Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Ronnie Earle

RIP, Ronnie Earle

The iconic former Travis County District Attorney has passed away.

Ronnie Earle

Ronnie Earle, who served as Travis County district attorney for more than 30 years and was best known for prosecuting some of Texas’ top politicians and for championing the community justice system, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 78.

“He was a great guy,” said friend and former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd. “He always wanted to get things right and he had a good sense of what was right for community. That was what he always wanted to be the goal and objective.”

Todd said Earle’s health has been declining for some time.

Through the county’s Public Integrity Unit, which he founded, Earle prosecuted some of the state’s top politicians — including then-Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — with mixed success.

A jury acquitted Mattox and the case against Hutchison became a high-profile failure when charges were dismissed. DeLay was convicted of a money laundering charge, but that conviction was later overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

But closest to Earle’s heart were his efforts at the forefront of community justice, a catchall name for programs that had caught on in prosecutors’ offices nationwide that aim to attack crime by, in his words, “engaging the community in its own protection.”

Earle established programs for crime prevention, alternative sentencing and the reintegration of former offenders into society. He also brought officials from a range of fields together.

He also ran for Lt. Governor in 2010 but lost in the primary. The late and lamented Public Integrity Unit was a weird way of prosecuting crimes committed by state officials, but it worked pretty well, and we have seen quite clearly since the Republicans killed it off that we didn’t have any better alternatives at hand. If the PIU were still a thing, we would get some kind of resolution to the Ken Paxton saga, not this ridiculously drawn-out process that has been at the mercy of Paxton’s cronies in Collin County and may yet end up in a forfeit. Whatever you think of the case against him, that ain’t no way to do justice. Ronnie Earle would have handled it better. Rest in peace, sir.

The UT/TT poll’s track record in past Democratic primaries

The one result in that UT/TT poll from Monday that has people freaking out is the one that shows nutball LaRouchie Kesha Rogers leading the Senate race with 35%, followed by David Alameel with 27%. I expressed my skepticism of that result at the time, because among other things I have my doubts that their sample is truly representative of the Democratic primary electorate, but I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at the Trib’s previous efforts at polling Democratic primaries and see how they’ve done in the past. There are two elections to study. First, let’s go back to 2010 when all of the statewide offices were up for grabs. Democrats had three contested primaries that the Trib polled: Governor, Lt. Governor, and Ag Commissioner. Here are the results.

In the Democratic primary race, former Houston Mayor Bill White has a huge lead over his next closest challenger, businessman Farouk Shami, pulling 50 percent to Shami’s 11 percent. Five other candidates are in the running for the Democratic nomination; the survey found that only 9 percent of those polled prefer someone other than the two frontrunners.

Undecided voters are still significant in both gubernatorial primaries. On the Republican side, 16 percent said they hadn’t made up their minds. Pressed for a preference, 51 percent chose Perry, 34 percent chose Hutchison, and 15 percent chose Medina — an indication that Perry could win without a runoff if he can attract those voters into his camp. Among Democratic voters, 30 percent were undecided, and of those, 48 percent, when pressed, said they lean toward White. With White already at 50 percent, that means Shami would have to strip votes away from him in order to force a runoff or to claim a win.


Democratic primary voters have a couple of other statewide races to decide. In the contest for lieutenant governor — the winner will face Republican incumbent David Dewhurst in November — labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson took 18 percent of those polled, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle got 16 percent, and restaurateur Marc Katz had 3 percent. Five percent of voters said they wanted “somebody else,” and a whopping 58 percent remain undecided on the eve of early voting, which begins on Tuesday. Kinky Friedman and Hank Gilbert — two refugees from the governor’s race now running for agriculture commissioner — are locked in a tight race, 32 percent to 27 percent. While Friedman’s ahead, the difference is within the poll’s margin of error. And, as with the Lite Guv race, “undecided” is actually leading, at 41 percent. The winner will face incumbent Republican Todd Staples in November.

And here’s the reality:

Governor Alma Aguado 2.83% Felix Alvarado 4.95% Bill Dear 0.96% Clement Glenn 1.44% Star Locke 0.92% Farouk Shami 12.84% Bill White 76.03% Lieutenant Governor Linda C-T 53.13% Ronnie Earle 34.67% Marc Katz 12.18% Commissioner of Agriculture Kinky Friedman 47.69% Hank Gilbert 52.30%

So White did have a big lead on Shami, but it was much bigger than they indicated. Linda Chavez-Thompson was indeed leading Ronnie Earle, but by a significant amount, more than enough to avoid a runoff. And Hank Gilbert defeated Kinky Friedman, despite the UT/TT poll showing Friedman in the lead.

How about the 2012 Senate primary, which is a reasonably decent facsimile of this one, as it’s a large field of mostly unknown candidates? Here’s the poll:

The Democrats, too, could be building to a July finish, probably between former state Rep. Paul Sadler and Sean Hubbard, according to the poll.

Sadler led the Democrats with 29 percent, but was followed closely — and within the poll’s margin of error — by Hubbard. Two other candidates — Addie Dainell Allen and Grady Yarbrough — also registered double-digit support.

And the actual result:

U. S. Senator Addie Allen 22.90% Sean Hubbard 16.08% Paul Sadler 35.13% Grady Yarbrough 25.87%

Sadler did in fact lead the field, but Hubbard came in fourth, well behind eventual second-place finisher Grady Yarbrough, whom the Trib pegged for fourth.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? Mostly that we don’t have enough data to be able to evaluate the Trib’s ability to poll Democratic primaries. To be fair to them, they were quite accurate in the corresponding GOP races. They had Rick Perry winning in 2010, though not quite over 50%, with Debra Medina’s level nailed exactly, and they had David Dewhurst with a lead over Ted Cruz with Tom Leppert in third, but with the Dew falling short of a majority. As such, I’d put some faith in their GOP polling, at least until we see how they actually did. But I would not put much faith in their Dem results. They clearly pushed people to pick someone – anyone! – in the Senate race, they polled before David Alameel dropped a bunch of mail, which they themselves said (but didn’t acknowledge in their writeup) is exactly the sort of thing that could enable someone to win that race, and as I said I just don’t believe they’ve got a representative sample of the Dem primary electorate. I’ll be more than a little shocked if it turns out they got this one right.

One more thing: What if they are right about Rogers leading? Well, as long as she doesn’t crack 50%, I’d suggest we all remain calm. For all its constraints and limitations, the state Democratic Party has managed to get the nominees it has wanted in the last three Senate primaries. Rick Noriega cleared 50% in round one in 2008, and Sadler in 2012 and Barbara Radnofsky in 2006 both won their runoffs – Radnofsky has said that her overtime race against the now apparently dormant Gene Kelly was the best thing that happened to her, as it boosted her fundraising and made people actually pay attention to that race. I feel reasonably confident that if Rogers is in a runoff with anyone, everyone else in the party will fall as loudly and visibly as they can behind her opponent, whoever that winds up being. It’s already happening to a large degree – the TDP, the HCDP, and the Fort Bend Democratic Party have put out messages condemning Rogers and urging Democrats not to vote for her. I’d have preferred to see that happen earlier than this, and I’d much rather it not come to banding together to beat her in a runoff, but I’m not going to fall into a spiral of self-loathing over this one poll result. Do your part to help people make a good decision in this race, and be prepared to support someone other than Kesha in a runoff if it comes to that.

Can you believe it’s been ten years?

Where were YOU when it all began?

Ten years (and one week) ago, four defeated Democratic candidates for the State House filed a lawsuit against the Texas Association of Business, claiming that TAB funneled illegal corporate contributions into state legislative races in the 2002 election. As you can see from what I wrote at the time – yes, I was blogging that long ago – I didn’t think it was likely that anything would come of this. Boy, was I wrong about that. This litigation started a chain of events that eventually led to a Travis County DA investigation of Tom DeLay and his arrest and conviction, and also to his appearance on Dancing with the Stars. Amazingly, the story is not over, and may not be over any time soon. DeLay is of course appealing his conviction, and he still has the Court of Criminal Appeals to plead to if he doesn’t win this round. His cronies Jim Ellis and John Colyandro took pleas in recent months after a similar line of appeal failed to get their indictments quashed. Their plea deals include a get-out-of-probation-free clause in the event that the infamous Citizens United ruling winds up mooting the Texas law that led to all their prosecutions. I thought about all this back when Ellis copped his plea, and put a note on my calendar to commemorate the anniversary, which I didn’t get to in time because I kind of suck at that sort of thing, but what does another week mean in this saga? I might want to create a reminder for the 20th anniversary of the original lawsuit, because it’s possible there could still be unfinished business by then. Anyway, take a moment and marvel at the wonder of it all. Where were you when it all began?

UPDATE: Just to be clear, DeLay made his memorable appearance on Dancing With The Stars prior to his trial and conviction. I have changed the wording in that sentence to clarify.

Colyandro takes a plea

Missed this on Friday.

Who's next?

It took five minutes for Capitol figure John Colyandro to end a decade-long saga that swept his boss, former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, out of Congress and politics altogether.

Colyandro, the last individual with charges pending in the DeLay money-laundering case, pleaded guilty Friday to lesser charges of accepting illegal political contributions during the 2002 state legislative elections.

He received one-year deferred adjudication on two Class A misdemeanor charges, meaning there will be no final conviction on his record if he successfully completes unsupervised probation. He also was fined $8,000.


Despite Friday’s plea, Colyandro continues to face civil litigation arising from the 2002 election.

DeLay remains free on bail, pending his appeal of his three-year prison sentence and conviction on conspiracy and money-laundering charges.

A third co-defendant, Jim Ellis, DeLay’s right-hand political staffer in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty in June to a felony charge of making an illegal campaign contribution. Ellis, who negotiated the $190,000 exchange, received four years of probation and was fined $10,000.


Colyandro’s plea bargain includes a provision, similar to one offered to Ellis, that takes into account the possibility that the current state law might be challenged.

See here and here for the relevant bits on the criminal cases. I’ve no idea where any civil litigation stands at this point – honestly, I thought that had been resolved years ago, but I suppose there still could be something out there, or the potential for something in the future once the criminal stuff is all done. The only case still going is DeLay’s. It’s not the end of an era yet, but you can almost see it from here.

Doesn’t he know that Valjean was French?

Poor, pitiful Tom DeLay.

I know who I am but who are YOU?

DeLay, and his attorney, Brian Wice, are hoping to get his convictions overturned. On Oct. 10, they will finally get a chance to make their case to the 3rd Court of Appeals, arguing the once-powerful Republican leader did nothing wrong and is the victim of a political vendetta, a claim that prosecutors deny.

DeLay, 65, was found guilty in November 2010 of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for helping illegally funnel corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002.

Sitting with DeLay in his office in downtown Houston on Wednesday, Wice used a literary allusion to explain the case. He compared DeLay to Jean Valjean, the kind-hearted protagonist of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables.” He called Ronnie Earle, the now-retired Democratic Travis County District Attorney in Austin who charged the former lawmaker, a modern-day Inspector Javert, who pursued Valjean at all costs.

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office says the case was never about politics but about someone who broke Texas law.

“Our office has always been fair and never been politically motivated in prosecuting this defendant or any other,” said prosecutor Holly Taylor.

I believe it was Ronnie Earle who said “Being called partisan by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a toad.” But never mind that, I feel a song coming on:

Yes, Jean Valjean was exactly like Tom DeLay, with his book deal and his touring the country giving speeches and rubbing elbows with power brokers, and of course his gig on “Viennese Waltzing With The Stars”, which was a big hit back in the day. Valjean also had a legal defense fund that helped keep him afloat all those years he was being pursued by Javert. It’s like they’re twins separated by a couple of centuries and the fact that one of them is fictional.

If I hadn’t been a math major, I might have read enough Great Books to have a better fictional doppelganger for DeLay to suggest, but I didn’t and I don’t. So I’ll leave that to you. Make your nomination for DeLay’s true literary counterpart in the comments. I’m sure we’ll get a better answer than this.

Former DeLay aide Ellis pleads guilty

This was out of the blue.

Who's next?

Tom DeLay’s chief political aide, Jim Ellis, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge of making an illegal campaign contribution during the 2002 election.

Ellis, who headed DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority political action committee, was the aide who negotiated an exchange of $190,000 of corporate money for campaign contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature, according to testimony in DeLay’s 2010 trial.

Ellis received a four-year probation and was fined $10,000 on a charge that he made a contribution of corporate money to a political party within 60 days of an election.


Under the terms of Ellis’ plea, the adjudication of the third-degree felony charge is deferred, meaning a final conviction won’t be reflected on his record if he successfully completes probation.

Ellis also cannot work for a political action committee in any capacity in which he handles or solicits corporate political contributions. There will be no travel restrictions for Ellis, who lives in Virginia.

Ellis also agreed to testify in any future legal proceedings. Charges are pending against Ellis’ co-defendant, John Colyandro of Austin, who is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 8. Colyandro was executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, the political committee that DeLay chaired.

In exchange for Ellis’ plea, prosecutors dismissed conspiracy and money-laundering charges.

Prosecutors also agreed to cut Ellis a break in the event the state law is eventually overturned in court, which after the most recent “Citizens United” ruling you have to think is a live possibility. I must say, after all this time I did not expect someone to cop a plea, even though I have always believed that the case against Ellis and Colyandro was stronger than the one against DeLay himself. The most recent development in this case before now was last year when Judge Pat Priest recused himself after urging Ellis and Colyandro to consider accepting pleas. Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

Speaking of DeLay and recusals, we now have a pinch hitter for the Third Court of Appeals.

A San Antonio district judge was temporarily appointed to the 3rd Court of Appeals on Wednesday to help determine whether Justice Diane Henson, a Democrat, should be recused from considering Tom DeLay’s money-laundering case.

Under state appellate rules, when judges decline to recuse themselves — as Henson has done — the matter goes before the entire court to decide by a majority vote.

But three Republicans on the six-judge court have already recused themselves from hearing DeLay’s appeal, giving no reason for their removal. And the rules do not allow Henson to vote on the request.

Needing a third judge to decide DeLay’s motion to recuse, Woodie Jones, chief justice of the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, last week asked the Texas Supreme Court to name a temporary panel member.

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson responded Wednesday by appointing San Antonio District Judge David Berchelmann Jr. to the appeals court “for as long as may be necessary to hear and rule on the motion.”

DeLay’s lawyers have said that “anti-Republican remarks” made by Henson at a state Democratic Party convention in 2006 raised questions about her impartiality.

See here and here for some background. Judge Berchelmann is there to help decide whether or not Judge Henson can hear the appeal of DeLay’s conviction. If she is removed for the appeal, a substitute will have to be named for her, since there are no more un-tainted judges on the Third Court any more. By the way, if the name “David Bedrchelmann” sounds familiar to you, it’s because he was the judge in the Sharon Keller case. That case was a mess in more ways than one, and I can’t say I was impressed by Judge Berchelmann’s performance. That’s water under the bridge now, so we’ll see what happens here.

Time for the biennial attack on the Travis County DA

Every two years, some Republican legislators try to kill the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

An amendment tacked on to the House budget bill approved last week would shift roughly $3.4 million a year from the district attorney’s office to the Texas attorney general’s office. The funding shift would happen only if the Legislature approves a separate bill granting the attorney general broad powers to prosecute offenses against public administration.

The proposals by Republican lawmakers are being watched closely by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat. None has had a committee hearing.

The Public Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes state officials and politicians, has received state money since 1982 on the premise that many ethics violations occur around the Capitol or at Austin-based state agencies. In 1999, the unit’s duties expanded to include statewide prosecution of insurance fraud and violations of the motor fuels tax laws.


The proposals to give the attorney general the authority to prosecute state ethics laws in criminal courts were filed by Reps. Wayne Christian, R-Center, and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. The bills say that prosecutions by the attorney general’s Public Integrity Unit would occur where the defendant resides. Under current law, most crimes are prosecuted where they occur.

Zedler, who expects his bill will get a committee hearing soon, said, “Basically, I believe that if you are going to have statewide authority, you ought to be accountable to the statewide voters.”

Lehmberg noted that her office does not have jurisdiction to prosecute public corruption cases with no link to Travis County. She said she prosecutes crimes that occur in Travis County and noted that the Public Integrity Unit has prosecuted both Democrats and Republicans.

I’m not unsympathetic to Zedler’s argument. If you were designing Texas’ government from scratch, having that jurisdiction with the Attorney General would be sensible. But let’s be honest: This is all about taking the authority away from a Democrat and giving it to a Republican. You can’t separate the motive from the legislation. I know I have no reason to believe that Greg Abbott would be any more impartial or less political than Ronnie Earle and Rosemary Lehmberg have been. The current system works as well as can be expected, so I see no good reason to change it.

For those who are just tuning in to the whole Tom DeLay saga

The Statesman has a useful overview of How We Got Here in the DeLay money laundering case, which goes to trial today. I love the fact that it all began with a little hubris.

It was November 2002, just days after Texas Republicans had won a historic election that gave them control of state government for the first time in more than a century.

Publicist Chuck McDonald called to pitch a story to this reporter about how his client, the Texas Association of Business, and its president, Bill Hammond, played a critical role in electing the Republican majority.

“Bill Hammond wanted credit,” McDonald recalled last week, “and wanted people to know how they did it.”

In that phone conversation, McDonald explained that the state’s largest business organization had spent almost $2 million on advertising, mostly in mail pieces to voters. Unlike other political groups, McDonald insisted that the association didn’t have to disclose the corporations that put up the money as long as it followed its lawyers’ advice to avoid direct campaign activities. The group avoided using buzzwords such as “elect,” “support,” “oppose” and “defeat.” It didn’t coordinate its efforts with candidates. It hadn’t worked with other political groups.

Association officials argued that their mail pieces were issue ads and not subject to campaign finance laws barring corporate money in Texas campaigns.

McDonald gave the American-Statesman a stack of the mail pieces to show how the group did it.

The story was published the next day and included comments from Austin lawyer Buck Wood questioning whether it was legal for corporate donors to underwrite such an effort. He cited a century-old state law that prohibits corporations and unions from spending money “in connection with a campaign.”

Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney at the time, read the story and began investigating.

DeLay and his brainchild, a campaign committee named Texans for a Republican Majority, were not on anyone’s radar. It might have stayed that way except that McDonald inadvertently included one attack ad by Texans for a Republican Majority, which wasn’t his client, in that stack of business association mailers.

If the association was working alone, as it claimed, how to explain that maverick ad without the TAB brand?

The American-Statesman began investigating and publishing stories about Texans for a Republican Majority and how it worked with the business association.

Let this be a lesson, kids: When you break the law, don’t go bragging to reporters about it. Read the rest, and go pop some corn as the proceedings are about to begin. Juanita has more.

DeLay “headed to trial”

After day one of the pretrial hearings, Tom DeLay will get his trial, and he’ll go before his co-defendants.

Motions to dismiss the charges against the former Sugar Land-area representative on the grounds of misconduct by prosecutors remained pending late Tuesday, but visiting District Judge Pat Priest made clear that he likely would rule against dismissal. Priest then sealed the courtroom to hear arguments over secret grand jury proceedings leading up to DeLay’s indictment in 2005. The hearing is expected to continue today.

“The defense is standing in a very deep hole with a very short stick, but I don’t want to preclude them from presenting their case,” Priest said.

When DeLay and his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, of Houston, exited the courtroom they indicated they felt certain the case would go to trial. DeGuerin said it is only a question of “when and where.” DeLay is trying to have the trial moved to Fort Bend County.

In a major victory for DeLay, Priest ruled against a request by Travis County prosecutors that they be allowed to take two other defendants in the case to trial before DeLay. Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, who managed the political committee at the center of the controversy, have not been seeking a speedy trial, but DeLay has.

“We need to try Mr. DeLay first because he’s the one who has been wanting a trial,” Priest said. “There’s such a thing as a speedy trial and five years later it’s time he gets it.”

I suspect the reason for wanting to try Ellis and Colyandro first is more about optics than legal strategy. Convict them, and it ratchets up the pressure on DeLay. If they get acquitted, you can bet your mortgage that the charges against DeLay will be dismissed. Doing it the other way around, Ellis and Colyandro might see their charges dropped if DeLay prevails, even if the evidence against them is stronger. This case has always been about DeLay.

As for the change of venue motion, I don’t have any strong feelings about that. Frankly, I think enough time has passed that it shouldn’t be too hard to find a jury who isn’t familiar with the case, or its main actors, in any county. Tom DeLay just isn’t that notorious any more. Moving the trial to San Antonio or Waco would be fine by me. I note with amusement this poll that claims 40% of Travis County residents believe DeLay is guilty as charged. Putting aside the question of how many randomly sampled people believe any high-profile criminal defendant is “guilty” (my guess is that 40% isn’t far off the mark), it also says that 16% think he’s not guilty, while the rest don’t know or have no opinion. Given that the population of Travis County is a bit more than a million, reducing that by 15% to account for the foreign-born, reducing again by 24% to account for minors, the 44% of “don’t know/no opinion” people represent about 290,000 adult citizens. I’m guessing you could get a fair jury from that pool.

In the end, it didn’t matter.

District Judge Pat Priest said the U.S. Constitution requires a case to be tried where the crime occurred unless there is unusual prejudice against the defendant. Priest said he believes the former Sugar Land-area representative can be protected in the jury selection process.

“We can give Mr. DeLay a fair trial in Travis County,” he said.

Priest said he would not close off DeLay’s attorneys from raising the issue again if it proves impossible to pick an impartial jury. He set a tentative trial date of Oct. 26, a week before this year’s elections.

Something else to look forward to this year. Anyway, DeLay has sworn vengeance on the Travis County DA’s office after he wins his case. Mighty big talk for a guy who’s basically a nobody nowadays, but I guess having the spotlight back on him for a few days has given DeLay a bit of his old swagger back. And I couldn’t write all of this stuff about the man formerly known as The Hammer without acknowledging Juanita.

At long last, the DeLay trial gets underway

You know what today is? It’s Tom DeLay Sees The Inside Of A Courtroom Day, that’s what day it is. Yes, I know, he’s out of trouble with the feds – this is about the state charges that have been pending against him since 2005. Yes, it’s been a long, strange trip, and here’s what we have to look forward to.

During the 2002 elections, DeLay and his co-defendants used a political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise and spend $600,000 in corporate money, mostly from lobbyists and companies with interests before Congress.

Some facts are not disputed. The Texas political committee sent $190,000 in corporate money to the Republican National Committee, which, in turn, donated the same amount to seven legislative candidates in Texas.

The legal issue is whether DeLay conspired to launder the corporate money back to Texas despite a state ban against using corporate money in state elections. Or, as the defense contends, the national committee donations were from a different pot of money that came from individuals, not corporations, and there was no conspiracy.


At Tuesday’s hearing, senior Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio will consider a series of motions to dismiss the charges, including the defense’s allegations that prosecutors abused the process by shopping for indictments with three grand juries as time ran out on the investigation.

He will also consider whether to move the trial (Waco and San Antonio have been suggested) and to try the three defendants separately, among other motions.

DeLay already appears on track to be tried separately, but the question remains in what order the defendants would be tried and whether Ellis and Colyandro should be tried together.

DeLay’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said his client is willing to be tried first. Prosecutors favor trying DeLay’s aides first.

As for moving the trial, DeGuerin said, “There is so much ill feeling in Travis County about Tom DeLay that he can’t get a fair trial — even to this day.”


At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors will answer allegations about their conduct in the investigation.

Courthouse observers are watching to see how far Priest allows the defense to pursue questions about the secret grand jury process.

By all accounts, the end of the three-year investigation leading up to the indictments was chaotic.

After three years, with time running out, a grand jury indicted DeLay and his associates on a Wednesday. Two days later, the prosecutors — fearing a problem with the first indictments — asked a second grand jury to indict DeLay as its term was ending.

When grand jurors refused, the defense alleges, prosecutors improperly interrupted grand jury deliberations and tried to coerce them, a charge that prosecutors deny.

On the following Monday, prosecutors presented their three-year investigation to a new grand jury on its first day; prosecutors said they had obtained new information about the case over the weekend.

I know I’ve excerpted quite a bit here, but there’s still more than that, so do read the whole story. You can also visit my archives for an obsessive level of past coverage. Today ought to be a full day, and the folks at Court TV have any sense, they’ll be there in force. One more thing:

Finally, one co-defendant in the DeLay case has been so out-of-sight that there’s a rumor he’s turned state’s evidence.

Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin said prosecutors have not required DeLay’s fundraiser, Warren Robold, to appear in court over the years, but he denied that it was because of a deal.

Instead, Hardin said he allowed his client to be interviewed by prosecutors after he was indicted. The interview, which lasted several hours, was taped, and Robold’s remarks can be used in court.

But Hardin said Robold didn’t ask for immunity or a deal.

“That’s how sure we are that he’s innocent,” Hardin said. “And he doesn’t know anything bad about DeLay.”

I’ve been pushing that as a pet theory for a long time now, but as far as I know this is the first time it’s appeared in print outside of my blog. Maybe I’m the only one who’s been dumb enough to write it down, I don’t know. In any event, these and other questions will be answered starting today. Pop some corn and enjoy the spectacle.

Feds clear DeLay

I’ll be honest, I’d forgotten there was an ongoing federal investigation of him by this point. It had been so long since I’d seen any news about it.

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, today said he is happy to have a federal investigation of his relationship with dishonored lobbyist Jack Abramoff behind him and now is ready to fight Texas ethics charges.

A pre-trial hearing in the state ethics case against DeLay and two colleagues is scheduled for Aug. 24. The case has been in limbo for almost five years because of a pre-trial appeal seeking to throw out a money laundering indictment, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the indictment earlier this year.

DeLay’s lawyers late last week got a telephone call from U.S. Justice Department officials saying there will be no charges brought against DeLay in the five-year investigation of his relationship with Abramoff.

Plenty of other people were convicted as a result of L’Affaire Abramoff, including former GOP Congressmen Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham, a couple of former DeLay staffers, and of course Abramoff himself. As for the Hammer himself, we’ll see how he does with the state charges as that case finally sees the inside of a courtroom next week.

CCA overturns “checks aren’t cash” appeals verdict

For once, their pro-prosecution proclivities were good for something.

The Austin appeals court erred in deciding that the state’s money-laundering statute – used to prosecute associates of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay – did not apply to transfers made via checks, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled today.

The court’s 9-0 decision also upheld the state’s election laws prohibiting corporations from making political contributions to candidates. DeLay’s associates – John Colyandro and Jim Ellis – had challenged the law as an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights.


In 2008, the appeals court ruled that the money-laundering law did not apply to Colyandro and Ellis because it did not specifically refer to checks.

The law reads: “A person commits an offense if the person knowingly … conducts, supervises, or facilitates a transaction involving the proceeds of criminal activity.” The law defines proceeds as coin or paper money, U.S. Treasury notes and silver certificates and official foreign bank notes.

However, in its ruling today, the state’s highest criminal court chastised the lower court for applying an improper legal standard to its analysis of the money laundering statute.

Writing for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller said Colyandro and Ellis improperly challenged the constitutionality of the money-laundering statute in a pretrial petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The appeals court had no authority to determine that the law only applies to cash payments, Keller wrote.

You can read the opinion here; thanks to TPJ for the pointer. See background here, here, here, and here. As Vince notes, this ought to clear the way once and for all for Tom DeLay and his buddies to be put on trial for money laundering for the illegal use of corporate campaign contributions in the 2002 election. The wheels do grind slowly, don’t they? I don’t know when the case will finally hit the courtroom, but I do know this: If DeLay appears for his day in court wearing his “Dancing with the Stars” costume, I’ll write a $100 check to the charity of his choice. BOR has more.

UPDATE: More from the Trib.

The Lite Guv race by the counties

The Lite Guv primary was an interesting race. One candidate, Ronnie Earle, had a decent amount of name recognition, a base of support in a vote-rich area, with likely secondary support in other populous counties, and electoral experience. He didn’t have a lot of money or establishment backing, however. Another candidate, Linda Chavez-Thompson, was able to raise enough money to run some TV ads, most likely in South Texas, and she had a base of support with Labor. She was also a first-timer whose name wasn’t particularly well known; if she had anything resembling a campaign here in Harris County, I didn’t observe it. And there was Mark Katz, about whom there isn’t much to say. How did they do around Texas?

– Chavez-Thompson won a majority of the vote in 86 counties, and where she won, she won big – in 46 of those counties, she got 60% or more of the vote. In particular, she did well in some heavily Democratic counties like Webb, El Paso, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Bexar – in fact, those five counties alone provided nearly one third of LCT’s vote total. She won pluralities in Dallas and Tarrant Counties, falling just short of 45% in each.

– Earle, not surprisingly, had his best showing in his home county, Travis, where he got a bit more than 68%. He won a majority in 38 counties, including such Travis neighbors as Bastrop, Burnet, Williamson, and Hays. He won a plurality in Harris County, primarily on the strength of three State Rep districts, HDs 134, 146, and 147, which accounted for nearly all of his 5,000 vote margin. He actually won 14 of the 25 districts, but many of them were close; 11 districts were decided one way of the other by less than 100 votes. Curiously, one place where I thought Earle would have done strongly was Fort Bend, where he helped put Tom DeLay out of business, but that wasn’t the case, as LCT took a plurality. Anyone want to explain that?

– Katz came in second in Live Oak County, and tied for second in King County, in which all of 14 votes were cast. He did not top 29% in any county. Why was he running again?

I’ll have a look at the Ag Commish and Land Commish races next. As always, feedback is appreciated.

Election results: Other statewides

The big story in the other statewide primaries is the loss of Railroad Commission Chair Victor Carillo to a first-time candidate.

David Porter, who moved to Giddings after building a business in Midland, ousted Victor Carrillo, the highest-ranking nonjudge Latino in Texas government, in an election some said was determined by ethnicity.

Carrillo, who was appointed to the panel in 2003 before winning election a year later, had the support of top Republicans and vastly more money, according to campaign filings. Through Feb. 20, Carrillo had $322,601 on hand; Porter had $11,251.

Porter, who said he spent about $50,000 on his campaign, played up his lack of political credentials in his campaign, and he credited his outsider status for the victory. “People are tired with professional politicians, and looking for a change,” he said Tuesday night.

But Carrillo’s camp thought his biggest problem might have been his last name.

“We’ve got the problem of an Anglo surname versus an Hispanic,” said campaign consultant Susan Lilly, who said Carrillo’s campaign had spent at least $600,000. Candidates with any kind of unusual name are at a disadvantage, she said.

Hold that thought, because we’ll be coming back to it when we look at the Harris County results. I had the opportunity to finally meet Jeff Weems last night at the Bill White event. As you might imagine, he was happy with that result. The question is whether the industry support in this race will switch from Carillo to Porter or Weems. Their July finance reports will be a lot more interesting to look at now.

Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson won without a runoff in the Lite Guv primary; the SOS shows her at 53.10% to Ronnie Earle’s 34.67%. You have to figure there might have been a runoff if Mark Katz had run an actual campaign. Hank Gilbert won what turned out to be a not-too-close race against Kinky Friedman, getting over 52%. Friedman is now a three-time loser, once as an R, once as an I, and now as a D. Turn out the lights, dude. Hector Uribe won a closer-than-I-expected race to be the candidate for Land Commish, winding up with 51.67% after early returns had him trailing. When I went to bed last night, Bill Burton was up on him by about 10,000 votes, but Uribe’s turf in South Texas had largely not reported yet. The Democrats got the slate their best slate.

Finally, there will be a runoff for the Republican nomination for Harriet O’Neill’s open Supreme Court slot, with four candidates finishing within 2000 votes of each other. The leader, former State Rep. Rick Green, is the worst of them.

Green, who represented the Dripping Springs area in the Texas House from 1999 to 2003, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the night’s returns and “real thrilled” about the prospect of a runoff, and that he thought his campaign had “good ground game and a good Internet presence.” The former lawmaker made headlines in 2006 for a public row with his Democratic successor, state Rep. Patrick Rose, whom he allegedly punched and shoved on Election Day. While in the Legislature, Green attracted criticism for using his Capitol office as the setting for a health supplement infomercial for a company and arguing successfully for the parole of a man who had lent $400,000 to his father’s company. He also made Texas Monthly’s list of the 10 worst legislators.

The libertarian-style candidate has earned the endorsements of rightwing celebs Chuck “Walker, Texas Ranger” Norris and the prolific Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of TLC’s 18 Kids & Counting!, as well conservative lawmakers like state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center. Green is also cozy with the Aledo-based organization WallBuilders, a group that wants to close the gap between church and state, and advocates for other causes that preserve America’s “moral, religious and constitutional heritage.”

Yecch. Barring anything strange, Green will apparently face off against Fort Worth District Court Judge Debra Lehrmann, with the winner going up against Jim Sharp in November. In the other Supreme Court primary, the newly-appointed Justice Eva Guzman won easily against Rose Vela.

Eight days out reports

The 8 days out reports aren’t available on the TEC website yet for the Governor’s races, so I can’t show you the details. The Trib did it the old-fashioned way, by viewing the actual paper forms, so go look at their numbers. Bill White raised another ton of money, and we can see that Rick Perry and KBH have spent down their kitties considerably. No surprise – you cannot escape their ads, no matter how you try, if you turn your TV on. The end result is that all of a sudden, the playing field is a lot more level than it’s ever been. And that’s a mighty good thing.

Beneath the fold are the reports from the other Democratic statewide races, with my comments. Click on to read them.


Endorsement watch: Statesman for LCT

The Statesman endorses Linda Chavez-Thompson for Lite Gov.

We believe longtime labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson can do the most for the Democratic ticket, perhaps especially for Bill White, the party’s probable gubernatorial nominee.

Through her inspiring life story — as well as her potential to draw women, Hispanics and labor voters crucial to any Democratic victory — Chavez-Thompson, 65, can be a compelling candidate.


And nobody in the race — perhaps on the entire ballot — offers a more admirable life story than Chavez-Thompson. At 10, she worked for 30 cents an hour in the West Texas cotton fields. She dropped out of school in the ninth grade — never to return — to help support her family.

In 1967, she became a secretary for a Lubbock laborers union, a post that put her on course to a 40-year career that ended with her service as the first female executive vice president of the national AFL-CIO. She retired from the labor organization in 2007.

Chavez-Thompson also served as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

So in the end, that’s three for Linda Chavez-Thompson and two for Ronnie Earle. This was the toughest decision in the statewide races, and you really couldn’t go wrong with either candidate. LCT is my choice, but Ronnie Earle would make a fine candidate as well.

Endorsement watch: Another split for the Lite Guvs

In the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor, the Chron goes with Ronnie Earle.

As lieutenant governor, Earle says, he would be able to work across party lines to reach consensus and avoid paralyzing the legislative process.

“I have a long history of working with anybody who is willing to sit down at the table and work things out,” Earle told the Chronicle editorial board. He says he would relish the collegial give and take in the Senate in shaping policy.

At the same time, Earle makes it clear he would not support controversial voter ID legislation, saying voter fraud is not a problem in Texas and the bill “reeks of oppression” of certain demographic groups.

If elected, he promises to open the Senate process to public input and greater transparency, just as he sought as district attorney to get community members more involved in the criminal justice process.

And the Star Telegram recommends Linda Chavez-Thompson.

Known as a tough but reasonable negotiator, Chavez-Thompson says she wants to be a consensus builder in the state Senate, tackling the issues of education funding and the projected budget shortfall. She favors passing a local-option funding bill for transportation.

Chavez-Thompson said the Republican’s leadership in gerrymandering congressional districts in 2003 bordered on “stupidness — if that’s a word.”

Because she would bring a fresh perspective, a commitment to work with both sides of the aisle and an emphasis on the state’s public schools and higher education, the Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Linda Chavez-Thompson for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary.

Chavez-Thompson also picked up the BOR endorsement.

Linda Chavez-Thompson got her first job in Texas at the age of ten, working for thirty-cents an hour hoeing cotton with her family. She picked cotton, cleaned homes, and learned English when she should have been finishing high school — all so she could support her family. In her youth, she learned the values of protecting Texas families and ensuring every Texas child has the best education possible. It is amazing to hear Linda Chavez-Thompson talk about how her days growing up in Texas instilled in her the strength, intelligence, and passion she has carried with her throughout her life.

The rest of her lifetime of public service is well documented. From a ten-year old picking cotton in West Texas, she became the first woman and first person of color to serve as Executive Vice-President of the National AFL-CIO. And in that time, she — unlike her wealthy billionaire opponent, incumbent David Dewhurst — always put the best interests of Texas families first. One fellow blogger wrote passionately about why she is supporting Linda Chavez-Thompson:

Until we elect somebody like Linda, who understands what the rest of Texas goes through, our state won’t develop policies designed for everybody to succeed. Linda Chavez-Thompson has been working for those less fortunate not just her entire career, but her entire life.

We agree. We endorse Linda Chavez-Thompson for Lieutenant Governor, and hope you get to hear her story directly very soon.

Keeping the “split” theme going, Ronnie Earle had won the BOR readers poll, but their editorial board went the other way.

Endorsement watch: A split for the Lite Guvs

The two major Democratic candidates for Lieutenant Governor split a pair of endorsements yesterday. The Dallas Morning News went with Ronnie Earle.

Given the choice facing Democrats in the March 2 primary, the better candidate is Earle, who served 31 years as Travis County district attorney before retiring in 2008. He also draws on two terms in the Texas House from the 1970s.

Neither candidate details a clear vision of how to deal with such issues as the state budget crunch, under-funded highways and challenges for public education.

Chavez-Johnson, 65, of San Antonio, has an inspiring personal story of leaving school in the ninth grade to help support her family in the Panhandle. Self-schooled, she rose through labor leadership in Texas, ultimately spending 12 years as a top AFL-CIO executive in Washington before retiring.


Earle has the better insight into the levers of power in government. To make a creditable run against Republican incumbent David Dewhurst in the fall, he would have to sharpen his message beyond his current call for a big study of state finances.

I can’t say I’m surprised by the DMN’s distaste for a labor-oriented candidate, but neither can I dispute their final sentence, mostly because at this point I have little idea what either of these candidates are saying. (Here’s a video of Chavez-Thompson, so at least we have that much.) I really really really hope whoever wins that race can raise the money to hire some staff and get his or her message out there.

On the flip side, the Express News goes with Chavez-Thompson.

Chavez-Thompson is undoubtedly the best Democratic candidate in the race. She has a long record of working for Democratic causes and candidates. She also serves as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

A native of the Texas Panhandle who grew up working in cotton fields, the former labor leader earned a reputation as a tough but reasonable advocate for her causes when she represented San Antonio’s chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Chavez-Thompson, currently a member of the VIA Metropolitan Transit Board, is a straight-shooter who would function well managing a legislative body such as the Senate.

She would be an effective advocate for the state’s public schools and higher education, which are a key focus of her platform.

In the same piece, they also recommend Hank Gilbert for Ag Commish, though in a rather lukewarm fashion, and Hector Uribe for Land Commish.

Two more polls

We are suddenly awash in hot polling goodness. First up, a new result from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll:

Gov. Rick Perry is well ahead of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Wharton County GOP chair Debra Medina, who are locked in a statistical tie for second place in a GOP gubernatorial primary that could go to a runoff, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Perry had the support of 45 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters — short of the majority required for an outright win. Hutchison had 21 percent and Medina had 19 percent, a two-percentage-point divide that’s smaller than the poll’s margin of error.

In the Democratic primary race, former Houston Mayor Bill White has a huge lead over his next closest challenger, businessman Farouk Shami, pulling 50 percent to Shami’s 11 percent. Five other candidates are in the running for the Democratic nomination; the survey found that only 9 percent of those polled prefer someone other than the two frontrunners.

Not much to see here, as this result is well in line with the others, including the fact that the remaining Democratic candidates are non-factors. One wonders if Medina’s recent 9/11 trutherism gaffe will cost her. Perry rounds up some evidence to say that it will. One never knows with the Republican base, that’s all I can say.

In general election matchups, the Republicans trump the Democrats. Perry would beat White, according to the new poll, 44-35. Hutchison would, too, and by the same margin: 43-34 (in our earlier poll, she outperformed Perry in hypothetical general election matchups). Medina and White would tie, 36-36. Shami would lose a hypothetical race to Perry, 48-25; to Hutchison, 49-23; and to Medina, 40-24.

That’s the first general election matchup featuring Farouk Shami I’ve seen. After the latest Rasmussen poll came out, Team Shami circulated a press release claiming that those results meant Bill White couldn’t win in November. I’m thinking they may need to try a different tack now.

Democratic primary voters have a couple of other statewide races to decide. In the contest for lieutenant governor — the winner will face Republican incumbent David Dewhurst in November — labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson took 18 percent of those polled, former Travis County District Attorney Earle got 16 percent, and restaurateur Marc Katz had 3 percent. Five percent of voters said they wanted “somebody else,” and a whopping 58 percent remain undecided on the eve of early voting, which begins on Tuesday.

Friedman and Gilbert — two refugees from the governor’s race now running for agriculture commissioner — are locked in a tight race, 32 percent to 27 percent. While Friedman’s ahead, the difference is within the poll’s margin of error. And, as with the Lite Guv race, “undecided” is actually leading, at 41 percent. The winner will face incumbent Republican Todd Staples in November.

Now we have two Lite Guv results, and one for Ag Commish. I think Team Hank needs to be a little concerned about these numbers.

More from the Trib is here, with full crosstabs available at either link. And before I could finish posting about this poll, we get a Research 2000 result, which BOR summarized:

Question: If the election for Governor were held today, for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Bill White, the Democrat, and Rick Perry, the Republican?

All voters: White 42, Perry 46
Independents: White 45, Perry 42

The poll was taken from Feb 8 – Feb 10, and has a 4% MOE. A total of 600 likely voters who vote regularly in state elections were interviewed statewide by telephone.

Needless to say, that’s a fine result, and given that Perry is well known and White isn’t yet, it suggests a lot more room for growth for the Democrat. Even in the results where White has trailed by more, he’s generally been around “generic Dem” numbers, while Perry and now KBH have consistently been below 50%. Usually, the conventional wisdom in those cases is that means trouble for the incumbent. Make no mistake, Perry’s strategy will be to try to bury White under all kinds of negative attacks, since after nine years in office he’s got nothing else to say to convince people to stick with him. All these results have shown that he will have his work cut out for him, too.

Still more polling

Via the Trib, there’s another gubernatorial primary poll out there.

The Texas Credit Union League Poll of Texas Primary Voters, released today, shows incumbent Rick Perry close to a majority, holding a 22 point lead over Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary race for Governor. According to the poll of likely primary voters, Rick Perry leads with 49%, Hutchison holds 27% and Debra Medina rose to 19%.

In the Democratic primary race for Governor, Bill White reached 51%, with Farouk Shami holding a distant 19%. Held a little more than a week before the start of early voting, pollsters questioned likely primary voters about top national and state issues, favorability rankings of state elected officials, and more, all broken out in terms of demographics including area of the state, income, ethnicity, and party affiliation.

Full crosstabs are available for the Democrats and the Republicans. Warning: they are each 181-page, mostly Courier-font, PDF files. Of greatest interest to me, from the Democratic side:

– As noted, White leads Shami 51-19. This is consistent with the PPP poll that had White up 49-19. I’m not fully clear how they screened for likely voters, however. They did ask if the respondent was likely to vote, with 80% saying they were very likely and 20% saying somewhat likely, but what I don’t know is if they pre-screened for a history of primary voting. As with all relatively low-turnout affairs, if you’re not in the habit of voting in them, you’re not really a likely voter in my book. Maybe they did this, maybe they didn’t, I couldn’t tell. Seems like they might have, since the TCUL folks used a pollster affiliated with the party in question for each poll, but I can’t say for certain.

– As with the other poll, the lesser-known candidates were basically non-factors. Felix Alvarado got 7%, Alma Aguado got 4%, and “other” got 3%. If those numbers hold up, I believe Bill White has an excellent shot at avoiding a runoff.

– The poll asked about favorability for White, Shami, and Alvarado. White was rated favorably by 51% of respondents, with only 5% having a negative view. An astonishing 93% of Houston-area respondents gave him positive marks. Shami’s numbers were 32/12, and nobody knew who the hell Felix Alvarado was.

– Despite having all kinds of data subsets, I couldn’t tell how the vote preference broke down along regional or ethnic lines. It may be in there, but I gave up trying to find it.

– Interestingly, basically the same number of people (90) claimed to have seen a White ad as a Shami ad (93). For all the money Shami has spent on ads, that’s gotta sting.

– This poll also asked about the Lite Guv race. Linda Chavez-Thompson was in the lead there, with 25%, followed by Ronnie Earle at 18%, and Marc Katz at 8%. Needless to say, that leaves a lot of room for “Undecided”.

– I did not delve into the GOP crosstabs, because life is too short. The one point of interest was there on the summary page, where it said Perry would defeat KBH in a runoff by a 58-34 margin. Poor Kay.

Finally, Burka reports that we’ll have a UT/Texas Trib poll soon, which means there will be three results to compare and contrast, plus Rasmussen’s GOP numbers. It’s so nice to have this much data, isn’t it?

The Lite Guv primary

We’re two weeks out from the start of early voting, and I don’t feel like I know any more about the prospective candidates for Lieutenant Governor than I did when they first announced their candidacies.

[T]he odds remain long that a Democrat will knock off [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst in the fall, said Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor who studies state and national politics.

[Marc] Katz still will be selling sandwiches next year, Jillson predicted.

“Ronnie Earle and Linda Chavez-Thompson have visible strengths,” he said. “Earle is a Texas populist in the (Ralph) Yarborough/(Jim) Hightower tradition, and Chavez-Thompson is a national Hispanic activist. Neither is terribly well-known. Hard to tell who wins the primary, but neither is likely to have the money to stand in against Dewhurst.”

I can’t argue with any of that. Not only do none of them have any money, at least as of the January finance reports, but as far as I can tell none of them has a real campaign, either. I have not gotten as much as a press release from any of them, which is not the case for any other candidate that has a realistic shot at being on the ballot in November. For all of the excitement and apparent establishment-backing of the Chavez-Thompson candidacy, I expected more. There’s time for November, and I don’t think she or Earle would have to match Dewhurst in fundraising, but more than this is certainly needed.

More on Chavez-Thompson

The Express News does a nice profile of Democratic Lite Guv candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson. The most important bits are right here:

Party leaders gathered in Austin last month to brainstorm on promising candidates for the lieutenant governor’s race. They had initially approached state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, but she said she declined.

Someone suggested Chavez-Thompson, and before long, her friends and associates began a full-court press to persuade her.

Strategists dropped by her home and made their case. Pollsters broke down the numbers for her. Prominent politicians such as former state Comptroller John Sharp and state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, urged her to run.

“There’d be one day when I thought it was doable,” Chavez-Thompson said. “And the next day I’d think, ‘Am I crazy or what?’”


Four years ago, Texas Democrats nominated Maria Luisa Alvarado, a little-known, underfunded San Antonian with no election experience, for lieutenant governor. She lost to Republican incumbent David Dewhurst by nearly a million votes.

Dewhurst has a personal fortune estimated to be close to $200 million, and Alvarado said she found it particularly hard to compete with “the millions of dollars Dewhurst had available.”

The main difference between Chavez-Thompson and Alvarado is that Chavez-Thompson starts out with a base and the promise of support from establishment Democrats. If she is the nominee, she won’t need to match Dewhurst dollar for dollar, but she will need enough money to get her name and basic message out. If these party leaders who urged her to run were sincere, then they will be there to help her raise some of that money. It will be hard to win, for all of the reasons we’re familiar with, but if Chavez-Thompson has the resources she can certainly be competitive. If that doesn’t happen, then her fate will be like Alvarado’s. She – indeed, all of the Lite Guv hopefuls – deserves better than that. I just hope whoever the nominee is, he or she gets it.

A brief intro to Linda Chavez-Thompson

Video of Linda Chavez-Thompson’s filing day remarks, from The Trib.

They have more on Chavez-Thompson here. As I said, I’m really looking forward to Chavez-Thompson and Ronnie Earle making the case for themselves. And as expected, Chavez-Thompson’s candidacy has generated some excitement in South Texas.

“I am excited about the fact that Linda Chavez-Thompson is going to file for lieutenant governor. Along with Bill White, she will energize the statewide base of Democratic voters,” said Nelva Sosa-Slagle, co-founder of South Texas Democrats for Obama.


There was widespread concern that the statewide Democratic ticket would not reflect the changing demographics of the state of Texas because it would lack a high profile Latino candidate. [Ester Salinas, co-founder of the Justice Advocacy Group] said that all changes with Chavez-Thompson’s candidacy. She said the border region would be particularly excited.

“With the current recession, so many Texans are going without. Linda understands that. Her candidacy is a real spark that can have a big impact down here. People are sick of the same old politics. I am looking forward to Linda’s next visit to the Valley and helping her campaign.”

Sosa-Slagle said Chavez-Thompson would “energize” the Democratic base for a number of reasons.

“On a personal level, she can relate to the concerns of working-class Texans due to her humble beginnings which have served as an inspiration to many Latinas. On a professional level, she derives the expertise and vision for resolving these concerns from being a successful executive of the AFL-CIO and Democratic Party,” Sosa-Slagle said. “And, on a political level, she serves as a major contrast to the wealthy Republican incumbent David Dewhurst and the Austin restaurant owner Marc Katz.”

And speaking of the AFL-CIO, this is from Ed Sills’ email newsletter:

Needless to say, this is an extraordinary development for the labor movement in Texas. Chavez-Thompson will build a campaign over the next few days, and it’s only about eight weeks to the March 2 primary, so this thing will run fast and furious over the coming weeks. Other Democrats who have filed for the post include former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and Austin delicatessen owner Marc Katz. Chavez-Thompson made it clear during media questioning that she is running to make changes in Texas, not against the Democratic opponents. This is a good place to note as well that the Texas AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education won’t issue an endorsement in this contest until the COPE Convention on Feb. 6 and 7 and that only the delegates to that convention can finalize such an endorsement. That said, there is no question that Chavez-Thompson has the closest possible ties to the labor movement and there’s no point in pretending otherwise, so this newsletter will be watching the lieutenant governor’s race in detail.

She hasn’t won anything yet, and she has one strong and appealing opponent in Earle, and one with a lot of resources in Katz, so nobody should take anything for granted. But her potential is obvious, and it’s cool and amazing to see a race that three months ago was on no one’s radar generate so much buzz. Stace has more.

Chavez-Thompson to file for Lite Guv


Linda Chavez-Thompson, a national leader within the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party, plans to enter the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor on Monday, according to a source familiar with her plans.

She is expected to file Monday afternoon at state Democratic Party headquarters.

This may be the most interesting primary of them all. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what she has to say, and to see how she and Ronnie Earle make the case for themselves. (Sorry, Marc, but these are my top two choices for this race.) Thanks to BOR for the tip.

The Lite Guv may not be what it used to be

Now that we have an interesting race for the Democratic nomination for Lite Guv, it’s worth wondering whether a Lt. Gov. Earle or a Lt. Gov. Katz would wield the same power as Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and his predecessors. Dave McNeely thinks not.

The Texas lieutenant governor appoints Senate committees and their chairs; decides which bills go to which committees; decides whom to recognize on the Senate floor, thus controlling the agenda; and is the Senate’s leader and names the other four Senate members on the Legislative Budget Board, which writes the rough draft of the state budget.

Most of the lieutenant governor’s powers, however, aren’t in the state constitution, but the Senate rules passed at the start of each regular legislative session.


If Dewhurst is re-elected and doesn’t get an opportunity to go to the U.S. Senate, he will most likely retain the existing powers of the lieutenant governor.

Republicans hold a 19-12 advantage over the Democrats in the Senate. Most observers think that ratio is unlikely to change in the 2010 elections, and they’re unlikely to punish their fellow Republican.

If, however, a Democrat should win — Newsweek magazine recently predicted that White would narrowly be elected governor in 2010, which if it happened, could aid the party’s lieutenant governor candidate — the Republican senators very likely would strip several of the lieutenant governor’s powers.

Burka has addressed the issue of Republican Senators versus the Lite Guv in recent months, though he was talking specifically about Dewhurst. He thinks there’s a good chance the Senate will be a different place in 2011 even if The Dew is still in place. This is all pretty inside baseball stuff, but the potential effects are quite large, so this is definitely worth paying attention to.

Katz files

As expected, Austin restauranteur Marc Katz has filed for Lite Guv on the Democratic side, saying his family will contribute “millions” to his effort.

Austin deli owner Marc Katz, filing papers to run for lieutenant governor at Texas Democratic Party headquarters [Wednesday], said his relatives will make a “huge, milestone contribution” to his campaign that will allow him to buy TV and travel the state spreading his progressive-populist message.

“It’s in the millions,” Katz said of the family donation. He promised more details Friday.

Katz, who has run unsuccessfully for Austin mayor, is making his first statewide race. He faces former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and possibly national labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson in the March 2 Democratic primary. Barring a resignation by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, they would be vying for the right to take on incumbent GOP Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst next fall.

Katz said the relatives making the contributions to his campaign mainly live in New York, California and Florida.

Not sure how good an idea that will be in a Texas election, but we’ll see. At least he’ll provide a bit of entertainment, and if the message he says he’s going to bring resonates, who knows? As I said before, I’m just glad to have another potentially high profile primary on our side. And if Linda Chavez-Thompson gets in as well, so much the better. The Trib has more.

Katz to file for Lite Guv

Looks like we’re in for another contested primary for Democrats in statewide races.

Two weeks after former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle surprised many by filing to seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, Austin deli owner Marc Katz plans to add his name to the primary race on Wednesday.

I’ve heard it said that Katz was only going to run if no other viable candidates stepped forward. If that’s the case, then either he doesn’t think much of Earle, or he never really meant that and always intended to run. In any event, that’s three contested primaries at the statewide level for Democrats, with this one possibly becoming a multi-candidate race. Considering where we were as recently as six weeks ago, that’s a pretty remarkable achievement. In any event, Earle has written about why he’s running for Lite Guv, which is worth your time to read. I look forward to hearing more about Katz’s reasons for running.

Earle explains why he picked Lite Guv

Ronnie Earle talks to the Trib about why he decided to run for Lieutenant Governor when all the previous speculation had been centered on Governor or Attorney General.

Earle, who retired at the end of 2008 after over three decades as a DA, says he spent most of the last year enjoying his retirement, but ultimately felt compelled to run. “I see policies being enacted at the Capitol that endanger our children and grandchildren,” he says.

He places a lot of emphasis the importance of cooperation, which will likely be a major campaign theme. “Effective law enforcement and effective government means teaming up, “ Earle says. “You have to have a high level of cooperation among various federal, state, and local agencies and go after the problem together.”

He credits inter-agency cooperation for lowering Austin’s murder rate from 41 murders in 1991 to 23 in 2008. Earle intends to bring this cooperative spirit to state government, which he believes is currently somewhat lacking. “Right now, I’m not sure if the right hand and the left hand even know each other,” he says.

They’ve got an audio clip here if you want to hear more. What he says is reasonable enough, and I look forward to hearing more from him even as I wait to see if any other candidates get into the race. Looking through my archives, I find one time Earle specifically addressed what office he might like to run for since he first expressed his interest in running. He talked about running for Governor, and his vision seems to have been fairly similar to what it is now. That ought to make it easier for him to explain why he chose a different path in the end.

Earle files for Lite Guv

Well, this was unexpected.

Former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is running for lieutenant governor of Texas.

Earle, who retired last year after more than three decades as district attorney, filed paperwork with the Texas Democratic Party late Friday to seek the party’s nomination for the statewide office. The winner of the Democratic primary in March will probably face the Republican incumbent David Dewhurst next fall.

At this point, Earle is the sole filer for the party’s nomination, but Austin deli owner Marc Katz is also planning to run, a campaign spokeswoman said Friday.

Labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson is also considering a bid. She was out of the country on Friday and not available for comment.

I’m more puzzled than anything else, partly because I’d already started thinking about Linda Chavez-Thompson for Lite Guv, and partly because after however much time of being in radio silence, I’d figured Earle had decided to enjoy his retirement. Guess you never know. Anyway, whatever his reasoning is, I’m happy to have as many contested primaries between quality candidates as we can get. It sure beats the alternative. Welcome to the race, Ronnie, now make your case to be the nominee.

Shami and Shapleigh

Farouk Shami will make his entry into the Democratic primary for Governor official tomorrow afternoon at his business’ headquarters in Houston; details are on his website. The Trib gives us a peek behind the curtain.

Shami, running as a Democrat, has lined up an experienced gang to run his campaign: campaign manager Joel Coon, general consultants Robert Jara and Dan McClung, pollster Ben Tulchin, and media specialist Tad Devine.

Coon has worked on several campaigns, helping Democrat Travis Childers win a Republican congressional seat in Mississippi in 2008. Jara and McClung are old hands at Texas and especially Houston races. Tulchin is a California-based pollster who works on races around the country. Devine was an advisor to John Kerry and to Al Gore and has managed several campaigns in other countries.

The field for the Democratic primary is crowded, but more than half the voters are undecided. The names at this point include Felix Alvarado, Kinky Friedman, Hank Gilbert, Tom Schieffer, and maybe Ronnie Earle and Eliot Shapleigh, who haven’t declared but have been making gubernatorial noises. In a UT/Texas Tribune poll earlier this month, Friedman had 19 percent and Schieffer had 10 percent with everyone else in the single digits. Undecided had 55 percent, leaving plenty of room for new candidates.

I think the Ronnie Earle ship has sailed by now. I’m not aware of any buzz around him, haven’t really heard his name get mentioned in weeks, and at this point it’s hard to imagine him getting any traction. Shapleigh’s an interesting case. Since his announcement that he was not running for re-election to the Senate, it has appeared that he’s interested in running for something statewide, a subject that another Trib story explores. With five candidates already in the race, it seems to me it’d be a crapshoot – 20% of the vote might be enough to get into a runoff in a six-person field, and any of the five declared candidates strike me as being capable of doing that. Lite Guv, on the other hand, is wide open (yeah, yeah, Marc Katz – like I said, wide open) and if you’re really lucky you might wind up opposed by some non-officeholder selected by a committee. Certainly the odds of being on the ballot in November are much better in the latter case.

Back to Shami, about whom I daresay there will be many questions asked by primary voters, starting with “Who’s he?” and working towards “What has he done before now?”

Shami’s business, founded in 1986, took off when he signed a distribution deal with Austin-based Armstrong McCall. John McCall is a part owner of Farouk Systems now, and the two men — particularly McCall — were the biggest contributors four years ago to Kinky Friedman’s campaign for governor. Shami gave Friedman $24,400 for that run; McCall was in for $1.3 million and was listed, until last February, as Friedman’s campaign treasurer.

Shami also contributed to former Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, who lost a 2006 race to Democrat Ellen Cohen. And in May of this year, he gave $5,000 to Republican Ted Cruz, who had his sights set on a run for attorney general. In federal races, he’s contributed to candidates of all political stripes this decade, including Democrat Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, Houston Mayor Bill White (for the U.S. Senate race), Ralph Nader (in 2004 and 2008), Tennessee Democrat Graham Leonard, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the same month he gave to Cruz), and the Republican National Committee (most recently in 2007).

Yeah, that’s going to cause some heartburn. All I can say is I hope he has a good, pithy explanation for folks who ask him about it. Beyond that, I look forward to seeing how his launch goes tomorrow.

Keep talking, Tom

I’ll leave the commentary on Tom DeLay’s dancing prowess to the experts and simply note that he has succeeded in getting himself back in the news. Which means people are asking him for his opinions on things, which in turn means more chances for him to fib and dissemble.

There was one more thing I needed to know, and with the ice pack under his foot melting and his professional dance partner waiting to get back to rehearsing, he himself cut to the chase: “Don’t you want to ask me about Ronnie Earle?” Of course, he was referring to the D.A. who got a Texas grand jury to indict him four years ago, on campaign finance laws; Earle has yet to bring the case to trial, and DeLay has always called the case politically motivated.

So, what is going on with the case? “Well, I can’t get my day in court, that’s what’s going on…Now it’s been four years, one appeal after another, but it’s still hanging out there. All Ronnie Earle ever wanted to do was indict me.”

Of course, the current appeals are being pressed by DeLay’s co-defendants Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, who got a sweetheart ruling from the Republican majority on the Third Court of Appeals last year. The Third Court took forever to get to a ruling in the first place – the appeals Earle made on DeLay’s tossed indictment went all the way to the Court of Criminal Appeals and got a resolution before the Third Court bothered to rouse itself on this one, prompting the Democratic judges on the Court to complain about it being slow-rolled – which the reason why we’re all still waiting for DeLay to get that day in court he says he wants.

Meanwhile, Earle has said he’s considering running for governor, and “What do I say to Ronnie Earle? Run, baby, run. Run, baby run. And I will be at every campaign stop to tell my story.”

I think I speak for every Democrat in Texas when I say please, pretty please with heaping piles of corporate lobbyist cash on it, do exactly that. We would love for you to be out there at every campaign stop, reminding everyone of who you are and why you’re an ex-Congressman. And wear the sequins, too, it’s a great look for you.

Earle still pondering a run for Governor

Ronnie Earle reminds us that he’s still out there, and still thinking about mounting a campaign for Governor.

Former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who most recently got national attention for his prosecution of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, said Friday that he is “leaning toward” running for governor in the 2010 Democratic primary.

Earle, 67, said he hadn’t set a timetable but will probably make a decision “sooner rather than later.”


[Tom] Schieffer and [Hank] Gilbert responded to Earle’s potential candidacy while attending a reception in Austin on Friday night for the Democratic National Committee.

“I’ve known him forever,” Schieffer said. “He would be a formidable candidate. I hope he doesn’t run.”

Asked whether he is concerned about a new opponent, Gilbert said, “Not in the least.”

“That’s a good thing about the Democratic Party,” Gilbert said. “We don’t say no to anybody.”

If I were advising Earle, I’d tell him to go ahead and make that decision soon. Schieffer has started to consolidate establishment support, while Gilbert’s entry has fired up a number of activists, including some who were once Earle boosters. There’s still room in the field for him – frankly, I think the bigger, the better at this point – but more and more people are starting to line up behind one or another of the confirmed entrants. Don’t miss the train, that’s all I’m saying.

One more thing, from the PoliTex companion piece:

Earle said that if he runs, he would push for cracking down on Mexican drug cartels and organized crime and press for measures to help rescue the “shrinking middle class.” Hallmarks of his campaign, he said, would focus on “prosperity, public safety and equal justice under the law.

Earle dismissed Republican criticism that he engaged in partisan politics during his years as DA, saying that his prosecutions included 13 Democratsand four Republicans.

“Some high-profile Republicans accused me of being a partisan prosecutor, but the record belies that,” he said.

I know some people think that Earle’s role as prosecutor of elected officials who are accused of lawbreaking will be a bad thing for him as a statewide candidate. In particular, the concern is that his prosecution of Tom DeLay will make it impossible for him to get crossover votes. I disagree with that. There’s not a lot of people who care about DeLay any more, and those that do aren’t likely to vote for any Democrat anyway. I think DeLay’s status as a symbol of corruption, and Earle’s role in fighting it and helping get him out of government will appeal to independent voters. He’s got a good answer to the question, and as long as he sticks with that and steers the conversation back towards what he wants to do as Governor, I believe this issue will eventually fade away. Having said that, I would be a little concerned about the timing of DeLay’s eventual trial. That will be a distraction if it happens while he’s on the campaign trail, and if DeLay ultimately walks it will be a lot more than that. I don’t know how to assess the risk of that – the proceedings have taken so long already, who knows when it will finally culminate? And of course, on the flip side, a conviction would be a huge boost for Earle. So who knows?

UPDATE: Todd Hill has more.

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?

Gilbert for Governor?

Hank Gilbert, the 2006 Democratic candidate for Ag Commissioner who had been up till recently running for that office again, is now thinking about running for Governor.

[A]ccording to multiple sources that have confirmed this to Burnt Orange Report, Hank Gilbert, our 2006 Agriculture Commissioner candidate is gearing up to run statewide in the Governor’s race. Gilbert was one of the first three TexRoots endorsed candidates, which included soon to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia.

This is an exciting development. Not only would such a move shake up interest for activists who have long appreciated Gilbert’s true Texas style, it has the potential to set up a productive and active primary to keep Democrats from straying over into the Republican fold for Kay Bailey Hutchison. From conversations with those close to Gilbert, he’s secured commitments and support to take his campaign to the top of the ticket should he choose to and start a campaign with more online infrastructure than anyone else in the 2006, 2008, or 2010 Democratic fields.

While our statewide ticket isn’t dependent on our Gubernatorial nominee, it has an influence in providing support for the downballot races, including freshman members and rural Democrats in the Texas House. Compared to some of the current gubernatorial candidates, Gilbert could be an asset for Democrats’ downballot efforts. From what I’ve been told, Gilbert is interested in helping to proactively fill out other spots on the statewide ticket and is interested in working with other candidates to minimize unnecessary conflict.

Hank’s a charismatic guy, and he’s popular among the activists, which may give him a leg up in the primaries. As Molly Ivins would have put it, he’s got a lot of Elvis in him. While the BOR report sounds promising, I confess I’m skeptical about this. I think Hank makes for a very good Ag Commissioner candidate, but I’m not sure how all of his qualities will translate to the top of the ticket. I’d need to hear more about this. Has Ronnie Earle made a decision yet?

Here’s the Chron story on Gilbert’s announcement.

[Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom] Schieffer said he had hoped that Gilbert would run for agriculture commissioner again on a ticket with him.

“Ten days ago, Hank Gilbert talked to me about being part of the team and running the ag race. His exact words to me were: ‘You need to cover me in the urban areas, and I’ll cover your back in the rural areas,’ ” Schieffer said.

Gilbert said he had told Schieffer that at a Democratic summit in Tyler, but he said he changed his mind and decided to run for governor after listening to Schieffer speak.

“The man is very intelligent,” Gilbert said. “But he just didn’t inspire me. I was looking for that spark.”

As it happens, today I got an email from the Tom Schieffer campaign touting some endorsements from Democratic leaders like State Reps. Garnet Coleman, Jessica Farrar, Jim Dunnam, and Pete Gallego. I’ve reproduced the press release beneath the fold. I’ll be honest, while I think a competitive primary between credible candidates will be beneficial, all told I’d rather have both Schieffer and Gilbert on the ticket in November. But we’ll see how this plays out.