Campaign Notes

• Voters can add two extra Lege races to their electoral calendar, although it seems unlikely either will shift the balance of power. On Jan. 29, Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, announced he will be standing down on June 2, two years before his term expires. The next day, Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio, formally confirmed his retirement, effective Feb. 1. Puente had not filed to run again in Novem­ber, but his decision to leave early will force a special election. Only one candidate – Roland Guti­er­rez, a Democratic San Antonio City Council member – filed for the November race, and the Texas Democratic Party expects him to file for the special election as well. Unlike Puente, Janek announced he will stay in the seat through the summer, fulfilling his interim committee obligations and avoiding a special election. Senate District 17, which curls around from western Harris Co. through Galveston and up to Port Arthur, is traditionally a Republican heartland; in 2002, Janek inherited the seat from the retiring J.E. "Buster" Brown with 61% of the vote, and in 2006, the Democrats didn't bother running an opponent. But then again, Janek's old House seat, District 134, is now held by Democrat Ellen Cohen. "This district could be a litmus test," said TDP spokesman Hector Nieto.

• A leaked complaint to the Texas Ethics Com­mis­sion is dragging up a record-keeping problem that Rep. Dawnna Dukes' primary campaign is calling an old nonissue being used to smear the incumbent. In a private complaint, Jake Gonzales, executive director of the Campus Alliance for Progress, alleges the Dukes campaign violated state campaign finance law by recording payments to credit-card companies rather than the original vendors. In the complaint, which names Dukes' campaign treasurer, Ateja Dukes, as respondent, Gonzales documents more than $41,000 in payments to 10 different credit-card companies between September 2004 and June 2007. Normally, all complaints to TEC are kept confidential and the commission does not comment, or even acknowledge a complaint, until it issues an opinion. Dukes' spokesman, Colin Strother, said this is a technical issue the campaign has known about since December, after receiving a memo sent to all legislators about campaign reports. He said then that the campaign was working to reconstruct the paperwork to correct old reports. "It doesn't change what was already in the works," said Strother, who dismissed the attack as political opportunism intended to aid Dukes' primary opponent, Brian Thompson. "[Gonzales'] clear strategy isn't to win; it's just to bloody up Dawnna," Strother said.

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