Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Henry Bonilla

CD23 update

The Rivard Report takes a look at the state of play in CD23 following Rep. Will Hurd’s surprise retirement.

Gina Ortiz Jones

In the wake of Hurd’s announcement, former U.S. Navy officer Tony Gonzales, a Republican, has entered the race. Gonzales was not 24 hours into his campaign for the 35th Congressional District, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), when he got the news Hurd would be leaving office. That’s when a flurry of phone calls and texts came in urging him to declare his candidacy for the 23rd district.

“No one saw Congressman Hurd retiring,” Gonzales said. “It was kind of a shock to a lot of folks.”

Unlike statehouse seats and other elected positions that require candidates to establish residency within the district one seeks to represent, running for the U.S. Congress only requires residency in the state in which one is running for office.

Gonzales has joined a field in the Republican primary that includes retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Raul Reyes Jr., who owns a home construction business in Del Rio, and Uvalde dentist Alma Arredondo-Lynch, who challenged Hurd in the 2018 primary. That list could potentially grow in light of Hurd’s exit from the race.

Reyes has a five-month head start on Gonzales and has raised more than $15,000 in campaign contributions. He had more than $9,000 cash on hand as of the last quarterly report to the Federal Elections Commission. Arredondo-Lynch did not report any campaign contributions last quarter.

But Gonzales has garnered significant endorsements in his incipient campaign. On the day the Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran announced his run, he picked up the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, who represented the 23rd district for 14 years. Days later, another former Republican representative of the 23rd district, Quico Canseco, endorsed Gonzales’ bid.

[…]

Altogether, the news of Hurd’s impending exit was both a surprise and not a surprise, [Gina Ortiz] Jones said.

“We came within 926 votes of taking out the most formidable Republican, raised $6 million to do it,” she said. “We’re going to work just as hard. So I think he saw the writing on the wall.”

But the decision to run again was not taken lightly, Jones said. The U.S. Air Force veteran who served as an intelligence officer during her service was so close in the last election that she held off conceding for two weeks until all outstanding ballots were counted. The John Jay High School alumna even attended orientation for freshmen members of Congress.

“You don’t go through that and say, ‘Let’s do that all over again,’” she said. “You assess and say, ‘What did I learn?’ For me, it’s always been about how best can I serve. When I made the decision, it was always based on the fact that my community’s needs were still not being met.”

In the Democratic primary, Jones will face former broadcast journalist Liz Wahl and activist and surgical practice administrator Rosey Abuabara.

Abuabara, 54, a Latina who was born and raised in West San Antonio, said she believes she can better represent a district that is 70 percent Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

“I wanted to come up and represent because we are the largest population,” she said. “I feel like I could do more.”

Just a guess here, but Tony Gonzales sure sounds like the establishment candidate for CD23. The amount that Raul Reyes has raised so far is not at all an obstacle, and you can be sure there will be big Republican money coming in. I’ll be a little surprised if an Anglo candidate doesn’t get in on the Republican side, because why wouldn’t an Anglo candidate get into that primary? History suggests any such candidate will have a shot.

Gina Ortiz Jones is for sure the establishment candidate on the Dem side, having done everything but eke out the win in 2018. It remains to be seen how much of a challenge Rosey Abuabara will present to her (no, I’m not taking Liz Wahl seriously). She got in too late to have a Q2 finance report, so we don’t know yet what her fundraising chops are. The high turnout in the primary will likely help Abuabara, but Ortiz Jones got 102,359 votes in 2018, so the voters should know who she is. Ortiz Jones should prevail – ask me again how confident I feel about that after the Q3 numbers are in – but don’t take this for granted.

UPDATE: As I said, I’m not taking Liz Wahl’s candidacy seriously, but here’s a story about her, if you’re interested.

Neugebauer to step down in CD19

At least one Congressional seat will have a new person sitting in it next year.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, announced Thursday that he would not seek re-election in 2016.

Neugebauer, who has represented his West Texas district in Congress since 2003, plans to finish his current term.

“To say that this has been an honor would be an understatement,” Neugebauer said in a statement. “Representing the citizens of the Big Country and West Texas has been one of the most rewarding times in my life.”

[…]

Buzz had been mounting in recent months that Neugebauer was planning to retire. Texas’ Congressional District 19 is expected to stay in Republican hands, and the primary will all but determine who will follow Neugebauer in Congress.

Immediate speculation for possible successors centered on state Sen. Charles Perry and state Rep. Dustin Burrows — both Lubbock Republicans — as well as Lubbock attorney Allen Adkins. Other names include Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson; Tom Sell, the managing partner of Combest, Sell and Associates; and former Texas Tech Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington.

Perry does not plan to run for the seat, according to Jordan Berry, his political consultant.

Asked about his interest in the seat, Burrows issued a statement that did not rule out a run.

“Today is Congressman Neugebauer’s day to enjoy the knowledge that he’ll no longer need to commute to Washington, D.C., and to revel in a career protecting West Texas from an overreaching federal government,” Burrows said. “On behalf of West Texans and the Burrows family, we thank him for his service to our nation.”

[…]

Tea Party groups have struggled to oust federal incumbents in Texas, and organizations like the Madison Project say they see an opportunity in open-seat races like this one now is, setting up a potential clash between the Tea Party and an establishment candidate.

“I think the Washington establishment is always going to get want who they think they can get, and the local establishment is going to want who they want, and it will not always gel with the Washington establishment,” Berry said.

“The conservative base may want something completely different,” he added. “This could go several different ways.”

This primary will also take place on March 1, when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative favorite, is poised to be on the ballot in the presidential race. Neugebauer’s son Toby has emerged as one of the top donors to Cruz’s presidential effort, giving $10 million to a super PAC supporting the senator. Toby Neugebauer, co-founder of the Houston private-equity firm Quantum Energy Partners, was recently replaced by evangelical leader David Barton as the head of a cluster of pro-Cruz groups.

Yeah, I think we see how this is likely to go. Neugebauer wasn’t exactly the brightest light out there, but it seems fair to say that our Congressional delegation is about to get dimmer. And louder.

This may have the effect of creating another vacancy in the House – it would appear unlikely to create on in the Senate as well, as Sen. Perry would have to give up his seat to try for CD19, and it looks like he’s not interested in that – but the vacancy it’s creating in Congress is a relative rarity in Texas. Here’s a list of the members of Congress as of January, 2005, and the same list as of January, 2015:

Dist 2005 2015 ============================ 01 Gohmert Gohmert 02 Poe Poe 03 Johnson Johnson 04 Hall Ratcliffe 05 Hensarling Hensarling 06 Barton Barton 07 Culberson Culberson 08 Brady Brady 09 Green Green 10 McCall McCall 11 Conaway Conaway 12 Granger Granger 13 Thornberry Thornberry 14 Paul Weber 15 Hinojosa Hinojosa 16 Reyes O'Rourke 17 Edwards Flores 18 Jackson Lee Jackson Lee 19 Neugebauer Neugebauer 20 Gonzalez Castro 21 Smith Smith 22 DeLay Olson 23 Bonilla Hurd 24 Marchant Marchant 25 Doggett Williams 26 Burgess Burgess 27 Ortiz Farenthold 28 Cuellar Cuellar 29 Green Green 30 Johnson Johnson 31 Carter Carter 32 Sessions Sessions

Of the 32 seats that existed in 2005, 23 have the same incumbent now, with one of those incumbents from 2005 (Rep. Lloyd Doggett) moving to a different district thanks to redistricting. Of the eight who are no longer in Congress, only Ron Paul, who stepped down in 2012 to run for President, and Charlie Gonzalez, who retired in 2012, left on their own terms. Tom DeLay resigned in 2006 under the cloud of indictment. Ralph Hall (2014) and Silvestre Reyes (2012) lost in primaries, while Henry Bonilla (2006), Chet Edwards (2010), and Solomon Ortiz (2010) lost in general elections. We’ve seen a lot of turnover in recent years in the State House, but the US House in Texas is a different story. Trail Blazers and Juanita have more.

More leftover campaign cash

The Chron writes about a subject I’ve covered before.

BagOfMoney

Former Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs of Houston used leftover campaign funds to buy a life membership in the National Rifle Association. Former Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas paid a $6,000 Federal Election Commission fine. Former Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land hired a media consultant. And former Rep. Henry Bonilla of San Antonio, a Republican lawmaker-turned-lobbyist, showered 35 candidates – including two prominent Democrats – with campaign donations.

Over the past two decades, retired members of the Texas congressional delegation have spent more than a million dollars they had raised for their House and Senate campaigns on expenses incurred after they left office, a Houston Chronicle review of Federal Election Commission records has found. For some of the ex-lawmakers, the expenses continued for years after they last held office in Washington.

The post-congressional spending ranged from small thank-you trinkets for supporters to large expenditures on mailing lists, computer equipment, political consultant fees and donations to other politicians that have allowed some ex-lawmakers to maintain perpetual political operations. Two former lawmakers made payments to family members.

All of the retirement spending was made possible by donors who contributed to the Texas lawmakers’ campaigns while they were holding office. A review of FEC reports indicates that none of the former legislators refunded any funds to their former donors after leaving office.

The existence of these accounts – used by 71 percent of Texas lawmakers who left office over the past two decades – may come as a surprise to many of their constituents. But it’s all perfectly legal – as long as the former officeholders use the money for political or charitable causes.

“You can use campaign funds for any lawful purpose – except they can’t be converted to personal use,” said Michael Toner, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.

[…]

Campaign watchdogs say the current law allows former officeholders too much latitude in deciding how to use leftover money.

“There’s actually quite a lot of room for lawmakers to finagle their own campaign budgets,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen.

Holman said the FEC definition of prohibited “personal use” is too narrow and allows former members to indirectly use their funds to benefit family members or themselves by funneling money into organizations they manage or control.

While the Chron story is about former federal officeholders, this is an issue at the state level, too. I thought there was a state law that required all funds to be disbursed within a set period off time, but if that is the case I’ve never seen it enforced. If it were up to me, I’d mandate that any funds left unspent four years after the person’s last day in office would be put into a fund that helps the relevant enforcement agency do its thing. Seems only fitting to me.

[Jim] Turner has the longest-lasting campaign account. The former state legislator and congressman had amassed more than $1 million in campaign funds when he retired rather than face off against veteran Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis in a heavily Republican district. Eight years later, Turner has $990,000 remaining.

Turner said he has kept his campaign account active because he might run for office if “Texas becomes Democratic again.”

“I have always wanted to keep the option open and may want to run for a statewide office,” he said. “I was sidelined by redistricting, but I’ve always enjoyed public service.”

Turner’s last election was in 2002. I don’t care for his strategy of waiting till Texas is sufficiently blue in 2018 or 2022 to maybe use all that money to take another shot at public office. I hope the Democratic primary voters in those years would look askance on someone who sat on a million bucks for 15 or 20 years just in case conditions became favorable for him again instead of using it to help other candidates and causes. My advice to Turner would be to either gut it up and run against Big John Cornyn in 2014 – a million bucks won’t get you that far in a Senate race, but it beats starting out with nothing – or just admit that your time has passed and donate the cash to Battleground Texas. But seriously, don’t keep sitting on it. It’s not doing anyone any good.

We whine bigger than other states, too

Someone please call a waaaaaahmbulance.

Since January, besides losing big federal contracts, Texas’ pollution permit process has been rejected for failing to meet Clean Air Act requirements; the state is facing fines for chronically missing food stamp benefit deadlines, and thousands of teachers were deemed noncompliant with the No Child Left Behind law.

“I don’t know if anyone can group all these issues in one pile and say it’s because Texas is a red state,” said former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla. “But there is a concern among many in Texas that that is the case.”

The San Antonio Republican, now a lobbyist, said he believes the Obama administration is giving more power to federal agencies. “They want us to be strangled by more regulations,” he said.

It is part of a Washington culture that “looks down their noses” at self-sufficient states like Texas, he said.

“This resentment probably transcends all government agencies, and they just can’t stand that we’re a successful red state,” Bonilla said.

Don’t snivel, Henry. It’s unbecoming. It’s just so unfair now that Texas is being made to play by the same rules as all those other loser states, isn’t it? This would not be happening if Dubya and DeLay were still running things, let me tell you. I could go on about social costs, and who really accrues the benefits of Texas’ longstanding habit of skirting regulations and blah blah blah, but who really cares? It’s all about playing the victim card, and nobody does it better than the likes of Henry Bonilla and his buddies.

Last minute poll numbers

Public Policy Polling takes a last look at the gubernatorial primaries.

Debra Medina is fading in the Texas Republican race for Governor, and it continues to look like the contest is headed for a runoff where Rick Perry will be a strong favorite over Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Perry leads with 40% to 31% for Hutchison and 20% for Medina. Compared to PPP’s look at the race two weeks ago Perry has gained a point, Hutchison has gone up three, and Medina’s standing has declined by four.

Unless Perry wins the remaining undecideds by an overwhelming margin and/or peels off more of Medina’s support it looks like he won’t get to the 50% needed for an outright victory next week. But he leads Hutchison 52-35 in a potential runoff thanks in large part to Medina’s supporters, who say Perry is their second choice by a 52-24 margin.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Medina’s standing. Her favorability spread in the previous poll was 40/9 for a +31 net positive. Now she’s at 36/30 for a net positive of just +6. A 25 point drop on your numbers in the span of just two weeks is pretty unusual.

Full crosstabs are here. Phillip thinks Medina has weathered the Glenn Beck/”9/11 truther” flap pretty well, and she is clearly still a factor. I confess, I underestimated her in the race. Bob Moser has a pretty good take on why she’s doing as well as she is.

PPP did not poll the general election. Rasmussen has a new set of numbers on that.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state shows incumbent GOP Governor Rick Perry leading White 47% to 41%. Five percent (5%) of voters prefer some other candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided. At the beginning of this month, Perry led White 48% to 39%.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is challenging Perry for the Republican nomination, now posts a 47% to 38% lead over White. Three weeks ago, she had a 49% to 36% lead. Given this match-up, eight percent (8%) like another candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided.

These findings mark little change from January just after White announced his candidacy for the race.

Another GOP hopeful, Tea Party activist Debra Medina, has stumbled following a gaffe on the Glenn Beck show. In the previous survey, she had a three-point advantage over White. Now Medina trails the Democrat by 10 points, 47% to 37%.

It’s still the case that neither Perry nor KBH can break 50% in the polls, even in Rasmussen, which has consistently shown their highest level of support in their results. One normally says that incumbents who don’t poll over 50% – and KBH counts as one for this race – are potentially in electoral danger. Perry still hasn’t received as much as 50% in any poll of the primary, either, but another Rasmussen poll has him pretty close to it.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Republican Primary voters finds Perry leading Senate Kay Bailey Hutchison 48% to 27%, with Tea Party activist Debra Medina earning 16% of the vote. Nine percent (9%) of Texas GOP voters remain undecided.

At the beginning of the month, Perry lead 44% to Hutchison’s 29% and Medina’s 16%. In September, just after Hutchison traveled statewide to announce her candidacy for governor, she posted a 40% to 38% lead over Perry, but that was the high point of her support which has been declining ever since.

Early voting has already begun in the primary which wraps up on Tuesday. Turnout is often difficult to project for primaries, but among those who say they have already voted, Perry has earned 49% support, while Hutchison and Medina have picked up 24% and 20% respectively.

If the winning candidate fails to get 50% of the vote a run-off between the top two vote-getters will be held on April 13.

Burka thinks KBH may concede rather than keep fighting in a runoff if Perry is that close to 50%. For what it’s worth, I’ll note that Al Edwards (48.16% in the 2006 Democratic primary for HD146) and Henry Bonilla (48.60% in the November, 2006 CD23 special election) both lost runoffs after coming that close to winning outright. An incumbent who can’t get 50% is beatable, it’s as simple as that. Perry may well prevail anyway, but there’s no guarantee of it. And let’s not go overboard here – Rasmussen is one poll, making its own set of assumptions. As Come and Take It (an admitted KBH partisan) notes, Ras’ sample was done on one day, while PPP’s was done over the more traditional three days. Let’s see what the voters have to say, then we’ll see what KBH does. Remember, nobody ever knows what KBH will do.