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Todd Staples

No love for Dan

Here’s one vote he won’t get.

“Oozing charm from every pore I oiled my way around the floor”

Whether incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst can make up for a big primary night loss to challenger Dan Patrick in a May runoff may depend on if he can successfully court the supporters of his two former opponents.

But in interviews on Tuesday, neither Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples nor Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who earned a combined 30 percent of the vote in the March GOP primary for lieutenant governor, were ready to come out in favor of Dewhurst.

Staples said outright that he had decided not to give a nod in the race.

Patterson said he was still making up his mind about whether to endorse Dewhurst, but forcefully attacked Patrick, saying the Houston state senator would take the state backward as lieutenant governor.

“He will wholly be bad for Texas, bad for the Republican Party,” Patterson said of Patrick. “We have two choices, and I will categorically tell you I’m not voting for Dan Patrick either in the primary or the general election. I’ll vote Libertarian in November if I have to.”

I’ve noted before how Democrats are rooting for Patrick to win the runoff since he is viewed as being more beatable in November. Some people have expressed skepticism of this, partly on the belief that there are no ticket-splitters any more. I get that, but there are plenty of such people left in Texas. We saw a great example of it in 2010. Bill White received over 387,000 more votes than Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, while Rick Perry collected over 311,000 fewer votes than David Dewhurst. That’s nearly a 700,000 vote swing towards White. People often don’t realize how big the swing was towards White because the Republican tidal wave of 2010 was too big for it to matter, but in a more normal year, 700,000 votes is more than enough to make a difference.

Consider this scenario: Turnout in November is 4.9 million voters – a bit less than 2010, but more than any other off year. The average statewide Republican wins with a 57-43 margin, which I think we can agree is healthy enough to invite plenty of post-electoral scoffing at Battleground Texas and any thought of a blue state in the foreseeable future. Well, in this scenario a Bill White-sized swing is just about what it would take to tip an election, since the average vote tally would be 2.8 million to 2.1 million. If there’s any Republican candidate capable of inspiring that kind of disloyalty among his fellow Republicans, it’s Dan Patrick.

Maybe you think my scenario is too optimistic, maybe you think Leticia Van de Putte won’t have the resources to compete the way White did (you know you have the power to help with that, right?), or maybe you have some other reason to be skeptical. I’m just saying we’ve seen the kind of crossover voting needed to make a VdP win happen in very recent memory, so don’t say it can’t happen because it already has.

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.

Texas Farm Bureau unhappy with anti-immigrant Republicans

It’s an opportunity for Democrats, assuming they actually mean what they’re saying.

When Republican agriculture commissioner candidate Eric Opiela appeared on television sets across Texas recently to declare “No amnesty under any circumstances,” he was no doubt attempting to appeal to the conservative constituency that is expected to turn out in next week’s primary election.

So are his major primary opponents, former state Reps. Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt, and Uvalde Mayor J Allen Carnes, who oppose any pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Current Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, a candidate for lieutenant governor, is also blasting one of his Republican opponents, state Sen. Dan Patrick, over reports that he hired undocumented workers and supported amnesty for one of them decades ago.

But all of the candidates also happen to disagree with one of the country’s most powerful agricultural lobbying groups, which boasts some half a million members in Texas. The American Farm Bureau Federation and its local arm, the Texas Farm Bureau, are strong supporters of a major immigration reform bill the U.S. Senate passed last year that offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The bill has been heavily criticized by many conservative politicians, both nationwide and in Texas, highlighting a rift between the Republican Party and the agricultural lobby that widened recently during debate over the farm bill.

“Let’s just cut to the chase on this thing: Eighty-five percent of the agricultural labor that goes on in the state of Texas … is done by either undocumented or illegally documented people,” said Steve Pringle, legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau. “If and when that labor supply is not there, that production simply goes out of business.”

[…]

For Pringle, the Republican Party’s shift to the right in recent years means that the Texas farm lobby may be looking for friends in places that would have seemed unlikely just a few years ago. In the 2012 election cycle, the Texas Farm Bureau donated $10,000 to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“Let’s just put it this way,” Pringle said. “We are finding conservative Republicans less and less supportive of agriculture.”

Like I said, a potential opportunity for Democrats to steal a bit of support from some typically unfavorably places, and not just in the Ag Commissioner race. The TFB has endorsed Carnes, but it’s not clear they’d transfer that support to, say, Eric Opiela or Sid Miller if one of them became the nominee. We’ve heard this sort of talk before, from typically pro-Republican business groups that support immigration reform, such as the Texas Association of Business, but it generally doesn’t translate into any tangible action. TAB in particular has a history of getting good press for saying pro-immigrant things and occasionally calling out some of the worst offenders among the Republicans, but they never follow it up by actively opposing the legislators they identify as the problem, even as the rhetoric has gotten more and more strident. If the TFB wants to be seen as more than just an empty voice for immigration reform, the place they can and should start is in the Lt. Governor’s race. If they fail to support Leticia Van de Putte, especially over Dan Patrick or Todd Staples, we’ll know they didn’t intend to be taken seriously. Just walk the walk, fellas, that’s all I’m asking.

Next steps in the Texas same sex marriage lawsuit

In case you were wondering, Attorney General and candidate for Governor Greg Abbott will appeal Wednesday’s historic ruling striking down Texas’ constitutional amendment barring same sex marriage.

The state of Texas has officially given notice that it is appealing a San Antonio judge’s ruling that completely struck down its ban on same sex marriage.

“Defendants … Rick Perry, Greg Abbott, and David Lakey … hereby appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from the Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, signed and entered in this action on February 26, 2014 ,” said the state’s notice, filed in federal court in San Antonio on Thursday.

Abbott’s statement is here. Democratic candidate for AG Sam Houston thinks Abbott shouldn’t have bothered.

I agree with Judge Garcia when he says “state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.” There is no question that marriage is a right that should be afforded to all consenting adults regardless of race. In my view, the same right should be afforded regardless of sexual orientation, and I am not convinced Texas should commit substantial time and money to appeal a ruling that is likely to remain unchanged when considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Needless to say, none of the Republican candidates agreed with that.

Texas Monthly, writing before Abbott’s promise to appeal, examines the timing of the process.

[Judge Orlando] Garcia’s ruling falls in line with similar district court decisions issued recently in Oklahoma, Virginia, and Utah—making it increasingly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually have to settle the matter, possibly as soon as the 2014-15 session.

During a conference call [Wednesday] afternoon, Barry Chasnoff, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said that while he hoped Abbott would choose not to appeal the decision and allow it to stand—as attorney generals in states like New Jersey have done—he nonetheless expected that in “a political year” Abbott would issue an appeal.

Garcia’s injunction will place the case on a fast track to the appeals courts, which is also where the Utah and Oklahoma cases are headed. But while Oklahoma’s and Utah’s cases are being appealed to the traditionally moderate Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas appeal will be heard by the traditionally conservative Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans.

According to Kenneth Upton, a Dallas-based senior lawyer for the gay legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, the Texas appeal could be decided around the same time as the Oklahoma, Virginia, and Utah appeals. So although it’s still considered unlikely, there’s a chance that the Texas case could be the one the Supreme Court hears first—and could end up bringing same-sex marriage to all fifty states.

That would make it a bookend to the Lawrence v. Texas case from 2003. We sure have come a long way. I recommend you also read this TM feature story from the February issue, about plaintiffs Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes:

Phariss and Holmes, who filed suit with another same-sex couple in October and whose case will be heard this month by the U.S. District Court in San Antonio, are unlikely catalysts for social change: until recently, Phariss wasn’t entirely out of the closet, and both men were deeply hesitant about being part of the case. Holmes, who is a 43-year-old physician’s assistant in Fort Worth and former Air Force officer, feared that exposing themselves so publicly might make them targets of antigay violence. Phariss, who is 54 and an attorney, worried that the attendant publicity would alienate colleagues and clients, many of whom didn’t know about his sexuality. He even asked the legal team handling the suit if it could withhold a press release from the Dallas Morning News, since that’s the newspaper that everyone he works with reads.

“The day it was filed, I literally got physically sick,” recalled Phariss. “Leading up to that, we definitely had moments where we looked at each other and asked, ‘Have we lost our minds?’ It’s no accident that my name is the last of the plaintiffs listed.”

A decade after Lawrence v. Texas —the landmark 2003 Supreme Court decision that declared state laws forbidding homosexual activity to be unconstitutional—Texas seems to have found two more reluctant gay-equality activists. Like John Geddes Lawrence, who was closeted at the time of his 1998 arrest in Houston for consensual sex with another man in his own house, Phariss and Holmes found themselves drawn into the battle for marriage equality almost by happenstance. At every step of the way, they’ve had to keep convincing themselves this is the right thing to do. “The truth of the matter is I had some reticence about meeting with you,” Phariss told me.

[…]

The lawsuit originated with co-plaintiffs Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon, who live in Austin but married in Massachusetts in 2009. In the aftermath of last summer’s Windsor decision, the women decided to sue Texas to recognize their marriage. One of their main motivations, they said, was to cement parental rights regarding their son, whom De Leon gave birth to in 2012 and whom Dimetman has since adopted. “We want to be able to tell our kids that we are married,” De Leon told me.

In August, Dimetman, an attorney who previously worked for the San Antonio office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (which had filed an amicus brief in the Windsor case), asked her former employers if they would be willing to represent the couple. After Akin Gump agreed to take on the case, the firm’s attorneys began reaching out to other gay couples, asking them to join as co-plaintiffs. They believed that a diverse group of plaintiffs—male and female, unmarried and already married in another state—would give the lawsuit its best chance. One of the first people lawyer Frank Stenger-Castro talked to was Phariss, whom he knew through legal circles. Phariss and Holmes eventually agreed to join the suit and went to the Bexar County Clerk’s office, where they requested and were denied a marriage license.

Why would Phariss and Holmes take on such a public role, given Phariss’s semi-closetedness and their concerns for their safety? They say that, in good conscience, they couldn’t not do it.

“There’s this phenomenon where someone is in trouble and needs an ambulance, and everybody says, ‘Call 911,’ and everybody assumes someone else is going to do it, and nobody winds up doing it,” said Holmes. “I didn’t see anybody else doing this, so I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll be the one who makes the call.’ ”

They’re happy they did make that call, as expressed by their statement after the ruling.

“We are extremely happy — happy beyond words — with Judge Garcia’s decision,” Phariss and Holmes said Wednesday in a written statement. “Today, Judge Garcia affirmed that the Equal Protection Clause applies to all Texans. We are delighted by that decision, and we expect that, if appealed, it will be upheld.”

In the same joint statement, Dimetman and De Leon described the decision as “a great step towards justice for our family.”

“Ultimately, the repeal of Texas’ ban will mean that our son will never know how this denial of equal protections demeaned our family and belittled his parents’ relationship,” they said in a written statement. “We look forward to the day when, surrounded by friends and family, we can renew our vows in our home state of Texas.”

Not everyone is happy, of course – this Chron story has a couple of quotes from usual suspects expressing their unhappiness.

Gov. Rick Perry said the ruling was yet another attempt by the federal government to tell Texans how to live their lives.

“Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” he said. “We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”

[…]

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who authored the amendment to the state constitution that banned same-sex marriage when he was a state senator in 2005 issued a short, but to-the-point Tweet on the ruling:

“Having carried the constitutional amendment defining marriage between 1 man & 1 woman, I will change my definition of marriage when God does.”

Perry and Staples and Dan Patrick and all the rest of them deserve all the unhappiness they get over this. Couldn’t happen to a better bunch of people.

By the way, there’s a second lawsuit that has yet to be heard.

Another gay marriage lawsuit will be heard in Austin, possibly as early as June. Federal Judge Sam Sparks will hear an argument made by a gay couple that the state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it discriminates against them based on their gender. The argument is slightly different from the one made before Garcia and could trigger another round of appeals.

You may recall that Abbott tried to get these two cases consolidated and moved to Judge Sparks’ court, but both Judges Garcia and Sparks rejected those motions. In preliminary hearings, Judge Sparks had expressed some skepticism about the plaintiffs’ claims in the lawsuit that he will hear, which as noted is based on different claims than the one Judge Garcia just ruled on. It will be interesting to see what happens in that case.

Another lawsuit likely to be affected by this is the one that was filed by Jared Woodfill against the city of Houston over Mayor Parker’s order to make spousal benefits available to legally married same sex couples as well. Lone Star Q discusses that.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal who’s representing the gay Houston employees, told Lone Star Q on Thursday that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling striking down the amendment will bolster the argument for same-sex benefits in Houston.

“It should be persuasive that the City and the employees have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits given that another federal judge in a sister district has found the law to violate both the liberty and equality guarantees of the 14th amendment,” Upton said.

You’d sure think so, wouldn’t you? That case is now in federal court, being heard by Judge Lee Rosenthal. There should be another hearing for it soon, unless the plaintiffs decide to drop it. Take the hint, Jared.

Last and least, Louie Gohmert is still an idiot. Just thought you’d want to know that.

How extreme is too extreme?

The GOP candidates for Lite Guv are doing their best to test the hypothesis that having an R next to your name is all you need to get elected statewide in Texas, regardless of your stated positions on issues.

Lord Voldemort approves this message

The Republican candidates for lieutenant governor do not seem worried about Democratic challengers and independent voters, or particularly concerned about whether their public conversations and debates fuel the Democrats’ election-year motif of a war on women.

If they were, they would not be talking like this. You would not have seen what you saw during the debate early this week as they all raced to the conservative end of the pool, hoping to win the hearts of the Republican voters they will face in the primary election in March.

Instead, you would have seen a quartet of Republicans trying to win a primary without blowing their chances of winning over the more moderate voters who will come out in November.

If this election goes the way of other recent Republican primaries, the candidates’ first encounter will be with a small and conservative bunch. Fewer than two of every 25 Texans will be voting in the primary. General elections draw larger turnouts with different voters. The Democrats will be there, of course, along with political moderates, independents and the sometimes-engaged voters who might be drawn out by a noisy race for governor.

Judging from their responses, the Republican candidates are thinking about the first cohort and not the second. All believe, with varied degrees of enthusiasm, that creationism should be taught in public schools. All four, talking about a recent case in Fort Worth that got national attention, said state law should be rewritten to override a family’s desire to remove life support from a clinically dead woman until her child can be delivered. And each underscored his position on the issues by saying that abortions should not be allowed except when the life of the mother is in danger; that is a break from a more conventional Republican position that would allow exceptions in cases of rape and incest.

Indeed, an earlier Trib story showed just how out of touch these positions on abortion are with even their own voters.

Though it’s hard to envision given the tone of the Texas Republican Party’s primary contests so far, the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor lurched even farther right in Monday night’s debate in their collective rejection of access to abortion in instances of rape.

While defenders of abortion rights might be tempted to dismiss the candidates’ support for childbirth after rape as another sign of alleged misogyny in the Texas GOP, a plurality of Republicans surveyed in the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll have consistently supported permitting abortion in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the woman’s life — 41 percent in the October 2013 poll, and this after a summer of highly partisan public conflict over abortion legislation.

In that same survey, only 16 percent of Republicans (compared with 12 percent of Texans overall) said that abortion should never be permitted. This was on the low end of the typical GOP embrace of the prohibitionist position, which has fluctuated between 14 and 27 percent over the life of the poll, with the usual reading in the low 20s.

Allowing abortion only in the case of rape, incest or threat to the woman’s life has consistently been the most common GOP position, typically supported by just over 40 percent of Republicans. Support for the most permissive position on abortion was 19 percent among Republican voters in the October 2013 poll, also in a range consistent with previous results.

Overall, 78 percent of Texas Republicans believed that there were some situations in which abortion should be accessible. Each and every candidate dismissed even the most restrictive version of this position in Monday night’s debate. (Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seemed to suggest he would have concerns about the life of the mother if she were his wife in such a situation, though he was unclear how these feelings translate into his policy position.)

The belief that pregnant rape victims should be required to bring their pregnancies to term, evident on the debate stage, seems to be more about positioning in the Republican primary than a careful reading of public opinion. And while the Tea Party remains the easy scapegoat for the GOP’s rightward push, in this case at least, our polling shows that only 13 percent of Tea Party Republicans support a complete prohibition on the procedure.

They’re pandering to a minority of a minority within their own party. I only wish someone had asked them during the debate if they’d support the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions and women who receive them. I mean, if it’s murder and all, why wouldn’t they? Clearly, there’s still space for them to move further to the right on this.

The bigger question is whether November voters are paying attention. The Observer has video of the debate in case you have the stomach for it. Jacquielynn Floyd was watching.

Monday’s televised four-candidate debate — which I bravely tied myself to a chair to watch in its entirety — seemed less like a political forum than a tribal pageant to be crowned the Truest Conservative in All the Land.

Voters hoping to be illuminated on the issues facing Texas were surely disappointed in what they got from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and his three GOP challengers: Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and state Sen. Dan Patrick.

Their joint performance brought to mind a flock of talking myna birds — or perhaps a single monster parrot with four heads — that kept shouting out the same disjointed phrases: “Conservative leader!” “Secure the border!” “Protect life!”

All four of these candidates voiced wholehearted agreement that the corpse of a legally dead pregnant woman, Marlise Muñoz, should have been forced to continue incubating a malformed fetus — despite her own stated wishes, the pleas of her family and ultimately the decision of a state district court judge.

Each in turn agreed that creationism, an anti-science, biblical literalist explanation for the origin of life, should be routine curriculum for all Texas students — even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that teaching it in public schools violates the Constitution.

They declared in perfect four-part harmony that rape victims or girls molested by their own fathers should be forced to carry pregnancies to term.

They spoke darkly about the dire threat posed by alien hordes pouring across our undefended border — and they didn’t mean Canadians.

To a lot of people, this all transcends so-called extremism. It’s crazy talk.

Funny how respect for the Constitution only extends to things they agree with, isn’t it? Lisa Falkenberg was also watching.

As I watched that debate among four Republican lieutenant governor candidates earlier this week, I couldn’t help but wonder: How on Earth did we get here? And at this rate, where in the hell are we going?

Actually, the first question isn’t a mystery. We’re here because relatively few Texans vote, thereby surrendering the political fate of our great state to the whim of Republican primary voters who make up only 5 to 7 percent of the voting-age population.

The farther right that sliver of the electorate slides, the farther out to la-la land the candidates have to go to reach them. So you get what we had in Dallas the other night.

The candidates – Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, state Sen. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, all but the last from Houston – provided political theater at its best, policy at its worst. They seem to operate in a kind of alternate universe where pragmatism is a sin, moderation is a slur and the word “conservative,” which used to stand for fiscal responsibility, personal freedom and limited government, is farce.

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Take the horrifying case of Erick Muñoz, the anguished father and husband who had to fight a Fort Worth hospital in court after it refused to remove his 14-week-pregnant, brain-dead wife from machines that kept her lungs and heart going.

The hospital cited a state law that denies life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient; the husband cited his wife’s wishes never to be kept breathing by machines.

The fetus itself had been deprived of oxygen after the mother’s collapse and family attorneys said the child suffered severe deformities, fluid on the brain and possible heart problems. So-called pro-lifers talk about fetal pain. This seemed more like fetal torture. It compounded the agony of Muñoz, his toddler son, and the rest of the family. That agony went on for two months before a mercifully sane judge finally ended it this week, ruling what had been obvious to many from the beginning: Marlise Muñoz was already dead.

That fact didn’t seem to matter to the Texas lieutenant governor candidates. Only Patterson even acknowledged it. Everybody seemed to agree the judge erred and the fetus should have been kept alive at all costs.

“If I had been in that judge’s shoes, I would have ruled differently,” Dewhurst said. Thank the Lord he wasn’t.

But he could be re-elected Lt. Governor, and if he’s not it will be at least in part because these extreme voters he’s desperately trying to please didn’t think he was extreme enough. The Texas Democratic Party cheekily congratulated Sen. Leticia Van de Putte for winning the debate by virtue of not being one of the crazy people on stage, but she can’t win if people don’t pay attention. Sen. Van de Putte won’t drive us into the ditch like these guys are promising to do. We need to do our part.

Once again with Wendy and the odds

Ross Ramsey in The Trib has his turn with the “what office should Sen. Wendy Davis run for?” question.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Abbott, the Republican attorney general, is his party’s favored candidate at the moment, in spite of the presence of Tom Pauken, a former state party chairman, in the race. Abbott has scads of money in his political account and seems, for now, to be in the spot Arthur was in when he pulled Excalibur out of that legendary boulder: everything is in place but the crown.

That has some insiders talking about the next race down — the one for lieutenant governor. Instead of taking on Abbott, the best-financed Republican candidate in years, Davis, D-Fort Worth, would face one of a quartet of Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, a group that includes a politically vulnerable incumbent and a conservative state senator who might give moderate Republican voters pause.

That race does not have a pre-emptive favorite, and two of the candidates could be attractive foils for Davis. David Dewhurst, the incumbent, has been looking for his mojo since his loss a year ago to Ted Cruz in a Republican runoff for the U.S. Senate. One of his three challengers is that conservative senator, Dan Patrick, R-Houston.

[…]

However the Republicans decide, the contrast between general election candidates would be simple to make.

The contrast would be simple to make in almost every race on the ballot. But a statewide race at or near the top of the ticket — even a losing one — could build a foundation for future campaigns.

And if Abbott doesn’t have a tough challenge, voters looking for a debate will go to the next race.

It’s not like Davis has a cakewalk waiting at home. If she runs for re-election to her Tarrant County Senate seat in 2014, she’ll face a headwind.

Her district was drawn to favor a Republican candidate. But she defied that in 2008 and 2012, years when the ballot was headed by a Democratic presidential candidate who helped draw her voters to the polls. Her team is surprisingly confident she will do it again next year, if that’s the route she goes.

The headwind could be stronger now, however, and it is the candidate’s fault. Davis got the attention of the Republicans, too, and they will come after her whether she runs for re-election or for something higher on the ballot.

The lieutenant governor’s race might be the one to run. It will almost certainly go to the Republicans, but “almost” is a big word in politics. Losing a re-election bid could put her out of circulation.

Might as well go big.

Robert Miller explored this same possibility last week; I blogged about it here. That post got a lot of reaction on Facebook, with the main concern being that the Lite Guv race would not be as high profile as the Governor’s race, which negates the advantages Davis has made for herself. It’s a legitimate question, but I think Davis’ presence on the ballot, especially if paired against either Dewhurst or Patrick, automatically ensures a minimum level of attention. I’d feel better about this if I knew the Dems were also going to have a good candidate for Governor as well – Cecile Richards, Rodney Ellis, Henry Cisneros, Leticia Van de Putte, you know the drill – but there’s no guarantee of that. I guess what it comes down to for me is that a full ticket of decent candidates is better than relying on Wendy Davis to carry the whole thing, whatever office she chooses.

Couple other points: Ramsey suggests that either Todd Staples or Jerry Patterson could be tougher competition for Davis, if either can win the Republican nomination for Lite Guv. That’s primarily because neither was directly involved in the abortion debate and the famous filibuster. I can buy that – I particularly think Patterson, who has the best record of actual accomplishment among GOP candidates, and who has a straightforward style that is likely to be appealing, would be a strong competitor – but Davis starts out ahead of Patterson in cash on hand, and can likely catch up to Staples by March. Plus, at this point I’d say she has better name ID than either of them – heck, she might have higher name ID than Greg Abbott right now – and that helps offset any advantage they may have.

Ramsey also suggests that Davis might have a hard time being re-elected in SD10 next year, as it is not a Presidential year. I’ve already dealt with that question, and I stand by my assertion that it’s not clear that the Presidential year was an asset for Davis. More Republicans come out in Presidential years, too, after all.

Finally, some people are now suggesting that maybe David Dewhurst should switch races. Like many other GOPers blocked by Rick Perry, what he’s always really wanted to be is Governor, and he alone has the financial resources to challenge Abbott on that score. His run for Senate in 2012 showed that he’s ready to be something other than Lite Guv. If not 2014 for Governor, then when? Just a thought.

How about Wendy for Lite Guv?

Robert Miller makes a pretty good case.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Governor General Abbott appears unbeatable by Democrat or Republican. Sen. Davis, as a Harvard-trained lawyer, could run for the open office of Texas Attorney General. However, that does not appear to be a particularly exciting, nor necessarily winnable, down ballot matchup.

The marquee matchup would be to run for Lieutenant Governor, who serves as Presiding Officer of the Texas Senate. A fierce contest has commenced for the Republican nomination, with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst being challenged by Sen. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. Polling shows that today Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is headed towards a Republican primary runoff.

Harris County is the largest bloc of Republican voters in the state, and Sen. Patrick is well-known and very popular with these voters. The margins Sen. Patrick will roll up in Harris County arguably could give him a spot in the runoff. The purest of the pure partisans show up for primary runoffs, and those are more likely to be Sen. Patrick radio listeners (in Harris County) and voters.

This would bring us a Davis vs. Patrick contest for Lt. Governor in November 2014, a stark contrast indeed. One of the most liberal senators vs. one of the most conservative; pro-choice vs. pro-life; woman vs. man; and, at this point, woman vs. a possibly all male Republican statewide slate. One mistake by Sen. Patrick and Sen. Davis has a shot.

The irony is she would then preside over a Senate probably comprised of 20 Republicans and 11 Democrats – the Republicans would have an excellent opportunity to pick up Davis’ senate seat. All of the Lt. Governor’s powers are derived from the rules of the Senate, which are adopted by a simple majority vote (16 out of 31). Wouldn’t the Republicans simply strip her of these powers?

My crystal ball gets cloudy that far out. But it wouldn’t matter from Davis’ perspective. If they stripped her of the traditional powers of the office, it would simply magnify her prominence and amplify her voice.

My thinking has evolved. I now believe it makes political sense for Sen. Davis to run statewide for Lt. Governor in 2014. As she hits the newsstands in August, look for #Wendymania to continue trending.

It should be noted that there’s probably as great a chance that the Senate would strip the Lite Guv of its traditional powers if Dan Patrick wins as there is if Davis wins. As we know, Patrick has made his share of enemies among his Republican colleagues. It wouldn’t take too many more to dislike or distrust him to make that a real possibility.

Another thing to consider is that Davis would be much closer to parity with the Republican Lite Guv hopefuls on the fundraising end. She has over $1 million in the bank after her latest haul, all of which came in the last two weeks of June. Patrick has $2.1 million on hand, Jerry Patterson has $1.3 million, Todd Staples claims $3 million, and Dewhurst has $1.7 million, though of course he can write his own check. All of them will have to spend a chunk of their money in a sure-to-be-nasty-and-substance-free primary.

It’s an interesting possibility to consider. This would still leave the question of who runs for Governor unsettled. Robert’s observation about the potentially all-male Republican slate – Debra Medina is one of the candidates for Comptroller, and Stefani Carter is a candidate for Railroad Commissioner, but beyond that it’s a big sausage-fest – is further evidence to me that Cecile Richards ought to jump in. I hope Davis and Richards have at least had a conversation or two about who might want to do what. EoW makes an eloquent case for Davis as gubernatorial candidate that you should read as well, but as things stand right now I’m leaning in Miller’s direction. (William McKinzie also thinks Sen. Davis should run for Governor, though he comes at it from a different angle.)

One last thing: If Sen. Davis does run statewide, whether for Governor or Lt. Governor, the person I want to see run to succeed her in the Senate is the same person that succeeded her on Fort Worth City Council, and that’s Joel Burns. Holding her seat would indeed be very difficult, but Burns would be the kind of candidate that would inspire enthusiasm and generate fundraising. Who’s with me on this?

Patrick and Williams keep squabbling

Just as a reminder that Senate Republicans don’t need Democrats to stir up trouble, here’s a flare-up of an earlier kerfuffle. Fire one.

In this corner…

In a recent interview with The Texas Tribune, my colleague, state Sen. Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, attempted to explain his vote against our no-new-tax balanced state budget that was approved by a supermajority of Republicans.

In part, Patrick, R-Houston, said he opposed the budget due to his concerns about specific public education programs not being funded.

The problem with these comments is that Patrick was directly responsible for these same education programs not being funded. Such revisionism cannot go unchallenged.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I appointed Patrick to lead the committee’s public education workgroup. The full committee adopted, in whole, his public education budget recommendations. These recommendations did not include funding for PSAT/SAT/ACT tests. Supplemental pre-K funding of $40 million was included in the adopted recommendations. Conference committee actions reduced the supplemental pre-K funding by $10 million, which was partially offset by an overall increase in public education formula funding.

Additionally, Patrick lamented in his Tribune interview that the new state budget lacked sufficient Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding. But he failed to acknowledge that he offered the Senate floor amendment that eliminated new CTE funding in House Bill 5.

Patrick was the Senate’s lead negotiator on that bill’s conference committee. I also served on the HB 5 conference committee, along with Sens. Robert Duncan, Kel Seliger and Leticia Van de Putte. I specifically told Patrick I would fund eighth-grade CTE (at a cost of $36.1 million) in the budget if he could get the House to agree. Ultimately, he asked me and the other conferees to sign a Conference Committee report which did not include new CTE funding.

[…]

Every member of the Legislature has the right and the duty to vote the interests of their district and their conscience. Patrick consistently supported virtually every decision made during the process of writing the appropriations bill. His unannounced opposition to the final version of Senate Bill 1 was a betrayal of every member of the finance committee who worked in good faith to prepare this budget.

I can only conclude he was looking for an excuse to distance himself from our good work to advance his own political interests.

Fire two.

And in this corner...

Patrick said Friday that he read Williams’ column “with amusement.”

“His attack on me is a classic example of a politician who has forgotten that we represent the people first and foremost,” Patrick said in a statement. “I don’t have to explain my vote to Tommy Williams. I have to explain my vote to the people and I’m happy to do that.”

Patrick described Williams’ arguments in his column as “wrong … or disingenuous at best.” He specifically refuted Williams’ suggestion that Patrick’s vote on the budget was unexpected.

“He had no reason to be surprised by my ‘no’ vote,” Patrick said. “I told him I would be a ‘no’ vote on the budget several days before the bill came to the floor.”

Patrick said Williams’ column is in line with the Senate finance chairman’s recent “attacks” on groups that have criticized the budget, including the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Following the regular session, Williams also tried to strip Patrick of his chairmanship of the education committee.

“His attacks have been personal in nature and offensive,” Patrick said.

See here for the opening salvo. I have two thoughts about this. One, Dan Patrick is probably going to run for Lite Guv – he has a press conference scheduled for today to discuss his 2014 electoral plans – and in a field with David Dewhurst, Todd Staples, and Jerry Patterson he’s got to have a decent chance to make a runoff. Given how many intramural fights he’s gotten into lately, I have to wonder if stuff like this helps him or hurts him with the seething masses of the GOP primary electorate. Being “anti-establishment”, even as a multi-term incumbent, is generally a positive in those races, and that’s been his brand. Do these quarrels help fire up his base or does it drive people who might otherwise agree with him away? I have no idea, but perhaps the reaction to Patrick’s announcement, if it is what we think it might be, will give us a clue.

Two, I wonder if these high-profile personality clashes between people who have little ideological distance between them is a sign of healthy debate for a party that hasn’t been greatly challenged at the state level, or a sign of an impending fall by a longstanding hegemon that may be getting a tad stale because it hasn’t needed for years to talk to voters who don’t participate in their increasingly parochial primary elections? In other words, is this further evidence that the Texas GOP of 2013 looks a lot like the Texas Democrats of 1983? (This is the flip side of Colin Strother’s thesis.) I wasn’t around for much of the Texas Dems’ fall, and I wasn’t paying close attention for the time that I was here, but I do remember how nasty the Jim Mattox/Ann Richards primary of 1990 was, and as I recall it went beyond the usual nastiness of politics. Williams/Patrick is on a smaller scale than that – among other things, they’re not both running for the same office – but it’s still pretty similar. They’re also not the only ones talking to a small subset of the electorate to the exclusion of anyone else – everyone from empty suits like Barry Smitherman and longstanding ideologues like Greg Abbott to people with more balanced records of policy and engagement like Dan Branch and Jerry Patterson are doing it. I know, everyone has a primary to win, but does anyone expect anything different after the nominations are settled? I don’t. Like the Dems of the late 80s and early 90s, the inability to talk to voters who aren’t already on your side – and may not be if someone else manages to get through to them – will come back to bite these guys. The question is when. Harold makes a similar point in discussing the SB5 debate, and Burka has more on Patrick v Williams.

Dewhurst says he’s running for re-election in 2014

Peggy Fikac was first to report that David Dewhurst is not planning to fade away just yet.

Sad Dewhurst is sad

The last time we asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst what he plans to do in 2014, it was soon after he lost the U.S. Senate nomination to Ted Cruz. He asked if reporters minded giving him a couple of days.

It looks like he has thought about it long enough.

Someone shared with me an invitation to a “reception to re-elect Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst” that went out on letterhead that says, “David Dewhurst Lt. Governor 2014.”

The reception is scheduled for Sept. 19 at the Headliners Club.

Its top fund-raising requests are for people to give or raise $50,000 or $25,000 by Dec. 8.

They can also choose to give $10,000, $5,000, $2,500 or the always-popular “other.”

You can see the invitation at that link. The Trib confirms what this means.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, after getting a standing ovation by the Texas Republican delegation in Florida, announced Tuesday that he plans to run for re-election.

“I fully expect to be running for re-election in March of 2014,” Dewhurst said. “As long as the people of Texas want me to continue serving to help move this state forward, then I’m honored.”

He wouldn’t be alone. Three statewide elected Republicans — Comptroller Susan Combs, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples — have all expressed some interest in running for lieutenant governor. On the evening of the runoff elections last month, Patterson said he will run in 2014 whether Dewhurst is on the ticket or not.

Staples is also now saying that he’s in for Lite Guv; we’ll see about Combs. Dewhurst could of course just be doing this as a show of bravado to help keep the jackals at bay, but as with Rick Perry I think it’s best to assume he means it until proven otherwise. Since we’ve been discussing fantasy candidates for Governor, let me say here that my fantasy candidate for Lite Guv is State Sen. Wendy Davis. Ideally, she’ll win re-election this fall, then win the draw to not have to run for re-election again till 2016, thus allowing her to make a run for something else in 2014 without having to give up her seat. Regardless, she’s my first choice to go against Dewhurst or anyone else in 2014. We’ll see who that winds up being. BOR has more.

What will The Dew do next?

David Dewhurst

So Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst isn’t going anywhere next January. I’m going to put aside the questions of what happened for now and ask instead what happens in 2014? As we know, there are three people running for what they originally thought would be an open seat race for Lite Guv in 2014. What happens if Dewhurst decides, as Rick Perry may have also done, to run for re-election again? Do the dominoes stand or fall?

Whatever you may think about Dewhurst and his campaign, the fact that he got his butt handed to him on Tuesday doesn’t mean he’d be easy to beat in a 2014 primary. For one thing, it’s unlikely that there will be millions of dollars spent by outside agitators in the service of calling Dewhurst names. For another thing, three candidates who have each been elected statewide at least twice and have held office for a lot longer than that are hardly the insurgent fresh-faced outsider that Ted Cruz managed to portray himself as. I’m not saying that Dewhurst would be a lock – he might have to learn how to campaign, for one thing – but he’s hardly a dead man walking, either. The conditions that led to his defeat here will not be in play in two years’ time.

So as I said before, we could have a situation where there are no open non-judicial statewide offices in 2014. It’s too early to know what Combs, Staples, and Patterson might do, but here’s something that occurred to me in the waning days of the Senate primary: As far as I could tell, Greg Abbott stayed on the sidelines in that race. If he was supporting either Cruz or Dewhurst, he was mighty low key about it. I bring this up because it seems to me that Abbott had a low cost, low risk way of test driving opposition to Rick Perry by supporting Cruz. I mean, Cruz used to work for Abbott, so surely it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise for Abbott to announce that as much as he liked Dewhurst he’s going to support his former employee. With a little savvy, he could have worked that into some conversations with media folks in the days leading up to the runoff, as Cruz’s chances looked better and better, perhaps appearing with Perry’s former BFF Sarah Palin at that Cruz rally in the Woodlands, all the while pooh-poohing the idea that this was somehow a proxy for a future gubernatorial primary. But hey, what do I know? For more thoughts on Tuesday’s runoffs, see Robert Miller, Harold Cook, and Forrest Wilder.

Waiting for Rick (and Greg, and David)

Ross Ramsey breaks out his crystal ball and looks ahead to the 2014 election.

Remember this: In his long history in state politics — closing in on three decades — [Rick] Perry has run for everything he said he was going to run for.

Given his history, the safest assumption is that Perry will be on the ballot again in 2014, running for governor. And if the Republicans lose the presidential election this year, he might really and truly be angling for the party’s nomination in 2016.

This makes a lot of Texans — and not just Democrats — slap their foreheads. They cannot believe anyone has been governor for this long, and some of them cannot believe Perry is the guy who is setting the record.

[…]

Perry is on the verge of serving as Texas governor longer than Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as president — a 12-year, 42-day run that the Texas governor will match at the beginning of February.

He attracts the same sort of grumbles that Roosevelt did, with opponents mumbling that he has been there for too long, that it is time for fresh ideas, that maybe the state should limit its chief executive’s time in office after all.

Others have lined up, gently. Attorney General Greg Abbott, by all accounts on good terms with Perry, has more than $12 million in his political account and has made it clear he would like to be the next governor. He does not want to repeat Hutchison’s mistake, but he is ambitious. Others are sniffing around, too, looking at jobs that might open up if Perry moves on. Like Abbott’s post.

None of those dreams come true unless the governor is bluffing about his plans.

Right now, as I look ahead to 2014, there are four things I think about that could dramatically affect what that election looks like.

1. Who’s running for what, GOP edition – A few months ago it was possible to imagine that every non-judicial state office up for election in 2014 would be open. Now, with Perry talking about another run for Governor and David Dewhurst potentially losing the Senate runoff, it’s possible to imagine that every non-judicial state office up for election in 2014 could once again have the incumbent running for it. Will any of the three Lite Guv wannabees that hold statewide office – Susan Combs, Todd Staples, Jerry Patterson – stay the course and take on Dewhurst if he loses in two weeks and decides he wants to stay where he is for another term? I think if Perry and Dewhurst stay put, then everyone else just might do the same. If nothing else, that ought to make the case for change in the 2014 election that much clearer.

2. Who’s running for what, Democratic edition – Where the GOP has more candidates than available offices, the Democrats have a nearly non-existent bench, and also have to scrape up a candidate to take on Big John Cornyn. It starts with the Governor’s office, where if San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro isn’t ready to take the plunge yet perhaps one of his predecessors could be persuaded. For Lite Guv, I’d love to see Sen. Wendy Davis take a crack at it, if she’s not in a position of having to run for re-election for her Senate seat. Beyond that, I got nothing. We’re potentially electing some exiting young members of Congress this year, but they’ll want to serve more than one term before thinking about moving up. I hope someone besides me is thinking about this.

3. Lawsuitpalooza – Redistricting preclearance. Voter ID preclearance. School finance. Down the line, possibly a SCOTUS challenge to the Voting Rights Act. In the next few months, courts will have the opportunity to wield an inordinate amount of influence over the 2014 elections. Really, we can’t begin to talk about how the 2014 elections may go until we have resolutions for these items, and one other.

4. The 2013 Legislative session – Regardless of how the school finance lawsuits shake out – ultimately, that will be up to the Supreme Court, and it won’t rule till some time in 2014, with action needed in 2015 – the Lege will have some big tasks to tackle. At its most basic, the revenue crisis is over, so the Lege will have to decide whether to restore some of the spending it so savagely cut in 2011 or sock it all away for a future crisis and fritter the rest away on tax cuts. Needless to say, what they do will shape the 2014 campaigns.

So anyway. You can keep an eye on what Perry and Abbott are up to and try to guess their next moves, for whatever good it might do. There’s a lot more to 2014 than that, and we’re still a long way off from having a clearer picture than we do right now.

The Rick Perry bailout

I don’t think I’d ever heard about this before.

Over his eight years as Texas’ [Agriculture Commissioner], [Rick] Perry oversaw a loan guarantee program with so many defaults that the state had to stop guaranteeing bank loans to startups in agribusiness and eventually bailed out the program with taxpayer money.

The state auditor panned Perry’s claims of creating jobs and criticized Perry and his fellow board members at the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority for not following their own lending guidelines.

In some instances, the auditor said, Perry and the authority guaranteed loans to applicants with a negative net worth or too much debt. Citing growing debts, the auditor finally suggested that state officials consider dismantling the program.

Even as the first alarms were sounded, Perry defended the program, saying no taxpayer money was at risk, blaming others and claiming he had fixed it.

It only got worse.

By 2002, Perry’s successor, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, a Republican, stopped making loans as the percentage of bad loans neared 30 percent.

By 2009, her successor, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, also a Republican, asked the Legislature to pay off the loan guarantees with a $14.7 million appropriation. The finance authority could no longer afford the $541,000 to cover the annual interest on the bad debts, almost all of which dated back to Perry’s tenure.

“It’s bad,” Staples told the American-Statesman at the time. “Unfortunately, taxpayers are on the hook for something that happened as long ago as 1987.”

In effect, Perry, as governor, signed his own government bailout when he approved the 2009 appropriations bill.

Read the whole thing, it’s quite interesting. The amount of money needed to close the books on this program wasn’t very much, but it’s clear that it was entirely Perry’s responsibility as Ag Commissioner, and that he spent a lot of effort defending his sinking ship. And I’m amazed that I’d never heard of this before now. You wonder how the 2010 campaign might have proceeded if “Rick Perry authorized his own bailout” had been part of it. Maybe we’ll get some idea about that next year.

What if they all lose?

Now that Rick Perry and David Dewhurst have decided they really want to be in that place they profess to hate so much, Washington, DC, there are a bunch of politicians behind them hoping to move up. Ross Ramsey wonders, what happens if Perry and Dewhurst lose?

What if Perry loses the Republican primary for president and comes home to finish his term? What if he wins the nomination and loses the general election? And what about Dewhurst? What if he loses and comes back to run the State Senate through the Legislature’s 2013 regular session?

They’d both be kind of cranky, don’t you think?

And what about all of those other state officials who’ve been thinking excitedly about what the near future might hold? If the governor and lieutenant governor lose their races, state senators wouldn’t be electing one of their own to handle the rest of Dewhurst’s term or, possibly, Perry’s. The statewide officeholders looking hard at campaigns for 2014 would have to tap the brakes, waiting to see what Dewhurst and Perry do.

The assumption is that Perry would not run for another term, but Texas pols have fallen for that one before. Kay Bailey Hutchison got talked out of a 2006 run for governor by supporters who told her they would back her in 2010 if she’d stay out of the incumbent’s way that year. She did, but Perry surprised her and a lot of other people when he decided to run again in 2010.

If he fails to win the presidency, he probably would not seek reelection as governor again in 2014, but you never know. And what about Dewhurst? The prevailing presumption is that Attorney General Greg Abbott will run for governor in 2014, but what about Dewhurst? If the lieutenant governor falls short in a United States Senate bid in 2012, he’ll still be in Texas. Would he run for re-election, or challenge Abbott and others for Perry’s seat?

First and foremost, there’d be no small amount of grim satisfaction taken by Perry and Dewhurst’s opponents. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because there is way too much game left to be played, but there are an awful lot of people who’d like to see Rick Perry fall on his face. Not all of those folks are Democrats, either, not by a long shot. When you ask the “what happens if they lose” question, you’re really asking how do they handle the schadenfreude? Avoid it, or return fire?

As for the question of 2014, I would not assume that anyone will get out of Perry or Dewhurst’s way any more, especially after they’ve lost a race. Why would they, especially after having their campaigns in gear for over a year? They’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity. How appealing is the idea of waiting till 2018 going to sound? Better to go down swinging than tuck tail between legs and go back to the same boring job they’ve been marking time in. I mean, it’s not like Todd Staples wants to be Ag Commissioner, or Susan Combs wants to be Comptroller. If they lose, they get to become high-priced lobbyists. Where’s the downside?

Perhaps this would be easier if Rick Perry resigned to run for President. But what are the odds of that happening? Rick Perry does what’s best for Rick Perry; everything else is at best a side consideration. If the folks he and Dewhurst are holding back want to change their station, it’s up to them. Either make your decision based on what you want to do, or live the rest of your life waiting for someone else to hand you an opportunity.

Patterson to run for Lite Guv

With Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst running for the Senate, everyone else in state government that’s been waiting for a chance to move up is undoubtedly making plans to do so. At the front of the line is Lanc Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

Jerry Patterson confirmed Tuesday night that he will run for lieutenant governor in 2014, making that announcement just hours after Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he’ll run for U.S. Senate in 2012.

Patterson, a former state senator, followed Dewhurst as Land Commissioner and wants to follow him again. Other Republicans have expressed interest in the post, including Comptroller Susan Combs and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

Click over to see Patterson’s statement. Obviously, there is no guarantee that Dewhurst will be successful in his Senate campaign. I think everyone would agree that his odds of defeat are likely to be greater in the primary than in the general, but the point is that there is a non-zero chance that David Dewhurst will not be taking the oath of office in the nation’s capital in 2013. If that happens, who can say for sure what he’ll do next? We were supposed to have a special election for KBH’s Senate seat some time last year, after all. Would Dewhurst want to stay on as Lite Guv if he loses next year? In particular, would he want to run for Lite Guv again in 2014? Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine, but stranger things have happened. I’d do the same as Patterson if I were in his position, but in the back of my mind I’d be a little concerned that this might not wind up being a primary for an open seat. You just never know. By the way, Todd Staples appears to be in, too. So’s Rep. Dan Branch, who would have the distinction of not currently being a statewide office holder.

Another way of looking at this is that we could have a very different state leadership in 2015 than we did this year, much as the leadership in 2003 differed greatly from that of 1999. Everyone knows that Greg Abbott wants to run for Governor; if one way or another this is Rick Perry’s last term in office, given all of the known and projected campaign activity it could be that the only current statewide non-judicial incumbent still in the same office in 2015 will be Railroad Commissioner David Porter. It’s usually foolish to make statements about an election this far in advance, but it’s quite clear that 2014 is going to be a change election in this state. Anyone even remotely thinking about running that year – and not just at the state level – should be thinking about it in those terms.

Feral hogs: Still a problem

I’ve always been glad to live in the city because of stuff like this, but maybe it’s not enough any more.

Arlington and Dallas are among cities along the Trinity River that also have reported problems with wild hogs that weigh several hundred pounds, [Ag Commissioner Todd] Staples said.

Wildlife officials say the hogs are now starting to plague urban areas because of changing habitats and prolific reproduction. Texas has up to 2 million of the hairy beasts, about half the nation’s population, and state officials say they cause about $400 million in damage each year.

Although not all feral hogs have tusks, for years the animals have been a menace in rural areas by shredding cornfields, eating calves and damaging fruit trees – even breaking through barbed-wire fences, said Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall. They also wreck ecosystems by wallowing in riverbeds and streams.

“They can do more damage than a bulldozer,” Hall said.

Methods to stop the problem have failed, including a pig birth-control pill studied by a veterinarian and researcher. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering allowing hunters in helicopters to shoot wild hogs at a wildlife refuge in Central Texas, saying they keep destroying the habitat.

Just curious – how effective is shooting them from helicopters, anyway? Is it really possible to bag more of them than you would traditionally? Seems to me the noise from the copters would scare off any animals in the vicinity, but what do I know? Anybody have experience with this? Of course, if that’s not effective then it’s hard to say what would be. I’m glad it’s not my job to have to figure it out.

Thibaut versus Murphy, third time around

We know that the story of HD133, which has now been won twice by Jim Murphy and once by Kristi Thibaut, is one of turnout. With sufficient turnout in the Democratic part of the district – that is, the precincts in Rep. Al Green’s CD09 – it’s a Democratic district. With dominant turnout in the Republican part of the district – the precincts in Rep. John Culberson’s CD07 – it’s a Republican district. How did things look this year?


CD07 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
130     1483    64.37    1145    285   19.93      -860
356     1456    51.02     978    425   30.29      -553
395     1064    59.64     782    240   23.48      -542
437     1195    60.38     892    270   23.24      -622
438     1132    63.52     879    213   19.51      -666
483     1856    43.85    1075    700   39.44      -375
492     1214    48.39     790    400   33.61      -390
493      962    53.47     696    235   25.24      -461
499     1498    65.56    1146    311   21.35      -835
504     1363    60.82     991    346   25.88      -645
625      990    53.40     646    314   32.71      -332
626     1231    43.22     731    455   38.36      -276
706      213    40.19     130     78   37.50       -52
727      764    31.48     265    466   63.75       201

Total 18,369    50.44  11,146  4,738   29.83    -6,408


CD09 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
96       323    26.22      38     274  87.82       236
338     1561    33.85     498    1001  66.78       503
429     1142    27.93     278     819  74.66       541
487      966    30.35     340     582  63.12       242
503      402    28.71     131     246  65.25       115
508     1179    36.71     397     728  64.71       431
559     1449    32.14     433     940  68.46       507
565      752    22.49     120     597  83.26       477
620     1948    39.05    1103     783  41.52      -320
765     1335    34.83     608     681  52.83        73

Total 11,057    32.14   3,946   6,651  62.76     2,705

The good news from Thibaut’s perspective is that turnout was up in her good precincts by quite a bit over 2006. The bad news is that it was also up in the bad precincts for her. Both did a little better percentage-wise in their strong areas, with Murphy doing a little better than Thibaut at improving the base rate. In the end, Murphy’s margin was larger in absolute terms than it was in 2006, but slightly smaller in relative terms. That’s not a whole lot of comfort, but given what a wave this was for Republicans, it makes Thibaut’s showing look more respectable.

I wondered what the result might have been in a somewhat more normal year. Out of curiosity, I applied the turnout and voter percentage rates from 2006 to all of the CD07 districts, and left the CD09 districts as they were for this year. This is how it looks in CD07 based on that:


Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
130     1246    54.09     924     322  25.85      -602
356     1128    39.51     756     371  32.94      -385
395      880    49.32     626     253  28.81      -373
437      997    50.39     748     249  24.98      -499
438      975    54.71     731     244  25.03      -487
483     1464    34.58     873     591  40.35      -282
492      917    36.55     610     307  33.47      -303
493      818    45.46     577     240  29.40      -337
499     1237    54.15     911     326  26.38      -585
504     1153    51.47     797     357  30.93      -440
625      830    44.75     517     313  37.69      -404
626     1049    36.83     611     438  41.72      -173
706      175    33.09     108      68  38.69       -40
727      484    19.96     198     287  59.20        89

      13,354    42.49   8,987   4,366  32.70    -4,621
                       12,933  11,107  46.38           

That last row represents what the total numbers would have been. The overall turnout rate, and Thibaut’s percentage of the vote, are each a bit different than what I showed in the original post for 2006 because I apparently just averaged the percentages back then, instead of adding the actual vote and voter numbers and figuring it out from there. My bad. Anyway, what this shows is that this district was always going to be a tough hold, but was at least within hailing distance of a win under more normal circumstances. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens here in the 2011 redistricting. One obvious “fix” would be to shift some of those CD09 precincts to Hubert Vo’s HD149, while moving some CD07 precincts from there to here. That shores up Murphy while acknowledging that if the Republicans couldn’t take out Vo in 2008 with his apartment issues and a strong candidate opposing him, and they couldn’t take him out in this hundred-year-flood year, they’re not likely to ever take him out. We’ll see about that.

For those who might wonder about Bill White’s ability to attract crossover votes, I should note that he lost this district by all of 15 votes. Here’s how the other statewide candidates who had Democratic opponents did this year and in 2006:


Incumbent   2006%   2010%   06 margin  10 margin
================================================
Dewhurst    62.30   58.94       4,952      4,645
Abbott      63.43   60.33       5,456      5,436
Patterson   59.84   59.03       3,902      4,656
Staples     59.27   58.18       3,688      4,197

Dewhurst and Abbott saw their percentages drop as much as they did because their margins were smaller with more votes being cast. Patterson and to a lesser extent Staples were helped by the increase in straight ticket voting, as both of them had a higher undervote rate in 2006 than in 2010. If you’re curious, you can see how the first three candidates did in 2002 here, on page 131.

UT/TT poll: Perry 39, White 33

Another poll result.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads his Democratic challenger, Bill White, by 6 percentage points — 39 percent to 33 percent — in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 5 percent of the Texans in the survey; Green Party candidate Deb Shafto gets 1 percent. And 22 percent of respondents — more than one in five Texans — say they’re undecided about which candidate to support with only seven weeks to go in the fall campaign.

Clearly, the natives are restless: In addition to the high percentage of undecided voters up and down the ballot, the poll also found that third-party candidates are capturing enough of the vote to affect the outcomes of some statewide contests. And 31 percent of respondents — nearly one in three Texans — consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement.

“White has not yet faded and remains in striking distance of Perry,” says Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas who oversees the UT/Tribune poll with his colleague Jim Henson. “The downside for White is that Perry is up by 18 points among those who say they are extremely likely to vote. White needs a big turnout among young voters and minorities to be competitive.”

As for the undecided voters, Shaw and Henson say the high percentage isn’t that unusual when you consider that they weren’t pressed to say whom they’d support if the election were held today. The candidates have plenty of voters to fight for, they say — and there are enough unanchored votes to swing the election either way. The question to be answered between now and November is what those people will do when it comes time to vote.

“There are a lot of people out there who are not ready to respond to a poll about who they’re going to vote for,” Henson says. “If you look at the breakdown, there are a lot of moderates and a lot of independents.”

You can see more info here, though full crosstabs aren’t out yet. Color me a little skeptical of this one. I believe Rick Perry has a lot of soft support, but I don’t believe 22% of the electorate is actually undecided. Just hearing the words “Democrat” and “Republican” should get you a candidate selection over 80% of the time, as it did in their generic Congressional/legislative ballot question. Nor do I believe that the Libertarian candidates will collect over 5% of the vote in most of these races. No Libertarian candidate got as much as 5% in 2006 in a statewide race. Finally, if 14% of your sample is people who don’t know (6%) who they voted for President in 2008 or didn’t vote at all (8%), then I think you’re sampling a lot of people who will not be voting this November. Unless you were ineligible to participate in 2008, if you didn’t vote then you ain’t voting now.

Note that in their May poll, Perry was leading by 9, 44-35, meaning he lost five points and White two between the two polls. I didn’t see a “Who did you vote for in 2008?” question in their Day One toplines, so I can’t compare the two on that. Interestingly, every single candidate appears to have lost ground in this poll since May:

Candidate Race May Sept ================================ Perry Gov 44 39 White Gov 35 33 Dewhurst LtGov 44 41 Chavez-Thompson LtGov 30 26 Abbott AG 47 43 Radnofsky AG 28 26 Patterson LandCom 39 35 Uribe LandCom 27 25 Staples AgCom 39 33 Gilbert AgCom 28 26 Porter RRCom 39 33 Weems RRCom 27 25

All Republicans except Dewhurst, who went from +14 to +15, saw their leads shrink. That’s with the generic Congressional ballot going from 46-34 in the GOP’s favor in May to 48-33 in September. You’d think that might have been worthy of comment, but it went unnoted by the pollsters. Given my issues with the sample, I don’t think it means all that much, but it was striking nonetheless. I presume there will be more data coming, including the full crosstabs, so we’ll see what else there is soon enough. Burka has more.

More on the broadband map of Texas

Shouldn’t a map that purports to document broadband availability in Texas do a better job than this of actually including broadband providers?

At an unveiling last month, the Texas Department of Agriculture touted its map of broadband Internet availability as the first step in closing a “digital divide” that denies rural Texans critical services.

But a political divide has opened instead, as critics question the tool’s accuracy and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples’ relationship with the organization that created it.

Staples’ Democratic rival, Hank Gilbert, and a handful of local providers, consumer groups and mapping organizations say the agency tailored the application to fit Connected Nation, the nonprofit selected by the department and the Texas Public Utility Commission to create the map. The Agriculture Department and the company defend the process, while their critics contend that the map will direct federal stimulus money toward major telecommunications companies at the expense of smaller Internet providers.

“They hit the big guys,” said James Breeden, founder of LiveAir Networks, which covers rural parts of Central Texas. “I didn’t even know they were putting together a broadband map until I saw it on the news and went ‘Oh.’ Then I logged in and went, ‘Oh, really!’ ”

He said he couldn’t find his company or two nearby providers on the map. Some areas didn’t show the correct distributor. Others named one when none existed. “The map is just off. It’s not technically accurate,” he said.

Perhaps if the Department of Agriculture had hired a local non-profit to do this work instead of sending the stimulus dollars that paid for it out of state, the results might have been better. There’s a lot of other questions about the process that led to this map as well as the map itself, which the article does a good job of highlighting. I’m sure there’s more there as well, if someone has the time to dig in. Check it out and see what you think.

Fundraising: Other statewides

Bill White kicked butt in the fundraising department, but how did the other statewide candidates do? Not nearly as good, unfortunately. Here’s a look:

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458383&form=COH

Totals From Report For Linda Chavez-Thompson
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $94.00
Total Political Contributions: $331,023.42
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $1,442.55
Total Expenditures: $162,904.34
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $136,421.09
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458315&form=SPAC

Totals From Report For David Dewhurst Committee
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $3,172,765.68
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $987.03
Total Expenditures: $1,299,511.30
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $3,550,829.75
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $1,137,500.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458258&form=COH

Totals From Report For Barbara Ann Radnofsky
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $11,790.00
Total Political Contributions: $233,941.91
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $1,424.84
Total Expenditures: $176,092.13
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $415.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $463,852.09
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458479&form=SPAC

Totals From Report For Texans for Greg Abbott
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $30.00
Total Political Contributions: $1,717,734.99
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $2,861.64
Total Expenditures: $653,222.40
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $11,209,703.93
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458764&form=COH

Totals From Report For Henry E. Gilbert
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $51,701.98
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $6,229.72
Total Expenditures: $32,684.16
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $90,710.73
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458472&form=SPAC

Totals From Report For Texans for Todd Staples
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $1,455.00
Total Political Contributions: $387,462.34
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $3,616.61
Total Expenditures: $210,392.40
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $1,065,709.00
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458249&form=COH

Totals From Report For Jeffry D. Weems
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $168.00
Total Political Contributions: $63,716.53
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $100.00
Total Expenditures: $88,389.86
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $17,448.60
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=457583&form=COH

Totals From Report For David J. Porter
Filed on: July 14 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $782.00
Total Political Contributions: $128,482.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $0.00
Total Expenditures: $63,133.72
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $74,727.48
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $15,000.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458410&form=COH

Totals From Report For Hector Uribe
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 22, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $1,295.00
Total Political Contributions: $44,703.85
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $0.00
Total Expenditures: $33,008.80
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $7,289.77
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458409&form=COH

Totals From Report For Jerry E. Patterson
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $307,629.67
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $0.00
Total Expenditures: $205,441.21
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $822,401.18
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

The Republicans break down into three groups: Dewhurst and Abbott, who have the resources to run a bunch of TV ads statewide if they want to (though I suspect Abbott will save a few pennies for a 2012 Senate race); Staples and Patterson, who have a comfortable lead in finances but don’t have enough to do more than spot some ads in select markets; and David Porter, who has a token amount, though still more than his opponent, Jeff Weems. None of the Democrats are going to approach the top level, but getting to the second tier is a doable goal, especially for Chavez-Thompson and Radnofsky. If you’re a big Democratic donor and you’ve already given five figures or more to Bill White, you can get a pretty decent amount of bang for those bucks if you were to write a similar check to some or all of his ballotmates.

Was there no one in Texas that could tell us about our broadband situation?

I’m a little late in picking this up, so bear with me. Last week, the Texas Department of Agriculture published a map detailing where broadband access exists and doesn’t exist in Texas. Democratic candidate for Ag Commish Hank Gilbert, after criticizing the map as being much ado about not very much, then had some strong words about how the study that led to the map’s creation was funded.

“It was inappropriate for the Texas Department of Agriculture to outsource more than $3 million in federal funding to a Kentucky non-profit organization with a questionable record and significant ties to telecommunications companies when federal law allowed the state to conduct this project on its own,” Gilbert said.

He accused [Ag Commissioner Todd] Staples and the Texas Department of Agriculture of bypassing state agencies and public universities within Texas that could have completed the project.

“The fact of the matter is that federal law allowed the state or any of the public universities in Texas to conduct this project,” Gilbert said, citing the provisions The Broadband Data Improvement Act, 47 U.S.C. §1304, which states that multiple entity types-including government bodies-were eligible for the funds.

Gilbert also questioned why Staples would allow the Texas Department of Agriculture to do business with a company that has left controversy in its wake in North Carolina and Kentucky, signed restrictive non-disclosure agreements with telecom companies prohibiting disclosure of detailed coverage information, and has been accused of providing misleading information to the Federal Communications Commission.

Staples’ response to Gilbert’s charges came from his campaign. As yet, as far as I know, there has been no comment from the TDA itself about the substance of Gilbert’s remarks. (For that matter, neither has the Staples campaign.) Politics aside, that’s a pretty straightforward question: Why not fund the study through a Texas university? Surely any number of them could have done it, quite possibly for less than $3 million. This was paid for with stimulus money, so regardless of the actual price tag, it would have been nice to keep it here. It would be nice if the TDA could tell us why it chose not to do that.