Naked City

Secrets of the Trade

Pretty soon, you'll need a program to tell where all of the Texas Republican strategists and press aides are working. Earlier this year, Scott McClellan, who just last year was running the campaign of his mother, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, took a job in the press office of Governor George W. Bush. Then, a few months ago, he left Bush's press office to work for the governor's presidential campaign. At the beginning of September, when Linda Edwards, Bush's press spokesperson at the Capitol, left town for vacation, she was replaced for several days by Ray Sullivan, who used to be in the Bush press office but now works as the press secretary for Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry.

There are plenty of other examples. Heather Browne, who used to work on the Bush gubernatorial campaign, now works in Attorney General John Cornyn's press office. Cornyn's other press officer, Ted Delisi, sells mailing lists and direct-mail services to the Bush presidential campaign. Former Austin American-Statesman reporter Michelle Kay worked on Cornyn's campaign, then went to work for Rylander. (She has since left Rylander's office).

Compared to the fractious relationships among the Democrats when they were in power, the current Republican regime appears to have more interchangeable parts than a Lego factory. And all of the officeholders and their acolytes are loyal to Bush, which further strengthens Bush's position here in Texas and for the presidential race. How? Look at Funeralgate. Cornyn showed up in court last month to argue against the motion seeking Bush's deposition in the whistle-blower lawsuit brought by former Texas Funeral Service Commission executive director Eliza May. His lawyers have also issued an opinion that appears to help Bush's friends at Houston-based Service Corporation International, the funeral giant that May's employees investigated during her tenure at the agency. And now, Rylander's employees are running the TFSC while the agency tries to recover from the disastrous aftermath of May's dismissal.

"The Republicans are all friends. There's a great deal of respect for one another and they work closely together and trust each other," says Sullivan, who has also worked for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and GOP strategist Karl Rove, and is one of Bush's closest advisors. Republican insiders add that the cohesiveness of their group is fostered by their common philosophies, a factor that was missing among Texas Democrats. Whereas the Democrats split between conservative and liberal factions, the split in the GOP, say the insiders, has not been as pronounced.

A Democratic strategist who requested anonymity put a different spin on the issue. "The talent pool in Republican circles is very, very, small," he said. "You had a governor who controlled it all. Then you had a Republican sweep and not enough people to staff it all. So now they are trying to stretch the talent pool among five or six offices, including the lieutenant governor's office."

Some of the Republicans' relationships appear especially cozy. For instance, during the last reporting period, the Bush presidential campaign paid $51,573 to Praxis List Company, a direct-mail list service owned by Olsen & Delisi, the Austin-based direct mail and consulting company that bought out Rove's firm earlier this year. Delisi is one of the owners of the firm, which got another $155,000 from the Bush campaign for direct-mail work. Delisi did not return repeated phone calls from the Chronicle seeking comment.

Mark Sanders is another GOP stalwart who has bounced among several jobs. A former employee of the state Republican Party, he worked on the campaign and in the office of Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, and now works as a press aide to Rylander. He says that after decades of being on the outside, the Texas GOP is maturing. "There's finally a team of Republican advisors and consultants out there that's able to handle this stuff," he said.

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