The 'Chronicle' Endorsements
Our picks for the Nov. 7 election
In the interest of supporting the return of the two-party (at least) system in Texas and a more than usual necessity to "throw the bums out" we briefly considered endorsing a straight-ticket Democratic vote, something we generally avoid. The overwhelming dominance of the Republican Party in Texas politics over the last several years, like its overwhelmingly Democratic predecessors, has been largely a disaster for public policy.
Upon reflection, however, in service to our readers we decided to address individually all the competitive races, to give a fuller sense of the relevant issues, as well as our logic in making these endorsements.
Honestly, we almost always endorse Democrats, so that's not exactly an innovation. Never in the past, however, have we been so tempted to make a blanket-ticket endorsement as we were this time which reflects far more on the fanatical partisan rigidity of the current dominant party than on us. Traditionally, we have had as many concerns over Democrats as Republicans, including any number of lesser-of-two-evils election endorsements. But the current GOP wrongheadedness and destructiveness to the very structures of our country Constitutional, social, economic, and diplomatic demands a redress, if only for the good of the country.
The Constitution is such an inspired document that, without directly prescribing, it offers an antidote to the megalomaniacal dominance of our government by any one group. The long-time pattern in American politics has been that midterm elections serve to center whatever course government is taking. Aggressively tying the Republican Party to God, country, and security, the GOP pundits have stayed on point, offering simplistic analysis and one-sentence solutions to complex problems. Unfortunately, they have been unusually good at selling, to the point that the party has begun to perceive itself as a divinely mandated dynasty rather than an elected government. This is a horrible situation for this country, its people, and the world as well as to possibility of the United States continuing as a Constitutional Republic based on the declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
This is not an election to sit back thinking that 12 guys smoking cigars in three-piece suits control the world, so why bother? This is not an election to claim that both parties are the same, and voting just endorses the system.
If you believe the United States and Texas are on the right track, you still have an obligation to vote. If you feel we are on the fast track to a dire situation, any bemoaning demands, rather than negates, voting.
What follows are our recommendations in those races for which readers can hope to make a meaningful difference. The Editorial Board
Special Congressional Election (no straight-ticket voting)Important note for residents of Districts 21 and 25: A special election appears at the top of the ballot, and a "Straight Party" vote will not apply to these races.
Courage is an Air Force veteran and school teacher who has been particularly strong on education issues anti-voucher, pro-public schools as well as health-care, Social Security, energy independence, and veterans' issues, and he's resisted the campaign-season temptation to bash immigrants. This is his second run against Smith, and this round he not only can benefit from stronger name identification but from a rising Democratic wave. He's still a long shot to unseat the incumbent. But with vote-splintering among the seven names on the special-election ballot (three independents and a Libertarian also filed), a big Democratic turnout could put Courage into a run-off. Note to CD 21 Democrats: Only Courage is a serious candidate supported by the state party; Gene Kelly, a perennial nuisance ballot-filer, should be ignored.
U.S. Rep. Dist. 21: John Courage
Incumbent GOP Rep. Lamar Smith, rooted in San Antonio, managed to strengthen his Austin precincts in the remap, even gobbling UT-area precincts that rationally would be represented by an Austin-based member. He's a party-line Republican on virtually all issues, with a special devotion to anti-immigrant legislation and a recently exaggerated affection for the PATRIOT Act. Other than showing some interest in high tech matters (e.g. enabling employers to import foreign programmers), his record is indifferent or oppositional on key issues important to Austinites.
U.S. Representative, District 25: Lloyd DoggettCongressman Doggett long a hero in Austin represents a newly redrawn District 25, which includes voters in East to Southeast Austin. In representing CD 25, Doggett has been a vocal member of the Democratic minority. Unlike too many of his Dem colleagues, he stood against the Iraq war from the beginning; he has pushed for some fiscal sanity in a slash-and-spend GOP Congress; and he has a spotless record on environmental issues. Indefatigable in providing constituent service of all kinds, Doggett is not beholden to campaign contributors. Open to the problems of everyone in his district, he doesn't just represent high-dollar interests accustomed to having politicians on call (or retainer).
Doggett is opposed by a weak field: independent Brian Parrett, a recent UT student and pro-hemp activist; Libertarian Barbara Cunningham, who wants to replace the IRS with sales taxes and end federal funding of public education; and instant Republican Grant Rostig, who calls for lower taxes but more military spending and has embraced the Minutemen border vigilantes.
General Election (straight-ticket voting allowed)
U.S. Senator: Barbara Ann RadnofskyNewcomer Radnofsky is exceptionally qualified welcome news for those of us in the "anyone but Hutchison" camp. The Houston attorney-mediator has done an exceptional job of laying out solutions. She advocates a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. She stands ready to support our troops after they come home, aggressively pushing for greater VA care. She promotes energy independence and pushes for renewable energy. She opposes the enormous Perry boondoggle that is the Trans-Texas Corridor. She supports a sensible immigration policy. And she's also run a dedicated and energetic statewide campaign, with too little help from her party.
Republican incumbent Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has accumulated plenty of powerful seniority since 1993 but in the service of an agenda that is completely wrong for Texas and the nation. While Hutchison is considered a GOP "moderate" (largely on abortion), she largely marches in lockstep with the radical Republican right. She continues to help promote the Great Lie that the U.S. invasion of Iraq had something to do with fighting terrorism. Closer to home, Hutchison not only voted for the irrational border fence but supported a nonsensical proposal to allow peace officers from any community to enforce immigration law. On the environment, Hutchison's record is abysmal: According to the League of Conservation Voters (hardly a radical group), on key green votes during her Senate tenure, she has taken the pro-environment position only 4% of the time. She stood staunchly by Tom DeLay, praising him to the end, denouncing his prosecution on "technicalities," and donating $5,000 to his legal defense.
This is not the record of a moderate. Hutchison needs to go.
U.S. Representative, Dist. 10: Ted AnkrumTed Ankrum knows the No. 1 issue in this election is Bush's folly in Iraq. That's why the former Navy Seabee from Cypress features his arguments against the war prominently on his Web site. He also makes them the centerpiece of his only television ad. The four-tour Vietnam vet (recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart) tells how he sent a new father to his death and how he changed from being a "true believer" in Vietnam to "vow[ing] to do whatever I could to prevent some other son from being left fatherless because of a mistake."
It's almost impossible to find Iraq mentioned on freshman incumbent Michael McCaul's Web site (although the word "terror" is prominent); he doesn't want to remind constituents that he's been a lockstep supporter of the war. McCaul touts his résumé as Chief of Terrorism and National Security at the Justice Department.
Comparisons: McCaul has voted pro-green only 7% of the time; Ankrum supports the Endangered Species Act and renegotiating the Kyoto Treaty; McCaul has fanned the flames of xenophobia with support of a border fence; Ankrum "question[s] the wisdom of building a $2 billion fence that can be scaled with a $10 ladder." McCaul stands by Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; Ankrum supports a living wage and universal health care.
We encourage Austinites to turn out for Ankrum and make DeLay's "safe Republican district" explode in the GOP's face.
Governor: Chris BellDemocrat Chris Bell deserves decisive support at the polls. He offers the best hope actually to improve state government and to restore the political balance nearly destroyed by years of Republican rapacity and Democratic lethargy. While he has until recently maintained a too-quiet profile in this circus of a Grandma-Kinky-Hairdo race, his campaign has taken off in recent weeks, and his platform makes clear that, by far, he would make the best governor.
Bell offers the benefits of experienced and competent leadership. He has solid experience at the local government (Houston) and congressional levels. He has a real plan "the New Texas Revolution," also known as common sense to move the state forward through rational government and an engaged community. His simple, sensible policies include health insurance for all Texas children, raising the minimum wage, and, in the tradition of Ann Richards, returning real diversity to government appointments. On education, he advocates stronger support for public schools, raising teachers' salaries to the national average, and ending high-stakes, politicized testing.
As Bell pointed out at the opening of the only televised debate, he in truth faces three Republican opponents (plus one). Like many Chronicle readers, we initially welcomed the anti-Bush novelty of maverick Kinky Friedman. But however entertaining as a candidate, if Friedman were actually elected, the joke would be on everyday Texans. He has no real interest in the crucial details of governance. He has chosen positions out of whim and ignorance (such as martial law on the border, or quickly dissipating a budget "surplus" visible only to him). Along the campaign trail, he has made no effort to learn anything new or from his mistakes. (The last denizen of the Mansion with Friedman's Know-Nothing approach to governance is now in the White House.)
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn may be running as "Republican-lite," but as Austinites especially know, her political career has been characterized throughout by opportunism, shape-shifting, and hollow ambition. Libertarian James Werner, with extremist Republican positions on education and taxes, has no governing experience at all. And if you've read this far, you know what we like most Texans think of Republican incumbent Perry, who is currently polling in the neighborhood of 30%.
We urge our readers to cut through the noise of this confusing and confounding campaign and vote for Chris Bell.
Lt. Governor: No EndorsementIncumbent David Dewhurst has been the most flexible of the major Republican leaders, and unlike the others he has a real dedication to public education. In combination with a structurally bipartisan state Senate, he has served to moderate the most extreme anti-schools legislation originating in the House. But he was also at the forefront of implementing and defending the GOP's radical re-redistricting assault on democracy. Had he instead stood against it and sustained the Senate's bipartisan tradition, it couldn't have happened and we would have persuaded ourselves to endorse him.
To oppose Dewhurst, the Democrats have nominated Maria Luisa Alvarado, a retired Air Force veteran and social-issues researcher with no experience in public office. Her declared positions on health care, education, taxes, border security although not well defined, are mainstream Democratic. Houston Libertarian Judy Baker, a retired information systems manager, opposes federal involvement in public schools, as well as school vouchers, because she says they would lead to state interference in private schools.
Attorney General: David Van OsThe race for attorney general's office hasn't garnered one-umpteenth the attention of the tragi-comic governor's draw, despite the Texas-sized personality fighting for the public interest. With an omnipresent Stetson and bolo tie, Van Os is a striking figure, even before he opens his mouth. A specialist in constitutional and labor law, Van Os has targeted Texas oil barons and insurance and pharmaceutical giants, in his populist, anti-corporate, whistlestop campaign. The implicit contrast is that incumbent Greg Abbott has let such corporate wrongdoers run roughshod over the state as indeed he has. Despite several splashy "cyber crime" initiatives (remember getting tough on MySpace?), Abbott has done little to make Texans safer, especially from the pollutant-spewing, scofflaw conglomerations drawing Van Os' ire. Abbott has also been a complicit servant to Tom Delay and Gov. Perry in the disastrous redistricting saga, never hesitant to defend another gerrymandered map on behalf of his bosses. Partisanship and hoary headline-hogging have defined Abbott's tenure, and we'd be happy to see him go; we're even happier his challenger is as strongly spined as David Van Os.
Supreme Court, Place 2: William E. "Bill" MoodyEl Paso Judge Bill Moody has received some incidental publicity from his 1,000-mile campaign walk across Texas. (When the money is against you, create your own campaign.) But he's also received a couple of unexpected endorsements (Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman) from mainstream sources who recognize that he simply has much more judicial experience than the appointed incumbent, and that his election would be an important step toward rebalancing the state's highest civil court after too many years of reflexive domination by corporate interests. Moody is a long shot, but with significant Democratic turnout, he could make it a race.
Of the five Supreme Court races on the ballot, the Democrats have offered a challenger for only this seat, currently occupied by Republican Don Willett. Willett was appointed by the governor last fall to replace Priscilla Owens (in the same vein), and had no judicial experience, but is instead a corporate lawyer who has been a dutiful GOP party man, most often focusing on campaign-related policy matters or "faith-based" initiatives.
Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals: J.R. MolinaFort Worth attorney Molina, who has run previously for this court, has lengthy experience as both a prosecutor and a criminal-defense attorney and would bring balance as well as social diversity to the court, which sorely needs it. He has pointed out in the past that criminal appeals court judges too often impose their own law-and-order political priorities on life-and-death decisions, and he can be counted on to bring a fresh and experienced perspective to a court that has been fairly described as the worst in Texas.
And if there were no other reason to vote for Molina, ridding the court of incumbent Judge Sharon "Hang 'Em High" Keller would be more than enough. For too long, Keller has been a disgrace to the court, and indeed to fair criminal justice in Texas. "She keeps going to the right as far as she can," noted one observer not a left-wing or even Democratic critic, but Keller's Republican opponent in the spring primary. Keller is notorious, even among her colleagues, for arbitrarily bending the law to sustain convictions no matter how unjust. It's past time Texas voters sent her packing.
State Senator, District 14: Kirk WatsonWatson is the all-but-anointed heir apparent to retiring Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, and while we've had our differences over the years his impatience at the participatory traditions of Austin democracy is notorious all in all he's been progressive and successful public official who understands how government works, and how to get things done in a pragmatic but principled way that gathers in as many community interests as possible. He's also energetic and forward-looking, so he'll be a major political asset on the Senate floor, where the Democrats too often find themselves pulling in several directions while the majority is on full steamroll.
We frankly like Libertarian challenger Rock Howard, who is much less dogmatic than many of his fellows, is personable in an Austin live-and-let-live way, and is one of the steadier folks humanizing a state Libertarian Party heavier on policy wonks than effective candidates. (It's also worth noting that we find the Libertarians pop-Friedmanite ideology Milton Friedman, that is to be market-worshipping poppycock.) We're sorry Howard's chosen to go negative in his campaign, bringing Max Nofziger on board to attack Watson as though he were some combination of Boss Tweed and Jack Abramoff. That's pure-dee bullshit, and Rock should know it, even if he is running for office.
State Senator, District 25: Kathi ThomasGrassroots Democrat Thomas is a refreshing challenger to longtime, San Antonio-based GOP incumbent Jeff Wentworth. Her Do-It-Herself campaign emphasizes education, health care, and the suburban anti-toll road movement, which is a mixed bag but has targeted many incumbents. She's also more attuned to the environmental rumblings beginning to build in this urban-to-rural district, and we believe she deserves the voters' support. At campaign time, Wentworth flogs his "moderate" reputation on some social issues, and his perennial proposal for nonpartisan redistricting. But on the floor he mostly votes with the GOP's right wing, and he was among the most vindictive Republicans in reacting to the Democratic quorum break to restore the Senate's bipartisan traditions.
State Representative, District 47: Valinda BoltonWe picked Bolton in the Democratic primary, endorsed her again in the run-off, and we're sticking with her now for the same reasons, plus one more: Her grasp of the critical issues facing the Legislature is top-notch. Bolton's a natural for this line of work. She understands, for example, that when it comes to public education, "real reform" a favorite buzzword of the pro-voucher crowd requires real dollars and realistic goals. Opponent Bill Welch supports state-funded vouchers for private schools, a risky stance for even a Republican to take in a swing district like southwest Travis Co. Has Welch talked to outgoing Rep. Terry Keel about this? Keel, a Republican, could be wildly unpredictable on the House floor, but you could count on him to break ranks to help kill a voucher bill. And like a bad penny, as already threatened by Gov. Perry, the voucher bill will find its way back to the floor next session. Our hope is that Bolton will be there to vote with her district.
State Representative, District 50: Mark StramaThis race might have been livelier had Strama drawn the Libertarian-leaning Don Zimmerman as his Republican challenger. Alas, the Z was too much of a loose cannon for the party's tastes, so the GOP poobahs enlisted Dell exec Jeff Fleece to run an uphill battle against the Democratic incumbent. Compared to Strama's experience and genuine interest in politics and public policy, Fleece is a milquetoast novice with a spotty Election Day voting record. His platform is of the far-right variety pro-voucher, anti-gay, anti-immigration, etc. Strama walks a fine line in this Republican-leaning swing district, and as such approaches his responsibilities with a bipartisan spirit. He voted for Gov. Rick Perry's school finance/tax-swap deal designed to expand the business tax and cut property taxes, and he's softened his views on toll roads, which he initially opposed. But on social, health care, and education issues, particularly on school vouchers, he has remained true to his Democratic values. Strama is the clear choice in this race and his hard work and enthusiasm has earned him a return ticket to the House.
3rd Court of Appeals, Place 2: Jim Sybert CoronadoDemocrat Coronado has nearly two decades of experience on the bench first as a municipal judge and, since 1991, as the county's Criminal District Court Magistrate Judge and 10 years experience practicing before the courts in both criminal and civil cases. We believe that Coronado's extensive knowledge of criminal law would be an asset to the busy 3rd Court of Appeals. Roughly half the court's docket is criminal cases, yet, save for Justice David Puryear, none of the 3rd Court justices has anywhere near the experience dealing with criminal cases as does Coronado, and we believe that the court would benefit from that knowledge.
Coronado faces Republican Alan Waldrop, who was appointed to this seat in 2005 to replace deceased Justice Mack Kidd. Waldrop is an able attorney, but his experience is longer on political advocacy than jurisprudence. Prior to his appointment, Waldrop served as a lobbyist and as chief outside counsel for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the deep pockets behind the state's sweeping 2003 tort reform package, which placed arbitrary caps on damages and has, in general, slanted civil justice in favor of big money interests and against ordinary citizens. That said, Waldrop's experience with the Legislature could be an asset on the 3rd Court, which has jurisdiction over disputes involving state agencies. We believe Waldrop is sincere when averring his ability to set aside a career of partisan advocacy in favor of impartially applying the law to his appellate docket. Nonetheless, Waldrop's rise to the court was obviously political and prompted specifically by his success installing the agenda of the politically powerful TLR (which supports Waldrop's candidacy) into a state law that necessarily constricts access to the courts. We find this history too troubling to overlook.
3rd Court of Appeals, Place 3: Diane HensonDemocrat Diane Henson has experience in both civil and criminal law, and has taken on some heady opponents notably, suing UT in a significant Title IX case. She nearly knocked Republican Justice Bob Pemberton from his seat in 2004, and has been campaigning for Place 3 (an open seat being vacated by retiring Justice Bea Ann Smith) for just over a year, earning significant endorsements from law enforcement, including the Austin Police Association. Henson is smart and articulate and we believe she would be an extremely fair-minded addition to the 3rd Court.
Her opponent, Republican Will Wilson, also has experience in criminal and civil law he worked as a deputy prosecutor in Dallas Co., and in private practice he often represents small businesses in civil cases; Wilson has served as a municipal court judge, and sat for a brief period on the Travis Co. bench. However, we find disturbing Wilson's decision to call himself "Judge Will Wilson" in campaign materials during the spring primary, a violation of the canons of judicial ethics. (Wilson says his use of "Judge" was within ethical guidelines and that he used the term as "honorary" and not to deceive voters, an unconvincing rationalization.) Wilson's misstep was a troubling harbinger of how he might serve the cause of justice.
Henson's background suggests she would bring a considered and reasonable approach to the bench; we strongly support Henson for the Place 3 seat.
299th Judicial District Judge: Charlie BairdCharlie Baird is the seasoned, intelligent, and articulate Democratic candidate vying to take over the 299th District Court bench being vacated by retiring Judge Jon Wisser. Baird, a former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge, has already served in the 299th as a visiting judge, and, we feel Travis Co. would be very fortunate to have him.
Republican Madeline Connor, who graduated law school in 2001 and currently works as a clerk for CCA Judge Charles Holcomb, is challenging Baird. While Connor pledges to "faithfully apply the laws as written" and not to "legislate from the bench" two tried-and-true Republican bromides, that suggest a too naïvely ideological bent. Baird is much more qualified he understands the nuances of criminal cases, and comprehends what it means to faithfully apply the law. For Baird, this race isn't about ideology but about the steadfast adherence to legal principles he is an independent thinker who will carefully consider each case with a fair and well-reasoned approach. Moreover, Baird is committed to maintaing programs championed by his predecessor including, specifically, the county's successful Drug Court program, which indeed should be expanded. Baird is a flexible and savvy jurist who understands that reflexive incarceration isn't always the right answer for low-level nonviolent offenders. We strongly endorse him.
419th Judicial District Judge: Orlinda NaranjoDemocrat Orlinda Naranjo and Republican Angelita Mendoza-Waterhouse are running to head up the newest addition to the county's civil courts. Both women have judicial experience. Naranjo was first elected to the bench in 1994 (she was the first Hispanic woman to win a countywide judicial post), and for 12 years she has presided over County Court-at-Law No. 2. Mendoza-Waterhouse has served as an associate judge under the state Office of Court Administration since 1991, where she handles family-law child support cases for the 29-county Third Administrative Judicial Region. We believe that Naranjo's extensive experience in Travis Co. as a veteran judge and, in the late Eighties, as a member of the city of Austin's litigation team, handling malpractice, contracts, and civil rights cases gives her the edge in this race.
Travis County Clerk: Dana DeBeauvoirDemocrat Dana DeBeauvoir has served as Travis Co. Clerk since 1987, and we see no reason to remove her. As the county's keeper of records and documents, DeBeauvoir has worked to make county records more easily accessible, including over the Internet, but also taken sensible steps to protect individuals' identities by keeping Social Security numbers and other sensitive info out of cyberspace. In her capacity as elections administrator, she has worked very hard to make voting in Travis as easy as possible, and receiving national recognition for her work. While we have reservations about her embrace of paperless electronic voting, she did pick what appears to be the most secure equipment available (Hart InterCivic's eSlate machine, despite its lack of transparency, appears far less prone to technical glitches than other equipment), and she has been open to the idea of adding printers to the machines, even if she hasn't moved as quickly as voter fraud activists would like (her hands on that issue have actually been tied by state law). While she hasn't been flawless she accidentally sent out postcards directing about 10,000 voters to the wrong polling place earlier this year overall, we find her dedication to the voting process exemplary. Her opponent, Republican James Crabtree, has centered his campaign on allegations that she failed to get local ballots to Travis voters in his Marine unit in Iraq in time to vote in the 2004 local elections. However, he has failed to provide any direct evidence showing that this was her fault, and DeBeauvoir has countered with evidence showing that she did indeed get the ballots mailed in time, as well as evidence that such ballots were returned in plenty of time to be counted. While we don't doubt his claim that some of the ballots were slow arrive, we suspect this better illustrates the uncertainties of a war zone than any incompetence on DeBeauvoir's part. She should keep her job.
Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3: Susan K. SteegThis race is so far down the ballot that few people outside of the local political sphere know that this is one hot JP contest, evidenced by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett's role in helping Steeg against Republican incumbent Melissa Goodwin. We don't have anything against Goodwin; we just believe Steeg's experience as the former general counsel of the Texas Department of Health (now the Dept. of State Health Services) is better suited for the JP court's flotsam and jetsam type of caseload, which includes matters relating to housing evictions, traffic tickets, hot checks, Class C misdemeanors. The court is often the first step in determining whether a person should be committed to a mental health or substance abuse facility. In that sense, the JP court is truly a "people's court" for those without the financial means to fend for themselves. With her background and interests in health care and indigent services, Steeg is the right choice for the job.
Austin Municipal BondsFickle by design, the municipal bond election process is cumbersome and confusing. With endless projects, repairs, and programs vying for a finite set of dollars, the real work of the process hammering out who gets what, and how much is necessarily done months in advance of any vote. Does anybody even remember that this $567.4 million package was, like Charlie Brown's football, pulled out from under Austin voters' feet last spring and punted to November by city officials campaigning against the "Open Government Online" and "Clean Water" charter amendments? Here we go again.
The process has had other failings; the Bond Election Advisory Committee, citizens charged with crafting the recommendations, grumbled about council's politically motivated add-ons, especially to the cultural facilities package in Prop. 4, aka Everybody's Early Xmas Present. The total price tag could also have been reduced by removing piecemeal facility repairs, rationally covered by general operating funds. In seeking to keep Austin's base property tax rate low, the city continues to hide and offset such expenditures with borrowed money hence a good hunk of these bonds.
That said, there's plenty here to appreciate sorely needed funds for infrastructure repair, a shot-in-the-arm for Austin's creative economy and cultural endeavors, a world-class library worthy of a bookish city, and a first-of-its-kind appropriation for affordable housing. Despite our procedural misgivings, we urge Austinites to vote yes on all seven bond propositions.
Note: All seven propositions are available online at www.ci.austin.tx.us/bonds. There, voters can also read them in Spanish, and download an informative brochure.