Election 2006

The latest from the campaign trail

Beware the Straight Party Vote

Straight-ticket voting may be a convenient way to declare your party loyalty in the voting booth, but beware: In the Nov. 7 election, pressing the straight-ticket button could damage your favorite party.

As with so much more that is screwed up with democracy in Texas, you can thank Tom DeLay. In August, portions of the congressional redistricting that he forced upon Lone Star voters was found unconstitutional, necessitating that five districts be redrawn yet again, including two in Travis, districts 25 and 21. That in turn invalidated the spring primaries in those races, forcing special elections in which multiple candidates of a political party may run. As District 25 incumbent Lloyd Doggett points out in a letter in today's "Postmarks" section, that means straight-party votes don't apply in those particular races – i.e., if you live in District 25 and press the "Straight Democrat" button, no vote will be recorded for Doggett, or anyone else in that race. Voters must go directly to that race on the ballot and select a specific candidate. Other races on the ballot are unaffected by this situation.

The District 25 candidates: Democrat Doggett, Libertarian Barbara Cunningham, Independent Brian Parrett, and Republican Grant Rostig. In District 21, candidates are: Democrats John Courage and Gene Kelly; incumbent Republican Lamar Smith; Libertarian James Arthur Strohm; and Independents Tommy Calvert, James Lyle Peterson, and Mark J. Rossano.

Unlike the general election races, any of the special election races that do not produce a candidate with more than 50% of the vote will be decided in a run-off, at a date yet to be determined. – Lee Nichols

Pot Decrim a Kinky Idea

With new FBI crime stats revealing that more than 800,000 pot users were arrested last year – the vast majority for mere possession – at a cost of some $10 billion per year (see "Weed Watch," p.24), the pot decriminalization stance being taken by indie gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman doesn't sound as off-the-wall as pot prohibitionist politicos might have you believe. During a recent editorial board meeting with the Associated Press, Friedman said he supports legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana as a means to free up jail and prison space and financial resources that would be better spent on drug education, prevention, and rehab programs. He also supports legalizing medi-pot for use by seriously ill patients on the advice of a physician, said his spokeswoman Laura Stromberg. While Friedman's pot decrim position may be a hard sell for status quo drug-war-addicted pols (with the exception of a handful of Texas legislators, most notably Houston Rep. Harold Dutton, who authored a decrim bill last session), his medi-pot position could have legs. So far, legislators on both sides of the aisle – including Austin Democrat Elliott Naishtat, outgoing Austin GOP Rep. Terry Keel, and Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas – have thrown their support behind medi-pot legislation. Each medi-pot bill has languished in committee, but as support for such a measure continues to grow, it's clear that medi-pot will remain a perennial issue under the dome – one that could finally find sunlight with a little gubernatorial support. – Jordan Smith

Friedman Fights Off Racism Charges

Kinky Friedman was forced on the defensive last week for racial slurs he made during a 1980 stand-up comedy performance in Houston, explaining his use of the n-word was a satirical dig at bigotry. The independent candidate for governor refuses to apologize for the remarks, which first surfaced on the Burnt Orange Report Web site and drew immediate criticism from his campaign rivals and African-American leaders.

"I'm not a racist, I'm a realist, and fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," Friedman said Friday from New York, where he was attending a fundraiser. "I was an equal opportunity offender," he said. "I was one of the first. Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor were ahead of me; Chris Rock was after me."

Friedman was especially critical of Gov. Rick Perry for weighing in on the racial comments. "Now he thinks he's Jesse Jackson," he said. "He's shocked by comments about people of color – that really takes the prize. This is the man who told gays to leave Texas if they didn't like the ban on gay marriage."

News of his 1980 comments followed another stir he created earlier this month when he referred to the Katrina evacuees in Houston as "crackheads and thugs." Most of the evacuees in Houston are black. Additionally, opponents dusted off a video of a CNBC interview last year when he announced what he would do with sexual predators: "Throw them in prison and throw away the key, and make them listen to a Negro talking to himself." The line appeared in one of his earlier mystery novels. The CNBC interview drew little attention at the time because Friedman wasn't considered a serious candidate. But recent polls show him neck-and-neck with Democrat Chris Bell and ahead of fellow indie Carole Keeton Strayhorn, both of whom desperately need Friedman out of the way to close in on Perry. Said Kinky: "The fact that this is popping up now is great news for us."

Friedman has backed off of other incendiary comments he's made. He says he no longer supports the war in Iraq, and he doesn't really hate young people, nor does he support teenage suicides, as he has stated in several interviews. On the war, he says, "It's clear to me that Willie [Nelson] was right. I lost a thousand dollar bet to Willie on that. I bet that Bush and Blair would be heroes within a matter of months [after the invasion], and Willie won a thousand bucks from me, which he still hasn't collected." He also says he's re-evaluated his thoughts about young people, the group his campaign is targeting to drive up voter turnout in November. "I would say that the evidence today is that teenagers love Kinky, and there's hardly any of them in Texas who want to grow up to be like Rick Perry," he said. "Young people and I are getting along really well right now. Maybe because we both feel that we're bucking the system, and maybe there's a connection there." – Amy Smith

Strayhorn Calls Out the Rangers

Carole Keeton Strayhorn on Tuesday proposed a border security plan that would pull the Texas Rangers out of the history books and put them on the front lines of modern-day counterterrorism efforts. Strayhorn's Secure Texas plan calls for doubling the size of the relatively small police force and creating five new companies: a special weapons and tactics training team, a rapid response company, and three divisions that would oversee the state's western, southern, and coastal borders. She said $15 million would pay for the expansion once she eliminates "wasteful government spending." While vowing to stop illegal immigration, Strayhorn also sidestepped fanning the flames of xenophobia with a commitment to improve living conditions along the border. She said she would direct $84 million toward infrastructure improvements and educational opportunities in poverty-stricken counties. – A.S.

Richards Was a Yella Dawg, Not a Jewgirl

You'd have thought New York columnist Liz Smith committed political treason Tuesday when the native Texan told her syndicated readership that her late friend, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, supported indie candidate Kinky Friedman for her old job. Smith's New York Post column, trumpeted in a press release by the Friedman campaign, triggered an uproar among Texas Democrats. Chris Bell called the column an "outrage," according to the San Antonio Express-News. Late Tuesday afternoon, Richards' four children issued a brief statement contradicting Smith. "Ann Richards did not support Kinky Friedman for governor of Texas nor endorse him before she died," the statement read. "She was very concerned about this election. She always voted a straight Democratic ticket." Smith, who spoke last week at Richards' memorial service in Austin, also addressed in her column allegations that Friedman is a racist because of his "loose, fearless talk." She wrote that Friedman and Richards had a lot in common. – A.S.

Democrats Who Better Hope They Never Get Hurt

Eight Democratic legislators found their way onto a mostly Republican list of candidates endorsed last week by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, an influential political action committee on a mission to put plaintiffs attorneys out of business. Few people were shocked to see the names of Democratic Reps. Mark Strama of Austin and Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs on the list. Rose has received more than $100,000 in TLR contributions since 2003, after voting for a major tort reform bill in 2002 and alienating his trial lawyer supporters who had helped finance his 2001 campaign. Strama's uncle, Dick Trabulsi, is president of the PAC. Other Democratic House members endorsed by the TLR include Robby Cook, Eagle Lake; Mike Villarreal, San Antonio; Mark Homer, Paris; Chuck Hopson, Jacksonville; and David Farabee, Wichita Falls. The TLR endorsed only one Democrat in the Senate: John Whitmire of Houston. TLR is predominantly funded by major GOP donors, including right-wing San Antonio businessman James Leininger, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, and Dallas real estate big wheel Harlan Crow. – A.S.

Courage Endorsed by Sierra Club

In the race to represent Texas' 21st U.S. House District, which includes parts of Southwest and Central Austin and western Travis Co., the Sierra Club has endorsed Democrat John Courage, who is courageously vying to unseat GOP incumbent Lamar Smith. During a rally at Barton Springs, Sierra Club representative Chuck Byrd said, "Smith has consistently voted with the current administration to rape, pillage, and destroy the environment," and noted that the League of Conservation Voters gave Smith some of the lowest scores on environmental support in Congress. Courage, a longtime teacher said, "Surely, no reasonable person would trade a clean, swimmable Barton Springs for a handful of construction developments upstream of this place. Yet that is what will happen if we do not pay proper heed to environmental protection at all levels of government, business, and the education system." He promised to fight for an energy policy that ends our country's dependence on foreign oil, long-term solutions to energy and environmental challenges that create good jobs for Americans, and sanity and a respect for scientific facts at the top levels of federal government, including the Department of the Interior – whose leadership under Bush, Courage said, was closely tied to the Abramoff scandal and has leased more oil and gas properties on federal lands than any administration in history. – Daniel Mottola

Roasting the Guy Who Burned DeLay

Austin attorney Cris FeldmanTom DeLay's second worst enemy next to Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle – will be the main entrée at a roast in his honor Tuesday, 5:30-7:30pm, at Threadgill's World Headquarters, 301 W. Riverside. Feldman most recently represented the Texas Democratic Party's successful lawsuit against state GOP efforts to hand-pick a candidate to replace DeLay on the November ballot; he was also lead lawyer in a civil lawsuit against DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee. A judge ruled the PAC's treasurer broke state campaign finance law. Proceeds from the roast will benefit the Neighbor to Neighbor PAC, a grassroots group working to get out the vote on behalf of Democratic candidates in Austin and Houston. Tickets to the event start at $25; sponsorships range from $100 to $1,000. To RSVP, contact Susan Harry at 542-9744 or susan@susanharry.com. – A.S.

Wynn Comes Out for Bondage

From the start, Mayor Will Wynn has been a proponent of the $567 million bond proposal facing voters this November. Now he has formally lent his support to the campaign, as honorary chair of the Seven Steps for a Better Austin campaign. Named for the seven separate propositions that constitute the bonds – transportation, drainage and water quality, park facilities and parkland, community and cultural facilities, affordable housing, a new central library, and public safety facilities – the group is funded by Unity PAC; Wynn also serves as PAC treasurer. The group is online at www.7steps4austin.com. Further shoring up support is the I'm for Four PAC, devoted to passage of – you guessed it – Proposition 4's $31.5 million in funding for Austin Film Studios, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, an African-American Heritage Center, Asian-American and Mexican-American Resource Centers, and the Mexic-Arte Museum. Veteran council-campaign manager Mark Nathan tapped parks proponent Ted Siff to be that PAC's treasurer. After filing their treasurer report in late July, the group has been quiet so far this election season. – W.D.

Raking It In

Want to make big bucks? Just become a professional campaign consultant. According to results of a new six-month study by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, consultants received nearly $2 billion during the 2004 election cycle from candidates running for federal office. The study focused on more than 900 candidates, and the investigative journalism center claims it's "the first-ever in-depth analysis of hired consultants for all federal campaigns." It found that "about half of the total campaign spending by presidential candidates, national party committees, '527' organizations and general election candidates for Congress in 2004 went to consultants," according to a center press release. "The skyrocketing costs of running for federal office puts such a premium on time spent fundraising to pay for consultants, that many elected officials seem to be in permanent, self-serving campaigns," said Wendell Rawls, interim executive director of the center, in the release. "Perhaps naturally, their obligations to those who finance their campaigns may overwhelm their obligations to their more numerous, but less well-heeled constituents. Ironically, many of them seem to be taking their marching orders from people they are employing." For more, see www.publicintegrity.org/archives.aspx. – Cheryl Smith

Voter Registration Deadline

If you want to cast a ballot in the Nov. 7 election, Oct. 10 is the deadline to register to vote. Travis Co. voters can get info at www.traviscountytax.org/
or by calling 854-9473. Williamson Co. voters can go to wcportals.wilco.org/elections/
or call 943-1630.
DailyKos founder Marks Moulitsas
DailyKos founder Marks Moulitsas (Photo By John Anderson)

Kos Details Vision for 'Crashing the Gate'

With page-views hovering around 20 million a month, DailyKos.com is not only the largest liberal weblog going, but the biggest political blog, period. So it might have been a little odd for DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas to find only 60 or so progressives greeting his appearance at MonkeyWrench Books last week. The turnout – by no means poor, but not necessarily suggestive of Kos' breadth and reach – underscored one of Moulitsas' points, that it will take time for liberal Dems to translate the blog-driven "people-powered movement" to success on the ground. Still, taking the stage in a T-shirt for Ned Lamont, the blogosphere-endorsed candidate who beat Joe Lieberman in the Dem primary, it was evident their efforts are beginning to bear fruit.

"Back then, it was all theory," Moulitsas said of the ideas laid out in Crashing the Gate, the book co-written with MyDD.com blogger Jerome Armstrong that he was on tour promoting. "Our victories were all moral." But with the successful Lamont challenge and competitive candidacies like Jim Webb's Virginia Senate race (aided by bloggers amplifying opponent George "Macaca" Allen's racist gaffes), Moulitsas says his ideas are working.

One of Moulitsas' major thrusts pierces the "consultant cabal" and graying Dem hierarchy in D.C., "moderate" groups like the Democratic Leadership Council. He cited Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's 50-state strategy, which puts paid consultants on the ground in every state, no matter how red. Moulitsas said the DLC was "apoplectic" about it, but it's led to competitive races in GOP strongholds like Wyoming and Idaho. "The Republicans aren't beating us on the issues," said Moulitsas. "They're beating us on the hustle." Further energizing party leadership is technology like YouTube. "People are seeing for themselves which ads are good" and which consultants to hire.

They need consultants and campaigns that can tell stories and form narratives. For all his failures and mistakes, voters believed Bush wanted to keep America safe, said Moulitsas. "If they believe you're a good person, they're willing to overlook your mistakes." And it's only by forcefully standing for something that candidates can get people to rally around them. It's not Democrats' positions on national defense, torture, or Iran that show weakness: "By being afraid to talk about the things they think everybody believes, they show weakness," said Moulitsas. "People aren't expecting their candidates to agree with them 100% of the time, [but they expect them] to be unafraid to stand on those principles."

"It's tough in states like Texas. … Things have been so disastrous here," he admitted, but he encouraged the true blue crew to stay motivated. "It took conservatives 16 years – since Goldwater – to get Reagan elected. Forty years … to take the House in the Gingrich revolution." Democrats and progressives had made major strides in the last few years with meager resources, he reminded the crowd. He then set 2016 as the target date for Democratic operations to equal today's entrenched Republican machinery. "That's only for a level playing field," he said. "I wanna kick their fucking asses!" – Wells Dunbar

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