Naked City

It's a Party -- Bring a Chair

The State Democratic Executive Committee meets this Saturday at the Red Lion Hotel in Austin, and the magic number is 32. If everybody shows up, 63 committee members will elect a replacement for Molly Beth Malcolm, stepping down after 51/2 years as state chair. At press time there was still a handful of candidates, although former Railroad Commission candidate Sherry Boyles dropped out of the running last week and was followed soon thereafter by former state Sen. Carl Parker, who in passing denounced his opponents for spreading nasty but unspecified rumors about him. The front-runners at press time appear to be former land commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Garry Mauro and current party general counsel Charles Soechting, an attorney with the San Marcos office of O'Quinn, Laminack and Pirtle and formerly Hays Co. party chair. Mauro has a higher statewide profile and a long history of party organizing, although memories of the 1998 Gov. Bush landslide do not warm all members' hearts. Soechting has been a stalwart in the fight against congressional re-redistricting, and Travis Co. Dems say he can be relied upon to keep the party solvent -- Soechting assisted Malcolm in getting the party out of debt where it had been mired before her tenure.

Also in the race are state Rep. Garnet Coleman, San Antonio labor attorney David Van Os, and committee member and former state Senate candidate Mary Moore. Coleman's popularity in Dem circles has expanded this year with his lead role in the redistricting fight, but he initially announced only for "interim" chair -- until the state convention next summer -- and some committee members are said to want to fill the job permanently. (Mauro had also said "interim," but then changed his mind.) Van Os is a leader of the party's "progressive populist" caucus, which tried in vain to oust Malcolm at the 2001 meeting, and he briefly considered running against her prior to last summer's convention but was dissuaded by star-crossed gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez. Mary Moore of Bryan is presumably the dark horse. Party insiders say that while Mauro and Soechting are the front-runners, a race this short with this few voters is unpredictable. "It could take several votes to decide a winner," said one former officeholder. "It's hard to get anybody to commit for certain, and they'll switch depending on what somebody said to them yesterday."

Meanwhile, state Republican Party Chair Susan Weddington also resigned last week, so that Gov. Perry could appoint her as chair of the OneStar Foundation, the governor's nonprofit to promote volunteerism.

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