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August 10th, 2006:

No CLOUT

You may recall that a local taxpayers agitprop group filed a lawsuit in June claiming that the state’s Legislative Budget Board violated a constitutional spending limit by overestimating how much the state’s economic growth would be. Yesterday, a judge threw out that lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not have any legal standing.

Visiting state District Judge Bill Bender of Seguin ruled Monday that Citizens Lowering Our Unfair Taxes didn’t have standing to sue the Legislative Budget Board over the state’s constitutional spending cap, which limits the state budget from growing more than the Texas economy.

The group alleged that the LBB, which includes Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Tom Craddick and eight other key lawmakers, has used artificially inflated estimates of economic growth to justify higher spending limits.

It contended the school finance appropriations approved by the Legislature during the spring special session were unconstitutional.

Edd Hendee, CLOUT’s executive director, said the group will file an appeal with the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

“If a taxpayer doesn’t have standing in a courthouse, I question who does,” he said.

Whatever. This lawsuit did have some comedic value when Carole Keeton Strayhorn attempted to pull off one of the more impressive political pirouettes seen in recent memory.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is challenging Gov. Rick Perry as an independent, also was a defendant in the suit.

She sought to be named a plaintiff, but that issue wasn’t addressed once the suit was dismissed.

I presume her next move will be to sue Secretary of State Roger Williams to be certified as a plaintiff in this suit. It seems to be her default response to just about everything these days.

CD23: Ciro’s in

This qualifies as a non-surprise.

Former Democratic Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez (1997-2005) told CQPolitics.com Tuesday that he will challenge [incumbent Rep. Henry] Bonilla and will formally announce his bid next Tuesday.

That development has spurred CQPolitics.com to change its rating on the Texas 23 race to Republican Favored from Safe Republican. The new rating means that Bonilla still is highly likely to win his contest for an eighth House term, but that the possibility of a major Democratic upset now cannot be completely ruled out.

A lot of the South San Antonio area that was added to CD23 as part of the court-drawn map was once in Rodriguez’s old CD28, so he’s a fairly well-known name in that section of the district. That will give him an advantage, though not an insurmountable one, over any other Democratic challengers, and it will help him against Bonilla in November.

Bonilla, of course, has a pretty big advantage of his own, and I’m not talking about name recognition (which he does also have).

[Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee,] pointed to what he said was Bonilla’s “virtually insurmountable cash-on-hand advantage.” Bonilla, who is one of the House’s strongest fundraisers, reported $2.2 million in his campaign account at the end of June.

Rodriguez, by contrast, will have to rebuild his campaign treasury from scratch, following his March 7 primary loss to Cuellar.

The last FEC report that Rodriguez filed was in March, and it showed him $80K in the hole for cash on hand. He’s definitely starting out way behind on this, and he’s unlikely to get a whole lot of netroots support this time, not because he’s any less likable but because his is no longer the major race of interest. There’s a couple of schools of other fish to fry out there right now. I hate to be a wet blanket, especially since I do like Rodriguez as a candidate, but let’s be realistic.

Rodriguez’s name recognition and longtime political base in San Antonio might give him a decided edge over other Democratic candidates whom party officials said are weighing the race. They include state Rep. Pete Gallego, who represents a rural part of the 23rd, and Julian Castro, a former San Antonio councilman who narrowly lost a 2005 race for mayor of that city.

Gallego would have to give up his State House seat for this campaign. He’s unopposed for re-election there, and I think he has to believe that the prospects for gains in the State House are pretty good, which if that can be maintained might put him in line to be Speaker some day. He also has just $10K cash on hand, which would put him at an equal disadvantage relative to Bonilla. Finally, as was the case with Vilma Luna, were Gallego to resign and run for CD23, the Republicans would get a second chance to nominate someone for his seat, and it would not be a slamdunk for the Dems to hold onto it. I may be wishcasting a little, but I think he’d prefer to stay put. Lord knows, given all this, I sure as heck hope he does.

Having said all that, I would have been perfectly happy for Castro to jump in. Alas, according to the Express News, he has declared himself not a candidate – he wants to focus on the 2009 Mayoral race. I still disagree with Rodriguez here:

Rick Bolanos, a little-known Democrat who ran unopposed in the 23rd District’s now-voided March primary, is expected to refile for this race.

“If we can keep it one-on-one, that’s even going to be better,” Rodriguez said.

As I see it, since this is an open primary and therefore requires a full majority to win, the more Dems in the race, the better. Let ’em all tour around CD23 bashing Henry Bonilla everywhere they go. It might drive up turnout, which is not a bad thing here, and it might force Bonilla to spend more of that $2..2 million warchest than he wanted to. As long as all of the Dems involved keep their sights set on Bonilla, and promise to endorse whoever winds up in the hoped-for runoff with him, it’s all good.

With Castro out, there are still some other potential contenders, according to that Express News piece:

Among others who said earlier this week they’re considering mounting campaigns: City Councilman Richard Perez; Richard Gambitta, a political scientist and director of the Institute for Law and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio; and Albert Uresti, a retired San Antonio Fire Department district chief and brother of state Rep. Carlos Uresti.

Perez would probably be the strongest candidate from that group, but from what I’ve heard he seems less likely to run than the others. Oh, well. Link via Political Wire.

Quick CD22 link roundup

The way things are going in CD22 right now, it’s like by the time I finish a post the situation is different from when I started it. So for right now, here’s a quick look at what’s going on.

Some fallout from the announcement by David Wallace that he will be a write-in candidate.

Benkiser is working to gather input from party members in CD-22 to assess who might serve as a lone write-in candidate to face Democrat and former congressman Nick Lampson, and Libertarian Bob Smither in November.

“We are only going to get behind one candidate, and when I say ‘we,’ I mean the entire Republican family,” Benkiser said.

That task might be made the more difficult as news reports suggested Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs also is preparing to announce a write-in candidacy. Sekula-Gibbs did not answer phone calls for comment Wednesday.

Wallace and Sekula-Gibbs are two of seven or eight candidates who were vying for the right to replace DeLay on the general election ballot for CD-22 until the courts put a halt to that plan.

[…]

Attendees at the Wednesday meeting with DeLay, Benkiser and members of the SREC said DeLay did not mention any specific candidate for his former seat in Congress.

“He’s expecting there to be a write-in candidate, but he wants the party to make that decision,” one attendee said. “He’s going to stand behind the party.”

Dani DeLay Ferro confirmed that Tom DeLay expressed his intention at the meeting to support whatever candidate the GOP chooses.

“Obviously, I have talked with Congressman DeLay,” Benkiser said. “This race is not about him. This race is about giving voters a choice.”

She was not specific about how a single candidate will gain the party’s favor in serving as the write-in challenger to Lampson and Smither. She said holding a meeting with the precinct chairs from within CD-22 “is certainly an option.”

While Sekula-Gibbs and Wallace have been most often mentioned as becoming the GOP’s lone write-in hope to retain the congressional seat DeLay held for more than 20 years, Benkiser said new candidates are emerging.

Among them, she singled out Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.

I find that a little hard to believe. Back when the now-forbidden replacement process was cranking up, Bettencourt’s name barely came up – I think the only mention I saw was to deny that he was interested in being the Chosen One. Had that process been allowed to continue, and had Bettencourt been selected, he’d have been a formidable opponent to Nick Lampson – I’d have ranked only Robert Eckels higher than him in terms of likelihood to win. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why he’d now be interested in a quixotic, sure to fail write-in effort. If Bettencourt wants this job in 2008, he’ll be a frontrunner for the GOP nod whether he takes this chance to get ahead or not.

Whoever the GOP chooses as its favored write-in candidate, party officials have made it clear that once a selection is made, other write-in candidates will be expected to withdraw for the good of the party.

On Wednesday morning, Harris County SREC member Kathy Haigler said that expectation could be enforced by telling “anyone else if they run” as a write-in, “they’ll be blackballed forever” in future races by the Republican Party. “They’re only going to hurt the party by spitting in the wind,” she said.

The move by Wallace to announce his write-in candidacy while party leadership was discussing how to rally behind a single candidate was seen as an affront by some.

“If David Wallace is our nominee, then good for him, he got a jump on everyone,” one attendee of Wednesday’s party meeting said. “If he’s not, he just shot himself in the foot or the head, I don’t know which.”

Benkiser strongly suggested later Wednesday that party discipline would be enforced.

“I think any candidate who would be of a caliber to represent Congressional District 22 has to understand that we must rally behind one candidate,” she said. “If the party rallies around Candidate A, and if Candidate B cannot accept that…it would be political suicide.”

Based on what I’m seeing at Chris Elam’s site, Wallace and Sekula Gibbs don’t have a prayer of being the endorsed write-in candidate, and they likely would not have much of a chance in a 2008 GOP primary, so what do they have to lose by this?

The DCCC has already jumped on Wallace with both feet. The way I see things progressing from here, Lampson will spend his money on nice, positive ads about himself in an effort to maximize his vote total. At this point, I don’t see a need for him to even mention any write-in candidate, let alone attack one. If there’s a good reason to do that, let the DCCC spend some of the money it had already slotted to this race for that purpose. Hopefully, they’ll be able to redeploy that money elsewhere – CD23, perhaps, or even CD14.

The Chron says Sekula Gibbs still hasn’t made up her mind, but when you read the companion piece on how to write in a name on the eSlate, you have to think she’s just being coy.

In an answer to my question from before, Larry Sabato is now calling CD22 “Lean Democratic”. That’s an upgrade from “Lean Republican”, but somewhat unbelievably to me, he’s got PA-06 as “Probable D Pickup”. Is this still caution until the ballot is certified, just in case DeLay changes his mind or something else weird happens, or does he really think there’s a Republican seat that’s more likely to flip than this one?

And finally, the Chron proposes a new nickname for Tom DeLay: “The Quitter”. I’ll drink to that.

Texroots candidates: Celebrate!

Support TexRoots candidates

It’s been a pretty good couple of weeks for Texas Democrats, hasn’t it? We’re looking at a sure pickup in CD22 and a decent shot at one in CD23. Why not keep the momentum going by throwing a few coins at our first round TexRoots candidates. As a reminder, the three candidates we’re touting in this go-round are:

Hank Gilbert, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.
Shane Sklar, who is running for CD14.
Juan Garcia, who is running in HD32.

See my earlier post for links to more information about all three of these fine fellows. And now that the news cycle may finally pause for a day’s breath or two, you’ll get to hear a lot more on these folks, and of the endorsees to follow. Please help us help them. Thanks!

Kenny Boy’s rehab gets underway

The process to eliminate Ken Lay’s criminal record has begun.

Samuel Buffone, a Washington, D.C., attorney who was expected to represent Lay in his appeals, filed a motion Wednesday asking District Court Judge Sim Lake to substitute Lay’s estate for the late defendant so the lawyer can appear in court on Lay’s behalf.

Buffone said in the motion that once the court recognizes him as the attorney for the estate, he will “move to vacate the convictions of Mr. Lay and dismiss the indictment.”

[…]

Lay died on July 5, in Aspen, Colo., of heart disease. Although he was convicted, a final judgment wasn’t issued because he had not yet been sentenced and through the appeals process. Rather than allow an appeal to proceed without him, the court is widely expected to throw out both the verdict and indictment, leaving Lay’s record as though he were never charged.

Lay’s $5 million bond – backed by his children’s homes – also would be canceled at that time. With his conviction vacated, the government also will not be able to seize Lay’s property through the criminal proceedings.

As noted before, one end result of all this will be to make the civil claims against Lay harder to prosecute. Stay tuned.

City Council redistricting on the agenda

Houston’s continued population growth may trigger a need to redraw City Council boundaries so as to include two new district seats.

The decision, Mayor Bill White told the council Wednesday, would depend on whether updated U.S. Census Bureau estimates, expected to be released next week, show the city has grown to more than 2.1 million residents.

That would trigger a provision in the city charter that requires two extra single-member council districts, White said.

The city now has nine single-member districts covering specific geographic areas and five at-large districts, each of which covers the entire city.

“It will require some reconfiguration of every district within the city, practically,” he said. “Obviously, we want to keep as much continuity as we can, so the citizens learn that they are part of a district. We want to keep neighborhoods together.”

Some community activists have hoped adding the new districts – which would be known as J and K – could bring the election of new Hispanic or black council members, keeping up with the city’s changing demographics.

Thus, the complicated process has the potential to divide some on the council and the community along racial or political lines, depending on where the seats are drawn and the makeup of the residents within them.

If population growth requires the change, White said he would immediately appoint a “diverse, bipartisan” council committee to study how to proceed.

He also said outside experts could be called in to help.

Jerry Wood, a retired city planner and redistricting expert, said Houston residents should expect a complicated process of deciphering the makeup and location of new districts. But that could mean their districts are smaller in both population and geography, possibly giving individual neighborhoods more sway over who gets elected, and the issues pushed by their respective members.

“It gives more focus to the district representative,” Wood said. “But it also gives the population of the district a chance to be more representative of the person it elects.”

This subject came up last December, at which point I think it was reasonable to assume Houston was already at or very close to the 2.1 million mark. I feel pretty confident that this will be done in time for the 2007 elections.

Here’s some background on Jerry Wood, who was a key figure in the drawing of the original City Council districts in 1979.

Waiting on the experts

I know these guys have to be concerned with more than just one race, but I’m curious about something. When will folks like CQ Politics (current rating on CD22: No Clear Favorite), Chuck Todd (who currently ranks CD22 as the 14th most competitive race), and Larry Sabato (current rating on CD22: Leans Republican) update their rankings to reflect the 22nd District as a sure Democratic pickup? I mean, we all agree that’s going to happen, right? Nobody is actually harboring the illusion that the Libertarian or one of the write-ins is going to come close to Nick Lampson, right?

Well, here’s one quarter heard from: As of August 9, Charlie Cook has TX-22 as “Toss Up”. Way to go out on a limb there, dude. Maybe his dial just doesn’t go to 11, or maybe he still thinks there’s a scenario where a replacement can appear on the ballot, I don’t know. I just find it a little hard to believe that anyone might think it’s really 50-50 between Lampson and Your Name Here.

Anyway. I look forward to the next round of updates with great interest.

Intern opportunity

From the Inbox, an intern opportunity with the Lloyd Doggett campaign:

The Lloyd Doggett Re-Election Campaign is seeking volunteers and interns that can assist Congressman Doggett and the campaign staff with a range of responsibilities. Join our team and show the Republicans how hard we Texas Democrats fight and persevere despite their partisan redistricting efforts.
Volunteers are needed to help with mailings, phone banks, canvassing, office/computer needs, and other necessary tasks. Interns would work directly with all levels of campaign staff on important tasks and would receive invaluable experience on a US Congressional race. As an intern, you would need to be able to commit 15-20 hours a week until the election. If you are interested in either opportunity, please e-mail me at [email protected] with your interests, availability, or any questions you may have. What no one can accomplish alone, we can achieve together.

The new Congressional District 25 includes Travis, Hays, Bastrop, Caldwell, Fayette, Gonzales, Colorado, and Lavaca counties.

Doggett is currently unopposed, but as CD25 is one of the open primary races for November, that could easily change. He’s one of the true good guys out there, which is why the Republicans have tried (and failed) twice to redistrict him out of existence.