Election Updates

Shootout at D.a. Corral

In terms of backing from friends in high places, incumbent Ronnie Earle's campaign got a boost last week with a much-touted endorsement from fellow Democrat, Texas Attorney General Dan Morales. But to hear the folks at Republican challenger Shane Phelps' campaign headquarters tell it, Morales was practically forced into his endorsement of Earle, even though the AG had wanted to stay out of the race altogether.

"Ronnie hit the roof when he heard my radio commercials," Phelps says, referring to ads that include a Morales statement praising Phelps' abilities as a prosecutor. Morales was quoted two years ago in a Texas Lawyer profile on Phelps. At the time, Phelps worked for Morales as a special prosecutor at the AG's office.

The fusillade of those commercials crackling over the airwaves prompted Earle to place a phone call to the attorney general's office, says Phelps. Days later, Morales endorsed Earle. It wasn't enough, though, to secure the attorney general's endorsement in the form of a written statement. The two Democrats stood side by side at a press conference at the state capitol.

Patrick Woodson, an Earle campaign spokesman, counters Phelps' version of the story. "Actually, I hit the roof a lot harder than Ronnie when I heard the ads. I was really upset, especially because Dan had wanted to stay out of the race. And then Shane started running those ads and when Dan asked him to stop, Shane refused. So, Dan endorsed Ronnie."

Back at the Phelps camp, the candidate says he's letting the ads run their scheduled course until they are replaced this week with a new set of commercials. "I hold no ill will against Dan," adds Phelps of his former boss. "But I'm perfectly within my legal limits to run the ads."

Phelps has some reason to gloat: He's sitting pretty on some freshly infused campaign cash from the Associated Republicans of Texas. And those chunks of cash -- totalling more than $100,000 -- may have prompted Earle's decision to take out a $50,000 loan October 11. Earle shouldn't lose too much sleep: He's raked in the most funds with $225,000, compared to Phelps' $208,000.

Expect the Earle and Phelps race to heat up still further Friday morning when the two candidates take their platforms to the Sammy and Bob radio show. No doubt Phelps, ever the prosecutor, will be hammering home his closing argument by rehashing Earle's record as if it were a rap sheet. -- Amy Smith

SETUPS WITH THE SHERIFFS

The dreaded set-up call. To their credit, last week Sammy Allred and Bob Cole warned the listeners of their KVET morning show not to place set-up calls to their guests -- sheriff candidates Margo Frasier and Alvin Shaw. But, as they predicted, "that probably won't help." It didn't.

The first call came from a woman who wanted to know if Frasier agreed that her "personal alternative lifestyle is an issue." Frasier snapped back, "No," which seemed to bewilder the caller. "No? You don't?" she asked uncertainly.

Cole jumped in, pleading, "That's a set-up call -- C'mon gang, let's not start that."

The next one was a tad more subtle, but just as pointed. The caller started with a lob to Shaw, asking him to compare his experience in patrol to Frasier's (he was in the Austin Police Department for 18 years, while Frasier's expertise is in corrections). The second part of the question was a missile targeted at Frasier: "I know Terry Keel did a lot of enforcement out here at [the nude beach] Hippie Hollow, and I was just wondering if you were elected, would you change any of the policies as far as dealing with the problem with the homosexuals at Hippie Hollow?" Cole and Allred yelled "set-up," but Frasier insisted on answering the question: "I'll enforce the public lewdness statutes of the state of Texas whether it's homosexuals, heterosexuals, or whatever the third version might be."

One listener even called in to come to Frasier's rescue: "I'd like to address the woman who called in first. If she doesn't want to vote for a gay person, then don't vote for a gay person, but don't bring that issue up." -- Audrey Duff

SENATORIAL MISMATCH?

The Democrats don't believe Victor Morales can win. The Republicans don't think Phil Gramm can lose. At least that's the way it looks when comparing the amount of money given to each campaign by the national political parties. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced two weeks ago that it will give Morales between $100,000 and $200,000. The group could have given him $1.6 million. Meanwhile, a search of Federal Election Commission records shows that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has not given Gramm, the incumbent, any money since December 11, 1995, when they gave Gramm a check for $17,500, the amount that each party automatically gives its nominee. (Morales got his in April.)

Both the DSCC and the NRSC collect millions of dollars in so-called soft money, primarily from large corporations. Gramm, who headed the NRSC from 1991-'94, could have called on the NRSC, which is now headed by Sen. Al D'Amato of New York, for more money if he needed it. But with a huge fundraising advantage over Morales and a 20-point lead in the polls, Gramm and the NRSC apparently decided there was no need. On Tuesday morning, exactly one week before the election, Larry Neal, Gramm's spokesman, was sounding confident. "I believe we will win and win convincingly," he said. -- Robert Bryce

WILLIAMSON COUNTY DEMS

Contrary to the hoary old Mark Twain chestnut, reports of the death of the Williamson County Democratic Party were NOT greatly exaggerated. After the GOP's 1994 rout, the Williamson Dem's suffered the further indignity of watching some of their stalwarts -- including District Judge Bill Stubblefield and D.A. Ken Anderson -- decide they'd rather switch parties than fight. It appeared unlikely that a Democrat would win an election up yonder in our lifetimes.

Yet drive around Georgetown, and you'll see ample evidence that the Williamson Democrats have risen from the dead, at least enough to turn a couple of ostensibly open-and-shut GOP coronations into something approaching a contest. State Rep. Mike Krusee of Round Rock, a self-styled Republican reformer whose performance in the Lege has undershot most expectations, is being challenged by first-time candidate Jerry Graham, newly retired assistant superintendent of Georgetown ISD. At the county level, Commissioner Mike Heiligenstein -- whose precinct comprises more than half of Williamson's population -- faces former Brazos River Authority director Patty Eason. Both GOP incumbents are seeking their third terms.

Now, it would still be a major upset, with potential statewide ramifications, if either Krusee or Heiligenstein loses next Tuesday. (The weaker of the two is Heiligenstein, a party-switcher who, along with his colleagues, recently voted himself a tasty pay raise.) But the Dems -- who are, to put it charitably, at a financial disadvantage -- are putting up enough of a battle to at least restore their dignity. "We're actually a very active group," says one WCDP volunteer. "You wouldn't think there were so many Democrats in the county. We've also started up a Young Democrats group at Southwestern (University) and even a Young Liberals club at Georgetown High... So no, we weren't dead. We were just sleeping for a while." -- Mike Clark-Madison

DOGGED BY PACS

If you weren't already convinced by their unctuous advertising that Lloyd and Teresa Doggett were not, shall we say, wholly focused on Austin in their Congressional contest, take a look at their respective PAC trails. Why, for example, are the AFL-CIO and the PACs of its member unions -- some of which do not have a single local in Texas -- giving so heavily to Lloyd? On his pre-primary Federal Election Commission filing, the largest PAC donation is a $5,000 gift from the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum and Plastic Workers, and we all know what a powerful force they are in Central Texas. Not to mention the Seafarers League, which ponied up $1000 in solidarity with the large maritime contingent here in Austin.

And why, as her campaign gleefully reports, is Teresa the only congressional challenger in the country to receive the PAC endorsement, and presumably some grease, from the Veterans of Foreign Wars? (She notes in her campaign lit that "Austin has one of the largest populations of veterans in the state of Texas," but this hardly explains a national endorsement.) The VFWs are an interesting bagatelle on an endorsement list that's mostly rooted in Teresa's being black and/or female and/or Republican -- the NRA, the Susan B. Anthony List (supporting pro-life women), the Black America PAC, and presidential washout Steve Forbes, who is something of a one-man PAC. Teresa's only local endorsement seems to be from the Austin Republican Women PAC; she also got the nod from the Texas Instruments employee PAC, though from which part of the state is unspecified.

For his part, Lloyd, who came out of the primary with $1 million in his war chest, has picked up some sugar from (among others) Motorola, GTE, Enron, EDS, Texas Utilities and Southwestern Bell employee PACs, as well as from every conceivable kind of union, most of the big players in telecommunications, lots of law firms, and for that matter lots of individual lawyers, some of whom actually live in the Tenth District. (A surprising number, though, live in Corpus Christi, not to mention the D.C. suburbs.) Local celebs on Lloyd's donor list include Beverly Griffith, former mayor Frank Cooksey, Origin Systems jefe Richard Garriott, bankers Ed Safady and Joe Long, Austin CableVision president Bill Carey, professional rich people like Genevieve Vaughan and Ronya Kozmetsky, Eric Blumberg's political Svengali John McCall, and ACC trustee/Schlotzky's impresario John Wooley, who has supplied more than his share of bread (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk). -- Mike Clark-Madison

RAISING MONEY
THE RIGHT WAY

In contrast to other recent races where incumbents (Democrat or Republican) have faced conservative Republican challengers, the District 10 race for the State Board of Education (SBOE) seems to remain free of dirty tricks. But there's a bit of a gap between the financial artillery of Democratic incumbent Will Davis and Charlie Weaver, his GOP opponent.

From July 1 to September 26, Davis raised $2,600, bringing his year-to-date warchest to almost $45,000 -- $10,000 of which went to media consultants Emory Young & Associates. Lacking the funds to pepper the district (which encompasses Travis and 13 other counties) with signs, as opponent Weaver has done, Davis is instead buying display ads and radio spots to get the word out. Weaver's year-to-date fundraising efforts have yielded over $56,000 -- more than $15,000 of which has come from wealthy, super-conservative San Antonio businessman James Leininger or his A+ PAC for Parental School Choice. The Dallas Morning News reported in its October 16 edition that the PAC, dedicated to electing religious conservatives to the SBOE, has raised over $200,000 toward that end -- although as of early October, most of the money had not yet been spent. -- Roseana Auten

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