Election 2006

One last stop on the campaign trail before Election Day

U.S. senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (l) came to Austin last Friday to stump for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell.
U.S. senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (l) came to Austin last Friday to stump for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell.
Photo By John Anderson

Track the latest developments from now until the ballots are all counted at our 2006 Election Blog: austinchronicle.com/election.


Governor Candidates Dash for Cash, Votes Down the Stretch

The governor's race is now a three-way tit-for-tat scrimmage fought on the airwaves, with Rick Perry fending off attack ads with musical jingles, and Chris Bell and Carole Keeton Strayhorn pummeling Perry with accusations of corruption and "trash." Strayhorn bops Perry and Bell in one spot with "Party Animals," to show that she's above all the partisan fussin' and fightin'. Uh-huh. Meanwhile, Perry hit the road this week for a fundraiser in Washington, D.C.; Kinky Friedman flew to New York for a Friday televised chat with David Letterman; Strayhorn toured East Texas; and Bell took the bus to Fort Worth to launch his Bell on Wheels tour. He arrived in Cowtown on opening day of his new TV ad, "Sick," which slams Perry's "backroom deal" to fast-track 18 coal-fired plants that TXU wants to build, mostly south of the DFW Metroplex.

A new Zogby poll out this week shows Perry still leading, this time with 36.7%, followed by Bell with 28.5%, Strayhorn with 15%, and Friedman with 14.4%, with only a few bloody days left before Election Day.

Recently released campaign fundraising reports have again brought to bear the abrupt highs and lows of Bell's campaign. Last week, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee for president, stumped for Bell at a big-ticket fundraiser in Downtown Austin. But Monday, the reports showed Bell with a measly $84,000 in the bank – hardly enough to drive home his message to TV viewers in the final days of the race. On the upside, the campaign expects a bundle of late cash to replenish the kitty jar. It's happened before. Another plus: Former President Bill Clinton is providing a robo-call phone blast on Bell's behalf.

In the big-money department, the reports show Perry raised $2.6 million between Sept. 29 and Oct. 28 and had a cool $2.9 million in available cash. Strayhorn picked up about $583,000 during the same time period and had $421,000 cash on hand. The candidate taken less seriously, Friedman, raised a serious $1 million and had $535,866 left. The Kinkster's financial report listed 6,586 individual contributions, most of them small-time purchases of souvenir items sold on his campaign Web site. For someone who calls the Internet the "tool of Satan," Friedman should really give the devil his due. – Amy Smith


Little Signs, Big Housing Plans

HousingWorks' Mark Yznaga says it's easy to tell the campaign for the affordable-housing bonds from the other propositions on the city ballot next week. "It's the little signs," Yznaga points out, helpfully.

While other bond proposals have long-established backers – and the usual detractors – the affordable-housing bond campaign is a first for the city. Despite its long list of nonprofit supporters, from Austin Habitat for Humanity to the Real Estate Council of Austin, Proposition 5 has the smallest budget and the smallest signs. Those who support the bonds, like Yznaga, talk about leveraging, the ability to use the bonds as that final piece or bridge in the funding puzzle. For instance, the city's $800,000 was the last piece in funding Family Eldercare's senior-living facility, Lyons Gardens, off Webberville Road, Yznaga said. In the case of the Foundation Communities' Garden Terrace development, the city provided $1.7 million of the $4.5 million budget to convert the former nursing home into single-room housing on the city's south side. That big chunk of funding, however, was coupled with bank loans, foundation grants, deferred developer fees, and financial assistance from county, state, and federal funding sources.

In an initial study of the city's bond proposal, UT professor Elizabeth Mueller noted that an initial $75 million bond proposal could leverage at least $300 million in additional affordable-housing spending for the city. The bonds subsequently were cut back to $55 million on next week's ballot. The city's intention is to divide the bonds between rental-housing development for very low-income residents and home-ownership programs for the working poor, with roughly $33 million going to housing development and $22 million to home-ownership programs.

As a potential advisory group to City Council, HousingWorks' board of directors has drafted a list of recommendations to keep the housing bond program accountable, from a transparent application process to objective bid scoring to the competitive award of funding solely to nonprofit entities. HousingWorks also recommends that no funding be awarded on a project until all other funding sources have been committed and that compliance audits should be used to ensure continuing accountability.

Still, some are skeptical of the ability of city-backed efforts to generate significant affordable housing. At a session on affordable housing at an East Austin Economic Forum last weekend, Michael Casias of Esperanza Development noted that he'd bought a house over on Myrtle Street in East Austin, intending to turn it quickly for a modest profit. Then the city stepped in to buy the property. Years later, Casias has developed multiple properties, and the house on Myrtle Street still sits vacant and boarded up. "The bottom line is that the government – or nonprofits – cannot possibly meet all the need there is for affordable housing in this community," Casias said. "You also need for-profit developers, like me, to come in and take an interest in development." – Kimberly Reeves


Injunction Blocks Abbott Enforcement of Ballot Law

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge T. John Ward issued a preliminary injunction blocking state Attorney General Greg Abbott from what plaintiffs, including the Texas Democratic Party, described as overzealous enforcement of a ballot-handling law.

The plaintiffs sued Abbott because he had prosecuted 13 individuals for possessing the ballots of other voters. The six citizen plaintiffs claim that they were doing nothing more than helping elderly friends or relatives get their ballots into the mail. Abbott contends they were committing voter fraud.

The law does indeed forbid possessing another's ballot, but plaintiffs hope to have it stricken as overbroad and say it discourages the elderly from voting and others from helping them. The injunction orders Abbott to "cease enforcing" the law, pending trial, "under circumstances in which a person, other than the voter, has merely possessed the official ballot or official carrier envelope and such possession is with the actual consent of the voter." The law is still enforceable under other circumstances, the court noted.

One of the groups pushing the suit, the Lone Star Project, characterized Abbott's strict enforcement of the law as a "vote suppression scheme," and noted that those prosecuted were all some combination of Democrats, racial minorities, and/or elderly. "Greg Abbott was not only improperly enforcing a flawed statute but creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear," said Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle. Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd L. Richie said, "Texas Republicans know that they would lose fair and free elections. That's why they've done everything they can to stack the deck … even if it means willfully ignoring the law and abusing the power of their office."

Solicitor General Ted Cruz, speaking for the AG's office, said, "No political operative should view Tuesday's unfortunate decision as an invitation to commit voter fraud. The Office of the Attorney General will file an immediate appeal and will vigorously prosecute voter fraud to ensure the integrity of Texas elections. The district court's decision is contrary to binding precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court, and we are highly confident on appeal." – Lee Nichols


Travis Dems and GOP Accuse Each Other of Dirty Tricks

The Travis County Democratic and Republican parties are hurling charges that each is, either willfully or accidentally, suppressing voting turnout with misinformation and harassment.

The first volley was actually in private. The GOP held a training session for election judges, but only for judges who are Republicans, pointedly telling any Dems who wanted to participate that they weren't invited and would be trespassing. (The county elections office says the practice is completely legal.) Nonetheless, Democratic activists infiltrated the meeting and smuggled out a document titled "Ballot Integrity Task Force Guide," which was intended to instruct judges in looking out for "voting irregularities," especially "issues of voter identification and inappropriate voter assistance."

The document notes that one of the most important irregularities to guard against is "Poll watchers making excessive challenges to delay voting process. (Intent here is to frustrate voters so they leave without voting.)" On a later page, the document alleges, "We have information that both the Democrat and Libertarian Party intend to 'flood' certain precincts with Poll Watchers." In a recording of the meeting made by election judge Mike Conwell (and posted online at www.mikeconwell.com/blog), the TCRP's Dave Reeve can be heard saying, "I have it on very good authority that [former Austin state representative and one-time candidate for state party chair] Glen Maxey … he's going to try to flood some of the precincts with poll watchers and provisional voters. And then, number one, poll watchers are to make excessive challenges to delay the voting process. What he wants to do is to delay things. And they're going to go to predominantly Republican precincts to do this. These poll watchers will get in the way, try to slow things down in an attempt to, they want to, people to be frustrated. Especially in the morning, and at lunch, when people are taking the time off from work to vote."

A "provisional vote" is one that is considered questionable by election officials, often on grounds of whether the voter is legally registered to vote, and is not counted until after election officials determine its validity.

TCDP Chair Chris Elliott seized upon the document to claim in a press release that it contains "inaccurate and misleading information [that] could lead to problems on Election Day if the judges … follow its directives. … [I]t could result in folks not being allowed to vote on Election Day even though they are qualified in every respect to cast their vote."

Specifically, the Democrats point to:

A section that says a voter who shows up at the wrong precinct "must" cast a provisional ballot, when the voter actually should be directed to the proper precinct, but can cast a provisional ballot at the wrong precinct if he/she chooses.

A section saying that if a voter who does not produce personal identification "is permitted to vote but the vote is not counted." Elliott notes that whether such a provisional ballot is counted is determined by the county election board and worries that an election judge will discourage people from casting ballots if they flatly state that a ballot "will not be counted."

The document classifies voters without photo ID as a "voting irregularity," when actually it is completely legal for voters to present identification that doesn't have a photo.

A flow chart on the document "suggests" (Elliott's word) that a voter presenting an out-of-date registration card must produce some other form of valid ID, though the county actually allows use of an expired card as long as the voter's name appears on the voter rolls. – Lee Nichols



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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

elections, Chris Bell, Rick Perry, Kinky Friedman, David Letterman, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Zogby, TXU

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