Overt Operations: The Lite Guv Race

Forget all that stuff about the race for lieutenant governor being quiet, secretive, and completely underwater. Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, has moved upstage with a whirlwind set of meetings with senators to tell them he'd like the job and to begin to try to build support.

Forget all that stuff about the race for lieutenant governor being quiet, secretive, and completely underwater. Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, has moved upstage with a whirlwind set of meetings with senators to tell them he'd like the job and to begin to try to build support.

He first sent a letter to Sens. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, the two colleagues most often mentioned as contestants for the job. The three senators are the only semi-declared candidates for the job. Earlier in the summer, each put out a letter or statement delicately declaring his interest. Sibley also sent a copy of the letter to Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, whose job all three men are supposedly seeking.

This is all predicated on presidential politics and how things would play out in Texas if Gov. George W. Bush succeeds in his run for the White House. If Bush moves up, then Perry would become governor and the Senate would elect a replacement for Perry.

In his letter, Sibley contends that the Senate would be a mess for the first weeks of the next legislative session if no spadework on succession has been done before then. He runs through a list of some of the legislative chores that would be disrupted: committee assignments, budget prep, hiring ("especially," he writes, "if Gov. Bush takes some of Texas' best and brightest with him").

Sibley says, in effect, that the Senate needs to get cracking so that the order of succession won't cause problems if and when Bush moves to Washington. But that's all preface to his point, which is that he wants the job if it opens up and that he thinks "it is important to begin this discussion and I will do this in the coming days and weeks."

Getting to Know the Voters

Contests like this one, and races for Speaker of the House, involve the strangest kind of politics. The candidates know each voter personally, and know something -- or should -- about what motivates each one. That makes it hard to handicap a race on the basis of normal measures like party affiliation.

The mojo is especially weird in the Senate. Nearly half of the senators went through one or more speakers' races when they were in the House (only one, Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, has actually been a candidate), but the mechanics in the upper chamber are a little different.

A race for an open speaker's chair is a little like a regular campaign, in that candidates have to file finance and other reports with the Texas Ethics Commission. In a race between senators seeking to preside, contributors and lobbyists would have a little more cover, giving to Sen. So-And-So without explicitly supporting that senator's bid for Perry's job. In the House race, giving to a speaker campaign account paints the giver as a friend to some and, often, as a foe to others.

In a race for speaker, there are 150 voters. Because of that number, there is more need to form a team and lean on lieutenants to handle care and feeding of House members. That's true in the Senate, to some extent, but with only 31 members, it's easier for a candidate to deal directly with each senator.

For some of the same reasons, senators are less likely than House members to run in packs, with groups forming around various leaders. Here's an easy way to put it: In the House, a member with 16 votes can form a bloc that might or might not have any influence, depending on what other floor leaders are doing. A senator with that same number of votes has a majority.

As it develops, relationships will matter most. You can argue that either party will be in power in Senate in 2001. What's not clear yet is which senator is the Senate's favorite.

Trying to Change the Odds

Even if everything goes right for Gov. George W. Bush, Republican senators probably can't get elected to succeed Lt. Gov. Rick Perry unless the Republicans continue to hold a majority in the Senate. Seems simple enough, and that's one reason why some Republican senators have been courting, and planning to court, Sens. David Cain, D-Dallas, and Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria.

The short form: They'd sure like to have those two change parties, to throw in the towel and join the Republicans. The pitch isn't threatening -- there's no "Come with us or suffer." Instead, they're promising support from the party, from other Republicans in the Senate, and from GOP officeholders higher on the food chain, up to and including the governor.

Armbrister, a conservative Democrat, has long been considered a candidate for a party switch. He says there hasn't yet been a push, but he's been asked on a fairly regular basis for years. That's not to say he's eager to jump, but both Republicans and Democrats mention him as a possibility whenever the conversation turns to re-branding. He pops back with two questions: What's in it for the people asking him to switch, and what's in it for him? The first answer is simple. The second is a hard sell.

Armbrister has never had less than 68 percent of the vote, so he's not in trouble. And he watched U.S. Rep. Greg Laughlin of West Columbia switch to the GOP and then get clobbered. A district attorney in Armbrister's district got crushed at the polls after changing parties, too: A Republican who wanted to get in the race was told not to by party elders, who wanted to protect their new convert. The Republican responded by switching parties and got elected as a Democrat -- over the convert.

From a philosophical standpoint, Armbrister would be relatively safe. He plays as little as possible in party politics, and he wouldn't have to explain away all that many of his votes as a legislator.

Playing Both Sides

Cain, on the other hand, would have a rough time switching sides. He's been in the Legislature, voting as a Democrat, for 22 years. Many of those votes -- particularly from his earlier days in the House, when he represented a fairly liberal district in Dallas -- would be almost impossible to explain in a Republican primary. Cain's last opponent, Bob Reese of Canton, ran from the conservative end of the spectrum and lost. But put the same matchup in a Republican primary, where Cain would be tortured with his own past alliances, and it could easily swing the other way.

Furthermore, Reese or some other candidate might not come from the establishment wing of the GOP; a promise of help from Bush -- or from anyone else in the party, for that matter -- might not prevent an ambitious Republican from jumping in the contest and upsetting the bargain.

Also, Cain might still have his eye on a long-shot chance at presiding officer. That bit of speculation begins with the idea that Bush moves up, Perry moves up, and the Democrats somehow pick up one seat and hold the Senate majority. Instead of talking about all those Republicans who want Perry's job, the conversation would turn to Democrats, and we'd be talking about an entirely different free-for-all.

The two Democrats targeted by Republicans looking for converts, Cain and Armbrister, are both positioned well for that kind of a race for presiding officer. Either could pull some Senate Democrats and some Republicans, too. But switching parties would kill the chance for either one of them.

The tales of courting could work in the favor of either candidate. Cain might look a little more acceptable to some Republican senators if he's a potential acquisition. Same with Armbrister. The reasoning is that it would be difficult to get elected (no matter what the majority/minority split) on a straight party vote. When you get down to it, both parties have renegade senators who'll jump to the other side before voting for certain of their party comrades. But a senator who shows he or she can dance with both parties might have a better shot at the job.

An Unencumbered Candidate

Tom Haywood doesn't owe any huge favors to anyone, apparently, which creates a problem for those who would like to talk him out of running for the Texas Railroad Commission post currently held by Michael Williams, a fellow Republican. Haywood, a state senator from Wichita Falls, says he'll make a decision by the beginning of September about whether to run. If he decides to run, he'll make an official announcement about a month after that.

Haywood says he's considering a challenge for a couple of reasons. One, he says, is that Williams is untested in state political races, and as he puts it, "If I don't take him out, the Democrats might." He also contends that Williams rebuffed a request to send someone to testify in Washington, D.C., on a "dumping" issue that was important to some independent oil producers. Aides to Williams point out that no one from any of the three commissioners' offices jumped into that fight.

The short version of that issue: Some high-cost producers don't like the fact that low-cost producers overseas can undercut their prices. They'd like to have some trade protection. But the politics, considered from the point of view of, say, a Texas Railroad Commissioner, don't offer a clean Us vs. Them equation, since some of the low-cost producers are U.S.-based and Texas-based companies. The U.S. Department of Commerce decided early this month not to erect any trade barricades.

Back to the story at hand. Whatever his reasons for running, Haywood, who headed the North Texas Oil & Gas Association for ten years, says he has been encouraged to run by the industry people he's talked with. He's told them he wants commitments of $35,000 to $50,000 from the associations, and he's waiting to hear whether they want to play.

A Plea from the Management

Meanwhile, he's had meetings with Gov. George W. Bush and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, both of whom would rather keep Haywood out of the race. Bush appointed Williams, an old friend from Midland who served in his father's federal administration. It's a high-profile appointment, and it's also a high-profile minority appointment, since Williams is black. According to Haywood, Bush told him -- pretty directly -- that the governor would be giving his support to his appointee.

Perry's objection is that Haywood could mess up the balance of the Senate by leaving. The election falls in the middle of Haywood's term, so if he were to run and lose -- either in the primary or general election -- he'd still have his place in the Senate. But if he were to win and leave, there's an even chance that a Democrat could win his seat. That, at least, is the standard argument. Haywood doesn't buy it, saying a Republican could win, and even suggesting that Wichita Falls Mayor Kathryn Yeager would make a good candidate. The Democrat most often mentioned for the post is Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls. The House freshman is the son of the district's former senator, and the family name is well established with North Texas voters. Neither party can call it a sure thing.

If, if, if: Say Bush wins the presidency. Perry succeeds him. The Senate elects a successor to Perry. If Haywood's not around, and if all the current senators return, there would be a balance of 15 Republicans and 15 Democrats on the opening day of the session (assuming here that Haywood would get replaced in a special election).

Bad Gossip

You might have heard the rumor that Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, isn't running for reelection. Fuggetaboutit: He's running. The story popped up within two weeks after Hardcastle's youngest daughter was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer (she is being treated at M.D. Anderson and the prognosis is good, Hardcastle says). A few cancelled appointments here and there and 'Boom!', the rumor took root. It probably didn't help in the gossip department that Charles Finnell, the Holliday Democrat knocked off by Hardcastle, has been tailing the current representative's appearances in the district. Finnell's interest predates the current rumor, but the Democrat hasn't made his intentions clear yet. He's apparently looking at his old seat as well as at Haywood's.

Drop One, Add One

SD 3 might be a standing feature here for the next seven months or so, just because it keeps attracting candidates and rumors. It's early, but this is the only fight going for a seat in the Legislature.

Start with the unpopulated primary: Newcomer David Fisher, a Silsbee Democrat, won't have Rep. Clyde Alexander, D-Athens, to worry about. Alexander has decided to run for reelection to his seat in the House, where he's a chairman and part of the leadership team, instead of running for Senate. That leaves Fisher as the only Democrat in the race.

It's not surprising that a Republican officeholder would attract an opponent from the other side. But incumbent Republican Drew Nixon of Carthage hasn't said whether he'll run again, and the Republicans are completely stirred up. It's not clear who'll be in or out of the race as a result of what Nixon decides, but it's been busy out there in East Texas.

Contrary to rumor, Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, says he hasn't decided whether to run. Staples says he's being encouraged by people in the district, but says he's also hearing from Republicans who don't want to lose his seat in the House. Staples is the first Republican of the modern era to hold his House district, and a fair number of people in his party think it would be difficult for another Republican to win it right now. That said, he's still exploring and sounds very interested.

Contrary to rumor, Les Tarrance of The Woodlands is still very much in the race. We left him off the list last week, but he's still plugging. He's got new company in the GOP primary within his own county, however. Van Brookshire, who lived in Conroe but now lives in Cold Spring, is telling folks he's in the race. He has an unnatural advantage, since the district is peppered with grocery stores that bear the Brookshire name. They're not his stores, but it can't hurt to have his name on big signs wherever people buy their food. Some of the folk who support Staples say he'd be the beneficiary if two candidates on the southern end of the district split their local vote.

And contrary to rumor, Nixon was not arrested in Mexico. Sheesh. He has some property there, and he had a fender-bender with another car while visiting his property. It wasn't serious. He's still a free man. He still hasn't said whether he'll seek reelection. So there.

Random Political Notes

This is a (Republican) conspiracy theory, straight up, but it'll play out quickly enough. The Texas Department of Public Safety wants to let go of the Branch Davidian evidence in its keeping. Chairman Jim Francis Jr., who is also a devout and political Republican, told his hometown Dallas Morning News that the agency was stuck in a Catch-22. They had the records but no power to release them, so they'd refer people to the feds, who didn't hold the records and so would send people back to Texas. DPS asked the courts to take the records and get Texas out of the middle. Some folks think that when the records are opened to the public, they'll reflect badly on the federal agencies involved. The buildings there burned after the feds punched holes with tanks and tried to smoke out the occupants. Evidence that the feds somehow started the fire would reflect badly on the Clinton Administration, and on Al Gore, a Democrat presidential candidate.

We told you a while back that U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, might draw a challenge from Ramsey Farley, a Temple school board member and retired oil company engineer. Farley hasn't declared yet, but he's closer to a run for that CD 11 seat. He's hired Jim Arnold's firm as his general consultant... While we're on the subject of CD 11, folks close to Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, say she looked, but won't run for that seat... Add Jeff Norwood of Scott Howell & Co. to the growing consulting list in CD 7. That's the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, R-Houston. Norwood will be on the team working for Ron Kapche. That camp has also brought in Dan Hazlewood of TC2 of Virginia... Down the road in CD 9, Republican Paul Williams will challenge U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont. Williams owns part of a company that makes golf putters, and once played for the Houston Oilers. It'll be interesting to watch how that works: He's running in a district that traditionally has a big labor vote, and his tenure as an Oiler came during the 1987 NFL strike.

Technology and Clout

Pair a couple of things that came in separately and sometimes you get an interesting mix. ABC News did a poll that says three out of five 18- to 34-year-olds support Internet voting. A poll done for Hotline in June indicates a problem, however. They asked 1,000 voters how often they use the Internet for anything other than email. One in five go online more than once a day, and another 13 percent are a little bit addicted, hitting the Internet four to seven times per day. But 37 percent said they have no Internet access at all, meaning they couldn't vote online if they wanted to.

• You might have heard about a new group of state employees forming up for the single-shot purpose of pushing a pay raise. Calling itself "Adequate Compensation for Texas State Employees", or ACTSE, they've formed a political action committee and set up a website in the turn-of-the-century equivalent of a grass-roots campaign. They contend -- and have a ton of charts and graphs to make their point -- that state employees in Texas haven't kept up with private sector counterparts.

Now they've got a new trick on their website (http://www.actse.org) that's designed to wrap pay raises and state employees and voting and state officials all in one nice little package. They've matched the number of state employees with House and Senate districts, then looked at results in the last elections. They've leapt from there to the idea that the numbers of state employees in certain districts could get legislators elected or whupped.

There are caveats upon caveats in this exercise, but they've pointed to six Senate and 19 House district they consider their "swing" districts. All other things being equal, the argument goes, the state employees in those districts could cast the deciding votes; the group's point is that those employees ought to start asking candidates whether they like the idea of a pay raise, then vote accordingly.

Candidates and Their Money, Other Political Notes

There's a relatively new Internet site that has current information available on all federal campaigns. It's called FEC info, and it's at http://www.tray.com/fecinfo. Among their other tricks, they add up all of a state's candidates and tell you what the current situation is. For instance, federal candidates from Texas (not presidential, thanks) raised $10.3 million during the first half of the year, spent $4.3 million and ended the month of June with $18.1 million in the bank.

They also do individual races, candidates, reports and so on.

More fundraising reports are available from that race to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, R-Houston. As noted previously, two candidates -- Mark Brewer and Peter Wareing -- each raised or borrowed totals of more than $625,000. Now that other reports are in, businessman Ron Kapche raised $519,687 (including a $500,000 loan from the candidate), state Rep. John Culberson raised $128,178, Cathy McConn raised $74,860 and Wallace Henley raised $18,738. All of the candidates in that race are Republicans. The combined war chests in that race total $1.8 million.

While we're poking around the federal contribution reports, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, raised $1.5 million during the first half of the year and has $6 million on hand (that's about what she spent on her last race).

• Houston businessman Ben Bius, who lost the HD 18 race last year to Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Huntsville, wants a rematch. Bius lost by 769 votes, winning one of the four counties in the district.

• Bexar County Commissioner Robert Tejeda will seek reelection next year instead of running for Congress, as some folks had expected. He'd been looking at the seat held by new U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, but decided against it.

• Chalk one up for Bexar County Judge Cyndi Krier; the San Antonio Spurs spurned Mayor Howard Peak and his offer to finance a new arena with a 1/4-cent sales tax in favor of Krier's offer to finance an arena with hotel/motel and car rental taxes. The public didn't want higher sales taxes.

• As befits the former owner of a baseball team who has decided to run for office, Gov. George W. Bush is passing out baseball cards in Iowa, where he's trying to win a straw poll. It doesn't say whether he bats or fields right or left, and lists his position as "Governor of 2nd Largest State."

Political People and Their Moves

Kathy Ikard, who joined Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander at the beginning of the year and then left earlier this summer, has opened a consulting firm that will focus on helping companies that do business with the state and on management consulting for state agencies themselves. Ikard previously worked for the Department of Human Services and more recently for Mary Scott Nabors at Strategic Partnerships. She's joined by Barbara Allen, a former state budget analyst who for a time headed the research department at the comptroller's office under Rylander's predecessor. In the same office suite (a George Christian sublet), Michele Kay, former reporter, political aide and Rylander staffer, will be hanging out a shingle for writing, research and communication consulting... Marchris Robinson, who was general counsel to Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, moves to life after the Texas Senate. He's settling in an Enron Corp., where he'll lobby state lawmakers in Texas and three other states... Ralph Rayburn, who has been legislative liaison for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for most of the 1990s, is leaving that gig to become associate director of the Sea Grant College at Texas A&M... Begin search: Dallas is looking for new police chief after Ben Click resigns. He was on the job for six years. That's double the tenure of the average big-city police boss in the U.S., and the longest a Dallas chief has been in place since the 1960s... End search: Austin, after an embarrassing stumble earlier in the summer, concludes its search for a school superintendent. The district is negotiating a contract with Pascal "Pat" Forgione Jr., a former U.S. Department of Education official... Lee Alcorn, thrice suspended from his post as president of the Dallas chapter of the NAACP by the national office, says he'll resign. The national organization was upset when he and several others formed a non-affiliated non-profit called Dallas NAACP Inc... The U.S. Justice Department spent more than two years looking at whether former U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Lufkin, and Joe Christie, a former Texas senator, took kickbacks on arms given to Afghan guerillas by the CIA. Justice now says there's no fire beneath the smoke, and that the investigation is over... Deaths: Ned Price Sr., a former legislator (from Tyler), district judge and longtime insurance commissioner, at age 85 in Austin.

Quotes of the Week

The first of two newly notorious George W. Bush quotes from Talk Magazine, wherein the governor responded coarsely to a query about supporters' reactions to 'compassionate conservatism': "I don't care. I really don't care. Does anyone ever say 'Fuck you'? I don't care if they do. People do have a responsibility to give back, affluent people especially. And that's what I tell them."

The second one, which came when Bush was asked about salacious rumors about his past: "People are spreading this garbage. They think it's like a high school election, where if you beat up your opponent enough you can win. They've lost their fucking minds."

Political consultant Mark McKinnon, who is working for Bush after a professional lifetime of working for Democrats: "When I met him, I was like a married guy who sees an attractive woman at a party... I didn't want to like him. But I couldn't help it."

San Antonio-based political consultant John Weaver, who worked on Sen. Phil Gramm's presidential campaign four years ago, on the importance of the Iowa straw poll: "It was a waste of resources, organization and time. Our victory conveyed a false impression to our campaign team that we were doing well in Iowa. We believed our own blue smoke. We thought it would help with fundraising. It didn't. We thought it would help with grass roots organizing. It didn't. We won 23 out of 24 straw polls around the country in 1995. And you saw what happened in 1996."

Judy Akana of Las Cruces, New Mexico, on crossing over to Texas to shop during the back-to-school sales tax holiday: "It's definitely worthwhile because we've saved quite a bit. We're originally from California, and we've never heard of giving excess money back."

San Antonio Mayor Howard Peak, after the Spurs basketball team chose the county's proposal for a new venue over the city's: "We've been commenting on what this arena could do for us. Now we have to shift gears and think about what it's going to do to us."


Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 7, 16 August 1999. Copyright 1999 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.

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