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March 6th, 2004:

Kerry in Houston

I got a recorded phone call yesterday about attending this John Kerry event, but it was scheduled for 7:30 AM, and I really needed the sleep. If anyone reading this did attend, please leave a comment.

One item of interest:

Just days after forcing the last of his rivals from the race for the Democratic nomination, Kerry was seeking to show the flag in the South, probably his toughest region in which to build support. He was spending Saturday in Texas before flying to Mississippi.

While few argue seriously that the president’s home state or reliably Republican Mississippi are up for grabs in the November election, campaign aides said Kerry was making the point that he’ll compete everywhere. He was heading later to Florida, a crucial swing state.

Kerry argues that his focus on jobs and the economy will sell in all regions, but the issue of Iraq and the war on terror injected itself into the fray today.

I’m glad to hear that Kerry will not be pursuing a “non-Southern strategy”. While I firmly believe that the Midwest (in particular, Ohio and Missouri) and the Southwest (Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado) are much riper electoral vote targets, contesting the South and bolstering Democratic turnout here will help with those crucial Senate and Congressional races elsewhere on the ballot. I hope this is not the last time we see John Kerry down here between now and November.

UPDATE: Steve Bates attended the event, got his hand shaken by John Kerry, and came away quite impressed with the man.

UPDATE: Greg was there too, and so was Rob. Obviously, I’m a total lame-o. I’ll go hide my face in shame now.

Early voting ends

With early voting over and the regular voting to take place on Tuesday, we’ll finally get a better picture of who’s in and who’s out in all of these hotly contested primaries. Among others, we ought to know who’ll carry the flag in the ninth district, where I think the end of the race will be a boon to everyone.

A group of African-American ministers supporting Al Green for Congress demanded Friday that Texas Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting withdraw his endorsement of U.S. Rep. Chris Bell.

The demand came on the heels of a claim by Bell that Green has violated federal campaign laws in a week of heightened rhetoric in the Democratic primary for the new 9th U.S. Congressional District.

Bell is white and Green, a former justice of the peace and former head of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is black.

Friday, the Rev. Bill Lawson of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and several other black ministers said the Soechting endorsement creates a double standard.

Soechting endorsed Bell earlier in the week because Green took a $2,000 campaign contribution from former Harris County GOP Chairman Gary Polland. Soechting said Polland has worked to oppose affirmative action and other interests supported by blacks.

Lawson echoed Green’s original complaint that state party officials didn’t complain when Bell received Republican money or when he got the Political Courage Award from Polland and the local GOP for opposing a city tax hike in 2001. At the time, Bell was a City Council member running for mayor.

Texas Democratic Party spokesman Mike Lavigne said Soechting stands by the endorsement because “Gary Poland and the Republican Party aren’t going to pick our candidates.”

I’ll say again that I think Charles Soechting should have remained neutral in this fight, which Harris County Democratic Party chair Gerry Birnbirg did do. Unfortunately, his taking a side is just furthering one of the GOP’s goals of re-redistricting, which was to sow dissension within the Democratic Party. Greg Wythe has been following this pretty closely (see here and here), and he predicts a nailbiter finish, with the possibility of a runoff, as there is a third candidate (Beverly Spencer) in the running.

Over in HD 131, the race between Ron Wilson and Alma Allen is largely being funded by competing PACs.

Allen’s latest campaign report shows she raised $152,000 between Feb. 10 and March 1 — $136,000 of it from the Texas Democratic Party and two groups of trial lawyers.

Texans for Insurance Reform, a new political action committee formed by a dozen state law firms focused on personal injury cases, poured $116,000 into Allen’s campaign.

Wilson is one of seven Democratic legislators who were members of Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick’s leadership team and are now caught in the new PAC’s cross hairs. The biggest contributor to the PAC has been the Houston law firm of Williams and Bailey, which gave $125,000. The PAC’s treasurer is Austin plaintiffs’ attorney Mike Slack, past president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association.

That association’s PAC gave Allen $10,000 during the reporting period. Another $10,000 came from the Texas Democratic Party.

These three sources accounted for all but $16,000 of Allen’s contributions during the period.

[…]

Of the $206,250 Wilson raised during the Feb. 10-March 1 period, the largest contribution was $22,500 from the Hillco PAC; Hillco is a major Austin lobbying firm with close ties to Craddick. Other contributors include big-name Republicans like Austin consultant Reggie Bashur and Houstonians Richard Weekly and Bob Perry. Weekly heads Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which advocates limitations on lawsuits and damages, and Perry is a homebuilder and major GOP contributor.

Craddick also has held two fund-raisers for Wilson, one in Austin earlier this year and a recent one in Houston. Spencer Newman, a Republican political consultant who worked for former mayoral candidate Orlando Sanchez, also is working for Wilson.

Wilson is doing his usual bleating about racism. I gotta say, if the Democratic Party is treating him so badly – and I for one would submit that it’s no worse than how he’s treated the Party – he’s more than welcome to switch. For all intents and purposes, he’s playing for the other team now anyway.

And speaking of the other team, I confess to finding a certain amount of amusement in this.

Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway appears to have picked up another endorsement this week — from his opponent.

That’s the way it looked Friday from the street in front of a house leased by City Councilman Mark Goldberg, who is challenging Ridgway in Tuesday’s Republican primary for Harris County JP Precinct 5 Place 1.

Right there in the front yard of the house in the 6100 block of Dumfries were two Ridgway campaign signs.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack, who backs Ridgway, admitted putting the signs in the yard Thursday to support his contention that Goldberg doesn’t really live in the JP precinct as required by law.

Repeated attempts to reach Goldberg on Friday were unsuccessful.

“He’s either for Ridgway or he doesn’t live where he says he lives. Anybody can pretty much figure that out,” Radack said.

Goldberg leased the house in December, right before he filed against Ridgway.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I have to wonder why Marc Goldberg is taking on an established incumbent who clearly has the support of their party without having all of his ducks lined up first. Whatever he thinks he’s doing, it sure doesn’t look like to me like it’s helping to enhance his future viability as a Republican candidate.

Down doobie doo down down

And here’s the story of that Texas Poll that I alluded to yesterday.

Controversial budget cuts and the bitter congressional redistricting battle apparently have turned Rick Perry into the most unpopular Texas governor in 14 years, according to a poll released Friday.

Half the 1,000 Texans surveyed in the latest Scripps Howard Texas Poll said they disapprove of the job Perry is doing as governor. Just 40 percent gave Perry positive marks.

That marks the greatest level of dissatisfaction with a Texas governor since Republican Gov. Bill Clements’ last year in office in 1990, when 59 percent of the Texans surveyed said he was doing a poor job.

Texans turned on Clements in 1987 because he was involved in a football pay-to-play scandal at Southern Methodist University and broke a no-new-taxes campaign promise by signing into law the largest tax increase in Texas history.I

In Perry’s case, the slide seems to have been caused mostly by bitterness over three special sessions on congressional redistricting last year.

“The biggest event probably was the negative publicity surrounding redistricting, which was an ugly political fight,” said Perry pollster Michael Baselice, who questioned the poll’s accuracy.

The Scripps Howard Texas Poll was conducted Feb. 12-March 3 in a random sample of 1,000 adult Texans. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Baselice said it is unlikely that rumors about marital infidelity, which Perry has denied, played any role in the drop in the governor’s numbers. Baselice predicted that Perry’s image will improve in the public eye once he holds a special session on public school finance reform.

First of all, that would be “if” he calls for a special session on public school finance reform, not when. Second, that would be “if” all of the factions can agree on a plan, since a session that ends with no progress made is unlikely to enhance anyone’s image. Third, that would be “if” the agreed-upon solution is accepted by the public. Perry is a long way from the goal line here.

[T]he poll indicates that Perry could face serious problems when he runs for re-election in 2006.

Former Gov. Ann Richards’ worst job approval rating — 51 percent — came just weeks before her bid for re-election was crushed by Republican George W. Bush.

Bush’s worst job approval rating occurred as he took office in 1995. Only 37 percent of Texans said Bush was doing a good job and 22 percent disapproved, but 41 percent said they knew too little about Bush to make a judgment.

Perry’s job approval has been in a steady decline since just before he ran for re-election in 2002. He entered that race with 67 percent of Texans approving of his job performance, and he came out of the bitter contest with half approving.

His job approval declined to 44 percent last summer. It rebounded slightly to 46 percent in the fall, with 44 percent disapproving. The latest poll indicates a six percentage point drop in his positives with a like rise in his negatives.

The governor’s job approval rating among self-described independents — the swing voters in state elections — has dropped 42 percent since last November to 33 percent. And among Republicans, support for his tenure is down from 74 percent last fall to 66 percent.

“That’s not good for any politician,” said SMU political scientist Cal Jillson. “Any politician going below 50 percent (job approval) needs to be looking over his shoulder.”

Only 66% support among Republicans? That’s a big problem, especially when he can point to all sorts of partisan victories – no tax increase (sort of), tort “reform”, redistricting, etc. If after all that red meat he’s not as beloved by his fellow party members as Dubya was, what’s he going to do for an encore?

In Perry’s case, he could face possible Republican primary challenges from either U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, who is losing his seat due to redistricting, also has indicated he may run for governor.

Strayhorn said the poll results showed a general displeasure with Perry’s administration.

“Texans know this governor has abdicated his responsibilities and created local crises in education and health care by signing laws that balance the budget on the backs of school teachers and our most vulnerable Texans,” Strayhorn said.

She said Perry passed state costs on to local governments and cut the budget in a way that caused 107,000 children to be “thrown off the health insurance rolls in the last five months. That’s unconscionable.”

You tell ’em, Carole.

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said Perry also is suffering partly from the continued downturn in the economy, the export of high technology jobs overseas and a decline in popularity for Bush. He said that all combines to make life for difficult for politicians in the party in power.

“Numbers this bad usually means an incumbent governor loses, but he has time to recover,” Murray said.

Yes, I know. It’s still more than two years before the campaign even starts. He may get back over 50% approval, and he may survive whatever challengers come after him in 2006, but I don’t think he’ll ever be in a comfortable position.