Thu March 20, 2014 10:40 am By Brian D. Sweany

No less than former first lady Barbara Bush said of Strauss's death last night, "He is absolutely the most amazing politician. He is everybody's friend and, if he chooses, could sell you the paper off your own wall." Strauss, of course, was a Democrat who ended up on the April 1974 cover of Texas Monthly along with George H.W. Bush. As Al Reinert wrote in a piece titled "Bob and George Go to Washington, or The Post-Watergate Scramble":

In less than a week’s time during December 1972, two Texans were named National Chairmen of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Robert Strauss, the Democrat, was a lifelong friend of John Connally—law school classmate, hunting sidekick, co-tenant of a lakeside cottage—yet lost the former governor to the GOP soon after taking office. Republican George Bush—who generously traded to the Democrats one of his own schoolmates, fraternity brother (Skull & Bones) and New York Mayor John Lindsay—graciously welcomed Connally, who had been largely responsible (in Bush’s estimation) for Bush’s defeat in the 1970 Senate election. The winner of that race, Connally protege Lloyd Bentsen, had been Bush’s occasional tennis foe and confederate in the same country club, as well as the first U.S. Senator to call for the election of Bob Strauss.

Read More
Wed March 19, 2014 4:19 pm By Brian D. Sweany

In the April issue, which went online today, I wrote a short piece about the search to replace outgoing UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and the news that Governor Perry had indicated to the board that it should consider Kyle Janek for the job. My story went to the printer two weeks ago (ah, print journalism!), but I spoke to several sources close to the board, close to UT, and close to the governor’s office.

Though Janek’s office at the Health and Human Services Commission did not respond to a request for an interview, well-placed sources told me that he has indicated through back channels that he will not go after UT-Austin president Bill Powers. I think that Perry has come to realize that Powers is going to outlast him, and Janek presents an opportunity for the governor’s priorities to be carried forward after he leaves office but in a way that represents a change from the direct engagement we saw under Chairman Gene Powell. But unlike Paul, I don’t believe that Janek is a slam dunk. Far from it, in fact: I think the current board will resist any appearance that it will reflexively follow Perry’s lead:

[C]onsider that while Perry has the power to appoint the regents, he has not had a lot of luck in persuading them to pick his people to run our public universities. In 2002, at his alma mater, Texas A&M, he wanted Phil Gramm installed as president; the board selected Robert Gates. When the chancellor position at UT came open in 2009, he backed John Montford; the board tapped Cigarroa. And last year, when Texas A&M was choosing an interim president, he endorsed an old colleague, Guy Diedrich; the board chose Mark Hussey. It’s tough to imagine he’ll have any better luck when he’s got one foot out the door of the Governor’s Mansion. “There is a perception that Governor Perry’s power has eroded as he approaches the end of his tenure,” says H. Scott Caven, a former UT regent chair.

Read More

Wed March 19, 2014 1:54 pm By Erica Grieder

Yesterday the Dan Branch campaign for the Republican attorney-general nomination sent out a press release that I found somewhat troubling.

The missive is a response to a request for comment campaign spokesman Enrique Marquez received yesterday from Michael Quinn Sullivan. Sullivan is best known as the president of Empower Texans, but recently he’s been moonlighting as a columnist for Breitbart Texas, and it was in that capacity that he emailed Marquez, seeking comment from the Branch campaign. “Pro-lifers say Branch’s amendment in 2005 would have allowed third-trimester abortions of viable babies,” wrote Sullivan. “…They further note that only pro-abortion Democrats and a few moderates supported his amendment in 2005, as evidence that it was a bad amendment.” Did the campaign have any comment, he asked?

The issue, for the Branch campaign, was that in his capacity as the president of Empower Texans, Sullivan had endorsed Ken Paxton, Branch’s opponent, and the Empower Texans PAC has given a lot of money to Paxton. In other words, Sullivan is clearly not an unbiased reporter. That was the issue the Branch campaign emphasized in the headline of the press release: “Branch Campaign Responds to Michael Quinn Sullivan Acting As Reporter For Breitbart News.”

That’s not, however, what I found troubling.

Read More

Fri March 14, 2014 10:22 am By Brian D. Sweany

That was the subhead for Griffin Smith Jr.’s February 1976 sorta cover story on the Democratic governor from Uvalde. I say “sorta” because Briscoe was actually on the cover for that year’s Bum Steer awards in a corny but funny shot: the governor waving to the reader while surrounded by cattle with the line: “Find the Bum Steer in This Picture.”

The joke was not lost on Smith. In a biting story, he detailed Briscoe’s inaccessibility from the press, from the public, and from other legislators as well as the shortcomings of an amateur staff that prided itself on being outsiders to the political process. Smith writes:

Somewhere, no doubt, there are other officeholders as reclusive, as secretive as Dolph Briscoe—a comatose ward-captain in the Bronx, perhaps, or a furtive county clerk in the wilds of Idaho. But are there any equal in stature to the chief executive of the third largest state? It was not supposed to be that way. Briscoe, after all, once sought the governorship on a promise to throw open his doors to the public every two weeks, so that “anyone who wants to complain, make suggestions, or just talk to the governor will be welcome.” Try that today. For all practical purposes the Invisible Man of South Texas is unique among the country’s leading political figures. His low profile, and the lengths he has gone to protect it, have made him an enigma to many and a joke to others.

Read More
Thu March 13, 2014 2:43 pm By Paul Burka

Reporters and Republicans made much of Wendy Davis's relatively poor showing on election night. Overall turnout in the Democratic primary was lower than in 2010, the last time there was a gubernatorial election in Texas. And roughly 20% of Texans who did vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary voted for the little-known candidate Ray Madrigal. He got about 114,458 votes, compared to 432,065 for Davis, and he actually won a number of counties in south Texas outright. 

But another Democratic candidate made a much better showing. In the race for lieutenant governor, Leticia Van de Putte got 451,211 votes. That's only slightly more than Davis, and it should be noted that Van de Putte didn't have an opponent in the primary. On the other hand, on the Republican side, Dan Patrick, who placed first, got 550,769 votes. It was a four-way contest, but still, that's not even half as many votes as another Republican, Greg Abbott, received for the gubernatorial nomination. It suggests that if Patrick makes it through the runoff, he will be a weaker candidate in the general election than Abbott. That was a great result for Van de Putte. 

Ross Ramsey also has an interesting column at the Texas Tribune, suggesting that Kinky Friedman--who placed second in the race for the Democratic nomination to be agriculture commissioner--might actually have a shot at winning the general if he wins the runoff, because both of the Republicans in the runoff, former state representatives Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt, are among the party's weakest potential statewide candidates, and have lower name recognition than Friedman. 

Read More