Naked City

It's Sadler and Eltife, Seliger and Edwards

The two special elections for state Senate -- District 1 and District 31 -- were held Tuesday, to replace Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who retired, and Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, who stepped down to become U.S. ambassador to Sweden. Both races will go to run-offs, some time in February: Democrat Paul Sadler and Republican Kevin Eltife in District 1, and Republicans Kel Seliger and Kirk Edwards in District 31.

The District 31 race was fairly straightforward, dominated by the Republicans, with former Amarillo Mayor Seliger expected to be in the run-off from the beginning and the open question of whether his opponent would come from the north end of the district or from the Odessa-Midland region. In the end it was Edwards, an Odessan in the oil business, who made the run-off. The single Democrat in the seven-person field, Elaine King Miller, got 8.6%. (Turnout was about 19% of registered voters.) The run-off winner will serve out the remainder of Bivins' expiring 2004 term -- with the March primaries and another election in November to select (or likely confirm) the senator for the next term.

District 1 was another matter, as it pitted former state Rep. Sadler of Henderson against a brace of Republicans, including former Tyler Mayor Eltife and current state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview. Since Ratliff retired early, the winner of the run-off will serve out the remaining three years of his allotted term. Although Ratliff is a Republican, the district remains a toss-up; many of the local elected officials are Dems, and Sadler is a formidable candidate. Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst personally endorsed Eltife -- not surprising against a Democrat, but also a direct snub of House District 7 incumbent Merritt, who angered fellow Republicans by opposing congressional redistricting and voting against the final map. Merritt ran a distant third, and said he would turn his attention to the March primaries and his House re-election campaign.

The race is hot with state partisan interest, and a D.C.-based but Austin-wired trade association with insurance industry ties calling itself Americans for Job Security ran "issue ads" denouncing Merritt -- provoking a campaign finance law complaint from Austin-based Campaigns for People, charging illegal use of corporate funds for electioneering. (The Travis Co. DA's Public Integrity Unit is investigating.) The daisy chain continues -- Americans for Job Security is run by Rick Perry consultant Dave Carney, a prominent "tort reform" player also hooked up with capital GOP operatives Ray Sullivan and Reggie Bashur. Eltife claimed he had no connection to the negative ads and said he had asked the governor's office to have them pulled down. Campaigns for People President Fred Lewis told The Longview News-Journal that the ad campaign "looks like electioneering, it smells like electioneering, it might be electioneering. We have a corporate prohibition, and the reason is so large corporations don't so overwhelm our elections that the rights of the average people are unimportant. ... If it isn't nipped in the bud, it's going to be out of control."

Meanwhile, Texans for Lawsuit Reform spent big bucks targeting Sadler as a "trial lawyer" devoted to illegitimate asbestos litigation -- although he's best known for his journeyman's work in the House on public education and for being a good bipartisan colleague of former Gov. George W. Bush.

Special Election Results

Senate District 31

Kel Seliger (R) 35.7%

Kirk Edwards (R) 20.6%

Don Sparks (R) 16.2%

Bob Barnes (R) 13.7%

Elaine King Miller (D) 8.6%

Lee Gibson (R) 3.5%

Jesse Quackenbush (R) 2.1%

Senate District 1

Paul Sadler (D) 39.5%

Kevin Eltife (R) 36.0%

Tommy Merritt (R) 21.4%

Jerry Yost (R) 1.7%

Bill Godsey (R) 0.7%

Daryl Ware (Con) 0.7%

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Texas Legislature, Bill Ratliff, Teel Bivins, Kel Seliger, Paul Sadler, Tommy Merritt, Americans for Job Security, Campaigns for People, Public Integrity Unit, Kevin Eltife, Rick Perry, Fred Lewis, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse

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