Welcome Back, Al
If you’re running for re-election, it’s generally a bad idea to walk around drunk or brandish a gun in public or kiss other people’s wives. Borris Miles, a first-term Democratic state rep from Houston, managed to do all three in the same night.
Miles’ transgressions at a now-infamous holiday party in December contributed to a blowout loss on March 4 in his primary race against former state Al Edwards. With no GOP opponent, Edwards will return to the Legislature, where he served more than 20 years before losing to Miles in 2006. In his previous stint, Edwards backed Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick. He may well again, if his campaign finance filings are any indication. More than 75 percent of the $82,000 Edwards raised for his race came from well-known Republican donors. That includes $35,000 from Houston homebuilder, and Craddick backer, Bob Perry, who bankrolled the Swift Boat attacks that helped sink John Kerry.
Machine vs Machine
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of Rep. Aaron PeÃ±a’s second victory over challenger Eddie Saenz in the Democratic primary in Edinburg was his claim to underdog status. PeÃ±a is chairman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and a stalwart of Republican Speaker Tom Craddick, a so-called “Craddick D.” PeÃ±a raised $424,305 for the 2008 cycle, according to campaign watchdog Texans for Public Justice. This princely sum included $106,000 from the largest Republican donor in the state, Bob Perry. Yet PeÃ±a declared that his winning margin, just shy of a thousand votes, was a victory over “a well entrenched, heavily financed, boss and patronage system.” Since Saenz lost to PeÃ±a in both 2004 and 2008, it seems like the system isn’t entrenched like it used to be-or maybe it is.
Cash is King
Republican Rep. Phil King is a self-professed Christian, but Jesus doesn’t win elections-Mammon does. King crushed his primary opponent, public school advocate and former Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison, with a little help from his friends: the corporations he oversees as chairman of the House Regulated Industries Committee. Energy and telecom interests, not to mention Gov. Rick Perry and a Craddick-backed PAC, poured huge sums of money into King’s campaign coffers in the months before the election. Rather than turn water into wine, King turned cash (over $660,000 since July 2007) into attack ads, painting Tison as a closet Democrat. Tison pulled in almost $164,000, including sizable contributions from Texas Parent PAC, a parent-run organization that promotes pro-education candidates. The loss of the moderates and independents Tison needed to the Democratic presidential primary probably didn’t help him, either.
Facing his first significant challenge in years, Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores beat back opponent Sandra Rodriguez in the Democratic primary in Mission. Kino parlayed the power of incumbency (read: money) and his support for Republican Speaker Tom Craddick (read: money) into a 900-vote victory. The representative has reported raising $625,670 in the 2008 cycle, almost twice as much as Rodriguez’s total. His contribution list reads like a who’s who of lobbyists and Republican donors, including $11,000 from lobby powerhouse HillCo Partners and $51,000 from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. Despite his chairmanship of the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, which oversees gaming in the state, Flores also accepted $4,000 from the Littlefield Corp., which runs bingo games.
Hill Country Sinkhole
Maybe Dr. James Leininger should just stay out of the Hill Country. Since 2006, the Republican campaign contributor, known in some quarters as “God’s Sugar Daddy,” has dumped well over half a million dollars into Republican primaries in House District 73, which stretches from Fredericksburg to San Antonio bedroom communities like Schertz. In 2006 Leininger protÃ©gÃ© Nathan Macias raised a total of $552,522 to unseat Carter Casteel. Leininger provided about 84 percent of Macias’ money. The incumbent did not support the doctor’s pet cause, public school vouchers. Casteel lost in a squeaker to Macias, who supports vouchers. Despite efforts by ally Speaker Tom Craddick, Leininger’s 2007 voucher proposal failed again in the Lege. Even Macias didn’t vote for it (he abstained). It now looks like that will be Macias’ only opportunity. Despite an infusion of at least $74,221 from Leininger (and almost $30,000 more from a Leininger-funded political action committee), Macias lost to challenger Doug Miller by 38 votes. Macias has asked for a recount.
Good Grief, Charlie G
If Hillary Clinton threw the “kitchen sink” at Barack Obama recently in their relatively tame presidential primary, then-continuing the analogy-what major appliance did Dr. Tom Annunziator hurl at restaurateur and state Rep. Charlie Geren? A full-sized washer? A walk-in freezer? Their Republican primary to determine who represents north Fort Worth in the Texas House devolved into a shout fest, with both candidates calling the other a liar. One Annunziato mailer even claimed Geren “put more drunk drivers behind the wheel.”
No matter. Geren-a Republican moderate and vocal critic of House Speaker Tom Craddick-won a fifth term in the Legislature. Annunziato, an optometrist, poured more than $400,000 into the race. A lot of that money came from Craddick allies, including the group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and San Antonio millionaire James Leininger, who chipped in $75,000. Even with all the help, Annunziato lost by 17 points. Maybe he should stick to eye exams.
Seven-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Dawnna Dukes survived charges of being cozy with Speaker Tom Craddick and taking cash from Houston developer Bob Perry to win District 46 with 61 percent. Dukes, who was born in East Austin, painted opponent Brian Thompson, a lawyer who recently moved to the area, as an interloper recruited by disgruntled Democratic activists outside the district. Both candidates unleashed mudslinging television ads. In the end, Dukes turned down a $50,000 contribution from Tom Craddick’s PAC, Texas Jobs & Opportunity Build a Secure Future Inc., to distance herself from the controversial speaker. Nonetheless, she raised more than $350,000-exactly what she estimated she needed to win. Thompson raised $146,177. When it comes to the money game, Dawnna knows how to play.
Win Dee Margo bested longtime incumbent Pat Haggerty in El Paso’s only Republican district. The GOP primary campaign cost nearly three-quarters of a million dollars and featured candidates who courted conservatives and hurled insults. Haggerty characterized Margo as a carpetbagger who only recently moved into a well-appointed apartment in the district. Margo summed up his opponent as too liberal and too friendly with lobbyists. The Texas House is going to miss the hard-partying Haggerty, judging from the numerous campaign contributions from legislators and beer distributors. After all, it was Haggerty who, at the 11th hour, led the suicidal charge against Speaker Tom Craddick’s ham-fisted leadership of the House. Margo will next face Democrat and El Paso County Assistant District Attorney Joe Moody in the general election. Democrats who voted for Haggerty in the past expect the district to swing back to the Democratic fold.
Money Isn’t All
Armando Walle defeated incumbent Rep. Kevin Bailey in the Democratic primary because of turnout, not dollars. The 30-year-old Walle is a product of District 140 in northeastern Harris County. Until March 4, it was consistently one of the lowest-turnout districts in the state. In the Democratic primary in 2006, only 1,295 people cast ballots. This cycle Bailey called in support from Speaker Tom Craddick, which garnered a $50,000 check from Craddick’s Texas Jobs PAC and $25,000 from GOP-allied Texans for Lawsuit Reform. It wasn’t enough. A strong grassroots effort and heightened interest due to the presidential contest drove 8,571 people to the polls. Walle won by 1,267 votes, almost the exact number of total votes in 2006.
Warning to all Houston-area Republicans: Don’t cross the Senator From Talk Radio. First-term GOP state Sen. Dan Patrick used his talk show to engineer the narrow defeat of fellow Republican Rep.Corbin Van Arsdale by political newbie Allen Fletcher. In his daily air assault, Patrick and other Houston talkers accused Van Arsdale, a three-term conservative incumbent representing a district in northwestern Harris County, of betraying constituents by voting for a new business tax and for being weak on undocumented immigrants. Fletcher, a bulldogish ex-cop and homeland security entrepreneur, will be “a continuation of our revolution for change,” Patrick said. Stay tuned, Texas.
Republican voters in Tom DeLay’s old District 22 went with the familiar on March 4, giving 30 percent of the vote to momentary Congresswoman Shelley Sekula Gibbs. Notorious for driving off DeLay’s staff during her seven-week term in 2006, Sekula Gibbs will face Pete Olson in an April 8 runoff for the chance to challenge the incumbent, Democrat Nick Lampson.
Sekula Gibbs is painting Olson, who staffed for Phil Gramm and John Cornyn for nine years, as a Washington insider, which is what they call you when you can get a job in Washington. She also claims to be the true conservative. Olson is pointing to his national security experience (he was in the Navy for nine years) and noting that Sekula Gibbs, a dermatologist, has none. He’s also calling Sekula Gibbs’ support of day-labor sites a vote for illegal immigrants. (Sekula Gibbs changed her vote when somebody informed her that illegal immigrants used the sites.)
According to a GOP source quoted in the D.C. paper The Hill, the Republican establishment is firmly behind Olson because Sekula Gibbs “left a bitter taste in a lot of people’s mouths with her bizarre and erratic behavior, and the Texas delegation realizes that she is not a viable option in the general election.”
Still, Sekula Gibbs has name recognition, the most money, and significant community support. In fact, the pastor of a 12,000-member megachurch in Houston offered Sekula Gibbs so much support that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State called for an IRS investigation. Pastor Steve Riggle wrote an endorsement letter for the Sekula Gibbs campaign on his personal stationery, which identified him as the pastor of Grace Community Church. Riggle urged a vote for Sekula Gibbs because she “is the only candidate who will co-sponsor legislation to give people of faith their voices back” by letting them, among other things, legally endorse political candidates.
In the seven months since Uranium Energy Corp. applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a permit to mine uranium in Goliad County, citizens and officials there have expressed their collective opposition through press conferences, letters to public officials, and well-attended public meetings. Now they’re pursuing legal action.
Goliad County has notified UEC that the county intends to sue the Austin-based company for violating the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The county plans to file a separate lawsuit in federal court to force UEC to halt uranium exploration in the county and repair any damage to the local aquifer created by exploratory drilling since it began in May 2006.
UEC officials responded with a statement: “Any lawsuit filed regarding Uranium Energy Corp.’s exploration activities is completely without merit and will be vigorously defended by the company. The state agency with direct responsibility for the administration of the Safe Drinking Water Act has already thoroughly investigated the county’s complaint and continues to actively fulfill its charge of ensuring the protection of the environment.”
In late March, the “state agency with direct responsibility,” the Texas Railroad Commission</ >, investigated th
company’s drilling and found it in violation of state regulations for not adequately plugging some 74 exploratory holes. The company responded by properly filling the holes. In recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings, it boasted that as late as November 2007, the Railroad Commission praised UEC for its “prompt attention” to restoring the drilling sites.
But in its notice of intent to sue, Goliad County officials claim to have found additional unplugged exploratory holes as recently as early February. They allege that the improperly covered holes have already contaminated a portion of the Evangeline Aquifer, which runs beneath the county. Further, the lawsuit will allege that UEC either intentionally, or through gross negligence, polluted the aquifer to facilitate its application for a uranium-mining permit, which is still under review by the TCEQ.
According to the notice, to obtain the type of permit UEC is seeking the company is required by the Safe Drinking Water Act to prove that the aquifer in the location of the proposed mine is unsuitable for drinking. The county claims that the company did not take initial samples of the aquifer until December 2006-roughly seven months after the company says it began drilling, and some three months before the Railroad Commission cited the company for improperly plugging holes. The lag time between drilling and baseline water testing, the county alleges, was designed to allow the aquifer’s water to degrade so that it would be deemed undrinkable, and thus no hindrance to mining.