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June 9th, 2008:

Bell not quite ready to jump in to SD17 just yet

The Austin Political report says that Chris Bell is set to officially enter the special election race for SD17.

Several sources report that former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell is telling Houston lawmakers that he will run in the special November 4 election to replace retiring state senator Kyle Janek.

Well, one of those sources wasn’t Chris Bell. I sent Chris an email asking him for a statement, and this is what he said to me:

He’s incorrect. I have told no one that I am running for sure. As you know, I am considering it very seriously. If I had decided, I would have announced it at the convention since everyone and their dog was asking me about it and encouraging me to run. I greatly appreciate the interest and am not going to let this linger much longer one way or the other.

I certainly want Bell to run, and I believe he will have a very good shot to win the seat, given the recent poll numbers and scuttlebutt I’ve heard that the local GOP hasn’t exactly coalesced behind Austin Furse. Between Bell, Joe Jaworski, and Wendy Davis, we could have a real shakeup in the upper chamber this year. But we’ll have to wait a little longer to see if that’s what we’ll be getting.

Those grumpy Republicans

Now that the Democratic convention is over, it’s the other guys’ turn.

After a decade of political dominance, the Texas GOP is opening its party convention in Houston this week with a troubling prospect: Grumpy Republicans may not turn out to vote this fall.

Many of the grass-roots Texas Republicans see presumptive presidential nominee John McCain as not conservative enough. Others still support presidential candidate Ron Paul. Some are unhappy over immigration, high federal spending, a sagging national economy and rising gasoline prices.

“A lot of them, and rightly so in many cases, are mad. They’re concerned,” said Roger Williams, chairman of the Texas GOP’s voter turnout efforts this year. “What we’ve got to do is alleviate those concerns and get them to vote.”

“We’re the underdogs, and anybody who tells you we’re not hasn’t been out and about,” Williams said.

Williams has been sounding that theme for awhile now. I don’t know if he actually believes it or if it’s just a motivational device, but it’s kind of cute.

Delegates on Friday will hear from former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former presidential contenders Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Romney is McCain’s designated surrogate speaker at the convention.

Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, said McCain is not building bridges with the grass roots by sending Romney to speak to the Texas convention in his place.

“It would have been better if he had come himself,” Adams said.

Adams said many delegates to the convention will want to be reassured about McCain on immigration. She said many are upset that he supports a process of granting citizenship to those who entered the country illegally.

Adams said McCain cannot win just by telling voters the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is bad.

“Everyone I know is unhappy with the prospects of Obama,” Adams said. “But they’ll stay home rather than just go out and vote against someone.”

Well, that answers that question about whether or not we’ll hear about the Republicans’ unity problems. I tend to think this sort of thing is as overrated for them as it is for the Dems, but it’s not nothing, and it’s nice to see it not get overlooked.

Similarly, some of Paul’s supporters are upset with McCain and how the state convention is run. Some sued the Texas GOP last week in an effort to block the seating of some non-Paul delegates.

Don Zimmerman, a Paul activist and candidate for Travis County tax assessor-collector, is vying to be a national delegate, even though that means supporting McCain, whom he does not like.

Zimmerman said many new delegates to the convention this year will be Paul supporters. He said he wants to get them focused on winning local races.

“Get over the McCain thing and work for your local Republican who you like,” Zimmerman said.

It sure would be easier for them to do that if Paul gave as classy and rousing a speech endorsing McCain as Hillary Clinton gave Barack Obama, wouldn’t it? Good luck with that.

Republican leadership is less worried about the elections of McCain and Cornyn than they are about the effect party disgruntlement may have on congressional and legislative races.

Republican pollster Mike Baselice said half the Republican voters in Texas say the state and nation are on the “wrong track.” He calls them “grumpy Republicans” who cannot be counted on to turn out to vote against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

“I’m concerned about the wrong-track Republicans opting not to vote,” Baselice said.

Baselice said Republicans in 2002 had a 6 percentage point advantage in Dallas County voting and an 8 percentage point advantage in Harris County. He said neither party now has an advantage in Dallas, and the GOP holds an advantage of about 1.5 percentage points in Harris County.

He said that partisan shift could give Democrats a great boost if a large percentage of Republicans don’t vote.

That’s an interesting perspective, given the Democrats’ sweep of Dallas County in 2006, and the average judicial race performance of over 48% for Democrats in Harris that same year. But if that’s how he sees it, that would at least explain his atypical poll results.

Interview with State Rep. Dan Barrett

While I wasn’t in Austin for long during the convention, I did manage to achieve my goal of doing a bunch of interviews with various candidates and officeholders. I’ll be publishing them over the next two weeks, and will continue with local candidates through the summer and fall. It’s great to have such a broad slate, but it means more work for me. There are worse problems to have, of course.

First up is State Rep. Dan Barrett, who sent a shock wave through the political establishment last December when he won a special election for HD97, which some folks (not me) thought was too red to be won by a Democrat. Barrett was the first candidate to be endorsed and supported by the TexBlog PAC, so his win was extra sweet.

This was my first chance to meet and really talk to Barrett. I was happy to support him in December, on the enthusiastic say-so of others, as well as for strategic reasons. Having now met him and his charming wife, Debra, I feel even better for having done so. He’s a good guy and a credit to his district, and I hope he gets the chance to serve in HD97 for a long time.

The interview is here, as always in MP3 format. Barrett will have a tough race to retain his seat this year, but he’s working hard at it, and I figure he’ll win over just about any voter he meets. Take a listen and see what you think.

Unity watch: McAuliffe and Moeller

Just a little check to see how the reunification of the Democratic Party is going. First we have former DNC Chair and outspoken Hillary Clinton supporter Terry McAuliffe:

I’ve told all of the donors this week that we need to 100 percent get behind Senator Obama. We’re going to do several events for Senator Obama. I had to get through today’s activities and deal with all that.

We’re going to do whatever it takes. Listen, I’m a party man. I’ve been with this party for 30 years, for the last 15 years working as a pretty much full time volunteer. So we have to win this White House, so I’m going to work as hard as I worked for Hillary for Senator Obama.

And here’s Texas AFL-CIO leader and Clinton backer Becky Moeller, in a statement emailed to me:

“I am confident an AFL-CIO endorsement in the presidential contest will arrive before long, but today I am personally and independently urging Democrats, union members and open-minded independents across Texas to rally around Barack Obama’s historic campaign for the presidency.”

“Hillary Clinton’s candidacy made a permanent mark on American political history. As a union activist and as a woman who has fought to break glass ceilings in my career, I joined millions of Americans who saw in Hillary the path to a better, more just society. Democrats in both camps worked to our utmost abilities in this campaign, and it is a tribute to Sen. Obama that he became the presumptive nominee against competition that touched a chord with so many Americans.”

“Now is the time to look at the bigger picture and unite. The issues facing our nation are too important and the gap between the candidates too great to let even the greatest of political primary struggles linger. Sen. Obama has shown he, too, can lead us to a better, more just society. I thank Ron Kirk and all the Obama campaign officials in Texas for declaring that from here on, all Democrats are invited to walk together toward victory in November. At this new juncture, I proudly, wholeheartedly and optimistically support Barack Obama for president. ”

“A new future is at hand for America. We know the path to positive change and we know the path to more of the same. By coming together around Barack Obama’s candidacy, Democrats will write the next chapter in an election for the ages and in the history of our great nation.”

So far, so good. Everyone is saying the right things. There will still be some people who need time to come to terms with Clinton’s close loss, and some who will need more than encouraging words from folks like these two, but having that encouragement out there can only help. We still don’t know how well the Clinton fundraising machine will perform for Obama, and nobody knows what Obama’s Vice Presidential choice will do to or for the current sense of shared purpose. But we’re off to a decent enough start, and given the concerns about this fight still being fought in Denver, we’re well ahead of schedule as well. Keep it up, y’all.

Still two-stepping

Among other things done at the convention, Texas Democrats decided to keep the prima-caucus system for the time being.

The state Democratic convention ended Saturday with no decision about whether to abandon the “Texas two-step” system of awarding most nominating delegates according to the primary’s popular vote and almost the entire remainder according to party caucuses after the voting ends. The system, often chaotic and heated at the precinct and district levels, allowed Barack Obama to edge Hillary Rodham Clinton in the contest for Texas delegates even though Clinton won the popular vote on March 4.

There was no lack of debate Saturday about whether to trip up the one-of-a-kind two-step. But the convention essentially delayed a decision until 2010 or later.

In an effort to avoid a convention fight over changing the system, party Chairman Boyd Richie named a special committee headed by state Sen. Royce West, an Obama supporter from Dallas, to report any needed changes to the state convention in two years.

West said avoiding the fight this year is an important part of healing the party for a unified front for Obama in the fight against presumptive Republican presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain in November.

“There’s strong feelings all over the place about this issue,” West said. “The issue is a visceral, divisive issue that would not be appropriate to take up at this convention.”


Some said the caucus system brings neighbors together after the polls close and embodies the spirit of grass-roots democracy.

“It’s good for democracy. Keep momentum going,” said Irma Gutierrez of San Antonio. “We need to simplify things, but I really don’t know what the answer is.

“I loved seeing the little grandmother, along with the 18-year-old voting for the first time, coming to the caucus and taking an active participation in being involved,” she added.

But David Ross, a Houston precinct chairman, said he had deep misgivings about caucuses, even though the one he conducted went smoothly. He said some voters may leave a caucus demoralized about their candidate winning the popular vote but losing delegate strength after the statewide election ends.

“It’s difficult to describe and explain the process to my wife, who comes from another country,” he said. “As far as the justification goes, I admit it’s half-hearted.”

I lean more towards keeping the current system than scrapping it. The argument about it being chaotic is unlikely to be as resonant in future years where the Presidential primary is less competitive, and besides, logistical issues can be managed. The method of allocating delegates based on previous general election results in each Senatorial district can certainly be tweaked, and I’m sure there are other opportunities for improvement, but I found the process to be a positive one, and I think it does foster participation. So I’m happy to see it kept around for now.

For a more full-throated defense of the system, see this Observer piece by Susan DuQuesnay Bankston, a/k/a Juanita.

Now that’s a burial

We should all have as cool a way to depart this vale of tears as this.

The man who designed the Pringles potato crisp packaging system was so proud of his accomplishment that a portion of his ashes has been buried in one of the iconic cans.

Fredric J. Baur, of Cincinnati, died May 4 at Vitas Hospice in Cincinnati, his family said. He was 89.

Baur’s children said they honored his request to bury him in one of the cans by placing part of his cremated remains in a Pringles container in his grave in suburban Springfield Township. The rest of his remains were placed in an urn buried along with the can, with some placed in another urn and given to a grandson, said Baur’s daughter, Linda Baur of Diamondhead, Miss.

Baur requested the burial arrangement because he was proud of his design of the Pringles container, a son, Lawrence Baur of Stevensville, Mich., said Monday.

I suppose the only downside is that a Pringles can wouldn’t be particularly attractive on the fireplace mantle, but since they’re burying it that would seem to resolve that qualm. Rest in peace, Fredric J. Baur.