Roger Williams joins the Senate race
Thu December 11, 2008 10:55 am

UPDATE: I should have given Roger Williams credit in this writeup for his outstanding performance in the chair on the first day of the 2007 session, when he presided over the speaker's race. He showed no favoritism and made a crucial ruling, overruling a point of order, that a secret ballot did not violate the constitution.

Williams is a former secretary of state who went on to serve as chairman of the Republican victory committee in the 2008 election cycle. He has been traveling around the state for many months on the speechifying circuit. Governor Perry has named him to several low-to-medium profile positions, involving economic development, the border, and base closures. While estimating personal wealth is a chancy business these days, it is safe to say that Williams, a Bush Pioneer fundraiser, did very well for himself as Metroplex automobile dealer, at least before the current economic crisis.

Secretary of State has generally been a political graveyard. Mark White, who served under Dolph Briscoe in the mid-seventies, was an exception; he moved on to become attorney general and governor. Jack Rains, who served under Clements, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1990.

In addition to Democrat John Sharp, who has formally announced his candidacy, a long list of Republican hopefuls has surfaced. State senator Florence Shapiro has formed an exploratory committee; railroad commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams are interested; so is Fort Worth congresswoman Kay Granger and Ennis congressman Joe Barton; and the list of wannabes is certain to grow. You'd think this was a speaker's race.

Roger Williams and I have had some long discussions -- not much about politics, but a lot about minor league baseball. He was signed by the late Paul Richards, the onetime Chicago White Sox genius. He's got a lot of great stories, and he tells them well. I'm a sucker for all things baseball, but I don't necessarily come away from these chats thinking, "There goes a future United States senator." Still, he has a name that is well known in the Metroplex and its suburbs, the biggest source of Republican votes in the state.

A special election for the Senate is the easiest route to political prominence. The whole battle is over name identification. Hutchison had a huge advantage in 1993 because she was a statewide officeholder (state treasurer) and was better known than her Democratic runoff rival, railroad commissioner Bob Krueger. A couple of members of Congress got in the race -- Jack Fields and Barton -- but someone who represents 1/32nd of Texas doesn't have much chance against someone who represents 32/32nds. According to this standard, Ames Jones and Michael Williams ought to have the inside track. I'd put Roger Williams as #3. The second requirement, after name ID, is the ability to raise money. Here Roger Williams is #1.

Here's more on the process of filling a Senate vacancy:

* The governor appoints a person to fill the vacancy temporarily. The appointee serves until a special election is held to serve the remainder of the six-year term, which, in Hutchison's case, runs through the end of 2012.

* All candidates run in a single election; there is no party primary. However, the party affiliation of each candidate appears on the ballot. The top two candidates go into a runoff regardless of party affiliation and the winner serves out the term.

* The temporary appointee is eligible to run in the special election. The main barrier to entry is that a candidate must present a petition with 5,000 names.

* The election dates are fixed by the Texas Election Code. A special election must be held either on the second Saturday in May or on the first Tuesday following a Monday in November (general election day). However, an election cannot be held within 36 days of the date the vacancy occurs.

In effect, this means that if Hutchison resigns on or before April 3, 2009, the special election would be held on May 9, 2009. Here are the other dates:

* Hutchison resigns during the period April 4, 2009 - September 28, 2009: the special election will be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2009. Usually, constitutional amendments are the only statewide matter on the ballot in November of odd-numbered years.

* Hutchison resigns during the period September 29, 2009 - April 2, 2010: the special election will be held on Saturday, May 8, 2010.

* Hutchison resigns during the period April 3, 2010 - September 26, 2010: the special election will be held on Tuesday, November 2, 2010.

* Hutchison resigns during the period September 27, 2010 - April 8, 2011: the special election will be held on Saturday, May 14, 2011.

* Hutchison resigns during the period April 3, 2010 - September 26, 2010: the special election will be held on Tuesday, November 2, 2010 (the same day as the general election for the 2010 governor's race).

* Hutchison resigns during the period September 27, 2010 - April 8, 2011: the special election will be held on Saturday, May 14, 2011.

Senator Hutchison told me in an interview that she might not resign at all, but if she does resign, the timing would probably be "late next year." That would put the special election for Senate on Saturday, May 8, 2010.

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