The Austin Chronicle

Election 2006

October 6, 2006, News

Perry, Leininger Still Have Deepest Pockets

Like bottomless pits, Houston home-builder Bob Perry and San Antonio hospital-bed tycoon James Leininger remain unmatched in the amount of dollars they give to political candidates and committees, the latest reports show. At least they're consistent. In a review of contributions made during the first 18 months of the 2006 election cycle, watchdog group Texans for Public Justice found few, if any, surprises. Perry and Leininger still rank No. 1 and No. 2 on TPJ's latest megadonor report, released Tuesday. On the whole, TPJ found that just 85 wealthy people collectively dropped a whopping $28 million into the state political system between January 2005 and June 2006. Campaign-finance-reform advocates point to Perry, Leininger, trial lawyers, et al. as textbook reasons for contribution limits. State Reps. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said they'll make another legislative attempt to limit donors from giving an aggregate total of more than $100,000 in each election. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has pledged to carry the bill in the Senate in the upcoming session. – Amy Smith

Perry Cuts Batter Women, Bell Charges

In the larger scheme of things, trimming $2.4 million from a Texas-sized budget might seem doable enough on paper. But when the axe falls on programs within the cash-strapped Health and Human Services Commission, thousands of Texans feel the pain. That's why Democrat Chris Bell took a swing at incumbent gubernatorial rival Rick Perry last week in calling attention to the governor's aim to slash $2.4 million from the state's family-violence programs. Bell says the cut would deny 3,000 women direct access to needed services. Perry has instructed all state agencies to tighten their belts by 10% in the next budget cycle. Last year, the HHSC was able to assist just 11% of the battered women in Texas, Bell said. Between 2000 and 2005, about 750 women died as a result of domestic violence, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence. Calling Perry's directed budget cuts a "moral statement" of the governor's character, Bell accused the incumbent of not caring about family-violence issues. However, First Lady Anita Perry, a registered nurse, has taken an active role in crusading for prevention and education efforts. If Perry wins his re-election bid in November, perhaps the First Lady could educate her husband on the impact his $2.4 million cut would have on the very programs she champions. – A.S.

Friday Night Oblivion: TV Debate on OU Weekend

The Not Ready for Prime Time candidates for governor will debate each other in a live, yet oh-so-restrictive, broadcast that will air 7-8pm Friday on local ABC affiliate KVUE and the Texas Cable News Network (TXCN). Why a Friday night in Dallas, on the eve of the annual Texas-OU showdown in the Cotton Bowl? Candidates Chris Bell, Kinky Friedman, and Carole Strayhorn blame Gov. Rick Perry for selecting the Friday night death slot, so called because most folks usually have better ways to cap off the work week than to watch bad TV. Plus, Belo Corp., the sole sponsor of the debate, is treating the public-service broadcast as though it were a major promotional coup. The company isn't willing to share its prize with other media outlets, save for some rural areas outside of Belo's market. With Belo and Perry calling the shots, the more jaded political observers aren't the least bit surprised by the maneuver, which effectively denies voting viewers and candidates their one chance to make a connection with one another.

All things considered, the Belo-Perry deal pretty much sums up why their popularity ratings at the moment are as low as Friday-night programming.

Meanwhile, the more politically aware might have noticed a name missing from the aforementioned candidates: Libertarian James Werner, the fifth Beatle in the four-way race, has vowed to sue Belo for excluding him from the debating dais. Werner said he's put Belo on notice to expect a lawsuit seeking legal damages of $4.6 million if he is not added to the guest list before showtime. "I think it's obvious that Belo's decision is unethical and a disservice to Texas voters," Werner said. "If Belo goes ahead with this, it is essentially making a huge campaign contribution to my opponents." In July, Werner reported raising $1,400 in campaign contributions, including $1,000 in loans. – A.S.

Dems Sue Abbott, Charge Cruz With Suppressing Minority Vote

Six Texans and the Texas Democratic Party filed suit on Sept. 21 in federal court, charging state Attorney General Greg Abbott and Secretary of State Roger Williams with enforcing election-fraud laws too narrowly, using a 2003 law forbidding possession of another voter's ballot to prosecute those who were simply assisting the elderly or handicapped to receive or send in their mail-in ballots. Additionally, the suit charges Abbott with bias in his prosecutions, claiming that of 13 people prosecuted for voter fraud since 2003, all but one have been minorities, and all 13 have been people affiliated with the Democratic Party or with a history of voting Democratic. (See election coverage, Sept. 22.)

Later that day, Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, speaking on behalf of Abbott, delivered a stiff response: "This lawsuit has no basis in law – the plaintiffs are a combination of political operatives and individual criminals who have already pleaded guilty to voter fraud. We will vigorously defend this baseless lawsuit to ensure that admitted criminals like the plaintiffs will not be able to defraud Texas voters and undermine the integrity of Texas elections."

The Lone Star Project, a group that helped organize the suit, quickly shot back a statement of its own calling Cruz's reply "defaming and abusive," and saying that none of the six individuals in the suit have been convicted of or admitted to fraud; two have only admitted to mailing a ballot at the request of a voter; there's been no evidence that the ballots reflected anything other than the will of the voter; and none are current or past employees of the Democratic Party.

"By attacking and defaming citizens who are willing to fight back, the AG's office further creates a hostile political atmosphere that will discourage senior citizens from requesting help when needed and discourage community activists and organizations to offer or provide help when asked," said the Lone Star Project statement. "Cruz's verbal attack is another calculated tactic to suppress minority vote." – Lee Nichols

Voter Registration Deadline

OK, seriously folks: It's time. Now. Put down the paper and go do it. We're not going to tell you again because by the time our next issue comes out, it will be too late. 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 854-9473, or at Williamson Co. voters: Call 943-1630, or go to

Rostig Endorses the Minutemen

The recently redistricted Congressional District 25 is distinctly more conservative than the "fajita strip" Austin-to-Mexico district that Lloyd Doggett previously represented, though it still leans Democratic. If you're wondering what kind of opposition Doggett faces in the four-way Nov. 7 special election to fill the seat, here's some insight into his Republican challenger, Grant Rostig: He endorses the Minutemen, that merry bunch of vigilantes who have taken it upon themselves to enforce U.S. immigration law. At a Minutemen rally in Laredo marking the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Rostig said, "The rule of law requires us to regulate the borders humanely but also effectively. We cannot reward those that break the law. The patriotic Minutemen are doing a good job highlighting the issue right here in Texas. I thank them for their honest efforts."

"He has clearly made them his cause, and they have apparently made him their cause," said Doggett in response. "This is just another reason for more of our neighbors to support our cause by volunteering at our campaign."

Speaking of that race, Travis Co. Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir called in response to last week's story warning that a straight-party vote would not register a vote in either the CD 25 or CD 21 special elections. While that is true, she noted, the special elections will be the first thing listed on the Nov. 7 ballot, above the general-election items, so there's not much chance of voters in those districts overlooking their congressional races. – Lee Nichols

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