Page 12


Tony Sanchez Photo courtesy of The Austin Chronicle whenever he could.The Bush team saw that not just Texas but the entire Southwest was tilting Hispanic, and tilting fast. Capturing the Latino vote is the key to the future don’iinance of one or the other of the political partiesat both the local and the national level. As the Washington Post reported in April, Rove has already convened a group to plan Bush’s reelection bid, and the primary goal will be capturing more Hispanic votes. Without them, according to Rove’s own calculations, Bush cannot win. The Democrats are playing the same gameand the stakes are enormous. “I support him big-time,” said Henry Cisneros, the former Clinton Cabinet member and Mayor of San Antonio, of Sanchez. “He has a chance to make an historic breakthrough. It would be the first time that a Latino would receive the nomination of the Democratic Party for the office of Governor ofTexas.” Not merely the Governor’s office is at issue; so are the outcomes of every other statewide race in 2002, and the way that Texas swings in 2004. “For Texas to have an Hispanic Governor take over at the beginning of the new millennium would have huge implications for the whole country, not just Texas,” said Glenn Smith, who recently left the Austin political consulting firm Public Strategies to work for Sanchez. “It could absolutely change the tone and the outcome of the 2004 [national] election.” Party registrations are running so close that putting a Hispanic at the top of the ticket could tip the balance in favor of the Dems. Especially if Sanchez was willing to spend up to $30 million of his own money on the race, as has been reported, he could easily affect the outcome of every race on the ticket. As is often noted, Republicans hold every statewide office in Texas. This means that there is an entire generation of Democratic luminaries who are now stuck in law offices, plotting their comebacks. To them, Sanchez looks like their best shot. Men like John Sharp, who is planning to run for Lieutenant Governor again, know exactly what happens when there is a candidate with an identifiably Hispanic surname on the ballot. In 1994, when Dan Morales ran for Attorney General, 34 percent of eligible Hispanics made it to the polls; in 1998, when Morales didn’t run, only 23 percent voted. And Morales’ name appeared much further down than Sanchez’s would. When asked what impact he thought . Sanchez running for Governor might have on turnout in the Hispanic community, Cisneros said: “Oh, it will be historic. It will be a 100-year-flood. It will be a crusade.” At this point in the courtship, however, many people in Austin political circles are beginning to wonder just who it is they’ve gotten involved with and what his intentions may be. If only because he has yet to artic ulate publicly why he wants to run, it’s not clear what Sanchez brings to the race, aside from increased turnout. The Sanchez candidacy runs the risk of appearing to be all about strategy and not at all about i’sues. In fact, the Sanchez candidacy sometimes seems like it’s all about John Sharp. In 1998, Sharp lost his bid to become Lt. Governor to Rick Perry by a mere 70,000 votes, out of more than 3.6 million cast. By all accounts, Sharp is hungry to run again. Clearly Sharp and Sanchez have been coordinating their efforts. Sanchez spokesman Ferro used to perform the same function for Sharp. Early news coverage of the race has hit on a potentially troubling theme: that Sanchez might come to be viewed as more of a vehicle for Sharp to get elected once again, rather than a political phenomenon in his own right. Which raises an equally troubling question: 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. According to the watchdog organization Center for Public Integrity, the Sanchez family has given Bush a total of $323,650 over the years, making them the third most generous patrons of Bush’s politiCal career, surpassed only by the contributions of Enron Corporation of Houston and MBNA Corporation of Delaware. Sanchez, like Bush, is an oil man, and that loyalty, more than any particular party affiliation, has probably defined his political leanings. It’s easy to predict one criticism Sanchez will elicit: The fact that the flailing Dems have turned to a Bush money-man \(even if he is a registered perate the party has become. 5/25/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9