Grand Old Politics
Who is the real Republican?
It's a question House District 48 runoff candidates are now posing to local party supporters, after a flurry of attacks sailed back and forth between the camps of the two contenders -- Scott Loras and Jill Warren.
Loras' supporters claim that Warren, a local high-tech lawyer, is a Democrat in disguise who supports liberal judges, has worked for Democrats, and has voted in Democratic primaries. Warren's supporters say Loras is a plaintiff's trial lawyer who also worked for Democrats. Loras' supporters claim that Warren has taken special interest money from lobbyists, while Warren's supporters say Loras gets all his money from Dallas and Houston.
Loras calls the attacks, which he blames on Warren's consulting firm, AKT Strategies, "bothersome and the worst, sleazy kind of politics ... I hope the voters send them a message."
Warren says Loras is distorting the truth in a desperate attempt to tighten the big gap between the two, since Warren took 35% of the primary vote last month, to Loras' 24%.
Republicans have said all along that unseating the Democrats from their roost in District 48 -- a swath of West and Southwest Austin being vacated by five-term Rep. Sherri Greenberg -- will be a challenge. Adding to that challenge is the strength of the Democratic candidate, Ann Kitchen, who won her primary with three-fourths of the votes in a squeaky-clean race against Mandy Dealey. So the latest developments in the District 48 race can't be too pleasing to GOP faithful looking for an untarnished contender for November.
Warren's strong primary showing in a field of five didn't surprise too many, since she led in fundraising and had a well-organized campaign. But in the aftermath of the vote, her other primary opponents -- Maria Gavilan Burbridge, Robert Wyckoff, Joe Anderson, and dropout Albert Stowell -- teamed up against her in endorsing Loras. To make matters worse for Warren, the losers even held a press conference together to announce the endorsement.
Loras says Anderson's description of events is accurate but "a bit simplistic," since the candidates had gotten to know each other and their positions extremely well and made "thoughtful, independent decisions" on whom to endorse.
Warren says she was disappointed by the endorsements. But the real brouhaha started when Loras sent out a fax titled "Loras vs. Warren -- No comparison, not even close!," which outlined 13 reasons why Loras believes Warren is not a true conservative.
Among those, Loras notes that Warren voted in the 1998 Democratic primary in Harris County, worked for a Democratic appellate judge (Margaret Mirabal of Houston) and a Democratic state senator (John Montford of Lubbock), and is on a steering committee for a Democratic candidate for appellate judge (Woodie Jones of Houston).
Loras also claims that Warren never registered to vote until age 26, took contributions from lobbyists for strip clubs and gambling interests, and isn't even eligible to run, since she practiced law and lived in Los Angeles last year. And for the real kicker, Loras says Warren took money from a lobbyist who works for the the owners of Longhorn Pipeline -- the real reason, he says, that she hasn't taken a public position on the pipeline.
Warren disputes each of the claims. She says it's absurd to talk about whom she worked for, since the protocol when looking for a clerkship is, "the first judge who offers you a job, you take it." She adds that even though she is a lifelong Republican, she has voted in two Democratic primaries in the past, with the intent of influencing judicial races.
On Longhorn Pipeline, Warren says Loras ignored both her campaign literature and a Feb. 4 Chronicle article specifically noting her opposition to running gas through the pipeline. The lobbyist Loras refers to is Randy Urban, a longtime friend, but Warren notes that lobbyists represent all kinds of clients and she doesn't "interrogate" each donor. As for the voter registration charge, Warren says Loras didn't "do his homework" and failed to discover that she first registered in Huntsville at age 18. Finally, Warren says, not only is she eligible to run, but she only lived in Los Angeles for five months doing law work for her firm, and even maintained a residence in Austin during that time.
In response to the Loras fax, Warren's consultant, Hans Klinger, fired off an e-mail to Republicans saying that Loras himself worked for a Democrat (Lloyd Bentsen), had served as a personal injury plaintiff's attorney in 90% of 150 trials he worked on, and has no experience in Republican politics.
Loras responded to the Klinger e-mail by saying it was full of "dirty lies and distortions." He says he mainly works for insurance companies, not for plaintiffs in personal injury cases, and notes that he has long been involved in Republican politics, including his current stint as president of the Capitol Pachyderm Club and past service as delegate to various conventions.
Heading into the April 11 runoff, Loras says he'll send out a mailer detailing all the charges mentioned in his fax, save the mention of "strip clubs and gambling interests." Warren says she has no plans to make public attacks and will stick with the issues. "I don't think I need to get into Scott's problems," she says. "I need to concentrate on winning the race."