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Carole Keeton Strayhorn

Matthew McConaughey redux

Again? sigh All right…

Two weeks ago, in these very same digital pages, I claimed that Matthew McConaughey had shown more leadership during Texas’s devastating winter storms than Senator Ted Cruz, simply by clearing the low bar of not scuttling off to Mexico. Now, I don’t know for a fact that Matthew McConaughey reads this column, or that he’s even aware of its disturbingly obsessive chronicling of weekly McCona-nutiae. However, it now seems like he may have caught wind of the sentiments expressed, and—rather than sending me hate mail, like a normal person—he may be taking it to heart. McConaughey now says that running for Texas governor is a “true consideration,” and no longer just an idle fantasy to fill magazine interviews.

The Austin actor took his latest tentative step into genuine statesmanship during an appearance on Crime Stoppers of Houston’s The Balanced Voice podcast, where host Rania Mankarious brought up the political aspirations he’s been casually floating since last fall. “I’m looking into now again, what is my leadership role?” McConaughey replied. “Because I do think I have some things to teach and share, and what is my role? What’s my category in my next chapter of life that I’m going into?”

See here for the background. Look, there are three options here, if McConaughey is actually thinking about this and not just letting his mind wander a bit on a podcast: File as a Republican, file as a Democrat, and file as an independent. I think we can all agree that I have as good a chance of beating Greg Abbott in a Republican primary as McConaughey does. As for filing as an independent, I have two words for that: Kinky Friedman. Here are two more, as a bonus: Grandma Strayhorn. The one thing that such a move would do is split the anti-Abbott vote, for which the only possible outcome is an Abbott re-election. Abbott would surely do better than Rick Perry’s 39% in 2006, making any plausible pathway to beating him that much less likely. Maybe if literally nobody filed as a Democrat there might be a chance, but that’s not going to happen – even if no remotely credible candidate chooses to take on Abbott, some Gene Kelly type will, and that will be that.

Which leaves filing as a Democrat as the only viable option. I grant that the odds of winning against Abbott as a Democrat aren’t that much greater than either of the other two scenarios, but they are greater than zero. That means doing the work to win over a Democratic primary electorate, which I assure you wants very much to beat Greg Abbott and which right now is hoping that Beto O’Rourke or Julian Castro files to run against him. McConaughey could win a Dem primary, especially if he announced first and started raising money and actively campaigning and, you know, stated some policy opinions and action items for his hoped-for term as Governor. If he did the work, in other words. No guarantees, of course – if Beto or Julian or some other Democrat of reasonable stature and accomplishment threw a hat into the ring, I’d make that person the favorite just for their having been committed to the party and its ideals and membership for more than five minutes. But at least he’d have a chance. If he did the work. No sign of that yet, so my position remains the same: Until I see some evidence of actual candidate-like behavior, this is not a thing. Nothing to see here, move along.

When Republicans fight

Such a sight to see.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s most exasperating allies sure chose an awkward time to act up.

In the face of a momentous election, with an array of issues that includes the pandemic, the recession, climate change, racial justice, law enforcement and the next appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, the chairman of the Texas GOP and a gang of lawmakers and activists have instead picked a fight with Abbott, who isn’t even on the ballot, over his response to the pandemic.

On the surface, they’re asking the courts to tell the governor that adding six more days of early voting to the calendar was outside of his powers. Abbott made the move under emergency powers he has claimed during the pandemic — the same powers he has used at various times to shut down schools, limit crowd sizes and limit how many customers businesses can serve at a time, or in some cases, to close businesses altogether.

The timing is connected to the Nov. 3 general election; even with the arguments over emergency powers, opponents of the governor’s action would be expected to grab for a remedy before early voting starts on Oct. 13. One might say the same about other lawsuits challenging the governor’s orders — that they’re tied not to politics, but to current events. Bar owners want to open their bars, for instance, and are not in the financial condition or the mood to stay closed until after the elections just to make the current set of incumbents look good.

What’s unusual is to see so many prominent Republican names on the top of a lawsuit against the Republican governor of Texas this close to an election.

In a gentler time, that might be called unseemly or distracting. Speaking ill of another Republican was considered out of bounds for a while there. Those days are over. What’s happening in Texas illustrates how the pandemic, the economy and other issues have shaken political norms.

As the story notes, this is also playing out in the SD30 special election, where Shelley Luther – supported by a million dollars from one of the Empower Texans moneybags – is busy calling Abbott a “tyrant”. There’s talk of various potential primary challengers to Abbott in 2022 – see the comments to this post for a couple of names – but I don’t see any serious threat to him as yet. If Dan Patrick decides he wants a promotion, then we’ve got something. Until then, it’s all talk.

But let me float an alternate scenario by you. What if the nihilist billionaires behind Empower Texans decide that Abbott and the Republican Party have totally sold out on them, and instead of finding someone to take Abbott out in a primary, they bankroll a petition drive to put some pet wingnut on the November ballot, as an independent or the nominee of some new party they just invented? It’s crazy and almost certain to hand the Governor’s mansion over to the Democratic nominee, but no one ever said these guys were strategic geniuses. It’s been said that there are three real political parties in Texas – the Democrats, the establishment Republicans, and the far right whackadoo Republicans. This would arguably be an outgrowth of that, and in what we all hope is a post-Trump world, there may be similar splits happening elsewhere.

How likely is this? As I said, it makes no sense in the abstract. It’s nearly impossible to see a path to victory for either Abbott or the appointed anti-Abbott. It’s instructive to compare to 2006, where Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman were taking votes away from both Rick Perry and Chris Bell. Nobody who considers themselves remotely a Democrat is going to be wooed by whoever Empower Texans could vomit onto the ballot. Maybe they would consider a victory by Julian Castro or whichever Dem to be preferable to another Abbott term, in their own version of “the two parties are the same, we must burn down the duopoly to get everything we want”. Just because it makes no sense doesn’t mean it can’t happen. For now, if I had to bet, my money would be on some token but not completely obscure challenger to Abbott in the primary – think Steve Stockman against John Cornyn in 2014, something like that. But a lot can happen in a year, and if the Dems do well this November, that could add to the pressure against Abbott. Who knows? Just another bubbling plot line to keep an eye on.

Hotze versus contact tracing

We should have expected this.

Conservative firebrand Steven Hotze has launched another lawsuit challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s coronavirus response, joined by current and former lawmakers and several hundred business owners who argue the state’s contact tracing program infringes on their privacy and ability to make a living.

The civil action filed Monday in federal court takes on the disparate operating capacities the governor mandated in his “COVID-19 lottery,” claiming Abbott’s actions have limited restaurants and bars with 25 or 50 percent limits, while bicycle shops, liquor stores, pool cleaners and supermarkets are running at full tilt.


The lawsuit by Hotze includes nearly 1,500 names. Most are small business owners, but topping the list are state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, former Republican state representatives Gary Elkins, of Houston, Molly White, of Bell County, Rick Green, of Hays County, and former party chair Cathie Adams, of Collin County.

The suit argues that Texas’ $295 million contract tracing program — aimed at tracking down all people exposed to an infected person — violates the first amendment, privacy, due process and equal protection provisions. Such tracking amounts to an illegal, warrantless search, the suit says. While tracing back contacts is supposed to be voluntary, it is enforced through local health departments based on a presumption of guilt for all people in proximity to a sick person, according to the lawsuit. It requires people to turn over names, call in with their temperature readings and assumes a person has COVID-19 unless they can prove otherwise, Woodfill said.

Woodfill said he believes this is the first federal challenge to contact tracing. He hopes it will set the tone for “how we as a government and as a people will deal with diseases that we don’t have a vaccine for yet.”

Yes, of course that’s Jared Woodfill, joined at the hip as ever with Hotze on these things. We had the original lawsuit against Harris County, over the stay-at-home order. That was then followed by the lawsuit against Abbott and Paxton over the statewide stay-at-home order, for which there is now an emergency petition before the State Supreme Court. Another lawsuit against Harris County was filed over Judge Hidalgo’s face mask order, a subject that may soon be relevant again. That one too has a motion before the Supreme Court for an emergency ruling. I am not aware of any rulings in any of these lawsuits, but sooner or later something will happen. Abbott’s contact tracing plan is full of problems, and as I’ve said before there are legitimate questions to be raised about Abbott’s various orders during this pandemic. For sure, the Lege should try to clarify matters in 2021. I would just greatly prefer to have these legitimate questions get asked by legitimate people, not con men and grifters. That’s not the world we live in, unfortunately.

All this got me to thinking: Why doesn’t Hotze announce that he’s running for Governor in 2022? He clearly has some strong opinions about the way the state is supposed to be run, and in doing so he has some stark disagreements with Greg Abbott. Just as clearly, he has some support among the wingnut fringe for those differing opinions. It seems unlikely he could win – among other things, Abbott has a gazillion dollars in his campaign treasury – but he could force a dialogue on his issues, and very likely could bring some real pressure on Abbott. He’s also the kind of preening egotist who’d think he’s got The People behind him. I’m just idly speculating, and maybe trying to stir up some trouble. I can’t help but think that this is the biggest public example of Republican-on-Republican rhetorical violence since Carole Keeton Strayhorn was Rick Perry’s main nemesis. (I’m not counting Kay Bailey Hutchison’s primary against Perry in 2010, since she barely showed up for it.) I don’t really think this is where Hotze is going, but if he does do something like this, would you be surprised? At this point, I would not be.

Primary precinct analysis: Everyone did something in the Senate primary

MJ Hegar

So while we wait for actual precinct data from the primary, I thought I’d take a look at some county-level data from the non-Presidential races, as they have the county-by-county breakdown on the SOS election night pages. The US Senate primary, with its twelve candidates overall and five topping ten percent seemed like a good spot to do a deeper dive. The main problem is just presenting that much data, as my usual style of doing a table of numbers isn’t going to work well – it’ll be much too crowded and will be hard to spot the interesting bits. So what I thought I’d try was to focus on the counties with the most voters, and to see who did the best in them. I put everything in a spreadsheet, and sorted by total number of voters for each county. I settled on the top thirty to report on, which gave me a good geographic spread and included some big counties that don’t have many Democrats and some smaller counties where nearly everyone voted Democratic. From there, I pulled out the five top performers in each county, to see what story that could tell me.

Rather than try to present that in some form of table here, which would have taken a lot of tedious text formatting on my part, I just put the result into its own spreadsheet, which you can see here. For each of these counties, I reported the top five candidates and gave their vote totals and vote percentage. The top five performers change from one county to the next, so the five selected are listed above each county’s numbers. I think it makes sense, but have a look and let me know if it’s confusing. I’m now going to summarize what I found from this exercise.

MJ Hegar finished first 15 times and second seven times. Only in Webb and Maverick counties did she not finish in the top five. She was especially strong in the Central Texas area as expected, but also finished first in places like Harris, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. To me, her performance versus everyone else’s is the difference between having a campaign that has sufficient funding to actually do advertising and other voter outreach, and not having it.

Sen. Royce West

Royce West finished first five times and second four times. He finished outside the top five ten times, including in such large counties as Bexar and El Paso. He won big in Dallas and won Tarrant, but he trailed Hegar in Collin and Denton and finished fifth in Travis. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what his path to winning the runoff is.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez had five firsts (Bexar, El Paso, Cameron, Nueces, Brazos) and five seconds (Travis, Webb, Guadalupe, Maverick, Bastrop), but finished outside the top five ten times, including in places like Harris and Hidalgo where you’d think she’d have done better. She finished behind Sema Hernandez at least nine times, and behind Annie Garcia at least ten times. (I say “at least” because there were a few instances in which neither was in the top five, and I didn’t go back to see where they fell.) I thought Tzintzún Ramirez had the potential to be a force, and I still hope she runs for something in the future, but someone who can’t consistently top no-money, no-organization candidates like those two is not exactly encouraging. Tzintzún Ramirez was the Bernie candidate, and you have to ask what good that did her. Actually, if you’re a Bernie person, you really should ask why it is that the larger Bernie movement didn’t provide any noticeable fundraising support for her, and clearly didn’t give her much of a boost in the polls. If you want to see candidates like that actually win races, you really ought to think about those questions. She has endorsed Royce West in the runoff, but I’m not sure how much that will matter.

Did I mention that Annie Garcia, a candidate who had raised less than $22K as of February 12, finished fourth in this race, ahead of people who had run and won elections before like Chris Bell and Amanda Edwards? I have to think that being called “Annie ‘Mama’ Garcia” on the ballot probably helped her in places where people didn’t know that much about the slate. It also makes me wonder why she got to be “Mama” but Carole Keeton Strayhorn didn’t get to be “Grandma”. What exactly are the rules for that, anyway? Be that as it may, Garcia won Webb, Lubbock, and Maverick counties, while finishing second in El Paso, Williamson, Cameron, Hays, and Nueces. She finished in the money in 22 of the 30 counties, more than either West or Tzintzún Ramirez. If you had bet me that a month ago, you would have won my money.

Sema Hernandez won Hidalgo County and Chris Bell won Brazoria, so there are all your first place winners. Hernandez, for those few people who insisted her showing in 2018 made her a legitimate candidate this time around despite raising even less money than Garcia and failing to file any finance reports until Q3 this year, shows up in 18 of these 30 counties, but was mostly shut out of the top ten, finishing fifth in Harris, fifth in Bexar, and fourth in El Paso, failing to break ten percent in any of them. She did finish second in Brazoria County, while Bell was runnerup in Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston, and Lubbock. Amanda Edwards (Montgomery, Bell, Comal) and Michael Cooper (Jefferson) also had second place finishes. Edwards had ten third-place finishes, three fourths, and four fifths, while Cooper also finished fourth in Webb and Maverick, and fifth in Smith.

So that’s six candidates with at least one first place finish, and eight with at least one first or second place finish. Believe it or not, the other four candidates – go ahead, name them right now, I double dog dare you – also had at least one top five finish:

Victor Harris – Hidalgo County, third
Adrian Ocegueda – Cameron County, fifth
D.R. Hunter – Nueces County, fifth
Jack Daniel Foster – Maverick County, fifth

Let’s just say we’ll probably never have an election quite like this one again. I’ll have more of this analysis/trivia for you in the coming days. I’m still waiting for a canvass from Harris County.

State House mulls big increase in school funding

That’s a good start.

As Texas’ Republican leadership calls for property tax cuts and a school finance overhaul, the Texas House on Monday pitched a bold proposal: Pump roughly $7 billion more state funds into public schools — but only if lawmakers can satisfactorily overhaul the school finance system to slow the growth of property taxes.

Budget documents published Monday evening show the House has offered up a whopping 17 percent increase in K-12 public education funding so long as lawmakers achieve a few lofty goals in reforming how the state pays for public schools: Reduce the state’s reliance on property taxes, decrease the need for the unpopular Robin Hood system that requires property-wealthy school districts to subsidize poorer ones, and maintain an equitable system of school finance, as required by the state Constitution.

Counting all sources of funding — including local property taxes, state revenue and federal dollars — the state’s public education budget would grow to about $70.6 billion in the two-year cycle from 2020 to 2021, according to a Legislative Budget Board summary of the proposed House budget. That’s an increase of 16.7 percent from the previous two-year budget cycle, when the state spent about $60.5 billion on public schools.


The state is forecasted to have about 8.1 percent more funding available to spend over the next, two-year budget cycle. The House’s proposed budget would also withdraw $633 million out of the state savings account, called the Economic Stabilization Fund, to pay for retired teachers’ pensions, school safety improvements and disaster-relief programs.

That account, also known as the rainy day fund, has grown to a record level thanks to booming oil and gas production. Even after the House’s proposed $633 million withdrawal, the fund’s balance is projected to reach $14.7 billion in 2021.

The budget recommends spending $109 million on school safety, which lawmakers have discussed as a priority item since the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting near Houston left 10 dead. Included in school safety funding would be about $12 million for children’s mental health programs.

Notably, the House budget decreases state funding for health care and human services by about 3.2 percent. Education and health care make up the vast majority of state spending.

Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, would see a decrease of $1.4 billion in state funds, for example.

There are a lot of details to be filled in here. Making this contingent on property tax reform can be dicey, as the last time the Lege “fixed” school finance by way of tax reform they screwed over the revenue stream for years to come. Cutting Medicaid payments is a serious no-go. All of this has to actually be written into the budget and then approved by both chambers and not line-item-vetoed by Abbott. Lots of things can go wrong or turn out bad. But all that said, this is a great starting point, and hugely refreshing after too many sessions of cuts.

Meanwhile, in the Senate:

Leaders of the Texas Senate are proposing giving schools $3.7 billion to provide $5,000 pay raises to all full-time classroom teachers — on the heels of a House budget proposal that includes $7 billion more for public education.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed Senate Bill 3 Tuesday morning, which would mandate that schools use the billions in additional funding specifically for teacher pay raises. Speaking at his inauguration Tuesday morning, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, lauded the proposal as one of his main priorities this legislative session and said the funding would be permanent.


Nelson’s proposal appears to build a new formula into the school finance system that would distribute state funding to schools based on the number of full-time classroom teachers they employ, and require they use that money for raises over the previous year.

Here’s SB3. We now know that while the Senate is also proposing more money overall for school finance, it’s not as much as what the House is proposing. This is what I mean when I say there’s a long way to go to get to a finished product. Be that as it may, this too is a good start.

We may have reached peak independent candidate

Meet Jonathan Jenkins, who would apparently like to be on your ballot for the Senate this fall.

Jonathan Jenkins

It’s got a high-tech evangelist for a founder, $6 million in private equity investments, even its own crypto-currency.

No, it’s not a driverless car start-up or some new, life-changing app.

It’s the Indie Party — billed as a “movement” to end the “two-party duopoly” in the United States but built more like a political consulting and technology firm with profit in mind. Its first target — and at this point its only target — is the high-stakes U.S. Senate race featuring Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

Its candidate and founder is a self-described “successful tech entrepreneur” and fluent Mandarin speaker named Jonathan Jenkins. The Euless native has been busily gathering the 47,000 or so signatures he needs to qualify for a spot as an independent on the November ballot alongside Cruz and O’Rourke.


Jenkins is the co-founder of company known as Order With Me (or just WithMe), which helps companies develop pop-up retail outlets. A graduate of Trinity-Euless High School and Abilene Christian College, Jenkins announced the launch of the Indie Party in March and said it had raised some $6.5 million in start-up capital within 72 hours.

Slick videos on the Indie Party website promote independent candidates as the solution to politics as usual, and the party offers a high-tech innovation: a crypto-currency called Indie Tokens that volunteers can earn and sell to donors, and that can be used to buy campaign merchandise or political services from vendors, lawyers and pollsters.

It’s “a party that is owned by you, the people, not by the politicians,” declares one of several videos on the Indie Party website. “This is real transparency, instead of behind closed doors and in the shadows.”

But the Indie Party is not a political party at all. It’s a private, for-profit corporation whose finances are — despite the gauzy advertising — not entirely transparent. And it’s owned not by the voters but by private equity investors who provided the start-up funds.

Indie Party spokesman Mitch Allen identified one of the investors as Las Vegas-based Global Trust Group, and said William Attinger, a former Morgan Stanley derivatives specialist, “led the initial investment” on behalf of the group. Attinger is managing director of venture management for Global Trust Group and is on the board of Raise The Money Inc., an online platform for political fundraising, according to his online bio. Calls and emails left with the Global Trust Group were not returned.

Neither Jenkins nor the Indie Party would identify the three other investors who contributed. Nor did Jenkins or the party say how much Jenkins was paid during his stint as CEO of the Indie Party Co., although Jenkins said his compensation was considerably less than the $600,000 the Indie Party estimated in a U.S. Securities and Exchange filing it would pay officers or directors. At the time of the filing Jenkins was the only disclosed officer or director.

All that will be clarified, Allen said, when Jenkins files his required personal financial disclosure later this summer as a Senate candidate.

You know how some people complains that the Republican and Democratic parties have been taken over by big money corporate interests? With the Indie Party, you can skip the middleman and join a “party” that started out as a big money corporate interest. To once again quote the great philosopher Dogbert, sometimes no sarcastic remark seems adequate. They’ve got a week to turn in their petitions to the Secretary of State (Sec. 142.006. REGULAR FILING DEADLINE FOR APPLICATION. (a) An application for a place on the ballot must be filed not later than 5 p.m. of the 30th day after runoff primary election day, except as provided by Section 202.007.) For what it’s worth, Carole Keeton Strayhorn turned in 223,000 signatures and Kinky Friedman turned in 169,000, both in 2006 for their indy candidacies for Governor. We’ll see how Jenkins compares.

(Note: Strayhorn and Kinky had to turn their sigs in by May 11 that year because the 2006 primary runoffs were held on April 11. The date of the primary runoffs was moved from the second Tuesday in April to the fourth Tuesday via SB100 (see section 6) in 2011. They had less time to collect signatures, but only about 1.2 million people voted in a party primary that year while over 2.5 million did so this year; people who voted in a party primary or a party primary runoff are ineligible to sign a petition for an independent candidate.)

Mentioned in the story but not my excerpt: The Harris County Republican Party has filed a complaint against Jenkins and the Indie Party with the FEC, alleging that “Jenkins and the corporation have violated federal law by providing improper corporate contributions to the Jenkins campaign; illegally coordinating with the Jenkins campaign in getting signatures to put him on the ballot; and failing to file with the FEC as a political committee”. You can find a copy of the complaint here and the attached exhibits here, and you can read into that whatever you want.

Anyway. If you surmise that I am not impressed by Jonathan Jenkins or Indie Party, Incorporated, you would be correct. Whether I need to care about their existence beyond June 21 remains to be seen. Have you observed any of their petition-gatherers? Please leave a comment and let us know.

The economic impact of SB4

It could be big.

Representatives from Texas’ business, local government and higher education sectors argued Tuesday that the state’s new immigration-enforcement law, which is slated to take effect Sept. 1, could do billions of dollars in damage to the Texas economy.

Using data from the 2015 American Community Survey and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance — a group made up of 40 state-based immigrant and civil rights groups — estimated during a Tuesday press conference that the state stands to lose roughly $223 million in state and local taxes and more than $5 billion in gross domestic product under Senate Bill 4.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May and seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials, would also allow local police officers to ask about a person’s immigration status when they are detained — not just when they are charged with a crime.

“We estimate those costs as they relate to jobs, earnings, taxes and GDP if 10 percent of undocumented immigrants were to leave Texas,” the group said, calling that 10 percent figure a conservative estimate. The group analyzed the top 10 industries that benefit from undocumented labor and used Harvard University economist George Borjas‘ undocumented population analysis in its research, according to the methodology outlined in the study.


The economic argument isn’t a new one for opponents of the law; several Democratic state lawmakers tried and failed to convince their colleagues of its merit during this spring’s regular legislative session. State Democrats also called for an update to a study released in 2006 by former Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. That analysis showed that undocumented immigrants who lived in Texas in 2005 added $17.7 billion to the state’s economy.

In a statement Tuesday, representatives from local chambers of commerce at the news conference went after the lawmakers who championed the legislation, calling them dishonorable.

“Each of you standing with us have a big job to do,” said Ramiro Cavazos, the CEO of San Antonio’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “And that it is to protect this economy for our children and our grandchildren.”

The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Bilateral African American Chamber, the United Chamber of Commerce Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley Chamber of Commerce were among those represented at the news conference.

The Chron adds some details.

Paul Puente, executive secretary of the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council, said many undocumented construction workers are already packing up and leaving with their families to neighboring states such as Oklahoma and Louisiana ahead of SB4’s implementation on Sept. 1.

An analysis of data from the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that if 10 percent of undocumented immigrants leave Texas, the state would forfeit about $190.7 million in federal tax revenue and $223.5 million more in state and local taxes.

The disappearance of those estimated 95,000 undocumented workers would also result in nearly $2.9 billion in lost wage earnings. The analysis also found that the state would lose an additional 70,000 jobs dependent on undocumented consumers, with an estimated $2.4 billion more in lost wages.

The researchers said the ripple effect throughout the economy could reach between $9.2 billion and $13.8 billion.

That’s a lot of money, and it doesn’t include things like tourism and conferences. You can dispute the figures if you’d like, but the broader point is that maybe it’s a bad idea to pass a law like this that so many people think with justification will hurt themselves, those close to them, and the state as a whole. There was plenty of testimony to this effect in the hearings, from law enforcement and religious groups and business interests and just plain folks, and there’s the lived experience of other states who have done this. It was just that the Republican majority refused to listen. And that job that Ramiro Cavazos mentioned that we all have to do includes remembering who supported and who opposed this terrible law when the next elections roll around. The Current has more.

House approves bill to kill margins tax


The Texas House on Thursday approved a proposal that would phase out an unpopular business tax that provides funding for public schools.

The proposal by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would not reduce the state’s franchise tax during the current penny-pinching legislative session, but it would do so in future years. Under Bonnen’s bill, economic growth would trigger reductions in the tax, which currently brings in about $8 billion every two-year budget cycle, until it ultimately disappears.

About $1.8 billion in franchise tax revenue in the current two-year budget cycle goes to the Property Tax Relief Fund, which pays for public schools. Democrats, arguing that the tax cut would cause lawmakers in later years to underfund crucial public programs, railed against the proposal for nearly two hours. They offered a series of amendments that would have lessened the extent of the tax cut or redirected funds for college tuition, pre-kindergarten and other priorities, but all were defeated.

The final vote took place late Thursday evening at the end of a long day on the House floor, which followed a marathon debate Wednesday over “sanctuary” jurisdictions that lasted until roughly 3 a.m. When Bonnen’s proposal finally hit the floor, few Republicans offered any remarks in response to Democrats’ outrage; most lawmakers in the chamber appeared to be paying little attention.


Businesses dislike the franchise tax, often called a “margin tax,” because they say it’s overly complicated and can punish them in less-prosperous years. Because it’s based on a business’s gross receipts, a business can still be required to pay the tax even in years it takes a loss. Many call the tax, which was passed as a way to reform the state’s school finance system, an unnecessary burden, and high-profile Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott have sought its demise.

Lawmakers in 2015 cut the tax rate by 25 percent, which gave them $2.6 billion less revenue to help craft a budget this year. Proponents of the tax’s elimination argue it would stimulate the state’s economy and create jobs.

In the short term, it’s difficult to say just how much revenue is at stake in Bonnen’s proposal because the tax is highly dependent on economic conditions. A fiscal note written by the state’s Legislative Budget Board estimated it could cut public school funds by up to $3.5 billion in the 2020-2021 biennium.

I mean, look, I know the margins tax was a poorly conceived kludge that everyone hates (or at least claims to) and which has been a top GOP whipping boy for a couple of sessions, but please do keep two things in mind. One, this tax, which replaced the also-hated and seldom-paid franchise tax, was created in 2006 to help fill the revenue void left by the Supreme Court school finance decision in 2005 that led to a mandated across-the-board property tax cut. It was never going to fully fill that void, and indeed its poor design and regular underperformance has been a problem, but it at least made up for some of the funding for schools that disappeared when the previous system was declared to have been an unconstitutional statewide property tax. Something is going to need to replace the revenue lost to this tax being (eventually) eliminated, and all we have right now is wishful thinking about economic growth, a continued reliance on local property taxes, and a handful of magic beans. And two, it’s probably not a coincidence that the amount of revenue lost in this biennium to the previous one’s margins tax cut is almost precisely the amount the House and Senate are arguing about in order to make this session’s budget “balance”. Cause and effect, y’all. You should have one of your interns Google it.

O’Rourke and Dowd say they want to challenge Cruz in 2018

Rep. Beto O’Rourke upgraded his chances of running for the Senate in 2018 to “very likely”.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Thursday he is all but certain to make a run for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat in 2018.

“I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of people around the state of Texas over the last six weeks, and I will tell you, I’m very encouraged,” he told The Texas Tribune on Thursday in an interview. “And I am continuing to listen to and talk to folks, and I’m just becoming more and more encouraged.”

“It’s very likely that I will run for Senate in 2018,” the El Paso Democrat added.

In a previous interview with the Tribune, O’Rourke kept the door open to a run in 2018 or 2020. O’Rourke just began his third term in the U.S. House and has promised to term-limit himself in that chamber.

The comments came just hours after former George W. Bush operative Matthew Dowd told the Tribune that he, too, was considering a bid against Cruz as an independent.

O’Rourke reacted to the Dowd news positively.

“Anyone who’s willing to take something like this on deserves our respect, and so I think that would be great,” he said. “I think the more voices, perspectives, experience that can be fielded, the better for Texas.”

See here for the background. I have to assume that O’Rourke’s greater interest in a 2018 run also indicates a lesser likelihood of Rep. Joaquin Castro challenging Cruz, but this story does not mention Castro. I think O’Rourke could be an interesting opponent for Cruz, if he has the resources to make himself heard, and it’s always possible that this midterm could be a lot less friendly to Republicans than the last two have been, but he would be a longshot no matter how you slice it. Given the fundraising he’d have to do to make a Senate run viable, I’m guessing we’d need to have a final decision to run by June at the latest, but we’ll see.

And as noted in that story, Rep. O’Rourke wasn’t the only person talking about a Cruz challenge.

Matthew Dowd, an Austin-based television news commentator and former George W. Bush strategist, is mulling an independent challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I don’t know what I will do,” he told The Texas Tribune. “But I am giving it some thought, and I appreciate the interest of folks.”

Dowd said this has been a draft effort, as prominent members of both parties have approached him to run against Cruz.


The political strategist’s career tells the story of the past three decades of Texas politics. Dowd started in Democratic politics, including as a staffer to then-U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.

But Dowd eventually gravitated to then-Gov. Bush in the late 1990s, working on both of his presidential campaigns and for the Republican National Committee.

In 2007, Dowd publicly criticized Bush over the Iraq war.

More recently, Dowd used his social media and ABC News platforms to question the viability of the two-party system.

Now, he is considering a run of his own — against a man he once worked with on the 2000 Bush campaign.

“I don’t think Ted served the state well at all,” Dowd said. “He hasn’t been interested in being a U.S. senator from Texas. He’s been interested in national office since the day he got in.”


An independent run would be a heavy lift, but it would probably scramble the race far more than anyone could have anticipated a year ago. Dowd argued that an independent candidate could have a better shot than a challenge from either party.

“I think Ted is vulnerable, but I don’t think Ted’s vulnerable in the Republican primary, and I don’t think Ted is vulnerable to a Democrat in the general,” he said. “I think a Democrat can’t win in the state.”

Fundraising in an expensive state without the party apparatus would likely be a major obstacle as well.

“I actually believe money is less important now today than it’s ever been,” he said. “It’s going to take money and a lot of grassroots money, and it’s going to take people frustrated at Washington and frustrated about Ted.”

This is extremely hypothetical, so let’s not go too deep here. The first challenge is getting on the ballot as an independent, which requires collecting a sizable number of petition signatures from non-primary voters in a fairly short period of time. It can be done, as Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman demonstrated in 2006, but it takes a lot of resources. That can be money or volunteer energy, but at least one is needed. And say what you want about how important money is in today’s campaign world, the challenge remains getting your name and message out to people. If voters have no idea who you are on the ballot, they’re probably not going to vote for you. I guarantee you, if a poll were taken right now, maybe two percent of Texas voters will have any familiarity with the name “Matthew Dowd”. That’s what the money would be for, to get the voters to know who he is.

If – and it’s a big if, but we love to speculate about this sort of thing – Dowd can get the petition signatures to get on the ballot, then the actual election becomes pretty interesting. Dowd may have started life as a Democrat, but he’s much more closely identified with the Republicans, and he’s now a fairly prominent Trump critic. We could assume that his base is primarily the Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, which if you add up the Clinton crossovers and the increase in Gary Johnson’s vote total over 2012 works out to maybe a half million people. That’s not nothing, but it’s a long way from a win, and the voters who remain are the more committed partisans. On the assumption that Dowd would draw more heavily from Republicans, that would help boost Beto O’Rourke’s chances, but Ted Cruz starts out with a pretty big cushion. He can afford to lose a lot of votes before he faces any real peril. Even in the down year of 2006, Republicans were winning statewide races by 500K to a million votes. Having someone like Dowd in the race improves O’Rourke’s chances of winning, but a lot would have to happen for those chances to improve to something significant.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves. If O’Rourke says he’s running, I believe him. If Dowd says he’s thinking about running, well, I believe he’s thinking about it. Wake me up when he does something more concrete than that.

Great moments in false equivalence

The headline reads Money from disputed tax bills flowing to candidates for top tax chief, and then the story tells us that more than 99% of that money is going to one of those candidates.


Business entities and taxpayers are pumping thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of candidates who, if elected state comptroller, would receive their tax-bill complaints.

The Texas Comptroller’s Office is charged with collecting state tax revenue and implementing state tax law. And even though the state auditor sought a ban on business contributions to comptroller candidates nine years ago, the Texas Legislature did not act and the practice prevails.

In this election cycle, businesses and lawyers with clients before the comptroller’s office have thrown more than $200,000 into the campaigns of two candidates seeking to replace Susan Combs: Republican state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy and Houston-area accountant Mike Collier, a Democrat.

Public watchdog groups see a potential conflict of interest.

“As long as we’re going to have comptrollers running on partisan political tickets, it’s almost impossible to filter out which contributions might not have an interest in the comptroller’s office,” said Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice.

Collier hasn’t received a lot of cash from entities with a stake in tax cases. Of the $200,000 he’s raised, only $1,500 comes from employees of ExxonMobil and BP, two energy firms with disputes before the Comptroller’s Office. He said he’d be open to legislative action barring contributions from donors with active cases with the office, but wouldn’t cut those donations out of his coffers.

“Because I’m the underdog and I’m trying to throw out the trench politicians, I’ll take money from anybody who’ll give it to me,” Collier said.

Hegar has snagged more than 10 percent of the more than $2 million he’s raised from businesses or firms with clients with active tax cases.

So in other words, of the “more than $200,000” that has been raised by the Comptroller candidates from people and firms that have business before the Comptroller’s office, at least $200,000 of it went to Glenn Hegar, while all of $1,500 went to Mike Collier. This is like saying that the Aaron brothers, Hank and Tommie, combined to hit 768 home runs in their career. One of the two contributed a lot more to the bottom line than the other. Oh, and well done on the “more than 10 percent of the more than $2 million” bit, which not only obscures the actual total (how much more than ten percent? how much more than $2 million?) it also surely confuses the more math-phobic readers about how much Hegar collected to the point where they have no idea that it’s way, way more than Collier. An impressive performance all around.

By the way, companies like BP and ExxonMobil have lots and lots of employees. Very few of those employees would have any role in or influence over the dispute process with the Comptroller’s office. Unless the BP and ExxonMobil employees cited above that donated to Mike Collier are among that small group, then the whole premise that “both candidates” are benefiting from contributions of entities and their representatives that have business before the Comptroller’s office is shot. Details, details.

The point of the story is that in 2005, a report by the Texas State Auditor showed that 750 taxpayers received $461 million in tax credits and refunds from the comptroller’s office less than a year after they or their representatives had made a contribution to then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. This was a key attack point by Rick Perry against Strayhorn in the 2006 campaign. That auditor’s report recommended that legislation be passed to the Comptroller or candidates for Comptroller from receiving campaign contributions from anyone that had a dispute pending with the office. Needless to say, nothing happened then, and nothing will happen in 2015. But at least now we’ve been reminded of the issue, and the Chronicle figured out a way to make numbers that are two orders of magnitude apart sound similar. So there’s that.

Medina for Governor?

Well, this would shake things up.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina could end up running again for the state’s highest office, this time as an independent, she said Friday afternoon.

Medina, who has been exploring a race for comptroller for several months, told the Tribune earlier this month that she is having trouble raising the amount of money she thinks is necessary to mount a competitive campaign for that office. She cited a particular lack of interest from wealthy campaign donors who are typically pivotal in financing successful statewide races in Texas.

At the same time, in a development first reported by the Quorum Report, she said she has been hearing from potential donors interested in seeing her run as an independent for governor. Collectively, she has received pledges totaling millions of dollars, she said, and that has her wondering whether she ought to switch from one race to the other.

“I’m looking at the best opportunity to move these policy ideas that I have been working on: private property, state sovereignty, reform tax policy in Texas,” Medina said.


Medina said she would rather run for comptroller as a Republican than for governor as an independent. She feels the comptroller post is better suited to promoting the economic issues she is passionate about, such as abolishing the property tax. But she said she has had difficulty convincing wealthy conservatives that that race is worth investing in.

“I’m doing everything I can to assemble the resources necessary for a viable, credible campaign for comptroller,” Medina said. Noting that candidates must file for next year’s primaries by December, she added, “If it comes to November and the money still hasn’t come in, I’ll have to pull my team in and say ‘ok, are these other offers real and if they are, is this the path I should move down?’”

I don’t know how seriously to take this. Let’s be brutally honest here: However hard it has been to raise money in the GOP primary for Comptroller, her odds of winning that race are about a billion times better than her odds of being elected Governor as an indy. Surely anyone who might be whispering in her ear about the millions of dollars they would help her raise must realize that the vast majority of votes Medina would collect would come out of Greg Abbott’s hide, and the end result would be a much clearer path to victory for Wendy Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I would be thrilled beyond measure if this were to happen, it’s just that I don’t think I’ve led a good enough life for it to be so.

To throw some numbers out there, Medina got 275,159 votes in that 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. That’s roughly six percent of the vote in a normal off-year general election. Add in the two percent or so that a Libertarian candidate is likely to get, and the win number for Davis and Abbott becomes 46%. I don’t think all of Medina’s vote comes out of Abbott’s total – as we have seen in other races, Ted Cruz’s being a prominent example, Medina will likely pick up some votes in heavily Latino areas. How much of that can and will be affected by the nature and quality of all the campaigns, especially that of Wendy Davis, but in the end Medina will cost her a few votes. Not nearly as many as she’d cost Abbott – if I had to guess now, I’d say between 80 and 90 percent of the hypothetical Medina votes would have voted for Abbott otherwise – so it’s hardly a Strayhorn/Kinky situation, which is good. Again, though, this seems more like attention-seeking than thoughtful strategizing. I would dearly love for this to happen, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Texpatriate and the equally skeptical PDiddie have more.

Combs not running for re-election

And a domino falls.

Susan Combs

Susan Combs

Comptroller Susan Combs opened up the logjam that has been statewide office in Texas by announcing Wednesday that she will not seek election in 2014.

Announcements were immediately flying with state Rep. Harvey Hildebran, R-Kerrville, throwing his green eye-shades into the race.

Combs, 68, was first won the comptroller’s post in 2007, after having become the first female Agriculture Commissioner. She also served in the state House as a Republican from Austin.

In her announcement, Combs said she wanted to return to ranching and continue her work on private property rights.

“In the summer of 1994, I marched up Congress Avenue with hundreds of Texans in support of private property rights—and I’m not done marching,” Combs said.

Combs has almost $8 million in the bank and was looking at a run for lieutenant governor, which was dampened when David Dewhurst said he would run for re-election.

This will be the first open seat in the big six statewide offices in more than a decade and the scramble is already on to fill the post.

Besides Hildebran, other potential candidates include tea party activist Debra Medina and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R- Katy.

You can see her full statement here. The Trib also lists one-term former State Rep. Raul Torres as a potential candidate, and Sen. Tommy Williams is also considering it. Williams, Hegar, and Hilderbran would probably be OK, Medina is a nut, and Torres is unlikely to be able to compete with any of them. I’m sure others will jump in as well. Combs was at one time reported to be running for Lite Guv, but that never went anywhere. She wasn’t nearly as feisty as Carole Keeton Strayhorn when it came to pushing back on Rick Perry – speaking of the Comptroller Of Many Names, has anyone asked what she’s up to these days? – and her tenure was marred by her role in promising public funds for F1 racing in Austin as well as her gross mis-estimation of the state’s revenue in 2011, the result of which was far more drastic cuts to spending than was needed. I give her credit for (mostly) not being overly ideological, but some more competence and independence would have been nice. Texas Politics, PDiddie, Texpatriate, and Juanita have more.

Americans Elect starts the petition process

And they’re off.

Will not be on the ballot

Americans Elect — an emerging, alternative third party that plans to use the Internet to field a presidential ticket this year — is starting to gather signatures of registered voters in Texas to try to gain a spot on this year’s election ballot.

“Americans Elect continues to gain ballot access state by state to provide voters in Texas and across the country with another choice for president this November,” said Elliot Ackerman, chief operating officer with Americans Elect. “We are creating a second nominating process for president by holding an online primary for the first time in history, bypassing the two-party system and giving every voter a chane to have their voice heard regardless of where they live.”

You know how I feel about Americans Elect. This is going to be different than it was for Carole Keeton Strayhorn or Kinky Friedman in 2006 when they were petitioning to get on the ballot. It’s one thing to recruit on behalf of an actual candidate, who has policy ideas that can be articulated in favor of doing so. It’s another, I suspect, to recruit on behalf of a concept that may result in the inclusion of anyone from Rocky Anderson to Dennis Kucinich to Olympia Snowe to Buddy Roemer to Ron Paul. But maybe I’m wrong and everyone will see what they want to see and that will work for them. We’ll know soon enough.

Ezra Klein talks to Ackerman and Khalil Byrd of Americans Elect, and it’s still not clear to me what exactly it is they think they’re doing, or how they think they’re going to be different than, say, the Reform Party. They say their real goal is to get down-ballot access and run candidates in all kinds of races all over the country. Again, I have no idea who will choose to do that for a group that doesn’t have some set of principles, but who knows? I’m just going to point out that Klein is wrong when he says they their “real accomplishment is having secured ballot lines in all 50 states”, since clearly they have not yet done so in Texas, and leave it at that. Ed Kilgore and Colin Woodard have more.

We have a budget

Such as it is.

Budget negotiators met briefly this morning and voted 9-1 to adopt a conference committee report that cuts the state budget over the next biennium by $15 billion, or 8 percent. The total amount of funding from taxpayers, known as general funds, is $80.4 billion. The total expenditures for all funds, including federal money, is $172.3 billion.

Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, told reporters their respective chambers are expected to vote on the report as early as Saturday afternoon.

“We have covered the entire (2010-2011) biennial deficit and the budget is balanced for the next two years. And at the end of the day, that’s a pretty extraordinary accomplishment considering the challenge we were in,” Ogden said.

I suppose a Hollywood accountant might call this a “balanced” budget, but between the delayed payments to school districts, the $4.8 billion hot check for Medicaid, the fantasizing about federal waivers and higher-than-projected property tax revenues, it’s a budget built on cotton candy and hallucinations. And that’s before we consider the cost of slashing $4 billion from public education, which was the best case scenario for that. What still hasn’t been done is to figure out how to spread that $4 billion in cuts out over all the school districts.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said there’s a provision in the budget agreement that makes Foundation School Program payments to school districts contingent on the House and Senate agreeing on school finance.

“If there is not agreement … there’s no appropriations to the Foundation School Program. We’d have to come back in special session,” Ogden said.

Abby Rapoport has more on what the school finance options are at this point. I assume they’re strongly motivated to avoid having to go into a special session. But even if they do, there’s still the question of whether or not the Comptroller will certify the budget. Rep. Garnet Coleman has some questions for Comptroller Combs:

1. Will you evaluate the combined revenue and expenses of all major pieces of legislation regarding the state’s fiscal matters, not just the primary budget bill (House Bill 1), in determining whether or not Texas has passed a balanced budget?

The Legislature is deliberating numerous “fiscal matters” bills that have consequences on our state’s finances for FY 2012-13. In 2003, the last time Texas faced a massive budget shortfall, Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn determined that the budget was a “’patchwork’ piece of legislation that depends on several other bills to determine some of the spending” for the FY 2004-2005 budget. (Source: Associated Press, “Strayhorn criticizes lawmakers for ‘smoke and mirrors’ budget,” June 5, 2003).

Which, if any, bills other than House Bill 1 do you anticipate your office evaluating in order to determine whether or not you will certify the Texas budget?

2. Will you certify $4.8 billion in Medicaid expenses if they are not paid for with revenue Texas can identify in its budget?

Wayne Pulver, an assistant director at the Legislative Budget Board, stated before the Texas House Committee on Appropriations on Monday, May 16 that, “it is our estimate that with these funding decisions, the bill is short $4.8 billion in general revenue.” (Source: Associated Press, “Texas budget plan kicks Medicaid funding problem down the road,” May 21, 2011.) It is your intention to certify the Texas budget as balanced, even if we are budgeting to pay for something we do not have the money to pay for?

3. If you cannot certify the $4.8 billion in Medicaid expenses, will you send the budget back to the House in which it originated to ensure Texas passes a balanced budget?

In 2003, Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn refused to certify the state’s budget because it spent $186.9 million more in the FY 2004-2005 biennium than the state could count as available revenue. Governor Rick Perry, under a special provision inserted by budget writers, was able to use line-item veto authority to cut expenditures in the budget by $186.9 million. Comptroller Strayhorn was then able to certify the budget.

However, the current $4.8 billion shortfall in Medicaid expenses is over twenty-five times the size of the 2003 budget shortfall Comptroller Strayhorn originally did not certify. It is my request that, provided you do not certify the $4.8 billion in Medicaid expenses that remain unaccounted for in any legislation being considered by the Texas Legislature, you do not send the budget to the Governor to balance the budget.

It is our duty, as legislators, to pass a balanced budget. Should you determine that the budget is not balanced, I would request that you send it back to the House in which the budget originated, as prescribed by Article 3, Section 49a(b) of the Texas Constitution.

You can read Rep. Coleman’s full letter to Comptroller Combs here. A statement from the CPPP is here, and a statement from Rep. Mike Villarreal is here. Trailblazers and EoW have more.

From the “I told you so” department

Ladies and gentlemen, our former Comptroller:

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn did not win friends five years ago when she warned Gov. Rick Perry and state lawmakers they were writing the “largest hot check in Texas history” during a tax overhaul that resulted in lower property taxes and a revised business tax.

Strayhorn told them their plan would fall about $23 billion short over a five-year period.

Now, five years later, state leaders are staring at an estimated budget shortfall of nearly $27 billion over the next two years.

The nation’s economic collapse three years ago contributed to some of the state’s revenue troubles, but the biggest problem is that the new business tax did not generate enough money to pay for the school property tax cut, Strayhorn said Friday.

Strayhorn was right, and she deserves her little moment of vindication. But look, it should have been plain to everyone at the time what was going to happen. From the very beginning, property tax cuts of 2006 have been paid for with surplus revenue – the Republican budget of the 2007 biennium went so far as to set aside extra funds for the 2009 biennium because they knew that the business margins tax would continue to underperform its projections even as improvements were made in the collections process and the state economy was humming along. It’s true that we’re coming out of a historically bad economic slump, but when your new tax brings in less revenue than you budgeted for when times are good, any hiccup will cause you even bigger problems. We’ve known this all along. But there is no bigger priority in today’s Republican Party than giving Dan Patrick a tax cut, so nothing has ever been done. Carole Keeton Strayhorn was right, but she wasn’t alone in foreseeing this.

Endorsement watch: Chron for White

The Chron gets an early start on endorsements this year by recommending Bill White for Governor.

[Governor Perry] has shown a distaste for dealing with budget details, fobbing them off on the Legislature and even suggesting in a recent news conference that Comptroller Susan Combs had better uses of her time than issuing deficit projections.

Fortunately, voters have the opportunity to replace Republican Perry with former Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democrat with credentials as a successful lawyer, corporate CEO and public servant who demonstrated his management capabilities and hard-work ethic during a six-year tenure at City Hall.

As he did in Houston, White can bring innovative financial solutions, a passion for environmental protection, and a strong bipartisan and ethical commitment to a governor’s office tarnished by charges of cronyism, partisanship and catering to contributors at the expense of constituents.

“Today our state is being run like a political machine to perpetuate Rick Perry in office,” said White during his screening with the Chronicle editorial board. Gov. Perry has declined to meet with Texas newspaper editorial boards.

“People want a governor who can bring people together to get things done,” White continued. “Leadership is not dividing the state into red teams and blue teams, playing people off against each other. Leadership is not having citizens and journalists have to pry information out of the government when it’s funded by the taxpayers.”

I doubt anyone is remotely surprised by this. The choice is clear, and the Chron lays it all out. Beyond that, given Perry’s refusal to meet with any editorial board – of a piece with his refusal to debate in that the only audiences he cares to address these days are sycophantic ones – it will surprise me if White doesn’t sweep the major newspaper endorsements. One wonders how White might do if he’d faced competition for them; I daresay he’d have won most of them anyway. What kind of effect it may have, I couldn’t say. But I know I’d rather have the endorsements than not. For those who may be wondering, in 2006 the Chron endorsed Grandma Strayhorn for reasons that remain unclear, and in 2002 they endorsed Perry. Given that history, I can understand why they wanted to publish this one as quickly as possible.

How big is the hole, Susan?

You’d think with all of the talk about the budget and the projected shortfall, we’d have heard an opinion from our State Comptroller, Susan Combs, as to just how things look right now. Especially given that Governor Perry has publicly dismissed the $18 billion figure that House Speaker Joe Straus and Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts has cited, you’d think she’d want to weigh in. You’d be wrong about that.

Comptroller Susan Combs, the state’s chief financial officer, has done little to offer a big-picture public assessment of the revenue outlook as the November elections and 2011 legislative session approach. And trying to guess just how large a budget shortfall the state faces has become a popular parlor game at the Capitol.

Seeking clarity, state Sen. Kirk Watson sent Combs a letter last week asking that she update her official estimate of how much money the state will collect during the current two-year budget cycle. He also asked that she offer a forecast of the state’s revenue outlook over the next two years.

“A private business of any size should never fly into a fiscal storm blindly, and neither should Texans or their elected officials,” wrote Watson, D-Austin. “Without a clear picture of the state’s financial condition, we find ourselves in the situation of working on a problem that has not yet been actually defined.”

Watson’s request for Combs to speak up on the budget comes as Gov. Rick Perry, who is campaigning for re-election on an economic climate that encourages job creation, has sought to downplay talk of a coming budget crisis.


Despite the national economic downturn that came to the forefront in the fall of 2008 and began to visibly hit Texas in 2009, Combs has not updated her January 2009 revenue estimate. That estimate said that, during the fiscal year that began in September 2009 and ended last week, state sales tax collections would increase slightly compared with the previous year.

In fact, during the first 11 months of the fiscal year, sales tax collections fell more than $1 billion short of Combs’ projections. The sales tax is the state’s largest revenue source.

Here’s Sen. Watson’s letter. I have to believe that if the Democrats had managed to find a semi-decent candidate to run against Combs this cycle (in other words, someone not named Fred Head), Combs would be under a lot more pressure to get off her tuchus and tell us what’s going on. I will note that eight years ago, which is the last time we were going through this kind of budget crisis, then-Comptroller Carole Keeton then-Rylander spoke publicly about the shortfall. Of course, she later changed her tune about the size of the shortfall, but at least she didn’t have to be prodded to speak about it. Those were the days. BOR has more.

UPDATE: Here’s part of the answer:

Texas’ sales tax collections closed the budget year short $1.5 billion, or 6.6 percent, of the projected total for 2010, according to figures released Thursday by state Comptroller Susan Combs.

To hit Combs’ revenue estimate for the two-year budget, sales tax collections would have to increase 15 percent over the $19.6 billion brought in during 2010.

But if August is any indication, a sharp rebound is not imminent.

Last month’s sales tax collections came in at $1.8 billion, up 0.8 percent compared with the same month a year earlier and the fifth consecutive month of positive yet tepid growth.

“Overall, state sales tax collections appear to have stabilized, but solid growth has not yet resumed,” Combs said.

The state could end the 2010-11 budget a year from now with $3.6 billion less in sales tax revenues than assumed, according to revenue projections Combs recently provided to bond rating agencies.

It ain’t pretty, that’s for sure.

Red light camera opponents turn in their petitions

I was beginning to wonder if the anti-red light camera crowd was ever going to turn in their petition signatures, as it’s starting too get a little late in the game. They made their move on Monday, submitting 30,000 petition signatures (22,000 valid ones are needed) to City Secretary Anna Russell to get their proposition to ban the cameras on the ballot. As with everything else they do, this was not without controversy.

Mayor Annise Parker questioned whether there would be enough time for the city secretary to verify that the signatures are from registered Houston voters before an upcoming Aug. 24 election deadline.

Parker said the city secretary’s office would follow the same procedures used for Renew Houston, a group of engineers seeking voter approval for an $8 billion initiative to prevent flooding and shore up Houston’s infrastructure. Backers of that referendum turned in their signatures July 8, and they were verified July 30.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Parker said, “Citizens Against Red Light Cameras have turned these petitions in very late in the process and the Renew Houston petitions took three weeks to be certified. … If it takes just as long, it will not meet the deadline to be on the ballot this fall.”

Andy Taylor, a lawyer representing Keep Houston Safe, a political action committee formed to advocate for the cameras, also said the proposed referendum is illegal, citing a city ordinance that requires petitions for a vote to repeal a law be turned in within 30 days of when it takes effect.

“Who could possibly be against safety cameras that save children’s lives?” Taylor said. “This petition is too late. This petition is out of time and dead on arrival.”

[Paul] Kubosh noted that signatures for several other referendums put to voters in the past decade have been turned in either in August or September and still made it onto the ballot, including the 2001 charter amendment that authorized light rail and another that outlawed benefits for same-sex partners of city employees.

(Before anyone brings it up, yes, that’s my old friend Andy Taylor. Insert your own joke about politics and strange bedfellows.)

The ordinance that limits petition-driven repeal efforts to 30 days after the passage of the law in question is news to me. Here’s the relevant bit from the city charter:

Section 3. – Referendum.

If prior to the date when an ordinance or resolution shall take effect, or within thirty days after the publication of same, a petition signed and verified, as required in section 2-a hereof, by the qualified voters equal in number to ten per centum of the total vote cast at the Democratic Primary for the nomination of Mayor and Commissioners, next preceding the filing of said petition as hereinbefore provided, shall be filed with the Secretary, protesting against the enactment or enforcement of such ordinance or resolution, it shall be suspended from taking effect and no action theretofore taken under such ordinance or resolution shall be legal and valid. Immediately upon the filing of such petition the Secretary shall do all things required by section 2-b of this Article. Thereupon the Council shall immediately reconsider such ordinance or resolution and, if it do not entirely repeal the same, shall submit it to popular vote at the next municipal election, or the Council may, in its discretion, call a special election for that purpose; and such ordinance or resolution shall not take effect unless a majority of the qualified electors voting thereon at such election shall vote in favor thereof. (Added by amendment October 15, 1913)

I dunno. What that says to me is that if you can get your petitioning act together within 30 days, you can actually get the law in question suspended until everything gets sorted out. It doesn’t say to me that after 30 days you can never change or overturn a city law via the referendum process. (Whether that would be a good thing or not is a separate question.) I’m not a lawyer, but I’d bet money that if this article is used as justification for rejecting Kubosh’s petitions the matter will wind up in court, and I strongly suspect a judge would be sympathetic to Kubosh’s arguments. Seems to me that given how arduous and expensive the petition signature-gathering effort is, a 30-day deadline for action is a mighty high hurdle to clear. Maybe I’m missing something – again, I Am Not A Lawyer – but I don’t see how this is a fatal flaw for Kubosh.

On the other hand, the matter of verifying the signatures in time may be a significant issue. The controlling statute here is Section 3.005, subsection (c) of the Elections Code, which reads “For an election to be held on the date of the general election for state and county officers, the election shall be ordered not later than the 70th day before election day.” That’s August 24 in this case, which makes it the deadline for Anna Russell to say whether or not Team Kubosh has met the threshold. Kubosh’s claims about the light rail and same-sex benefits referenda are irrelevant, because Subsection (c) was added to the code in 2005. Prior to that, the deadline was 62 days before an election, which given that Election Day can be as late as November 8 meant a drop-dead date as late as September 7.

Actually, the effective deadline in this case is even earlier than the 24th. As Jim McGrath of Keep Houston Safe reminded me in an email, Council must authorize the referendum for the ballot, and the last Council meeting before the deadline is August 18. (It’s not on Council’s agenda for today.) That ain’t a lot of time to get the job done.

My take on this, therefore, is that it will come down to whether or not Russell certifies the signatures in time, assuming there are in fact enough valid ones. One presumes, given the Renew Houston example, that she will be examining each signature and not using statistical sampling, which she has the discretion to do but is not required to do. (It’s not clear to me she could do it in the six working days she has before the 18th even if she did use sampling.) I expect Kubosh to wail and gnash his teeth about this, and I won’t be surprised to see it come before a judge as well, but if so I expect he’ll lose just as Carole Keeton Strayhorn did back in 2006. Mary Benton has more.

Finally, you may have noticed at the end of the story a reference to an updated red light camera study that shows collisions have in fact decreased at red light-enabled intersections, which contradicts the initial study, done by the same authors. I will deal with that in a subsequent post.

Rick Perry and the Latino vote, part 3

Having looked at the 2002 election last week, I turn my attention now to 2006. This presents a number of challenges, thanks to the bizarre four-way contest that was the Governor’s race. In all my previous work on the 2006 elections, I’ve generally skipped over the Governor’s race because the numbers are so different from all the other races. Today it can’t be helped.

Let’s start with the basics. Here’s how the four candidates did in the 29 State Rep Districts (SRDs) in which the Spanish surname voter registration (SSRV) percentage was at least 50. Note that these are not the exact same SRDs as in 2002. SRD78 was a smidge over 50% in SSRV in 2002, but not in 2006, while SRD140 did not meet the threshhold in 2002 but did do so in 2006. All other SRDs are the same.

HD Perry Bell Kinky Strayhorn ======================================= 31 3,094 8,896 717 1,567 33 9,595 8,996 3,831 5,212 34 9,781 9,354 3,458 4,664 35 9,867 10,337 4,156 6,615 36 3,845 5,766 533 1,812 37 4,054 5,503 828 3,179 38 6,298 6,191 1,009 4,240 39 3,505 5,112 503 2,096 40 2,309 4,545 483 1,747 41 6,370 4,981 1,125 2,748 42 3,741 7,308 1,019 2,699 43 7,176 6,236 1,561 3,721 74 9,812 8,194 3,436 5,269 75 5,223 5,996 1,527 3,278 76 3,502 7,769 1,209 2,953 77 3,840 6,572 1,555 2,741 79 5,534 5,361 1,625 3,577 80 7,595 8,168 2,713 5,030 104 2,347 6,142 1,088 1,409 116 5,178 7,828 2,615 4,044 117 7,357 7,366 2,848 4,932 118 6,561 8,160 2,974 5,482 119 5,318 7,931 2,679 4,836 123 8,114 5,436 3,164 3,983 124 6,257 7,834 2,493 5,165 125 7,498 8,894 3,244 5,584 140 2,168 4,055 871 956 143 2,284 4,273 1,097 1,020 145 2,649 4,904 1,308 1,243 160,872 198,108 55,669 101,802 HD Perry% Bell% Kinky% CKS% ====================================== 31 21.68% 62.32% 5.02% 10.98% 33 34.72% 32.55% 13.86% 18.86% 34 35.88% 34.32% 12.69% 17.11% 35 31.85% 33.37% 13.42% 21.36% 36 32.16% 48.23% 4.46% 15.16% 37 29.89% 40.57% 6.10% 23.44% 38 35.51% 34.90% 5.69% 23.90% 39 31.25% 45.58% 4.48% 18.69% 40 25.42% 50.03% 5.32% 19.23% 41 41.84% 32.72% 7.39% 18.05% 42 25.33% 49.49% 6.90% 18.28% 43 38.39% 33.36% 8.35% 19.90% 74 36.73% 30.68% 12.86% 19.73% 75 32.59% 37.42% 9.53% 20.46% 76 22.69% 50.34% 7.83% 19.13% 77 26.11% 44.68% 10.57% 18.64% 79 34.38% 33.30% 10.10% 22.22% 80 32.31% 34.75% 11.54% 21.40% 104 21.36% 55.91% 9.90% 12.83% 116 26.33% 39.81% 13.30% 20.56% 117 32.69% 32.73% 12.66% 21.92% 118 28.31% 35.21% 12.83% 23.65% 119 25.61% 38.20% 12.90% 23.29% 123 39.20% 26.26% 15.29% 19.24% 124 28.77% 36.02% 11.46% 23.75% 125 29.73% 35.27% 12.86% 22.14% 140 26.93% 50.37% 10.82% 11.88% 143 26.33% 49.26% 12.65% 11.76% 145 26.22% 48.54% 12.95% 12.30% 31.15% 38.36% 10.78% 19.71%

Perry’s percentage drops a bit from 2002, while Bell’s percentage is dramatically lower than Sanchez’s. I’ll get into the details of that in a minute, but if you look carefully, you’ll see that there were two SRDs in which Perry received more votes in 2006 than in 2002, even though his overall total in these districts declined from 232,177 to 160,872. Those districts were SRDs 31 and 42, both of which include Sanchez’s home base of Webb County and which were easily his best-performing SRDs. They’re also the SRDs with the highest (SRD 31, 91.2%) and third-highest (SRD 42, 85.9%) SSRV. In the district with the second-highest SSRV (SRD40, 88%), Perry’s 2006 vote total was 81.6% of what it was in 2002, but given that his overall vote total was only 69.2% of what it was in 2002, that’s not bad at all.

As with 2002, I then compared Perry’s performance with four other Republican candidates. As before, I used the Senate and Lt. Gov. races, but this time I looked at the Agriculture Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner races for the other two, as the downballot races were where Democrats did the best. Here’s how that looked:

Race Candidate Votes Pct Ratio ================================================ Senate Hutchison 2,661,789 63.12 0.62 Lt. Governor Dewhurst 2,513,530 60.85 0.65 Ag Commish Staples 2,307,406 56.72 0.69 RR Commish Ames Jones 2,269,743 56.42 0.70 Governor Perry 1,716,792 39.37 1.00 Race Candidate Votes Pct Ratio State ======================================================= Senate Hutchison 243,158 49.20 0.63 0.62 Lt. Governor Dewhurst 211.977 43.28 0.72 0.65 Ag Commish Staples 187,330 39.39 0.79 0.69 RR Commish Ames Jones 188,359 40.68 0.77 0.70 Governor Perry 160,872 31.15 1.00 1.00

Unlike 2002, Perry performed better relative to other Republicans across the board in 2006. Since it would not necessarily be the case that Bell’s relative performance would be the inverse of Perry’s, I checked that as well:

Race Candidate Votes Pct Ratio ================================================ Senate Radnofsky 1,555,202 36.88 0.81 Lt. Governor Alvarado 1,617,490 39.15 0.77 Ag Commish Gilbert 1,760,402 43.28 0.69 RR Commish Henry 1,752,947 43.58 0.69 Governor Bell 1,310,337 29.97 1.00 Race Candidate Votes Pct Ratio State ======================================================= Senate Radnofsky 251,022 50.80 0.76 0.81 Lt. Governor Alvarado 277,788 56.72 0.72 0.77 Ag Commish Gilbert 288,303 60.61 0.63 0.69 RR Commish Henry 274,721 59.32 0.65 0.69 Governor Bell 198,108 38.36 1.00 1.00

Indeed, Bell did do worse relative to other Democrats. This suggests to me that he was hurt more by the presence of Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Rylander in these districts than Perry was. My guess is that the reverse may be true in red areas, but that’s a post for another time.

Finally, we have to consider turnout here, and the effect that the overall lesser turnout may have had on each side. I took the four non-Governor’s races from each year and compared the totals in each of the common SRDs:

HD R Tot D Tot R Avg D Avg 2002 R% 2002 D% 31 9,680 61,788 2,420 15,447 13.54% 86.46% 33 50,184 62,661 12,546 15,665 44.47% 55.53% 34 54,074 57,600 13,519 14,400 48.42% 51.58% 35 59,829 67,349 14,957 16,837 47.04% 52.96% 36 17,447 51,982 4,362 12,996 25.13% 74.87% 37 17,562 39,030 4,391 9,758 31.03% 68.97% 38 27,565 44,873 6,891 11,218 38.05% 61.95% 39 19,088 44,219 4,772 11,055 30.15% 69.85% 40 10,571 42,410 2,643 10,603 19.95% 80.05% 41 35,185 39,008 8,796 9,752 47.42% 52.58% 42 22,601 90,335 5,650 22,584 20.01% 79.99% 43 36,529 57,211 9,132 14,303 38.97% 61.03% 74 53,337 60,369 13,334 15,092 46.91% 53.09% 75 22,776 43,592 5,694 10,898 34.32% 65.68% 76 15,391 61,788 3,848 15,447 19.94% 80.06% 77 18,797 47,873 4,699 11,968 28.19% 71.81% 79 27,140 40,596 6,785 10,149 40.07% 59.93% 80 42,063 58,150 10,516 14,538 41.97% 58.03% 104 15,605 37,932 3,901 9,483 29.15% 70.85% 116 36,438 48,683 9,110 12,171 42.81% 57.19% 117 39,691 40,307 9,923 10,077 49.61% 50.39% 118 39,867 45,324 9,967 11,331 46.80% 53.20% 119 35,600 49,944 8,900 12,486 41.62% 58.38% 123 39,940 51,019 9,985 12,755 43.91% 56.09% 124 37,774 47,238 9,444 11,810 44.43% 55.57% 125 48,220 53,471 12,055 13,368 47.42% 52.58% 143 15,890 33,709 3,973 8,427 32.04% 67.96% 145 19,341 34,858 4,835 8,715 35.69% 64.31% 868,185 1,413,319 217,046 353,330 38.05% 61.95% HD R Tot D Tot R Avg D Avg 2006 R% 2006 D% 31 9,408 43,773 2,352 10,943 17.69% 82.31% 32 50,671 51,515 12,668 12,879 49.59% 50.41% 34 52,947 49,150 13,237 12,288 51.86% 48.14% 35 60,151 55,072 15,038 13,768 52.20% 47.80% 36 15,498 29,340 3,875 7,335 34.56% 65.44% 37 17,958 31,196 4,490 7,799 36.53% 63.47% 38 27,804 36,470 6,951 9,118 43.26% 56.74% 39 15,390 26,989 3,848 6,747 36.32% 63.68% 40 10,023 24,290 2,506 6,073 29.21% 70.79% 41 30,067 27,416 7,517 6,854 52.31% 47.69% 42 16,658 38,631 4,165 9,658 30.13% 69.87% 43 33,073 35,885 8,268 8,971 47.96% 52.04% 74 51,648 45,024 12,912 11,256 53.43% 46.57% 75 24,952 35,500 6,238 8,875 41.28% 58.72% 76 15,442 42,765 3,861 10,691 26.53% 73.47% 77 17,947 36,841 4,487 9,210 32.76% 67.24% 79 26,924 33,351 6,731 8,338 44.67% 55.33% 80 42,838 43,873 10,710 10,968 49.40% 50.60% 104 12,019 29,325 3,005 7,331 29.07% 70.93% 116 30,992 42,673 7,748 10,668 42.07% 57.93% 117 43,302 40,557 10,826 10,139 51.64% 48.36% 118 41,429 44,839 10,357 11,210 48.02% 51.98% 119 32,761 44,731 8,190 11,183 42.28% 57.72% 123 32,767 44,169 8,192 11,042 42.59% 57.41% 124 37,005 44,844 9,251 11,211 45.21% 54.79% 125 44,754 49,759 11,189 12,440 47.35% 52.65% 143 11,597 20,667 2,899 5,167 35.94% 64.06% 145 13,781 23,991 3,445 5,998 36.48% 63.52% 819,806 1,072,636 204,952 268,159 43.32% 56.68%

The third and fourth columns are the average vote totals in the four examined races for each SRD. Republicans did better overall in 2006 than in 2002. What’s clear is that the decrease in turnout from 2002 to 2006, which we have discussed before, affected Democrats more than it affected Republicans. The Democrats’ task in these areas isn’t as much persuasion as it is base turnout. If these folks come out to the ballot box, they’ll vote Democratic in large numbers. It’s just that they may or may not show up. The job for Bill White and every other Democrat on the ticket is to give them a reason to participate.

It’s also important to note that while Perry held onto a larger share of the vote in these SRDs than Bell did, it’s still the case that his support declined. Again, we can’t say for certain what proportion of the vote in these SRDs is Latino Perry voters, but it’s clear he didn’t get 35% in 2006, and if he didn’t do that in these SRDs, he didn’t do it overall, either. He has his work cut out for him just to match the 37% he rung up in 2002.

I have one more post for this series. I hope you’ve found it useful. Let me know if you have any questions.

Hector Uribe files for Land Commish

We have one more contested statewide primary on the Democratic side as former State Sen. Hector Uribe has filed for Land Commissioner. (Bill Burton of Athens is already in.) Here’s Uribe’s press release:

Former state Senator Hector Uribe filed to be a Democratic candidate for Texas Land Commissioner today. Uribe returns to state politics after a 14 year hiatus, when he was the Democratic nominee for Texas Railroad Commissioner.

“The current Republican leadership is short-sighted. Texans want our state leaders to help address the real threats to our environment, but many of our current state leaders continue to minimize the importance of having clean water to drink and clean air to breathe,” Uribe said.

“National and international environmental policies on global warming have serious impacts on long-term state education funding. The Republican leadership should be concerned about any negative impact on education funding. Instead, they deny the existence of global warming, deny the science that CO2 emissions contribute to global warming, and instead they fan the fires of secession. That’s not responsible leadership, that’s failed leadership. They claim that pro-environment policies will negatively impact our economy and education funding. That’s not an answer, that’s a cop out,” he added.

“We don’t have to choose between a clean environment, and maximizing the return on state lands to fund our neighborhood schools. We can do both, and as Land Commissioner, I intend to do both,” Uribe said. “Our campaign will focus on how best to serve both objectives.”

Uribe served as a Texas state Senator from Brownsville from 1981 until 1990, and represented the counties of Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo and Jim Wells. Prior to serving in the Senate Uribe served in the Texas House of representatives for about three years.

As a state Senator he wrote the Texas Enterprise Zone Act, designed to create new businesses and jobs in economically distressed areas. He also wrote the Protective Services for the Elderly Act to guard against elder neglect and abuse as well as legislation establishing the University of Texas at Pan American in Edinburg and Brownsville.

During his final session in the Texas Senate he served as Chair of the Natural Resources Standing Subcommittee on Water that wrote the first colonias legislation and created a bond package to assure clean water and sewer facilities for colonia residents. As a member of the Natural Resources Committee he voted to create a super fund to clean up contamination left by leaking underground gasoline storage tanks. As Vice-Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, he authored legislation to regulate and require indoor air quality in public buildings and to regulate asbestos removers.

The release also contained a bio of Uribe, which you can see in this Google doc. It all sounds pretty good, and I look forward to hearing more about him, but Texas was quite a different place when he last ran for office, in 1996 for Railroad Commissioner against Carole Keeton then-Rylander, who defeated him by a 58-39 margin for her first full term in office; she had ousted Mary Scott Nabers, who was appointed in 1993 as a replacement for Bob Krueger when he was tapped as Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s successor, in 1994. I hope that after all this time he has a good feel for what the lay of the land is like now, and that he has the ability to raise the funds he’ll need to run a competitive race. PDiddie, BOR, Trail Blazers, and The Trib, which notes that Uribe is also a movie actor, have more. I’ll have a full roundup of filings later once all the info is available.

Strayhorn still talking about running

I almost don’t know what to say.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who was twice elected comptroller as a Republican and then ran a losing gubernatorial campaign as an independent, called Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie on Tuesday to discuss seeking the party’s nomination for comptroller.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray confirmed the conversation, which Strayhorn initiated. We don’t know much about what was said.

When I asked Gray whether the party would welcome Strayhorn as a candidate, she replied, “We will rely on our voters to consider each candidate’s record and decide if they have the Democratic credentials they want in a nominee. Our role is to run a fair primary.”

I can’t say I’m thrilled about this, but it’s starting to look like beggars and choosers time. We know we’re not getting Mike Villarreal. We know that the longer we go without hearing anything from a prospective candidate, the less likely it is we’ll hear from that person again (Ronnie Earle excepted), and I haven’t heard anything from Nick Lampson lately. So it may be Carole or nothing, and as long as we get Carole the sharp and effective critic of Rick Perry – you know, the 2003 model – and not Carole the inept and messageless candidate – you know, the 2006 model – she’s better than nothing. Hell, if she can put together a decent statement about how she’s returning to her roots after the Republican Party abandoned her, she could even be an asset. Yeah, I know, I know, but work with me here. At least she seems genuinely interested in running – all that self-promotional instinct has to go somewhere – and that does count for something.

Carole the chameleon and Kinky the commissioner

This would be a little too weird.

[Bill] White, expected to say Friday that he’s shifting his political sights from the U.S. Senate to the Democratic nod for governor, confirmed Thursday that [former Comptroller Carole Keeton] Strayhorn has tried to reach him.

Asked if he’d welcome Strayhorn to the Democratic ticket as, say, a candidate for her former office of state comptroller, White weaved. (The only Democratic figure otherwise believed to be eyeing the state comptroller slot: former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson.)

“I’m not a political commentator,” White said. “I return telephone calls from people but I really don’t get into the business of giving people political advice.”

Strayhorn, who lost a run for mayor of Austin last year, hasn’t yet returned my calls on if she’s eyeing a statewide run, though two people close to her—her son, Bradley McClellan, and her long-time adviser, Mark Sanders—each said he hadn’t heard she was looking at another campaign.

There was a time when I would have welcomed a return by Strayhorn to her political roots in the Democratic Party and a run for statewide office under its banner. That was in the 2003-2005 time period, when she was probably the single most effective critic of Governor Rick Perry, thanks to her high profile and non-shyness in seeking attention. Since then, we’ve seen her disastrous, amateurish run for Governor as an independent, followed by a third-place finish in this year’s Austin mayoral election, and my reaction to this is “oh, good Lord, would you please retire already?” Carole, if you feel you must be involved somehow, by all means please feel free to host a fundraiser or two for White. Maybe you could write some op-eds bashing Perry for old time’s sake as well. But let’s leave it at that, OK? Thanks.

And as long as we’re discussing one of the 2006 gubernatorial alumni, Ross Ramsey speculates about Kinky Friedman.

Take a look at this teaser from gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, issued after Hank Gilbert exited the governor’s race, set his heart on being agriculture commissioner, and endorsed Farouk Shami:

“I think that all of these things are good for the party and good for the ticket. We all want new leadership in Austin and I think each candidate should be evaluating how best to achieve that. Everyone on the ticket or thinking of joining the ticket should be thinking about what will be best for Democrats in November. We will take the weekend to visit with all of the candidates, my advisors, and many of my supporters and have an announcement about how I believe I can best support our party on Monday.”

Don’t be surprised if he moves to another race. And don’t forget that one of the people in this particular smoke-filled room is former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, who knows a little something about one of the agencies on the ballot.


A bit of ballet lies ahead if Friedman wants to run for agriculture commissioner. Gilbert endorsed Shami and Shami “accepted” his endorsment and said nice things about him. But he didn’t endorse Gilbert for ag commissioner. Shami is a longtime business associate of John McCall, who was Friedman’s financial angel in the 2006 race for governor. McCall hasn’t been nearly as generous this time around — you have to wonder if that has anything to do with having two friends in the same race — and might be more comfortable if Friedman ran for, say, ag commissioner. As long as there’s no deal to break between Shami and Gilbert, that could work.

Friedman will make his announcement after the weekend.

Shami, of course, is also a friend and associate of Friedman’s. BOR thinks he might wind up running for Land Commissioner instead. I have to say, Kinky versus Jerry Patterson would provide the most colorful set of characters that office has ever seen. Beyond that, I can’t say I really care what Kinky does.

The state of the Governor’s race

So we know that Tom Schieffer is in. So are Mark Thompson and Felix Alvarado. Ronnie Earle may or may not be in. Hank Gilbert now says that he’s in. Kinky (sigh) is fixing to be in. Some people think that one or the other of Bill White and John Sharp ought to be in. Here’s what I think.

I think we’ll have a pretty good idea soon if the fundraising will exists to make one of these people a serious challenger for the Governor’s mansion. I was on a conference call with Gilbert and a number of my blogging colleagues yesterday morning, and one of the things he said was that he’s set a goal of raising $100K online between now and his official launch on September 21. I don’t know if he can do this, but I do agree that if he does, he’ll establish himself as a viable contender, and that it will make it easier for him to attract support from the conventional donors. (Though it must be noted that this doesn’t necessarily follow. Just ask Rick Noriega about that.) Schieffer’s recent announcement about receiving endorsements from House Democratic leaders may be an indication that the establishment has decided to coalesce around him; if so, expect him to post better fundraising numbers for the third and fourth quarters. And despite adamant denials about changing races from White and Sharp, I believe that one of them, most likely the one who has had the least success in raising money for the Senate race, could be cajoled into switching if a promise of an open money spigot came with it.

Basically, my thesis is that the Democratic donor class has finally started to wake up to the realization that there’s an excellent chance Rick Perry will be on the ballot for another term in November, and that unless they get in the game, there’s an even better chance he’ll get it. Six months ago, they could have rationalized that Kay Bailey Hutchison was inevitable, but as she has morphed into Strayhorn 2.0, such thinking is increasingly wishful. Barring any Tuesday morning surprises, the options are to actually support the Democratic ticket (I know, what a radical concept) or brace yourself for four more years. And if you’re going to choose the former, you may as well get started now and have a say in who will be at the top of that ticket. Oh, and if you’re going to do that, you may as well go ahead and fill out the rest of the ticket as well, lest all the resources Democrats put in to retaking the State House get wiped out by an all-Republican (or four-fifths Republican if there’s a Democratic Speaker) Legislative Redisctricting Board. Why make 2012 a repeat of 2002 if you don’t have to?

So keep an eye on the fundraising, and see if any more Democratic elected officials start giving endorsements. If there’s a frontrunner for the nomination, we’ll know it soon enough. Hopefully, along with all that will come candidates for the remaining offices, with each of them having decent fundraising potential. Honestly, it’s not too much to ask, is it?

Is KBH the new CKS?

The fact that Jason Embry is asking the question whether Kay Bailey Hutchison is the new Carole Keeton Strayhorn, which as he notes was brought up by Burkablog commenters, says a lot about the state of the Hutchison campaign so far. Having said that, I must admit that Embry’s review of the facts shows that as bad as Team KBH has been, Team Strayhorn was much worse. It’s hard to imagine them doing anything as cringe-worthy as the Put“Grandma”ontheballot debacle, for instance, if only because that was in a league by itself. Still, it’s worth keeping the comparison in mind. We’ll check it again later, just in case.

On the other hand, The Contrarian has an eponymous perspective:

Campaigns usually have ebbs and flows. While Hutchison seems well behind at the moment, as soon as she gets her act together for a few days, political reporters will be itching to write the Kay Comeback story. Not because they’re biased. It’s just how these things work. Everyone loves a comeback story.

I’m not suggesting the comeback will be a media creation. Hutchison remains plenty dangerous to Perry.

Here are three big reasons she can turn it around: One, it’s August and few voters are paying attention to her foibles. Two, she has a veteran campaign staff and a ton of money — people will hear what she has to say. And three, Perry is vulnerable from both the right (property rights, business tax) and the left (education, health insurance, home insurance).

Come winter time, I bet this will be a tight race.

I agree that there’s a “KBH’s Comeback” in the works, and that it will be more than a media creation. Honestly, just cutting down on the unforced errors would go a long way. But I’m still not impressed with her campaign staff – when they show me something, I’ll revisit that – and while I agree that Perry is vulnerable in many ways, his vulnerabilities on the left are a November problem, not a March problem, and whatever problems he’s had with the conservative wing appears to be patched up – he and Dan Patrick are BFFs nowadays. I don’t see KBH outflanking him on the right, though she may try. The problem there is that she’ll be like so many hapless Democrats in 2002, trying to win their elections by portraying themselves as Bush buddies; given a choice between the real thing and an imitation, the voters went with the real thing. I do think she can and will close the gap, but I think that starts with a coherent narrative about how and why she’ll do a better job achieving the goals the Republican voters want. When she figures that out, she can change the dynamic of this race.

Perry’s haul

Rick Perry does what Rick Perry does best.

Gov. Rick Perry has raised $4.2 million in the final nine days of June, giving him $9.3 million to begin his expected GOP primary campaign against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Hutchison transferred money from her U.S. Senate account at the end of last year, giving her $8 million to start the campaign.

Perry was prohibited by state law from raising money during the regular legislative session and through the period when he can sign and veto bills. Hutchison had no such restrictions.

Hutchison’s campaign was giving no hint of how much she raised. Detailed reports on fund-raising for the first half of this year are not due until next Wednesday.

“Kay Bailey Hutchison is proud of her strong statewide support, which is both broad and deep,” Hutchison spokesman Hans Klingler said in a statement.

It’s a good total for Perry, and Hutchison’s weak response suggests that maybe she didn’t do so well, or at least that she didn’t measure up to the perceived expectations. Either way, it’s another news cycle win for Perry, who has been on a roll with that lately.

But please. He did not raise this money in nine days. He raised it over six months’ time. It was only in the last nine days that he was able to actually collect the checks that his supporters had been sitting on since January, waiting for the fundraising window to open again. I’ll stipulate that if he’d been able to work the phones and hold events his total would likely have been higher; we’ll have a better idea of how much higher when we see the fundraising reports for this six-month period. The same will be true of anyone else that was subjected to the legislative blackout period. So let’s not overstate what happened here.

Perry’s campaign refused to release a list of his donors on Wednesday.

He financed his 1998 race for lieutenant governor in part with a $1.1 million loan guaranteed by three donors. And in 2006, a $1 million donation by Houston businessman Bob Perry, no relation, to the Republican Governor’s Association coincided with a $1 million donation from the RGA to Perry’s campaign.

Again, we’ll have a better handle on this six months from now. If Perry’s funding comes entirely or in large part from the usual set of plutocrats, he may have a hard time keeping up.

With half a year of fund-raising left to go, Perry and Hutchison could enter the primary with each having $20 million budgets.

It used to be the accepted wisdom, at least in Democratic circles, that primaries were bad and destructive and wastes of money. That was before last year, when the many positive effects were demonstrated, including energizing and engaging newer voters, broadening the donor base, generating name recognition for the eventual winner, and doing tons of voter contact that came in handy in November. This, however, is the kind of primary that those naysayers had worried about. It’s not going to be an energizing campaign, it’s going to be an exercise in trench warfare and increasing the other candidate’s yuck factor. Which isn’t to say it can’t be overcome – November is a long way from March, Democrats overcame a lot of hostility from their primary last year, and Republicans did very well in numerous races in 2002 and 2004 in other states after nasty primary fights – but you can see the cause for concern. The cause for concern on the Democratic side is looking at those dollar amounts and thinking there’s no way to compete with them. That’s the sort of thing that led to the Strayhorn folly of 2006, and may lead to crossover primary voting for Hutchison next year; there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of Dems being willing to do that just to make sure we don’t get four more years of Rick Perry. Until the Democratic field is settled and we get a better idea of how those fundraising efforts are going, it’s all guesswork.

Finally, in related news, there’s another poll showing Perry with a lead over KBH in the Republican primary. I don’t really have anything to say about this, but Burka, BOR, and The Contrarian do, so go check them out.

Keep your eye on the ball, Tom

I have three things to say about this:

So how does a former ambassador gird for a possible battle with the ever-black-hatted, cigar-chomping Kinky Friedman for the Democratic nod for governor?

Campaign honchos who faced the finger-in-the-eye-of-the political-establishment candidate in 2006 don’t mind dishing up some advice for Tom Schieffer.

“He’s going to have to take Kinky very seriously,” offered Robert Black, who worked for Republican Gov. Rick Perry. “Kinky has substantially better name ID than Mr. Schieffer does right now.”

Mark Sanders, who worked for Carole Keeton Strayhorn: “Best thing to do with Kinky is to ignore him.”

Jason Stanford, who worked for Democrat Chris Bell: “Catalog all the crazy things he’s ever said as a politician and just deal with that. Ignore the sideshow.”

Stanford quipped that the challenge for Schieffer — who was ambassador under George W. Bush — will be his similarities to the quirky musician and humorist: “We’ve got two white guys collecting Social Security who say they like George W. Bush. Now, does Tom Schieffer sell that he’s not funny? That he only wears a hat when it’s socially appropriate?” (Friedman is 64; Schieffer’s 61).

Clay Robison, Schieffer’s communications director, was the Austin bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News the last time Friedman ran. Now in the midst of the fray, Robison swung back: “Tom Schieffer will win the governor’s race on his strong leadership ability and on issues important to Texans, not on a stream of one-liners. Tom Schieffer wants to lead, not entertain.”

But don’t forget the main bit of advice from Kinky’s 2006 spokeswoman, Laura Stromberg: “Keep your sense of humor.”

1. I guess this means Peggy Fikac will be taking over the Monday-morning-political-column duties. Welcome aboard, Peggy.

2. The advice proffered by Messrs. Black and Sanders should stand as the main reason why Democrats should not take political advice from Republicans.

3. My advice, for what it’s worth, is simply this: The task at hand is to win a Democratic primary. The mission should be to demonstrate to Democratic voters why Tom Schieffer is the best option to be the Democratic nominee. The rest will take care of itself. Frankly, my advice to Kinky Friedman would be the same. Whoever does the best job of that – assuming nobody else who can do an even better job of it comes along – will win in March. The winner can worry about what to do after that then.