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Interview with Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Given that we are guaranteed to have an entirely new set of statewide officeholders after this election no matter who wins, there are a lot of candidates with current or past experience as elected officials, or at least as candidates. Despite that, one of the most compelling candidates running this year is a first timer, Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate running for Comptroller. Collier is a career accountant, which you would think would be the norm for the state’s top financial officer, but it’s not. It was his experience as an accountant that led him to believe something was seriously wrong with how the Comptroller was estimating revenue for the 2011 legislative session, when incumbent Susan Combs projected a $28 billion deficit that turned out to be far off base but which led to devastating budget cuts for public education. His experience as an auditor led him to be critical of the Major Events Trust Fund and its unaccountable giveaway of millions of dollars to Formula One in Austin. His no-nonsense approach and sensible talk about ensuring the integrity of Texas’ finances have led him to be endorsed so far by the Statesman, the Caller, and now the Chronicle. Listen to him for a few minutes and you’ll see why he’s made such an impressive case for himself. Here’s the interview:

I will wrap up candidate interviews next week, and as noted before will continue to run judicial Q&As for as long as I receive responses.

UPDATE: The DMN endorsed Collier over the weekend.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Collier

Add the Houston Chronicle to the list of papers endorsing Mike Collier for Comptroller.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

[Sen. Glenn] Hegar knows politics; Collier knows the numbers. In our view the choice is clear: Texas needs the numbers man, not a politician who wants to use the office as a stepping stone to higher office.

Texans know what can happen when a comptroller gets the numbers wrong. In January 2013, the outgoing comptroller, Susan Combs, produced a Biennial Revenue Estimate that showed she had grossly underestimated what the state’s revenue would be in the 2012-13 biennium. That mistake, which prompted Collier to run for the office, played havoc with budget choices during the 2011 legislative session, including a $5.4 billion cut in education funding that didn’t have to be made.

Hegar, who has said he was proud of the education cut, seemed to suggest during the GOP primary that his chief qualifications for serving as comptroller were his opposition to abortion and his enthusiasm for the 2nd Amendment.

Since then, he has offered suggestions about how to run the office more effectively – more transparency, more training, a top-down review of the office’s basic functions – but it’s our impression he’d be learning on the job, and probably biding his time for the next office to open up.

Collier, one of the more engaging and articulate candidates we interviewed during the campaign season, clearly has the experience to run the comptroller’s office. He also has ideas for making it function more effectively – among them, producing quarterly revenue estimates so that lawmakers would have a better understanding of the state’s fiscal health.

The Chron joins the Statesman and the Caller and recommending Collier. I feel confident they won’t be the last paper to do so. Again, does this mean much? No, certainly not in this day and age, and in a partisan election. But it’s not nothing, and every little bit of reinforcement for the message that Collier is easily the better choice helps. Look for my interview with him on Monday.

Endorsement watch: One for Steve Brown

The Express News makes a nice call.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

In this year’s contest, Democrat Steve Brown is the best candidate.

A former party chairman of Fort Bend County, Brown has not worked in the oil-and-gas industry and can bring a much-needed outsider’s viewpoint. He is clearly the best candidate to voice concerns raised by people in communities most affected by the oil-and-gas boom.

Brown takes concerns about water usage, disposal wells fueling tremors in West Texas and the effects of flaring on our air quality seriously.

He has endorsed recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission to change the Railroad Commission’s name, place limits on fundraising from the oil-and-gas industry, and expand its recusal policy so conflicts are placed in writing.

The powerful oil-and-gas industry has excessive influence on the commission. Industry interests and public interests are not always the same.

I’ve talked before about how I expect some of the newspaper endorsements to go – I expect Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston to sweep, Mike Collier and Wendy Davis to do well, and Baby Bush to be the Republican standard-bearer – but the Railroad Commissioner race is harder to read. The E-N pretty much lays out the choice: Ryan Sitton will get the nod from the papers that think experience matters for this office, and Brown will be endorsed by those that think an outsider is needed on this industry-dominated commission. The fact that Brown is smart and a good communicator, has worked hard to learn the details of the job and has put forward some good policy ideas has helped his cause. I hope the other papers see it as the Express News did.

In other endorsement news, the Corpus Christi Caller has been busy. They put out nice recommendations for Mike Collier and Sam Houston. From the latter:

Houston lawyer Sam Houston, the Democrat running for attorney general, would make a compelling case for our endorsement even if the Republican nominee could match his resume and unblemished reputation for ethics. Republican Ken Paxton should be disqualified from consideration because his compromised ethics are a matter of record. We’re disturbed that Republican voters didn’t do that in the primary or the runoff.


Houston would focus the office of attorney general more forcefully upon its core functions — enforcing consumer protection laws, collecting child support, issuing open-records opinions — and less on suing the federal government at Texas taxpayer expense. Attorney General Greg Abbott famously sued the government to obstruct environmental regulation and Obamacare implementation, and to stop a federal judge’s ruling that would have protected the endangered whooping crane. All of the Republican candidates for attorney general, especially Paxton, promised more of the same. So, we probably would have endorsed Houston anyway had Rep. Dan Branch or former Railroad and Public Utility commissions chairman Barry Smitherman been the GOP nominee — but not without acknowledging their undeniable fitness for the office.

Again, this one is such a no-brainer that I will be shocked if any paper comes up with a reason to tout Paxton. It’s just no contest. As for Collier:

If the state comptroller were a non-elected professional, sensible Texans would hire what they’ve never voted into that office — an accountant. Democrat Mike Collier — CPA and former oil company chief financial officer — would be a shoo-in. And the Republican nominee, state Sen. Glenn Hegar, a farmer — nothing wrong with farmers — would be irrelevant.

Hegar is an example of a recurring mistake voters make — a politician seeking a promotion to comptroller to then what?

Collier is believable when he says comptroller wouldn’t be a steppingstone for him. He’s easy to envision as a comptroller. Lieutenant governor? That would require some imagination. He has never run for office, says he wants to take the politics out of this one and — call us naive — we take him at his word.


Collier proposes quarterly revenue estimates, which would help lawmakers and the public know where Texas stands financially. He praises Combs for one thing — transparency — but says all she did was dish out mountains of unexplained data. He proposes explaining what it means — a task he’s uniquely qualified to do.

A very strong endorsement for a strong candidate. How much do these things matter? Not much. But it’s still nice to have.

And on a less serious note, there’s the Ag Commissioner race. Texpatriate surveyed the field, and after ruling out the useless Jim Hogan and the troglodyte Sid Miller, chose to endorse Green party candidate Kenneth Kendrick. Apparently, someone notified Hogan about this, and he paused “Storage Wars” and put down his bag of Funyons long enough to tweet his displeasure at this insult to the integrity of his campaign. Snarkery ensued, and so, I hope, will a drawn-out slapfight on social media. You take your diversions where you can, you know? To re-engage serious mode for a moment, it will be interesting to see how the papers handle this race. If there was ever a race in which a third-party candidate could rack up a few endorsements, this would be it. I don’t know that I’d bet on it, but I don’t know that I’d bet against it, either.

Endorsement watch: Statesman for Collier

The Statesman continues its early work on endorsements with a solid recommendation for Democratic Comptroller candidate Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

The deplorable revenue forecast issued ahead of the 2011 legislative session by the current comptroller, Republican Susan Combs, who’s retiring from politics, contributed to an unnecessary $5.4 billion cut to public education. Combs’ estimate – she was off by $11.3 billion, one of the worst misses in state history – motivated Collier to run.

Collier, 53, is the former chief financial officer of a Houston-based energy company and a former partner with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He has no previous political experience, though steering complicated projects through the huge bureaucracy of an international accounting firm with 180,000 employees requires its own set of political skills. He is a graduate of Georgetown High School in Williamson County and received his undergraduate and master of business administration degrees from the University of Texas.

Though he faces the usual long odds of any Democrat running for statewide office in Texas, Collier is a dynamic candidate. Engaging, enthusiastic and clearly knowledgeable of the duties of the office he seeks, he is a natural communicator with a winning sense of humor. The Texas Democratic Party could use more candidates like him.

Collier sees the comptroller’s office as “an exciting management challenge” that fits best with his focus on performance, not on, say, social issues that he says freeze too many voters in place. One of his main ideas for reforming the agency is to issue quarterly revenue estimates. Such estimates, he says, will improve the comptroller’s accuracy and timeliness, remove political agendas and make a huge difference in how the Legislature does its job.

The comptroller may not be as well-known a state official as the governor, or even lieutenant governor, but the comptroller still has a bully pulpit of sorts, Collier says, and he plans to use it to persuade counties to improve their property tax appraisals. He also wants to establish an ongoing dialogue with taxpayers about the state’s fiscal health and properly funding public education. And he says he’d lobby lawmakers to revive the comptroller’s ability to conduct performance reviews – accountability audits of state agencies to identify possible savings and improve the state’s finances.

As I noted with the Statesman’s endorsement of Sam Houston, I expect Collier to get the lion’s share of endorsements from the papers. Maybe not all of them, as he’s a first time candidate who speaks his mind directly, but any he does lose won’t be because he isn’t the better-qualified candidate. Having recently had the opportunity to interview him, I can confirm the Statesman’s assessment of him and his capabilities. I’ll say it again, on the merits and on their accomplishments and experience, the overall statewide Democratic ticket wipes the floor with the Republicans in a way that we haven’t seen since at least 1994, the last year we won something at the top. I’ll take all the good omens I can get. Look for my upcoming interview with Collier and be sure to give it a listen. If you don’t know much about the guy now, you’ll like what you hear.

Collier keeps up the attack

I really like the way he’s running his campaign.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Democratic comptroller nominee Mike Collier says his Republican opponent Glenn Hegar bragged to a Houston-area tea party interviewer last year that he was proud of the Legislature’s 2011 budget cuts to public schools. On Friday, Collier released a web video to prove it.

“It’s embarrassing and unacceptable that Glenn Hegar takes pride in cutting education despite our extraordinary prosperity,” Collier said in a statement.

“Hegar does not share our values, and he poses a profound threat to something Texans have held dear since our founding, … a great educational system,” said Collier, a Houston businessman.

Hegar spokesman David White called Collier’s 40-second video “a distortion.”

Though Hegar, a state senator from Katy, joined other Republican lawmakers in approving $5.4 billion in cuts to schools in the budget-cutting session of 2011, “Senator Hegar believes in adequately funding our education system,” White said.

Collier’s “entire campaign amounts to a distortion of truth and negative campaign commercials,” said White, Hegar’s senior adviser.

You can see the ad and the video from the Montgomery County Tea Party event from which the quote was taken at the link above. Note first that Hegar doesn’t actually deny saying what Collier accuses him of saying. He just says it’s not as bad as Collier makes it out to be. When he says he supports “adequately funding our school system”, he doesn’t say what he thinks “adequate” means. Remember, the state’s argument in the school finance lawsuit is that the current level of funding, which is still billions less than it was before 2011, is perfectly (and constitutionally) adequate. Glenn Hegar isn’t going to argue with that. Funny how these guys will proudly say something to one audience, then try to obfuscate what they actually said when it’s presented to a wider audience, isn’t it? The more Hegar complains, the more you know Collier is hitting the mark.

Planned Parenthood comes out swinging

Good to see.

Planned Parenthood’s political arm is embarking on the most aggressive campaign it has ever waged in Texas, with plans to spend $3 million to turn out voters for Democratic candidates including Sens. Wendy Davis for governor and Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

Bolstered by a $1 million donation from a single backer, Planned Parenthood’s latest Texas-based political action fund is sparking concerns among anti-abortion activists who expect to be outgunned financially by the effort that has a particular focus on women voters.


The new PAC, called Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, is intended to bolster the top of the Democratic ticket, along with a slate of state House candidates and the Democrat running for Davis’ open Senate seat. The group also endorsed Rep. Sarah Davis, the only Republican who voted against last year’s tighter abortion restrictions.

Created just four months ago, the PAC already has more than $1 million cash on hand, mostly through the $1 million donation from Planned Parenthood Chair Cecilia Boone. It’s only the third contribution of that amount recorded by any candidate or PAC this election cycle.

The endeavor will be coordinated with a new Texas-based Planned Parenthood 501c4 group, a tax exempt nonprofit that does not have to disclose contributors.

Planned Parenthood says the nonprofit is set up to handle administrative costs, while the bulk of the spending will be done through its PAC that makes contributors known to the public.

Despite having a long-established presence in Texas, state data shows it’s the first time Planned Parenthood’s political arm has dedicated this type of financial firepower to Texas’ elections.


Planned Parenthood organizers said they will parlay the PAC money into an aggressive field program to reach more than 300,000 women – including Democrats and Republicans identified as receptive to their message – through phone banks, door-to-door visits and direct mail. The campaign will also include a heavy dose of digital outreach that will include radio ads and online ads, along with social media.

That’s great and exciting and all, but I have to ask: What the hell took so long for someone to figure out this was a good idea? It’s not exactly rocket science, and the bad guys have been doing it for years now. More in the primaries than in November, I admit, but still. How is it that the light bulb never went on before now? And where are the other groups that ought to be doing the same thing? If I don’t see at least one more story like this about a similar organization between now and November, I’m going to be deeply annoyed.

Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant, said Planned Parenthood’s spending can slice two ways for Davis.

On one hand, it will put the abortion spotlight back on Davis and could stymie her messaging as a candidate focused on a broad range of policies. Mackowiak said, however, it can also provide more resources for her campaign, which is at a 3-1 cash disadvantage compared to Abbott, and maybe even provide a bit of cover on the issue.

“The campaign knows that talking about abortion is a net loser for her,” he said. “These outside groups can focus on maximizing the pro-choice vote while Wendy stays above that fray.”

I basically agree with Mackowiak, but not for the reason he has in mind. The issue here for Davis, as I’ve said before, is that there’s precious little she can do as Governor to advance reproductive rights. She can’t undo or roll back HB2, the bill she famously filibustered, she can’t restore funding to family planning services or Planned Parenthood. She can’t even introduce a bill to do any of these things, not that they’d go anywhere if she could. The one thing she can do is be the last line of defense against further assaults on women’s health and reproductive freedom, via the veto pen. Vitally important, to be sure, and something that needs to be said, but talking about defense doesn’t strike me as very inspiring. In my more cynical moments, I suspect that if she did speak more about it, the nattering types that have complained Davis has not talked enough about abortion would complain that she’s focusing on it too much.

Be that as it may, apocalyptic scenarios and desperate appeals to hold the line are exactly the sort of thing that outside groups are made for. They can get as hyperbolic as they want and do whatever they can to scare targeted voters to the ballot box. (Again, the mind boggles that we hadn’t been doing this before now.) In addition, PPVT and any other groups that want to jump in can shill for candidates other than just Wendy Davis as well. Certainly they’d want to push for Leticia Van de Putte, but including Sam Houston and Mike Collier – yes, I know that the Comptroller has little to nothing to do with abortion, but remember that Collier is running against the guy who sponsored HB2 – would also make sense and would be a nice little boost to their campaigns.

So jump in with both feet, PPVT, and invite your friends to jump in with you. There’s plenty of people in Texas to help fund this kind of effort. We need them all to keep some of their money in state and do their part to help the good guys win in November.

Collier hits the road

Talking taxes, and our state’s screwed-up appraisal process.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

With about as many local candidates as voters in attendance, the Travis County Democratic Party hosted a “town hall” on property tax reform Friday morning, where everybody agreed with would-be County Commissioner (Precinct 2) Brigid Shea: “The appraisal process is broken.” To fix it – in the current state political climate – will take some doing.

The event, introduced by TCDP Executive Director J.D. Gins, was headlined by Shea and Mike Collier, candidate for state Comptroller, who each spoke briefly and then responded to audience questions. Among the several dozen attendees, Newsdesk counted at least a dozen local candidates – most of them for Austin’s fall City Council elections – and among them likely County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who took the mic for a moment to rattle off some estimates of the financial benefits to county homeowners of substantial tax reform. The forum was also webcast across the state; Shea introduced a brief video produced by Real Values for Texas, a new statewide coalition “taking action to expose the impact of our state’s broken property tax system on homeowners, kids, and local communities.”

The gist of the problem, reiterated Collier and Shea, is that the property tax appraisal system has been allowed to become radically inequitable – even unconstitutional, said Collier. Under the Texas Constitution, properties are required to be assessed at market value for taxation purposes. For individual homeowners, said Collier, that’s mostly what happens; but big industrial and commercial property owners have managed, over the years, by various mechanisms – e.g., limiting exposure, concealing sales prices, and using greater resources to appeal – to be taxed at much lower valuations.

According to Real Values for Texas, the result is a system that, statewide, taxes major commercial and industrial properties at roughly 60% of market value, thereby moving much of that additional burden onto residential homeowners. Shea said that during her campaign visits, the subject is on everyone’s lips (especially in Travis County, where property values continue to surge). “It is hurting people all across our state,” Shea said, “literally driving people out of their homes.”

Collier noted that statewide, the problem must be addressed by the Legislature, which has largely relied on across-the-board spending cuts – especially to public schools – instead of attempting to make the system more equitable. He recommended three basic fixes: 1) tightening the definition of capital property; 2) requiring some form of sale price disclosure (as is required in 46 states); 3) addressing the imbalance in “negotiating power.” Commercial property owners, he pointed out, not only have teams of lawyers to appeal their valuations, but also, if they should win a lawsuit, the appraisal districts must pay any legal costs (not so in reverse). As a result, appraisal officials are motivated to capitulate rather than risk losing contested appeals.

Collier acknowledged that substantial reform will require legislative action, but the comptroller has a “voice, and the data,” to press the Legislature to comprehend the problem and restore equity to the system. He said that the Republican Party in Texas has become the spokesman and representative of big business, and “small businesses need at least one comptroller.” Rather than think first about the needs of big business, he added, state officials need to consider, in order, the needs of “homeowners, consumers, small business, and then big business.”

We’ve talked about this before, and you know how I feel about it. I’m glad to see Collier out and about talking about this – he’s on a two-week statewide tour, including a stop in Atascocita today, to discuss the issue. If he can get his message out, he can put himself in a position to win.

Mayor Parker discusses her possible political future again

After making a rousing speech at the TDP convention, Mayor Annise Parker talked about some possible paths she could take for a future statewide campaign.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Parker said she would be interested in running for any number of statewide positions when her third and final two-year term is up in 2016 – even Texas’ top job.

“I would absolutely consider a statewide ballot effort for the right seat,” Parker told the Houston Chronicle, adding that she doesn’t have an exact plan drawn up at this time. “And as the CEO of the 4th largest city in America, I could be the governor of Texas.”.

The 58-year-old said she would be “eminently qualified” to be comptroller of public accounts, Texas land commissioner or sit on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission.

The only jobs for which she isn’t interested? Lieutenant governor and U.S. Congress. “Respectfully to members of Congress, I’m the CEO of a $5 billion corporation, and I make decisions every day. I don’t want to go talk about things. I want to do things.”

I’ve discussed this before, and I’m mostly not surprised by Parker’s words. The one office I hadn’t foreseen as a possibility was Land Commissioner, but between veterans’ issues and the leases that the GLO manages and grants on occasionally urban land, it makes sense. And of course the Railroad Commission is all about oil and gas regulation, and Mayor Parker spent 20 years in the oil business before entering politics. Other than the RRC, which has six-year terms for its three Commissioners, the candidacy of Mayor Parker or anyone else for these offices is contingent on them not being won by a Democrat this year. As awesome as that would be, it would throw a wrench into the works for the large number of potential up-and-comers now waiting in the wings.

For her part, Parker is watching the political trajectories of two other Houston women: state Sen. Sylvia Garcia and state Rep. Carol Alvarado. A fellow former mayor who now sits in the state Senate, Kirk Watson, is also on her list of rising stars, as are Mayor Julian Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.

The twin brothers from San Antonio are widely accepted to become the default face of the party after this year’s statewide election. Speaking to the Chronicle after his speech in a packed convention hall Friday evening, the congressman would not preview where his political trajectory might lie.

“I’ll look at all opportunities where I can be most helpful,” said Joaquin Castro. He added he hasn’t yet decided whether he might run for another office, such as U.S. Senate. Some see him as a natural foil to Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

His brother, tapped by President Barack Obama to be the next housing secretary, is also considered one of the most viable statewide or national candidates from the party, although some worry whether his political standing will suffer at the hands of Republicans in Washington as so many other cabinet secretaries have in recent years.

Representing Texas in Washington, U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey and Pete Gallego repeatedly made the “best of” lists of many state party leaders this weekend.

In Dallas, state Rep. Rafael Anchia and Sen. Royce West are ones to watch, they said, while Sylvester Turner is another prominent Houstonian with political potential.

I’ve discussed the bench and the possible next step for a variety of Dems before. One person who isn’t mentioned in this story but should be is State Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio, who has been previously mentioned as a candidate for Comptroller and who has announced his intent to run for Mayor of San Antonio in 2015. Winning that would move him up a notch on the “rising stars” list as he’d be a Mayor with legislative experience; you can add Rep. Sylvester Turner to that list if his third try for Mayor of Houston is the charm in 2015, too.

Besides the RRC, there is one prize that will remain on the board for 2018 regardless of what happens this year.

“It’s very different to run for statewide office unless you have statewide name recognition,” said [TCU poli sci prof James] Riddlesperger, who said the sheer amount of money statewide candidates in Texas are forced to raise to be viable pushes some out of the race before they can get started.

“It’s not like doing it in New Hampshire or South Dakota. We have six or seven major media markets and it’s enormously expensive to get statewide recognition,” said Riddlesperger. Keeping this in mind, he said the Democrats should keep a close eye on who could unseat Cruz in 2018.

“I suspect there would be a huge amount of national money that could potentially flow into that election,” he said.

Indeed. I mean, the amount spent in the 2018 re-election campaign for Ted Cruz on all sides will likely rival the GDP of several small nations. The story suggests US Rep. Joaquin Castro as the very-early-to-be-leading choice to take on Cruz, but I suspect we will hear a lot of other voices before all is said and done, whether or not there are fewer incumbent Republicans to oppose at that time. I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about this since we have some pretty damn important elections to focus on this year, but file that all away for future consideration.

Convention coverage

Wendy and Leticia and a whole host of others rally the crowd in Dallas.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte shared the spotlight at the Texas Democratic Party convention on Friday night, promising to change the direction of the state, ripping their Republican opponents and imploring Democrats to break the GOP’s two-decade grip on state government.

Davis attacked her Republican opponent, matching his attacks at the GOP convention in Fort Worth earlier this month, and talked fighting insiders in Austin.

“I’m running because there’s a moderate majority that’s being ignored — commonsense, practical, hardworking Texans whose voices are being drowned out by insiders in Greg Abbott’s party, and it needs to stop,” she said.

Davis spoke about her background, her kids and her grandmother, all as a way of establishing her Texas roots and values.

She talked about what she would do if elected, promising full-day pre-K “for every eligible child,” less testing in public schools, less state interference with teaching, more affordable and accessible college. She also implied she would end property tax exemptions for country clubs as part of property tax reform, and end a sales tax discount for big retailers who pay on time.

She took some swipes at her opponent, too.

“Unlike Greg Abbott, I’m not afraid to share the stage with my party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, my colleague, mi hermana, Leticia Van de Putte,” she said. When the audience hooted, she cautioned them: “Now you guys don’t clap too much or Greg Abbott will sue you.”

The insider slam on Abbott was woven into Davis’ nine pages of prepared remarks. “You see, Mr. Abbott cut his teeth politically as part of the good old boys network that’s had their hands on the reins for decades,” she said. “He’s been in their service and their debt since he ran for office, and as a judge and a lawyer he’s spent his career defending insiders, protecting insiders, stacking the deck for insiders and making hardworking Texans pay the price.”

Davis said Abbott accepts large contributions from payday lenders “and then clears the way for them to charge unlimited interest rates and fees.” She blasted him for taking contributions from law firms that handle bond deals approved by the office of the attorney general, and for saying state law does not require chemical companies to reveal what they are storing in Texas communities.

“He isn’t working for you; he’s just another insider, working for insiders,” she said.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Van de Putte, who spoke immediately before Davis, promised not to back down from the fight against Dan Patrick, her opponent for lieutenant governor. She said she would instead fight to “put Texas first.”

When she ran for student council president in junior high, she said, she was told she could not run because she was a girl.

“Well I did, and I won,” she said.

She said that lesson remains relevant now. “I need to run, not just because I am a girl, but because I want the responsibility. Because I know what needs to get done. And I know I’m the right person for the job.”

I love it when they talk tough. I’m not up in Dallas, though several of my blogging colleagues are. So far the reports I’ve heard are positive – lots of energy and excitement. One person even compared it to 2008, which is music to the ear. Obviously, the folks who take the time to go to a party convention aren’t the ones that need to be inspired to go vote, but they are the ones that will be doing a lot of the work to inspire others, so the more enthusiastic they are, the better.

As I said on Friday, the best thing you can do is work to help get the message out and get the voters to the polls. The next best thing you can do is pitch in financially. Democrats have done phenomenally well in grassroots small-dollar fundraising of late, which is both great and necessary since the other guys have a lot more megalomaniac billionaires on their side. Monday is the last day for this fundraising period, and while we can’t do much about the polling narrative right now, we can at least make sure that one part of the story is that our candidates will be in good shape to take the fight to their opponents this fall. So with that in mind, here’s where you can park that loose change that’s burning a hole in your pocket:

Wendy Davis

Leticia Van de Putte

Sam Houston

Mike Collier

John Cook

Steve Brown

If you can only give to one, I would advise you to donate to Leticia Van de Putte. Wendy Davis has already demonstrated that she can raise a ton of money, but Leticia needs to post a big number in July to ensure that every story written about her doesn’t contain a disclaimer about her ability to get her message out. Sam Houston and then Mike Collier are next in line. Those two plus John Cook and Steve Brown will have less effect on the ultimate outcome than the ladies will, but they are still very important.

“You just work with what you have rather than complaining that you don’t have it,” said John Cook, the land commissioner candidate. “That’s what our campaign is all about.”

Cook said he will focus less on the General Land Office and home in on the GOP’s controversial platform on social issues, which touts reparative therapy for gays and lesbians, among other measures.

“My job now is to point out the shortcomings of the Republican Party and the inclusiveness of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Brown, running for a seat on the state board that regulates oil and gas, has campaigned on increasing the Railroad Commission’s environmental stewardship and improving the agency’s fairness. He said he would work on communicating that to delegates at the convention.

Houston, vying to become the state’s chief lawyer, said he wants to depoliticize the attorney general’s office, saying that under Greg Abbott it too often has focused on fighting the federal government rather than finding solutions.

Collier said he intends to paint the tea party – and the Texas GOP, by extension – as anti-business for failing to support fully funding key state programs, such as public education, that ultimately aid business.

“If you understand business, you understand that you’ve got to invest to plan for the future,” Collier said.

The badness of the Republican statewide ticket doesn’t end with Dan Patrick. It’s rotten all the way down. Don’t forget about these guys, who will be working as hard as Wendy and Leticia with far less attention being paid to them.

John Cook mentioned the party platform, so let’s talk about that.

Roughly 7,000 delegates have converged on the Big D this weekend, two weeks after Texas Republicans met at the Fort Worth end of the Metroplex to hammer out a platform that drew national attention for its controversial planks on immigration and support for so-called “reparative therapy” to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality.

“All they did was talk about hating people,” Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said at a Thursday night reception. “This week, we’re in Dallas, Texas, talking about love, right?”

The Democratic Party platform will reflect that feeling, said Garnet Coleman, the Houston state representative in charge of leading the drafting committee for the last decade.

“Our platform is designed to include, not exclude,” Coleman said on Friday, the day before the draft document is viewed, debated and voted on by the permanent platform committee. “And I think their (the Republicans’) platform is an expression of values that are, quite frankly, outside of the mainstream.”

Coleman predicted the Democrats’ platform will not spark the heated debates of the Republican convention, where delegates fought over planks on immigration, medical marijuana and homosexuality, because of a “set of values” the party approved in 2004 and on which they have been building since.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of change,” Coleman said of the 2014 draft compared with its 2012 predecessor. The party will remain opposed to a guest worker program in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and the issue of child detainees on the border likely will not be included in the platform.


The most significant departure from previous years’ platforms likely will be the inclusion of a new plank regarding women’s issues, said Coleman. The section will focus on issues that affect women beyond family planning and abortion, such as wage disparity and other workplace challenges.

The transportation section also will see some additions, addressing what Coleman called the “non-sexy” issues of toll roads and highway building and maintenance funds.

“There’s not enough money to just maintain the highways we have, so that affects the ability for Texas to grow,” Coleman said, adding he would like to see a gas tax. “(Gov. Rick) Perry has made Texas highways into franchises for toll roads.”

As I’ve said before, no candidate is bound by their party’s platform, but I doubt you’ll find too many Democrats trying to back away or distract from the TDP platform. That especially includes the provisions on immigration.

Contrasting the GOP positions to their own, Democrats said it boils down to matters of inclusion and respect.

Like the Republicans, Democrats see immigration as a key to motivating voter turnout for the November general election.

In speech after speech Friday, Democratic Party luminaries ranging from Van de Putte to U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa bashed the GOP platform for its tough-on-immigrants, secure-the-border stance.

And when the Democrats approve their platform on Saturday, party officials said the result will feature most everything the Republicans’ did not.

“We are very supportive of a path to citizenship because there are people who are here and are very productive and have committed no crime and are adding to our economy,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, chairman of the party’s platform committee. “We are not for a guest-worker program, because that can become a form of indentured servitude.”

Throughout caucuses and forums on Friday, Democrats spent time focusing on the GOP platform that calls for tightening immigration enforcement, a position underscored in recent weeks by an unprecedented influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied apprehended after crossing the Mexican border.

“The Republicans have gone backward on immigration,” Castro told reporters. “You have a candidate in Wendy Davis that appreciates the contribution of immigrants throughout Texas history, and you have Republican candidates who use the border as a bogeyman. They use it to stoke fear. They use it to divide Texans, to turn Texans against each other and to win elections and the people of our state are tired of that.”

Stace seems to be pleased with developments so far, which makes me happy. There’s a lot more to come, but let’s stay focused on what’s important. Keep organizing, keep talking to the voters, and keep moving forward.

Great moments in false equivalence

The headline reads Money from disputed tax bills flowing to candidates for top tax chief, and then the story tells us that more than 99% of that money is going to one of those candidates.


Business entities and taxpayers are pumping thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of candidates who, if elected state comptroller, would receive their tax-bill complaints.

The Texas Comptroller’s Office is charged with collecting state tax revenue and implementing state tax law. And even though the state auditor sought a ban on business contributions to comptroller candidates nine years ago, the Texas Legislature did not act and the practice prevails.

In this election cycle, businesses and lawyers with clients before the comptroller’s office have thrown more than $200,000 into the campaigns of two candidates seeking to replace Susan Combs: Republican state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy and Houston-area accountant Mike Collier, a Democrat.

Public watchdog groups see a potential conflict of interest.

“As long as we’re going to have comptrollers running on partisan political tickets, it’s almost impossible to filter out which contributions might not have an interest in the comptroller’s office,” said Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice.

Collier hasn’t received a lot of cash from entities with a stake in tax cases. Of the $200,000 he’s raised, only $1,500 comes from employees of ExxonMobil and BP, two energy firms with disputes before the Comptroller’s Office. He said he’d be open to legislative action barring contributions from donors with active cases with the office, but wouldn’t cut those donations out of his coffers.

“Because I’m the underdog and I’m trying to throw out the trench politicians, I’ll take money from anybody who’ll give it to me,” Collier said.

Hegar has snagged more than 10 percent of the more than $2 million he’s raised from businesses or firms with clients with active tax cases.

So in other words, of the “more than $200,000” that has been raised by the Comptroller candidates from people and firms that have business before the Comptroller’s office, at least $200,000 of it went to Glenn Hegar, while all of $1,500 went to Mike Collier. This is like saying that the Aaron brothers, Hank and Tommie, combined to hit 768 home runs in their career. One of the two contributed a lot more to the bottom line than the other. Oh, and well done on the “more than 10 percent of the more than $2 million” bit, which not only obscures the actual total (how much more than ten percent? how much more than $2 million?) it also surely confuses the more math-phobic readers about how much Hegar collected to the point where they have no idea that it’s way, way more than Collier. An impressive performance all around.

By the way, companies like BP and ExxonMobil have lots and lots of employees. Very few of those employees would have any role in or influence over the dispute process with the Comptroller’s office. Unless the BP and ExxonMobil employees cited above that donated to Mike Collier are among that small group, then the whole premise that “both candidates” are benefiting from contributions of entities and their representatives that have business before the Comptroller’s office is shot. Details, details.

The point of the story is that in 2005, a report by the Texas State Auditor showed that 750 taxpayers received $461 million in tax credits and refunds from the comptroller’s office less than a year after they or their representatives had made a contribution to then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. This was a key attack point by Rick Perry against Strayhorn in the 2006 campaign. That auditor’s report recommended that legislation be passed to the Comptroller or candidates for Comptroller from receiving campaign contributions from anyone that had a dispute pending with the office. Needless to say, nothing happened then, and nothing will happen in 2015. But at least now we’ve been reminded of the issue, and the Chronicle figured out a way to make numbers that are two orders of magnitude apart sound similar. So there’s that.

TM talks to Mike Collier

He’s a really impressive candidate.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

What I’ve been surprised by in the past two years is how much farther right the state has gotten, even compared to someone like Rick Perry, who has, I think, been conservative by any normal standard. When Combs came back in 2013 reporting an $8.8 billion surplus—to me, that was a red flag that we cut the schools budget $5 billion by accident in 2011, or perhaps not by accident; perhaps in an abundance of caution that should raise some eyebrows.

Here’s my perspective on that. When the Eighty-second Legislature sat in January 2011, she showed up with a Biennial Revenue Estimate that showed a deficit that surprised everybody. It should have been a red flag to everybody: maybe this estimate isn’t right. If you look at the state’s economy, even in the document itself where she transmits the news, page 1 says we’re going to have less in revenues, which leads to the deficit. Page 2 says the good news is that we grew in 2010 and we’re going to grow in 2011 and we’re going to grow in 2012 and we’re going to grow in 2013. Anybody with any finance sense should have said, “There’s something really wrong here.” And my opponent didn’t say, “I think there’s something wrong here.” I’ve gone back and looked at the revenues coming into the treasury at the time. If you did a quarter on quarter analysis—this past quarter versus a year ago—you would have seen that revenues were roaring in. She should have at least stopped and said, “How do we manage our way through this uncertainty?” I think it was politics, and unacceptable.

I tend to agree with that, although within the Lege, I think there were people on both sides who were trying to maneuver their way through it, because they were logistically constrained by what the comptroller had projected, or maybe they were politically constrained. So they wrote a budget knowing they would backfill the budget. But there were also some who genuinely didn’t understand, and maybe some who felt genuinely cautious because it’s better to have a surplus than a shortfall.

You know, Erica, what I think this all boils down to is that if you’re a politician, you struggle with all the political implications of what you do. But if you’re a chief financial officer and you’re not a politician, it suddenly becomes very simple. You think of it the way a real executive would think of it and say, “These are the numbers; these are the uncertainties; these are the possibilities.” You don’t have to go through all of that political stuff. But you have to have a comptroller who’s not a politician to do that. And that’s, I think, what makes this so compelling to Texas voters. When I tell the story, the response I get—this whole notion of what party am I running for—just dissolves when I tell that story.

Go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. I believe it’s a bit naive, albeit quite normal for an idealistic first-time candidate, to think that you can remove political considerations from inherently political processes. Revenue forecasts rely on assumptions, and assumptions are colored by one’s beliefs. Be that as it may, some forecasters are justifiably more trusted than others, and that’s a function of transparency and fidelity to verifiable facts. I feel quite confident that anyone who listens to Mike Collier will come away feeling good about his ability to make reliable forecasts. The key is whether he can get enough people to hear what he has to say. I actually got a genuine snail mail fundraising pitch from Collier the other day, and I plan to send him a check. If he can raise $5 million or so, who knows? What I do know is that the more voices like Mike Collier there are out there, the better off Democrats as a whole will be this fall.

Where are all the ladies?

Christy Hoppe of the DMN notices something missing on the Republican side of the 2014 ballot.

Rep. Kay Granger

The Texas Republican Party has a girl problem.

A glance down the list of GOP nominees set after Tuesday’s runoffs makes it look as if U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth has signed up for shop class.

She is the lone woman among the 50 congressional, statewide and top judicial Republican candidates.

In a year when the marquee races for governor and lieutenant governor will feature Democrats Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the Grand Old Party looks like it’s going stag.

Candidate Lisa Fritsch warned during the primaries of “the party of all these men and the same old recycled candidates.”

And Fritsch is a staunch conservative who was challenging Greg Abbott for the nomination for governor.

State party chairman Steve Munisteri said he’s noticed.

“I would tell you I’ve had discussions with elected officials and party leaders about this very issue,” he said Tuesday. “Frankly, it is a concern.”

He said he is placing women in high-profile jobs and hoping to recruit more women to run for office.

The story has gone national, but it should be noted that Rep. Granger isn’t quite as lonely as Hoppe says. There is one more Republican lady among the statewide and Congressional candidates – there is also Susan Narvaiz, who is running for CD35 against Rep. Lloyd Doggett. And it’s not like there were a bunch of viable female candidates that filed but couldn’t make it through the primaries. The only serious contender for a statewide office on the R side was Debra Medina, who finished third for Comptroller with 19% of the vote despite that crappy Trib poll that I’m still not tired of mocking that showed her leading, and the only serious contender for a Congressional seat was Katrina Pierson, who was defeated easily by Rep. Pete Sessions despite having Ted Cruz as her overlord. The lack of Republican ladies on the ballot was a problem that one could see coming from a good ways away.

To be fair, there’s not an overabundance of ladies on the Democratic side, but there are three women running statewide. Two of them you’ve probably heard of, plus Justice Gina Benavides of the 13th Court of Appeals, who is running for Supreme Court. There are also two Congressional incumbents – Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Berniece Johnson – plus two more Congressional candidates, Shirley McKellar and Tawana Cadien. That’s two Democratic incumbents to one Republican incumbent even though Republican incumbents overall outnumber Dems in this group by more than three to one, and seven Democratic candidates to two for the GOP. I’d have liked for there to be more female candidates on our ballot – I did vote for Maxey Scherr in the Senate primary, after all – but given the historic nature of the Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte candidacies – the first time ever that a party has nominated women for both of the top two slots – it’s still something we Ds can be proud of. Better luck next time, Republicans.

Another story on the huge inequities of our property tax system

The Houston Press returns to an old favorite.


“I’ve been sued every year by [JW Marriott],” says Michael Amezquita, the fiery chief appraiser of the Bexar County Appraisal District, which is currently ­facing $10.3 billion in appraisal-reduction litigation compared to the annual $4 billion to $5 billion average. In the 2011 tax year, BCAD’s ten most expensive courtroom losses to class A commercial and industrial property owners resulted in an absence of $1.8 million in tax revenue for San Antonio-area school districts.

“Valero sues every year,” Amezquita adds. “H-E-B [based in San Antonio] is suing every year now. They never used to sue me before.” The Houston Press’s interview request with Bill Day of Valero’s media relations department in San Antonio fell on deaf ears.

Appraisal districts and property-tax experts say the uniform and equal (sometimes called “equity”) provision, cemented into the Texas Constitution in 1997 amid yawns from lawmakers, is the evil responsible for Texas’s defective property-tax system. Also known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the statute created an annual circus in which big-money property owners and appraisal districts argue over how best to value the land, the sticks and the bricks, with the property owners almost always winning.

A 2011 study by Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs concluded that the state’s property-tax system generated more than $40 billion in revenue (or 47 percent of total tax revenue) in fiscal year 2011. There are billions of dollars on top of the $40 billion that should be there but aren’t, according to District 13 Senator Rodney Ellis. The Democratic lawmaker from Houston says that for every million dollars removed from the tax rolls, school districts, fire departments and emergency medical services are squeezed out of approximately $30,000.

The problem has been exacerbated by Texas’s absence of sales-price disclosure, which gives property owners a running start in property-tax disputes because appraisal districts must rely on private databases to procure sales numbers. Even then, it’s impossible to seize reliable data for every property — in 2013, HCAD was able to grab decent sales information on only 681 of Harris County’s 3,838 commercial transactions.

“Whoever heard of doing an appraisal without sales information?” says Amezquita. Idaho, Utah and Alaska — whose combined population is only 928,000 more than the total number of residents of Harris County — are the only other states that lock away all sales figures on taxable properties.

“It’s like boxing with one hand tied behind your back,” says former HCAD chief appraiser Jim Robinson, who retired from HCAD in May 2013 after serving 28 years at the agency. “What we see happening time and time again is tax consultants get everything that’s out there and they’ll pick a set of alleged comparables at the very bottom of the list and argue that they should be adjusted to that.”

What happens next, says Ellis, is that “as properties above the median are reduced to the target valuation, the median drops. The result is a constant and growing erosion of the tax base” on which Texas’s public-school finance channels are dependent.


The state tax code’s “remedy for unequal appraisal” section — the statute that has given central appraisal districts migraines for nearly 20 years — was added to the Texas Constitution in 1997, sans debate, after Representative Paul Hilbert offered the amendment in the waning moments of the 75th Texas Legislature.

“It was one of about 34 floor amendments offered that day…they said, ‘We’re just offering it for some technical cleanup,'” says Stewart, who has been working in appraisal litigation since 1985. “If I had been a member of the House and this had come up as a floor amendment with no fiscal notes or legislative comment, I would’ve voted for it. It was innocuous.”

Amezquita, in a phone interview with the Press, can rattle off the Section 42.26, Paragraph a3, provision from memory, nailing word after arbitrary word with heartfelt disgust: “The district court shall grant relief on the ground that a property is appraised unequally if the appraised value of the property exceeds the median appraised value of a reasonable number of comparable properties appropriately adjusted.”

Prior to 1997, property owners who took issue with an appraisal district’s value would protest based on Section 42.26, Paragraphs a1 and a2 — the part of the tax code that deals with appraisal ratio studies. Now “no one challenges on [paragraphs a1 and a2],” says Amezquita. “[Paragraph a3] is where the money is. Any blind monkey can win that deal. If I wanted to work for the other side, I could triple my money tomorrow.”

Since it was enacted, the law has been expanded in multiple sessions of the Texas Legislature, the most significant change coming in 2003, when “appropriately adjusted” was tacked onto the end of Paragraph a3. With the additional broad stroke of interpretation, ace lawyers have curried favor with the courts, leading an overwhelming majority of judges to side with property owners because there isn’t a definition of comparability in the tax code.

“Nobody has to use the yardstick of market value to keep you honest. They can just get an appraiser — and there are plenty of them out there who are hungry — to come in and pick properties,” says Stewart. “The way the courts are interpreting the statute, they say that’s permissible, and that’s what created the problem.”

Along with the state’s lack of sales-price disclosure, Stiefer says that Texas prohibits its appraisers from auditing any and all sales transactions. “This means the playing field isn’t level,” says Stiefer. “A homeowner can’t hide her house, but businesses can — and do — hide ­assets.”

West Virginia, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas also ensure equity among taxpayers in their respective state constitutions. However, none of those states boasts the complex mix of properties, population size or big-money dealings that Texas has.

“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. This has been going on since 1997,” Amezquita says. “It’s not a tax policy. This is nothing more than a scam.”

I’ve blogged about this before; that first link is about the last time the Press covered this story, on the subject of how HCAD is much tougher on homeowners than on commercial properties. This is mostly a legislative problem – the lack of sales price disclosure plus the legal standard that’s allowable for the appraisal lawsuits (read the story for the details) make it ridiculously easy for corporations and other large property owners to get ludicrously undervalued appraisals, which greatly cuts their taxes and starves government at every level of revenue. The Legislature could fix this – as it happens, Wendy Davis filed a bill that would have addressed the latter issue, but it didn’t make it out of committee. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about school finance in this space, and this is an underappreciated part of the problem, as the system is rigged to ensure that school districts get less than they should. It’s yet another issue you should keep in mind when you go to vote this year. Actually, given the dynamic of this year’s election, it’s another issue you should use to remind off-year non-voters why we need them to show the heck up this fall. However you want to look at it, we’re getting screwed. The good news is that we do have the power to fix it, if we care to.

As always when talking HCAD and property taxes, George Scott is your go-to source for the bottom line. A couple of his posts to read on this:

HCAD’s Perverted ‘Golden Rule’ Of Uniform & Equal Value Practices: “Stick It Unto The Little Guys As The Big Guys Have Stuck It Unto Us”

Will Texas Democrats Adopt A Property Tax Political Strategy It Can Drive Into The ‘Republican Suburbs’ In November?’; They Are Fools If They Don’t

To that latter point, let me highlight this Dave McNeely column about Democratic candidate for Comptroller Mike Collier:

In researching Texas’ tax revenue situation and Hegar’s legislative record, Collier’s team found a linkage. A seemingly innocuous legislative tax law amendment in 1997 allowed property taxpayers to appeal to have their appraisals lowered to the “median” for “comparable” properties. Big businesses have more resources and financial incentive to appeal than do homeowners. But under the state’s school finance formula, that leaves it to homeowners and small businesses to make up the tax difference.

An analysis in 2006 showed a shift of $4 billion in tax responsibility — just for that year, Collier said. The lower appraisals also cut tax revenue for local governments like cities, counties and hospital districts.

“Texas is booming, yet our property tax bills keep going up while funding for roads, water and schools is falling way short,” Collier said. “Glenn Hegar is part of the problem.”

In 2013, SB 1342, by Sen. Wendy Davis — now the Democratic nominee for governor — would have required stricter standards for appealing appraisals, including preventing cherry-picking of “comparable” properties. The bill went to the Senate Finance Committee and was referred to the Fiscal Affairs Subcommittee — chaired by Sen. Hegar. There was a public hearing April 18, 2013.

Representatives of several school-associated groups and local governments testified for the bill. Representatives of several business and real estate associations opposed it. The Collier team found that those opponents had contributed $160,000 to Hegar’s campaign since 2006. The corrective bill never got a vote in Hegar’s subcommittee, and thus died.

Davis has been hitting multiple themes, mostly having to do with education and equal pay. I don’t know how much her campaign is interested in breadth versus depth, but however much her campaign talks about this, she can and should get some reinforcement from Collier on this. How much will depend in part on how much Collier can raise to get his message out and in part on how much coverage of actual policy matters Collier and others can get. The issue is there, and Democrats are aware of it. It’s a matter of how much traction they get.

It was a bad week for the strip clubs

Another adverse court ruling.

A state appeals court on Friday upheld the legality of the state’s so-called “pole tax” on nude entertainment clubs, the latest decision in a six-year battle by Texas officials to collect the $5-per-customer fee from more than 200 strip clubs.

In a 16-page decision, the 3rd Court of Appeals overruled a challenge by the Texas Entertainment Association contending the law violated the Texas Constitution because it is an occupation tax from which 25 percent of the collections must go to public schools. The appeals court ruled that it is an excise tax that could be spent however the Legislature wishes.


In its decision, written by Justice Scott Field, the appeals court rejected the clubs’ argument that the fee was an occupation tax and, as such, was unconstitutional because it did not allocate a quarter of the revenue collected to public schools as mandated in the Texas Constitution.

The court also dismissed arguments that the tax violated the state Constitution’s “equal and uniform” requirement by covering only nude-entertainment business where there is an audience of two or more, and not other adult businesses, such as lingerie modeling studios or adult movie arcades that cater to single customers.

“We conclude that the sexually oriented business tax’s classification is not unreasonable because limiting the tax’s applicability to businesses with audiences of two or more reasonably relates to adverse secondary effects that the tax is intended to address,” the ruling states. “Given that the (Texas) supreme court has already concluded that the sexually oriented business tax does not violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, we likewise conclude that it does not violate the free speech clause of the Texas Constitution.”

The decision notes that the Texas Supreme Court upheld the fee because it “was imposed to address the adverse secondary effects of combining nude entertainment with alcohol consumption, both by discouraging the activity through higher taxation and by generating revenue for programs designed to address the social harms that result.”

Businesses offering adult entertainment to one customer at a time do not have the same adverse effects, it states.

First the Comptroller’s demand for payment, now this. The original suit was filed on First Amendment grounds but lost at the Supreme Court. This was a different tack, but so far not any more successful. I’m sure this will be appealed to the Supreme Court, so maybe by 2016 we’ll have a final resolution, assuming the clubs don’t have some other argument in their back pocket in the event this one fails. The Trib has more.

Combs tells strip clubs to pay up


Susan Combs

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is pressing the state’s strip clubs to cough up millions of dollars she says they owe under a new “pole tax” even though the $5-a-patron fee still faces a court challenge.

“Any claim that ongoing litigation is a basis for nonpayment of the Sexually Oriented Business Fee is not valid,” insists an April 11 letter from the comptroller’s tax division that was sent to roughly 200 clubs in Texas that offer nude entertainment.

The fee, which strip club attorneys have claimed is an unfair tax, has been the subject of legal fights virtually since it was passed in 2007 as a way to fund programs for sexual assault victims and health care. The strip clubs’ lobby organization, the Texas Entertainment Association, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the fee, arguing that erotic dancing is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. But in 2011, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the fee did not violate free speech.

A new challenge, still under consideration by the 3rd Court of Appeals, argues that the “pole tax” is unconstitutional because the fees are not used appropriately. In the April 11 letter, Combs’ office said the continuing legal battle doesn’t mean the clubs can avoid paying all the fees they owe since the law took effect six years ago.


“They don’t like to be seen or heard,” state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, said of the club owners. “And I think that is what caused them to get in the ditch on this thing.”

So far, Dutton is the only lawmaker defending the clubs. In an April 23 letter to Combs, he asked the comptroller why her office decided last month to send out letters while the clubs’ latest court challenge is awaiting a decision from the 3rd Court of Appeals.

“I did send her a letter, asking her what has changed,” said Dutton, who opposes the fee. He said that if sexual assault programs need money, “the Legislature ought to step up to the plate and do that.”

Instead, what often happens, he said, is that lawmakers create fees against things they don’t like, like strip clubs.

“Where does it end once you start down that road?” he said.

A spokesman for the comptroller’s office, R.J. DeSilva, indicated in an emailed response that there was nothing remarkable about the timing of the collection notice.

“Our agency regularly sends notices or updates to taxpayers on various taxes and fees,” he wrote. “This particular notice was to remind business owners that the Sexually Oriented Business Fee is still in effect while litigation continues.”

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the strip clubs’ challenge after the Texas Supreme Court determined that the fee does not violate the First Amendment.

Now, the clubs are arguing that the state “fee” is really an occupation tax that should be directed to public schools under the Texas Constitution. They contend that the fee violates the state Constitution, which requires that one-fourth of occupation taxes go to public schools, because none of the money goes to schools.

The clubs’ attorneys are also asking the court to consider free speech provisions in the Texas Constitution, which they claim are broader than that of the First Amendment.

The state maintains that the fee is not an occupation tax, though, and it rejects arguments that it encroaches on free speech.

I must have missed the news about the second lawsuit, because I didn’t find anything in my archives about it. As noted, the original lawsuit was decided in favor of the state in 2011 by the Supreme Court, so it’s fair to wonder why now, almost three years later, the state is finally demanding payment from the clubs and rejecting the argument that ongoing litigation is no excuse. That said, while I may sympathize with Rep. Dutton about how the Lege should appropriate money for various things, the fact remains that the strip club fee was passed by the Lege and has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and wishing that the Lege did its business differently doesn’t change that. Not clear what effect, if any, this may have on the city of Houston’s strip club fee, which is also still being litigated.

Who’s afraid of the Republican slate?

I was reading this story about a kerfuffle in the Republican runoff for Railroad Commissioner when a thought struck me.

A Republican candidate seeking a post that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry said he won’t cut ties to his energy business if elected to the Texas Railroad Commission – a state board that historically has had a poor track record disentangling itself from industry interests.

Ryan Sitton is co-founder and chief executive officer of PinnacleAIS, which advises companies about maintenance of equipment used in oil and gas operations.

Sitton said he will maintain an ownership stake in Pinnacle­AIS if he becomes a commission board member – a declaration that raised questions by his GOP and Democratic opponent, ethics experts and tea party Republicans.

“That is a conflict of interest and it is very frightful,” said Wayne Christian, a former state representative also seeking the post.

I’m not terribly interested in the particulars of this fight because the overly cozy relationship between the energy industry and the elected officials that regulate them is a very old story, and typically neither candidate has clean hands. What occurred to me in reading this story is how undistinguished the two candidates are, and how that seems to be the case up and down the statewide ballot for the GOP this year. Consider this: Among the leading candidates in the primaries, including the two that won outright, Wayne Christian and Sid Miller are clowns, George P. Bush is a legacy whose advisers prefer to keep under wraps, Glenn Hegar and Ken Paxton are a couple of basically undistinguished legislators, and Dan Patrick is Dan Patrick. Murderer’s Row these guys ain’t. The fact that they’ve all spent the bulk of their campaigns talking about nothing – they all hate abortion, the Obama administration, illegal immigrants, and Sharia law, and they all love guns – adds to the overall picture of ridiculousness.

The Republicans did have some substantial candidates on their ballot. Malachi Boylus and J. Allen Carnes never had a chance to get out of their primaries. Jerry Patterson and Dan Branch, who is still alive but a big underdog, had to degrade themselves in their races in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to separate themselves from their mostly solid records of public service. Those past accomplishments, and their at least occasional willingness to talk about issues and – heaven forfend – what the office they’re running for actually does were anchors for them, not assets. I get that they’re running in a primary, and they have to address what the voters in that primary want to hear. Democratic primaries are often contests of personality as well, and the winner is often who loves what the base voters love the hardest, but the spectacle of these campaigns has been on another level.

And then there’s the top of the ticket. For all his status as the heir apparent to Rick Perry, Greg Abbott hasn’t exactly been setting the terms of the debate in the Governor’s race. I would argue that Wendy Davis has driven the story of this election from the beginning. That’s not always been good for her – indeed, for about two months running it was mostly bad news about her and her campaign – but good or bad, it’s been about her. Say what you want about Rick Perry, but all of his gubernatorial campaigns have been on his terms. Since February, Abbott’s tone-deafness and Davis’ attacks have been the main event. Oh, he tried to knock her back with his ethics proposal about bond lawyering that maybe ten people in the state understood, but it’s been a steady drumbeat Ted Nugent, Lilly Ledbetter, Charles Murray, and school finance. Neither Abbott’s own words nor those of his surrogates have done anything to help him or change the narrative, and there’s still more out there. At some point you have to wonder what else there is to him beyond a ginormous campaign warchest and a long history of being a Republican on statewide ballots.

Now in the end, of course, none of this may matter. We all know what Texas’ proclivities are, we know how historically weak the state Democratic Party has been and how far behind they are in building infrastructure and a GOTV machine. However you feel about the polls we’ve seen so far, none of them have shown a shift in the fundamentals. The next poll to give Wendy Davis 44% or more of the vote will be the first such poll since John Sharp roamed the earth. These guys may be clowns and empty suits, but they’re also the favorites to win. What I know is that I don’t fear them, at least not as opponents. If they beat us, it’s not because they can run faster or jump higher or lift heavier things. It’s because they have a head start. We may not be able to overcome that this time, but if this is what we’re up against, it’s all that we have to overcome. We will get there.

Collier’s sales tax criticism of Hegar makes the news

That’s how you do it.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Democrat Mike Collier, a certified public accountant from Houston, will start airing television ads criticizing opponent Glenn Hegar, a Republican state senator from Katy, for his support to phase out property taxes and increase state sales taxes.

Collier and Hegar are vying to replace outgoing Comptroller Susan Combs, a Republican.

The 30-second ad, which will air in Houston, uses video of Hegar touting his position at a January meeting of We The People-Longview Tea Party.

“I don’t like the property tax, never have,” Hegar says in the video. “I think we should replace it. The best thing to replace it with is a consumption-type tax, a sales tax per se.”

Later in the ad, a male announcer says, “Mike Collier has a better plan: Forecast revenues accurately. Invest in our schools. And, hold the line on taxes.”


Local property taxes account for roughly 47 percent of tax revenue in Texas, according to a 2012 report from the comptroller’s office. State and local sales taxes make up 32 percent of revenue.

Another 2012 study – written by former deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton and published by a Republican group called Texas Tax Truth – said consumers would have to pay up to 25 percent in state sales tax to make up for the approximate $45 billion in lost revenue caused by abolishing property taxes.

“There’s no way that Hegar can make a sensible convincing policy point that we should get rid of the property tax in favor of a broader, larger sales tax,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientistat Southern Methodist University.

And, the shift from property taxes would deprive local governments, school districts and other entities of their primary method of revenue collection, said John Kennedy, an analyst at Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. That would mean municipalities would have to rely primarily on the state to finance their operations.

See here for the background. Via TrailBlazers, here’s the ad in question:

Can I just say how excellent it is to have a competent Democratic candidate running for Comptroller? Here’s who we had in the past three elections:

2010: Nobody
2006: Fred Head
2002: Marty Akins

Arguably, that’s in descending order of effectiveness. I could be persuaded to swap Head and Akins. Basically, Collier is the first serious Comptroller candidate we’ve had since Paul Hobby. It’s a beautiful thing.

But, Collier’s line of attack isn’t guaranteed to stick, Jillson said. The Nov. 4 election is seven months away and voters may not remember a fight over taxes from April, he said.

Jason Stanford, a consultant working on the Collier campaign, said the Democrat’s team plans to maintain this line of attack through the November election.

“We can’t play this race according to the old rule book,” Stanford said. “We have to make this race about actual ideas and competence.”

The thing is, Collier could keep up this line of attack all the way through November without ever repeating himself, because there’s so many ways Hegar’s tax swap is attackable. Consider:

– Local taxing entities – counties, cities, school districts – would essentially cede all taxing authority to the state. Do you want local control over your city and school district budgets, or do you want to hand all that to Austin?

– Do you want to start paying $25,000 for a $20,000 car? With Glenn Hegar’s tax plan, you will.

– Unless you own a million dollar home, your taxes are going up. Unless you live in a place with a lot of retail activity, your city and your schools are going to get screwed.

– Can you imagine the black market that will spring up with a 25% sales tax? The Comptroller’s office will have to become an arm of the IRS to ensure adequate collections.

And on and on. Collier will still have to raise the money to get that message out, but having that message will likely make it easier to raise the dough. There’s no downside here. Burka and EoW have more.

Precinct analysis: Republican primary election

I’ve done the Democrats, so now let’s take a look at the Republicans. In this case, I did have a few specific questions in mind, so my approach here will be a little different. First, we all know that Steve Stockman’s performance art piece campaign against Sen. John Cornyn didn’t amount to anything, but did he at least make some noise in his own Congressional district?

Candidate CD36 Else CD36% Else% ============================================ Cornyn 8,231 65,363 48.69% 55.57% Stockman 5,359 27,093 31.70% 23.03% Others 3,314 25,161 19.60% 21.39% Total 16,904 117,617

So sort of, yeah. Cornyn was held under 50% in the bit of CD36 that’s in Harris County, and it’s clear that Stockman picked up that he lost, but it didn’t make a difference overall. As it happens, the other counties in CD36 are all entirely within CD36, so we can look at the whole district as well now that we have the Harris data:

County Cornyn Cornyn% Stockman Stockman% ================================================ Chambers 1,609 41.02% 1,322 33.70% Hardin 2,937 40.52% 2,986 41.20% Harris 8,231 48.69% 5,359 31.70% Jasper 1,274 54.28% 780 33.23% Liberty 2,496 38.02% 2,007 30.57% Newton 226 46.40% 194 39.83% Orange 3,546 44.51% 2,925 36.72% Polk 2,626 46.46% 1,820 32.20% Tyler 1,121 46.01% 961 39.44%

So again, Stockman held Cornyn under 50% in CD36, but he still trailed in every county except Hardin. His performance in Harris was particularly weak. It’s possible that someone could have beaten Big John, or at least forced him into a runoff, but Steve Stockman was not that someone.

Along similar lines, I wondered how Dan Patrick did on his home turf of SD07 versus the rest of the county:

Candidate SD07 Else SD07% Else% ============================================ Patrick 30,398 48,373 64.84% 53.78% Not Patrick 16,481 41,578 35.16% 46.22% Total 46,879 89,951

Unlike Stockman, Patrick really killed it on his home turf, but he still won a majority elsewhere as well. That cannot be a comforting thought to David Dewhurst.

Given the inflammatory rhetoric about immigration and the pushback by Latino Republicans against Dan Patrick, I also checked to see if Patrick did any worse in the five State Rep districts held by Latinos (HDs 140, 143, 144, 145, and 148) than he did elsewhere:

Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Patrick 5,515 73,256 56.58% 57.64% Not Patrick 4,233 53,826 43.42% 42.36% Total 9,748 127,082

Short answer: No. Of course, we don’t know how many of the Republican primary voters in these districts were Latino – the Anglo voting age population in these districts range from 12K (HD140) to 37K (HD148), so there are plenty of non-Latinos to go around. Regardless, at least in Harris County, Patrick’s rhetoric wasn’t a problem for these voters.

Finally, how did the Latino Republican candidates do in the Latino districts?

Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Abbott 8,929 119,258 92.28% 94.52% Martinez 381 2,713 3.94% 2.15% Others 366 4,207 3.78% 3.33% Total 9,676 126,178 Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Medina 1,558 15,993 16.91% 13.56% Torres 420 3,144 4.56% 2.67% Hegar 4,442 62,214 48.22% 52.74% Hilderbran 2,792 36,620 30.31% 31.04% Total 9,212 117,971

A little bit of a benefit, mostly for Debra Medina, but overall less than a drop in the bucket. Even if the differences had been dramatic, the paucity of voters in these districts would have minimized the effect. But the difference was trivial, so it didn’t matter anyway.

Collier hammers Hegar for property tax idiocy


Mike Collier

Mike Collier

During the recent Republican primary for state comptroller, state Sen. Glenn Hegar repeatedly endorsed eliminating local property taxes in Texas.

Borrowing from GOP opponent Debra Medina’s 2010 playbook, Hegar urged a shift to sales taxes to make up the more than $40 billion a year of revenue that cities, counties, school districts and other local governmental entities would lose.

Hegar, R-Katy, even suggested a very rapid transition to the new tax system. At a Longview tea party gathering in January, he told a man in the audience, “You just do it.”

This week, though, the governing implications of so massive a shift seem to have cooled Hegar’s jets.

Burying the property tax, after all, would require leaders to more than double the current rates of all state and local sales taxes.

See Exhibit 1 on page 1 (or page 5 of the PDF) of this comptroller’s report. You can readily see that state and local sales taxes, combined, yield about 32 percent of all state and local tax revenues in Texas. That compares with a whopping 47 percent raised by local property taxes. You get the picture.

On Thursday, Hegar campaign manager David White said Hegar “has been clear that we are many years away from being able to implement such” a shift from property tax to sales tax.

White repeated a response he gave The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday, saying “Glenn will review all options to reduce the burden on taxpayers.”

Democratic comptroller nominee Mike Collier, though, has blasted Hegar’s happy talk on property tax during the primary. Collier, a Houston businessman, called it an “unimpeachably bad” policy idea that would produce a monster increase in sales tax, shift power away from localities to the Legislature and “put our schools at unnecessary risk.”

He warned Hegar’s “promise” to eliminate the property tax would require sales tax “to be at least 20 percent — and possibly as high as 25 percent.” In most Texas cities today, the combined state-local sales tax rate is 8.25 percent. Collier even created an online petition drive so voters can protest “Senator Hegar’s sales tax.”

However, in a Thursday email blast that urged people to sign the petition, Collier incorrectly called Hegar’s proposal a “massive tax increase.” In recent years, Republicans have only advocated tax swaps, which presumably would be revenue neutral.

Still, Hegar seems to be switching gears on property tax abolition, pivoting from a “just do it” battle cry to a chin-stroking, “many years away” proposition. The rhetorical shift has given Collier an opening to start the general election battle — in March, not September.

Actually, Hegar’s idiotic idea would be a “massive tax increase” for a large majority of Texans. The whole idea of a tax swap is that some people wind up paying more, while others wind up paying less. The Republicans have floated various tax swaps in the past, and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that a wealthy minority benefits greatly from them, while everyone else pays more. It’s true, as some people note in the comments to that story and on Collier’s Facebook page, that renters pay property taxes as part of their rent. Let me ask you a question: Which do you think is the more likely outcome of a Hegar-style tax swap – a massive, statewide reduction in rents, or a massive, statewide increase in profits for landlords? Take all the time you need before answering.

Anyway. Whether someone finally explained the math to Hegar or he realized that he might need to do more of a campaign than just pandering to fanatics, he has shifted from “we can do this right now!” to “this idea is many years away from implementation”. And in doing so, he earned a bit of media for Mike Collier. More like this, please. BOR and EoW have more.

What will The Dew do this time?

Go negative or go home is the strategy the pundits have selected for him.

The Sad Dewhurst picture never gets old

Political experts have a bit of advice for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s re-election campaign: go negative or go home.

The incumbent Senate president was crushed in Tuesday’s Republican primary by Houston Sen. Dan Patrick.

In all, more than 72 percent of the roughly 1.3 million Texans who cast ballots in the GOP lieutenant governor’s race voted against Dewhurst, an 11-year incumbent who out-raised and outspent his three competitors in the field.

Now Dewhurst, who pulled just 27 percent of the primary vote, faces much more than an uphill climb in the May runoff.

To even stand a chance, Dewhurst will need to convert hundreds of thousands of voters who backed Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples or Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson – no easy task in itself, and neither Staples nor Patterson has lined up behind Dewhurst yet.

Political experts say the multimillionaire Dewhurst will need to unleash a barrage of attacks aimed at loosening Patrick’s stranglehold on the base of Texas’ most conservative voters, the same group that will decide the May runoff.

The good news for Dewhurst is that there’s no shortage of negative things to say about Dan Patrick. The bad news is that for many if not most Republican primary voters, and especially Republican primary runoff voters, they tend to see those negatives as positives. The one thing Dewhurst might be able to hit him with successfully is the charge that Patrick might actually lose the election in November to Sen. Leticia Van de Putte because enough non-Republican primary voters think he’s a big scary jerk. The problem for him here is 1) the only polling data out there so far is that one Trib poll, which shows Patrick leading LVdP albeit by slightly less than Dewhurst; 2) Republican primary voters don’t think they’re in any danger of losing in November even with a huge jerk like Patrick on the ticket, and it’s hard to argue with them about that right now; and 3) nobody really likes David Dewhurst, either. But hey, what are ya gonna do? Go ahead and spend your million attacking Dan Patrick, Dew. It’ll make you feel better, if nothing else.

As the Trib noted yesterday, there’s an effort among the powers that be (i.e., big money donors) to get Dewhurst to drop out, along with Dan Branch and Harvey Hilderbran. Hilderbran has already acceded. Of the three, I think Branch has the best hope of winning in May, but the pressure on him and Dewhurst could be great. There will still be runoffs in the Ag Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner races regardless, but needless to say the turnout level would be much less if Dewhurst and Patrick aren’t slinging around millions of dollars in attack ads. We’ll see how it goes.

The UT/TT primary polls were completely useless


I expressed my contempt with the UT/Texas Trib’s Democratic primary poll result for the US Senate race last night, which they richly deserved. Sure, pollster Jim Henson admitted that “the first person to raise some money and run some ads could really move this”, and that’s largely what happened, but that got lost in all the national attention that was paid to Kesha Rogers being proclaimed the frontrunner in a poll where basically nobody had an initial preference. They had a “result” that was guaranteed to get them a ton of attention, and that’s what they got even though their track record in past Democratic primaries was shaky at best.

Well, now it’s time to pay them a bit of negative attention, because their Republican primary polls, which I originally noted had a decent track record based on previous results sucked eggs, too. Let’s take them one at a time and assess the damage. I’ll even be generous and start with the one poll they basically nailed, just to give them credit where it’s due. Here’s the poll story from which I’ll be quoting:

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, facing a field of seven other Republican primary candidates in his bid for re-election, won the support of 62 percent of the likely Republican primary voters, followed by U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, who got 16 percent. Support for the rest was in single digits: Linda Vega, 7 percent; Dwayne Stovall and Ken Cope, 4 percent each; Reid Reasor and Chris Mapp, 3 percent each; and Curt Cleaver, 1 percent.

Actual result: Cornyn won with 59.44%, Stockman came in second with 19.13%. Dwayne Stovall was actually in third with 10.71%, but I won’t crime them for that. From here, it’s all downhill.

In the heated Republican primary for lieutenant governor, incumbent David Dewhurst leads the pack with 37 percent of likely Republican primary voters at his side, followed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, at 31 percent; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples at 17 percent; and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at 15 percent.

Actual result: Dan Patrick led the pack with 41.45%, followed by incumbent David Dewhurst with 28.31%. Staples had 17.76% and Patterson 12.47%, not that it mattered. That’s a pretty big miss, but it’s not their biggest.

The Republican primary for attorney general is a statistical dead heat between state Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, at 42 percent, and state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, at 38 percent — a difference smaller than the poll’s margin of error. Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman got 20 percent. When they were initially asked about the race, 47 percent expressed no preference between the candidates.

Actual result: Paxton 44.44%, Branch 33.49%, Smitherman 22.06%. They did get Smitherman’s level of support correct, but they had the wrong frontrunner and the race wasn’t as close as they said. Oh, well.

In the race for comptroller, that group of initially undecided voters accounted for 54 percent, perhaps an indication of continuing flux in the race. Debra Medina, the only candidate who has been on a statewide ballot (she ran for governor in 2010), got 39 percent after voters were asked whom they would support in an election now, followed by state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, at 26 percent; state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, at 24 percent; and former state Rep. Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi, at 11 percent.

Actual result: Hegar came thisclose to winning outright, with 49.99%. He was 151 votes short of a majority with four precincts still uncounted. Hilderbran was second with 26.01%, Medina third with 19.30%, and Torres last with 4.68%. I’m sorry, but that’s just embarrassingly inaccurate.

So in all three downballot Republican races as well as the Democratic Senate race, they incorrectly identified the frontrunner, with the extra indignity of having the almost clear winner of the Comptroller’s race not in the cut for a runoff. Well done, fellas. Well done.

Now you may say “c’mon, polling primaries is especially tricky”, and if you did I would agree. I’d also say that maybe their self-selected-sample-plus-secret-sauce methodology is especially poorly designed for polling in these specialized races, and I’d point to these very results as proof of that. You may also say that no one else was providing poll information on these races so at least they were telling us something, and I’d say we would have been better off with no information than we were with their badly wrong information. I’d also say they owe us an explanation for why they were so wrong, and a public examination and reconsideration of their methods given how badly wrong they were. If they can screw these races up so badly, why should anyone believe their general election polling? The ball’s in your court, guys.

I should note that I’m saying all this as someone who likes the Tribune and who thinks they generally do a good job. On this, however, they did a terrible job, and I’m not the only one who noticed. They should be embarrassed by this, and they should want to figure out where they went so far off track. I would advise them to be quick about it. Steve Singiser has more.

Primary results: Statewide

So Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott won easily.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

They never had to sweat their primaries, so on Tuesday night Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis turned their attention to a fall election that is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested and closely watched Texas governor’s races in decades.

Davis, who was winning almost 80 percent of the vote in early returns, and Abbott, who was pulling in more than 90 percent at last count, both gave early victory speeches on a night when uncertainty and surprise shook up candidates in several other key state races.

Davis went first, focusing her remarks on job creation and education, saying Texas badly needed new leadership after years of uninterrupted Republican rule.

“I want you to know this: I am ready to fight for you and to fight for every hardworking Texan across this state,” Davis said at her campaign headquarters in Fort Worth. “Now is the time to fight for our future. This is not a time to stand still.”

But Davis’ remarks quickly turned into an attack on Abbott. She criticized him for defending in court steep cuts made by the Legislature to public education in 2011 in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of school districts that say the state’s education system is flawed and doesn’t appropriately fund schools.

“He’s defending those cuts,” Davis said. “Cuts that laid off teachers and forced our kids into overcrowded classrooms.”

She also mentioned the ongoing abortion debate in Texas — the issue that helped turn her into an overnight sensation last summer when she filibustered a restrictive abortion bill. Davis bashed Abbott for his stance on abortion, saying that he wants to “dictate for all women, including victims of rape and incest.” Abbott has said he believes abortion should be legal only when the mother’s life is in danger.

“I will be the governor who fights for the future of Texas,” Davis said, adding that “Greg Abbott is a defender of the status quo.”

There were a lot of uncounted ballots at the time I called it a night last night, but turnout on the Dem side will probably be around 600,000, or about what we had in 2012. A bit more than half the votes were cast early, which strongly suggests yesterday’s rotten weather had some effect. Republicans also had more than half their turnout come in early, so it affected both sides. This is why I always vote early, y’all.

John Cornyn easily won his primary, but with a not-terribly-impressive 58% or so of the vote. Barring any late surge, David Alameel will finish with about 47% and will face (sigh) Kesha Rogers in the runoff, as she finished second with about 22%. I expect he’ll win easily in a low turnout race, and I have to wonder if this is the reason he got those early endorsements from Wendy Davis, Leticia Van de Putte, and a whole passel of Dem officeholders. Maybe someone in the hive mind had the foresight to think that he had the best shot at solving the Kesha problem, hopefully in March but surely in May if it comes to it. Be that as it may, let me take this opportunity once again to spit on that crappy Trib primary poll. Use a dartboard next time, fellas.

Anyway. Alameel will be joined in the runoff by Kinky Friedman and Jim Hogan, who led the field for Ag Commissioner for no apparent reason. At least Steve Brown won the Railroad Commissioner nomination, so there was just one random result.

On the Republican side, Baby Bush collected 73% in the Land Commissioner race, so he joins Abbott in getting to start running for November. Glenn Hegar was within an eyelash of 50% at the time I closed up shop; if he falls back, Harvey Hilderbran will get another shot at him. All Supreme Court incumbents won, and all Court of Criminal Appeals races had clear winners. Otherwise, here are your runoff lineups:

Lite Guv – Dan Patrick versus David Dewhurst. Sure looks like The Dew is going down.

Attorney General – Ken Paxton versus Dan Branch. Back to the Railroad Commission for you, Barry Smitherman.

Ag Commissioner – Sid Miller versus Tommy Merritt. If things hold to form, Ted Nugent will have had quite the successful primary himself.

Railroad Commissioner – Wayne Christian versus Ryan Sitton. Yeah, I know, who?

That’s all I got. What are your thoughts about the primaries?

Pay no attention to Mark Jones

This is a really bad idea.

I'm the One True Conservative!

I’m the One True Conservative!

At least for the time being, the Republican primary is the decisive election for the governance of Texas.

In contrast, the most pressing issue facing Houston-area Democratic primary voters will be whether they prefer safe mainstream candidates or provocative and potentially damaging outsiders as the party’s long-shot nominees for U.S. senator and agriculture commissioner, and as the Democratic candidate for Harris County district attorney.

Opinion polls reveal that in recent years, a large majority of the Texans who vote in the GOP primary elections are very conservative. At the same time, many of the most conservative advocacy organizations have become increasingly sophisticated in monitoring and evaluating politicians and aggressive in backing candidates they support and in attacking those they oppose. For better or worse, the days of some elected officials being able to successfully maintain separate and distinct Austin and district personas appear to be numbered.

This political context has created strong incentives for GOP candidates to avoid allowing any credible rival to move to their right. In turn, the goal of not being ideologically outflanked often generates a centrifugal force that pulls the candidates further and further to the right. Only in Texas do candidates feel it necessary to vehemently deny claims that they are moderate, pragmatic or reasonable.

The GOP lieutenant governor and attorney general primaries, in which candidates are trying to outflank each other with issues popular with the base GOP constituency such as illegal immigration and abortion, are prime examples of this phenomenon.

For every action, there’s a reaction, and some Texas Republicans are now trying to pull the party back to the center-right. These pragmatic center-right conservatives view their “movement” conservative brethren, commonly called the tea party, as excessively ideological and obstructionist. They fear the latter’s rhetoric and actions jeopardize the state’s continued economic success as well as the Republican Party’s long-term dominance in the Lone Star State.


Texans who wish to take a side in this GOP civil war, or who simply want to have a greater say in the direction of public policy in Texas during the latter half of the decade, should seriously consider participating by voting early, by mail or on Election Day in the March 4 and May 27 (runoff) Republican primaries.

In the competitive statewide races, including those for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and agriculture commissioner, there exist notable differences among the candidates in terms of their ideological position, policy profile and vision for the future of the Texas GOP. Similar differences exist in a myriad of contests at the legislative district and local levels. Of course, in many races, to uncover these differences, you have to wipe away the near-identical “strong conservative” body paint the candidates have covered themselves with. But once you review each candidate’s record, the individuals and groups supporting them and their platform, you will find in most instances that they are not all peas from the same pod.

Where to even begin with this?

1. To say that “some Texas Republicans are now trying to pull the party back to the center-right” is a giant copout. Who are they, what are they doing, and what influence do they have? The fact that Jones doesn’t cite even a single name or organization is telling. Sure, there is some pushback going on in some local races – see, for example, the primary challenge to first term teabagger extraordinaire Rep. Jonathan Stickland in HD92, or the fight for Harris County GOP Chair – but if there’s something like this happening at the statewide level, it’s not apparent to me.

2. I’ll stipulate that there are candidates for Lite Guv and Attorney General – one in each race – that have a track record of mostly pragmatic, non-crazy governance. Both of them are running as fast as they can away from those records, since they correctly recognize that their records are obstacles to overcome in their current races. Note also that Jones did not name the candidates he had in mind. I’ll venture a guess that one reason he didn’t name names is because he knows what would happen if he did: Every other candidate in those races would pounce on his proclamation that so-and-so is secretly a moderate and would govern as one if elected, and the candidates themselves would then be forced to respond by making statements along the lines of “I am not a moderate! I eat moderates for breakfast and gnaw on their bones for a late night snack!” As for the Comptroller’s race, I have no idea who he thinks the undercover moderate is. The three main contenders are a Senator best known for sponsoring the draconian anti-abortion bill HB2, a member of the House that Jones’ own metrics identified as one of the more conservative members last session, and a gadfly whose main claim to fame is running to the right of Rick Perry in the 2010 GOP primary for Governor. Boy, I can just feel the center-right goodness emanating from these races.

3. Believing that a candidate with a moderate/pragmatic/non-crazy past record but who is campaigning for another office as a fire-breathing Cruz-worshipping One True Conservative will revert back to his old ways once elected is just breathtakingly naive on its face. Perhaps Mark Jones also believed that Mitt Romney would have acted as if he were back to being Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney if he had been elected President. Here’s the thing: Voters don’t actually like it when a candidate they’ve elected who promised to do certain things then goes and does the exact opposite of what they said they’d do while campaigning. Just as legislators can’t pretend to be one thing in Austin and another in their home district, candidates can’t pretend to be one thing on the trail and another at the Capitol. We have the Internet now. It’s impossible to maintain two personas any more. Maybe that’s a bad thing, but as Mark Jones himself noted, it is how it is these days.

4. But let’s take Mark Jones at his word for a moment that we Democrats who foolishly think we have our own candidates to choose should go ahead and support the Secretly Moderate and Pragmatic Republicans in the Lite Guv and AG races. How do you think these candidates will react if we help propel them to victory? Will they react by saying “Boy, I sure am glad all these voters saw through my charade of being a raving loony conservative so I can go back to being the moderate pragmatic that I’ve spent the past six to twelve months vehemently denying that I am”? Or will they react by saying “I thank all those voters who recognized me as the One True Conservative in this race, and I will reward your faith in me by governing as the One True Conservative I have promised to be for you”? When one is rewarded for a certain type of behavior, one tends to continue behaving in that fashion. I don’t know about Mark Jones, but if I were to catch my dog pissing on the rug, I’d yell at him to stop doing that right now. I wouldn’t go and give him a Milk Bone on the theory that he’d always been a well-behaved dog up till now and I’m sure he intends to going back to being a good dog again once he’s finished proving his canine bona fides to the cat.

5. Finally, we Democrats do have important decisions to make in our own primary. Wendy Davis does have an opponent, after all. Whoever we nominate for US Senate will be a massive underdog, but taking our eye off the ball and letting Kesha Rogers even slip into a runoff would be a disaster of Biblical proportions, one that really would do damage to Wendy Davis’ campaign. The Ag Commissioner race does matter, and Dems have a choice between two very different candidates, each with a plausible case to make for their candidacy. (I’m ignoring Jim Hogan, who doesn’t appear to be campaigning.) The Railroad Commissioner race matters. Locally, not everyone is in SD15, but you’d better believe that race is a big deal. We have to decide who we want to run against County Clerk Stan Stanart, and anyone who follows elections closely knows how important that is. And of course, unless we want to concede the DA race to Devon Anderson, it’s vitally important that everyone with any inclination to vote Democratic get out there and support Kim Ogg. If you want to vote in the GOP primary, Mark Jones, knock yourself out. Beyond that, please keep your brilliant ideas about how the rest of us should vote to yourself.

January finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates


With the exception of a stray missing report here and there, all of the January campaign finance reports for state office holders and seekers are up on the Texas Ethics Commission webpage. Here’s a brief look at the reports filed by Democratic candidates for statewide offices. I already have reports for the candidates in contested primaries on my 2014 Election page, so this is a chance to look at the uncontested candidates as well.


Wendy Davis
Wendy Davis SPAC
Wendy Davis GPAC

Ray Madrigal – No report

As you’ve probably read by now, Wendy Davis filed three campaign reports – basically, the first one is her previously existing Senate account, to which people were contributing before her official announcement that she was running for Governor; the second is her special purpose PAC account for her gubernatorial campaign, similar to the “Friends Of” or “Texans For” PACs that Republicans often use; and the joint Battleground Texas PAC that has gotten every Republican’s panties in a wad. I’m not going to rehash any of that, I’m just going to note with amusement that her total must have really freaked them out to have reacted so strongly instead of just pointing to Greg Abbott’s bottom line, which is enough to make Switzerland salivate. Davis certainly answered the question about her ability to raise the funds she’ll need, but once won’t be enough. She’ll need to post similar, if not better, numbers for July. But we’ll worry about that another day.

Lt. Governor

Leticia Van de Putte
Leticia Van de Putte SPAC

As with Wendy Davis, the first account is the pre-existing Senate account, and the second is for the Lite Guv race. Here are the details from each:

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Senate $154,087 $177,799 $235,084 LG SPAC $290,514 $ 21 $251,756 Total $445,601 $177,820 $486,840

I presume all of the expenditures came out of the Senate account, which makes sense. The SPAC was created on November 23, so basically it represents five weeks’ worth of fundraising, which isn’t too shabby. I didn’t go through its contributions, but I did go through the expenses for the Senate account, and I did not see any transfers from the one to the other, so that $290K figure is accurate and as far as I know doesn’t include redundant funds. For five weeks during the Thanksgiving/Christmas period, that’s a decent total, which would project to $1.5 million to $2 million at that pace for the July report. Not bad as I say, but not really enough, either. LVdP doesn’t need to be in Wendy’s league, but she does need to have enough to do some real statewide outreach. If she doesn’t raise at least $5 million for July, I’d be concerned she won’t be able to do that. On the plus side, she can hit up Wendy’s supporters, including and especially the big-dollar ones. I feel confident that she is more than up to this challenge, but if you’ve donated to Wendy and not to Leticia, you need to rectify that.

Attorney General

Sam Houston
Mike Collier

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Houston $184,595 $ 41,216 $153,678 Collier $213,518 $170,791 $439,015

I put these two together, because they’re the only other candidates to report significant fundraising totals. Houston’s report begins in October, whereas Collier had the whole six month period in which to raise money. Both did pretty well, with Collier’s totals being boosted by $400K in loans ($250K from himself, $150K from his company; Houston reported $10K in loans as well). Collier spent $30K on video production, and $50K on “website design and video advertising”; he also spent many thousands on consultant fees, which I didn’t add up. As Van de Putte needs to kick it up by an order of magnitude this period, so do these two. I’d be happy with $2 million raised from each. We know the base is big enough to support Wendy’s campaign, and I’m confident that support will extend to LVdP. Will it reach this far? I hope so.

Ag Commissioner
Land Commissioner
Railroad Commissioner

Kinky Friedman
Hugh Fitzsimons
Jim Hogan

John Cook

Steve Brown
Dale Henry

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kinky $26,416 $ 4,256 $22,159 Fitz $27,200 $ 6,549 $74,401 Hogan $ 0 $ 3,750 $ 0 Cook $13,153 $17,010 $ 0 Brown $ 4,455 $ 5,661 $ 0 Henry $ 0 $ 0 $ 0

Not a whole lot to say here. Fitzsimons had $50K in loans, and Cook, the former Mayor of El Paso, had a bit more than $19K in loans. I’m not exactly sure why neither Cook nor Brown reported any cash on hand, but it’s not that important. With the exception of Kinky, none of these folks will have much in the way of name recognition in November, but then neither will any of their opponents other than Baby Bush. From this point on, it’s all about the top of the ticket.

Supreme Court
Court of Criminal Appeals

William Moody
Larry Meyers
Gina Benavides

John Granberg

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Moody $ 7,500 $ 9,358 $ 4,037 Meyers $ 1,000 $ 3,750 $ 441 Benavides $ 2,500 $ 3,750 $ 0 Granburg $ 780 $ 5,296 $ 780

Again, not much to say here. I thought Larry Meyers might have a few bucks stashed away just due to his longevity, but apparently not. He does have about $94K in outstanding loans, presumably money he has already spent. In case you’re wondering, that $3,750 figure you see is the filing fee. Again, these races are determined by the top of the ticket more than anything else. Maybe the state party will raise some money to campaign for the slate as a whole.

That’s it for these reports. I’ll look at others as we go along.

Parker 2018

It seems pretty certain that a statewide candidacy is in Mayor Parker’s future.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

LSQ: What’s next for you after your term expires at the end of 2015? There’s been a lot of talk that you will run for statewide office as a Democrat in 2016 or 2018.

AP: I don’t intend to run for anything until I’m done as mayor. Unfortunately, in 2016, there’s not a lot out there, so I probably will need to go back into the private sector for a while, but I hope that while mayor of Houston is the best political job I would ever have, I hope it’s not my last political job. … I would certainly be interested in looking statewide. [I’m] not trying to be coy. People talked to me about running in 2014 as a Democrat for one of the statewide positions. I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks about that, but I made the commitment to serve as mayor of Houston and to do my best for the city for as long as I could. I just wasn’t in that place. I’ve also been fairly public that what I’m most interested in in terms of a future political position is something where I’m in an administrative or an executive position. [With] due respect to my members of Congress down here, I’ve been the CEO of a $5 billion corporation. I like to get things done, and the idea of, say, running for Congress, doesn’t excite me. … [It will be] a statewide executive position.

I know the inauguration was just yesterday, but hey, it’s never too early to speculate, right? So let’s consider the possibilities for Mayor Parker’s future as a statewide candidate.

US Senate: I’m sure there will be no shortage of people willing to take a shot at Ted Cruz in his first run for re-election, assuming he isn’t elected President in 2016 or named Beloved Leader For Life following a coup. However, if we are to take the Mayor at her word when she talks about preferring a “statewide executive position”, then it seems safe to say that she will not be among those queuing up for the opportunity.

Governor: The obvious choice, for all the obvious reasons. However, there are two obstacles here. One is the possibility that in 2018 Governor Wendy Davis will be running for re-election. One presumes that the Mayor would not be anxious to primary her. Two is the possibility that her mayoral colleague from San Antonio, Mayor Julian Castro, will be ready to throw his own hat in the ring for this race. That’s not the same as primarying an incumbent Governor, but while we are miles away from anyone having a claim to that nomination, it would not be ridiculous to decide that one’s odds are better in another race. Putting it another way, I can imagine one of Mayors Parker and Castro running for Governor in 2018, but I cannot imagine both of them doing so. If I were Mayor Parker and I had my hopes pinned to a Governor’s race in 2018 (assuming Wendy Davis doesn’t win or chooses to serve only one term, of course), I’d probably make a point of whispering about the prestige of the US Senate and the joy of serving in the upper chamber while his brother makes his mark in the House in Mayor Castro’s ear at any opportunity that presented itself.

Lt. Governor: At first glance, this doesn’t feel like a fit, since unlike the Governor, the Lite Guv is heavily involved in legislative activities as the presiding officer of the Senate. However, Mayor Parker presides over Council meetings and is directly involved in crafting legislation for the city, so it’s really not that much different. I doubt she has this in mind, but it’s not out of the question.

Comptroller: Probably the first office that comes to mind for some people, given the Mayor’s background in finance and her tenure as City Controller. My guess is that this is the office she was encouraged to file for in 2014. A good fit, and a good landing place if Mayor Castro doesn’t take her advice about running for the Senate.

Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, Land Commissioner: Mayor Parker is not an attorney, and is thoroughly urban, so neither of the first two are plausible. Land Commish is at least a remote possibility – former El Paso Mayor John Cook is running this year, so it’s unremarkable for an urban Mayor to compete for this post – but highly unlikely. If she’s not running for Governor, I can’t see her choosing anything other then Comptroller.

Railroad Commissioner: The one office she could run for in 2016, if she hadn’t already ruled out running in 2016. Again, this would be a good fit given the Mayor’s background in energy back in her private sector days plus the fact that if any city is associated with energy in Texas, it’s Houston, but again, at best a remote possibility. It’s Governor, Comptroller, or bust.

One last office to consider, if Mayor Parker decides that running statewide is too much trouble and she’d just rather serve in an office that allowed her to live in her own house, and that’s County Judge. This assumes that Judge Emmett decides to call it quits – assuming he is re-elected, of course – and if that happens, then given the historically good relations the city has had with Harris County during her tenure, Mayor Parker would be a logical and sensible successor. I’m just throwing this out there because crazy speculation is one of the perks of being a blogger, but you have to admit there’s something to it. If she changes her mind about running statewide, which I am not encouraging her to do. (PDiddie thinks this CultureMap story suggests ambivalence on her part, but I think she’s just saying she has no plans for 2016, as she has said all along.) What do you think Mayor Parker might do down the line? Leave your own crazy speculation in the comments.

Why some polls are less accurate than others

The local GOP had a rally Monday night that among other things featured a “straw poll” of the faithful to see who their preferences were in the upcoming primary election.

Harris County Republicans worked to energize their base on Monday night with a rally at the Galleria, where a parade of statewide candidates pitched voters for support in next year’s primary.

After nearly two hours of speeches, about 300 people participated in a straw poll that showed the party faithful support current Attorney General Greg Abbott for governor and picked state Sen. Dan Patrick almost 4-to-1 for lieutenant governor over the incumbent, David Dewhurst.

With Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson also running for lieutenant governor, that leaves those races open in the Republican primary next March.

Presidential grandson and nephew George P. Bush was the overwhelming favorite to replace Patterson. The crowd nearly split its preference for a new attorney general: Ken Paxton received 157 votes to Barry Smitherman’s 133 votes.

Among the candidates for agriculture commissioner who spoke, voters favored Sid Miller – who joined the race a week ago and has rocker Ted Nugent on his campaign leadership team – with 150 votes over rancher Eric Opiela with 106 votes and J. Allen Carnes with 42 votes.

The group favored Wayne Christian among a half-dozen candidates for railroad commissioner and state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy, the author of the abortion restriction law that had certain provisions struck down Monday by a federal court, was the overwhelming choice for comptroller.

As it happens, one of the attendees at this event sent me screenshots of the straw poll from his smartphone. Here are a couple of those images. See if you can spot the problem with the poll’s methodology that my correspondent was unhappy about:

Where's Jerry?

Where’s Jerry?

Where's Debra? Glenn who?

Where’s Debra? Glenn who?

You can see the results of the “poll” here if you’re curious. My correspondent tells me that Jerry Patterson had a table at this event. I’d want a refund if I were him. I’ve noted before that the HCDP generally bends over backwards to avoid favoring one candidate over another in contested primaries, while the Harris County Republican Party often takes sides, so this is somewhat less shocking than it would be for a Democratic event, but still. To me, this is just disrespectful. Here’s another screenshot, with some of the candidates for Ag Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner. Malachi Boyuls, the top fundraiser in the race and who has a big ad in the Texas Conservative Review, was snubbed. It would be interesting to know who made the decisions about which candidates to include or not include in this straw poll, and whether the local GOP leadership knew about and approved of them.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m happy to lob spitballs from the sidelines. I just don’t understand the thinking. Why piss off the supporters of so many viable candidates, at a time when you’re trying to rally the faithful ahead of a tough election? Harris County Republicans face the same problems with demography that have helped defeat them in 2008 and 2012, and they face a fired up Democratic Party thanks to Wendy Davis’ candidacy. They do have the advantage of their huge turnout from 2010, and if a decent fraction of the new-to-off-years voters make a habit of their participation in non-Presidential contests, they could have the numbers to stay ahead of that demographic wave, at least for one more cycle. It surely wouldn’t have cost them anything to design a straw poll that included all of the relevant candidates. I have no idea why they chose not to do so.

Has Debra Medina been trolling us?

Peggy Fikac suggests that maybe she has.

If the idea of an independent run for governor by Debra Medina has made some GOP powers-that-be a little queasy, that’s fine with her.

All the more so, you may safely assume, if the idea prompts some of them to help fund the race she’d rather run for, the GOP nod for comptroller.

Medina caused a stir when she said she had been encouraged by unnamed people to run as an independent for governor. That would be a potential drain on conservative votes in the expected 2014 matchup between Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis.

Medina told me last week that a race for governor “is not on my radar … I can’t do both, and I’m really, really focused on running for comptroller. So, there’s no room in my future that I see for that.”

She added she was more encouraged by her prospects for raising the money she would need to compete in the GOP primary for comptroller than when we spoke just a week earlier.

“I’ve got some pretty solid commitments from some folks that are going to do some work, and we’ll see what happens,” she said. As for those trying to lure her into an independent race for governor, she said, “I haven’t heard any more about that since late September.”

That doesn’t quite jibe with what Rick Casey had reported a week or so earlier, but never mind. The “Medina for Governor as an independent” thing was both too good to be true and hard to understand from a rational perspective, since there was never a chance she’d come within shouting distance of being competitive. The fact that it fired up Democrats more than any other group should be a warning bell for all concerned. At this point, I think we should just assume that Medina is desperately seeking attention because her bid for Comptroller isn’t going anywhere. Mission accomplished and well played, madam. Beats me what she’ll do for her next trick, however.

Mike Collier makes his entrance

Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for Comptroller, has officially rolled out his campaign:

Pretty effective pitch, I think. For sure, he has plenty of material to work with. Collier also got interviewed by the Trib on Monday:

Mike Collier

Nearly as soon as state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, ended her June filibuster, Democrats began talking about her as a 2014 gubernatorial candidate and who should join her at the top of the ticket. Retired businessman Mike Collier is the first to volunteer. After months of exploring a bid, he plans to kick off his campaign for comptroller on Monday. The first-time candidate said he hopes to appeal to Democrats and Republicans while doing what he can to boost Davis’ bid for governor.

Collier, 52, was, until earlier this year, chief financial officer of Houston-based Layline Petroleum. Though he has supported Republicans in the past, he said he now views the Republican Party as too extreme. After Davis’ filibuster, Collier said his interest in running for statewide office increased as he considered becoming part of a broader Democratic ticket led by Davis.

“I have just been working under the assumption all along that she would run,” Collier said.


The following is an edited and condensed transcript of the interview.

TT: What made you decide to run for comptroller?

Collier: My résumé and experience and education is tailor-made for this job. And to have a Democrat holding the Republican Legislature accountable would be a very worthwhile experience. I should also say that I had already concluded that if I were to go into politics, I couldn’t be a Republican.

TT: How long have you considered yourself a Democrat?

Collier: I’ve voted in every election I can recall. I’ve voted for a lot of Republicans, and I’ve voted for a lot of Democrats. I’ve only voted in one primary, for the [2012] presidential election. I voted against everybody but Mitt Romney. He was the businessman. The rest I had no time for.

[Republicans] have gotten more and more extreme, especially on the social issues. Ultimately, there’s no way I can be a Republican. I’m pro-choice. I support gay marriage. And I think we need immigration reform. So I can stop right there. With those three views, I could not be a Republican.

TT: What are your thoughts on how Susan Combs has performed as comptroller?

Collier: She is a Republican and a former legislator, and I think she just went with the flow. I don’t think she was a dynamic, forceful, impactful, objective executive. She did not play the watchdog role. The comptroller that I was most impressed with was [Democrat] John Sharp. That’s who I compare comptrollers against. I thought he was very dynamic, very effective, very innovative, ran these performance reviews that I thought were a very good thing. I’d like to bring these back.

Again, he sounds good to me. I look forward to meeting Mr. Collier, and to seeing the rest of the ticket get filled out. One more name I can add to the mix is Fort Bend County Democratic Party Chair Steve Brown, who has told me he’s thinking about running for Railroad Commissioner. If everyone else who has been reported to be at least thinking about running is in fact running, we’re already in pretty good shape. BOR has more.

Medina for Governor?

Well, this would shake things up.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina could end up running again for the state’s highest office, this time as an independent, she said Friday afternoon.

Medina, who has been exploring a race for comptroller for several months, told the Tribune earlier this month that she is having trouble raising the amount of money she thinks is necessary to mount a competitive campaign for that office. She cited a particular lack of interest from wealthy campaign donors who are typically pivotal in financing successful statewide races in Texas.

At the same time, in a development first reported by the Quorum Report, she said she has been hearing from potential donors interested in seeing her run as an independent for governor. Collectively, she has received pledges totaling millions of dollars, she said, and that has her wondering whether she ought to switch from one race to the other.

“I’m looking at the best opportunity to move these policy ideas that I have been working on: private property, state sovereignty, reform tax policy in Texas,” Medina said.


Medina said she would rather run for comptroller as a Republican than for governor as an independent. She feels the comptroller post is better suited to promoting the economic issues she is passionate about, such as abolishing the property tax. But she said she has had difficulty convincing wealthy conservatives that that race is worth investing in.

“I’m doing everything I can to assemble the resources necessary for a viable, credible campaign for comptroller,” Medina said. Noting that candidates must file for next year’s primaries by December, she added, “If it comes to November and the money still hasn’t come in, I’ll have to pull my team in and say ‘ok, are these other offers real and if they are, is this the path I should move down?’”

I don’t know how seriously to take this. Let’s be brutally honest here: However hard it has been to raise money in the GOP primary for Comptroller, her odds of winning that race are about a billion times better than her odds of being elected Governor as an indy. Surely anyone who might be whispering in her ear about the millions of dollars they would help her raise must realize that the vast majority of votes Medina would collect would come out of Greg Abbott’s hide, and the end result would be a much clearer path to victory for Wendy Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I would be thrilled beyond measure if this were to happen, it’s just that I don’t think I’ve led a good enough life for it to be so.

To throw some numbers out there, Medina got 275,159 votes in that 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. That’s roughly six percent of the vote in a normal off-year general election. Add in the two percent or so that a Libertarian candidate is likely to get, and the win number for Davis and Abbott becomes 46%. I don’t think all of Medina’s vote comes out of Abbott’s total – as we have seen in other races, Ted Cruz’s being a prominent example, Medina will likely pick up some votes in heavily Latino areas. How much of that can and will be affected by the nature and quality of all the campaigns, especially that of Wendy Davis, but in the end Medina will cost her a few votes. Not nearly as many as she’d cost Abbott – if I had to guess now, I’d say between 80 and 90 percent of the hypothetical Medina votes would have voted for Abbott otherwise – so it’s hardly a Strayhorn/Kinky situation, which is good. Again, though, this seems more like attention-seeking than thoughtful strategizing. I would dearly love for this to happen, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Texpatriate and the equally skeptical PDiddie have more.

Villarreal not running for Comptroller

One name off the board.

Rep. Mike Villarreal

State Rep. Mike Villarreal said Wednesday he has decided against a statewide run for comptroller and will instead campaign for re-election in San Antonio’s District 123.

Villarreal said he has been encouraged by Democrat activists and colleagues to run for Texas’ chief financial officer but that obligations to his family, in particular his children in second and fourth grade, will keep him on the statewide sidelines for now.

“Timing is everything in politics,” he said, adding that he is “very optimistic” that this is the year Democrats will end their nearly 20-year cold streak and win a statewide post. “But the timing is not good for me.”

Villarreal, who represents north central San Antonio, studied economics at Texas A&M University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard and is chairman of the House Investments and Financial Services committee. A run at statewide office for any House member would require forfeiting their seat, and in this case, a chairmanship.

When asked what will be different this election cycle to turn the tides for Democrats statewide, he pointed to state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

I’m not terribly surprised by this, nor am I terribly disappointed. Like Sen. Davis, Rep. Villarreal would have to give up his seat to run statewide, which like her would mean giving up a lot for no sure thing, but unlike Sen. Davis he’d start out as basically an unknown, he’d have a much smaller fundraising base – Rep. Villarreal had $54K on hand in July, and raised $52,500 more in August, not exactly statewide numbers – and as candidate for Comptroller he’d have far less control over the outcome. No question, there’s a lot of Democratic talent in the House, but as I said before, I’d prefer to see other avenues taken before tapping that talent this year, as the steady replacement of mainstream Republicans by ignorant teabagger nihilists makes its presence in the lower chamber that much more vital. EoW suggests former Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso as a recruiting target, and I’m all in in that. For what it’s worth, the Dems do have a declared Comptroller candidate already, so at least we’re not trying to fill in a blank. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking for better candidates, and we still have some other slots to fill, most notably Attorney General, but we’ll have to look at someone other than Rep. Villarreal to fill them. Texpatriate, whose interpretation of Rep. Villarreal’s remarks I don’t agree with, has more.

Dems have a Comptroller candidate

BOR introduces us to Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Earlier this month the Burnt Orange Report wrote about a “Mystery Houston-Area Democrat” who was building a statewide team, it turns out that man is Mike Collier, and he wants to be the next Comptroller for the state of Texas. The Houston businessman believes our state government needs an experienced CFO to handle its complex accounting and to hold our current elected officials accountable.

Collier not only wants the job, but believes he is the most qualified. He says Texas needs a Comptroller with a professional financial background and one who is not using the position as a stepping stone for higher office.

“For too long, the people we’ve hired to mind Texas’ tax dollars have been more interested in their political ambition than in holding politicians accountable. Texas needs a Comptroller who has the courage to tell taxpayers the truth and who has the know-how to hold the Texas legislature accountable.”

Collier says his business experience will be attractive to conservatives but that, “the Comptroller shouldn’t be beholden to the Republican party,” instead they should offer an independent view of the state’s finances. He served as executive assistant to the world chairman of Price Waterhouse, the world’s largest professional services firm with over 100,000 employees. He was a partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers for a dozen years and for a time served as a Merger and Acquisition consultant for their major energy clients. He left PWC to become Chief Financial Officer for an energy company. He then met a crossroads after he helped sell the company two years later — take a lucrative job in the private sector or step up and run for public office.


He is encouraged by the crowded field in the Republican primary which could leave the emerging candidate bloodied and broke. Another reason he cited was the “Wendy Davis factor”. He looks forward to her campaign energizing the donor base and spearheading an effective effort to get out the vote, but says that it’s her polling with anglos that could give Democrats the best opportunity to win that they have had in a very long time.

I am not yet acquainted with Mr. Collier, but I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to meet him soon enough. Collier joins John Cook in the potential Democratic field for 2014, though of course we’re all just waiting for Sen. Wendy Davis’ announcement and to see what follows from there. I have heard about some other candidate recruitment going on, but nothing that I can say out loud just yet. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about once we know what Sen. Davis’ decision is. In the meantime, welcome to the race and best of luck to you, Mike Collier.

Combs not running for re-election

And a domino falls.

Susan Combs

Susan Combs

Comptroller Susan Combs opened up the logjam that has been statewide office in Texas by announcing Wednesday that she will not seek election in 2014.

Announcements were immediately flying with state Rep. Harvey Hildebran, R-Kerrville, throwing his green eye-shades into the race.

Combs, 68, was first won the comptroller’s post in 2007, after having become the first female Agriculture Commissioner. She also served in the state House as a Republican from Austin.

In her announcement, Combs said she wanted to return to ranching and continue her work on private property rights.

“In the summer of 1994, I marched up Congress Avenue with hundreds of Texans in support of private property rights—and I’m not done marching,” Combs said.

Combs has almost $8 million in the bank and was looking at a run for lieutenant governor, which was dampened when David Dewhurst said he would run for re-election.

This will be the first open seat in the big six statewide offices in more than a decade and the scramble is already on to fill the post.

Besides Hildebran, other potential candidates include tea party activist Debra Medina and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R- Katy.

You can see her full statement here. The Trib also lists one-term former State Rep. Raul Torres as a potential candidate, and Sen. Tommy Williams is also considering it. Williams, Hegar, and Hilderbran would probably be OK, Medina is a nut, and Torres is unlikely to be able to compete with any of them. I’m sure others will jump in as well. Combs was at one time reported to be running for Lite Guv, but that never went anywhere. She wasn’t nearly as feisty as Carole Keeton Strayhorn when it came to pushing back on Rick Perry – speaking of the Comptroller Of Many Names, has anyone asked what she’s up to these days? – and her tenure was marred by her role in promising public funds for F1 racing in Austin as well as her gross mis-estimation of the state’s revenue in 2011, the result of which was far more drastic cuts to spending than was needed. I give her credit for (mostly) not being overly ideological, but some more competence and independence would have been nice. Texas Politics, PDiddie, Texpatriate, and Juanita have more.

Senate officially taps the Rainy Day Fund

Well done.


Texas senators hammered out a sweeping deal to increase state funding for water and transportation projects and schools on Tuesday, tackling some of the thorniest issues of the legislative session all at once.

The senators voted 31-0 for Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would ask Texas voters to approve taking $5.7 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Of that amount, $2.9 billion would go to transportation, $2 billion to water infrastructure projects and $800 million to public education.

“I woke up at 2:30 this morning worried about how I was going to get this bill out of the ditch,” Senate Finance Chair Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands and the bill’s author, said. “It’s a miracle.”

Senators also annonunced plans to allocate an extra $1.4 billion for schools that came about after the Comptroller’s office informed the senators that property valuations have come in higher than previously estimated. Put together, the Senate’s actions would restore $3.7 billion of the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education made in 2011, Williams said.


The measure passed Tuesday is significantly different than what Williams originally proposed. His original plan had no money for education. The $800 million in the package approved Tuesday includes $500 million in formula funding and $300 million in merit pay for teachers.

On transportation, Williams had wanted to spend $3.5 billion on a State Infrastructure Fund that would either loan out money to local communities for road projects or help them borrow money more cheaply to fund the projects. Williams said late Tuesday that a majority of Senators made clear to him they were not interested in a plan that increased public borrowing.

The measure approved Tuesday will put $2.9 billion directly into the state highway fund, which the Texas Department of Transportation will use instead of issuing that much in bond debt. That will save the agency about $6 billion over the next 30 years in avoided debt service costs, Williams said.

All things considered, not too bad. I prefer this way of using the RDF for transportation, and if the Senate water plan emphasized conservation in the same way as the House plan, it’s all to the good. There will still be plenty of money left in the RDF after these expenditures, and the way the energy business is going these days, it’ll fill back up soon enough. Comptroller Susan Combs has endorsed the idea. The best part of all this is that as a joint resolution, it doesn’t need Rick Perry’s signature, just 100 votes in the House. Of course, that could be a heavy lift, but if the likes of Patrick, Birdwell, Campbell, Paxton, et al can vote for this, there’s no reason why the House teabaggers can’t as well. A statement from Sen. Jose Rodriguez on the passage of SJR1 is here, and the Observer has more.

More details on the House budget

Consider this to be written in pencil, because it’s going to change.

More than $1.6 billion and disagreements on how much Texas should spend on public education and Medicaid separate the budgets proposed by the House and Senate.

The Senate budget proposal, passed 29-2 by the upper chamber last week, spends $195.5 billion, a 2.9 percent increase from the current two-year budget. The House budget, which is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on April 4, spends $193.8 billion, a 2.1 percent increase.

While the House budget is smaller, it spends nearly $1 billion more on public education. The Senate plan spends $604 million more on higher education.

The Senate also invests $2.1 billion more in health and human services. A large portion of that extra spending, $974.5 million, covers projected growth in costs associated with Medicaid such as more Texans enrolling in the program and general medical cost inflation. The House budget does not address those costs.

“Our bill does not include cost growth, does not include rate increases, and we need to address those things,” state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie and the chamber’s chief budget writer, said last week.

Assuming the House proposal passes that chamber, members from both the House and Senate will meet in conference committee to resolve differences between the two plans.

The final product is likely to be larger than what either side has proposed. Neither budget addresses large shortfalls in transportation or water funding, two issues many lawmakers have discussed tackling this session. Legislators have also said they are considering additional spending on tax reform and further reversing last session’s public education cuts.

Lawmakers are also waiting on an updated revenue projection from Comptroller Susan Combs. If she tells them there is more revenue available than what she estimated in January, lawmakers may feel more comfortable spending more.

As the story notes, don’t be fooled by the graphic for higher education. There was an accounting change that makes it look like there was a cut, but in actuality there’s more money being appropriated, so that’s good. The budget still isn’t where it needs to be to account for growth and need, and we suffered needlessly for two years thanks to Comptroller Combs’ lousy revenue forecast, but things are better and that’s no doubt why this session has been less contentious so far. I do believe the House will account for Medicaid and the Senate will bump up its public education spending, with both being abetted by a higher revenue projection for the biennium. Beyond that, watch for the usual shenanigans in the amendment and rider process.