The Chronicle Endorsements, Nov. 2002

The Chronicle endorses for the 2002 November general election

The Chronicle Endorsements, Nov. 2002
Illustration By Doug Potter

Holding our noses over this year's candidates, especially at the top of the ballot, may be a cliché -- but like all clichés it reiterates a well-worn truth. Several of our endorsements fall far short of enthusiastic support. Some are defensive choices of the common interests of ordinary citizens in difficult and belligerent times.

To put it plainly, we believe those interests will be better served if the Republicans do not control the U.S. Senate nor the Governor's Mansion. Truly progressive politicians and coalitions would have more room to maneuver with the Democratic candidates in those positions, and Texas voters have a rare chance this year to create that necessary political space.

Honorable people may disagree with us for honorable reasons, but we urge each of our readers to head to the polls Nov. 5, take a very deep breath -- and vote as best as you can. (Early voting starts Oct. 19; for that and other info, see p.26.)

Note: The following endorsements are in contested races on the Travis County ballot.

U.S. Senator: Ron Kirk

What a difference six months make. We truly did not expect to have been more enthusiastic about Ron Kirk in March, when he faced the honorable Victor Morales, than we are now that he faces the odious John Cornyn. But Kirk's shameless attempts to out-demagogue Cornyn on Iraq leaves us wondering if Dallasites are right to warn that to know their ex-mayor is to distrust him. We understand the need to "run to the middle" in Texas, but Kirk's pandering to war hysteria, and the rest of his "nonpartisan pro-business" campaign have been breathtaking -- does he want to replace Phil Gramm, or to become Phil Gramm? Yet the only thing that has slowed the Bush administration's hand on central GOP goals is the razor-thin Democratic Senate majority. If Kirk wins, he might well keep the Senate in the Democrats' hands. We hope it does not prove a devil's bargain.

U.S. Rep., District 10: Lloyd Doggett

In abundant contrast to Kirk, Lloyd Doggett has done Central Texans proud by defying both the White House and the Democratic leadership over the cynical push for war and the craven abandonment of congressional authority. His district may be safely Democratic, but Doggett knows he shouldn't play it safe. His diligence as a Central Texas advocate is, for the moment, overshadowed by his tireless mustering of opposition to the Bush war campaign, in the face of snide and often dishonest reaction. There is much to praise in Doggett; we're happy to take this opportunity to pat the Congressman on the back.

U.S. Rep., District 21: John Courage

Perhaps the most important aspect of this endorsement is to alert west-side voters that they can and should vote for Democrat John Courage. After redistricting, Dist. 21 now sprawls up from San Antonio through the Hill Country into Austin territory that was once in Doggett's Dist. 10. John Courage is not just a better name than incumbent Lamar Smith -- he's a much better candidate on the issues: the economy, health care, Social Security, education, women's rights, on all of which Smith invariably speaks very softly and votes very wrong. Smith has also made a personal legislative crusade of making life harder for working immigrants, and now he's on a hysterical campaign against Internet porn. Travis Co. voters have a real chance to make a difference in this race, and they should have the Courage to do so.

Governor: Tony Sanchez

We endorsed Sanchez against Dan Morales in the primary for several good reasons -- and last week Morales confirmed one of them, when he bolted ranks and endorsed Republican incumbent-by-default Rick Perry. Morales talks the Democratic talk, but he has never walked the walk, and Sanchez may turn out just the opposite. Yes, he's an oil tycoon who gave money to Bush, and yes, he's had a long learning curve on the stump, but if he didn't exist, the Democrats would have had to invent him. He shouldn't be running to the right of Perry on taxes (the state budget simply won't balance with "scrubbing" bubbles). But on insurance, education, health care, workers' rights, and other key issues, Sanchez won't be able to roll over on cue for the lobby (as Perry has) because his voting base won't let him. He's not another Ralph Yarborough -- hell, he's not even another LBJ -- but until progressive Democrats get more room to organize, he'll just have to do. The Green Party's Rahul Mahajan and his downballot fellows have taken a principled stand for an independent progressive movement and party -- but that party isn't here yet, and until then Texans have to play the cards we've been dealt.

Lieutenant Governor: John Sharp

This vote is definitely too easy -- GOP Land Commissioner and multimillionaire David Dewhurst is completely unqualified to run the Senate. More sinister is Dewhurst's counter-democratic CIA history and his unapologetic collaboration with the most reactionary interests in state politics, not to mention Perry's delivering to this rattlesnake the venomous arena of "homeland security." Sharp's pragmatism and his budget axe may both be better honed than his sense of the common good -- one Bob Bullock was quite enough, thank you -- but he is an experienced, rational, competent candidate who knows what it takes to get anything positive done at the Capitol. We'll go dutifully back to goosing him after he wins.

Attorney General: Kirk Watson

Austin's crown prince of boom times, the back door, and Smart Growth got outta town not a minute too soon -- to some local chagrin. But that survivor instinct should serve him in good stead at the AG's, where he will have to revive an office gone moribund under John Cornyn. Generally decent on open government, Cornyn has been otherwise disastrous, and the corporate judicial hack and tort-tycoon-hypocrite Greg Abbott will be much more of the latter and much less of the former. Watson has a chance, the knowledge, and, it appears, the cojones to be the best citizens' advocate -- bantamweight division -- since bruiser Jim Mattox.

Comptroller of Public Accounts: Ruben L. Reyes

We've gone Green for comptroller, because we are frankly flummoxed by the Hobson's choice between Carole "Grandma Grandstander" Keeton Rylander and Marty "Orangeblood" Akins. We're surprised that Rylander -- the Peter Principle personified -- has stayed put this long. As for Akins, his campaigns have been one long "Gimme the ball, Coach" call from a candidate who seems to know or care little about public policy. We hesitate to recommend any vote -- any thought -- that might advance the fortunes of the Incumbent horribila, but the Green Party's Ruben L. Reyes is an honorable El Paso activist who, if given half a chance, could undoubtedly comptroll circles around either Carole or Marty. That he will not get that chance is sorry testimony to the peculiar madness of Texas politics.

Commissioner, General Land Office: David Bernsen

It is our most humble opinion that a dead possum would be an improvement over incumbent David Dewhurst at the Land Office. Now we consider Republican Jerry Patterson, who as a state senator attempted to embody The Onion's parody of an actual handgun elected to office. Patterson may want to be the next Charlton Heston, but his GLO campaign has also made disturbing noises about "revisiting" the Open Beaches Act, backsliding on the state's public beaches to pander to vacation-home owners who want property rights to the Gulf of Mexico. Democrat Bernsen has been an honorable, dependable moderate in the state Senate. He should restore the agency to credibility, and maybe he'll even do a few state royalty audits, which seems to have slipped Dewhurst's, um, mind. A vote for Bernsen is a vote for Texas education, land, and beaches.

Agriculture Commissioner: Tom Ramsay

Incumbent Republican Susan Combs sees her job as promoting Texas ag products, and pays little attention to anything else. You might think her party would be howling for "welfare reform" -- but if it's corporate agribusiness welfare, they're all for it. If Combs wants to run an ad agency, she should privatize herself. Former Dem state Rep. Tom Ramsay of Mt. Vernon proposes returning the agency's focus to the safety and fair regulation of agricultural production, including imports as well as state products, with the promotion of state agriculture an outgrowth of that job. The Greens' Jane Elioseff is a longtime Houston environmentalist who wants to promote local and organic farming and emphasize sustainable and safe agriculture. She's an honorable choice, but we need to pry Combs into retirement.

Railroad Commissioner: Sherry Boyles

Incumbent Republican Michael Williams has continued the embarrassing tradition of the recumbent RRC; applicant corporations arrive at regulatory hearings bearing their own rubber stamps. Williams' latest prostration is to recommend abolishing RRC purview over hazardous rail shipments. Dem Sherry Boyles cannot single-handedly end the RRC's subjugation, but she will not be as beholden to corporate interests, and her proposal to merge with the Public Utility Commission would have the salutary effect of formally acknowledging a consumer interest in the agency's affairs. That's still not the citizens' interest, exactly, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. Green Party candidate Charles Mauch has the advantage of having actually worked in the industry, and he understands well both national energy and state environmental issues. If Boyles wins, she should hire him.

Supreme Court:

Chief Justice: Richard G. Baker

Place 1: Linda Yañez

Place 2: Brad Rockwell

Place 3: William E. Moody

Place 4: Margaret Mirabal

The crucial SC vote is for Democrat Margaret Mirabal and against anti-affirmative-action zealot Steven Wayne Smith in Place 4. Incumbent Chief Justice Tom Phillips has chosen this race to advocate for campaign finance reform and against the election of judges: too little, far too late. We strongly recommend the Democrats for every seat but Place 2, to shift the court away from undermining the tort system on behalf of corporate defendants and back toward public justice. For Place 2, the Chronicle endorses the Green Party's Brad Rockwell (also of the Save Our Springs Alliance), because we believe his work -- for the environment, for human rights and against capital punishment, for neighborhoods and community -- has carried forth the ideal of true justice.

Court of Criminal Appeals:

Place 1: Robert C. (Rob) Owen

Place 2: Pat Montgomery

Place 3: J.R. Molina

The Chronicle frankly expects little change at the Court of Criminal Appeals, which in Texas could be more honestly re-named Court of No Resort. For the three open seats, we recommend two Democrats and Rob Owen of the Green Party, who has spent much of his legal career in the thankless task of defending capital punishment cases. A vote for Owen is a vote against the death penalty and in the name of ordinary humanity -- and a vote of thanks.

State Board of Education, District 5: Donna Howard

An Austin resident who has served on the Eanes ISD board, Howard has progressive values and a perspective sorely lacking on the SBOE. She strongly opposes textbook censorship, ideologically motivated management of the Permanent School Fund, and the creationism/abstinence-only educational policies propagated by the board's Bible-beating core. She faces Dan Montgomery of Fredericksburg, generally more rational than his colleagues but nonetheless an "authentic conservative." The Greens' Irene Meyer Scharf, a librarian and schoolteacher, lacks the name recognition of a viable candidate.

State Board of Education, District 10: Leslie Nicole Ramsey

The Greens' Ramsey would easily be the worst nightmare of the Board's radical right core -- a prospect she considers an intriguing challenge. An Austin health care advocate, feminist, and social justice and peace activist, Ramsey obviously won't appeal to conservative voters who still think a woman's place is in the home, and her Greenness has already cost her an endorsement from one local Dem group still mad at Ralph Nader. Such retribution is foolish: With no Democrat on the ballot and Ramsey challenging a conservative Republican, progressive Dems can go Green on this one in good faith, and help a candidate who supports reforms and programs that would do Texas schoolchildren a lot of good.

State Senate, District 14: Gonzalo Barrientos

Some Chron editors are disappointed in Barrientos' inconsistent effectiveness, but we all agree that he stands up for Austin on the Senate floor and fights the good fight on major issues: the environment, education, support for state employees, health care, indigent defense. The GOP alternative of Ben Bentzin -- a very pleasant fellow who woke up a millionaire and decided to buy a Senate seat -- would shift legislative influence away from Austin into the suburbs, a trend that has already damaged the city's interests quite enough, and is precisely what the GOP was hoping for when it slashed South Austin out of Dist. 14. Bentzin would be a bearable alternative to state Rep. Mike Krusee -- let the record show we made the suggestion first -- but to shift this seat into GOP hands would disenfranchise much of the city. We strongly endorse Barrientos, and urge his supporters to Get Out and Vote: Austin needs you.

State Senate, District 25: Jeff Wentworth

It's rare that the Chronicle endorses Republicans, but this year incumbent Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio is the clear choice in the re-drawn Dist. 25, which now includes Travis Heights and other South Austin neighborhoods. We're not pleased with his weak environmental record, and we're newly curious about the ethical charges brought against him (along with the revolting Rep. Rick Green) late in the campaign. But he shines on other issues: He is an ardent champion of open records/ open government laws, he is pro-choice, and he valiantly fought the good fight to keep some integrity in the redistricting process. He paid the price -- the R's punished him with a bruising and disreputable primary challenge from right-winger John Shields. Wentworth may be part of the Senate's Republican majority, but he is also a thoughtful man who comes to his positions honestly and has no use for demagoguery. Dem opponent Joe Sullivan is merely a token perennial candidate.

Texas House, Dist. 46: Dawnna Dukes

A House representative since 1994, Dukes has achieved "veteran" status among the Travis Co. delegation. During her tenure, Dukes has established herself an effective legislator and advocate for East Austin and for all of Texas concerning environmental justice, education, and children's health insurance. Dukes not only deserves your vote, she's earned it.

Texas House, Dist. 47: No endorsement

Terry Keel is the Republican incumbent and favorite in this non-race against Democrat Bill Martin and Green Sarah Dubose. Neither Martin nor Dubose have waged much of a campaign, which leaves us with Keel. What has he done for us lately? Well, for one, he stuck it to local Democrats during redistricting, but ensured his own re-election by retaining a sufficient amount of GOP flavor in his new district.

Texas House, Dist. 48: Ann Kitchen

We endorsed Kitchen two years ago for several reasons: her experience in setting health care policy, her ability to articulate her positions on issues, and her leadership potential as an Austin delegate. She exceeded all of our expectations. As a freshman legislator, Kitchen's depth in her key interests -- health care and public education -- earned her a reputation as a "go-to member" among senior colleagues. She also delivered on her vow to fight for strict safety requirements for the Longhorn Pipeline and left no doubt of her willingness to go to the mat for her constituents. Kitchen lost a big chunk of her Democratic base in redistricting, yet her level-headed approach to seeking solutions to critical issues facing the next Legislature has won her support in her newly carved GOP-leaning district. We hope her new following is strong enough to win Kitchen a second term. She deserves it.

Texas House, Dist. 49: Elliott Naishtat

Bring Naishtat your tired, your hungry, and your poor, and he'll shoulder the burden of trying to make the world a better place for them. As chairman of the House Committee on Human Services, the long-serving representative knows what it takes to lock in votes for legislation that improves the health and safety of young and old. We've said it once (more than that, actually) and we'll say it again: Naishtat has our vote, and he deserves yours.

Texas House, Dist. 50: James Sylvester

Sylvester has a tough race in this newly created northeast district. His experience as a Travis Co. sheriff's deputy would bring a new perspective to crucial Lege issues and might give him an edge in this swing district. His work on family violence issues demonstrates both knowledge and commitment, and we believe he's a winning match for the district.

Texas House, Dist. 51: Eddie Rodriguez

Rodriguez has large shoes to fill -- those of his former boss, retiring Rep. Glen Maxey -- and we're confident that he'll continue on the same path and blaze new ones all his own. We're looking forward to seeing Rodriguez in action.

Travis County Judge: Sam Biscoe

We agree with Biscoe's opponent, Bob Honts, on one thing: The county judge, whoever it is, should be a more assertive and prominent local figure, on a par with the Austin mayor and the Lege delegation. Which makes it all the more fortunate that Biscoe, and not Honts, is in this seat; whatever the reasons may be to unseat Biscoe and other courthouse incumbents, they're obscured by the sheer rankness of the alternatives. Electing Honts would, quite literally, set Travis County back 20 years -- to the early 1980s, when "Road Warrior" Honts ran his precinct like a fiefdom and saddled Travis citizens with millions in debt and miles of needless, badly built pavement. Traffic is still Honts' fixation, which undercuts his own calls for regional leadership -- what about health care, criminal justice, air and water quality, and other critical issues where Travis Co. is such a vital player? Biscoe, like Gus Garcia, tends to lead from the middle, and given the county's traditional poor-sibling status, he probably needs to get out front. But we have no reason to think he's not up to that task.

County Commissioners:

Pct. 2: Karen Sonleitner

Pct. 3: Margaret Moore

Pct. 4: Margaret Gomez

Both Sonleitner and her opponent, Sheri Perry Gallo, are the strongest candidates on their party's halves of the county ballot -- which makes Gallo mediocre and Sonleitner exceptional. Not perfect, but productive in the right ways on issues that matter to Austinites, showing the kind of presence we wish the county had as a matter of course. Having survived a fratricidal primary challenge from Jeff Heckler, there's no reason Sonleitner shouldn't get your vote now.

Margaret Moore is decent, earnest, and hard-working, and we wish she were more than that. But Gerald Daugherty is a disaster waiting to happen, and everyone knows it -- hot-tempered, ethically fuzzy, obsessed like Captain Ahab with destroying Capital Metro. But now that the commissioners, in their wisdom, have packed half the county and nearly all its Republicans into Pct. 3 ... the rest of you need to vote for Moore.

Daugherty is not the biggest GOP wing nut on the county ballot; Mike Hanson is, so there's no question who should get your vote in Pct. 4. (Though Hanson is, rhetorically speaking, more Libertarian -- in the worst black-helicopter sense -- than Republican, the actual Lib in the race, Wes Benedict, is a sounder candidate.) But Gomez would deserve it anyway; along with Sonleitner, Gomez has helped lead the court toward responsible action on issues that matter and away from the pork barreling and pandering that used to define the courthouse.

403rd District Judge: Brenda Kennedy

Incumbent Frank Bryan, appointed by then-Gov. Bush when this bench was created in 2000, is seen by observers as fair, though quite conservative, and has earned plaudits for refusing to take campaign cash from lawyers who appear in his court. But he's here simply because he's a Republican, while Kennedy has actually been a judge -- for 15 years, first at municipal court, then at county court at law. Even leaving aside partisan issues, Kennedy's superior experience makes the case for us.

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3: John Vasquez

Vasquez, a current municipal court judge, has the edge in endorsements and support from the local bar, and deserves your vote.

Travis Co. Clerk: Dana DeBeauvoir

250th District Judge: John Dietz

The Republicans in these races, Dewayne Naumann (for clerk) and Demetri Anastasiadis, are approaching the Jennifer Gale standard in the frequency and irrelevancy of their perennial candidacies. In a sane world, DeBeauvoir and Dietz would simply be running unopposed, rather than wasting time and money dueling with GOP cannon fodder.

County Treasurer: Dolores Ortega Carter

J.P., Precinct 1: Richard Scott

J.P., Precinct 2: Barbara Bembry

J.P., Precinct 4: Elena Diaz

In all four of these races, the incumbents (all Dems except for Bembry) are facing opposition only from the Libertarians, and we do not look happily on the prospect of Lib judges, even at the JP level, or at Libs running for offices the party doesn't believe should exist.

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