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David Sibley

Cut education now, pay later?

That’s the question for Republican legislators, isn’t it?

GOP legislators didn’t budge this session from their commitment to reduce Texas’ education spending even in the face of protests, negative ad campaigns and reams of criticism.

The outcry didn’t faze them because it wasn’t coming from within their party.

That might change, some Republicans say, once parents see the aftermath in their child’s school of the state’s $4 billion — or 5.6 percent — reduction in what is owed to local school districts. The fallout could include teacher layoffs, school closures and elimination of extra programs or higher property taxes.

Republican incumbents “are going to be sent home by Republican primary voters because what they’re doing in public education is not in any way conservative,” said State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. “Our version of conservative is mainstream conservative, not extreme conservative.”

Of course, there’s more to it than just the Republican primary, which is what this story focuses on. Republicans voted as a unified bloc all session, so legislators in swing districts will be running on the same record as legislators in safe R seats. There will be a lot more voters who don’t vote in Republican primaries to persuade that this was the wrong thing to do. If it really is the case that education is seen as the most important issue, then that will help. Right now it’s anybody’s guess, and there are too many factors that can influence things to have any clear idea about what will happen. It’s just too early to say.

I will say this much: The Tea Party influence on Republican legislative primaries may be a tad bit overstated. A grand total of three Republican incumbents fell to primary challenges. Two of them – Tommy Merritt and Delwyn Jones – were longtime targets of the more radical elements. The third – well, let me ask: Can you name the third Republican incumbent to lose in a 2010 primary? Off the top of your head, without using the Internet? I’ll tell you that I had either never realized this particular legislator had lost, or I’d forgotten it because the winner of that race has been completely invisible (to me, anyway). I’ll put the answer beneath the fold. Other targeted legislators like Charlie Geren and Todd Smith survived. Some of the noisier teabaggers, like James White, Jason Isaac, and Jose Aliseda, were unopposed in their primaries. The teabaggers did do well in primaries for open seats, and Bill Birdwell’s victory in the SD22 special election against the establishment candidate David Sibley was a big deal, but the overall record isn’t deep. While it’s clear that the threat of getting teabagged worked wonders for party unity this year, what will happen in 2012 if the interests of the Republicans’ monied interests diverge from the teabaggers is unknown. EoW has more.

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Candidate named, suit filed in SD22

My questions have been answered.

Democratic officials in Senate District 22 got together in a Hillsboro restaurant Thursday evening and nominated John Cullar to run for the state Senate seat now held by Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. Cullar is a Waco attorney, former McLennan County Democratic chairman (until earlier this year) and a former member of the State Democratic Executive Committee.

And that was followed by an announcement that Cullar would file suit over Birdwell’s eligibility to run for the Senate. Here’s the TDP press release:

[Friday], Democratic SD 22 nominee John Cullar and the Texas Democratic Party filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus in the Fort Worth Court of Appeals in to determine Republican SD 22 candidate Brian Birdwell’s eligibility to appear on the ballot. Cullar was nominated by the SD 22 Democratic County Executive Committee. Birdwell’s eligibility has been called into question over his record of voting in Virginia from 2004-2006.

“I’m going to run a comprehensive campaign, and part of that is analyzing if my opponent is eligible to represent the people of SD 22,” said SD 22 Democratic nominee John Cullar. “I look forward to seeing that question resolved by the court. In the meantime, I’ll be out talking with the voters of the district I’ve been proud to call home for 26 years.”

“We’re very pleased to offer SD 22 residents an excellent candidate and a real choice in their representation in the Texas Senate,” added Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie. “These voters deserve a Senator who has lived in the district, knows its communities, and runs a campaign on the issues that matter to his neighbors – not on partisan rhetoric.”

The Statesman notes that timing is an issue.

If Birdwell were to be declared ineligible before August 24, the GOP chairs in Senate District 22 could select a replacement for him — with [former Sen. David] Sibley [who lost to Birdwell in the special election runoff] a likely front-runner. If a decision were to come after August 24, Birdwell’s name would remain on the November ballot and a special election might be required to replace him if he won the general election, according to party officials.

That’s actually not a terrible scenario for the Republicans. They’d still be strong favorites to win both of those races, assuming nothing unusual happened. But you never know, and if Birdwell is declared ineligible after the 24th and wins in November anyway, the seat would be open for as long as it takes for a replacement to win the special election and almost certain runoff. In any event, I’m glad to see we have a candidate, and I can’t wait to see how the court rules on this.

Where’s Birdwell?

The Trib re-raises the question of the newest Senator’s eligibility to serve.

The newest member of the Texas Senate, Brian Douglas Birdwell, voted in the November 2004 presidential election twice, choosing between George W. Bush and John Kerry in Tarrant County, Texas, and again in Prince William County, Va., according to election records in the two states.

Voting in the same election twice is a third-degree felony in Texas.

What’s more, Birdwell’s record of voting in Virginia from 2004 through 2006 would seem to place his residency in that state, not in Texas, which could imperil his spot in the Legislature. Birdwell voted a Virginia ballot in November 2006; if that’s enough to establish him as a Virginia resident, an issue that can only be settled in court, it means he’s not eligible to serve in the Texas Senate until at least November 2011.

The voting twice issue is new, and after initially not responding, Birdwell strongly denied that allegation. He did not, however, deny voting in Virginia in 2006.

Talk of Birdwell’s eligibility dogged his campaign all along, attracting news coverage and generating talk in political circles. State law requires senators to have lived in the state for the five years before they take office and to have lived at least the last 12 months of that time in the districts they seek to serve.

Indeed, now-retired Sen. Kip Averitt briefly contemplated not retiring if Birdwell won the special election over concerns about his eligibility.

Another, earlier date — November 2006, when Birdwell last voted in Virginia — may well hold the key to whether he’s a legal candidate or not.

“It’s a piece of evidence that’s hard to refute and usually fatal,” says Randall “Buck” Wood, an Austin lawyer and a Democrat respected across the political spectrum for his mastery of election law. The residency question, as Wood sees it, puts the courts in the position of deciding whether someone did something illegal — voting in an election in a place where they don’t reside — or simply is ineligible to run in another place because of that vote. He thinks most judges would choose the second option rather than deciding the candidate in question did something criminal. The crime, if there is one, would be voting in Virginia while residing in Texas. Wood thinks a court would most likely see no crime, saying instead that the voter was a Virginia resident and voter who is simply not eligible to run for Texas Senate.

Lawyers for the Republican Party of Texas haven’t looked into Birdwell’s case, according to Bryan Preston, a party spokesman, who said the matter was left to the campaign. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which backed Birdwell in the special election, did research the residency question and decided he is eligible, according to Sherry Sylvester, a spokeswoman for TLR. “We have endorsed Senator Birdwell, and we have contributed to his campaign,” she says. “We have reviewed the questions surrounding his residency, and like 58 percent of the voters of Senate District 22 and the eight county chairs who nominated him over the weekend, we believe he is a Texas resident.”

Yes, and Tom DeLay’s lawyers were convinced that he could be replaced on the ballot in 2006 after declaring himself a Virginia resident and withdrawing from the CD22 race. Didn’t work out too well for him, as I recall. When and if somebody files suit – my guess is that will happen shortly after the Democrats pick their own candidate and the Republicans officially tab Birdwell – we’ll see what a judge has to say. And as the Waco Trib reports, there’s more evidence that Birdwell considered himself a Virginian pretty recently:

An attorney for Sibley filed Birdwell’s voting records and other documents with state election officials, asking them to disqualify Birdwell.

After the Secretary of State’s Office stored those away, all that was left was talk and news reports along the way. But the filing at SOS supplied the factual underpinning for the argument against Birdwell’s Texas residency.

In addition to some of Birdwell’s voting records, that package includes his “resident state fishing permit” from 2006 and another from 2008 for which he paid the Virginia resident rates — lower than those paid by out-of-staters.

Those fishing licenses include this notice: “I certify that the person named on this license meets residency requirements, is eligible to buy this license, and all information on this form is true to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

That might or might not be strong evidence in a legal residency case, but it’s spice for the political argument about whether Birdwell’s candidacy is legitimate.

Like I said, we’ll presumably see what a judge thinks. I look forward to it.

Will Averitt not withdraw from the ballot?

The story so far: Republican State Sen. Kip Averitt dropped his re-election bid in January, citing health concerns. As it happens, his announcement came after the deadline to withdraw from the ballot, and since the other guy wasn’t well-liked among the establishment, he wound up being supported for renomination on the grounds that he could later withdraw and have a suitable replacement selected. (The Dems would then also get to pick someone.) He won, and then he resigned, and there was a suitable replacement selected for the special election to fill out his term, his predecessor, David Sibley, who would be the selected replacement when he won the special election. Sibley led the field but was forced into a runoff. That runoff election was today, and we pick up the story from there.

With a commanding lead, Republican Brian Birdwell beat David Sibley, a former Republican state senator, in the special runoff election in Senate District 22.

[…]

While the election may have ended, the excitement is only beginning. Averitt is still the Republican nominee on the November ballot to determine who will represent the district in January and beyond. Averitt has indicated he might not give that slot up to Birdwell (even if it means returning to the Senate), because Averitt does not believe that Birdwell has met the constitutionally mandated five-year state residency requirement — a question that has been raised, but never legally challenged, throughout the race.

In April, a retired appeals court judge issued a declaratory judgment that Birdwell met the five-year state residency requirement. But the Waco Tribune-Herald reported that legal experts questioned the ruling, citing the fact that only one side of the case — Birdwell’s — was presented.

Got all that? So much for the best laid plans. Averitt fears that if he withdraws, Birdwell’s eligibility will be more forcefully challenged, and it’s possible he could be knocked off the ballot, leaving the seat a free pickup for the Dems, which is pretty amazing when you consider they don’t currently have a candidate in the race. The only way he can test this theory is to actually withdraw, so plan B is to run for re-election, which he will win easily as he would be unopposed; it’s only if he, the actual November nominee, withdraws that the Dems get to fill their slot. He could always resign at some point in 2011, either immediately after the election, which would mean a second shot at electing the “right” guy in a special, or after the session. In the latter scenario, barring any special sessions, even if the “wrong” guy wins he won’t get to do much of anything, since all Senate seats are up in 2012 and he could be challenged in a primary. I’ve seen a lot since I’ve been following politics closely, but this is a new one on me. Stay tuned to find out what Kip decides to do.

Election results

Congratulations to Galveston Mayor-Elect Joe Jaworski, who won a majority of the vote in a five-candidate race.

“I think our message was one of energy and it was one of progress in Galveston,” Jaworski said. “I think people are tired of thinking of Galveston as a wounded city, and I think, in our campaign, they saw something that showed a clean, powerful, connected Galveston for the future.”

Jaworski beat four challengers, including one who dropped out midrace, according to complete but unofficial results.

Jaworski’s closest competitor, Betty Massey, earned just less than 25 percent. Massey on Saturday night congratulated Jaworski and promised to remain involved in shaping the island’s policy and recovery.

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Weber earned 20 percent; Bill Quiroga earned 2 percent, and Greg Roof, who stopped campaigning in March, had 1 percent.

Jaworski said his first acts as mayor would be to clamp down on the pettiness and hostility that bubbled up among sitting city council members.

“I expect a first meeting that puts away the rancor, a first meeting that follows an agenda, and a first meeting that prioritizes our city’s appearance and infrastructure and economic well-being … before any personality contests, before any petty disputes,” he said. “And, every minute of every city meeting, we’re going to be spreading hope and optimism.”

I’m delighted by this. Jaworski’s an ace, and I think he’s exactly what Galveston needs now. My best wishes to Mayor-Elect Joe Jaworski. Other Galveston County results are here; there will be several runoffs for City Council there. In the other race I was following, Chula Ross-Sanchez fell short in her race for City Council in District 6, losing to Diana Puccetti by a 51-49 margin. The Chron and Martha have more, while Stace reports on results in his area.

There will be a runoff for the open SD22 seat.

Republicans David Sibley and Brian Birdwell will meet in a runoff — date to be set by Gov. Rick Perry — for the open state Senate seat in Central Texas.

Sibley led in the special election voting with 45 percent of the vote, followed by Birdwell, with 36.5 percent, Democrat Gayle Avant, with 13.3 percent, and Republican Darren Yancy, with 5.2 percent.

[…]

The election pitted Sibley, a former Waco mayor and state senator who’s been lobbying in Austin for the last decade, against Birdwell, a survivor of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon who is now a conservative Christian motivational speaker living in Granbury. Avant will retire after the end of the current school year after a career as a political science professor at Baylor. And Yancy, a salesman who lives in Burleson, has now lost two shots at the seat. He was on the ballot against Averitt in the March primary, coming up far behind even though Averitt didn’t campaign.

The winner of the special election runoff will serve until January. The winner of the general election — Averitt or a person to be named later — will run for the chance to serve starting then.

Sibley won in all but three of the district’s ten counties, but two of those — Hood and Johnson — turned out relatively big votes. The former senator got walloped in Hood, where Birdwell got 3,625 votes to Sibley’s 819 (in percentages, that’s 68 to 15, in Birdwell’s favor, with the rest of the votes going to the other two candidates).

Here was Burka’s preview of that race. It’s highly likely that Averitt will withdraw from the ballot after the runoff, and that the winner of that runoff will be selected as his replacement for the November election. The Democrats will then get to pick someone as well, as they had no one file for the March primary.

BOR has some Austin-area results, including the good news that Tom Musselman, father of BOR’s Karl-Thomas Musselman, was elected Mayor of Fredericksburg.

Finally, on a personal note, congratulations to my cousin-in-law Bill Metzger for his election as Dallas County Community College District trustee. Way to go, Bill!

Sibley in for SD22 special election

With the official resignation of State Sen. Kip Averitt, his predecessor in SD22, David Sibley, has announced that he will be a candidate for the May special election to fill the remainder of Averitt’s term.

The winner of the expected special election isn’t guaranteed a shot at the general election to serve during the 2011 legislative session.

That will be decided by the county party chairs in the district. The chairs from the Democratic and Republican parties each will meet to select replacement candidates on the general election ballot.

But Sibley made it clear in his statement that he’s running to position himself as his party’s choice in November.

“I believe I have a proven conservative track record at getting results, the understanding of the legislative process and the familiarity with issues of importance to Senate District 22 that will benefit all 10 counties in the district during this tough upcoming session,” he said.

Darren Yancy, who lost to a non-campaigning Averitt in March, is also in. I feel confident that several others will jump in as well. I’ll be surprised if Sibley wins this election and does not get named the Republican nominee for November. He’s the strong favorite for each. More from the Trib, which notes that there will also be a special election in HD100 to fill out Rep. Terri Hodge’s term. No word yet if Eric Johnson will be in for that – he may as well, it’d be some added seniority for him – but he’ll be the representative from HD100 next year regardless thanks to his win in March.

Averitt resigns

After announcing his withdrawal of his re-election bid to the State Senate but getting nominated anyway because it was too late to remove his name from the primary ballot, Sen. Kip Averitt has formally resigned, which will trigger a special election for his seat in May.

Averitt said last month his abrupt and surprising decision to withdraw was out of concern for his health.

“I have diabetes and high blood pressure, and my doctor has advised me that I am a walking heart attack,” Averitt said in the statement.

“While I have tried to regulate my health with diet, exercise and medication, my doctor has unequivocally recommended that reducing stress is a key component of my treatment. My family and I thank you for your thoughts and prayers.”

[…]

Former Sen. David Sibley of Waco, whom Averitt succeeded in the State Senate, issued a statement Monday evening in which he said he had been approached about again seeking the seat.

“Many in the District have asked about my interest in the position and I am honored they would consider me,” Sibley said.

“In my discussions with supporters and Republican county chairs I have heard a lot about the need for conservative, effective, common-sense government and look forward to continuing these conversations in the coming days,” he said.

All things considered, Averitt was a decent Senator, and Sibley wouldn’t be too bad, either. The special election would be to fill out the remainder of Averitt’s term; he would still need to be replaced on the November ballot, which would be a task for the relevant county party chairs. As Averitt had been unopposed, that means the Democrats would get to pick someone as well. Anyone want to suggest a possible candidate? Leave your ideas in the comments. My best wishes for continued good health in retirement to Kip Averitt. The Trib has more.

Still for Kip

State Sen. Kip Averitt may not want to run for re-election, but there’s still some folks who want to vote for him anyway.

Chris DeCluitt, a Waco lawyer who sits on the State Republican Executive Committee, said a movement was afoot to re-elect Averitt, which, according to the Secretary of State’s office, would open the door for Republican and Democratic candidates to later vie for the seat.

“There are already quite a few people who are not in favor of Mr. Yancy who are talking about, ‘We’ve got to elect Kip,’ ” DeCluitt said. “I’m one of those people. We’ve got to elect Kip.”

An Averitt primary victory would trigger one of two scenarios:

* If the senator were to withdraw right after the March primary, Republican and Democratic committees consisting of the party chairs from the 10 counties in the Senate district — McLennan, Bosque, Coryell, Ellis, Falls, Hill, Hood, Johnson, Navarro and Somervell — would each name a replacement candidate to compete in November’s general election.

* If he were to stay on through the general election (where he would have to defeat a Libertarian candidate) and then step down, there would be a special election to fill the seat, in which candidates of any political stripe could compete.

With an Averitt win, DeCluitt said, “I think people of the district — whether through special election or through the selection process with the county chairs — would have more input on who’s going to be our senator.”

I agree that either of these represents a more democratic solution than essentially handing an open seat to some guy nobody knows. Better still would have been for Sen. Averitt to come to terms with his health issues before the filing deadline, in time for any interested party to file for the primary, including those who are now running for something else. Maybe that wasn’t possible, and if so then one of DeCluitt’s scenarios will have to do, assuming Averitt wins the primary. Feels like there ought to be a better way, but right offhand I can’t say what that would be.

David Sibley, the man Averitt replaced in the Senate, brings up another point.

“I’m going to appeal to him and say, ‘Please don’t do this,’ ” said Sibley on Monday, arguing the consequences for McLennan County and Waco could be dire if there’s not local representation in the Senate when lawmakers start carving up new legislative and congressional districts.

“I’m afraid we’re going to get cut up like boardinghouse pie,” said Sibley, a former Waco mayor and county prosecutor who left the Senate in 2002 and now works as a lobbyist. “I’ve seen it happen before, and it can take decades for counties to recover from that.”

[…]

Sibley said that during redistricting, legislators place their own electoral self-interest high, working to draw themselves into winnable districts.

He said Yancy naturally would want to shore up his support to get re-elected in the district, which includes McLennan, Bosque, Coryell, Ellis, Falls, Hill, Hood, Johnson, Navarro and Somervell counties. And keeping McLennan, the population center of the district, whole might not fit with that goal.

“I’ve been through it twice, and it’s the most personal thing out there,” Sibley said. “People talk about doing this or that, but he’s not going to want to work with us.”

Of course, Averitt was there in 2003 when the Tom DeLay re-redistricting scheme split McLennan and Coryell Counties into separate Congressional districts, over the objections of local interests. So having local representation can only do so much if there’s a bigger power out there.

Deregulation fail

How’s that electricity deregulation working for you, Texas?

In the decade since Texas deregulated its retail electricity market, rates have skyrocketed higher than any other state with such open competition, according to a report released today.

Commissioned by the Cities Aggregation Power Project, a nonprofit coalition of Texas municipalities, the report found that residential electricity rates rose 64 percent between 1999 and 2007. Before that, Texans paid rates that were well below the national average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Boy, the one time we’re below the national average for something in a good way, we go and screw it up. If only we could bring such results to the number of uninsured children or something like that. In any event, since I’m a numbers kind of guy, if electric rate increases had been capped at five percent a year, which is what Governor Perry and some members of the Lege would like to do to property appraisals, the maximum total increase over an eight-year period would be a little less than 48%. For some odd reason, this issue just isn’t as salient to them. Go figure.

The report does give the law credit for encouraging the use of renewables, enhancing efficiency standards and helping to reduce emissions.

The Cities Aggregation Power Project, which pools the energy needs of its member cities in order to negotiate better prices, does not recommend going back to the pre-deregulation system. But the group says it wants the Legislature to curb market abuses by limiting how much power any one utility can generate.

The coalition also advocates reforms that would allow citizens living in its municipalities to join together and negotiate better rates the way governments do now.

Here’s CAPP’s press release, and their full report (both PDF). The main takeaway from all this is that what we have is not a “free” market. There’s too many abuses, and the consumer has little power to do anything about them. It also contains this blast-from-the-past gem:

Enron played a key role in the deregulation of the Texas electric market. Some of the current problems with the market structure can be attributed, at least indirectly, to the considerable political influence of Enron during the late 1990s.

They’re just the gift that keeps on giving, aren’t they? Remember, kids, what is good for business – in particular, what is good for one business – is not necessarily good for you. EoW has more.