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FEATURE Tony the Tiger He’s Grrreat But Who Is He? BY HELEN THORPE T ‘he enigma known as Tony Sanchez, Jr. presents Democrats with the same challenge faced early in a courtship by lovers who don’t yet know one another. Sanchez, the Dem’s likely gubernatorial candidate in 2002, provides an inscrutable love object upon which the party’s forlorn and disappointed supporters can project all of their fantasies and all of their fe,ars. Presumably, in the tumultuous affair ahead, as the next gubernatorial campaign actually gets underway, Sanchez and his would-be constituents will learn more about each other.Whether or not they will ultiniately care for one another remains to be seen. But in the meantime, it’s fascinating to watch Texas Democrats swoon over the unknown heartthrob down in Laredo. It’s clear enough why the hearts of Democratic powerbrokers go pitter-pat at the idea of Sanchez running for office. In March, a pride of Democratic lionsincluding former Lt. Governor Ben Barnes and former Texas Comptroller John Sharptraveled down to Laredo to visit with Sanchez at his ranch in Webb County. \(The visit was first reported by Texas People who attended the meeting described it as a brainstorming session, during which they kicked around issues expected to be at the forefront of the 2002 race. “It was a nice meeting of people with a whole lot of expertise in public policy and state government talking about public policy and state government,” said Kelly Fero, Sanchez’s spokesman. But Sanchez is a wealthy oil man who’s never run for public office before, and policy isn’t supposed to be his strong suit. At other meetings, with potential supporters, Sanchez has hung large maps of certain well-populated Texas counties up on the walls of the conference room in his Laredo office, from which he runs Sanchez Oil and Gas and helps manage the International Bank of Commerce. The maps were prepared with the help of Austin consultants Bill Emory and Peck Young, as well as California pollster Paul Maslin, Austin political hand Glenn Smith, and Kelly Fero.They are a county-bycounty analysis of what might happen in 2002, when most observers of the political scene expect there to be an epochal shift in Texas voting patterns. The state’s rapidly changing population statistics are the main reason for Sanchez’s appeal as a top-of-the-ticket candidate. Recent census figures document a surge in the number of Hispanics that exceeds even the most generous past pre dictions; originally, it was predicted that Texas would become a “majority-minority” state in the year 2008, but the latest figures suggest that transition may now take place as soon as 2004. As of last year, Hispanics constituted 32 percent of the 20.8 million residents of Texas. The implications for politics are plain. In the 2000 elections, Hispanics made up 16 percent of the total electorate; some political analysts are now saying that by 2002, that number may swell to 20 percent. “There are about 1 million registered Hispanics who vote regularly,” said Kelly Fero.”There are about another 1 million Hispanics who are registered but don’t vote regularly. Then you have, in the top 30 biggest counties, another 2.1 million Hispanics who are eligible, but aren’t registered.” Those 4 million Hispanics who might take part in the election could determine its outcome, Fero said. The Democrats are not the only party to recognize the significance of these statistics. By 1998, Republican political guru Karl Rove was already instructing George W Bush to reach out to Hispanic voters by speaking in broken Spanish What kind of Faustian bargain may Sharp and the Democrats be striking to get back into power? Tony Sanchez has been a lavish supporter of George W. Bush. During the last election, Sanchez even worked as a Pioneer, raising more than $100,000 for the Bush cause. 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/25/01