Election 2004 Updates

The latest electoral happenings in Central Texas, updated daily

Austin Mayor Will Wynn stumps for the commuter rail 
initiative today at the Travis County Courthouse.
Austin Mayor Will Wynn stumps for the commuter rail initiative today at the Travis County Courthouse. (Photo By John Anderson)

The earliest poll closing of the day occurred at Pease Elementary School, where students voted in a mock presidential election. The vote was overwhelming: George W. Bush 46, John Kerry 160, Michael Badnarik 1. City editor Mike Clark-Madison reported from the scene, "Second-graders were celebrating in the hallway, jumping up and down and hugging each other!" – Michael King


To political campaigns, getting out the vote is a numbers game: Get enough of your voters to the polls to tip the balance in your favor, and then leaving them alone 'til the next election. But to the small group of teachers and parents gathered at Ridgetop Elementary School Friday afternoon for a nonpartisan GOTV walk led by Austin Interfaith, voting is as much about building a community as it is about getting any particular candidate in office.

The teachers gathered in the Ridgetop library after school and sat in a circle of miniature chairs. They had no slogans, no campaign materials, only the personal reasons why they think voting matters, which they shared with each other as practice to share them with parents.

"This is my first time voting, and I don't think I would have signed up at all if I weren't a teacher," said Johanna Bolado, a first-year teacher. Voting, she added, was harder than she thought it would be. "You get there and there are all these names, and you don't know who some of them are. And then, I knew who I didn't want to vote for, but I wasn't so sure about the other one ..." Bolado trailed off with a shrug, and Maria Martell, a parent support specialist at Ridgetop, chimed in.

"I'm not a citizen, but seeing all the testing and the way the No Child Left Behind Law will really affect my kids has made it a priority for me to get my citizenship so I can vote," she said.

Prepped and hyped, the teachers piled into principal Joaquin Gloria's white SUV and drove across Airport Boulevard to a cluster of low-rent apartments separated from the I-35 frontage road by a graying wooden fence. It was mid-afternoon when Gloria pulled into the parking lot, but a good dozen men were already hunkered down beneath the few scraggly trees around the lot, clutching shiny blue cans of Bud Light.

"It makes me really nervous to see all these drunk, single men when there are all these kids around," said third-grade teacher Amanda Treviño, glancing around with disgust. Second-grade teacher Laura Welch pointed out a "No drinking No loitering" sign with a sad smirk.

Welch and Gloria checked a list of parents' addresses and approached a door nearly buried behind a jumble of yucca and mint plants in terra cotta pots. A young mother with gold-tipped teeth and red highlights in her ponytail answered the door with a huge smile.

Maneuvering past a massive aloe on the stoop, Gloria stepped inside, perched on a fuzzy blue couch, and kicked into action. He asked how the kids were doing – her kindergartner had been out sick all week – and answered her questions about a program to provides students free dental care. Then he moved into the reminders: Come to the academic night to see what your kids are learning. Come to the coffee chat on Friday to learn about the No Child Left Behind law. And go to the polls on Tuesday, because voting really does affect the kinds of programs and services Ridgetop can offer.

Reaching out to the community is something Gloria does even when it's not the eve of an election. Ridgetop is one of the roughly dozen "Alliance" schools in Austin, schools that work closely with Interfaith to promote parental involvement with their schools. But when an election does come, Interfaith believes teachers can connect voting to parents' everyday concerns, and help non-voters see voting as a responsibility to their communities, rather than an abstract civic exercise.

"Having a teacher talk about why she feels it is important to vote, for example by talking about funding cuts, has a lot more power than someone pushing for candidates," said Megan McCarthy, the Interfaith organizer who led the Ridgetop event.

But at the same time, the block walk also brings teachers face-to-face with their students' often less-than-ideal home lives, a reality that rarely shows up in policy discussions of school performance and accountability. The Texas Education Agency classifies 53% of AISD students as economically disadvantaged, and the teachers' visits to places like the Harmon Road apartments makes painfully clear that the road to school success runs through rockier territory than just finding the right curriculum and scheduling enough test-prep time.

"It's hard, as a teacher, when you see the conditions some of your students live in," said Maria Fernandez, who teaches third grade. "It really gives you a sense of where the kids are coming from and what they're dealing with."

As the teachers regrouped and crossed the parking lot to a second complex, a skinny third-grader in braids and denim jumpsuit leapt out from between a couple of parked cars and threw her arms around Treviño's waist. She continued clinging to her teacher the whole way down the dim hallway to her apartment. The girl lives with her unemployed mother and three siblings in a one-bedroom apartment perhaps half the size of the breakfast nook in a West Austin McMansion. The apartment has one window; it overlooks the No drinking No loitering lot.

Gloria and Treviño chatted politely with the girl's mother, and explained the tests the girl will have to pass this year. The mother looked concerned, and committed vaguely to coming out for academic night, but when the discussion turned to voting, she just looked at the floor and shrugged a lot.

"That just breaks my heart," Treviño announced as soon as the teachers were back in the hallway. Gloria pointed out that the family's situation had actually improved since the last time he saw them.

"When we came by before, they didn't even have furniture. They were sleeping on the floor," he said. After that visit, Gloria had helped the family get furniture donated, and connected the mother with social services to help her stop drinking.

As the teachers pulled out of the parking lot, Gloria pointed out that a boy of perhaps 12 was now hanging out with the Bud Light guys.

"At least there aren't any dealers this time," he muttered. The teachers lapsed into silence as the gas stations and parking lots on Airport Boulevard rolled by.

"But that's why we vote," announced Welch after a long pause. "Because these kids need the same opportunities as everyone else."

"Head start. Special ed. Gifted and talented," Fernandez agreed. But she admitted it was a struggle.

"Some parents don't know a lot about voting, and you have to teach them who can vote, and why it's important," she said. "That all takes time. But it's worth it when they get involved in the end." – Rachel Proctor May


On Nov. 1, 12-year veteran State Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, got the kiss-off of death from his daughter Melissa Christian who publicly endorsed Allen's opponent, Katy Hubener to replace her father as the District 106 representative. "My father has gone against his Christian values and has resorted to lying about his personal life, his ethical violations, and even Katy," Christian said in a press release. "I believe his time is up in Austin." Christian said she believes that Hubener can "restore balance and integrity" to the Lege, and lashed out at her father for voting to dump 150,000 children from the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides health insurance for children of working parents who can't afford insurance. "My children were among the thousands ... who lost their coverage under [CHIP] when my father – their grandfather – decided it was more important to serve his party leaders than his own constituents," she said. Christian also said that Allen has "failed to respect the dignity of her mother in his private life" – publicly outing the long-standing rumor that Allen has been stepping out on the town. "Our elected officials should meet the kind of ethical standards that will make us proud," she said. "My father isn't even trying anymore." – Jordan Smith


Austin City Council Member (and former Austin Chronicle political editor) Daryl Slusher has called for an end to electronic voting in Austin. "When electronic voting was proposed by the County Clerk and the City Clerk for use in City elections I very reluctantly agreed to give it a try after expressing concerns about the lack of a paper trail" Slusher said in a press release Monday.

"As far as I am concerned we have given electronic voting a try and it has proven unsatisfactory." In addition to the lack of a paper trail, Slusher cited this year's well publicized incidences in Travis County of Democrats accidentally voting for George W. Bush on the county's Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machines, and of Austin voters overlooking the commuter rail referendum on the ballot.

Slusher said he intended no criticism of the county clerk's office, which he said "did a tremendous job in conducting the early vote" and are "helpful to citizens and I believe of high integrity," but aimed at "the process of electronic voting itself."

Slusher encouraged the county to drop e-voting altogether and return to paper ballots, but since Slusher has decision-making authority only within Austin, he wrote, "I propose that the City withdraw from the partnership with the County on electronic voting, if possible in time for the municipal elections in May 2005. The City should then approach other jurisdictions about combining elections to save money."

County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, who was instrumental in bringing electronic voting to Travis County, said she wants to mollify Slusher, but also reiterated her support for e-voting.

"I think we need to address his security concerns, which are broadly based," said DeBeauvoir. "I want to please Daryl and the city council. They're my client, and I want to keep them my client. We're going to do whatever it takes to make them happy." – Lee Nichols


At a noon press conference, DeBeauvoir said voting is going smoothly, with only minor problems. At two precincts (310 and 366), election clerks accidentally hit the button to close the polls, but the voting machines were quickly replaced and no voters were turned away. At precinct 350, additional voting equipment was set up to overcome a power distribution problem. DeBeauvoir said that of 2,296 pieces of voting equipment, only one machine failed to work properly, at precinct 246, and it was quickly replaced early in the day. – Lee Nichols


ELECTION NIGHT PARTIES:

If you're pulling for commuter rail, the place to hang out is Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1501 E. Sixth, with members of New Ways to Connect.

If you'd like to hobnob with a real, live presidential candidate on election night without getting pre-clearance from the Secret Service, head over to Legends Sports Bar & Grill at the Holiday Inn at 8901 Business Park Dr. (southwest corner of the Highway 183/MoPac interchange) for what will presumably be a nonvictory party for Libertarian Party nominee (and Austinite) Michael Badnarik. The Libs say the party will run 6pm-midnight (maybe later). Appetizers are promised, as well as more than 30 TV screens on which to watch election results roll in.

An Election Night Party for the Rest of America will be held 8-10pm at Jovita's, 1619 S. First, hosted by Danny Roy Young, unofficial official mayor of South Austin and owner of the Texicalli Grill. The event features music and comedy by the Uranium Savages and George Bush and John Kerry impersonators from Esther's Follies.

Digital Polemics Film Festival 2004 presents its Election Night Party at Antone's, Red, White & Blues, featuring Austin blues stalwart W.C. Clark and screenings of the films "Votergate" and Just an American Boy. Doors open at 7pm.

After a nine-day bus tour hitting just about every town in his district, Congressional Dist. 31 Democratic candidate Jon Porter will be at the Activity Center in Sun City, Georgetown, at 8pm.

The Travis County Democratic Party will host a bash at the Driskill Hotel Ballroom (604 Brazos) beginning at 5pm. Beginning at 7pm, Judge Nancy Hohengarten, vying for Travis County Court-at-Law No. 5, will be upstairs at the Driskill at the fourth floor Governor's Suite. Third Court of Appeals candidate Diane Henson will also be on the fourth floor, in the Brazos Room. For more info, call 477-7500 or write info@traviscountydemocrats.org.

The Wilshire Woods and Delwood 1 neighborhood associations will have a nonpartisan election night party at Tin Star Restaurant in the Hancock Shopping Center (41st & I-35) at 8pm. Tin Star has free wireless Internet, so organizers say "bring your laptops and we can geek out with the political blogs."

Republicans will be watching election returns at the GOP Headquarters at 900 Congress #300. The Republicans' party will be at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel Ballroom, 701 Congress Avenue, 7-11pm. Rick Perry, congressional candidate Mi-chael McCaul, and others are expected to be in attendance "as we watch live returns and cele-brate the re-election of President George W. Bush and our tremendous victories across the State." Lord, let's hope not.

The Greg Hamilton for Sheriff Victory Hospitality Room will be at the Chambers Bar in the Omni Hotel Downtown, 700 San Jacinto, 8-11pm.

Republican Congressional Dist. 25 candidate Becky "Armendariz!" Klein will celebrate ... um, something ... at Capitol Marriott, 701 E. 11th.

Texas House Dist. 50 Democratic candidate Mark Strama is going to be at the Cool River Cafe at 4001 W. Parmer, although he says he'll head down to the Driskill with the other Democrats if he's winning.


Pat yourselves on the back, Travis County: No one can call you a bunch of apathetic couch potatoes this year. The final total of early voting, including both in-person and mail-in ballots, was 217,428 voters – a 37% turnout that local election officials found most pleasing. County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir predicted that at least as many people would turn out on Tuesday, possibly setting an all-time record for percentage turnout here. DeBeauvoir said the highest turnout in Travis history was 77% in 1990, when Ann Richards defeated Clayton Williams for governor. DeBeauvoir encourages those who haven't voted yet to show up as early as possible on election day, and bring your voter registration card to speed things up. "Lines will grow longer as 7pm [when polls close] approaches," DeBeauvoir said. She's not kidding – this reporter dropped by Northcross Mall around 7pm Friday, and estimated about 200 people waiting in line on the last day of early voting. First-time voters must provide identification other than the voter registration card if they did not register in person or previously provide identification. It does not have to be a photo ID. Acceptable forms of ID include a drivers license, student ID, Social Security card, passport, birth certificate, official mail addressed to the voter from a governmental entity, a current utility bill, a bank statement, or a paycheck that shows the voters name and current address. – Lee Nichols


Luci Baines Johnson called Todd Baxter's bluff this morning in one of the most well-attended local news conferences of the political season. Johnson, the daughter of former President Lyndon Johnson, effectively denounced state Rep. Baxter's latest campaign mailer and reaffirmed her support for his Democratic opponent, Kelly White.

Johnson said she was "stunned" when her daughter showed her Baxter's latest political mail piece, which is designed to suggest her endorsement of the Republican in his re-election bid for the District 48 House seat. The mailer contains an August 2001 letter that Johnson wrote Baxter when he was then the lone Republican on the Travis Co. Commissioners Court. Johnson, then the board chair of SafePlace, had written each of the commissioners to thank them for approving funding for the nonprofit center's work against domestic violence and sexual assault. White is the former executive director of SafePlace and Baxter has sought throughout the campaign to discredit her work during her leadership tenure.

Baxter's mailer includes a bold, brazen headline: "Todd Baxter – receiving bipartisan praise for his good work on behalf of women and children."

Of the letter she wrote to commissioners, Johnson said she was merely expressing her gratitude for the bipartisan support of SafePlace, but that she is "most grateful" to White for having secured that bipartisan support on behalf of the center.

Johnson also knocked, in so many words, Baxter's trumped-up claim of balancing a cash-strapped budget without raising taxes. "In the last legislative session, we saw the full weight of a $10 billion dollar budget shortfall put on the backs of children, seniors, and teachers," Johnson said. "Deep cuts to the Children's Health Insurance Program cost us hundreds of millions in federal matching funds and took away care for the children of working families."

Two Austin physicians and White supporters – Dr. Nona Niland, a pediatrician, and Dr. Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist, attended the press conference and later noted that most Travis Co. physicians disagreed with the Texas Medical Association's endorsement of Baxter, given his voting record and his initial objections to the establishment of a countywide hospital district. – Amy Smith


In suburban Houston's CD 22, the David-and-Goliath struggle between the ethically admonished U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and his Democratic challenger, environmental lawyer Richard Morrison, has apparently gotten a little too close for the Bug Man's comfort, prompting DeLay to step up actual campaigning in his district. The Morrison campaign's polls have their man behind by only six points; rumor has it an internal DeLay poll put Morrison within five. This prompted a massive TV blitz by DeLay, deploying the L-word against Morrison and associating him with Howard Dean and John Kerry.

In what was supposed to be a can't-win battle in a 63% GOP district against the "most powerful man in Washington," Morrison has gotten a boost from DeLay's recent wrist-slappings from the House ethics committee and the indictments in Austin of key DeLay associates in the Texans for a Republican Majority scandal. DeLay is also being challenged by Libertarian Tom Morrison (no relation) and independent Michael Fjetland (who ran against DeLay in the GOP primary in 2002).

Morrison's spokesperson said the candidate was getting great response as he tirelessly worked polling places, hearing that many GOP voters were splitting their tickets to oppose DeLay. Like Austin, Houston saw record-breaking early voting turnout. – Daniel Mottola


Pigskin and kids pick it: The Green Bay Packers beat the Washington Redskins 28-14 on Oct. 31, meaning that, if the predictive power of the pigskin holds true, Democratic presidential contender John Kerry will trounce President George Bush at the polls tomorrow. Indeed, since 1936 the outcome of the Redskins' final home football game prior to the presidential election has predicted the winner of the election. If the Redskins win, the incumbent party stays in the White House, while a win for the opposing team means victory for the presidential challenger. (The Redskins' first prognosticative game, in 1936, happened when the team was still based in Boston. For the history of the Redskins and the presidency, check out www.snopes.com/sports/football/election.asp.) Boosting the apparently predictive power of the pigskin, last week the result of the annual Nickelodeon television channel's kids presidential poll chose Kerry as the winner. Since 1988, the Nickelodeon kids poll has correctly predicted the next president. This year, 400,000 kids responded to the poll, picking Kerry (57%) over Bush (43%). "Kids aren't dumb, they're just younger and shorter," Linda Ellerbee, host of Nick News, said in a press release. "In fact, last election, a boy came up to me and said, 'We picked George Bush to win and he didn't really win. Al Gore won the popular vote, so we were kinda wrong.' Quite an observation."


Least necessary political punditry: Kurt Standiford, heard on KUT's local news segment during Morning Edition on Monday morning. It was about as incoherent as usual, although our favorite Bible-thumping homophobe did manage to get through his entire editorial without once using the word "sodomite."


In a last-ditch effort to shore up a re-election campaign hobbled by strategic blunders and some guy named Tom DeLay, state Rep. Jack Stick has fired his political consultant and replaced him with Houston heavyweight Allen Blakemore.

Actually we're told that state GOP operatives, not Stick, made the decision to toss old-timer Reb Wayne and bring in Blakemore, considered the Alpha of Harris County Republican strategists.

Stick has not had an easy time of trying to retain his District 50 House seat in a highly competitive race against Democrat Mark Strama. It doesn't help that Stick's name is also linked to a criminal investigation into illegal campaign spending by a political action committee created by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Three associates of the PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority, have been indicted on charges that they used illegal corporate cash to help underwrite DeLay's 2002 election goal of putting a Republican majority in the House to deliver a congressional redistricting map that would benefit his party in Washington. To carry out that plan, TRMPAC contributed heavily to the efforts of several GOP House candidates, including the campaigns of Stick and District 48 Rep. Todd Baxter.

Neither Stick nor Baxter has been accused of wrongdoing and both deny their involvement or knowledge of TRMPAC's campaign efforts. But a page-one story in today's Statesman did not help Stick's case at all. The daily reported that Stick's confidential campaign plan had been sent to TRMPAC via a fax machine belonging to the candidate's girlfriend at the time. The article also noted that TRMPAC had obtained the campaign roadmaps of other GOP candidates as well, including Baxter's plan. According to sources, Wayne, the fired consultant, is continuing to advise Baxter on campaign strategy as the freshman rep faces a tough re-election fight against Democratic opponent Kelly White.

In other Stick/Strama news: A software glitch that caused an error in Strama's campaign finance records created only a short-lived dustup Thursday as Stick, aided by an online newsletter, sought to turn the typographical error into a felony offense. Strama's campaign contribution report filed with the state Ethics Commission mistakenly showed that he had accepted an interest-free loan for $100,000 from Prosperity Bank. In turn, the Republican-boosting online publication, TexasInsider.org, reported that Strama had received the bounty at 0% interest and suggested that the Democrat could soon find himself in hot water for accepting illegal corporate cash. The Strama campaign released a copy of the bank document showing that yes, the $100,000 loan is correct but that the deal went down much like any other transaction with a financial institution. In fact, Strama pointed out, the loan was issued at a rate of 1% over the prime rate. – Amy Smith


As of Thursday evening, the stunning pace of early voting in Travis County continued to surge upward: 177,576 citizens have already been to the polls, and another 8,773 mail-in ballots have been received, translating to about 32% voter turnout thus far. That already surpasses the total for all early voting in 2000, which reached 135,494. "We are breaking every record we've ever had," said county clerk Dana DeBeauvoir at a Wednesday press conference. Thursday's turnout of 22,673 was the highest yet. Excluding Sunday's low of 7,037, turnout each day had previously ranged between 13,238 and 20,555. DeBeauvoir predicted that early voting would continue to be strong on the final day – Friday afternoon, she forecast 30,000 – and then as many voters would show up on election day as did for early voting; if that guess holds true, total turnout would be about 75%. (Say what you will about George W. Bush, but he's done wonders for voter turnout!) – Lee Nichols


DeBeauvoir also announced that Travis County is the first county in the nation to implement Hash Code testing, a program of the National Institute of Science that examines each line of code in the county's Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting system to make sure no viruses, Trojan horses, or other malevolent programming has been loaded into it. She said Travis County volunteered for the program, and she expects it to someday be "the gold standard" for protecting election results. – L.N.


Travis County Democrats aren't the only ones having trouble properly casting their votes on the Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machines – it's also happening in Harris and Tarrant counties, which also use the system. As the Chronicle reported earlier this week (austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2004-10-29/pols_feature10.html), a few Dems here cast straight Dem ballots, but then found that their votes for president had been "switched" from Kerry to Bush. As it turns out, the problem is likely due to voters pressing the "enter" button at the wrong time, but the error was probably caught and corrected in most cases when the voters arrived at the final ballot review page. "We need to go back to the drawing board to improve the way the screens present themselves to voters, because that is confusing," said Gerald Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party. Hart InterCivic spokeswoman Michelle Shafer said, "It's not an interface issue. We specifically designed our system with the wheel and button [instead of touchscreens] to be a lot more accurate. ... I understand the concerns, but it's part of the learning curve." Note: Previous descriptions of the problem have been slightly incorrect. We originally reported that, since the Bush/Cheney ticket is the first one listed on the second page of the ballot, it is automatically highlighted when the voter turns to that page. Actually, the line just above that, which says President/Vice President, is highlighted. Voters have apparently been going to the page, turning one click, and then hitting enter. (An Internet demo of how to use the eSlate may be found at www.hartintercivic.com.) – L.N.


Democracy for Texas, an offshoot of the Howard Dean campaign, will be blockwalking on Sunday, targeting new voters and those with a Democratic voting history. People wishing to participate should meet up with the group at Pizza Nizza, 92 Red River at 12:30pm. RSVP at fran@democracyfortexas.org. – L.N.

Was Bush wearing a wire during that first debate? Salon is still pursuing the story, aided by NASA image-enhancement technology: www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/10/29/bulge/index.html.


Round Rock Debate

Interest in this year's election is phenomenally high, so it was a bit of a surprise that the house was less than fully packed at Wednesday night's candidates forum in the Round Rock City Council chambers. Perhaps it's because so many voters have already cast ballots, or that there are so few undecided voters in our polarized nation this year (and in Williamson County, the "decideds" are heavily Republican).

Whatever the reason, it's too bad – they missed some fireworks and a chance to actually hear some issues debated. Well, sort of.

First in the ring were 3rd Court of Appeals candidates Diane Henson and Bob Pemberton. The latter, a Republican, hammered away at Henson repeatedly, but he had only one predictable punch: "She has a record of liberal activist litigation emanating in Austin."

Henson blocked it pretty deftly, by pointing out that much of that "liberal activism" was defending the educational rights of girls and the disabled under Title IX.

"I have tried, through the law, to represent a lot of different people," Henson said. "I had the opportunity to represent a lot of kids who couldn't afford lawyers, a lot of disabled students who wanted to participate in athletics. And so I sued the UIL a few times. And I was successful in getting the 3rd Court many years ago to make a decision that allows disabled kids more opportunity to participate in sports. I don't consider that a liberal activism, I consider that being a good lawyer and using federal laws that were on the books that good judges interpreted correctly."

Henson also filed similar suits for girls. "I'm real proud of those cases, because it's meant literally thousands of girls have been able to go to college that wouldn't have, because of those increased opportunities. I didn't legislate. I've never legislated. I simply used laws that exist and were not being enforced and asked usually very conservative, Republican judges to follow the law, and they have."

"I think my opponent tries to mask a profound philosophical distinction between us in terms of equality," Pemberton replied. "We're all for equality. My wife gave birth to a daughter last Monday. No one cares more for equality that I do. ... Where we differ is not on that ideal but our approach to it. ... [Her] approach is not to come rescue these poor individuals in need of help, but a lawyer wanted to push a political agenda. ... Deciding on a lawsuit, deciding where you're going to file the lawsuit, finding a sympathetic judge, and then secondarily going out to find someone to put their name on the pleadings. That's policy-making through the legal system." School boards and other elected officials should make policy, he said.

"But one of the problems we have is that people don't always follow the law," Henson rebutted. "And that's why we have these statutes. And there's nothing wrong with people trying to make sure that their rights are enforced."

Next up were the Congressional District 31 combatants, Democrat Jon Porter and Republican John Carter. Carter is the freshman incumbent, but Dist. 31 has changed: He currently represents citizens from Williamson Co. down to Houston, but the new, Tom DeLay-approved 31 goes from Williamson north to Stephenville, including Fort Hood.

Moderator Bruce Hight of the Austin American-Statesman editorial board kicked things off by asking the candidates to name the single most important issue before Congress. Porter said he was concerned about homeland security and terrorism, "but number one in my book is to stop the insanity when it comes to the fiscal irresponsibility of this Congress. And both Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty on this. Right now, we are spending ourselves into oblivion; we are running on a credit card government. Right now we are approaching $8 trillion in our nation's budget debt. We are running a budget deficit this year approaching $455 billion. Sixteen percent of every dollar that we spend in Washington is going to interest on that budget debt, money that could be spent on other things, like homeland security, like the war on terrorism."

Carter, on the other hand, in the spirit of Halloween and Karl Rove, had the scare tactics down pat:

"Clearly, the most important thing that we have to deal with, not only in the next two years but for many years to come is the fact that there are people who wish to do you and I harm as individual Americans."

Carter countered Porter's budget worries by saying that 9/11 was responsible for the budget deficits, and said the Bush's tax cuts (which, of course, worsened the deficits) pulled us out of the economic crash.

Carter also knew other scary words, straight out of the Republican manual: He referred to Porter's ideas on health care as "a Hillary care plan" (and no, his critique didn't go any deeper than that) and charged that if elected to Congress, Porter would be under the thumb of Nancy Pelosi.

"No one's going to tell me what to do," countered Carter. "The party hasn't given me dime one, neither from the state or the national party. Grassroots support, I've gotten a lot of that."

He said Carter's claim that Porter supports a single-payer system was misleading – instead, he supports a system wherein the government would help insurers hook up with bulk buyers, allowing people of modest means to use "economies of scale" to leverage lower prices.

"I work for doctors and have for the past 12 years," said Porter, a Cedar Park attorney. "The true cost of health care is mainly involved in paperwork." As a congressman, Porter said he would push insurance companies to standardize paperwork across the industry. "According to the New England Journal of Medicine, if you standardize the industry, you'll save close to $300 billion a year." – Lee Nichols


Klein's Fundraising Machine

CD25 GOP candidate Becky "Armendariz!" Klein was e-mailing for dollars from her office at the Texas Public Utility Commission, according to reports in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Klein, who chaired the PUC until January 2004, sent at least six e-mails from the agency announcing her resignation, her plans to run for Congress, and her interest in campaign donations, the newspaper reports. This would be illegal – similar charges formed the basis of the controversial prosecution of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1994 – but Klein told the paper there was nothing improper, since she had already announced her resignation and didn't have another e-mail account – although some of the messages refer to an America Online address. One of the messages, according to the newspaper, informed a receptionist at the PUC that Klein was expecting a call from Karl Rove. – Mike Clark-Madison


Cards vs. Kooks vs. Rail

Various leaders of the scattered opposition to Capital Metro's commuter rail plan are holding a press conference today (Friday) at 10:30am at the Travis Co. Courthouse to air their gripes. However, we learned about this from (anonymous) pro-rail forces who spoofed the event in advance with a mock media advisory. "Kooks Against Rail (KAR), less a group than a collection of individuals who don't seem to agree on much besides their shared anti-rail fanaticism, will attempt to get along long enough to hold a press conference É and wow a local media desperate for conflict and controversy," reads the release, sent to this reporter, the Statesman, the Texan, and In Fact Daily. Among the kooks called out for ridicule are "Max "Scooters are the Answer' Nofziger" and "James "A Road Through Every Neighborhood and a Helicopter in Every Garage' Skaggs." As we write, nobody has taken responsibility for the prank. – M.C.M.


Leander Rallies for Rail

"All roads lead to Leander" is not exactly a refrain on the lips of every Austin urbanite, but it's a promise Leander Mayor John Cowman made in the middle of a wide expanse of empty field just off the city's lone highway on Tuesday night.

Cowman frequently says Leander – for those of you who never drive past Northcross Mall, that's out US 183 just past Lakeline Mall and Cedar Park – has three things: a Golden Chick, a Sonic drive-in, and a whole bunch of land. And he's not lying. Pass the city line that divides Cedar Park from Leander, and hundreds of acres open up on either side of US 183, dotted only by an occasional gas station, trailer park, and a new Auto Zone.

So it's no surprise that Cowman is excited about the commuter rail issue on Tuesday. This tiny town of 15,000 people, with a library smaller than most people's homes, is about to be the nexus for both the incipient U.S 183-Atoll road and a starter rail line. Now Leander, which hasn't even been graced with interstate access like Kyle or Buda, will have multiple north-south arteries that Cowman ticks off in quick succession: the Parmer Lane extension; the US 183A toll road; the commuter rail line; US 183; Lakeline Boulevard; and, finally, Bagdad Street, which crosses over into Round Rock.

The pro-rail Right Track Political Action Committee hosted a modest rally in Leander on Tuesday night alongside the rail tracks, bringing in a Hill Country Flyer rail car. Cowman was the enthusiastic emcee. State Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), Capital Metro Chair Lee Walker and Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Chair Bob Tesch joined Cowman. Even Cedar Park's new mayor Bob Antle said a few kind words. "We do look at things that are and say why. We look at things that aren't and ask why not," declares Cowman, who has never hidden his pro-development agenda for Leander.

Opponents like Mike Dahmus, a member of the city Urban Transportation Commission, say the current commuter rail plan does not go far enough. Walker, who told the assembled group that polling showed a tight race, said Capital Metro did its best to meet a compromise among the widely divergent points of view on the rail subject. "I don't want to be too poll-centric," Walker said after his speech, declining the name the exact vote-spread in the race. "We do the best we can to come up with something that would be supported by the largest number of people in the region. We've got a lot of uncertainty. We've got a lot of new voter registrations, tremendous passion and volatility in the campaign, mechanical complexities with the ballot. We'll find out on Election Day."

Walker said it could be a happy coincidence that both rail and toll are on the drawing board – and converging in Leander – at the same time. For the first time, leaders of the major organizations, including Mayor Will Wynn, have a regional view of transportation, Walker said. Projects are not being built in isolation.

The Right Track PAC has spent about $300,000 to date on campaigning for the rail vote, primarily on signs, phone banks and two mailers tailored to Republican and Democratic leanings, says PAC member Brian Rice, who hosted Tuesday night's event. The signs, both "for" and "against" the proposition, dot U.S. 183, all the way to Leander and even through Cedar Park, where voters chose to opt out of Capital Metro and won't vote on the commuter rail proposal that will go to voters next Tuesday. – Kimberly Reeves

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

elections, Jon Porter, John Carter, Diane Henson, Bob Pemberton, Bruce Hight, Rebecca Becky Armendariz Klein, Kooks Against Rail, commuter rail, Max Nofziger, James Jim Skaggs, Leander, John Cowman, Right Track Political Action Committee, Mike Krusee, Lee Walker, Bob Tesch, Bob Antle, Mike Dahmus, Will Wynn

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