Given how state Rep. Nathan Macias won two years ago, it’s not surprising a serious GOP challenger has come forward in the primary. In 2006, Macias edged incumbent Rep. Carter Casteel by just 46 votes. He funded his campaign almost entirely with money from San Antonio physician James Leininger, the state’s most powerful advocate for school vouchers. Leininger is revered among home-schooling families in the district-Macias, his wife, and their seven children among them-and is a key financial backer of Speaker Tom Craddick.
Macias faces Doug Miller, who’s been around the district for years. The New Braunfels native runs Miller and Miller insurance agency, is involved in a long list of civic organizations, and served on the New Braunfels City Council, including a stint as mayor, from 1987 to 1990.
The fast-growing House District 73 is a picture of old-meets-new, of urban issues colliding with rural history. There are the booming areas of New Braunfels and Canyon Lake, and smaller, politically active towns such as Fredericksburg and Boerne. The district also includes parts of San Antonio bedroom communities like Schertz and Selma.
Macias carries the power of incumbency, his alliance with Craddick, and the support of conservatives. He is from Bulverde, north of San Antonio.
The Houston law firm of Allen Boone Humphries Robinson, a frequent donor to Craddick, and San Antonio engineer Edwin Ford are among his contributors.
Macias stayed by Craddick’s side during the last legislative session, when other Republicans challenged the speaker’s ruling that he couldn’t be unseated by a House vote. Macias walked on the voucher issue, failing to cast a vote when the bill was up.
A Leininger spokesman didn’t respond to a request for an interview concerning the hospital bed magnate’s role in Macias’ campaign this time around.
Opponent Miller is well versed in Hill Country water policy, a growing concern in the area. Residents fear San Antonio, with its explosive growth, will suck their springs dry. Miller worked with the Legislature in 1993 to help form the Edwards Aquifer Authority and is chairman of its board.
“The real question is: How many hands has (Macias) touched? Because Miller’s touched a lot,” says Harvey Kronberg, a political observer and editor of the online newsletter The Quorum Report. Kronberg sees the race as one to watch. “While it’s suburban and it’s fast growth, it’s also got a lot of the rural, sitting-around-the-coffee-table feel. If I were Macias, I would be someplace every weekend meeting people.”
Neither candidate agreed to an interview with the Observer.
Macias, who turns 48 in January, is vice president at Boyd Kleypas & Associates, a San Antonio marketing and advertising agency. An engineer by training, he has round, brown eyes and a bald head. He has master’s degrees in business, and environmental management and public policy, and is a retired Air Force officer. He worked in the Middle East after the Sept. 11 attacks, commanding an Air Force group that trained civil engineers to restore bases and repair runways.
On his Web site, one of the accomplishments of which he appears most proud is his title as a “certified character trainer.” He earned the designation from the Character Training Institute, a nonprofit based in Oklahoma City that, according to its Web site, strives to “encourage true success in business, schools, families, communities, and other organizations by encouraging good character.” The group goes out of its way to tout the program as secular, but its founders are evangelical Christians and have acknowledged the institute’s principles are biblical.
Craddick was kind to Macias in committee appointments, assigning him to the powerful Transportation Committee in the last session. Craddick’s generosity grew earlier this year, when he appointed Macias to the Education Committee, replacing Rep. Anna Mowery, a Fort Worth Republican who resigned in August. It’s part of a pattern by Craddick lately to appoint his allies to every committee and task force, presumably to strengthen their chances at re-election.
Still, Macias has some formidable critics. Republican Carter Casteel, who lost to Macias, is careful these days not to say much about the race. She insists she’s enjoying work in her law practice and spending one weekend a month at her Ruidoso, New Mexico property. She also lobbies for public education interests at the Capitol.
But the 65-year-old attorney is clear about her support for Miller. They met in the 1980s, when Casteel had just finished law school and Miller was on the city council. Later he ran for commissioner at the same time she ran for county judge, and their families have been friends since, she says. She’s been impressed with the way he built consensus over complex issues, especially water. “There’s probably no tougher issue to do that sort of thing than with water issues,” she says.
Casteel said she blames only herself for her narrow loss to Macias in 2006, just as she would have credited herself with a win. Then again, she says, the Leininger money played a role, and she wasn’t willing to respond to negative advertisements funded by his donations. “I will tell you when you have a million and a half dollars going after you, you have to run tough,” she says.
She won’t venture a guess on whether Leininger’s money will play a similar role in this election. But she says an outsider’s money in the district may not carry the weight it once did.
“It seems that there is a different attitude and wind in Texas than there was a couple of years ago. I’m kind of a Pollyanna, though,” she says. “I tell you, people all over the country are unhappy with the status quo, they really want their government to be responsive, and they’re disappointed when it has not been.”
One of the disappointed is Daniel Boone, a retired Air Force officer and psychologist who claims direct lineage from the famous Kentucky pioneer. He is running unopposed in the Democratic primary and is assured a ballot slot in November.
He’s confident that more than a few Republicans will vote for him, he says.
“They don’t like what’s happening, either nationally or with our Hill Country here. Again, they need to have somebody who is willing to get up there, on the one hand, fight for what they think the Hill Country will want and say, ‘There is a middle ground.'”
Elizabeth Pierson Hernandez is an Austin-based freelance writer and former Capitol reporter for Freedom Communications newspapers in the Rio Grande Valley.