March 03, 2004
Congressional roundup

Some stories of interest as the primary date draws near.

An overview of the new CD 10, the Austin-to-Houston barbell district whose representative will be the winner of the GOP primary.

Among the GOP primary candidates, former Houston City Councilman John Kelley stands out because he opposes some conservative Republican orthodoxy. He said he voted against Proposition 12, a GOP-led effort that placed limits on the amount of money that can be rewarded in medical malpractice suits, and he mocked his opponents for saying they can abolish the Internal Revenue Service.

"If you think we're going to get rid of the IRS in the next 10 years, take a hike," Kelley said when he and several of his opponents visited the Chronicle editorial board. "Let's work on some things we can get done."


The Republican Party has shifted from its former rural supporters and toward a new suburban constituency that votes more reliably, he said.

Much of the area in the new 10th District is now in the 31st, represented by Rep. John Carter, R-Georgetown. The 31st was one of two new districts created in 2001 to reflect Texas population growth recorded in the 2000 census.

Carter is seeking re-election in a newly drawn 31st District that keeps his home county of Williamson but spans into North Central Texas.

The original 31st was drawn to take advantage of suburban growth in Austin and Houston, Alford said, a political characteristic that the new 10th inherits.

Independently, neither area had enough new people to sustain a Republican district, so mappers thought of combining the two with the rural areas in between.

I presume they mean that the Houston end, which is west Houston and Katy, didn't have enough people for a district on its own, since it's surely a very Republican area. The combination of the two was to get it to the 650,000 population mark.

District 28 is getting nasty.

U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez lashed out at Democratic opponent Henry Cuellar on Tuesday in his most visible show of negativity yet in this down-and-dirty congressional matchup.

Spurred on by a harshly critical Cuellar mailout last week, Rodriguez is fighting back with literature in district mailboxes set to hit today that paints Cuellar as a party-hopping political opportunist.

"We would have liked to have not gone negative, but we feel it's important to set the record straight," said Rodriguez campaign manager John Puder.

The grudge match, one of the most watched and competitive Texas races heading into Tuesday's primary, pits two former Texas House Democratic colleagues against each other in a test of gritty South Texas politics.

Spite has replaced old alliances and mud is beginning to fly between the two camps.

Tuesday, the Cuellar faction fired another salvo at Rodriguez's candidacy with a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that accuses the four-term incumbent of violating federal election laws — a charge the Rodriguez camp hotly denies.

The complaint says Rodriguez purchased ads in the Mexican newspapers El Mañana and El Diario that call Cuellar a fair-weather political ally. The ads don't carry a disclaimer that they were paid for by Rodriguez, said Cuellar campaign manager Colin Strother.

"This is just more of the same stuff. It's disgusting," Strother said.

Puder denied that the Rodriguez campaign had anything to do with the ads.

"It's quite interesting that Henry has chosen to go negative in Laredo," Puder said. "It's a clear indication of how much impact we've had in Webb County."

Cuellar nearly knocked off Republican Henry Bonilla in CD 23 in 2002, which is the main reason that Webb County was removed from that district.

As with CD 02, immigration is an issue in CD 11.

Bill Lester fervently opposes a proposed government program that would give millions of undocumented immigrants a chance for temporary work legally. Mike Conaway likes the idea, as long as it doesn't give migrants a free ticket to U.S. citizenship.

The two Republicans, opponents in the primary race to represent Texas' newly created 11th Congressional District, offer similar conservative platforms — but diverge on immigration matters.

Their differences symbolize a growing fissure within the Republican Party over immigration, particularly visible since last month, when President Bush announced a plan to overhaul current policy.


National polls show Republicans are indeed divided on the issue. A majority of Republican respondents to several surveys last month disapproved of the president's plan.

Many of them would agree with Lester, the congressional candidate from Brownwood who condemned Bush's idea as a sweeping amnesty in disguise that would wrongly reward "illegal behavior."

Lester catapulted immigration into campaign contention, labeling Conaway, his Midland opponent, as being soft on undocumented immigration.

Conaway was forced to clarify his position. He doesn't go as far as Lester's seal-the-border views and considers the president's proposal a plausible solution.

I have no idea what "catapulted into contention" means in terms of actual support - I can't find any poll numbers. Conaway, who lost a special election runoff to Randy Neugebauer in CD 19 last year to replace the retiring Larry Combest, is the anointed GOP candidate, a Friend of Dubya and the person Tom Craddick had in mind when he insisted that Midland get its own Congress member. For him to lose would not only be a huge upset, it would also be cast as a strong message of conservative dissension against the President. I'm not saying this is likely based on one Express News story, but it does bear watching.

Of course, whatever value there may be in seeing a finger poked into Craddick and Bush's eye has to be weighed against this.

Describing himself as a social and fiscal conservative, Lester said he went to Montgomery, Ala., last year to support former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and 2000 presidential candidate Alan Keyes in their fight to keep a stone monolith of the Ten Commandments in the court building.

Getting back to Houston, the CD 09 race is also ratcheting up.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting took an unusual step Tuesday when he endorsed U.S. Rep. Chris Bell in the party's primary for the new 9th Congressional District.

Party officials typically remain neutral until a nominee is selected. But Soechting said he endorsed Bell because Bell's opponent in next Tuesday's primary, former Justice of the Peace Al Green, "has taken money from a Republican Party official with a history of intimidating African-American voters in this very district."

Party spokesman Mike Lavigne said the the GOP official Soechting referred to was former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary Polland, who gave Green $2,000 on Feb. 10. Soechting did not elaborate on the claim of intimidation.

Green said Soechting made his endorsement at Bell's request. And he accused Bell of a double standard because Bell has accepted campaign contributions or endorsements from Republicans, including developer Ed Wulfe and lawyer-lobbyist Robert Miller.

Green also noted that in 2001, when Bell was a City Council member mounting a race for mayor of Houston, he accepted the Political Courage Award from Polland and the local GOP for supporting a tax cut opposed by then-Mayor Lee Brown.

"This reminds me of the double standards when African-Americans had to ride on the back of the bus and drink from colored-only water fountains," said Green, who is African-American.


Bell said that he accepted the award from Polland because the mayor's race was officially nonpartisan and he wanted to demonstrate that he could work with both parties.

The tone of the race in the 9th began sharpening Monday when Bell demanded that Green withdraw a radio ad that inaccurately claimed the support of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Green pulled the commercial after learning from Cummings that he had no preference in the race and that members of the caucus support both candidates.

Green also returned with a demand of his own -- that Bell move into the district.

Last year's redistricting put Bell's residence in the heavily Republican 7th Congressional District. The 25th District that Bell represents now was moved to South Texas.

Bell said he plans to move into the district this summer.

I support Chris Bell, but I think Chairman Soechting should have remained officially neutral. It's true that City of Houston races are nonpartisan, and most candidates reach out across party lines as a matter of course, but if taking money from Gary Polland is a bad thing for one Democrat to do, it's a bad thing for all Democrats to do. I dislike Polland as much as any Democrat, but in the end it's results that matter. Bell seems to have survived the experience, so I'm uncomfortable making it an issue in Al Green's case.

Finally, a look at CD 02, where it's Ted Poe and the five unknowns.

With a simple name and ample headlines attracted during his 22 years on the bench, Poe enjoys name recognition from more than 70 percent of voters in the region, according to one poll taken shortly after Christmas.

That leaves the five other candidates -- Andrew Bolton, George Fastuca, Mark Henry, Clint Moore and John Nickell -- assuming the role of the little people.

Even though they vary in campaign funding and grass-roots support, each is trying to build enough identity to push the race to a runoff with Poe -- whom they all acknowledge is the front-runner.

As with CD 10, there's very little differences on the issues, but unlike CD 10 the winner here will have a race to run in November, against Rep. Nick Lampson. Interestingly, though Poe is the best known candidate, he's only third in fundraising according to the article, thanks to the self-funding efforts of former Enron exec Fastuca and charter plane exec Henry. Former Anadarko exec Moore is not far behind Poe, also mostly on the strength of his own money.

UPDATE: Greg is OK with Soechting's endorsement, as is Byron.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 03, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack