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Susan King

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Susan King suspends Senate campaign

Sorry to hear this.

Rep. Susan King

State Rep. Susan King has suspended her race for an open state Senate seat while she receives treatment for chronic depression, a condition she has battled “for some time,” her campaign announced Monday.

King, R-Abilene, still hopes to appear in the Republican primary to replace retiring GOP Sen. Troy Fraser but won’t make a decision about whether to run until closer to the Dec. 14 filing deadline, campaign spokesman Bryan Eppstein said.

“It has been difficult for Susan to take time out to address her personal battle with depression, but this is a serious condition that simply could not be delayed any longer,” said Eppstein, who praised King’s courage in being “open and public about her situation.”

King will not run if her doctors and family advise against it, he said. “Susan is a dedicated public servant and scrappy campaign fighter,” Eppstein said. “If she’s cleared for the campaign, she will run to win.”

See here and here for the background. I wish Rep. King all the best for a swift and complete recovery.

Some early legislative race news

Just a few links of interest. First, the race in SD24 heats up.

Rep. Susan King

Republican state Rep. Susan King said Monday that she will join an increasingly crowded primary field to replace retiring GOP state Sen. Troy Fraser.

King had earlier said she would not seek re-election to the House, where she is serving her fifth two-year term, while exploring whether to run for Fraser’s district, which encompasses 17 counties mostly in the Hill Country, including a slice of western Travis County.

King, who announced her campaign at an evening event in her hometown of Abilene, joined five other candidates who have said they will compete in the Republican primary

See here for the background. Just a reminder, this district includes Abilene, Austin, and San Antonio. Gotta love redistricting.

Enfant terrible Jonathan Stickland gets a mainstream challenger.

Bedford pastor Scott Fisher plans to announce Tuesday that he is taking on Stickland, according to GOP sources. In recent days, Fisher has been informing friends in the district and Austin of his soon-to-be campaign.

Fisher, who serves as senior pastor at Metroplex Chapel in Euless, has a long resume of public service. He has formerly chaired the Texas Youth Commission and the board of the JPS Health Network, and he currently chairs the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and the board of Metroplex Chapel Academy.

Fisher has also been a member of the Texas Ethics Commission, and served on the boards of One Heart, a criminal justice project aimed at young people, and Mid Cities Pregnancy Center, which helps women deal with unplanned pregnancies.

The story lines will write themselves. All I can say is that a Lege without Stickland will be a better Lege. Having said that, RG Ratcliffe noted that Fisher was a bigwig in the Texas Christian Coalition back in the 90s, so this is definitely a case where one needs to be wary about what one wishes for.

And speaking of those story lines.

High-profile legislative races are already developing in Tarrant County nearly two months before candidates can even file to get their names on the ballot.

Two local Republican races heating up — for House District 99, represented by Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, and House District 94, now represented by Tony Tinderholt of Arlington — offer a glimpse of the type of races ramping up statewide.

“Tarrant County will be a microcosm of the battle between centrist conservative supporters and movement conservative opponents of Speaker [Joe] Straus that will take place across the state,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

On one side, there’s Geren, president of Railhead Smokehouse and a real estate developer, who has represented the district since 2001 and is a powerful top lieutenant of House Speaker Straus.

On the other, there’s Bo French, a private equity investor and political newcomer from Fort Worth, who served as a chief officer of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s tactical training company Craft International. He drew media attention last year for ending up in court arguing with Kyle’s widow about the future of the company.

The two men and their prominent families have long run in the same circles.

“I’ve known Bo all his life and I’ve known his parents a long time,” said Geren, 65, who added he was surprised when French jumped into the race. “I’m just going to run hard and win.”

French, 45, said he picked this district to run in because he knows a lot of people in the district and believes that his “principles will represent them and their families.”

[…]

Tinderholt, a 21-year military veteran whose past included a bankruptcy filing in the 1990s and several marriages, unseated Rep. Diane Patrick in the GOP primary last year and won a fiery battle in the general election.

“Some ‘establishment’ conservatives may still be angry that Rep. Tinderholt defeated longtime favorite Diane Patrick and may try and unseat him,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Despite concerns he would be a vocal dissenter in the Legislature earlier this year, Tinderholt, 45, for the most part appeared to follow the typical freshman play book, watching and learning.

“You could see he was a work in progress,” Kronberg said. “He was paying attention, learning issues. But throughout North Texas, there’s some despair that there’s very little active representation of the stakeholders (business, schools) that make the community work.”

Now Andrew Piel, 43, has announced he will challenge Tinderholt in the primary..

“This last summer, people came to me and said they had concerns about the effectiveness of the incumbent representing Arlington in an efficient manner,” said Piel, a business and construction law attorney and a former Tarrant County assistant district attorney. “I talked to people for months [and] prayed about it.

“I feel like it’s time for a change.”

Piel has lined up a host of supporters, including community leader Victor Vandergriff, former Arlington Mayors Robert Cluck and Richard Greene, former state Sens. Chris Harris and Kim Brimer, former state Reps. Toby Goodman and Barbara Nash, and Arlington school board members Bowie Hogg and John Hibbs.

Tinderholt is terrible, and a potential longshot pickup if he survives his primary. Geren has survived challenges before and will likely survive this one.

Finally, on the Democratic side, attorney and military veteran Bernie Aldape has thrown his hat into the ring for HD144, joining a field that already includes former Rep. Mary Ann Perez and Pasadena Council Member Cody Ray Wheeler. As things stand right now, that’s the most interesting local Democratic primary, for a seat that ought to swing blue next year.

Rep. Susan King not running for re-election

Though she may run for Senate instead.

Rep. Susan King

State Rep. Susan King has decided against seeking re-election as she considers a run for the Texas Senate, the Abilene Republican announced Tuesday.

King said she would announce by the end of the month whether to launch a bid for Senate District 24, where Troy Fraser is stepping down after nearly 20 years representing the region in Central Texas. In the meantime, King has formed an exploratory committee and stocked it with $1 million from her state House campaign account and a family loan.

“I will spend very little of these funds in the exploratory period, but feel it is important to be a serious candidate invested in winning should I decide to run,” King said in a news release.

See here for more on SD24. The Trib reported on the possible field of candidates in that race shortly after Fraser announced his exit. I don’t know much about Rep. King, which actually makes her kind of appealing to me as a potential replacement for Fraser, on the grounds that if she’s been that low profile, she’s unlikely to have been one of the wacko birds. And let’s face it, being better than Troy Fraser is a mighty low bar to clear. By the way, if you click that Trib link, you’ll see that it describes SD24 as “[covering] a large swath of Central Texas, stretching from northwest of San Antonio through the Hill Country up to Abilene”. Because of course San Antonio and Austin should share a Senate seat with Abilene.

House Appropriations follows Senate, passes SB1

The grim march of the inevitable takes another step.

The House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines on Saturday to recommend a controversial plan to reduce public education spending by at least $4 billion, cuts which hundreds of Texans later protested during a Capitol rally.

The full House will take up the school funding bill later in the week in a special session that Gov. Rick Perry called Tuesday after Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, killed the plan to cut public education with a filibuster in the last hours of the regular session.

Actually, the Appropriations committee vote wasn’t exactly along party lines.

Abilene Republican Rep. Susan King, who voted against a similar measure during the regular legislative session, said she still cannot support the measure because the scope is too broad. Not only does it contain $3.5 billion in “non-tax revenue” to help balance the 2012-13 budget, but also a highly contentious school funding plan that was finished just two days before the end of the regular session Monday.

“I voted against it several times,” King said after the House Appropriations Committee meeting had adjourned. “It’s the fact that something of this major importance was brought out in a very cloaked way at the very end and pushed into a fiscal matters bill. It should have been kept out. It should have been kept separate, in my opinion. Almost everything for education was rolled into that one fiscal matters bill.”

[…]

King’s vote is evidence of the lack of unanimity among even Republicans over the measure, particularly the school funding plan.

While Democrats are opposed to it mostly because of the sizable cuts it imposes on schools, Republicans such as King question the fairness of how those cuts are distributed and are wary of the last-minute — even secretive — nature of the closed-door negotiations that produced the plan.

King said her questions and concerns were dismissed.

“Toward the end of the session, I asked multiple times, you know, ‘What exactly are the negotiations on this? What is it, what will be brought to us?’ ” King said. “And, I mean, you cannot imagine the comments made to me. You know, ‘You don’t need to ask that question,’ ‘You’re going to hurt the deliberations if you ask for that.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s just transparency.’ ”

Of the 20 committee members present Saturday, 14 voted for the measure — including Rep. Drew Darby, who represents San Angelo’s District 72 — and five voted against the measure — including King and four Democrats. Another Republican, Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria, registered “present not voting.” Seven members were absent.

You’d think that lack of transparency that Rep. King cites might be a concern to more people. Does the Lege really know what it’s about to vote on? As Rep. Scott Hochberg pointed out, there hasn’t even been a committee hearing on the proposed changes to school finance. The response from those pushing to get something passed, as expressed by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, is that they have to do something now, and they can fix whatever it is they do in 2013. The thing is, though, they wouldn’t actually have to do that. Patricia Kilday Hart explains:

In our current system, the Legislature sets out school funding formulas in statute, usually after lawmakers see computer runs demonstrating how a particular scheme affects their schools. Putting those formulas in statute means the state is legally obligated to fully compensate school districts for variables like enrollment growth or lost tax revenue due to declining property values.

But the plan panned by Davis and Hochberg — and again under consideration in the special session — will free lawmakers to decide each budget cycle to choose how much money schools get. Public education will be toppled from its special status in the state budget to just another program that will compete for scarce dollars.

The GOP leadership has downplayed the impact of this change, arguing that lawmakers have always made public schools a priority. But the very reason this school finance bill is necessary is to free the state from owing about $4 billion under current formulas.

To some, including Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, this is sound policy. Last week, he called the school finance proposal “a true cut in an entitlement.”

Note the use of that dirty word — entitlement — as if public education is some kind of welfare, not the underpinning of democracy envisioned by Thomas Jefferson.

This school finance bill is a tipping point for the Texas public education system. If the state’s obligation to local schools is no longer carved in statute, public education funding becomes vulnerable to last-minute budget balancing by 10 lawmakers on a conference committee. If they decide to trim a couple of billion from education, the other 171 members of the Legislature have little voice.

Not to mention the voters. We’re one step closer to that now.

The itty bitty budget deal

It’s not nothing, but not by much.

Gov. Rick Perry and House leaders struck a deal Tuesday to spend $3.2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to fix one piece of the state’s budget shortfall.

[…]

Perry said at the start of the session that lawmakers should not use any rainy-day fund money, but he has softened his position in recent weeks to say the money should be used as a last resort. By endorsing the House vote Tuesday, he in many ways abandoned his last-resort position, since the January-to-May session is only halfway over.

Still, Perry’s posturing could go a long way in shaping the debate about how lawmakers should combat their much larger shortfall as they write the budget that begins in September.

“As we craft the next two-year budget, Texas leaders will continue to focus on a more efficient, fiscally responsible government, essential state services, and private sector job creation,” Perry said in a statement. “I remain steadfastly committed to protecting the remaining balance of the Rainy Day Fund, and will not sign a 2012-2013 state budget that uses the Rainy Day Fund.”

Many Republican lawmakers, fearful of looking weak to conservative activists by twice taking money out of the fund, are likely to agree with Perry.

“I think the governor wants to make sure that we don’t come back for more,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, who says the $3.2 billion is all the House will take from the rainy day fund. “I cannot get votes to use it for anything else.”

While it’s better to use some of the Rainy Day Fund than none of it, this will do very little to mitigate the huge cuts that are still coming for public education, Medicaid, and everything else. And that’s just how Rick Perry and the most radical factions of the Republican Party want it. Burka sums up what happened.

Perry steamrolled the House. He limited the spending of the Rainy Day Fund to 3.2 billion, all of it to balance the budget by paying the state’s bills. The rest of the 4.3B necessary to balance the budget will come from more cuts ($800M and $50M).

Then, for good measure, he vowed to veto the budget if lawmakers attempted to spend any of the remaining money in the Rainy Day Fund.

I don’t know what the leadership in the House has been doing, but Perry has been calling in House members to lobby them against using the Rainy Day Fund. He has also been lobbying the committee. Obviously, he is a heckuva good lobbyist.

The House won nothing in the negotiations except the ability to spend $3.2B from the Rainy Day Fund, but only for the purpose of balancing the budget. It was a hollow victory because the state cannot constitutionally fail to balance the budget. All the $3.2B achieves is to spare the state the embarrassment of being technically broke.

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee voted for HB275, which authorized the use of the RDF for the 2010-11 biennium, then voted against companion bill HB4, which made the further cuts Burka mentioned.

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said the leadership is using the rainy day fund to avoid the embarrassment of failing to pay its bills, which Comptroller Susan Combs has said would be result if they didn’t use some of the $9.4 billion reserve fund for the current deficit.

“We’re willing to tap the rainy day fund to save face but we’re not willing to tap the rainy day fund to mitigate the harm that is going to be inflicted upon our children,” Villarreal said. “That, in a word, is irresponsible.”

Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, took the criticism from Democrats in stride, acknowledging that this is the political reality.

And that needs to be the message that gets through next November. The Republicans wanted the cuts that are to come. They’re going to get them, and they need to be held responsible for them.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 27-0 Tuesday afternoon to move HB 275 to the floor. The substitute bill authorizes the state to draw down about $3.1 billion from the Budget Stabilization Fund, commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund. A companion bill, HB 4, passed out of the committee on a party-line vote. That legislation is controversial because it outlines where the savings will come from. Lawmakers began the day short about $4 billion. After the Rainy Day funds are taken into account, the rest of the savings comes from Combs’ revised $300 million sales tax revenue estimate and more than $800 million in cuts. That latter figure is alarming, but officials say most — if not all — of those reductions have already been implemented by state agencies over the past two years.

Democrats objected to the effects the potential cuts may have on education and health care services. They also spoke out against the governor’s refusal to consider using any additional Rainy Day funds to cover the next biennium’s shortfall, especially since Perry has clearly stated he will not support any kind of tax increase.

“[This statement] ties our hands,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “To say you cannot consider the Rainy Day Fund for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 is irresponsible.”

I suspect we’ll be hearing that word a lot. In related news, more specific cuts were made.

The Appropriations Committee just approved deep cuts to the Health and Human Services Commission and the four departments it oversees. The vote was 16-8. It wasn’t quite along party lines, as Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, joined dissenting Democrats.

Chief social services budget writer John Zerwas, R-Spring, said addition of $2 billion from Tuesday’s decision to spend rainy-day dollars eased the pain a bit. He said that allowed members to “to get it to a place that’s at least a little more comfortable than where we started.”

Still, cuts to home-based care for the disabled and seniors, nursing homes, prevention programs for child abuse, programs for developmentally disabled children and health care providers remain far deeper than any belt-tightening taken in the last fiscal crisis in 2003.

If you’re lying on a bed of broken glass and rusty nails and someone gives you one of those little airplane pillows for your head, you’ll be a little more comfortable than you were before. But you’ll still be a long way off from being in a good place. A statements from Rep. Villarreal is here, and from Rep. Eric Johnson is here.