Election Aftermath

Bathing in Napalm

It was nearly 10 o'clock on Tuesday night and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle had yet to put in an obligatory appearance at Palmer Auditorium. Instead, Earle was hanging out with guys in gimme caps down at the Texas AFL-CIO. It was his victory party -- he had just won his re-election bid for district attorney -- but beneath the red, white and blue ballons floating merrily about, Earle wore the look of a shell-shocked soldier home from war.

The 20-year-incumbent survived one of the hardest-fought battles of his career in the run against Republican candidate Shane Phelps. The state Republican party had very badly wanted to oust Earle from office, even betting the farm on Phelps with upwards of $100,000 in campaign money. In the end, the stakes on both sides totalled more than a half-million dollars. But Earle tallied up 55% of the vote, compared to Phelps' 45%.

In his victory speech before heading over to Palmer, Earle let go of some pent-up venom and aimed it squarely at his opponent and the Republican Party. Likening the contest to taking a bath in napalm, Earle said, "This is a victory over anger and hatred and a victory for the community." What the outcome of the race illustrates, he said, "is the power of community, not the power of gunslingers. Gunslingers suck, right?" The remark drew whoops and hollers from the audience of labor leaders and long-time Democrats.

"Every time we jump on somebody they get pissed about it, and they start looking at me like they're making a detailed autopsy," Earle told his supporters, who were all grins by this time. "They know more about my underwear drawer than I do."

Even Phelps acknowledges that the Republicans have wanted Earle's head on a platter ever since the district attorney brought charges against one of their own -- U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison -- in 1994. And Phelps, who quit his job with the Texas Attorney General's office to run for office, was the candidate who could make that happen, the Republicans believed.

He couldn't, and as the hours ticked by Tuesday night, Phelps never showed his face. On Wednesday, Phelps did not return phone calls to The Austin Chronicle, and his campaign manager could not be reached.

Perhaps Phelps could have made a stronger showing if he had been more widely known in the community, said Earle's campaign manager, David Butts. "The reason he came as close as he did is because this was an effort by a group of Republicans -- primarily Kay Bailey Hutchison and [husband] Ray Hutchison and some other high-placed Republicans around the state who decided it was payback time for Ronnie Earle. "But Ronnie has been around for a long time; a lot of people like Ronnie and, part of the reason he made a good showing is because Ronnie refused to go negative." At least not until after the votes were counted. -- Amy Smith

Belle of the Ball

New Sheriff-elect Margo Frasier was bouncing off the walls of Palmer Auditorium as she awaited the slow returns Tuesday night. As the first candidate in a hotly contested race to show up at the unusually ho-hum affair, desperate-for-news TV anchors courted Frasier like she was Cinderella at the ball. After she hit all four stations, Channel 7 asked her to come on again. "I told them there's nothing new to say," laughed Frasier.

By the time Frasier's Republican opponent Travis County Chief Deputy Alvin Shaw hit Palmer to make the network rounds at 10:15pm, he was losing. Still, Channel 36 talking heads didn't ask him about that unpleasant fact, and instead allowed him to ramble on about what he was going to do in the unlikely event he should become sheriff.

At Frasier's victory party steps away from Palmer at Aussie's bar, Travis County's first female sheriff gave hugs all around: to her family -- which consists of her adopted 3-year-old daughter and her longtime partner, who is an officer with the Austin Police Department -- and to the dozens of volunteers from her church and the Travis County Sheriff's office. The Sheriff's employees in particular seemed relieved to have overthrown the current-in-command Terry Keel/Alvin Shaw regime. "Margo will deal fairly with individual employees and problems as they come up, rather than how it relates to some political agenda," predicted Shane Poole, a corrections sergeant at the Travis County Sheriff's Office. "I think there'll be a lot of happy people at work tomorrow -- except for one (Shaw). Maybe two. (Keel)"

Shaw, who throughout the campaign denied there were morale problems among his employees, gamely refused to concede defeat until after midnight when all the precinct boxes were counted. -- Audrey Duff

Mail-Out Misfire

This one was a real squeaker until the end, the closest State Board of Education race in Texas, in fact. Davis, the Democratic incumbent, won with 49% of the vote; Weaver, the Republican challenger, garnered almost 46%. Natural Law Party candidate Catherine Randolph chipped away at Davis' and Weaver's tallies, coming in with 5% of the vote. As expected, Davis' strongest support came from Travis County, where he won 57% of the vote, but he also took a majority in Bastrop, Burleson, Caldwell, and Milam Counties. Weaver fared best in the more conservative hinterlands -- Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Fort Bend, Washington, and Williamson Counties -- but those numbers were not quite enough to overcome the clout that Travis carries.

"I feel good that I won against the conservative Republican trend," said Davis, who had braced himself for a late attack on him via direct mail. In 1994, that particular tactic had worked well for two East Texas-area GOP candidates, who falsely accused their Democratic opponents of being pro-gay, anti-family extremists who wanted Texas schoolchildren to be instructed in masturbation.

Indeed, though the content was not nearly so harsh as it was two years ago, a similar-looking, tabloid-sized mailing was issued from the Republican Party of Texas early last week, erroneously charging that Davis "supports condom distribution in public schools," and that he does not support "error-free textbooks" or "the fundamental rights of parents."

A similar flier, supporting GOP candidate David Bradley in the Beaumont-area District 7 race, screamed that Democratic candidate Rema Lou Brown enjoyed support from "radical groups like ACT-UP and Queer Nation" and that she had "recently participated in an event with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the ACLU." (Bradley ultimately won that race.)

But the screeds did not reach their intended targets. A bizarre mix-up in the mail-out may have actually helped derail the slam effort in Davis' case -- for District 10 fliers went out to voters in District 7, and vice versa. Not only that, many of the GOP fliers inexplicably arrived at the addresses of stalwart Democrats. Davis said he thought the screw-up, "terribly funny, I laughed out loud when I heard," adding that it shocked him to be attacked in such a manner for the first time in his 30 years of public life.

Elsewhere around the state, Democrat Joe Bernal easily knocked off GOP incumbent Jose Garcia de Lara in the San Antonio-area District 3 race -- remarkable for the fact that Gov. George W. Bush had appointed de Lara to fill the seat when it was vacated by an ailing board member. All told, this season's eight State Board elections yielded only three Democratic victors. Nine Republicans, at least six of whom are quite conservative, now hold seats on the board; the remaining six seats are in the hands of Democrats. -- Roseana Auten

Doggett Style

To the surprise of few, Doggett prevailed. Lloyd Doggett, that is, and pretty darn handily, too. He took his Republican counterpart and unrelated opponent, Teresa Doggett, to task by a 15-point margin. Large enough, one could presume, to make it seem that District 10 could be Lloyd's for the taking long into the future. But that was not the predominant sentiment of his victory speech at Bertram's. Flanked by wife and daughter and as wooden as ever, the sophomore representative made a respectable attempt to lighten up: "I hope there's no truth to the rumor that the Republicans are already searching for someone named Lloyd to run next time."

No, they can still rely on Teresa, who is unbowed by defeat. "I'm gonna start running [against Lloyd] tomorrow. We built a huge organization that's ready to roll for the next time. We ran a substantive, hard-hitting race that brought forth information about his record that people didn't know was out there. He talked about balancing the budget, then voted against it twice."

Lloyd's making that same promise again, as well as refining the Endangered Species Act, increasing financial assistance for higher education, and of course, continuing to "speak out vigorously and pointing out the incredible inconsistencies" of Newt and the gang. "I'm ready to work together with Congress but if Newt Gingrich and his extremist philosophy will harm Austin families, I'm going to be there fighting whether they like it or not."

And they certainly didn't during his freshman term; it was his speaking out that almost sparked a retaliatory threat to cut funding for the Sematech consortium. And with the Republicans retaining control of the House, Austinites can expect more of the same. In fact, during his speech, Lloyd essentially admitted that his effectiveness depends not on his consensus-building, but on the number of Democrats in the House: "I've established myself and hopefully with the Republican majority reduced, we can solve some problems." (The Democrats did manage a net gain of nine seats overall, with six races still too close to call as we go to press; but the GOP still looks to hold a 227-207 majority.) -- Alex de Marban

Riding on Write-Ins

If you checked Travis County election totals on television or the World Wide Web Tuesday night, you may have wondered what happened to all those lefties who were going to vote for Ralph Nader. Actually, they made a respectable showing, but didn't register in the results because Nader and his running mate Winona LaDuke were not actually on the ballot in Texas, and write-in ballots were not counted here until Wednesday afternoon. Nader actually received 2,135 votes in Travis County, giving him almost all of the write-in ballots and placing him fourth behind Ross Perot and ahead of the Libertarian (1,851 votes), Natural Law Party (660) and U.S. Taxpayers Party (187) candidates who did get a place on the ballot. Nationally, Nader also came in fourth, with more than half a million people awarding him .6% of the vote. -- Lee Nichols

The Election from Home: Stick with the NBA. It's More Exciting.

The polls had been closed for just 30 minutes and already Texas was firmly in the pocket of Bob Dole and Phil Gramm was the winner over Victor Morales. And just 31 minutes later, CNN had also called Bill Clinton the victor in the race for the White House.

The only thing interesting about the election coverage on Tuesday night was how the different television networks covered the event. Everyone knew that Clinton would win. The only question was how quickly the exit pollsters and TV commentators would call it. In that regard, CNN was nearly an hour ahead of CBS, ABC and NBC. While Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw talked to pundits about various Congressional races, CNN commentators were interviewing Clinton allies like Vernon Jordan and asking how Clinton would fare over the next four years.

Perhaps the most entertaining coverage of the election was on Comedy Central, where correspondent Chris Rock interviewed Dr. Joyce Brothers, who, oblivious to Rock's mocking face gestures, began telling the audience about the "incentive disengagement" that occurs in a losing candidate. Did you know, asked Brothers, that the life expectancy of "presidents is 3.1 years less than their contemporaries?"

The networks also supplied their own unwitting moments of levity. For instance, Brokaw opined that the "Sad thing is there always has to be a winner and a loser." On ABC, U.S. Rep. Dick Armey went into a long tirade during an interview with Jennings about how the networks were predicting winners. "We always knew that the media gave the Democrats the benefit of the doubt," said Armey. "Now they are getting the benefit of the speculation." When Armey finally stopped, Jennings deadpanned, "Your lecture is certainly noted," and then went on to ask about the political landscape in Texas.

At 7:45pm, Rather noted that polls throughout the central and western U.S. were closing soon. "This could be the hour of decision," he said. Wow. What drama.

After 8:30pm, the only real contest on TV was between the Lakers and the Knicks, who were playing in Madison Square Garden. There too, the confident and brash young upstart (Shaquille O'Neal, playing the Clinton role) beat the dour and snaggle-toothed veteran (Patrick Ewing). But the good thing about the basketball game was that even though the Lakers were winning at halftime, neither Verne Lundquist nor Doc Rivers was predicting which team would win.
(It was the Lakers). -- Robert Bryce

Goodnight, David

The media highlight of the night, hands down, was ABC's sign-off segment, a "surprise" farewell to retiring octogenarian David Brinkley. It began with Brinkley launching into what was apparently going to be an off-color joke about Ross Perot, and Tom Brokaw nervously interrupting him not once, but twice, to note that, ummm, you know, we are on the air, really. When at last the doddering icon understood that Brokaw wasn't kidding, that he was in fact live coast-to-coast, Brinkley settled back in his chair and exhaled: "Well, then, I have nothing at all to say."

He did have one more thing to add, though, when they gave him the night's last word: He remarked that each of his colleagues had a remarkable amount of "creativeness" -- which was a quality utterly lacking in Bill Clinton, he said, which was why the President "is a bore. And he'll always be a bore." Upon which Brokaw cut in again to thank David and put a merciful end to the night's coverage, and Brinkley's illustrious career. -- Nick Barbaro

Frasier 48,064, Shaw 44,354 Earle 51,553, Phelps 40,659

Those were the numbers reported on all four local news shows as early voting totals in the Travis County Sheriff and D.A. races. That was shortly after the polls closed at 7pm, and officially, 0% of the precincts were reporting at that point. As the evening progressed, however, and votes started trickling, then pouring, into Palmer Auditorium, Travis County's election headquarters, the reported margins in those races and others around Travis County stayed mysteriously the same.

As the percentage of precincts reporting began to climb -- 7%, 22%, 43%, 62% -- reporters on all four stations came back time and again to those races to report that they were still neck-and-neck -- still too close to call. What nobody apparently noticed -- none of the newsfolk, anyway -- was that the vote totals they were reporting hadn't actually changed; it was still Frasier 48,064, Shaw 44,354; Earle 51,553, Phelps 40,659, until somewhere around 10pm, when the tally was finally updated. -- Nick Barbaro

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