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October 26th, 2004:

PAC ruling overturned

An earlier injunction against a Republican PAC has been overturned by the Texas Supreme Court.

The Texas Supreme Court today overturned a lower court ruling that had ordered a Republican political action committee to stop raising or spending corporate money until after the Nov. 2 election.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Associated Republicans of Texas, which had said the money was used to finance its overhead.

The PAC has contributed money to Republican campaigns for 30 years and has raised at least $688,000 in corporate money since 2000.

A state district judge last week temporarily froze the group’s corporate account after two Democrats, David Leibowitz of San Antonio and Bob Glaze of Gilmer, filed a lawsuit claiming the committee violated state law that prohibits candidates from taking corporate cash.

Leibowitz challenges Rep. Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, and Glaze challenges Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in state House races.


The plaintiffs alleged that the corporate money, known as soft money, raised and spent by the committee freed up so-called hard money — direct contributions from individuals — to be contributed to the campaigns.

A judge had ordered a hearing on the issue Nov. 3, a day after the election.

The Supreme Court said the practical effect of the temporary injunction and hearing date would affect the committee’s right to participate in the election and would amount to a “non-appealable determination” that it had done something illegal without a hearing on the evidence.

A spokeswoman for the committee said most of the big money cited by the plaintiffs was raised to cover legal costs in lawsuits over redistricting. The committee said it only has about $3,000 in corporate money in a separate account it uses for things such as rent and supplies.

Presumably, the actual litigation will proceed after the election as originally planned.

Support a candidate near you

I’ve been a big booster of the DCCC here, and for good reason – they can really make the difference in a close race, and they can move quickly when opportunities arise. I’ve gotten some feedback that it would be preferable to direct some of the support that the DCCC provides. Well, now you can. They’ve set up five regional tickets, designed to funnel contributions directly to the candidates in those regions. Check them all out, and please consider supporting the candidates in your area. As Kos says, the last media buys are happening now. You can help make the difference.

Support the Texans

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Fifty-nine percent turnout predicted

To say the least, that’s pretty darned high turnout.

Fifty-nine percent of the registered voters in Texas are expected to cast ballots in the Nov. 2 election, Secretary of State Geoff Connor said today.

Connor’s voter turnout estimate comes from studying early voting trends and looking at the state’s voting age population, he said. Early voting ends Friday.

Although large numbers of voters are showing up in some counties to vote early, it may be that more Texans are taking advantage of early voting, Connor said, adding that it may not translate into an overall boost in turnout for the election.

“I do hope that we have greater participation,” Connor said. He said turnout could be helped by interest in the presidential race and hotly contested local and congressional races and a surge in patriotism since the 2001 terror attacks.

Over the last several elections, there hasn’t been much change in the percentage of adults who turn out to vote, he said.

About 13.1 million Texans are registered to vote this year, a record number. But as a percentage of the voting-age population, it represents a decline in registration to 82 percent, down from 85 percent in 2000.

In the 2000 presidential race, when then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas first ran for president, voter turnout for the state was 52 percent. At that time, there were 12.4 million registered voters in Texas.

Not sure if the slight decline in registered voters as a percentage of VAP is attributable to a greater proportion of non-citizens, or just an insufficient outreach effort. It’s still the second-best percentage ever, though, or close to it – it was 81.90% in 1998.

TXDOT on I-45 expansion

TXDOT is holding public meetings tonight and Thursday night regarding I-45 and light rail expansion.

The Texas Department of Transportation is holding two public meetings this week to present results of a study that analyzed possibilities for expanding the North Freeway.

TxDOT staff and consultants will describe study results and then listen to concerns and respond to questions from the public.

Meetings will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Davis High School, 1101 Quitman, and at the same time Thursday in the community room of Greenspoint Mall, 12300 North Freeway. For information, call 713-802-5000.

This study of Interstate 45 from downtown Houston to The Woodlands is part of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s examination of light rail in the corridor. Voters last year approved a transit-expansion plan that includes building light rail from downtown to Bush Intercontinental Airport. A draft environmental impact study for the first phase, University of Houston-Downtown to Northline Mall, is scheduled to be finished later this year.

Residents of my neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods vociferously opposed the original proposals to widen I-45 north of downtown. There’s a cemetary just east of I-45 and just north of I-10, so any widening in that area would have to go westward, which is to say into the bordering residential areas. You can see why that went over so poorly. I can’t quite tell from this little bitty story if that’s on the menu or if it’s just the next phase of light rail expansion, but if you live in this area, you might want to check it out.

Texas Tuesdays: Charlie Stenholm

This is our last Texas Tuesday of the 2004 election cycle. We wrap things up today with a look at the senior Democrat of the Texas delegation, Charlie Stenholm. He may have the toughest fight of all the redistricted incumbents, but he’s up to it. Check him out, and please consider helping him, helping all the Texas Democrats, and helping the DCCC.

Endorsement watch: Sheriff and Tax Assessor

With their endorsement of the incumbents for Sheriff and Tax Assessor (both of which I predicted), the Chron closes out its recommendations for this election season. I did pretty well in guessing their picks, mainly stumbling in the State House races where I thought they might go for Hubert Vo but not Jim Dougherty or Charlotte Coffelt. I presume they’ll run a review of all their endorsements on Sunday, which doesn’t really make up for not having an easily-accessed “We Recommend” page but is the best I’m gonna get.

Elsewhere, the Letters to the Editor today were all about their Bush endorsement two days ago. By my count, seven letter writers chastised them for it, three supported them, and one simply said “so much for the argument that the Chronicle is part of the liberal media.” Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: Here’s how Aron Danburg cast his ballot. Note what he has to say about the Sheriff’s race.

UPDATE: Here’s Greg to give the alternate view of the Tax Assessor’s race. I’m happy to take his word for it regarding Democratic candidate John Webb, but I do wish someone had taken a few moments to convince Webb of the need to hire a professional webpage designer.

Confusion over the propositions

A Zogby poll shows both Props 1 and 2 with more support than opposition, but that nearly half of voters in each case are undecided. According to the poll graphic, Prop 1 leads 31-24, with 45% not sure, and Prop 2 is up 29-24, with 47% not sure.

The poll of 500 registered Houston voters was conducted last week.

Just under half the respondents remain undecided about either proposition, and more than half say they do not feel they have enough information about the propositions.

Although the poll shows [Mayor Bill] White enjoys an approval rating of 76 percent as he nears the end of his first year in office, he has been unable so far to parlay his popularity into significant support for Proposition 1, said Rice University political scientist Robert Stein, who analyzed the poll data for the Chronicle.

“The mayor’s approval rating is as high as I’ve ever seen for a first-time incumbent,” Stein said. “(Former Mayor Bob) Lanier didn’t get to that level until his third term, and he was the most popular mayor Houston has had in 25 years.

“One would think that (popularity) would translate into support for the mayor’s position,” Stein added. “But it’s as if the mayor hasn’t been able to get his message out.”

I’ve seen virtually nothing on either proposition. A couple of yard signs, one TV ad (and I can’t even remember which proposition it touted), and that’s it. A sidebar to this story showed that 55% of the poll respondents had heard little or nothing about either proposition, which doesn’t surprise me.

Thirty-three percent of poll respondents knew that the mayor supports Proposition 1 and opposes Proposition 2.

But Stein said that White, who is a Democrat although city offices are officially nonpartisan, stands a good chance of prevailing in the election because the poll indicates most undecided voters are Democrats, African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

“It seems obvious that the mayor needs to get his message out to his core constituency,” Stein said.

The strongest supporters of both measures are men over 50 years old with annual household incomes of more than $50,000.

Supporters of Proposition 1 are most likely to be Democrats who have lived in Houston less than 10 years, while supporters of Proposition 2 are most likely to be Republicans who have lived in the city more than 10 years.

About 17 percent support one proposition but not the other. Five percent support neither, and 10 percent support both.

Stein said White will have two advantages in the final days of the campaign: His side is likely to raise more money, and there are few other hotly contested local elections competing for voters’ attention.

But support is more solid for Proposition 2, which has been pushed by tax limitation advocates for more than two years as tax bills have soared because of rising property values.

Almost twice as many Proposition 1 supporters said they were likely to change their minds as Proposition 2 supporters.

Both sides promised a blitz of radio and television ads in the campaign’s closing days. Early voting continues through Friday, and Election Day is a week from today.

I’ll bet radio gets blanketed – it’s much cheaper, and you can target audiences more effectively. I’m impressed by White’s popularity numbers – I knew he was having an extended honeymoon, but wow. If he makes the pitch for Prop 1 himself, I’d expect to see its support rise greatly. Since he needs for it to outscore Prop 2, I think he has to do this. I’m willing to bet that many of his un-approvers already support Prop 2, so there should be little downside for him.

Stein attributed the large number of uninformed voters to the confusion caused by the two propositions.

He said White took this chance when he decided to propose an alternative to Proposition 2 rather than just fight it, as former Mayor Bob Lanier successfully did in 1997 against a similar proposition.

But property tax revenues have doubled since then, and a Zogby poll in May showed voters would approve a revenue cap by 58 percent to 29 percent, but reject it by 43 percent to 39 percent if they believed it would hurt the city’s credit rating.

Stein said the Astros’ playoff run and the attention devoted to the presidential race also have made it difficult for backers of Propositions 1 or 2 to drive their messages home.

I agree with all that. I also think that unlike previous referenda, these proposals are more abstract. Whether you knew anything about a light rail line or a new football stadium or not, it was at least easy to grasp what you were being asked for.

I’m glad to see that neither of these props has anywhere near a majority yet, though I still fully expect both to pass. As such, as I’ve said before, I advocate a reluctant vote for Prop 1 and a firm vote against Prop 2. Remember, if you vote a straight ticket, you still have to vote on the propositions.