News Top 10s

Greg Abbott, enemy of trial lawyers, except when he needs them
Greg Abbott, enemy of trial lawyers, except when he needs them (Photo By Jana Birchum)

Top 10 State Election Moments

1. They thought they were dreamboats, but the dinghy capsized: It seemed like a Dream Team at the time: Hispanic businessman Tony Sanchez, Anglo Capitol journeyman John Sharp, and charismatic African-American Mayor Ron Kirk would triangulate for governor, lieutenant governor, and U.S. senator and appeal to Texans across all demographic lines. Sanchez spent a staggering $60 million, and it seemed at least Sharp had an early edge. But on Nov. 5, the dream turned nightmare, as Republicans voted straight GOP, and the Democratic base never surged.

2. Battle of the bottom dwellers: Desperate for a hand-hold, the Tony Sanchez campaign replayed -- and replayed, and replayed -- DPS footage of Gov. Rick Perry impatiently berating a trooper for stopping his driver for speeding: "Why don't you just let us get on down the road?" asked the guv. After the first 50 viewings, every driver in the state was muttering: "Why doesn't Sanchez just stick it in his ear?" Not to be outdone, the Perry campaign dragged out a couple of retired Drug Enforcement Administration agents suggesting that alleged money laundering at Sanchez's Laredo savings and loan was indirectly responsible for the murder of a DEA agent in Mexico. Perry's handlers seemed worried about a closing burst from Sanchez; in retrospect, the dismal ad was both gratuitous and unnecessary.

3. Heah come de judge: Hopwood lawyer Stephen Wayne Smith publicized an e-mail by a former fellow law student accusing him of racism, then sued his Supreme Court-race opponent Margaret Mirabal for defamation. He claimed predecessor Xavier Rodriguez and former AG Dan Morales couldn't have been qualified for Harvard -- because, well, nonwhites should go to community colleges. Finally, Smith declared himself not a racist because he used to play basketball with African-Americans and Hispanics. He won easily: His judicial opinions should be hilarious, too.

4. I got mine, so sue me: AG candidate Greg Abbott campaigned by blasting "greedy trial lawyers" and railing against large jury awards in civil tort cases. He somehow neglected to mention his own $10 million settlement of a personal injury lawsuit after he was paralyzed by a falling tree branch in 1984. Attorneys familiar with the case blew the whistle, and Abbott's own lawyer said most of the settlement was for "noneconomic" damages -- targeted for sharp restrictions by the New Republican Order. Called out for the hypocrisy, the Abbott campaign didn't miss a beat: They described the report as a "cheap political attack by trial lawyers."

5. Campaign ethics are for losers: Desperate for a state Republican revolution, the Texas Association of Business spent $2 million in corporate cash on two dozen House and Senate races, distributing scurrilous mailers that accused Democratic incumbents of being anti-education, anti-business, pro-mold budget busters -- all in the name of nonpartisan "education." The T.A.B. calls the mailers legal because they didn't explicitly endorse or reject a particular candidate -- several defeated legislators are suing to prove otherwise. If the T.A.B. wins this one, the Ethics Commission -- already heavily cobwebbed from disuse -- might as well close up shop.

6. He got his bell rung one too many times: Dem Marty Akins announced his running for governor, hoping the voters would recall his glory days as a Longhorn quarterback. Unfortunately, he was a little fuzzy on the details himself, claiming African-American roommates who couldn't recall him and a close personal relationship with an already deceased LBJ. Akins eventually dropped down to comptroller (at the request of party elders) and grinned manfully over the highways, "He's Back in the Game!" Carole Keeton Rylander ran over him like William "Refrigerator" Perry over the New England Patriots.

7. Unspeakable: Midland Republican Rep. Tom Craddick, the longest-serving House member (since 1969), announced the voting pledges of 102 members (including 16 Democrats) to replace Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, as speaker. The honeymoon lasted a week: Reporters began looking into Craddick's votes, bills, and business deals, and the odors of conflicts of interest accumulated -- including an amendment apparently written to make certain Craddick's 26-year-old daughter (a lobbyist) could retain her state health insurance. The spotlight hasn't melted his speakership, and consider the karmic irony: When the Lege moves to slash children's health insurance, Craddick will have nowhere to hide.

8. Oh, shut up already: Sen. Phil Gramm announced his resignation last year, but he just can't find the exit door. He and wife Wendy were central figures in the energy deregulatory shenanigans that made possible the looting and collapse of Enron, and Phil just couldn't leave the Senate without poisoning the air in one more Texas campaign. He called the historic Democratic primary debate between Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales in Spanish an attempt to "sever the bonds that bind [Texans and Americans] together." Yo, Phil, take your bonds, your stocks, and your campaign-cash paybacks for service duly rendered -- and go home.

9. Wallflowers crash the prom: Neither the Texas Libertarian Party nor the Texas Green Party were invited to the Big Parties' parties -- so they held their own. Excluded from the TV debates between the Democrats and Republicans, guv candidates Jeff Daiell (L) and Rahul Mahajan (G) hosted their own in Austin, Houston, and Dallas, and actually addressed at length not only the official issues -- taxes, education, budget, insurance -- but the underlying principles of government and the big unspoken subjects: war, peace, terrorism, democracy, and the hammerlock the institutionalized parties have on public policy. You had to be there -- the official sources weren't interested.

10. Will that be on the exam? On the other hand, the major party debates covered the political spectrum from A to ... B. Lieutenant governor candidate David Dewhurst was embarrassed when the TV debate moderator told him consulting his notes was against the rules -- Double D covered the notepad, but we could swear he spent the rest of the night checking his cuffs. Then there was Ron Kirk running to the right of John Cornyn on Iraq, and Gov. Perry and Tony Sanchez were asked to "say something nice" about each other: "He loves his family," said Tweedledum (or was it Tweedledee?). Precious moments in Texas campaign history, en route to the broadcasters' Hall of Fame.

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