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Will Heflin challenge or not?

This week is the deadline for Talmadge Heflin to take some kind of action in his electoral loss to Hubert Vo. I’ve seen different dates cited – the 17th and the 20th, to name two – but one way or another, we should know by Friday if Heflin will ask for a recount, mount a House challenge, or simply concede.

Clay Robison cites two other election challenges from recent history.

Republican Bill Clements was governor, but the Texas House still had a greater than 2-1 Democratic majority in 1980, when veteran state Rep. Al Brown, a Democrat from San Antonio, was upset by a young Republican challenger, Alan Schoolcraft.

Brown lost by 1,038 votes out of more than 37,400 cast. In filing an election contest with the House, Brown challenged hundreds of mail-in ballots, many from absentee military personnel who had once been stationed at a nearby Air Force base. He argued that many of those ballots, enough to affect the outcome of the election, had been cast illegally by people who didn’t meet Texas’ residency requirements.

After hearing four days of testimony in January 1981, a House committee recommended 5-4 that Schoolcraft be seated. But the full House overruled the panel and voted 78-52 for the governor to call a new election.

The vote was largely along party lines. All 78 legislators voting for a new election were Democrats, while 20 Democrats joined 32 Republicans — every Republican voting that day — in support of Schoolcraft.

Brown got his second chance, but he also got a lesson in democracy when a special election was held in San Antonio a few weeks later. Schoolcraft trounced him in the rerun by a 3-1 margin, a much wider gap than in the previous election, and went on to serve several years in the House.

A similar result occurred in Houston in 1992, when then-state Sen. Gene Green and then-City Councilman Ben Reyes were fighting over a new, Hispanic-majority congressional district.

Green won a runoff for the Democratic nomination by 180 votes, which Reyes challenged in court. A judge ordered a new election after finding that some voters had illegally cast “crossover” ballots in the Democratic runoff after voting in the earlier Republican primary.

Green won the rerun by more than 1,000 votes, defeated a Republican nominee in the general election and is still in Congress.

Several election contests have been filed in the Texas House in recent years, but Brown’s was the only one to produce a new election. Some others were withdrawn by the unseated legislators who had filed them, after they either lost their zeal for further combat or realized they were fighting a lost cause.

I’d put very good odds on Vo winning a rerun election by a wider margin. I really do not see that as a smart strategy by Team Heflin.

Gary Scharrer suggests that Heflin’s odds won’t be much better this time around.

El Paso legislator Paul Moreno visited with colleagues in Austin and San Antonio this week to warn them that he will take extreme measures if Republicans try to muscle Heflin back to power. Moreno says he will revert to disruptive, radical 1960s tactics: “I am not going to hold back anything on anybody.”

Some legislators doubt that Heflin will make his colleagues decide the outcome, but Moreno believes otherwise: “Knowing what happened last session, these guys are going to go through it. They cannot lose their big gun to a poor, Vietnamese immigrant.”

Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-El Paso, doesn’t think Republicans want to start a new session with an ugly and nasty fight that the public might see as an attempt to derail democracy: “I believe that they’re smarter than that,” he says.

But Quintanilla says some of his colleagues insist: “If they can do it, they will do it.”

Republicans control the House, 87-62, not counting Heflin’s seat.

El Paso’s lone Republican, Rep. Pat Haggerty, says Heflin would have to bring “some compelling evidence” for his colleagues to change the outcome.

Citing their own “irregularities,” Vo supporters wonder how a 110-vote margin, with all precincts counted, suddenly slipped to 38 without explanation before the absentee and provisional ballots dropped the final figure to 31.

Heflin’s defeat would create opportunities for other Republicans to move up a notch on the leadership ladder. That may be another reason why some Republicans will not encourage Heflin to contest the outcome.

“Too many of the inside players are already picking after the bones,” Haggerty says.

Contrary to rumors, House Speaker Tom Craddick “is staying out of it,” Craddick spokesman Bob Richter says.

Rep. Joe Pickett, a Democrat, is probably Heflin’s closest El Paso ally. Heflin elevated Pickett to chair an Appropriations subcommittee.

Pickett says he would objectively assess any election dispute that comes to the House floor: “He is a friend, but I would not treat it any differently. People would have to understand that — the same with Talmadge.”

I agree with Rep. Haggerty. Why should any ambitious Republican help out Talmadge Heflin when he or she could replace him as Appropriations chair? Whoever moves up will leave behind a presumably desirable committe spot as well.

The Express News tells Heflin to not make a fool of himself.

Nothing could begin a legislative session with more partisan acrimony and nothing could end a long political career with less dignity than Heflin’s seeking an electoral do-over from his colleagues.

Seek your recount, Rep. Heflin, but spare yourself, your district, your party and your state the dishonor of a contested result.

Of course, if Heflin does go this route, the collateral damage may well extend beyond the House.

Minutes after all votes were counted, giving Democratic businessman Hubert Vo a 31-vote edge over longtime state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, the Republican incumbent’s operatives said they had no confidence in the results.

Andy Taylor, a Republican legal troubleshooter, said the outcome couldn’t be trusted because the process was flawed. Poll watchers, he said, noted a discrepancy in the way votes were being counted and excluded.

It’s the right thing to say if Heflin plans to challenge the outcome. But Taylor did not raise the concern during the two-day canvass of votes earlier this week.

And it could put his team at odds with Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a fellow Republican whose office has escaped any hint of scandal during her decadelong tenure.

“I don’t know what he is referring to,” said Kaufman, the county’s top election official. “He did not express any of that to me throughout the day.”

I can see the campaign signs in the Harris County Clerk election of 2006: “Even fellow Republicans think Beverly Kaufman is incompetent!” Your move, Talmadge.

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  1. Bill says:

    If seated right now, Hubert Vo will be the Democratic darling of Texas. If Talmadge Heflin and Speaker Craddick order a new election, put a “D” beside Asian votes in America for the next 15 years. If challenged, this election will be a national story, and frankly I would love to see Hubert Vo’s story on 20/20, but would the GOP like Heflin’s?

    Obvious question to Vo: What does your effort mean for Vietnamese citizens here in Houston and the US?

    Obvious question to Heflin: Some have accused you of trying to steal an infant this summer, now they are saying you are trying to steal an election this fall. How do you respond?

    Push record now, I want everyone in Texas to see this before ’06. No offense, but Vo looks like a hard working man living the American dream and Heflin looks like someone who has done a whole lot of living.

    Don’t think Fidel won’t be brought up. Every local report ends with a two sentence summary of the “embarassing custody suit” filed by Heflin and his wife over baby Fidel this past summer. How does that play on national TV? How big a blow to the Texas GOP does this story give?

    Stay tuned for democracy in action, contesting the election, or Republican selection. Whether Heflin contest this election or not, it is clear that Republicans have lost. In question now is how big a loss.

  2. Marty Jackson says:

    You’re right, Bill: the GOP has already lost for failing to call for a timely recount (certainly their right in an election this close) and then graciously conceding.

    Meanwhile, Eric Opiela, who lost to Democrat Yvonne Gonzalez in District 34 by more than 1,000 votes, is said to be considering a House challenge. And Ken Mercer, the San Antonio Republican who went down to David Leibowitz by 500 votes, is also refusing to concede.

    Apparently, this new crop of Republicans believes God’s chosen ones can’t lose elections, only have them stolen. The will of the people be damned.

  3. […] heard by the House. From what I can tell, the last time that an election contest was upheld was after the 1980 election. It should be noted that even if Neil wins his challenge, that doesn’t mean he gets to be […]