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Tom Leppert

How good a stepping stone is Mayor of Dallas?

Stephen Young notes that being Mayor of Dallas has not been particularly helpful to others’ ambitions.

Rep. Eric Johnson

If he’s anything, Dallas mayor-elect Eric Johnson is an ambitious guy. He’s got degrees from Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, and took his seat in the Texas House of Representatives before turning 40. In the legislature, he’s sought out high-profile fights, sparring over things like criminal justice reform, gentrification and corruption in municipal politics. The resume that Johnson’s put together is almost too perfect for someone who aspires to hold higher state or federal office.

That’s what makes his current position so interesting. Saturday night, Johnson won the keys to one of the most useless big-deal jobs in the United States. Dallas’ mayor is, essentially, just an at-large member of the City Council. He or she gets to run the council’s meetings and can place an item on the council agenda if he or she wishes to do so, but the city manager draws up the city’s budget and has all the real power. Johnson has long been at the top of the list whenever people talk about potential replacements for longtime Dallas U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, but one has to wonder if that’s changed, given the mayor’s office’s challenges and history.

To find a former Dallas mayor who sought and won higher office after leaving city hall, one has to look at the way back to Earle Cabell, who resigned as mayor in February 1964 to run for Congress against incumbent Republican Bruce Alger. Since Cabell’s successful campaign, former mayors Wes Wise, Ron Kirk and Tom Leppert have all run unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. House or Senate. Laura Miller, Kirk’s successor, couldn’t even win a Dallas City Council race 12 years after leaving office, getting trounced by incumbent Jennifer Staubach Gates in May.

I noted when Mayor-elect Johnson won the runoff that he was a politician with ambitions. Does this mean those ambitions are doomed? I don’t think so. I can’t speak to Wes Wise’s experience, but Ron Kirk ran for Senate as a Democrat in 2002, while Tom Leppert joined a primary that already had David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz. I wouldn’t extrapolate much from that.

I’d say three things will matter. One, does a good opportunity come along at a good time? I’d suggested Johnson might want to run statewide, but Young notes he has had his eye on Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson’s CD30 seat. Maybe the timing will work for one of those options, and maybe it won’t. Two, does he build up his fundraising network enough to be a force in a more expensive race? And three, does he does a good enough job to make him look like an appealing candidate for whatever comes next? It’s not rocket science. This is one of those times where past history isn’t a great guide, but the basic fundamentals still apply.

Precinct analysis: GOP Senate

I’m just going to give highlights from this one. I only have the Democratic canvass for Harris County, so this is county by county data only. You can see the spreadsheet here.

– David Dewhurst had a majority of the vote in 148 counties. Unfortunately for him, the largest one was McLennan, with 20,947 total votes, where he got 50.05%. His worst performances were in some of the biggest counties in the state – Tarrant (33.65%), Dallas (33.06%), Denton (31.44%), and Collin (30.65%). The good news for him is that it was due to Tom Leppert, who not surprisingly was strong in his back yard. If he can get those Leppert supporters into his column, he’ll be much better placed in July.

– Ted Cruz only carried five counties with a grand total of 257 votes in them, but he ran best in the Houston area – Montgomery (46.81%), Harris (43.62%), Fort Bend (43.30%), Galveston (39.67%), Brazoria (39.16%). He also was strong in Bexar, with 39.20%.

– Tom Leppet did not get a majority or a plurality anywhere. He was easily at his best in his back yard – all 18 of the counties in which he got at least 20% of the vote are no more than an hour or so away from the Metroplex. Against that, there were 173 counties in which he failed to exceed ten percent. The Houston area was especially unkind to him – he got 5.91% in Montgomery, 5.83% in Harris, 5.80% in Fort Bend and 5.76% in Galveston. However much of his own money he spent in this race, it didn’t do a whole lot for him.

– As for Craig James…Why was he in this race again? Seriously, James’ best performance percentagewise was Young County, where he got 317 of 2,560 votes for 12.38%; his highest vote tally was 3,335 in Harris, worth all of 2.10%. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an attention-to-performance ratio more out of whack than that of Craig James, at least for this year.

– Putting it another way, there were five additional candidates in this race, none of whom you’re likely to have heard of or would want to have heard of. These five high-hopers combined for 4.24% of the vote, which is .65 percentage points better than Craig James’ 3.59%. For those of you who bang your head against the nearest hard surface at Democratic outreach efforts in heavily Latino parts of the state, you will be amused to hear that the None Of The Above crowd had some of its best showings in Webb (15.24%), El Paso (11.87%), Cameron (10.33%), and Hidalgo (9.97%) Counties. In all but Cameron, the five fringies combined to do better than Leppert and James put together.

– Finally, a question I was curious about going into this was whether Cruz would derive any benefit from being Latino in the south and along the border. Looking at the Trib’s interactive map, the answer is somewhat, but not that much. It’s an open question to me if Cruz might outperform the rest of the GOP ticket in the Valley and South Texas in November, as Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman did in 2010. On the one hand, Guzman was mostly below the radar, and is not known for far-right positions that would be out of step with most Latino voters. On the other hand, well-funded statewide Republicans tend to do better than less well-funded Republicans against underfunded Democrats, and that’s how this race may end up, and whatever Cruz’s politics are, as the first Latino Senate candidate since Victor Morales and the first who would be a clear favorite to win, he’d likely get a fair amount of positive notice. It could go either way, and I wouldn’t bet on either outcome.

More precinct analysis, from Harris County races, next week.

January finance reports: Congress and Senate

The last batch of finance reports to come in are the federal reports, which for the most part don’t get posted till a full month after they’re due, which in this case was February 1. I’ve created a Google spreadsheet of the Texas FEC reports, taken by querying on Texas from this page, then culling the chaff. You can compare my report to this one at Kos, which focuses on the more interesting race. Note that in my spreadsheet you will find links to each candidates’ report so you can see for yourself what they’ve been up to. You can see all the finance report links on my 2012 Harris and 2012 Texas primary pages. A few highlights:

– Still no report yet from David Dewhurst and Paul Sadler. I can’t say I’m expecting much from Sadler, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised. As for Dewhurst, it’ll be interesting to see how his contributions from others compare to his self-funding – he would surely like to do better than Tom Leppert in that regard – and to the contribution totals Ted Cruz puts up.

– There’s Jim Turner in East Texas, who ran his last race in 2002 before being DeLayed into retirement, still sitting on a million bucks in his campaign treasury. Why it is that he hasn’t ever used any of that money to help the Democratic cause, and why it is that we rank and file Democrats tolerate that sort of behavior from so many current and former officeholders is a mystery to me.

– Nick Lampson’s late entry into the CD14 race produces a small fundraising total so far. Given his presence on the early DCCC watch list, I expect much bigger things in the March report.

– Joaquin Castro continues to hit it out of the park. Assuming the courts cooperate, you can see why the DCCC is expecting big things from him.

– A couple of Democratic primaries just got more interesting, as challengers outraised incumbents in both of them. In CD16, former El Paso Council member Beto O’Rourke took in $211K to Rep. Silvestre Reyes’ $177K. There’s a third candidate in this race, but he has no report listed. The Lion Star blog discusses what this means.

– Meanwhile, in CD30, challenger Taj Clayton raised $212K to Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson’s $95K. State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway took in $16K. Clayton’s accomplishment is more impressive given his late entry into the race – he did it all in just ten weeks.

– Other Democratic races of interest: David Alameel wrote himself a $245K check for his challenge to Smokey Joe Barton in D06. His co-challenger Don Jacquess had no report. New dad Dan Grant raised $37K in CD10. State Rep. Pete Gallego took in another $137K in CD23 to bump his total to $288K for the cycle. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has over $3.3 million on hand after raising another $150K. Armando Villalobos led the pack in CD27 with $134K raised, followed by Ramiro Garza with $70K and Rose Meza Harrison with $15K. However, Villalobos spent $116K to Garza’s $3K, leaving him with only $16K on hand to Garza’s $67K. State Rep. Mark Veasey collected $46K for CD33, putting him ahead of Kathleen Hicks, who had $5800. Finally, former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was actually out-raised by Sylvia Romo in CD35, with her getting $35K to his $27K, but he maintained $99K in cash to her $30K.

– On the Republican side, there’s a lot of money flowing into CD14. I don’t know who James Old is, but he’s taken in $433K for the cycle and has $310K on hand. Following him are State Rep. Randy Weber ($313K for the cycle, $206K on hand); Michael Truncale ($269K for the cycle and $149K on hand); and Felicia Harris ($161K for the cycle and $103K on hand). State Sen. Mike Jackson has a surprisingly paltry $61K on hand for CD36, having raised $130K for the cycle. No one else has as much as $10K on hand in that race, however. The Williams non-brothers, Michael and Roger, have plenty of money available to them but as yet not district in which they would want to use any of it. I’m sure they’re burning candles in hope of a favorable map from the judges.

That’s about all I have for now. The good news for me is that with the delayed primary, the next reports won’t be out till April.

Leppert says he’s officially in for Senate

As expected.

In the final hours of his incomplete term, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert told News 8 Friday morning he is a candidate for the Republican nomination for United States Senate. Leppert announced his intentions during a Friday morning taping of “Inside Texas Politics.”


On why he is running, Leppert said this: “I think we bring a different perspective; a conservative approach; clearly I think I have an understanding of how the economy works. I built businesses, I created jobs, I’ve had to deal with spending, cutting spending on both the public and private side and where we are today is Washington is overspending, it’s overtaxing and as a result it’s destroying jobs.”

The role of a partisan candidate will be a new one for Leppert. He served without party label and got high marks from his colleagues on the Council, most of whom are Democrats, for finding consensus on most issues and doing so in a respectful, accommodating way.

However, running in the primary for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s highly-sought seat may be a whole different level for the former construction company CEO. He will have to face GOP voters hungry for red meat issues such as sharply reduced spending, debt and social issues.

Leppert has tried to show he knows how to make a sharp turn to the right.

From there comes the usual checklist of modern day Republican talking points. I don’t know much about Tom Leppert so I have no way of judging whether that stuff sounds natural or forced coming from him. I do know why he’s going that route and I wouldn’t expect anyone to do anything different, but it still feels a bit like a strategy that’s born to fail. I mean, it’s not like the red meat crowd lacks champions in this race, and if they harbor any doubts about his bona fides they’re unlikely to be mollified by what he says now. Not that there’s a better avenue available to him, I suppose. I don’t think much of his chances to win the nomination – the most recent Texas Trib poll either didn’t list him as a candidate or didn’t get enough responses naming him to mention a number – but we’ll see how it goes. The DMN has more.

Dallas Mayor Leppert officially not running for re-election

As expected.

Mayor Tom Leppert, a successful business executive who rose from political unknown to become one of Dallas’ most powerful mayors, has confirmed he will not seek re-election in May but will pursue “other ways to add value to our community, our region, our state and our nation.”

Leppert’s comments were the clearest signal yet that he is planning a run for U.S. Senate, something that has been rumored for months but that he has yet to announce.

In a lengthy interview reflecting on his time at City Hall, Leppert did not commit to serving out his full term as mayor, which ends in June. But he did not say when he might leave office.

He said he decided not to run for a second term because he feels he has accomplished much of what he set out to do.

“I feel like I’ve done the job. It wasn’t a question of time. It ought to be judged by the results you’ve accomplished, not how much time you’ve spent,” he said.

It’s way too early to start handicapping a field that has no official entrants of significance yet, and I’m probably not the right guy to do that, anyway. Still, I have a hard time seeing how a guy like Leppert can gain traction in this environment, where a record of accomplishment is seen as a negative. Heck, just overcoming the Poppy Bush endorsement of Roger Williams may be too high a hurdle to overcome. (Yes, I’m being facetious.) Regardless, if he really is running, look for the reinvention as a true-believing teabagger to begin any day now. Greg has more.

Dallas has it worse than we do

Houston has its budget proposal for this year, and while it’s no thing of beauty, it’s not got any layoffs, furloughs, or truly drastic cuts in it. The city of Dallas is still working on their budget, and they’re in a worse position than we are.

Dallas officials face a $130 million budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year, a hole which could result in reductions in city services, employee layoffs and new city fees for the second year in a row.

The grim financial forecast by City Manager Mary Suhm, which is being digested by City Council members this weekend, offers yet another gloomy outlook for citizens and for city workers.

“It’s going to be tough,” Suhm said. “It’s not as big a gap as last time, but we’ve already cut a lot of things.”

Last year, the city faced a $190 million shortfall in a $2 billion budget. The council ordered painful service cuts and staff layoffs to close it.

In briefing documents prepared for the council’s study, Suhm has ranked existing city services and identified $50 million in reductions of “lower-priority” services. The gap would then be $81.3 million.

“That’s still not going to make anybody happy,” Suhm said.

Houston’s shortfall was $140 million on a $4.1 billion budget, but only $2 billion of that is the operating budget; it’s not clear to me if the $2 billion figure for Dallas represents the whole enchilada or just its operating expenses. (Rick Casey provides some context in his Wednesday column.) Be that as it may, Houston wasn’t making any huge cuts last year like Dallas was and will have to make again. And Houston is growing, while Dallas is not, meaning that Houston has a better chance of growing out of their revenue shortage once the economy rebounds. Which leaves Dallas with a choice that Houston may or may not have to face.

Mayor Tom Leppert said Saturday he still is against a tax increase to pump new revenue into city coffers.

“We can be hopeful that some things will improve the scenario, but it’s still going to be a tough year,” Leppert said.

But some council members, warned by Suhm for months that the budget picture would be a dark one, have suggested that some form of increase might be preferable to draconian service reductions.

It’s a pretty simple question, isn’t it? What level of service is the government supposed to provide, and how are the citizens supposed to pay for it? Keep in mind that a one-cent increase in the property tax rate means a $20 hike for a house valued at $200,000. That’s not a lot of money for the individual, but it’ll add up to millions for the city. What’s the minimum level of service they want to provide? What’s the minimum we want to provide? That’s the question to ask, and once you’ve answered it, you know what to do. We’ll see how Dallas answers it.