the program. (He's got a race on his hands, in the form of a challenge from Patrick Rose, a Democrat who's making his first run for public office.) The summer program Green is promoting is unusual in at least one respect: The attendees are expected to raise money the same way candidates do, from businesses and friends and such. Profits, if there are any, will be plowed back into the program to lower costs for future attendees, Green said.
Political People and Their Moves
Gov. Rick Perry lowered the other foot and finally named Jim Cox Jr. to the Texas Lottery Commission (those appointments take a little longer because more extensive background checks are required). Cox, an Austin accountant and real estate developer, previously served on the General Services Commission. His resume includes a fair amount of gaming experience: Cox was president of the recreation division at Summa Corp., running the four hotel-casinos that were then in the Howard Hughes estate, and he also was chairman of the Nevada Resort Association, the trade group that lobbies for hotels and casinos in that state. He replaces Walter Criner, who quit earlier this year... The University of Texas System hired Carlos Martinez away from his job as clerk to the House General Investigating Committee. Martinez, a former Del Rio city manager, will be assistant vice chancellor for government relations and economic affairs. He replaces Mel Hazelwood, who left UT for a different calling: He's now a Methodist minister in George West (roughly halfway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi)... The Democratic Party's state convention follows the Republicans by one week and it will feature something the GOP won't have: A challenge to the chair. San Antonio lawyer David Van Os is running against Molly Beth Malcolm at the El Paso confab... Francisco Sanchez, who heads an AIDS/HIV program in Houston, has been tapped to replace Dianne Hardy-Garcia as executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. He'll relocate to Austin in time to gear up for next year's legislative session... Put another elected official in Texas on the Homeland Security detail. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is handing out grants to secure farms and ranches, and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs gets to hold the check... The Public Utility Commission went inside to find a new governmental relations guru. That job went to Theresa Gage, who had been working on legislative analysis for the agency. She replaces Lisa Mayes, who scurried off to the private sector... The next guy doing the "Oyez, oyez" bit for the Supreme Court will be Andrew Weber, who is now a staff attorney for Justice Priscilla Owen. Weber will become the court's new clerk in July, upon the retirement of John Adams.
Quotes of the Week
Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, quoted by the Associated Press on the relatively small part played by lottery money in the state's education budget: "It's not a bunch, and that's intentional. We don't want to be scrambling for funding because some scratch-off game didn't do as well as somebody hoped."
Former Republican National Committee official Larry Purpuro, who now runs an Internet marketing company called RightClick Strategies, quoted in the Washington Post: "E-mail is a lethal weapon in campaigns. It can be timed, targeted and tracked in ways that direct mail, radio or TV cannot be. And at the end of the day, their success in communication and organizing and fundraising is a function of being wired to their membership."
President George W. Bush, reacting at a press conference when an American TV reporter asked French President Jacques Chirac a question in French: "Very good, the guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental. I'm impressed. Que bueno. Now I'm literate in two languages."
Crandall schoolteacher Victor Morales, in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News after his third election defeat: "At this point in time, I am independent. I wouldn't run as a Democrat again. I've been stabbed in the back three times. I've been done wrong three times."
Political consultant Chuck McDonald, in a San Antonio Express-News story on the high level of "I don't know" answers coming from the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor: "Usually, candidates don't start losing their memory until October."
Tony Sanchez spokesman Mark Sanders, talking to the Houston Chronicle about who will cover loans from candidates to their own campaigns: "He (Sanchez) will not go to special interests after he's elected governor to raise money to pay down the notes."
Texas Weekly, Volume 18, Issue 47, 3 June 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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