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Tom Schieffer

The Observer on the high-speed rail line

Some contemplation about the prospects for success of this unique project.

Ross Capon, president of the National Association for Railroad Passengers, a national Washington D.C.-based non-profit promoting the development of rail, supports Texas Central Railways’ proposal but says it could be difficult to pull off. Mass transit systems, he points out, have always relied on public funds.

“If they can do it, more power to them,” Capon says. “That is a very steep hill to climb because infrastructure is almost always publicly owned and is the result of public investment.”

All other forms of transportation receive some kind of government subsidies. Even major airlines would be unprofitable if not for public financing of airports. Amtrak relies heavily on federal funding to just stay afloat, and the government builds and maintains roads for buses.

It’s often cheaper to build with subsidies. A private company would not only have to swallow the full costs of building the railway but expect to turn enough revenue to be profitable.

Andy Kunz, president of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, says high-speed rail is different from other types of transit like planes and conventional trains in that it is potentially profitable, but it also comes with huge capital costs.

“It takes some deep pockets to get them off the ground,” says Kunz. “And that’s why you usually need government because government is better set up to lay out that kind of money up front.”

[…]

Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes says Japan Central Railways—the Japanese high-speed rail company that Texas Central Railways has partnered with—doesn’t want the strings that may come attached to federal funds. Such requirements include the possibility of having to unionize all construction workers and buy all American-made materials. He says these requirements could mean higher building costs and could translate into even higher fares.

But the for-profit approach could also translate into high fares. The company will need to start turning a profit on the project fast. [Tom Schieffer, former U.S. ambassador to Japan and the senior advisor to the project] refuses to pinpoint a fare but says it would be “somewhat less” than a plane ticket between North Texas and Houston.

See here for previous Texas Central Railway blogging. As I’ve noted before, the TCR folks recognize that their project is unusually well-suited for the approach they’re taking. Future extensions to this line, or connections to it, may not follow the same path. As far as pricing goes, I took a quick check on United’s website for roundtrip fares between Houston and Dallas. The ones I looked at ranged from $149 to $330, with most around $250; these were all advance fares, ones for same day departures began at about $450 roundtrip. These don’t include any baggage fees, so the actual total will be a bit higher. This suggests to me that the sweet spot for competitiveness will be in the $100-$125 range for one way. They can probably go a little higher than that and compete on other aspects of the service – leg room! free WiFi! no TSA lines! better food and drink choices! – but I’d guess that $150 for one way is about as high as they can go. I’m hardly an expert on this and I have no inside knowledge, so take my wild guess with a heaping tablespoon of salt. But we’ll see how accurate I am when they get closer to being in business.

Roundup and reaction to White’s announcement

Bill White isn’t officially a candidate for Governor yet, but he’s already picked up endorsements from State Sens. Kirk Watson and Eliot Shapleigh. I feel confident that many more such endorsements will follow, perhaps even before he commits to the race.

For now, at least, the other Democratic contenders for Governor are still in the race. I figure Kinky is in till the end – he has books to sell, after all. Shami has already sunk a bunch of money into TV ads, so it doesn’t make sense for him to decide anything until that runs its course. Alvarado is an afterthought. It makes sense for Hank to switch, either to Land Commish or back to Ag Commish, but I expect he’ll dig in his heels a bit. He got into this race for a reason, and he won’t get out of it without one. He could wind up staying in, but I think a lot of folks will want him to switch. He’s the one to watch.

(Speaking of ads, I saw that KBH for Governor ad last night during the local news. My God, it was as awful as I’d heard. Hard to believe she was once seen as an unstoppable juggernaut in this race.)

Speaking of the other races, there’s already been talk about who else might run for the other offices now that White would be at the top of the ticket. I don’t want to get too far out there in the speculation game, but let me suggest a name anyway: State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte for Lite Guv. She isn’t on the ballot in 2010, so it’s a free shot for her, she would provide a nice bit of regional and ethnic diversity, and she would generate as much excitement for that office as she did as a potential candidate for Governor. There would be some issues to work out first – she would have to want to do it, and there’s the matter of her endorsing John Sharp in the Senate race – but it’s nothing insurmountable. I have no idea what anyone else is thinking here, but this is what I think.

Ross Ramsay lists winners and losers as a result of White’s likely move. I would suggest that it’s too early to call Sharp a winner – we still don’t know for sure that there will be a Senate race before 2012, after all, and for all we know someone else could get into it by then. I’ll say this much – Sharp no longer has an excuse for his lousy fundraising in that race. I’d also suggest that a potential loser is Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. If White’s entry into the Governor’s race is the boost for Democrats in Harris County that a lot of people I’ve talked to think it will be, that may attract a stronger candidate to the County Judge’s race, and could put Emmett in jeopardy. Which would be a bit ironic, given the link White and Emmett have for their work during Hurricane Ike, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

I’m sure there will be a lot more to talk and think about between now and December 4, when White will announce his decision. In the meantime, here’s more from Burka and Swartz, BOR, PDiddie, Hal, Juanita, John Coby, Erik Vidor, Andrea White (not actually related to these events, but amusing to read), and Evan Smith.

UPDATE: Forgot to add in Rick Casey, too.

UPDATE: Here’s Purple Texas.

Schieffer drops out, White (may be but probably is) in for Governor

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Tom Schieffer has dropped out of the Governor’s race, and that Bill White is considering switching over to it. I’ll add in a bunch of links later, but for now let me say two things. One, this is where I thought White belonged from the beginning. He is by far the strongest candidate Democrats would have, with a great resume, the necessary fundraising chops, and crossover appeal. He’s also an executive and not a legislator, and I have always felt that for that reason the Governor’s office was a much better fit for him. And two, he really can win this race against Rick Perry – and let’s face it, that’s who he’ll be running against – whereas I have never been clear on how he – or any Democrat – could prevail in a low-turnout special election runoff. Certainly, his presence in the race puts a scare into the Republicans. We won’t know for sure what will happen till December 4, but I feel a lot better about 2010 now than I did when I woke up this morning.

Anyway. Here’s Martha’s report from Schieffer’s presser, and his statement in support of Bill White. Here’s a statement from the House Dems that had backed Schieffer. I’ll have more later.

Shami and Shapleigh

Farouk Shami will make his entry into the Democratic primary for Governor official tomorrow afternoon at his business’ headquarters in Houston; details are on his website. The Trib gives us a peek behind the curtain.

Shami, running as a Democrat, has lined up an experienced gang to run his campaign: campaign manager Joel Coon, general consultants Robert Jara and Dan McClung, pollster Ben Tulchin, and media specialist Tad Devine.

Coon has worked on several campaigns, helping Democrat Travis Childers win a Republican congressional seat in Mississippi in 2008. Jara and McClung are old hands at Texas and especially Houston races. Tulchin is a California-based pollster who works on races around the country. Devine was an advisor to John Kerry and to Al Gore and has managed several campaigns in other countries.

The field for the Democratic primary is crowded, but more than half the voters are undecided. The names at this point include Felix Alvarado, Kinky Friedman, Hank Gilbert, Tom Schieffer, and maybe Ronnie Earle and Eliot Shapleigh, who haven’t declared but have been making gubernatorial noises. In a UT/Texas Tribune poll earlier this month, Friedman had 19 percent and Schieffer had 10 percent with everyone else in the single digits. Undecided had 55 percent, leaving plenty of room for new candidates.

I think the Ronnie Earle ship has sailed by now. I’m not aware of any buzz around him, haven’t really heard his name get mentioned in weeks, and at this point it’s hard to imagine him getting any traction. Shapleigh’s an interesting case. Since his announcement that he was not running for re-election to the Senate, it has appeared that he’s interested in running for something statewide, a subject that another Trib story explores. With five candidates already in the race, it seems to me it’d be a crapshoot – 20% of the vote might be enough to get into a runoff in a six-person field, and any of the five declared candidates strike me as being capable of doing that. Lite Guv, on the other hand, is wide open (yeah, yeah, Marc Katz – like I said, wide open) and if you’re really lucky you might wind up opposed by some non-officeholder selected by a committee. Certainly the odds of being on the ballot in November are much better in the latter case.

Back to Shami, about whom I daresay there will be many questions asked by primary voters, starting with “Who’s he?” and working towards “What has he done before now?”

Shami’s business, founded in 1986, took off when he signed a distribution deal with Austin-based Armstrong McCall. John McCall is a part owner of Farouk Systems now, and the two men — particularly McCall — were the biggest contributors four years ago to Kinky Friedman’s campaign for governor. Shami gave Friedman $24,400 for that run; McCall was in for $1.3 million and was listed, until last February, as Friedman’s campaign treasurer.

Shami also contributed to former Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, who lost a 2006 race to Democrat Ellen Cohen. And in May of this year, he gave $5,000 to Republican Ted Cruz, who had his sights set on a run for attorney general. In federal races, he’s contributed to candidates of all political stripes this decade, including Democrat Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, Houston Mayor Bill White (for the U.S. Senate race), Ralph Nader (in 2004 and 2008), Tennessee Democrat Graham Leonard, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the same month he gave to Cruz), and the Republican National Committee (most recently in 2007).

Yeah, that’s going to cause some heartburn. All I can say is I hope he has a good, pithy explanation for folks who ask him about it. Beyond that, I look forward to seeing how his launch goes tomorrow.

Endorsement watch: A late roundup

Some recent endorsements in City elections over the past few days. Going back to last week, here are the endorsements from the Houston Black American Democrats (HBAD):

Mayor – Gene Locke
Controller – Ronald Green
At Large #1 – Karen Derr
At Large #2 – Andrew Burks
At Large #3 – Melissa Noriega
At Large #4 – C.O. Bradford
At Large #5 – Jolanda Jones
District A – Lane Lewis
District B – Roger Bowden
District D – Wanda Adams
District F – Mike Laster
District G – Dexter Handy
District H – Ed Gonzalez
HISD District IX – Adrian Collins
Proposition 4 – Yes

HBAD also endorsed John Sharp in the whenever-it-will-be Senate race. More on that in a bit. Next up is the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce PAC, which thankfully put its endorsements online where I could easily find them:

Gene Locke, Mayor

Ronald Green, Controller

Sue Lovell, At Large Pos. 2

Melissa Noriega, At Large Pos. 3

Noel Freeman, At Large Pos. 4

Jarvis Johnson, Dist. B

Anne Clutterbuck, Dist. C

Wanda Adams, Dist. D

Mills Worsham, Dist. G

Ed Gonzalez, Dist. H

James Rodriguez, Dist. I

Alma Lara, HISD Dist. 1

Mary Ann Perez, HCCS Dist. III

And finally, and also nicely online, the Noah’s Ark PAC:

Noah’s Ark PAC endorses Gene Locke for Mayor of Houston. Following a personal visit to Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC), Gene Locke met with a group of Houston’s most vocal advocates for BARC to ask for their input and suggestions for making lasting changes at BARC. Locke incorporated their input into his policy for BARC which can be found on his web site at:
http://www.genelocke.com/release_details.asp?id=68#

Gene Locke was selected due to his obvious commitment to working with advocates and for providing tangible, realistic solutions to addressing the problems at BARC.

Noah’s Ark PAC also endorses the following candidates for controller and city council:

City Controller- Pam Holm

City Council
At-Large 1- Karen Derr
At-Large 2- Sue Lovell
At-Large 3- Melissa Noriega
At-Large 4- C.O. “Brad” Bradford
At-Large 5- Jolanda Jones
District A- Lane Lewis
District B- Jarvis Johnson
District C- Anne Clutterbuck
District D- Wanda Adams
District E- no endorsement
District F- Peter Acquaro
District G- Oliver Pennington
District H- Ed Gonzalez
District I- James Rodriguez

Noah’s Ark PAC congratulates these candidates and thanks the many candidates that completed the PAC’s candidate survey. Noah’s Ark PAC would like to specifically recognize Karen Derr for being the first major candidate for Houston city council to make the issues at BARC a campaign platform issue. The PAC also recognizes candidate for mayor, Annise Parker, for routinely discussing the problems at BARC in her newsletter and campaign literature, helping to elevate the public discussion. Noah’s Ark PAC also recognizes Councilwoman Jolanda Jones for her commitment to thoroughly researching the problems at BARC and for asking tough questions when they needed to be asked.

That’s a pretty good week for Gene Locke. (It may be a little less so if this story about the Sports Authority needing to refinance a bunch of debt gets any legs.) You can read the responses they got to their questionnaires here and here. And here’s the Chron profile of Locke, the second in their series.

Not endorsement-related, but Annie’s List sent out another mailer in support of Annise Parker, this one attacking Peter Brown for being a “serial exaggerator”. I’ve put a copy of it beneath the fold for your perusal. So far, I have not seen or heard of any pushback on the mailer, which distinguishes it from the hit piece they did on Gene Locke last month.

Elsewhere, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer announced the support of several South Texas legislators.

Announcing their support for Schieffer were Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen and Representatives Veronica Gonzales of McAllen, Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles of Alice, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville, Armando “Mando” Martinez of Weslaco, Rene Oliveira of Brownsville, Aaron Pena of Edinburg and Tara Rios Ybarra of South Padre Island.

The full release is beneath the fold. Schieffer’s release prompted a response from Hank Gilbert that said the announcement of all this support so early in the game is an acknowledgement that Gilbert is a serious threat to him. Maybe so, but one could also ask at what point Gilbert will start to get official support like that. In particular, I’m wondering which candidate for Governor guys like Reps. Jim McReynolds, Chuck Hopson, Stephen Frost, and Mark Homer – all Dems from Gilbert’s neck of the woods – will endorse.

Finally, circling back to the Senate race, John Sharp announced the endorsement of State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, while Bill White received the nod from the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Endorsing members include Rep Alma Allen (Houston), Rep Garnet Coleman (Houston), Rep Dawnna Dukes (Austin), Rep Harold Dutton (Houston), Rep Helen Giddings (Dallas), Rep Barbara Mallory Caraway (Dallas), Rep Ruth McClendon (San Antonio), Rep Sylvester Turner (Houston) and Rep Marc Veasey (Fort Worth).

Coleman, Allen, Dukes, Caraway, and McClendon were on the first list of endorsees that White released. He’s now received the nod of 37 of the 74 Dems in the House (full list here), including 11 of 14 from Harris County; in addition to Dutton and Turner, Hubert Vo and Armando Walle have signed on since that initial list came out. The three holdouts are Senfronia Thompson, Al Edwards, and Kristi Thibaut. This release is beneath the fold as well.

(more…)

It’s not too early to reschedule that meeting

Rick Casey talks to State Sen. John Whitmire about Rick Perry’s choice of Williamson County DA John Bradley as the replacement chair of the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission, and how we can tell if the intent was as sinister as we all now believe it to be.

“I’ve never questioned his integrity,” Whitmire said. “He is very transparent.”

Whitmire said he talked to Bradley on Thursday morning and is “taking a wait-and-see approach” in hopes that “he won’t let Perry’s politics pull him down.”

“I told him, John, this is an opportunity to show what you’re made of,” he said.

But Whitmire also said he will schedule a committee hearing in about a month to ask Bradley in what direction he plans to take the commission. One likely question, said Whitmire: Will Bradley reschedule the Willingham arson matter before the March primary?

I will acknowledge here that if Bradley does wind up doing the right thing, the effect he could have on Texas’ criminal justice system and the potential to reform it would be enormous, quite likely far greater than it would have been with a less Nixon-goes-to-China type in the chair. As far as that goes, I hope Sen. Whitmire’s faith in his integrity is not misplaced.

But let’s be clear here. Only John Bradley can put aside the perception that what Rick Perry did here was a naked attempt to kill the Commission and discredit its investigation into the Willingham case. And he can take a huge first step in that direction by announcing, right now, that he intends to reschedule the Commission’s meeting that was supposed to take place before the Perry purge happened once he has familiarized himself with the materials. He doesn’t have to actually reschedule the meeting, he just has to say that he intends to do so once he’s up to speed. There’s no reason he needs to wait to announce that intent. Indeed, if he still hasn’t said anything by the time Whitmire has that committee hearing in a month or so, I’ll take it as solid evidence that Bradley is in on the fix. All he has to do is affirm that he plans to continue his predecessor’s work. It’s that simple. Grits has more.

Meanwhile, some political pros ponder the implications of Perry’s actions.

For Democrats, it was an ah-ha moment, a suggestion that by abruptly removing three members of a forensic science commission Gov. Rick Perry was trying to derail an investigation into a case raising the disturbing possibility Texas may have executed an innocent man.

For other people, not so much.

“Unless there’s real solid evidence that the guy didn’t do it and Rick Perry’s people screwed up a review, I can’t see it becoming an issue,” GOP analyst Royal Masset said.

[…]

But what, if anything, voters will make of the brouhaha, both in the March primary and in November, remains to be seen.

“I think for most Texans, this is an opportunity to sit back and milk the entertainment value as it goes forward,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

[…]

“If it turns out we executed an innocent man, that’s bad and the state ought to be held accountable,” said Gary Polland, former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party and an attorney. But new evidence, and new interpretations of evidence, routinely come to light as scientific methods advance, he said.

The bigger issue, he said, is whether Perry was attempting to manipulate the process.

“The idea that we should change commissioners to avoid an outcome smacks of a cover up,” Polland said. “Why do that? If I advised the governor, I would have told him, ‘Let the commission finish their investigation and, whatever they come up with, they come up with.’ ”

I think Masset and Jillson are correct in their perceptions, but I also think Polland nails the issue, and shows how it could be used effectively as a political weapon against Perry. It’s not about the death penalty, it’s about Perry meddling in places he shouldn’t be, which as Burka notes is something that he’s done a lot of lately. Connect it to some of these other things, especially the shenanigans with the regents at Texas Tech and Texas A&M, and there’s a strong narrative you can build. Kay Bailey Hutchison is in the best position to do that, which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Tom Schieffer and Hank Gilbert can get some traction with this as well, though they’ll have to push back harder against Perry making this about the death penalty than KBH would have had to. But it’s there, and it’s a soft spot for him, and the more this drags out, the softer it should be.

On the other hand, one presumes that Team Perry, which does know a thing or two about politics, has considered all this and decided that this was the less-damaging alternative. The Contrarian games it out.

It seems to me — and I’ll preface this by saying it’s speculation — that Perry’s people have made the calculation that taking their lumps now is better than the alternative.

Imagine this scenario: It’s early next year, right before the March primary, and the Forensic Science Commission– a state government body whose members Perry helped appoint — issues its final report on Willingham, which concludes that Perry had overseen the execution of an innocent man (and allowed it even though his office knew of mitigating evidence before the execution). That’s the nightmare scenario they’re trying to avoid.

I suspect the Perry people are hoping the current fiasco blows over, and forgotten in a few months. Meanwhile, with John Bradley in charge of the commission, the Willingham investigation can be scuttled entirely or slow-walked till after the election or watered down so the final conclusions aren’t so critical of Perry.

It’s a risky play, though. It’s not clear this issue will be forgotten any time soon.

For one, the Craig Beyler report — with its devastating critique of the forensics in Willingham’s case — has already been released and isn’t going away.

And a lot of people are outraged by Perry’s decision and will likely keep this issue alive.

I don’t think it’s going to go away, but the question is whether it will gain traction and force Perry to retreat or get shelled, or if it will turn into the kind of he-said/she-said bickering that makes most people tune out. That’s why I think it needs to be part of a larger narrative about Perry, that he’ll meddle where he shouldn’t whenever the reality of something doesn’t fit with his worldview. It’s part of a pattern, and that pattern is as much a problem for Texas as Rick Perry’s indifference to a doomed man’s innocence is.

Finally, Dog Canyon suggests that Perry may have actually violated federal law by taking the action he did. I don’t see anything coming out of that, but it’s worth thinking about.

Perry attempts to gut Forensic Science Commission

This is an outrage.

Gov. Rick Perry today replaced the chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is conducting a politically sensitive investigation into whether the state executed a man based on a fatally flawed arson investigation.

The commission’s new chairman is Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, a tough-on-crime politically connected conservative.

Bradley replaces Austin defense lawyer Sam Bassett as head of the commission, created by Legislature in 2005 to investigate allegations of scientific negligence or misconduct in the criminal justice system.

Bassett’s term expired Sept. 1, and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association had urged Perry to reappoint him as the commission’s seat reserved for a defense attorney.

Austin lawyer Keith Hampton, vice president of the defense lawyers association, was dismayed at the choice of Bradley.

“This looks an awful lot like a governor who’s interfering with a science commission because the science demonstrated that we’ve executed an innocent person,” Hampton said. “To pick one of the most partisan people in the state and just anointing him as presiding officer is rather breathtaking.”

Bradley’s first act as chairman was to cancel Friday’s commission meeting in Dallas, where fire scientist Craig Beyler was to discuss his recently released report on the 1991 fire that killed three children of Cameron Todd Willingham.

Emphasis mine. No question in my mind that Perry, who thinks this is all a bunch of hippie tree-hugger crap, wants to bury the Commission’s report, if not forever than at least till after the 2010 elections. If I had any capacity to be shocked by his sociopathy, I’d be shocked. For shame, Governor. A statement from Tom Schieffer is beneath the fold. The Contrarian has more.

UPDATE: Grits has more.

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One step closer to expanded gambling in Texas?

Maybe, though I’m not sure how much closer this really gets us.

[The] Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma is poised to take possession of an existing horse racing track in Grand Prairie. The tribe runs one of the biggest Indian casinos in the United States, just across the Texas border.

Gambling proponents believe the tribe may tip the balance to legalizing casinos across Texas.

“The Chickasaw Nation has very successful casinos,” said Jack Pratt, chairman of the Texas Gaming Association. “They certainly didn’t buy this track just to run the ponies.”

A Chickasaw-owned company, Global Gaming Solutions LSP, is expected to buy Lone Star Park next month as part of a bankruptcy settlement involving the track’s majority owner, Magna Entertainment Corp. of Canada.

The most dramatic change Chickasaw ownership of Lone Star is likely to bring to the casino debate in Texas is to alter the dynamics of the fight in the Legislature to amend the state Constitution to allow casino gambling.

The Chickasaw Nation has put more than $362,070 into state political races since 2006. But because of its Winstar Casino on the Texas border, the Chickasaws opposed expanded Texas gambling. With the purchase of Lone Star, the tribe likely will support casino-style gambling — at least at race tracks.

A Global Gaming spokeswoman said the company will support whatever horse owners at the track believe will make Lone Star successful.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to passing casino legislation in recent years has been infighting between track owners and casino owners. Horse and dog track owners have wanted a law that allows slot machines at tracks but no destination resort casinos. The casino industry has wanted both. Now, there will be a major horse track owner with a foot in both camps.

“Track owners have been cross-wired with the commercial casino owners,” said Pratt. “The track owners have been trying to get a monopoly.”

Mike Lavigne, a spokesman for Texans for Economic Development, an association of track owners that want slot machines at tracks, said his group sees the Chickasaw move as a positive because the tribe in the past has not supported expanded gambling, but now likely will.

Well, there certainly was some bad blood on display between the two sides of the industry this spring, so perhaps this arrangement will bring them all closer, much like the arranged marriages among European royalty in the pre-industrial days was supposed to do. I’m not convinced this makes any progress on an expansion of gambling in the near term, however. None of the constitutional amendments to expand gambling made it to a floor vote in either chamber; only one such resolution even made it out of committee. Rick Perry is still opposed, as are Kay Bailey Hutchison and Tom Schieffer, and while the Governor doesn’t have veto power over joint resolutions, he or she certainly wields influence. I suppose if the industry is serious about getting traction it ought to pour some money into Hank Gilbert’s campaign, since he’s willing to let a resolution come to a vote of the people. (Yeah, I know, Kinky supports casino gambling. I think the gambling industry is smart enough to know where not to place its chips.) Longer term, surely sooner or later a pro-gambling, or at least not-anti-gambling Governor will be elected, and then they can really push if it’s still an issue. Even then, the requirement of a two-thirds majority in both chambers is no small task, and the opposition is quite dedicated. All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t bet on anything being all that different in 2011.

Election tidbits for 9/23

– KTRK has another round of candidate videos, this time answering the question “How can you help Houstonians get to work?”

– Peter Brown sends out another mailer, this one all about his blueprint for an “Even Better Houston”. You can view it here.

– Tom Schieffer goes to college.

“Carlyfornia”, here we come. To mock for being the worst political website ever.

– Won’t someone please think of the insurance companies?

Greg has an early look at the early voting locations in Harris County. Thanks to the constitutional amendments on the ballot, you don’t have to be in Houston to have something to vote on.

Andrea White is campaigning, too.

– Somehow, my email address wound up on a list that Louisiana Sen. “Diaper David” Vitter sent a missive to. Yeah, I don’t think I’m in his target demographic.

BOR gets some feedback from Rep. Henry Cuellar regarding that R2K poll on health care reform. I look forward to seeing his statement, as what they got from him isn’t exactly crystal clear.

Gilbert makes his official entrance

Democrat Hank Gilbert has officially entered the Governor’s race.

Hank Gilbert – East Texas rancher, former schoolteacher and newly announced Democratic candidate for governor – said today that improving public education is critical in revitalizing the state’s economy and putting Texas back on a solid foundation.

“The future of our economy depends on creating school systems that prepare our children to succeed by giving them the knowledge and skills to prosper,” Gilbert said, as he kicked off his campaign at a union hall in Dallas.

“It’s the only guaranteed way of bringing long-term prosperity back to this state.”

Dallas was the first stop in a 13-city tour that Gilbert hopes will help him score the Democratic nomination for governor.

[…]

In 2006, Gilbert was the Democratic nominee for Texas agriculture commissioner. He got more votes than any other Democrat running for a statewide office, but lost to Republican Todd Staples.

If he is to win his party’s gubernatorial nomination, he has work to do.

His announcement in Dallas drew 10 people, including four from the news media and two from his campaign.

Schieffer has been campaigning for months. And Friedman is a popular Texas celebrity with huge name recognition.

As I said before, I think Gilbert undercuts whatever cachet Kinky might have had as the anti-establishment/non-Schieffer candidate. Regardless, don’t confuse being well-known with being well-liked. The Democratic base – you know, the folks who will actually vote in March – loathes Friedman. Schieffer has the Bush issue to get past, but in my estimation Friedman has the much steeper hill to climb to atone for his sins, and he only made his official entrance a couple of weeks ago.

I personally consider myself neutral in this race at this point. I like Hank, though I still kinda wish he were running for Ag Commissioner again. I’m going to let things play out and see who impresses me the most – Gilbert, Schieffer, Ronnie Earle if he ever gets off the pot, Farouk Shami, someone else if such a person materializes. Among other things, I want to see how they do with fundraising. I wish there were a September reporting deadline for state races, but alas there isn’t. Gilbert had a target of raising $100K by the time he announced; he appears to have fallen just short of that, according to the “Fill Hank’s Hat” graphic on his website. Beyond that, we’ll just see how it goes.

UPDATE: I have been informed by the Gilbert campaign that the event in Dallas was media-only, so the “attended by 10 people” descriptor is misleading. Also, as noted by McBlogger in the comments, they did exceed 100K raised before the deadline. Good for them for that.

Up, up, up…

That’s the direction your health insurance premiums have been going, at an ever-increasing rate.

A national report that was released today says family health insurance premiums in Texas increased 91.6 percent since 2000 — 4.6 times faster than earnings.

The report by the nonprofit consumer organization Families USA says the rise in health care premiums for workers went from $6,638 for the average Texas family to $12,721 a year, but folks often got less for their money rather than more, according to the report. At the same time, median earnings of Texas workers rose from $23,032 to $27,573, a 19.7 percent increase.

“Our conclusion is that rising health care costs threaten the financial well-being of families across the country,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

The report argues throughout for health care reform, and as Pollack said, if it doesn’t happen soon, more families will be priced out of the market.

If you don’t like those number, try these.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest Employer Benefits Survey is out, and they’ve got some numbers worth remembering.

The average cost of a family health insurance policy in 2009 was $13,375.

Over the past ten years, premiums have increased by 131 percent, while wages have grown 38 percent and inflation has grown 28 percent.

If health-care costs grow as fast as they have over the past five years, the average premium for a family policy in 2019 will be $24,180. If they grow as fast as they have over the past 10 years, premiums in 2019 will average $30,803.

No one quite knows when, or how, the system will crumble. But make no mistake. At this rate of increase, it will, eventually, crumble. Want more numbers? They’re here.

But don’t worry, Rick Perry and his cohorts in the Republican Party will make sure that the status quo is maintained and that we’re all kept safe from the evils of health care reform. Statements from gubernatorial candidates Hank Gilbert and Tom Schieffer are beneath the fold.

(more…)

Earle still pondering a run for Governor

Ronnie Earle reminds us that he’s still out there, and still thinking about mounting a campaign for Governor.

Former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who most recently got national attention for his prosecution of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, said Friday that he is “leaning toward” running for governor in the 2010 Democratic primary.

Earle, 67, said he hadn’t set a timetable but will probably make a decision “sooner rather than later.”

[…]

[Tom] Schieffer and [Hank] Gilbert responded to Earle’s potential candidacy while attending a reception in Austin on Friday night for the Democratic National Committee.

“I’ve known him forever,” Schieffer said. “He would be a formidable candidate. I hope he doesn’t run.”

Asked whether he is concerned about a new opponent, Gilbert said, “Not in the least.”

“That’s a good thing about the Democratic Party,” Gilbert said. “We don’t say no to anybody.”

If I were advising Earle, I’d tell him to go ahead and make that decision soon. Schieffer has started to consolidate establishment support, while Gilbert’s entry has fired up a number of activists, including some who were once Earle boosters. There’s still room in the field for him – frankly, I think the bigger, the better at this point – but more and more people are starting to line up behind one or another of the confirmed entrants. Don’t miss the train, that’s all I’m saying.

One more thing, from the PoliTex companion piece:

Earle said that if he runs, he would push for cracking down on Mexican drug cartels and organized crime and press for measures to help rescue the “shrinking middle class.” Hallmarks of his campaign, he said, would focus on “prosperity, public safety and equal justice under the law.

Earle dismissed Republican criticism that he engaged in partisan politics during his years as DA, saying that his prosecutions included 13 Democratsand four Republicans.

“Some high-profile Republicans accused me of being a partisan prosecutor, but the record belies that,” he said.

I know some people think that Earle’s role as prosecutor of elected officials who are accused of lawbreaking will be a bad thing for him as a statewide candidate. In particular, the concern is that his prosecution of Tom DeLay will make it impossible for him to get crossover votes. I disagree with that. There’s not a lot of people who care about DeLay any more, and those that do aren’t likely to vote for any Democrat anyway. I think DeLay’s status as a symbol of corruption, and Earle’s role in fighting it and helping get him out of government will appeal to independent voters. He’s got a good answer to the question, and as long as he sticks with that and steers the conversation back towards what he wants to do as Governor, I believe this issue will eventually fade away. Having said that, I would be a little concerned about the timing of DeLay’s eventual trial. That will be a distraction if it happens while he’s on the campaign trail, and if DeLay ultimately walks it will be a lot more than that. I don’t know how to assess the risk of that – the proceedings have taken so long already, who knows when it will finally culminate? And of course, on the flip side, a conviction would be a huge boost for Earle. So who knows?

UPDATE: Todd Hill has more.

Another Democratic gubernatorial hopeful

Well, you can’t say that the Democratic cast of characters for Governor lacks characters.

Rick Perry might not be the only candidate in the 2010 race for Texas governor who is known for great hair.

As the Republican governor with famously spiffy locks seeks re-election, the head of a Houston hair products company that Perry recently touted says he might be running for governor — as a Democrat.

Farouk Shami, 66 , founder and board chairman of Faorouk Systems Inc., hosted Perry at his company’s headquarters in July for a news conference announcing the company’s decision to move manufacturing facilities from South Korea and China to Texas, bringing 1,200 jobs to Houston. Perry called Shami, who was born in what was then Palestine, someone “who pretty much embodies the American dream.”

“Inspired by the freedoms we enjoy, he was drawn to this state,” Perry said at the news conference, a video of which is posted on the governor’s Web site. “He’s built a life of significance and an organization that is respected around the world. His is the story of Texas.”

Now, Shami, who has never run for office, is pondering a run to replace Perry, though their philosophies sound similar. Shami says he wants to bring jobs to Texas and avoid raising taxes. He said Perry “is a wonderful person” but lacks business experience.

“I have the capability to run the state as a business,” said Shami, whose shampoos, hair dryers and flat irons are sold around the world under the BioSilk and CHI brands. “People are tired of politicians.”

Yeah, the name “Tony Sanchez” is popping into my head, too. Given what Perry said about Sanchez during that campaign, one can only wonder what he might say about Farouk Shami in this one.

Shami donated more than $24,000 to [Kinky] Friedman’s independent campaign for governor in 2006, when Friedman referred to Shami as his Palestinian barber. Now, Shami said Friedman doesn’t seem serious.

Well, I can’t argue with that last part. At least he’s able to learn from his mistakes.

On a much less colorful note, Burka touts former Speaker Pete Laney as the Democrats’ best hope in the Governor’s race. I have a lot of respect for Pete Laney, and if he got into the race I’d certainly consider him. It’s not clear to me why Burka thinks Laney’s support for George W. Bush in the 2000 election would be any less a problem for him than Tom Schieffer’s Bush connection, but I suppose Burka was addressing the general election and not the primary. I’m far from sold on the need or the wisdom of having a rural candidate as the nominee – I think the marginal gains in rural counties may not be enough to overcome a lack of enthusiasm for a rural white guy in the urban, heavily non-Anglo Democratic base, and I tend to agree with Greg that the place to be looking for persuadable voters is the suburbs. I also take issue with Burka’s assertion that Laney isn’t just the Dems’ best hope, he’s the only hope. Among other things, I’m hearing from more and more people who think KBH may back out of the Governor’s race, in which case you’d have Bill White and John Sharp in a non-existent Senate campaign; surely White would represent a stronger hope than Laney, or anyone else for that matter, and I’d rank Sharp above Laney as well. Be that as it may, if this is more than wishcasting, I’m certainly open to hearing more. But get back to me after I’ve heard it.

Questions for the next Governor

Gary Denton asks a bunch of questions for our next Governor about a variety of issues as well as the general approach of being Governor in a state where the Governor’s powers are limited. It’s really aimed at Tom Schieffer, but most of the questions could be asked of any Democratic hopeful for the office, and frankly a lot of them could and should be asked of Kay Bailey Hutchison as well. Check it out.

Kinky announces (yawn)

Here comes Kinky, in case anyone still cares.

Humorist Richard “Kinky” Friedman, loved by some and loathed by others, is running for governor again – this time as a Democrat.

Unlike the launch of his 2006 campaign as an independent, there were no banners, no bunting, no crowds of people, no network feeds nor dawn at the Alamo for Friedman’s announcement Tuesday. Instead, he announced his intentions in one-on-one interviews with members of the Texas news media.

“I’veseen the light. I should have run as a Democrat last time,” Friedman said. “We’ve got a smart president, and now we need a smart governor.”

I’m going to be nice, just this once, and let that one slide. I don’t see Friedman having any of the assets he had going into the 2006 race – energized supporters, money, a cool/anti-establishment vibe that got him way more media exposure than he ultimately deserved – and as such, I don’t believe he will attract much support in the primary, especially given how much animosity a lot of Dems still feel towards him. If nothing else, I think Hank Gilbert totally steals his thunder as the wisecracking rednecky type who gives good quotes and gets his name in the papers, with Hank having a vastly better relationship with the Democratic base. A Kinky/Schieffer matchup might have been interesting in that it would have forced the Dems who have issues with Schieffer to make a choice about whether those issues are enough to give the finger to the rest of the Democratic ticket. Now they have Hank and can express their disapproval with a clear conscience.

Anyway. For these reasons among others, I don’t see Friedman as being a factor in the race. I could be wrong, and I am looking forward to seeing his next campaign finance report, but I expect there will be much less to say about Kinky this time around than there was in 2006. And for that, I’m grateful.

UPDATE: LegeLand has more.

UPDATE: I’m not the only one who thinks Kinky 2.0 is doomed to fail:

“I honestly don’t believe Kinky Friedman will ever do anything in the course of his candidacy to lead a critical mass of Democratic voters to believe he’s serious,” Democratic consultant Harold Cook said. “But if I’m wrong about that, he will be facing questions about his qualifications as a Democrat. He only decided to run as a Democrat when all his other options failed.”

Friedman may also struggle to again excite voters who liked the idea of an irreverent candidate shunning the traditional political system.

Laura Stromberg, who was Friedman’s press secretary in 2006, said the conditions that provided an ideal scenario for his candidacy in that race — a fractured electorate, the novelty of an independent candidate — don’t exist anymore.

“If he didn’t win in 2006, he can’t possibly pull it off in 2010,” Stromberg said.

The state of the Governor’s race

So we know that Tom Schieffer is in. So are Mark Thompson and Felix Alvarado. Ronnie Earle may or may not be in. Hank Gilbert now says that he’s in. Kinky (sigh) is fixing to be in. Some people think that one or the other of Bill White and John Sharp ought to be in. Here’s what I think.

I think we’ll have a pretty good idea soon if the fundraising will exists to make one of these people a serious challenger for the Governor’s mansion. I was on a conference call with Gilbert and a number of my blogging colleagues yesterday morning, and one of the things he said was that he’s set a goal of raising $100K online between now and his official launch on September 21. I don’t know if he can do this, but I do agree that if he does, he’ll establish himself as a viable contender, and that it will make it easier for him to attract support from the conventional donors. (Though it must be noted that this doesn’t necessarily follow. Just ask Rick Noriega about that.) Schieffer’s recent announcement about receiving endorsements from House Democratic leaders may be an indication that the establishment has decided to coalesce around him; if so, expect him to post better fundraising numbers for the third and fourth quarters. And despite adamant denials about changing races from White and Sharp, I believe that one of them, most likely the one who has had the least success in raising money for the Senate race, could be cajoled into switching if a promise of an open money spigot came with it.

Basically, my thesis is that the Democratic donor class has finally started to wake up to the realization that there’s an excellent chance Rick Perry will be on the ballot for another term in November, and that unless they get in the game, there’s an even better chance he’ll get it. Six months ago, they could have rationalized that Kay Bailey Hutchison was inevitable, but as she has morphed into Strayhorn 2.0, such thinking is increasingly wishful. Barring any Tuesday morning surprises, the options are to actually support the Democratic ticket (I know, what a radical concept) or brace yourself for four more years. And if you’re going to choose the former, you may as well get started now and have a say in who will be at the top of that ticket. Oh, and if you’re going to do that, you may as well go ahead and fill out the rest of the ticket as well, lest all the resources Democrats put in to retaking the State House get wiped out by an all-Republican (or four-fifths Republican if there’s a Democratic Speaker) Legislative Redisctricting Board. Why make 2012 a repeat of 2002 if you don’t have to?

So keep an eye on the fundraising, and see if any more Democratic elected officials start giving endorsements. If there’s a frontrunner for the nomination, we’ll know it soon enough. Hopefully, along with all that will come candidates for the remaining offices, with each of them having decent fundraising potential. Honestly, it’s not too much to ask, is it?

Gilbert for Governor?

Hank Gilbert, the 2006 Democratic candidate for Ag Commissioner who had been up till recently running for that office again, is now thinking about running for Governor.

[A]ccording to multiple sources that have confirmed this to Burnt Orange Report, Hank Gilbert, our 2006 Agriculture Commissioner candidate is gearing up to run statewide in the Governor’s race. Gilbert was one of the first three TexRoots endorsed candidates, which included soon to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy Juan Garcia.

This is an exciting development. Not only would such a move shake up interest for activists who have long appreciated Gilbert’s true Texas style, it has the potential to set up a productive and active primary to keep Democrats from straying over into the Republican fold for Kay Bailey Hutchison. From conversations with those close to Gilbert, he’s secured commitments and support to take his campaign to the top of the ticket should he choose to and start a campaign with more online infrastructure than anyone else in the 2006, 2008, or 2010 Democratic fields.

While our statewide ticket isn’t dependent on our Gubernatorial nominee, it has an influence in providing support for the downballot races, including freshman members and rural Democrats in the Texas House. Compared to some of the current gubernatorial candidates, Gilbert could be an asset for Democrats’ downballot efforts. From what I’ve been told, Gilbert is interested in helping to proactively fill out other spots on the statewide ticket and is interested in working with other candidates to minimize unnecessary conflict.

Hank’s a charismatic guy, and he’s popular among the activists, which may give him a leg up in the primaries. As Molly Ivins would have put it, he’s got a lot of Elvis in him. While the BOR report sounds promising, I confess I’m skeptical about this. I think Hank makes for a very good Ag Commissioner candidate, but I’m not sure how all of his qualities will translate to the top of the ticket. I’d need to hear more about this. Has Ronnie Earle made a decision yet?

Here’s the Chron story on Gilbert’s announcement.

[Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom] Schieffer said he had hoped that Gilbert would run for agriculture commissioner again on a ticket with him.

“Ten days ago, Hank Gilbert talked to me about being part of the team and running the ag race. His exact words to me were: ‘You need to cover me in the urban areas, and I’ll cover your back in the rural areas,’ ” Schieffer said.

Gilbert said he had told Schieffer that at a Democratic summit in Tyler, but he said he changed his mind and decided to run for governor after listening to Schieffer speak.

“The man is very intelligent,” Gilbert said. “But he just didn’t inspire me. I was looking for that spark.”

As it happens, today I got an email from the Tom Schieffer campaign touting some endorsements from Democratic leaders like State Reps. Garnet Coleman, Jessica Farrar, Jim Dunnam, and Pete Gallego. I’ve reproduced the press release beneath the fold. I’ll be honest, while I think a competitive primary between credible candidates will be beneficial, all told I’d rather have both Schieffer and Gilbert on the ticket in November. But we’ll see how this plays out.

(more…)

Meeting Tom Schieffer

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Democatic gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer on Wednesday, along with several of my blogging colleagues (*). This was at his initiative, and I appreciated the opportunity to get to hear him speak. I’ll link to others’ reports as I see them, but the following is my own impressions.

What I wanted to get out of Schieffer was a better understanding of how he approaches the issues. I can say that I came away with a good feeling about it. Schieffer has good instincts, is very passionate about education, the need to fund research and development as economic vehicles, and bridging the digital divide. I did not cringe at any of his answers, nor did I find myself thinking that he was wrong on a specific issue. As someone who interviews a lot of candidates, mostly ones I support, that’s not something I can say about all of them. He was short on details, but that’s okay for now. I need for a candidate’s principles and priorities to be in order first, and I feel like I got that. Policy wonkery can come later, when people are paying more attention.

Schieffer has two basic hurdles to overcome, and to some extent they’re within his control, and to some extent they’re not. First is fundraising. It’s very expensive to run statewide in Texas, and the last truly well-funded candidate we had here was in 2002. Schieffer raised a few bucks last quarter, nothing to get excited about but a decent enough start, all things considered. One certainly hopes that a guy like him has a Rolodex of friends and acquaintances that is sufficiently well-heeled to make dialing for dollars a rewarding experience, but that remains to be seen. The thing is, the question that needs to be answered here is whether or not the big money players on the Democratic side have come to the realization that unless they get off their asses and Do Something, there’s an excellent chance we’re in for four more years of Rick Perry. They don’t have a Strayhorn option with which to delude themselves this time around – either we have a well-funded, credible Democratic candidate, or we hope like hell that KBH’s campaign isn’t as inept as we fear. Six months ago, you could rationalize punting on the Governor’s race on the grounds that at least Kay > Rick. That luxury is gone now, and it’s time for the folks who write the big checks to get in the game.

That doesn’t mean they have to support Schieffer. While I feel better about his potential candidacy now than I did before, I’d still like to see a race of our own on the Governor’s side, among candidates that might have a chance at winning next year. Maybe that includes Ronnie Earle, maybe that includes someone else. Todd Hill thinks maybe it should be John Sharp, though at this point I’d be strongly inclined to vote for Schieffer over Sharp. (If you want to know why, compare and contrast for one example of my disenchantment with Sharp and his substance-free Senate campaign. I’d be happy to see Sharp go for Lite Guv, but beyond that I’m just about done with the man.) What I know is that Schieffer is in the game now, and everyone else is vaporware until proven otherwise.

Anyway. I do believe that by March, we’ll be seeing some real money on the Democratic side. And while we all know not to fear competitive primaries any more, I don’t see the multi-million dollar tussle between Perry and KBH being one that expands their base or generates interest outside of the core audience. And as Schieffer himself pointed out at lunch, they’ll both likely wind up with little cash on hand after the primary, without having spent any of it attacking him or any other Dem. The money advantage they have won’t be quite as great as it appears now. Doesn’t mean the nominee won’t need to raise a boatload of dough, but it does mean we don’t need to freak out too much about it.

The other issue is the Bush issue. I’m not as bothered by it as some other folks. Schieffer says that when people who ask him about this hear him speak, the issue gets forgotten. I believe that – he’s a genuinely likable guy, and as I said before, his instincts are good – but you’re not going to be able to meet enough voters to make that an effective strategy. He needs a good, short answer to that, one that allows him to go into the rest of his spiel without it being a distraction. (Honestly, he needs shorter answers to most of the questions we asked. The stories he told were interesting and responsive to our queries, but went on way too long.) If nothing else, he needs to get past this as quickly as possible to keep the big-check guys from finding someone else to lavish their funds on.

So there it is. I’m satisfied that if Schieffer is our candidate, he’ll do a good job. I’d still like to see another quality contender get in, to raise the profile of the race, provide a contrast to the Republicans, and make whoever the nominee is earn it. I may wind up supporting someone else, but I will support happily support Schieffer if he is the nominee.

Other views: From Greg, David, , and though he wasn’t actually there, EoW.

(*) For the steak-obsessed, we all paid for our own food. And most of us had burgers. If you have no idea what this is about, don’t worry about it – it’s a silly bit of inside baseball.

It’s hard to be unemployed in Texas

I’m sure this comes as no surprise.

If you lose your job in Texas, you may be out of luck in more ways than one.

The Texas Workforce Commission rejected about a third of jobless claims last year and 27 percent the first half of this year. When jobless people appealed those initial decisions, their chances of winning this year were only about one in four.

The common reason for denials is Texas’ tight list of eligibility standards. The state under Gov. Rick Perry refused to expand them in law even when the federal government offered $555 million more in stimulus money in return. Perry said it would be bad for Texas in the long run.

“Texas has never made the changes necessary to reflect the changing work force, so our unemployment system is still based on the model where daddy goes to work at the factory at the same place for 40 years,” the Texas AFL-CIO’s Rick Levy said. “Now, fewer and fewer people work like that, but our eligibility determinations are still based on that model, so a lot of people fall through the cracks.”

In addition, when employers appeal benefit decisions, they’re more likely to win than jobless people who appeal denials. Appeals of staff decisions first go to an agency tribunal of upper-level staff, then to the three-member, Perry-appointed commission.

“I think that the (governor’s) appointees have had a general bias toward the business point of view in these matters,” Levy said.

I think the fact that the Senate passed a bill to expand unemployment insurance eligibility and thus accept the stimulus funds suggests that this is something that could be changed when we finally get a new Governor. No guarantee, as I’m sure many of the Republicans in the Senate were swayed by the economics of taking the federal funds versus borrowing a bunch of money to make up for the shortfall, but it’s at least possible. Interestingly, this may be relevant in the next session.

As Perry fends off jabs by foes including GOP U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Democrat Tom Schieffer over rejecting the additional stimulus money, the campaign could make a difference. Texas has until Aug. 22, 2011, after the next regular legislative session, to apply for the stimulus funds for jobless benefits if lawmakers and leaders decide to make the necessary changes in benefits.

I don’t remember hearing this before now, but it’s nice to know we could get a second bite at the apple. I just hope we’re in a position to take advantage of it.

Kirk Watson not running for Governor

Phooey.

There’s been a lot of speculation about my plans for the next election. Well, I’ve decided what I’m going to do, and I want to announce it to you all first.

I will run for re-election to the Texas Senate in 2010.

While I consider Tom Schieffer to be an acceptable candidate for Governor, Watson became my first choice when his colleague, State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, declined to run and urged Watson to do it instead. We’ll have to see if anyone else jumps in – Ronnie Earle, anyone? – or if this is the field we get. And if so, what it means for the rest of the ticket. All I know is that we can’t afford to punt at the statewide level like we did in 2006.

Speaking of 2006, would-have-been candidate Felix Alvarado, whose check for the filing fee bounced, says he’s going to try again this year. I’m somewhat less worried than David Mauro is of Alvarado’s chances of actually winning the nomination, on the grounds that Schieffer, and Earle if he runs, will have enough money and institutional backing to prevent this from being a referendum between random unknowns, as the Lite Gov primary in 2006 between Alvarado’s sister Maria and Ben Grant was. But I admit it could happen.

Finally, here’s Schieffer’s statement on Watson’s decision. We’re waiting to hear from you, Ronnie.

Hutchison announces her intent to announce

Actually, what Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison wanted to tell us was that she had a lot of money available to her for her yet-to-be-announced gubernatorial bid (which, for what it’s worth, some people outside of Texas think she may yet wimp out on), even more than Rick Perry does. What she didn’t display was a show of support, or much of an eye for presentation, but I guess if your campaign coffers are big enough, those things don’t matter much.

The big question – Will KBH actually resign from the Senate, and if so when? – remains a mystery.

Though she’s spoken previously to possibly resigning her seat—a move that could set off a spring 2010 special election to elect someone to serve out her term—she added no details on resignation thoughts today.

Whatever. My marker is still on her not resigning. Maybe in August we’ll find out. Given that this is still KBH we’re talking about, maybe not.

On a related note, Paul Burka wonders why Bill White doesn’t try for the Governor’s office instead.

The Republican nominee will be the survivor of a brutal primary. If the nominee is Rick Perry, he is vulnerable in a general election context. And if it is Hutchison, well, she looked invincible when the first polls came out, but she doesn’t look so strong today. Democrats will be excited about the chance to win a statewide election for the first time since 1994. If White wants to win, he should run for governor.

It’s amazing how the conventional wisdom on the KBH Express has changed, isn’t it? Six months ago she was a juggernaut, headed towards a coronation. One successful legislative session for Rick Perry – “successful” in the sense that the economic stimulus package, which he has crapped on regularly while eagerly sticking his hand out for every non-unemployment penny at the same time, saved us all from having to fight over nasty budget cuts – and six months of incompetent, tin-eared campaigning later, and all of a sudden she has a glass chin. We all remember that KBH hasn’t had to win an election against a well-funded opponent since 1994, right? For this reason, I believe that the Democrats will have a strong contender for Governor, whether it’s Kirk Watson, Ronnie Earle, John Sharp, Bill White, Tom Schieffer, or someone we haven’t thought of yet. Someone is going to look at this and say “Heads I get to run against Rick Perry, tails I get to run against whatever’s left of KBH after Perry tears her a new one”. The playing field isn’t what it used to be.

UPDATE: Harvey Kronberg gives what may be the best reason I’ve heard why KBH ain’t resigning any time soon.

One of the great Texas parlor games this year is trying to decide who Rick Perry would appoint to the United States Senate if and when Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns.

Chief contenders on the list have been Lite Guv David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones as well as former Secretary of State Roger Williams.

Each brings unique strengths to the ticket and all would most likely be happy to take shots at the departing senator in exchange for the appointment.

But in the last few days, a new name has been in the mix – state Senator Dan Patrick.

Danno came out strongly for Perry last month, and as HK notes would make an excellent anti-KBH attack dog, especially with a higher profile. I’ve said all along that I think KBH wants to appoint her replacement herself, and if there’s anything to this, I think it will solidify that conviction on her part. I could, of course, be wrong. We may see next month.

Earle is running for something

Well, he’s taken the first step towards running for something, anyway.

Democrat Ronnie Earle today filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for office in 2010 but did not specify which office he will seek.

The former Travis County district attorney has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor.

He filled out a one-page, hand-written form designating a campaign treasurer, which is required for candidates to start serious fundrasing. He listed himself as treasurer.

As Gardner Selby notes, there’s already some activity around Earle’s potential bid.

Earle’s action also comes after separate online efforts to draft State Sen. Kirk Watson and/or Earle to run for governor next year. Both Facebook pages surfaced recently; neither prospect spoke up for or against the pitches, though Watson has said he’s going to mull his political options probably until the end of the summer.

In some Democratic circles, there’s just that much unease at possibly ending up with former Fort Worth Rep. Tom Schieffer as the likely nominee; some are uncomfortable that his career has been entwined with the successes of George W. Bush. Another hopeful is Mark Thompson, the party’s nominee for the Texas Railroad Commission last year, while Kinky Friedman, who ran as an Independent in 2006, is considering a try as a Democrat.

Peek at the draft-Watson site here. See the draft-Earle site here.

The pro-Earle site, hatched this week by pro-Democratic blogger Vince Leibowitz of Tyler, lists 45 members including Democratic consultant Jason Stanford, who managed Democrat Chris Bell’s 2006 campaign.

The pro-Watson site, which surfaced about 10 days ago, was created by Katie Naranjo, an Austin Democratic activist. The site lists 448 members including Democratic super-bloggers Karl-Thomas Musselman and Matt Glazer, who also are site administrators, Philip Martin and Charles Kuffner.

I haven’t joined the Draft Ronnie Facebook group mostly out of laziness. I’d be perfectly happy to have Earle as the nominee, and I’ll certainly support him in the primary if Watson goes elsewhere. Who knows, maybe I’ll even change my mind if the two square off. A ticket with Earle for Gov and Watson for Lite Gov would be exciting, if it came to that. That’s rather Austin-centric, though, which is why I’m still kind of hoping Earle gives the Attorney General race a good long look. A Watson/Royce West/Earle teamup would be pretty cool.

In the end, as long as all the races get covered by respectable candidates, I’m perfectly happy for there to be some contested primaries. As I’ve said before, I think the fact that there’s this much interest among Democratic candidates for statewide runs next year suggests to me that there’s a real belief that we can win some of these things, a quality that was in distinctly short supply in 2006. Let there be multiple candidates up and down the ballot – maybe we can capture some of the leftover energy from last year, and put a few of those new-to-the-process folks to work. Every little bit is going to help, and if we show enough signs of life at the local and grassroots level, maybe that will convince the national folks that Texas needs to be part of the plan for 2012.

Anyway. Here’s Vince’s post that announced the Draft Ronnie website. It’s drawn support so far from Faith Chatham, McBlogger, and Eye on Williamson, which can credibly claim to have been on the bandwagon before it was cool.

UPDATE: Burka, who was generally favorable to the idea of a Watson candidacy, thinks Earle can’t win.

Schieffer on the trail

The main advantage Tom Schieffer has over his actual and potential rivals for the Democratic nomination for Governor is that he’s actually out there on the trail right now, and stuff he’s saying is in the news.

Schieffer is traveling across the state, introducing himself to Texans as a Democratic candidate for governor.

“It’s been a long time since we had any vision in this state, and I want to do something about that,” said Schieffer, 61. “This spirit of Texas is still alive. This is the election. This is the day. This is the hour to decide to change Texas again.”

Schieffer said he is running because the state must improve its education system and stop the high dropout rate, develop a better energy regulatory system, improve the healthcare system and focus more on the environment.

Schieffer said he can win the 2010 election no matter who survives the brutal Republican primary — Gov. Rick Perry or Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

“To win, this campaign must become a cause,” he said.

Hard to argue with any of that, and full marks to him for his confidence in a matchup with KBH. That’s the sort of thing I had in mind for Schieffer as he introduces himself. Keep it up, Tom.

Although Schieffer is a Democrat, his past ties to Bush are not necessarily a bad thing, said Jerry Polinard, a political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

“You’ve got to have a candidate to attract independent voters and siphon off Republican voters … while holding onto the more liberal wing, which is a question mark, but nonetheless they may hold their noses and vote for Schieffer,” Polinard said. “If he has Perry as an opponent, he can isolate him as a far right-wing candidate. And it’s not like he’d be running against a person who’s enjoyed overwhelming support.”

The issue Schieffer will have next November if he’s the nominee is not with the Democrats that are habitual voters, whose tribalism ought to kick in as the bad guys say the sorts of things that get us all riled up. (Assuming he hasn’t done too many little things to tick them off.) The concern is with the more casual voter, who may or may not find him to be a particularly compelling candidate, and may stay home as a result. The way this was recently and poetically expressed to me was what the “give a shit” factor will be. It will help that there likely won’t be a high-profile third party alternative, but the level of support among the more sporadic voters is crucial and could be determinative.

Jeff Weems

We’ve been hearing plenty about the top of the ticket for Democrats in 2010, but there are still several slots to fill. One of them is the Railroad Commissioner seat held by Victor Carrillo. Via email to Carl Whitmarsh, here’s a name for you:

Jeff Weems is running for the Democratic nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 2010, hopefully earning a chance to square off with Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo.

Jeff is currently the precinct Chair for Precinct 274. He is an oil and gas litigation attorney, representing exploration companies, service companies and landowners. Before becoming an attorney, he worked in the industry for years, first as a laborer on drilling rigs, next as a mud man, then as a landman. He has been an attorney for 19 years. He works with Harrison, Bettis, Staff, McFarland & Weems, a mid-sized Houston litigation firm.

Jeff is running because he knows the energy industry inside and out. He knows that the Railroad Commission can do so much more than it does now. The incumbent Republican commissioners are far too ready to take contributions from companies with matters pending before the commission, even when they are not up for election. Even more importantly, the current commissioners have demonstrated a bias toward the gas utilities when rate cases are heard, which ends up costing the citizens of Texas dearly. In addition, Jeff will balance the desires of the operators seeking to drill and complete wells with the need to protect Texas’ environment (such as in the Barnett Shale).

Won’t surprise me if Dale Henry, who was a candidate in 2006 and again in 2008, runs again. Mark Thompson, who defeated Henry and Art Hall in the 2008 primary for RR Commish, is currently running for Governor. There may be someone else out there as well – who knows, maybe Hall wants to take another crack at it – but at least we have one.

The potential contenders for all statewide offices at this time, as I know of them:

Governor – Tom Schieffer is in, Kinky Friedman and Mark Thompson say they’re in. Kirk Watson and/or Ronnie Earle may decide to join them. Former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger has been mentioned as well, but while everyone I’ve spoken to loves the guy, nobody as yet thinks this is likely.

Lieutenant Governor – Not a whole lot of chatter about this one just yet, but I’ve recently heard that State Sen. Royce West, who has previously expressed some interest in Attorney General, may run for this slot instead. Watson remains a possibility here as well.

Attorney General – Barbara Radnofsky is in. West and Earle are possible. State Rep. Patrick Rose has been in the conversation, but any buzz he’s had has diminished of late. 2006 nominee David Van Os is always a possibility, but the word I’ve heard lately is that he’s not considering it.

Comptroller – Haven’t heard a peep. Susan Combs may become the Kay Bailey Hutchison of the next decade, at least if no one serious ever challenges her.

Ag Commish – 2006 nominee Hank Gilbert is running. He may have company, but as yet I’ve not heard any other names.

Land Commish – I have recently heard the name of a potentially exciting candidate for this slot, but that person has not made a decision and the name was given to me in confidence, so that’s all I can say for now.

So there you have it. Regarding the Comptroller slot, Combs probably is the one person no one serious wants to run against. There’s a danger in that if there is a vacuum, it could get filled by a clown like Fred Head, whose buffoonish presence would be a drag on a ticket that had, say, Watson, West, and Earle/Radnofsky as the headliners. You can’t stop anyone from running – see “Kelly, Gene” for all the evidence of that you’ll need – but you can try to persuade someone with a bit more heft to challenge him in the primary if it comes down to it. A self-funder would be preferred, given the amount of funds that will need to be devoted to other races. Whether one can be found or not is the question.

The latest Lyceum poll

The Texas Lyceum just released a poll on various campaigns and politicians, and well, I’m not sure that it says much of anything. I’ve got the PDF here, and the problems begin right away:

We interviewed Texas adults during the June 5-12 period, talking to 860 adults, 51% female, and 49% male. Three out of four said they are registered voters.

One third are “extremely interested” in politics and public affairs and another 46% are “somewhat interested.” Almost half — 49% — said they vote in “every” or “almost every” election. Another 24 percent said they haven’t voted in any election “over the last two or three years.”

OK, so this is a survey of adults, not likely voters (that’s a subsample of about 430) or even registered voters (approximately 650). Nothing wrong with that, but as it will include opinions from a lot of people who may not bother to cast a ballot next year, I’d be careful about what conclusions I drew from this if I were on a campaign.

About the same number of those polled said they are “certain” or “likely” to vote in each party’s primary (Republicans, 31%; Democrats, 30%), and another 17 percent said they intend to vote in a primary but haven’t yet decided which one.

So 49% of the sample actually exhibits habitual voting behavior, yet 78% claim they’ll be voting in one primary or the other in March. The most generous percentage of “likely” voters one can claim for this survey is 76%, if one simply assumes anyone outside that group that hasn’t voted at all in the past two or three years is likely to vote next year. That math doesn’t add up.

Which means you can pretty much take this with a grain of salt:

Texans who plan to vote in next year’s Republican primary for governor favor incumbent Rick Perry over his main challenger, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, by a 33-21 margin, but the most common answer to that question was undecided, with 41 percent saying they haven’t made up their minds. A small group — 1 percent — expressed support for state Rep. Leo Berman. Perry leads Hutchison among self-identified Republicans 40% to 18%, but that’s also the group with the largest number of undecided voters, at 48%. Hutchison carries 49% of self-identified Democrats and Independents who say they plan to vote in the GOP primary, compared to 23% for Perry and 29% undecided.

One wonders how small the “non-Republicans who plan to vote in the GOP primary” subsample is. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Polling for primaries is tricky business under any circumstance, and in a poll that isn’t specifically screening for likely primary participants, it’s even less useful. The same can be said of the Democratic primary poll result, in which Kinky Friedman “led” the field with ten percent. So much for any claim of name recognition by the Kinkster. Speaking of which:

They’re largely undecided on their favorite candidates for U.S. Senate, should Hutchison resign late this year and prompt a special election in May 2010. Given the choice of six Republicans and two Democrats who’ve expressed interest in that race, 71 percent said they either haven’t decided or didn’t want to say. Houston Mayor Bill White led the pack with 9%, followed by Attorney General Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, with 4%; Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, 3%; and state Sen. Florence Shapiro, former Comptroller John Sharp, and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, at 2%. Sharp and White are Democrats; the others are Republicans.

Two percent for John Sharp? Are you kidding me? I realize this is a sample that’s full of less-than-engaged people, but that’s where being on the scene and on the ballot forever as Sharp has been is supposed to be an asset; the junkies already know who everybody is. Not exactly a confidence-builder, you know?

The survey also has approval ratings for Perry, Hutchison, and President Obama, who clocks in with 68% of the respondents saying he’s done a “very” or “somewhat” good job as President, and for the Legislature, of whom 58% of respondents approve. That number for Obama is higher than his national ratings, and as for the Lege, I agree with Phillip: “I’m not even sure if 58% of the Texas legislature would approve of the Texas legislature.” Happy bunch of people they surveyed, that’s all I can say.

And after all that, they don’t give us a general election matchup for Governor next year, which is the one result that could have been truly interesting. It could have been done as Perry and KBH each versus a generic Democrat, or either versus Kinky, Schieffer, and the now-not-running Van de Putte. Alas, they didn’t do that.

Anyway. All polls are snapshots in time. This one is perhaps a bit fuzzier than others. Make of it what you will.

Schieffer announces

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is out. State Sen. Kirk Watson may or may not jump in. Tom Schieffer is in.

After a rally in front of the Fort Worth elementary school he attended, Schieffer plans stops in Houston and Austin as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor. He’ll be in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley Thursday.

“People know there is something wrong – they know that Texas is falling behind. They are worried about it,” Schieffer said in an interview last week with the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.

“They want better than what we’ve got now,” Schieffer said. “They’re worried about kind of a sense that state government is going through a know-nothing phase of you don’t have to be thoughtful, you don’t have to be serious, you just have to mouth the buzz words that appeal to people’s prejudices and not to their hopes and dreams.”

Schieffer cited concern over school dropout rates, saying young people are “going to fall behind, and they’re not going to wind up being taxpayers, they’re going to wind up being tax consumers.”

If that continues, he said, “no level of taxes … will support the services that you have to have in this state, and I’m afraid we’re literally on the road to disaster.”

[…]

Schieffer said in the interview that many decisions – including failure to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program and draw down more federal money – have been shortsighted.

“That’s great political rhetoric in a Republican primary, but it’s not good public policy, because what happens is that kids still get asthma. They still get sick. And when they’re not covered by health insurance, and they don’t have a doctor who is providing an inhaler to ‘em or that they’re seeing on a regular basis, they wind up in the emergency room in the county hospital,” Schieffer said.

“The kid is out of school. The parents are out of work to take care of the kid. It is the most inefficient, most unproductive way to deliver that health care to those kids – and by the way, it’s not the right thing to do, either,” Schieffer said.

Among other areas, Schieffer also noted the rise in college tuition rates after they were deregulated, saying the state should set rates to ensure higher education is “as economical as possible.”

While addressing the concerns he identified would appear to require an infusion of state revenue, Schieffer didn’t address such specifics when asked in the interview. He said wants to have a thoughtful discussion about public policy with all interested parties at the table to come up with solutions. He said he’ll lay out more detailed plans as the campaign unfolds.

Schieffer did say that property taxes “have pretty well been exhausted’ and that he doesn’t like an income tax.

“I think sales taxes work better than anything else at the state level, but I think you have to sit down and you have to talk about things and you have to do it in a serious way,” he said.

Schieffer said that Perry “talks a lot about a good business climate. I want a good business climate. I’ve got more business experience than Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison combined. But a good business climate is not just having low business taxes. It is having an educational system that can produce the workers of the modern world.”

You’re not going to get there on sales taxes, which I hope Schieffer will realize when he has that serious sit-down with whoever he’ll be talking to about it. Other than that, I’d call this a good start. If Schieffer’s definition of “centrism” is about supporting CHIP and education and casting opposition to those things as being extreme, that’ll help alleviate some doubts about him. He still has a lot of work to do, and I still hope for some more options in this race, if only to ensure a better primary, but I feel like the Democrats at least have a reasonable fallback position in Schieffer. Now we need to go from there.

Other reactions: Greg has some advice for Schieffer. Campos says “As long as the frontline of Lone Star statewide Dems candidates is made up of Anglo fellas, I don’t see a scenario where the Dem base gets revved up – sorry – no se puede.” RBearSAT thinks Sen. Van de Putte made a wide decision, and hopes she runs for Lite Gov. David Mauro considers the repercussions in Travis County if Sen. Watson aims statewide. Phillip has three quick reactions to Schieffer’s announcement. Gardner Selby lists five ways Schieffer could stand or stumble. Martha likes the idea of Sen. Watson running for Governor.

Van de Putte says she’s not running for Governor

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who has been contemplating a run for Governor next year, has sent out a press release saying that she will not do so. Here it is:

Statement of Senator Leticia Van de Putte regarding her political plans for 2010

Senator Van de Putte authorized the release of this statement today, regarding her plans for the 2010 elections:

“Five months of speculation  regarding the possibility of me running for Governor has, quite frankly, been surprising. It started with nothing more than me not immediately saying ‘no,’ unlike in past election cycles, when asked if I would consider such a run. The reactions of thousands of Texans who encouraged me to give it serious consideration has been flattering.

“I have, indeed, given it very serious thought, and while I would love to believe, tongue firmly planted in cheek, that this pent-up desire on the part of so many Texans for me to run for governor is solely because of some perceived superior leadership ability and vast intellect of mine, I have to reluctantly admit that it’s not as much about me as it is about Republican failures.

“This is about Texas’ stunning lack of current leadership. Large and growing numbers feel betrayed by the Republicans they voted into statewide office, and who can blame them?  While Texas families remain concerned about genuine priority issues, Republicans led by Rick Perry continue to instead obsess about hyper-partisan issues, in order to grab more power for themselves.

“Texans still pay the highest homeowners insurance premiums in the country. Texas still has the highest percentage in the country of those without access to health care. Texas still has the second highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, and the highest rate of teens with a second pregnancy. And after years of Republican ‘leadership,’ not only has Rick Perry failed to address these challenges, but he and his minions have done everything they can to avoid addressing them in any meaningful way. Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and others in the Republican leadership have turned their backs on 25 million Texans, instead opting to curry favor with a handful of fringe Republican primary voters.

“If I believed for a second that it would result in a healthy debate of the issues of most importance to Texas families, I would today be announcing my candidacy for Governor of Texas. But we have all watched over the years as Perry, Hutchison, and other Republican politicians have launched their scorched earth ‘say anything to win’ vicious attacks against political opponents. To mask their utter lack of leadership, they’ll do so again, and I decline to put my family through it. That I am a Latina would only serve to amplify their attacks.

“I will gladly work hard to ensure that a Democrat prevails in the election for Governor, so that Texas families can have a better shot at having a state government focused on the needs of Texans, instead of state Republican leadership obsessed with their own political futures, at Texans’ expense.

“Prominent Democrats must put personal ambitions aside and very pragmatically nominate the person best equipped to win in November. Just because one can win the Democratic nomination for Governor doesn’t mean one should, unless he or she is best positioned to defeat the Republican nominee in the fall.

“That’s why I think Senator Kirk Watson should raise his sights and run for Governor. I’ve watched as Senator Watson has emerged as a leader in the state Senate on the issues of most importance to Texans. While staying true to Democratic values, he is a bipartisan pragmatic leader solidly focused on addressing the priorities of all Texans. I intend to lobby Senator Watson to run for governor, and I’ll wholeheartedly support him if he does. But if he declines, Democrats should recruit and support someone who, like Watson, is energetic, pragmatic, focused, and smart; and who can fully energize Democratic supporters while also attracting a broad range of independent voters in every region of the state.

“The Republicans have had their day, and Texans have realized that the Republicans can’t lead. I will be working hard to elect a Democrat to the Governor’s office.”

I’m disappointed but not terribly surprised. I can live with Tom Scheiffer, but Van de Putte was much more exciting to contemplate. Her suggestion of Sen. Kirk Watson is interesting, and implies to me that financial considerations played a part – Watson is a much more prodigious fundraiser than Van de Putte, and had nearly $1.5 million on hand to Van de Putte’s $300K+. Which is a big thing – both Perry and Hutchison have tons of money already. We’ve seen plenty of examples of good-but-underfunded Democrats running statewide lately, and we know how that story ends. The question, as Peggy Fikac notes, is whether this means Watson is gearing up. I suspect we’ll know soon enough. BOR has more.

Schieffer and centrism

Tom Schieffer continues his task of making the case for himself as the Democratic nominee for Governor.

Fort Worth lawyer Tom Schieffer helped make George W. Bush a wealthy man. And as President Bush’s ambassador to Australia, Schieffer sold the war in Iraq and the indefinite detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Now, Schieffer hopes to convince the liberals, progressives and populists who dominate the Texas Democratic primary that he is their best chance for their party to win a statewide election for the first time since 1994. Schieffer on Wednesday will formally announce as a Democratic candidate for governor in 2010.

Schieffer, 61, will become the first official candidate in a race where the public attention so far has been focused on U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s expected challenge to Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary. Other Democrats looking at the contest are state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and 2006 independent candidate Kinky Friedman.

A former state legislator from Fort Worth, Schieffer was then-Gov. Mark White’s Tarrant County coordinator. His core campaign leadership was White loyalists.

Schieffer in an interview with the Houston Chronicle last week said Democrats have a rare opportunity next year to win statewide because the Texas Republican Party has moved too far right and a Perry-Hutchison primary fight will leave the winner bloodied and vulnerable. But he said Democratic victory is only possible if the party nominates a centrist, not someone from the left wing.

“There’s no question that some people in the Democratic Party don’t want to go there, but I believe that when the Democratic Party is successful, it is a big tent party that can appeal to a broad coalition of people in Texas,” Schieffer said.

You can listen to some of that interview here. He’s got his work cut out for him. I think a big part of the problem is that “centrist” is rather a dirty word among Democratic activists these days, as it is often used to describe recalcitrant Democratic members of Congress who are doing their best to obstruct, water down, or otherwise not implement key elements of President Obama’s agenda – you know, things like health care, financial reform, climate change mitigation. It’s often accompanied by a fetishization of bipartisanship as an end, rather than as a means to an end. So from my perspective, at least, the question I would have for Schieffer is what does being a “centrist” mean to him, philosophically and practically? What does he think he can gain by this approach that a more open and aggressive progressive approach cannot? I realize that part of his answer to that is “win the election”. That’s a debate we Democrats have been having for a long time now, and all I can say is that if it reminds people of the 2002 campaigns, it’s not likely to go too well for him.

The point I’m trying to make is that the message progressives will hear from this is that we need to give up on some of the stuff we want in order to try to get some of the other stuff we want. This is a message we feel we’ve heard a lot these past few months, with a lot more emphasis on the stuff we can’t have than on the stuff we can, and that’s in the context of a historical win in the Presidential election plus large majorities in both legislative chambers. What does that mean for Texas and a Governor Schieffer? My advice, for what it’s worth, is that it would probably be best for Schieffer to focus more on the things we can and will achieve with him than on the things we can’t.

Having said all that, Schieffer is clearly right about the direction the Republicans are going, and the opportunity it presents for Democrats.

At [his Volunteer Leadership Summit, Governor Rick] Perry was introduced by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who proclaimed his support for Perry and described the governor’s race as a life-or-death struggle for the conservative philosophy.

“This is an important event today – important for our party, important for our state, important for the world … Today is the beginning of showing the rest of the country and the rest of the world that conservatism is alive and well in Texas,” Patrick told volunteers.

Later, to reporters, Patrick said that “the way Texas goes America goes” and that he doesn’t want the state to veer from a strong course he sees as strongly fiscally conservative, pro-life and pro-family (some critics, among other complaints, say Texas doesn’t invest enough in programs for its citizens, including education and health care for children).

Patrick said that he and Perry line up on issues “probably closer than anyone else in the Legislature.”

“I don’t want to see us move to the middle, with all due respect to whoever else is running,” Patrick said. “I don’t want to move to the middle. That is political suicide for the Republican Party.”

My, how things have changed. I couldn’t come up with a better illustration of why this past legislative session was about nothing but Rick Perry’s primary campaign. I at least believe that Dan Patrick’s vision of Texas is not a mainstream one, and as far as that goes I do most certainly agree with Tom Schieffer about the opening this gives Texas Democrats. The more he, or any other candidate, can provide a contrast to this vision, the better I believe he, or some other candidate, will do. What can we accomplish if we get off this Dan Patrick/Rick Perry road to perdition? That’s what we need to hear. BOR has more.

Hardberger for Governor?

We’re not even a week out from sine die, and the 2010 campaign rumor ‘n speculation mill is in full gear. The most interesting bit in this story is right here:

Democratic consultant Christian Archer suggested that candidates would shortly hunt ways to gauge and raise their appeal. “There’s probably a 30-minute respite for people to go home, say hello to their families again,” Archer said. “And then people will start talking” about campaigns.

The cast of gubernatorial wannabes could widen — extending among Republicans to a longshot, state Rep. Leo Berman of Tyler, who’s been frustrated at legislative inaction on proposals related to illegal immigration. Berman said he intends to declare his candidacy for governor around July 4.

Among Democrats, John Montford, a former state senator, has been mentioned as a gubernatorial prospect, while there’s also talk of White or Sharp shifting sights from the Senate race to governor before candidate filings late this year. Archer said his client, former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger, is similarly weighing a try for governor.

I can’t say Montford excites me much. He last held elected office in 1996, and at least at first glance there doesn’t appear to be all that much difference between him and Tom Schieffer. I could be wrong – I really don’t know much about the guy – but there’s nothing I can see in his track record to suggest he’d be anything but another business-friendly center-right Dem. Not that that’s a sin, but I’d like a little more variety in my primary, if that’s all right.

Hardberger, on the other hand, could be an interesting candidate. He was very popular in San Antonio, and there’s nothing I know of in his record as Mayor there that’s an obvious turnoff. The reaction to this idea I’ve seen from so far from folks in SA has been very positive. If this is for real and not just a standard issue consultant tout job, I’d definitely want to know more.

As for Berman, what can you say? He’s a one-trick pony, and that trick is nasty and hateful. I hope his idiocy gets lots of play in the GOP primary, and that he spends plenty of time making Rick Perry and KBH as uncomfortable and off-message as possible. Thanks to Marc Campos for the link.

Van de Putte gearing up

With sine die just around the corner (and God willing, no special session), we may start to get some answers to the questions about which legislators might be running for higher offices. One of them is State Sen. Letitia Van de Putte, who has been talking about a run for Governor. That subject comes up in this interview she did with BOR’s Phillip Martin. As you might expect, she’s rather coy about it, and says she needs to discuss it with her family, but I notice that she mentions her potential primary opponent Tom Schieffer a couple of times, all critically, and that sounds to me like something a candidate would say. We’ll know in the next week or two, so check it out.

Statewide race for Earle?

Well, this is interesting news.

Retired for all of four months, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is considering running for a new job, possibly as the state’s top lawyer.

“There have been people who have talked to me about statewide runs,” for either governor or attorney general, said Earle, who served as Travis County’s top prosecutor for 31 years before retiring in December.

Eye on Williamson has been on the Earle-for-Governor bandwagon for months now, so this ought to make him happy. I think just the fact that “people” have been talking to Earle about a possible statewide run next year suggests that these people, who one presumes are the type who can actually make a campaign financially viable, think such a race is winnable. That says something about the political climate these days. Such optimism may be misplaced, but give how not too long ago the meme was that Democrats had already punted on the 2010 elections, it’s remarkable in and of itself.

Earle is an appealing candidate in many ways. He’s well known around the state, which is something you can’t say for many Texas Dems. He’d have no trouble firing up the base, thanks to his pursuit of Tom DeLay. Even better, the DeLay brand is sullied enough that any resentment of this case would likely be limited for the most part to folks who wouldn’t vote for any Democrat anyway. The eventual and long-awaited prosecutions of DeLay and his cronies would keep Earle’s name in the news even with him gone from the Travis County DA’s office. If everyone gets acquitted it would be a negative for him, but I think the odds are pretty good of at least some convictions. Earle’s reputation is that of a straight-shooter, which would play very nicely with any kind of reform message. All in all, there’s a lot to like about this.

Now of course, Democrats already have candidates for each of these offices. With all due respect to Tom Schieffer, I’d vote for Ronnie Earle in a heartbeat for the gubernatorial nomination. But if Sen. Leticia Van de Putte runs, I’d likely prefer her, as I think her legislative experience will make her the stronger candidate. Attorney General would be an excellent fit for Earle, and as much as I respect Barbara Radnofsky, I’d be strongly inclined to support Earle for that office. Maybe BAR might consider shifting focus to the Supreme Court if Earle does jump in – that’s where statewide Dems have gotten their highest vote totals in the past couple of elections, and her name ID would be as much of an asset there as anywhere else on the ballot.

Of course, all this is predicated on Earle actually taking the plunge in one of these races. I’ve lost count of the number of “so-and-so is considering a run for something” stories I’ve seen in the past few years; if I had a nickel for each one, my 401(k) would still be worth something. If and when we hear more about his ambitions, or those of anyone else who might be lurking out there, we’ll figure it all out then. Thanks to BOR for the tip.

Everyone has an opinion on Kay and Rick

Former Congressman Martin Frost thinks Rick Perry has a good shot at winning his primary against Sen. Hutchison.

Perry, who won with less than 40 percent in a four-way general election field in 2006, is not popular with the general voting public in Texas. He is, however, the darling of the far-right wing that dominates the Republican primary electorate. Chances are that he may defeat Hutchison in a mean, ugly, down-and-dirty primary next March.

Most of the piece is a 10,000-foot overview of the race and an intro to Tom Schieffer, and Frost never gives a reason why he thinks Perry might win, so take this for what it’s worth. For a Republican view of that primary as it stands now, here’s PoliTex:

In response to our earlier post, Matt Mackowiak, a former spokesman for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison sent us his thoughts on his old boss’s chances against Gov. Rick Perry next year. Mackowiak argues that Perry’s unlikely to beat Hutchison and his secession remarks have only hurt him.

“No one in Austin who is not employed by Gov. Perry thinks that he will beat Sen. Hutchison and there is a very large and growing number of skeptics who doubt that Perry will actually run for a third full term after ten years in office,” Mackowiak said. “Sen. Hutchison has higher approval ratings, higher name ID, will have more money raised, and she has an ability to bring new voters into an open primary in Texas that Perry will not have by appealing to a narrow sliver of the base with his recent ‘secession’ comments.”

Meanwhile, James Bernson, who was Hutchison’s campaign press secretary in 2006, says in a recent online column that, via his Tea Party appearances and secession remarks, “Perry has seized the momentum and is on fire with a large section of the Republican Party base, not just in Texas, but nationally. And it will be the wing of the party most important in the primary.”

Obviously, I’m a bystander to this fight. They’re not competing for my vote, and they don’t have any particular reason to care how I view them. So with that noted, let me say that this is looking a lot like a one-sided battle so far. Perry has been on the offensive, and has thrown all of the punches. I find it fascinating how little KBH has had to say about things like Perry’s rejection of the UI stimulus funds and more recently his whole bizarre secession obsession. I can understand the former – she did vote against the stimulus package, after all – but the latter just confounds me. Is that really what the GOP base is about these days? Is she really not capable of drawing a distinction between herself and Perry on stuff like this? Or does she perhaps think that it’s better to give Perry as much rope as he needs to hang himself. Staying quiet for now, not just on stupid things like secession but on just about everything – sending out tough-sounding fundraising letters doesn’t really count – may be the smart thing to do, but it sure strikes me as a deep position to take. Just seems like a risky strategy to let your opponent define the terms of the debate.

That’s my outsider’s view, anyway. I’ll add that while Perry is clearly taking the initiative, and is spending a bunch of time talking to his natural allies, it’s not clear to me that he’s reaching out beyond the base he already has. We know a substantial number of Republicans refused to vote for him in 2006. Have any of his antics brought them back into his camp, or have they reinforced the reasons why they abandoned him in the first place? I have no idea, and I doubt that publicly-available polling data will give us any insight.

And I still think KBH is going to do whatever it is she’s going to do for her campaign without resigning from the Senate. I think she’s boxed in on that, from her junior colleague Sen. Cornyn as well as from Perry, who I continue to believe would bash her relentlessly for putting the Senate in play for a filibuster-proof Dem majority. That, unlike the secession crap, is something that I think would play for a much wider audience.

Finally, I do think all this has the potential to be a real opportunity for the Democrats. That will require a candidate who can rally the troops, who can look good in comparison to the Kay ‘n’ Rick Show, and who can raise enough money to get that message out. Quite the tall order, but doable, at least this far out from November. Maybe that’s Tom Schieffer, as Frost wants you to believe – I’m keeping an open mind, but he’s got to prove it to a wider audience than me – and maybe that’s not. Maybe Sen. Van de Putte will run, and if so maybe she’ll have the fundraising chops to really compete. All I know is the sooner a Democratic candidate can start affecting the terms of the debate, the better. BOR has more.

Keep your eye on the ball, Tom

I have three things to say about this:

So how does a former ambassador gird for a possible battle with the ever-black-hatted, cigar-chomping Kinky Friedman for the Democratic nod for governor?

Campaign honchos who faced the finger-in-the-eye-of-the political-establishment candidate in 2006 don’t mind dishing up some advice for Tom Schieffer.

“He’s going to have to take Kinky very seriously,” offered Robert Black, who worked for Republican Gov. Rick Perry. “Kinky has substantially better name ID than Mr. Schieffer does right now.”

Mark Sanders, who worked for Carole Keeton Strayhorn: “Best thing to do with Kinky is to ignore him.”

Jason Stanford, who worked for Democrat Chris Bell: “Catalog all the crazy things he’s ever said as a politician and just deal with that. Ignore the sideshow.”

Stanford quipped that the challenge for Schieffer — who was ambassador under George W. Bush — will be his similarities to the quirky musician and humorist: “We’ve got two white guys collecting Social Security who say they like George W. Bush. Now, does Tom Schieffer sell that he’s not funny? That he only wears a hat when it’s socially appropriate?” (Friedman is 64; Schieffer’s 61).

Clay Robison, Schieffer’s communications director, was the Austin bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News the last time Friedman ran. Now in the midst of the fray, Robison swung back: “Tom Schieffer will win the governor’s race on his strong leadership ability and on issues important to Texans, not on a stream of one-liners. Tom Schieffer wants to lead, not entertain.”

But don’t forget the main bit of advice from Kinky’s 2006 spokeswoman, Laura Stromberg: “Keep your sense of humor.”

1. I guess this means Peggy Fikac will be taking over the Monday-morning-political-column duties. Welcome aboard, Peggy.

2. The advice proffered by Messrs. Black and Sanders should stand as the main reason why Democrats should not take political advice from Republicans.

3. My advice, for what it’s worth, is simply this: The task at hand is to win a Democratic primary. The mission should be to demonstrate to Democratic voters why Tom Schieffer is the best option to be the Democratic nominee. The rest will take care of itself. Frankly, my advice to Kinky Friedman would be the same. Whoever does the best job of that – assuming nobody else who can do an even better job of it comes along – will win in March. The winner can worry about what to do after that then.

Perry walks back secession talk

As the sun rises in the east, so do politicians who say stupid things revise and extend those remarks afterward when people start asking them questions about what they really meant. And so it was the case with Rick Perry, who insisted to reporters that he didn’t actually mean it when he said that Texas might look to secede if we got fed up enough with Washington, whatever that means. It might have been nice if the reporters had pressed him a bit more about the crowd to whom he made his initial statements, who were chanting “Secede! Secede!” in agreement with what they sure as heck thought he was saying, but I suppose you can’t have everything. Regardless, Democratic leaders such as Jim Dunnam and Rodney Ellis and gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer have rightly jumped on Perry for his idiocy, and I hope more will join in. (Anyone heard from Kinky Friedman on this?) It’d be nice if a few Republicans expressed some concern about making such intemperate statements, at least the ones who haven’t been busy making their own. Needless to say, I’m not holding my breath.

Of the many things that bother me about this, I think it’s the fact that once again a Texas Republican has made national news in a way that disgraces the state and makes us look like a bunch of rubes and fools. It’s been a nonstop parade of idiocy this year – Sharon Keller, the SBOE clown show, Louie Gohmert, Betty Brown, and now Rick Perry. I realize that there’s a lot of people who don’t care what others think about us, indeed who consider it a badge of honor to be looked down upon by the rest of the country and the world, but nothing good can come out of this. We can be as business-friendly a state as we want to be, but if people don’t want to relocate here because they’ve had such a negative impression of the place because of stunts like these it won’t do us any good. Exceptionalism isn’t necessarily an asset.

Most of all, I can’t believe I have to say any of this. Secession, for Christ’s sake. Because some people are unhappy that they lost an election. Remember how a bunch of celebrities whined to the press in 2000 and again in 2004 that they’d leave the country if Bush won? Remember how we all thought they were jackasses for saying that? Remember how Republicans in particular piled on them for their knavery? Boy, those sure were the days.