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March 3rd, 2004:

Congressional roundup

Some stories of interest as the primary date draws near.

An overview of the new CD 10, the Austin-to-Houston barbell district whose representative will be the winner of the GOP primary.

Among the GOP primary candidates, former Houston City Councilman John Kelley stands out because he opposes some conservative Republican orthodoxy. He said he voted against Proposition 12, a GOP-led effort that placed limits on the amount of money that can be rewarded in medical malpractice suits, and he mocked his opponents for saying they can abolish the Internal Revenue Service.

“If you think we’re going to get rid of the IRS in the next 10 years, take a hike,” Kelley said when he and several of his opponents visited the Chronicle editorial board. “Let’s work on some things we can get done.”

[…]

The Republican Party has shifted from its former rural supporters and toward a new suburban constituency that votes more reliably, he said.

Much of the area in the new 10th District is now in the 31st, represented by Rep. John Carter, R-Georgetown. The 31st was one of two new districts created in 2001 to reflect Texas population growth recorded in the 2000 census.

Carter is seeking re-election in a newly drawn 31st District that keeps his home county of Williamson but spans into North Central Texas.

The original 31st was drawn to take advantage of suburban growth in Austin and Houston, Alford said, a political characteristic that the new 10th inherits.

Independently, neither area had enough new people to sustain a Republican district, so mappers thought of combining the two with the rural areas in between.

I presume they mean that the Houston end, which is west Houston and Katy, didn’t have enough people for a district on its own, since it’s surely a very Republican area. The combination of the two was to get it to the 650,000 population mark.

District 28 is getting nasty.

U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez lashed out at Democratic opponent Henry Cuellar on Tuesday in his most visible show of negativity yet in this down-and-dirty congressional matchup.

Spurred on by a harshly critical Cuellar mailout last week, Rodriguez is fighting back with literature in district mailboxes set to hit today that paints Cuellar as a party-hopping political opportunist.

“We would have liked to have not gone negative, but we feel it’s important to set the record straight,” said Rodriguez campaign manager John Puder.

The grudge match, one of the most watched and competitive Texas races heading into Tuesday’s primary, pits two former Texas House Democratic colleagues against each other in a test of gritty South Texas politics.

Spite has replaced old alliances and mud is beginning to fly between the two camps.

Tuesday, the Cuellar faction fired another salvo at Rodriguez’s candidacy with a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that accuses the four-term incumbent of violating federal election laws — a charge the Rodriguez camp hotly denies.

The complaint says Rodriguez purchased ads in the Mexican newspapers El Mañana and El Diario that call Cuellar a fair-weather political ally. The ads don’t carry a disclaimer that they were paid for by Rodriguez, said Cuellar campaign manager Colin Strother.

“This is just more of the same stuff. It’s disgusting,” Strother said.

Puder denied that the Rodriguez campaign had anything to do with the ads.

“It’s quite interesting that Henry has chosen to go negative in Laredo,” Puder said. “It’s a clear indication of how much impact we’ve had in Webb County.”

Cuellar nearly knocked off Republican Henry Bonilla in CD 23 in 2002, which is the main reason that Webb County was removed from that district.

As with CD 02, immigration is an issue in CD 11.

Bill Lester fervently opposes a proposed government program that would give millions of undocumented immigrants a chance for temporary work legally. Mike Conaway likes the idea, as long as it doesn’t give migrants a free ticket to U.S. citizenship.

The two Republicans, opponents in the primary race to represent Texas’ newly created 11th Congressional District, offer similar conservative platforms — but diverge on immigration matters.

Their differences symbolize a growing fissure within the Republican Party over immigration, particularly visible since last month, when President Bush announced a plan to overhaul current policy.

[…]

National polls show Republicans are indeed divided on the issue. A majority of Republican respondents to several surveys last month disapproved of the president’s plan.

Many of them would agree with Lester, the congressional candidate from Brownwood who condemned Bush’s idea as a sweeping amnesty in disguise that would wrongly reward “illegal behavior.”

Lester catapulted immigration into campaign contention, labeling Conaway, his Midland opponent, as being soft on undocumented immigration.

Conaway was forced to clarify his position. He doesn’t go as far as Lester’s seal-the-border views and considers the president’s proposal a plausible solution.

I have no idea what “catapulted into contention” means in terms of actual support – I can’t find any poll numbers. Conaway, who lost a special election runoff to Randy Neugebauer in CD 19 last year to replace the retiring Larry Combest, is the anointed GOP candidate, a Friend of Dubya and the person Tom Craddick had in mind when he insisted that Midland get its own Congress member. For him to lose would not only be a huge upset, it would also be cast as a strong message of conservative dissension against the President. I’m not saying this is likely based on one Express News story, but it does bear watching.

Of course, whatever value there may be in seeing a finger poked into Craddick and Bush’s eye has to be weighed against this.

Describing himself as a social and fiscal conservative, Lester said he went to Montgomery, Ala., last year to support former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and 2000 presidential candidate Alan Keyes in their fight to keep a stone monolith of the Ten Commandments in the court building.

Getting back to Houston, the CD 09 race is also ratcheting up.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting took an unusual step Tuesday when he endorsed U.S. Rep. Chris Bell in the party’s primary for the new 9th Congressional District.

Party officials typically remain neutral until a nominee is selected. But Soechting said he endorsed Bell because Bell’s opponent in next Tuesday’s primary, former Justice of the Peace Al Green, “has taken money from a Republican Party official with a history of intimidating African-American voters in this very district.”

Party spokesman Mike Lavigne said the the GOP official Soechting referred to was former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary Polland, who gave Green $2,000 on Feb. 10. Soechting did not elaborate on the claim of intimidation.

Green said Soechting made his endorsement at Bell’s request. And he accused Bell of a double standard because Bell has accepted campaign contributions or endorsements from Republicans, including developer Ed Wulfe and lawyer-lobbyist Robert Miller.

Green also noted that in 2001, when Bell was a City Council member mounting a race for mayor of Houston, he accepted the Political Courage Award from Polland and the local GOP for supporting a tax cut opposed by then-Mayor Lee Brown.

“This reminds me of the double standards when African-Americans had to ride on the back of the bus and drink from colored-only water fountains,” said Green, who is African-American.

[…]

Bell said that he accepted the award from Polland because the mayor’s race was officially nonpartisan and he wanted to demonstrate that he could work with both parties.

The tone of the race in the 9th began sharpening Monday when Bell demanded that Green withdraw a radio ad that inaccurately claimed the support of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Green pulled the commercial after learning from Cummings that he had no preference in the race and that members of the caucus support both candidates.

Green also returned with a demand of his own — that Bell move into the district.

Last year’s redistricting put Bell’s residence in the heavily Republican 7th Congressional District. The 25th District that Bell represents now was moved to South Texas.

Bell said he plans to move into the district this summer.

I support Chris Bell, but I think Chairman Soechting should have remained officially neutral. It’s true that City of Houston races are nonpartisan, and most candidates reach out across party lines as a matter of course, but if taking money from Gary Polland is a bad thing for one Democrat to do, it’s a bad thing for all Democrats to do. I dislike Polland as much as any Democrat, but in the end it’s results that matter. Bell seems to have survived the experience, so I’m uncomfortable making it an issue in Al Green’s case.

Finally, a look at CD 02, where it’s Ted Poe and the five unknowns.

With a simple name and ample headlines attracted during his 22 years on the bench, Poe enjoys name recognition from more than 70 percent of voters in the region, according to one poll taken shortly after Christmas.

That leaves the five other candidates — Andrew Bolton, George Fastuca, Mark Henry, Clint Moore and John Nickell — assuming the role of the little people.

Even though they vary in campaign funding and grass-roots support, each is trying to build enough identity to push the race to a runoff with Poe — whom they all acknowledge is the front-runner.

As with CD 10, there’s very little differences on the issues, but unlike CD 10 the winner here will have a race to run in November, against Rep. Nick Lampson. Interestingly, though Poe is the best known candidate, he’s only third in fundraising according to the article, thanks to the self-funding efforts of former Enron exec Fastuca and charter plane exec Henry. Former Anadarko exec Moore is not far behind Poe, also mostly on the strength of his own money.

UPDATE: Greg is OK with Soechting’s endorsement, as is Byron.

Let the VP sweepstakes begin!

Well, barring anything truly wacky, John Kerry will be carrying the Democratic banner this fall. Kerry was not my first choice, but that was based as much on my perception of his early campaign missteps as anything. As with any candidate, there are things he’s done that I disagree with, but I consider him to be a solid, worthy, and eminently fine person for the job. I plan on planting a Kerry/Whoever sign in my yard as soon as he announces who that whoever is.

The main down side here is that, as expected, next week’s primary will be meaningless from the perspective of my having a say in who the nominee is.

“Certainly if Edwards withdraws before the Texas primary, we won’t have a role … but we will have a role in building momentum and enthusiasm as we move to November,” said Gerry Birnberg, Harris County Democratic Party Chairman. “All I’m interested in is getting a strong candidate who will be capable of beating Bush next November, and it looks to me like we’ve done that.”

I’ll second that. To be honest, had the issue been in question, I’m still not sure how I’d resolve the Kerry/Edwards dilemma. If Edwards hasn’t dropped out by the time I push the eSlate button, I may just flip a coin. All that aside, let’s not forget that there’s more to next week’s primary than just this race:

[Harris County GOP Chairman Jared] Woodfill and Birnberg emphasized that Texas voters still will consider significant congressional, state and local elections.

For once, I agree with Jared Woodfill. I’m still pondering the Gallegos/Navarro Flores race.

But let’s put all that aside for now and get on with the important task of making wild-assed guesses about who will play Riker to Kerry’s Picard (or Spock to his Kirk, if you prefer). Let’s start off by acknowledging the obvious: Everything that’s been said by either Kerry or Edwards up to this point about a Kerry/Edwards ticket is meaningless. Either Kerry thinks Edwards is the best person to help him get to 271 electoral votes, or he doesn’t. Denials about VP possibilities by candidates who are still competing are as bankable as Monopoly money.

An interesting suggestion for how to decide on a VP comes via On Background:

[If] Kerry is as smart as he has proven to be so far in this campaign, he won’t play the old game of picking a running mate who might–emphasis on “might”–help him carry a particular battleground state. Rather, he will follow the lead of Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and pick a vice presidential prospect who helps to energize the party’s base voters nationally, and who adds ideas and energy to a ticket that will be needing more of both those commodities.

Among the people mentioned there are Texas’ own Rep. Lloyd Doggett. I think this is unlikely in the extreme, as after March 9 Doggett will either be the loser of a primary race or locked in a battle with a well-connected and funded Republican opponent in a district the Democrats cannot concede, but I do agree with the overall nature of the advice. I would add that Kerry’s VP ought to be someone who provides a good contrast both to himself (i.e., be a charismatic speaker, and not be from the Northeast) and to Big Time Dick Cheney (simply not being evil would be a good start here).

One of the advantages of having a seasoned veteran (in all senses of the word) on top of the ticket means that the Democrats can reach out to a younger, less experienced but more exciting choice for #2. That could include first-term governors like Bill Richardson or Janet Napolitano, as well as less obvious candidates like Doggett. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’d love to see someone who would be a clearly strong candidate to run the next time.

That reason alone is enough for me to reject this idea.

With John Kerry’s success in Tuesday’s primaries, the race for the Democratic nomination for president is all but over — and speculation about his choice for vice president can now begin in earnest.

John Edwards, Kerry’s closest rival [and who is expected to officially withdraw from the race today], is a proven campaigner and could attract Southern voters. Govs. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Bill Richardson of New Mexico have both regional appeal and executive experience. Dark-horse candidates include former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia.

Amid this conjecture, however, one name is conspicuously absent: Bill Clinton.

Last I checked Evan Bayh was a Senator, but that’s not important right now. I know what you’re thinking: “Bill Clinton isn’t eligible anyway!”

The first objection, the constitutional one, can be disposed of easily. The Constitution does not prevent Clinton from running for vice president. The 22nd Amendment, which became effective in 1951, begins: “No person shall be elected to the office of the president more than twice.”

No problem. Bill Clinton would be running for vice president, not president. Scholars and judges can debate how loosely constitutional language should be interpreted, but one need not be a strict constructionist to find this language clear beyond dispute. Bill Clinton cannot be elected president, but nothing stops him from being elected vice president.

True, if Clinton were vice president he would be in line for the presidency. But Clinton would succeed Kerry not by election, which the amendment forbids, but through Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which provides that if a president dies, resigns or is removed from office, his powers “shall devolve on the vice president.” The 22nd Amendment would not prevent this succession.

I’m not equipped to address that point – I daresay case law is lacking. Any lawyers want to take a crack at it? Beldar? Antinome? Anyone?

UPDATE: The best line of the campaign season so far goes to Rob Humenik:

Not seen this weekend on a Volvo S40 driven by a sullen, Birkenstock-wearing, Latte swiller…

“Widowed by Dean, Flirted with Edwards, Slowly Coming to Accept the Crushing Reality of an Arranged Marriage to Kerry.”

Heh.

UPDATE: Yglesias and Volokh weigh in on the Clinton-as-VP question, with no clear answer. I’m hearing that Kerry already has a very short list of possibilities, and the big dog ain’t on it. But what the heck, if you can’t have fun with vice presidential woolgathering, when can you have fun?

More secrets for the Governor

Now that he’s tanned, rested, and ready after his five-day cruise in the Bahamas with fat-cat lobbyists, Governor Perry has had to defend himself against the slings and arrows of a bunch of good-government namby-pambies.

“We could have gone a lot of places,” Mr. Perry said.

“I don’t think where we went has a thing to do with whether or not there was real, progressive conversation. And there was progressive conversation made. I’m glad I went,” he said.

During the three-day Presidents Day weekend last month, Mr. Perry, top staff members and spouses joined the governor’s political consultant, the head of a conservative Austin think tank and anti-tax leader Grover Norquist on the Abaco Islands.

Also included were top Perry campaign donors Bobbi and John Nau and Cecelia and James Leininger, a strong advocate for public school vouchers.

Watchdog groups have criticized the trip as an example of how big givers gain unfettered access to the governor and exert undue influence on public policy.

[…]

In his first public discussion of the trip, Mr. Perry said Monday that the working retreat was just one of several conversations he has had recently with different groups. He said his office also has spoken with teachers, students and administrators. “I’ve talked to a lot of people,” he said.

He likened the trip to one he took to Washington, D.C., last week to attend the Republican Governors Association meeting.

“Was it appropriate for me to go and stay at the White House the following week and talk to the president? I think so,” Mr. Perry said.

Well, gosh, I’m glad he’s glad, aren’t you? I mean, as long as there was progressive conversation made along with the fruity rum drinks and the conga lines, what’s the beef?

Yesterday, one of those do-gooder groups filed a public information request to learn more about those “good progressive conversations”.

[The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas], which seeks to ensure the public’s business is conducted in public, sought agendas and 10 other types of written records related to the first meeting of the Governor’s Management Council on Feb. 25.

Perry chose to shut the public out of all but his own introductory comments at the meeting attended by 11 “executive branch” agency heads and other officials.

In order to ensure a “free flow of information,” Perry said after the meeting ended, it’s “quite appropriate to close the doors.”

Foundation attorney Joseph Larsen, of the Houston firm Ogden, Gibson, White, Broocks & Longoria, said that particular comment alarmed the open-government advocacy group, which is based in Dallas.

“He’s apparently hostile to open government by his acts and deeds,” Larsen said of Perry. “Going back to the entire government reorganization, he sought to completely close access to his working budget.”

Larsen said the government reorganization also involved eliminating public boards and Perry is “maybe replacing them with this ad hoc committee the public doesn’t have access to.”

Emphasis mine. I guess as long as “free flow of information” means “within our little group of like-minded selves”, then that’s a true statement. Sometimes it’s really hard to know where the ignorance leaves off and the arrogance begins.

The best response I’ve seen so far to the Governor’s Free Floating Fun Tour has been from State Rep. Jim Dunnam, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, who sent a letter (Word doc) to the Governor inviting him on an all-expenses paid tour of the five poorest school districts in the state. I daresay his generosity will go unaccepted, however. Via the Quorum Report.

RIP, Marge Schott

Marge Schott, the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, died yesterday at the age of 75. For someone as well known as she was for making racist statements, there was a fair amount of effort to find nice things to say about her in this article, as well as in pieces by Tim Kurkjian and Mickey Herskowitz. Personally, I can appreciate that we’re all complex human beings, and that Marge Schott will be remembered fondly by people who (unlike me) knew her as well as for her charity work, but I can’t get past my conviction that at heart she was an ignorant, racist cheapskate. If I’d ever seen any evidence that she came to understand why many of the things she said were hateful and hurtful, I’d soften my opinion. Sadly, it’s too late for her now.