Top 10 State Stories: Farewell to Ann, fungoo to Cheney
By Michael King and Amy Smith, Fri., Jan. 5, 2007
1) Gov. Ann Passes: In September, former Gov. Ann Richards died of esophageal cancer, leaving "A New Texas" legacy of opening doors to women and minorities. Her death, two months before the election, was a jolting reminder of how far the state has backslid on diversity and progress since her administration. Family, friends, celebrities, and thousands of admirers celebrated Richards' life at an Austin memorial service, where the silver-tongued star was remembered for her big hair, big heart, and big laugh.
2) Perry Hangs On: Despite voters' preference for anybody but Rick, the incumbent still managed to outflank Democrat Chris Bell, "Grandma" Carole Keeton Strayhorn, comedian Kinky Friedman, and Libertarian James Werner. Perry carried just 39% of the splintered vote, which in theory should mandate bipartisanship. Asked about his mandate, he snarled, "We'll still have 100 percent of the authority." We guess that's what he meant by "serving with humility."
3) School Finance Shell Game: A spring special legislative session ended with stout declarations of victory but the defeated enemy was mostly the public schools. Despite the rhetorical overkill, a massive tax shift will disguise school budget problems for a year or two, while the state dodges the problem and the leadership hopes to cap local property taxes taking school district budgets down at the knees. Graduate fast, kiddos.
4) Supreme Indifference: After nearly four embattled years, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that blatant racial gerrymandering against Hispanics is unconstitutional (a ruling that ended in the December ouster of Congressional District 23 GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla), but similar re-redistricting against African-Americans in North and East Texas is, well, Texas bidness as usual.
5) Siempre Tejano!: Loud-mouthed congressional attempts to scapegoat Hispanic immigration as the source of all national problems produced a populist movement and nationwide Latino demonstrations and generated some of the November electoral backlash against the GOP. Huge demos in Dallas, Austin, and Houston included many young people; in Texas, the rising cross-cultural minority will not be denied.
6) Travis Goes Blue: Democrats swept all of Travis Co.'s legislative posts this year, including two highly prized seats that turned despite massive GOP spending. In February, Democrat Donna Howard clobbered Dellionaire Ben Bentzin in a special election to replace former House District 48 Rep. Todd Baxter; in November, a similar story unfolded next door in HD 47, where Dem Valinda Bolton swung swing voters to beat the heavily financed Bill Welch, GOP choice to succeed retiring Rep. Terry Keel.
7) Bye, Bye Tommy Boy: U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land mad genius of GOP re-redistricting and arguably the sower of the November whirlwind finally fled Congress altogether in April, after stepping down as majority leader last year. Beset by criminal indictments and falling poll numbers, DeLay tried to manufacture a successor, but redistricting victim Rep. Nick Lampson got his revenge by taking DeLay's own seat.
8) Last Man Laughing: That would be Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, who took a bare-knuckled E-Day punch to the face from his 2002 opponent (for life, apparently), ex-Rep. Rick Green. Rose bounced back with a knockout, winning re-election with 60% over two little-known opponents. Dripping Springs lawyer Green was charged with misdemeanor assault. The lingering bad blood vividly portrayed in Paul Stekler's 2004 documentary, Last Man Standing: Politics Texas Style grew from Green's 2002 loss to Rose, who that year was the only House Dem to beat a GOP incumbent.
9) First They Reject You, Then They Evict You: The year ended with House Speaker Tom Craddick's political future in doubt, as members weighed the consequences of switching allegiance to a more user-friendly Republican (Plano's Brian McCall or Waxahachie's Jim Pitts). A Craddick defeat would also mean a major hit to gambling and oil and gas lobbyists, who picked up the $1 million tab for Tom and Nadine's newly renovated Capitol digs. Moral: Never bet against the House.
10) Hunting With Duck Dick: A hunting trip at a South Texas ranch found the VP ducking for political cover after he accidentally shot Austinite Harry Whittington in the face late one February afternoon. While Whittington, 78, remained hospitalized with injuries and a heart attack caused by a birdshot near his heart, Cheney laid low, lips securely zipped until several days later. "I am the guy who pulled the trigger," he said. Now, what was that he said about nukes in Iraq?