The 23 other most powerful people in Texas politics.
Buddy Jones, 54, Austin
Rusty Kelley, 57, Austin
Bill Messer, 54, Belton
Mike Toomey, 53, Austin
A Nineteenth-Century Washington correspondent once described the lobby as a monster that inhabited the U.S. Capitol: “Winding in and out through the long, devious basement passage, crawling through the corridors, trailing its slimy length from gallery to committee room, at last it lies stretched at full length on the floor of Congress—this dazzling reptile, this huge, scaly serpent.” People who view politics from the outside, and even some who view it from the inside, see the lobby in exactly this way—as the unsavory nexus of money, influence, and public policy. And yet the First Amendment places lobbying on the same pedestal as freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press: “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
To be sure, lobbying will never be free of stench. Like prostitution, with which it is sometimes compared, lobbying is a contender for the title of the oldest profession. But the most powerful lobbyists are among the smartest, hardest-working, straightest-shooting people in Austin. They’re powerful because they can pass or kill bills that are worth millions of dollars to interest groups. Advocating for legislation sought by their clients is only part of their job; they are generous with advice, gossip, insight, friendship, and campaign cash.
None more than Buddy Jones, who had a brief career as a legislator—one term in the House, which ended with a losing race for the state Senate in 1982. The defeat was the best thing that ever happened to him. He returned to the House as executive assistant for then-Speaker Gib Lewis and began dispensing the favors and cementing the friendships that have catapulted him to the top tier of the Third House. His client list is said to be the best in town: AT&T, Alcoa, the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas, Continental Airlines, Farmers Insurance, General Motors, the Dallas Cowboys, H-E-B, Wal-Mart, banks, school districts. He broke new ground in 1998 by co-founding (with Bill Miller) HillCo Partners, a talent-laden consulting firm that does issue campaigns, lobbying, and public relations. Often lampooned by jealous colleagues for his ingratiating style, Jones is known for greetings like “You’re a great American” (to men) and “Have I told you lately how much I love you?” (to women).
Rusty Kelley is described by a word one seldom hears spoken of lobbyists: “beloved.” Many a lawmaker thinks of him as a best friend. He has a humble, self-deprecating style that is totally nonthreatening and ever so persuasive. Don’t be fooled into underestimating him—not that anyone does. He learned the ways of the Legislature as sergeant-at-arms of the House in the seventies and later as executive assistant to Speaker Billy Clayton. He earned his lobbying spurs by spearheading Ross Perot’s education reforms through the Legislature in 1984 and has been at the top of his profession ever since. Now with Public Strategies, his clients include American Airlines, Dell Computer, Dow Chemical, General Electric, General Motors, billboard interests, Southwestern Bell, Coca-Cola, the Basses, and some big-name Texans who want to keep their hand in what is going on in Austin, including Ross Perot Jr. and Peter O’Donnell. One of his coups was passing a bill that established a taxing district for the Texas Rangers baseball club and its managing general partner, and if you have to be told who that was, chances are you don’t know much about power in Texas.
Bill Messer has the best connection in the Capitol—no one outside Tom Craddick’s immediate family is closer to the Speaker of the House—and unsurpassed institutional knowledge. The latter he learned not only from his tour as a master legislator in the eighties but also from long conversations with his late father-in-law, petrochemicals lobbyist Harry Whitworth, one of the Big Four lobbyists of the fifties and sixties. Today Messer represents Whitworth’s old organization, the Texas Chemical Council, as well as State Farm, IBM, Liberty Mutual Insurance, McDonald’s, Union Pacific, the Texas Hospital Association, Southwestern Bell, and the redoubtable Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which—with Messer calling the signals and Craddick’s strong support—successfully backed sweeping pro-business changes in Texas tort law. Messer would really be sitting pretty had his longtime friend John Sharp, a Democrat, been elected lieutenant governor in 2002, but when Republican David Dewhurst prevailed instead, Messer couldn’t maximize his effectiveness in the Senate.
Mike Toomey doesn’t have a very impressive client list, according to the December reports at the Texas Ethics Commission. Just wait, just wait. Toomey had an immensely successful lobbying practice (led by tort reform clients) before he sold it to Messer in 2002, clearing the way for him to become chief of staff to his close friend Governor Rick Perry. He was positioned perfectly to fight for the toughest possible tort reform package, which had been a cause of his since he was a Republican legislator in the eighties. A self-described staunch economic conservative, Toomey didn’t advocate anything he hadn’t favored for years, and yet the idea of a lobbyist going into the governor’s office and taking stands that greatly benefited his former clients raised a lot of eyebrows. His return to lobbying for the 2005 session has raised a lot of eyebrows as well, and the eyes under those eyebrows are looking to see whether some of Toomey’s grateful former clients will soon become his present clients.
THE LOYAL OPPOSITION
Rodney Ellis, 50, Houston
Royce West, 52, Dallas
SOME FOLKS INVOLVED in politics would rather lose loudly than win quietly; they measure victory in volume rather than votes. Senators Rodney Ellis and Royce West are just the opposite: liberal Democrats who win by working behind the scenes with the GOP majority while remaining true to their principles. As for losing, it’s hard to say how they react, because it so seldom happens. Session after session, they’re the most effective Democrats in the Legislature. But they don’t operate as a unit; their personalities could not be more different. Ellis is a dapper dresser, as befits his work as an investment banker, and he moves on the Senate floor with flair and style, pressing the flesh, cutting deals, wisecracking his way through debate. “Dapper” is not a word that applies to West, who played college football at the University of Texas at Arlington and has the mammoth bulk of an offensive lineman. His size and legal training—he served as chief felony prosecutor in Dallas County—make him a formidable adversary. The two men owe part of their stature to Senate rules, which require a supermajority for passage of important legislation (redistricting aside) and encourage clubbiness over conflict. They’re members in good standing of the club, and no one messes with them. Ellis has won passage of hate crimes legislation, protections for indigent criminal defendants, and a college scholarship program for needy students. West’s concerns are redlining by financial institutions and credit scoring by insurance companies, equal access in university admissions and state contracting, and bringing a branch of the University of North Texas to Dallas—the city’s first and long-overdue public college, which is now a reality. Their success ought to be an object lesson for Democrats in both houses who can’t adjust to their party’s minority status and find whining easier than winning.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Kay Bailey Hutchison, 61, Dallas
POWER STARTS WITH the perception of power. That’s why Kay Bailey Hutchison is on the list. Right now, a little more than a year before the 2006 Republican primary, the wannabe governor looms as large as the actual one. Texas’ senior U.S. senator doesn’t inject herself into day-to-day events in Austin, but she doesn’t have to: Her influence on state politics is pervasive. No one is affected more than Rick Perry, whose every decision must start with the political consequences (it’s always been his modus operandi anyway). Every other politician with ambitions for higher office—Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Attorney General Greg Abbott, agriculture commissioner Susan Combs, and as-yet-unidentified Democrats who might think Perry is vulnerable—is in a holding pattern while Kay makes up her mind. Issues that are important to Republican primary voters—above all, school finance—take on added urgency because of a possible Hutchison challenge. GOP lawmakers are weighing whether to take sides or stay out of the line of fire. Hardly a political conversation takes place that doesn’t include speculation of the will-she-or-won’t-she variety. All eyes are on her, but if she decides not to run, the perception of power, and the power itself, will vanish in a nanosecond.
THE TOWN CRIER
Harvey Kronberg, 54, Austin
IF HE RESPONDS honestly when he fills in the “occupation” box listed on life’s countless forms, Harvey Kronberg will confess that he is, quite simply, a gossipmonger. In 1998 he bought the Quorum Report, a sleepy, Austin-based political newsletter, and turned it into a snappy online newsletter that is bookmarked in every Texas political junkie’s computer—and turned himself into the Capitol’s town crier. He added columnists, a calendar for daily political events, links to other political Web sites, and a must-read Daily Buzz that he posts in the late afternoon. Lest someone miss what he has to say, he sends blast e-mails to lure readers to his Web site (quorumreport.com) for updates on anything remotely connected to Texas politics: campaigns, court action, career changes, committee reports, and rumors, rumors, rumors. Want to find out the latest development in the state school finance litigation? Check Harvey. Want to disseminate some information anonymously? Call Harvey. Kronberg has no political agenda of his own, except to be the source of all information. Only paying subscribers ($250 a year) get the full story. But knowledge is power, and Harvey’s got both.
THE WISE MAN
Jack Martin, 50, Austin
SOME PEOPLE SEEK power. In Jack Martin’s case, power seeks him. He is the preeminent wise man of Texas politics, the person who gives the best advice in town, whether it is to politicians, reporters, or business clients of Public Strategies, which he founded in 1988 to counsel companies about the mysteries of politics and the public sector. At the time, Martin was a high-profile political consultant who had served as executive assistant to U.S. senator Lloyd Bentsen and had run campaigns for leading Texas Democrats, including Bentsen and Bob Bullock. Today the company Martin chairs has employees in 21 international cities, including New York, London, and Mexico City, and national and international issues dominate its agenda. Still, Texas business leaders such as Ross Perot Jr. and SBC Communications CEO Ed Whitacre keep up to date on the Capitol through Martin, whose firm’s principals include lobbyist Rusty Kelley and George W. Bush’s media guru, Mark McKinnon. But it isn’t knowledge alone that makes a wise man. Like the late George Christian, who wore the mantle until his death, in 2002, Martin gives advice that is best for the seeker, not for himself.
THE LAW OF THE LAND
Nathan Hecht, 55, Austin
HE EXEMPLIFIES our criterion that power depends not on your position alone but also on what you do with it. Hecht is one of nine justices on the Texas Supreme Court, but in intellectual heft he is first among equals. He’s a one-man tort reform movement who, as one law review article put it, “has made no secret of his belief that a jury should not be permitted to consider certain issues.” He has revolutionized Texas law by enhancing the Supreme Court’s power to review jury findings, such as whether an insurance company acted in bad faith. Hecht is also poised to revolutionize the biggest issue in Texas politics: school finance. Attorney General Greg Abbott has appealed Austin judge John Dietz’s ruling that the state’s method of funding public schools is unconstitutional. This is the second time the case has reached the high court; the first resulted in an opinion by Hecht, who wrote that if the Legislature provides an adequate school system for the state, local districts are free to supplement state spending with local tax dollars, without limitation. And who decides if the system is adequate? Hecht and his fellow judges, of course. This is the holy grail for rich districts like Highland Park. It would take Texas back to the days when there was no equity between school districts that were property-rich and property-poor. Is there a chance it could happen? To borrow from a certain judge’s campaign slogan: Hecht yes!
Bruce Gibson, 51, Austin
THE NEW YORKER essayist Malcolm Gladwell once speculated that the people who really run the world don’t have important titles, but “in a very down-to-earth, day-to-day way, they make the world work. They spread ideas and information. They connect varied and isolated parts of society.” If you “connect all the dots that constitute the vast apparatus of government and influence and interest groups” in a place, you’ll come back to these people, whom Gladwell called “connectors.” In Texas, there’s no better connector than Bruce Gibson, the chief of staff to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. He has an uncanny ability to bring together good ideas and the people who can get them done—and make his boss look great; he is a prime example of Machiavelli’s dictum that the best way to judge a leader is by the quality of the people he chooses for his advisers. Dewhurst’s choice of Gibson paid off big when the lieutenant governor seized the initiative on the crucial school finance issue in 2003 by shepherding a Gibson-influenced plan through the Senate with unanimous support; although the House ignored it, the Senate plan still defines the debate. The school finance battle typified Dewhurst’s rookie session: While he didn’t win a lot of legislative battles against Rick Perry and Tom Craddick, he won all the PR battles—until redistricting made everybody look bad. Gibson has a laundry list of credentials—lawyer, dairy farmer, legislator, lobbyist, chief of staff for the late lieutenant governor Bob Bullock, senior vice president of Reliant Energy—but his best attribute is natural-born: He is a great listener. People with problems in the Capitol seek him out. And they end up connected to Dewhurst.
THE MONEY MEN
Louis Beecherl Jr., 78, Dallas
Bob Perry, 71, Houston
Dick Weekley, 59, Houston
THEY’RE THE HEAVIEST OF the heavy hitters—big donors to political campaigns whose money often comes with strings attached (though never explicitly). They help determine not only who gets elected but also the agenda that the officeholders will be expected to enact. Although all three have been hugely successful in business (Beecherl in energy and Perry and Weekley in homebuilding), they are different from the business leaders who were active in politics a generation ago. They act as individuals rather than as representatives of powerful corporate institutions, and, therefore, while they have significant influence in the Capitol, they and others who aspire to be like them do not constitute an all-powerful business establishment of the kind that ruled the state in the sixties and seventies.
When George W. Bush held a fundraiser at the Fairmont Dallas Hotel last July, the first person he mentioned after his wife and Dick Cheney—but before Governor Rick Perry—was Louis Beecherl Jr., his regional finance chairman. “You can count on Louis,” he told the crowd, and indeed, Texas Republican candidates have been counting on Beecherl for a long time. In July 2004 the Perry campaign reported receiving $25,000 from Beecherl. His wealth comes from the 1985 sale of Texas Oil and Gas—he was chairman and CEO for twenty years—to U.S. Steel for $3.8 billion. Beecherl’s influence in state government first surfaced in 1987, when he chaired the University of Texas Board of Regents. Texas Parks and Wildlife transferred forty pronghorn antelope from West Texas to Beecherl’s ranch near Waco, despite questions about whether the animals could find suitable food. All but one starved to death. More recently, he has been a strong advocate of property-tax relief—and you’d want it too, if your Beverly Drive residence in Highland Park was on the tax rolls for more than $2.8 million. Another issue dear to Beecherl’s heart is tuition deregulation, which became law in 2003 at the insistence of Speaker Tom Craddick. How close are Beecherl and Craddick? Last fall Beecherl and his wife, Julia, formed a Dallas group that funded an endowed chair at Southwestern Medical Center in the names of Tom and his wife, Nadine.
No one in America contributed more political money in 2004 than Bob Perry. The $100,000 that the builder gave to Governor Perry (no relation) last spring is pocket change. The Houston Chronicle recently reported that Perry and his wife, Doylene, made $9.6 million in personal contributions last year. Perry famously provided $100,000 for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s first TV ad, but that was only the beginning; his total donations to the group topped $5 million. More Perry millions ended up in the coffers of Republican legislative and judicial candidates, and he also led all individual contributors to the pro-business Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($300,000). But the contribution that best demonstrates Perry’s clout was a $10,000 donation to Patrick Rose, of Dripping Springs, a freshman Democratic representative who had supported Republican-backed tort reform legislation. Rose was expected to have a tough campaign against a Republican challenger, but when Perry signaled his support, that was that. Rose won by six thousand votes.
Money can accomplish a lot in politics: It can decide the fates of candidates and legislation; it can buy influence and access to power. But it can’t change the world—or so people thought until Dick Weekley came along. In 1994 he was the driving force behind the founding of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which was created to fight for curbing excessive damage awards and changing procedural rules that unfairly favored plaintiffs. At least that’s how Weekley saw the legal system, from his perspective as the co-founder (with his brother David) of Weekley Homes. Other tort reform advocates followed the unwritten rule of the day: Work with key Democratic leaders and legislators and be satisfied with evolutionary change. Weekley’s approach was revolutionary. He declared war on legislators whose campaigns were funded by trial lawyers and who kept tort reform issues from being voted on. TLR raised a huge pot of campaign cash, targeted three Democratic senators, beat them all—and changed the world. Republicans grabbed control of the Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. The 1995 legislative session imposed strict limits on punitive damages, but TLR would have to wait until 2003 before its wish list was fulfilled. With Republicans—many of them elected with the help of TLR contributions—in control of both houses, the Legislature passed the strongest tort reform law in the country. Is Weekley ready to rest on his laurels? Not a chance. TLR’s next goal is to make the world safe from asbestos. Lawsuits, that is.
Andy Taylor, 43, Houston
HE’S THE TROUBLESHOOTING lawyer for Republicans whose political problems become legal problems, a job that’s kept him plenty busy since he became the top assistant to newly elected attorney general John Cornyn, in 1999. In private practice since 2001, Taylor has made a career of putting horse heads in Democrats’ beds: trial lawyers who enriched themselves in the megabillion lawsuit brought against tobacco companies by Cornyn’s ill-starred predecessor, Dan Morales; plaintiffs who sued the state over contentious redistricting battles in 2001 and 2003; Travis County DA Ronnie Earle, whom Taylor sued in an effort to block Earle’s Public Integrity Unit from investigating whether corporate funds were used illegally in 2002 to ensure the election of a GOP majority in the House; and, currently, state representative Hubert Vo, of Houston, who defeated incumbent Republican heavyweight Talmadge Heflin in November, only to have Heflin—represented by Taylor, of course—file an election challenge. All of this would be enough to establish Taylor’s power credentials, but there’s more: When Rick Perry was considering whom to appoint to fill recent Texas Supreme Court vacancies, Taylor was one of several people who interviewed potential candidates and assessed their strengths and weaknesses. Being in a position to give advice about judges who might hear your appeal of cases—now that’s power.
James Huffines, 53, Austin
RICK PERRY HAS TWO sets of advisers. One, comprising his staff and his campaign operatives, is young, tough-minded, and ideological. The other is an informal group of friends who are more seasoned and more moderate. Hufﬁnes is the unofficial chairman of this kitchen cabinet. Cast in the old Republican-businessman mold—he grew up in a well-to-do Dallas family and is now the regional chairman of PlainsCapital Bank—that formed the core of the party before the social conservatives took over, he got his schooling in politics under Bill Clements, Texas’s first GOP governor in the modern era, in a time when Democrats still ruled the Legislature, and he learned the value of building bridges to the other side. He’s a macro thinker who acts as a counterweight to the governor’s occasional propensity to be obsessed with micro political gamesmanship. Perry rewarded Huffines with one of the state’s most coveted appointments: chairman of the UT Board of Regents. It was a shrewd choice, calming rampant paranoia at UT that Perry’s conservatism—and Aggieism—would cause him to try to remake A&M’s ancient and more liberal rival. Huffines’s Dallas ties are another asset to Perry, who faces two problems in that city: Kay Bailey Hutchison’s hometown popularity, and anger over the Robin Hood school finance law, on which Hufﬁnes has Perry’s ear. You can’t beat experience in politics, and Huffines, more than any other Perry adviser, has it.
Steve Murdock, 56, San Antonio
TRAVIS COUNTY STATE district judge John Dietz heard five and a half weeks of arguments about Texas’s school finance system last summer, but in the end, it was a five-hundred-page report by Steve Murdock that got his attention: If current gaps in education spending continue unabated, wrote the state demographer, we face a grim future of ever-accelerating numbers of high school dropouts, a precipitous decline in household per capita income (and therefore tax revenue), and an explosion in felony prisoners and welfare recipients. “The lesson is this,” Dietz told his courtroom audience before ruling that the state’s school finance system was unconstitutional: “Education costs money, but ignorance costs more money.” Chalk up one more convert for Murdock, the director of the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who has been preaching about the implications of population change on Texas’s social fabric for 25 years. Here’s one of his thought-provoking statistics: Between 2000 and 2040, Texas’s population will grow from 20 million to 50 million, and 96 percent of the net increase will be non-Anglo; that’s why the state’s priority must be to educate young Hispanics. Murdock controls no votes, contributes no money, passes no legislation, but his message affects politics every day: He transforms raw data into a compelling story that changes the way the state’s business, civic, and political leaders think.
THE POWER COUPLE
Deirdre Delisi, 32, Austin
Ted Delisi, 31, Austin
SHE’S THE CHIEF OF STAFF for Governor Rick Perry. He’s a political consultant who got his start in Karl Rove’s direct-mail shop. Together their contacts reach deep into the GOP. Ted, the son of state representative Dianne Delisi, of Temple, worked for former attorney general John Cornyn until Rove signed on with the Bush presidential campaign, in 1999; Ted and another Rove alum, Todd Olsen, bought Rove’s business and soon found themselves doing lucrative work for Bush—almost $1 million in billings in 2000. Ted has since moved on to establish his own direct-mail and consulting firm, as well as a joint venture with HillCo Partners. His clients have included Cornyn, now a U.S. senator, and congressional race winners Mike Conaway, of Midland, and Mike McCaul, of Austin, the latter in an unforgettably mean primary battle last spring. Deirdre guided Perry’s 2002 campaign for reelection against Tony Sanchez, then moved into the governor’s office as deputy chief of staff under Mike Toomey, the formidable lobbyist-turned-staffer-turned-lobbyist; when he exited the revolving door, Deirdre inherited the job—to the delight of just about everyone in the Capitol, who hoped for a kinder, gentler governor’s office and, so far, appear to have gotten their wish (but don’t think she can’t play hardball). It is not hard to see the power couple partnered someday in business as well as matrimony, competing to be the next Karl Rove. Of course, a line is already forming.
Bill Miller, 54, Austin
THE MOST MYSTIFYING MEMBER OF THE POWER LIST: Nobody knows exactly what he does, but they know he does it very well. Mainly, he schmoozes—with clients like Houston builder and mega-donor Bob Perry; with Speaker of the House Tom Craddick (for whom he arranged an audience with the pope); and with reporters looking for insight or an incisive quote (he was widely presumed to be speaking as a Craddick surrogate when he told the Houston Chronicle’s Kristen Mack last November that an election challenge by former chief House budget writer Talmadge Heflin was doomed: “It’s irreversible, and that’s a fact of life, and he needs to move on”). Miller frequently turns up as the spokesman for folks in trouble, most memorably for a hapless senator of yore named Drew Nixon, who managed to get himself arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover Austin cop. Blessed with one of the quickest wits—and the heartiest laugh—in the Capitol, he zoomed into the power stratosphere in 1998, when he and lobbyist Buddy Jones co-founded the consulting firm HillCo Partners. But what exactly does he do all day? “If I told you,” Miller says, “the jig would be up.”
Scott McCown, 49, Austin
HE’S THE VOICE OF THE VOICELESS in Texas politics, a former Travis County state district judge who left the bench to become executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Texas’s most effective—some would say only effective—advocate for liberal causes (notwithstanding the occasional conservative jest that the think tank’s acronym ought to be CCCP, the Cyrillic characters representing the old Soviet Union). McCown first came to prominence as the trial judge in the Edgewood school finance lawsuit; his ruling that the state’s method of funding public schools violated the Texas constitution led to the passage of the Robin Hood law, which is still in force today. As a judge, he was confronted with so many heartbreaking examples of abused and neglected children who had fallen through the state’s social-services safety net that he poured his concern and frustration into a lengthy document addressed to then-governor George W. Bush and the Texas Legislature, pleading for better funding for the state Child Protective Services agency. A work worthy of a law school professor (which he once was, at the University of Texas), “A Petition in Behalf of the Forsaken Children” made a powerful statistical and political argument that resulted in a $200 million increase in CPS funding in 1999. Now Republican state leaders, including Rick Perry and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, are calling for CPS reforms. Democrats won’t win many battles in the Legislature, but with McCown and CPPP around to provide research on the manifold shortcomings of state government, they’ll at least have enough ammunition to make a fight.
THE NUMBERS CRUNCHER
Billy Hamilton 53, Austin
WHAT DO BOB BULLOCK, John Sharp, and Carole Keeton Strayhorn have in common? Their reliance on deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton, whose genius at tax policy has allowed a succession of state comptrollers to transform a once-obscure, green-eyeshades accounting office into a power center. Under Texas’s pay-as-you-go system of budget writing, the Legislature can spend only as much as the comptroller says is available—and for more than twenty years Hamilton has done the math. He cemented his reputation for credibility in the eighties as then-comptroller Bullock’s chief revenue estimator, accurately predicting the state’s intake despite the mercurial behavior of oil prices. His expertise attracted the attention of then–vice president Al Gore, who had him draw up a blueprint to streamline the federal bureaucracy in 1993, and of the Terminator, who tapped him last year to help ease California’s budget woes. How much do Texas budget writers rely on his numbers? When Bill Ratliff, then the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, heard in 1999 that Hamilton might take a job in the private sector, he placed an alarmed call to Strayhorn to say, “You can’t let Billy Hamilton leave. I can’t write a budget without him.” Guess who got a raise?
THE REALITY CHECK
Mike Baselice, 44, Austin
IF WE COULD SNAP our fingers, all pollsters would disappear and every politician would do what is right instead of what is popular. So much for fantasyland. Polling is here to stay, even if snafus like the exit polls in the 2004 presidential race discredit the profession. In any case, Republican pollster Mike Baselice isn’t the problem. His reputation and his power rest on the uncanny accuracy of his numbers. Take a look at these percentages Baselice predicted in the 2002 election. For governor, Baselice’s projection: Perry 57.4, Sanchez 40.2. Actual result: Perry 57.8, Sanchez 39.96. In the attorney general’s race, Baselice told Greg Abbott that he’d win by 15.8 percentage points and made a mock apology when the actual margin was “only” 15.64. Texas Republicans aren’t the only ones who rely on him. When the California Chamber of Commerce wanted to know which Republican had the best chance of being elected governor if Democrat Gray Davis was recalled (we could have told them for free), they asked Baselice, whose poll showed you-know-who far ahead of his GOP rivals; Baselice’s follow-up poll was the first to show Ah-nuld leading Democrat Cruz Bustamante. In a party that is chock-full of ambitious politicians seeking higher office, his reality check separates the contenders from the pretenders.
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