You would think the Democrats were holding their convention in the Yukon to hear some of the griping about going "all the way to El Paso" for the biennial state gathering. But the Democrats are the biggest convention that city gets, and El Paso is one of the most reliably Democratic counties in the state. They need each other.
If the Democrats have a whine about it, so does the city. Do a little creative redistricting and imagine how things would look if the eastern border of New Mexico kept going straight South to the Mexican border. El Paso would be the largest city in that state and would have be the 600-pound gorilla in races for U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, the governorship and other statewide offices. As the distant big city in Texas, however, El Paso constantly gets short shrift. Few statewide officeholders come from there, and the ones who lived there at one time or another usually build their political bases elsewhere. El Paso doesn't vote in proportion to its population and so doesn't have the say it could have in state politics. Voters there largely ignore the state and the state largely ignores them.
And then along comes George W. Bush, the first governor in years to give the city its due. He reaped his reward when voters there responded to his attentions. In 1998, when Republicans were sweeping the statewide elections, Bush was the only statewide Republican who outpolled a Democratic opponent in El Paso County (Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence Meyers won his race, but there was no Democrat in it and his Libertarian opponent, Larry Perry, got 36 percent of the vote). Bush lost in 2000 against a stronger opponent (Al Gore got 57.8 percent of the vote that year) but the 1998 victory boosted his reputation for winning Hispanic votes and for being able to win in traditionally Democratic areas of the country and helped make the case for a presidential run.
Now the Democrats have looked at the numbers and remembered that big wins in El Paso–historically a stronghold for them–can offset losses in Republican counties elsewhere in the state. In a year when some of the biggest Democratic gambles are based on new voters coming to the polls, El Paso is a potential mother lode. Democrats can lose races when they win in El Paso, but if they lose there, it's almost impossible for Democrats to put together statewide wins.
The One Hundred Percenters
Texas Democrats don't usually load up their platform with specifics for reasons that were apparent if you watched the Republicans fight last week over various purity tests designed to weed out candidates who aren't as conservative as the delegates to the GOP convention. Guess what? The Democrats on the ballot aren't usually as liberal as their delegates. And the Democrats have been better over the years at keeping the purity language out of the platform.
But the same tensions exist, and that's why you'll see stories out of El Paso kicking some of the candidates for running from national political celebrities. The Republicans will help: They bought billboards between downtown El Paso and the airport, zinging the Democrats for ducking their national leaders. Early on, party officials invited Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Dick Gephardt to the convention. But after noise and phone calls from statewide candidates Tony Sanchez and John Sharp, the congressmen developed scheduling problems. The Texas candidates won't have to suffer direct associations with the people who oppose Texan George W. Bush on a regular basis, but they angered some of the Democratic delegates. Republicans were delighted and bought billboards with the names of the national folks crossed out as speakers and the names of the state officials written in.
Coloring by Numbers
Campaigns always have a problem with polls. They don't let their numbers loose when they're bad, because only morons would do that. They usually don't release the results when they're good, because reporters and politicos don't believe the self-serving results. And so they have to sit and look at third-party polls that might be accurate, that might be baseless, but that get covered in the news and talked about simply because they were done without interference from the combatants.
It's especially a problem when the third-party pollsters are saying things that make the campaign hacks crazy. So here, on the eve of the Democrats' state convention, comes the Tony Sanchez campaign to give reporters a little taste–without showing much science–of what the Sanchez campaign wants reporters to think about the governor's race.
The third party polls that have been percolating show Sanchez well behind Gov. Rick Perry, and another poll–the Texas Poll done by Scripps-Howard–is coming out shortly and could reinforce that message. The Perry campaign says that its polling, like that done by Democratic consultant Jeff Montgomery a couple of weeks ago, shows the incumbent more than 20 points ahead of the challenger. (That spin is strange, since Perry needs to raise money to protect himself from Sanchez' huge advertising budget, and since it's harder to raise money when you're safe than when you're in a fight. About all they can hope for is that news of the big gap is demoralizing to Sanchez supporters.)
The Sanchez numbers, we're told, look nothing like what is being touted by Perry and others. According to their reading, Sanchez is only six points behind Perry. He's gaining on him. Perry's reelect numbers–the percentage of people who say now they would vote to keep him in the Governor's Mansion–have fallen below 50 for the first time. And the number of people who have negative reactions to Perry (as a result of the Sanchez ad onslaught) is climbing. More people are negative about Perry than about Sanchez. More people are positive about Perry than Sanchez, too, but not by much. Perry, put simply, is weaker than Ann Richards was the summer before she lost.
One spin–what we're supposed to use as our template for the next few months and the rationale behind the Sanchez message–is that voters side with Sanchez over Perry when asked about issues like HMOs, power companies, insurance companies and the influence of special interests. Another–which you've been hearing in variations for more than a year–is that turnout will be higher this year than it was in 1998. Democrats think it will be in the range of five million votes. (Fewer than four million Texans voted in 1998, but the high profile race that year wasn't exciting and turnout was down in spite of population growth.) The Democrats also believe–and you have to take them on faith here–that the new voters who show up will be slightly browner than the voters who show up now. Where Anglos make up about 75 percent of the votes in a typical election, the Sanchez folks think Anglos will account for only about half of the new voters. If that's right–underscore the "if"–they could win.
The Republicans' counter: They agree that five million or more people will vote this year, and for some of the same reasons. Population trends say so, and 1998 was an anomaly because the contests were boring. They disagree about the demographics of the new votes, however, and the only way to find out who's got it right is to wait about 140 days and see. In the meantime, the Sanchez people are hoping to get a little breathing room in the news stories about the gap between the candidates.
• PAYBACK TIME: Before the GOP convention began, and even while it was running, Republican officials said they would leave the Democrats alone when it came time for the donkeys to assemble in El Paso. The Democrats ignored that opening and did daily press conferences to dispute whatever the Republicans were talking about at any given time. Now the elephants have changed course: Chairman Susan Weddington and some of her gang will be in El Paso returning the favor.
Lost in the Translation
U.S. Senate candidate John Cornyn's two-page ad in the Republican convention program features two lines in red at the top: "Opportunity for Tomorrow" and "Oportunidad para Mañana." Gov. Rick Perry has been taking Spanish lessons. Lt. Gov. candidate David Dewhurst peppers his speeches with Spanish and cut his own Spanish-language television spots. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander has unveiled a few Spanish lines in her speeches (she talks just as fast as in English, and with the same twang). Hispanics and Blacks had featured parts in the program: speaking, preaching, or singing.
But not everything went smoothly on the race front. A couple of events scheduled to celebrate minority delegates fizzled. The crowd on the floor of the convention was overwhelmingly Anglo. And the Sunday newspaper stories capping the convention mostly led with U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm framing the elections along racial lines. When it's all said and done, Gramm said, people will mark the Democratic gubernatorial primaries as the defining moment of the campaign, when "the first debate for high public office in American history that was not conducted in the English language" took place.
He followed by accusing the Democrats with trying to divide the state on the basis of race and said that's the "dream" of the "dream ticket." A month ago, a spokesman for Cornyn called the Democratic ticket a "racial quota ticket," and within one or two news cycles, the candidate himself was telling reporters that the remarks were inappropriate. This time, Cornyn was in Washington, D.C., two days after Gramm's remarks. When reporters there asked about the comments, Cornyn said he agreed with Gramm "to the extent that it is a wrong message that we ought to emphasize those things that divide us as opposed to those things that unite us."
Later, David Beckwith, a spokesman for Cornyn, said the issue is perilous for Republicans and their candidates: "The press and the Democrats want to talk about race [but] we cannot talk about it. If we talk about it, then the forces of political correctness will come down on us like a ton of bricks."
Campaign Finance 101
The National Republican Legislators Association has five states targeted for offense and five more on the defense target list; Texas is one of the five they're trying take over. The group, which met at the state GOP convention in Dallas, says it's trying to "assist leaders maintain or gain majorities in 10 close chambers during the 2002 elections." Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington are the places they think they can win away a legislative chamber from the Democrats. They're playing defense in Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon and Pennsylvania. In Texas, the group's pitch is that the combination of redistricting and "a popular president that is likely to campaign" make the House winnable for Republicans. The group's written materials say "funds will be provided to a PAC established by Congressman Tom Delay and run in part by Senator Florence Shapiro. Corporate contributions are prohibited for individual candidates, but the Delay PAC can accept such funds."
Coming Soon to Hearing Rooms and TV Sets Near You
The Democrats will talk plenty about insurance at their state convention, but Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, launched his own set of reforms before the Ds could get started. He wants to give state regulators control over rates and says he'll start interim hearings on the subject next month. Without naming any companies, Fraser said "preliminary data gathered during ongoing investigations" shows some companies may have delayed some mold investigations while over-paying on others and then blaming those high awards for increased premiums.
The increased premiums could then be used to pay the delayed claims. Some adjusters and some of the companies that remediate mold found in buildings might also be on the list for spankings. Fraser's charges are a stronger version of those leveled a few weeks ago by Gov. Rick Perry. Attorney General candidates Greg Abbott and Kirk Watson are also talking insurance, pushing everything from investigations of companies for "credit scoring" to new restraints on insurance companies and their rates and punishments for those who get out of line.
Barking Without Biting
In a classic case of a threat without an "or else" to back it up, the delegates to the Republican Party of Texas say GOP members of the Texas House (assuming they constitute the majority after the elections) ought to vote in the Republican Caucus to select a Speaker, then vote as a bloc when they join with Democratic colleagues to hold the actual vote. As we've written, almost two dozen Republicans signed a letter/editorial saying that was a bad idea, enough to keep it from actually happening when the Legislature convenes in January.
The platform addition and the renegade movement were cussed and discussed during the weekend. For instance, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, went to delegates who were meeting in their own caucuses to back the idea and to scorch Texas Reps. Todd Smith and Vicki Truitt, both of whom signed the editorial (Smith wrote it). They were able to patch things up, and their delegates didn't seem too angry about the quarrel. In the end, the idea stayed in the platform, and the main beneficiary of Republicans voting as a bloc–Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland–had put out a statement calling it meaningless. He didn't come out against it, exactly, but his words took some of the sharp objects off the table where everyone was arguing.
"It should come as no surprise that Republican Convention-goers are enthusiastic about the election of a Republican Speaker of the Texas House," Craddick wrote. "However, any resolution passed by this body would be non-binding and consequently irrelevant. I would never support abridging the right of any member to vote for the candidate that he or she feels is best qualified to be Speaker of the House."
Party Chair Susan Weddington, who liked the idea of voting in caucus, said she and some other Republicans don't want a situation where Republicans take the majority only to find themselves looking at a new speaker elected by a majority of Democrats. For example, she said, the 23 Republicans who wrote the letter could get together with 54 Democrats and elect a speaker. That speaker would be from the end of the Republican pool most comfortable to Democrats. A speaker elected in caucus would be from the most conservative end of the pool of Republican candidates and would be more in tune with what Republican delegates and party leaders want.
Backstage, U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm appeared at a gathering that included several state reps, some money folks (including East Texas chicken magnate Bo Pilgrim), and some delegates and said he's supporting Craddick. At least one other Republican candidate for speaker, Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, was in the room. Whether Gramm knew that or not wasn't clear, but the gist of his talk, according to several participants, was that he's backing Craddick, that he'll help anyone who's for Craddick and that he'll work against anyone who's not for Craddick.
Political Notes from Outside the Borders
• Carts and then horses: Hotline Editor Chuck Todd puts Democrat Ron Kirk on his list of possible (though not probable) candidates for vice president in 2004. If he pulls an upset and beats Republican John Cornyn, Kirk would be on the short list, according to Todd. He'd be the highest-ranking black in the party, and he's from a southern state.
• Either Texans have more political dough than they can use, or this is just a great place to hit if you're on the money trail. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is running for Congress, is planning a three-city tour that'll include a stop in Dallas in mid-July to raise money for her race. Harris, if you somehow forgot, oversaw the scattered recounting of Florida votes in the 2000 presidential race.
• California Gov. Gray Davis, who's got the same pollster who's working for Tony Sanchez in Texas, has started a series of ads attacking his opponent, Republican Bill Simon. The charge is that Simon didn't manage his businesses well and thus can't manage California. The basis? The Simon family's investment in Western Federal Savings and Loan, which tanked and required a government bailout for depositors. The tie to Texas, other than pollster Paul Maslin? The Sanchez family owned Tesoro Savings & Loan. Like Western, it tanked and required a federal bailout for depositors.
Other Names on the Ballot
While the Democrats and Republicans were getting most of the headlines, the state's two other regularly recognized political parties were holding conventions that actually chose candidates to put on the ballot. Neither the Green Party nor the Libertarian Party has ever won a statewide race in Texas, but their candidates have probably decided several races by bleeding critical support away from either the Republican or Democratic candidate.
The Green Party's slate includes Roy Williams of Dallas for U.S. senator, Rahul Mahajan of Austin for governor, Nathalie Paravicini of Houston for lieutenant governor, David Keith Cobb of Houston for attorney general, Ruben Reyes of El Paso for comptroller, Michael McInerney of Houston for land commissioner, Charles Mauch of Houston for railroad commissioner, and Jane Woodward Elioseff of Houston for agriculture commissioner. The Greens also nominated some candidates for statewide court seats: Brad Rockwell for Texas Supreme Court Place 2, Rob Owen for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 1, and Ollie Ruth Jefferson for Place 3 on the criminal appeals court.
Williams successfully sued the city of Dallas to change the way council members are elected, and he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on that panel. Paravicini is a community activist who has worked on ballot access drives for the Green Party and for Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign. She and Cobb are both officers of the Green Party; in his other professional life, he's an environmental lawyer.
The Libertarians, meanwhile, assembled a ticket that includes Scott Lanier Jameson of Dallas for U.S. Senate, Jeff Daiell of Sugar Land for governor, Mark David Gessner of Austin for lieutenant governor, Jon Roland of Cottonwood for attorney general, Steve Martin of Houston for comptroller, Marjory Staehle Glowka of Austin for land commissioner, Nazirite Flores Perez of San Antonio for railroad commissioner, and Vincent May of Elgin for agriculture commissioner. Clifford William of Houston is the party's nominee for chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Quanah Parker of Abilene is running for Place 1 on that court and Stephan Kinsella of Houston is running for Place 1 on the Court of Criminal Appeals. The two small parties hold old-style conventions that actually pick the candidates; Jameson got the Senate nomination on the fourth ballot and then won by only four votes.
Political Notes from Inside the Borders
Sen. David Bernsen picked up another one of the 'big' endorsements in his bid for Texas land commissioner, winning the support of the Texas Association of Realtors. As with some of his previous endorsements, that nod is partly a result of his own work courting the Realtors and partly because of his opponent's work several years ago on home equity lending. The Realtors were initially against those kinds of loans, but then-Sen. Jerry Patterson, R-Pasadena, pushed through a constitutional amendment that was then approved by voters. Patterson, who fell short in a 1998 bid for land commissioner, is running against Bernsen. The Realtors have also endorsed Gov. Rick Perry for reelection, Democrat John Sharp for Lite Guv, and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander and Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs for reelection.
• Former U.S. Rep. Kent Hance says there is not much substance to the rumor that he and a couple of other big Republican names will be starting a campaign fund for GOP candidates, or a business, or a lobby operation. A persistent rumor at the state Republican convention had Hance, outgoing U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm and former U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler of San Antonio getting together as Gramm leaves office. Hance says Gramm has talked to him about forming up to help Republican candidates but says nothing has come of it, at least not yet.
• On the eve of the Republican convention, Texans for Lawsuit Reform unveiled its tort reform package for the next legislative session. Most are familiar, if you've followed tort reform in Texas over the last ten years. The group wants state law to encourage people in lawsuits to settle out of court, limits on class action lawsuits, and medical malpractice reforms are all on the list. The group says it's also looking at whether lawsuits stemming from mold in homes are adversely affecting consumers, and, without going into much detail, that it's looking at judicial selection reforms.
Political People and Their Moves
The Legislature won't have Health and Human Service Commissioner Don Gilbert to kick around any more: He announced he won't seek reappointment to that job when his term is up at the end of the year. He'll be eligible for retirement in November, when he turns 50. Gilbert, who has worked for the state for three decades, has headed HHSC since 1998... Jack Hawks, chairman of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is quitting at the end of the year. ERCOT has been heavily criticized lately for problems with electric deregulation in the state, particularly pricing, which it is supposed to oversee... Carlos Espinosa moves from working in the governor's office for Rick Perry to working as organization director for lieutenant governor candidate David Dewhurst. Espinosa is a former executive director of the Bexar County Republican Party... Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos has a new president: It's Denise Trauth, who has been provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She'll replace Jerome Supple at the school, which is the sixth-largest state university in Texas... Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry appointed Josh Morriss, a Texarkana attorney, as chief justice of the 6th Court of Appeals. Perry also decided to let Ed Perez, who's been acting director of the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations for a year, to remove "acting" from the front of his title. If the Senate goes along, he'll be the director... Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb, was scheduled for heart surgery as we went to press. Telford, who's been fighting heart problems for the last several years, was going in for bypass surgery to clear blockages in three blood vessels... Deaths: Alicia Sanchez, 83, the mother of Tony Sanchez, the Democratic nominee for governor. Both campaigns pulled down their advertising in respect.
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, analyzing the elections for the delegates at the state Republican convention: "The defining moment in this election occurred in that Democratic debate for governor. Anybody who... witnessed the first debate for high public office in American history that was not conducted in the English language knows what is 'dream' about this ticket. The Democrats believe they can divide Texans based on race. That's their dream and that's their vision, and this election is about rejecting that dream and that vision once and for all and forever. We are first, last, always and forever Texans and Americans. And we're damn proud of it–damn proud of it. We deeply resent Democrat politicians who try to sever the bonds that bind us together as one state and one nation."
Attorney General John Cornyn, at the convention: "Isn't it great to be part of a political party that doesn't have to apologize for its national leadership? As Republicans, we love the opportunity to show off our national leaders. Democrats won't even let theirs cross the Red River."
Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, on efforts by some Republican delegates to force candidates to get in line with the GOP platform: "History is replete with elements that want to dictate exactly what people will believe. For those of us who would not sign such a document, because such a document is always too simplistic, it's just a good thing we don't have the rack or burning at the stake any more because they might be gathering firewood."
Gov. Rick Perry, in his speech to the GOP convention: "The Office of the Governor is not for sale to the highest bidder, but to the strongest leader."
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, bemoaning the loss of Karen Hughes–who he sees as a counterbalance to fellow Texan Karl Rove–in an interview with Esquire: "The whole balance of the place, the balance of what has worked up to now for George Bush is gone, simply gone."
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, after GOP spokesman Ted Royer jabbed him and other senators for talking about higher taxes to cover an expected $5 billion budget gap: "When the campaign is over, [he] ought to come in and I'll give him a job interview. I suspect he'll be looking for work."
Democratic Party Chairman Molly Beth Malcolm, echoing before the Democratic convention in El Paso what her Republican counterpart said about dissidents in her party before the GOP gathering in Dallas: "There is always a small group of people who would rather fight than try to work together."
Texas Weekly, Volume 19, Issue 1, 17 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.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.