Political Intelligence

Sleaze Will Tell


For sheer, unadulterated venality, few capitol customs rival the so-called “late train.” This is the period immediately following an election when winning candidates allow lobbyists and special interests who made the mistake of backing the wrong horse to make a conciliatory donation to the right one. All in the spirit of forgiveness, of course, and–with an eye to the legislative session coming up in January–cooperation. The most enthusiastic of the late train conductors tend to be candidates with large campaign debts. There is no limit to the amount of money a candidate can borrow for his campaign, either from himself or from others, and some candidates rack up huge debts in anticipation of paying them off with late train donations after they win. Loans by a candidate to his own campaign are often singled out by reformers as the most corrupting sort of campaign finance, because they represent the one instance in which campaign cash, such as late train contributions, can actually be taken from a donor and deposited directly into a candidate’s personal checking account. According to Texans for Public Justice, loans were as popular as ever this cycle. A total of 124 candidates borrowed over $47 million. Tony Sanchez and David Dewhurst borrowed the most by far. While Sanchez is not likely to get any help repaying the $22 million he lent himself, Dewhurst can expect a lot of help with his $13 million debt as the new Lieutenant Governor. Other big borrowers who won include Attorney General-Elect Greg Abbott ($1.1 million of debt), Senator-Elect Juan Hinojosa ($512,200); Senator Craig Estes ($290,000); and Rep.-Elect Timoteo Garza ($235,000). Candidates have until December 14, 30 days before the legislature convenes, to collect. Doesn’t sound like much time? Then-Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry retired a debt of more than $1 million in the weeks following the 1998 election. All aboard!


Longtime baseball fans have heard of the Mendoza Line, a reference to journeyman shortstop Mario Mendoza’s lifetime batting average of .200, which represents the lower limit at which a major league hitter can still be considered, well, a major league hitter. But are you familiar with the Lucio Line? Named for State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., the Lucio Line is the level of sleaze below which a politician ceases to be one of God’s creatures, and becomes, well, something lower. Some said it couldn’t be done, but if recent reports are true, the South Texas Democrat may actually lower the line this session. The issue is Texas Congressional districts, which the state legislature was supposed to redraw in 2001, but couldn’t get done. A panel of federal judges drew a map to get us through the 2002 elections, but now that the state lege is controlled completely by Republicans, momentum is growing among the R’s for the legislature to take it up again. Currently, the Democrats still hold a 17 to 15 advantage in the state’s Congressional delegation, but Tom Delay and others thinks that can be turned around in a big way with an artful redrawing of the districts. The main obstacle is the state Senate, where the Republicans’ new 19 to 12 majority is just two votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to move a redistricting bill through the chamber. In other words, the Democrats are almost completely crushed, but the R’s will need a couple of Democrats to help them finish the job. A few days after the election, Lucio gave notice that he may be the, uh, person for the job. He told a reporter for the Brownsville Herald that he would be inclined to consider a Republican redistricting bill, provide a new South Texas Congressional district was created. One that he could win, that is. There may be no “I” in T-E-A-M, but there’s no “we” in S-L-E-A-Z-E, either.

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Published at 12:00 am CST