Naked City

V for Vo and Victory

As of Tuesday morning, Democratic challenger Hubert Vo had officially vanquished 22-year incumbent state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, chair of the House Appropriations Committee and one of the central figures in the GOP leadership. The final count, after a series of delays and procedural missteps still being sorted out, was a 31-vote victory for Vo announced in the wee hours Tuesday morning. However, Heflin is expected to request a recount, and he may also legally challenge the result – creating the possibility of throwing the election into the Texas House itself, where the Republicans still enjoy an 87-63 majority (subtracting Heflin and counting Vo).

The outcome of the District 149 race was far from certain as of Monday, as counting continued in Harris Co., and the procedures used to determine the victor had already been subject to much argument. The Secretary of State's Web site still listed the official totals as of Nov. 2, when Vo led by 52 votes, even though on Wednesday afternoon Heflin claimed the margin had diminished to 38 votes, thanks to a partial additional count that had proceeded some time during election night – under what circumstances remains unclear. There were still several thousand county votes outstanding, and Harris Co. Clerk Beverly Kaufman was reprimanded by Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor for the irregularity of stopping the count before completion.

Kaufman initially said she would resume the count Nov. 4 – after announcing a "meeting" to discuss the matter – but after objections from the Vo camp, the process resumed instead Sunday afternoon. As it happened, only a few hundred of those several thousand votes were cast in District 149 – about 190 were mail-in ballots, and an equal number "provisional" ballots. Many of the latter were disqualified when reviewed by election judges, leaving only a few dozen to be counted.

In the meantime, charges and counter-charges over the counting procedure flew between Democratic and Republican officials. State Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting, with his gift for understatement, referred to the recent child custody case involving Heflin and his former maid, charging, "He tried to steal someone's baby not that long ago. I wouldn't put it past him to steal an election now." State GOP Chair Tina Benkiser responded in kind, pointing to Vo victory rallies and Dem operatives on hand in Houston, and accusing the Democrats of trying to harass election officials attempting to count the votes. She called on Vo to denounce the "harsh rhetoric and intimidation tactics" of his Democratic allies. (By coincidence no doubt, Benkiser's version of the scene in Houston echoed remarkably similar GOP tactics in Florida in 2000.)

Election lawyers are still swarming in H-town – Heflin is represented by re-redistricting and Texas Association of Business attorney Andy Taylor – and following an inevitable recount, the race seems likely to end up in court, or in the GOP-dominated Texas House.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Hubert Vo, Talmadge Heflin, Secretary of State, Geoffrey Connor, Beverly Kaufman, Charles Soechting, Tina Benkiser

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