Tom Craddick may have lost four to five Craddick Democrats and another four face difficult races for re-election. But he has taken out insurance. Craddick has recruited primary and general election challengers to a number of Democratic legislators in low-turnout minority districts, including longtime incumbents Paul Moreno, Rene Oliveira, and Garnet Coleman. Democrats have suspected that challengers to Moreno and Juan Escobar were Republicans in Democratic clothing, and Coleman has done some research (which appears below) indicating that Craddick and Republican operatives are indeed behind many of the challengers.

And why should anyone be surprised? As I have written many times, and undoubtedly will write many more times, Craddick is resourceful, relentless, and ruthless, and knows every trick of the political trade. He is essentially is running these candidates on spec. They cost him little and could reap a bonanza, if the high turnouts bring new voters to the polls who upset the normal voting patters in these districts. It’s a brilliant strategy, and if it is successful, the speaker’s race could be over on March 5. If it isn’t, well, there is still the general election, not to mention the chilling effect on Democrats who have to worry about future races against Craddick-backed challengers.

Here is Coleman’s well researched tome on Craddick’s involvement in Democratic primaries:

Craddick targeting incumbent Democrats.
Republican and Craddick-supporting interests working behind the scenes to defeat good Democrats.

Tom Craddick’s tenuous grip on absolute power in the Texas House now relies on a last-ditch effort to eliminate his opponents and elect allies in 2008. While much emphasis has been placed on the general election, Craddick’s control of the House may rest in replacing good Democrats with new Craddick D’s in the primary elections.

Craddick’s re-election as Speaker depends on the support of a small faction of Democrats willing to sacrifice their districts to lend support to the embattled Speaker. He hopes to expand his pool of Craddick D support by electing freshmen that will do his bidding. To achieve this, he has directed both partisan Republican and “conservative” surrogates to funnel support and money to Democratic candidates who support Craddick in hopes of delivering more votes to his bid for reelection.

It’s my intention to let Coleman have his say, but I reserve the right to comment from time to time. So: Craddick Democrats do not see themselves as “sacrificing their districts.” Just the opposite. They get goodies for the districts, while the rest of the Democrats are shut out of the candy store.

A network of lobbyists, consultants, financiers and former members are helping Craddick in the challenges. Along the Coastal Bend, former Reps. Hugo Berlanga and Judy Hawley have recruited and aided challengers to Reps. Juan Escobar and Juan Garcia. In Houston, former Rep. Ron Wilson has recruited a challenger to Rep. Garnet Coleman, and has recruited a candidate in the race to replace Rep. Robby Cook. Former Rep. Mike Toomey is directing Texans for Lawsuit Reform and their supporters to back Rep. Escobar’s challenger. Republican Congressman Pete Session’s and Ron Wilson’s consultant has been directed to aid challenegers to Reps. Jessica Farrar and Borris Miles, while consultants with ties to Craddick D’s are working in El Paso to defeat Reps. Paul Moreno and Republican Pat Haggerty, who opposes Craddick’s rule.

These incumbent legislators are Democrats that have solidly represented their districts while remaining stringent opponents of Tom Craddick and his systematic dismantling of basic democracy in the House. Their votes, while contrary to the will of Craddick and the Republican leadership, have benefited their districts and proved crucial in the battles to defeat school vouchers, properly fund public schools, increase teacher pay, restore health insurance to some of the children that were cut by Craddick, reduce skyrocketing college tuition costs, reel in excessive utility rates, provide clean air, and stop the implementation of toll roads on public highways.

Below are examples of how Republican money was channeled to consultants, and how Craddick’s support has been leveraged by Republican and pro-Craddick forces to defeat good Democrats who won’t toe the line with Craddick in the 81st Legislative Session.

HD 43 –
Craddick D Challenger Tara Rios-Ybarra vs. Democratic Incumbent Rep. Juan Escobar

Republican financial support. Received $50,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a front for Craddick financial backers. In addition, at least $68,000 of the $79,000 she reported in donations through 1/31/08 either came from TLR or persons closely connected with the PAC.

Leininger Front Group Support. Received $2,500 from William McMinn, who is on the board of directors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank funded by voucher king and Craddick ally James Leininger. McMinn was also on the board of Putting Children First, the original voucher lobby group in Texas.

Special interest support that opposes citizens of HD 43. Another $2,500 in campaign donations came from people associated with the URI uranium mine that operates – to much controversy – in House District 43. The mine is currently involved in litigation with Kleberg County over its operations, and mine officials were angered by Escobar’s addition of an amendment to a uranium mining proposal that guaranteed the right of individuals to grant permits for new wells. In its endorsement of Rep. Escobar, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times praises Escobar for his work protecting his district from special interests pushing uranium mines in HD 43. URI uranium mine lobbyist Hugo Berlanga, who is working with Republican Todd Hunter in his bid to unseat Rep. Juan Garcia, an anti-Craddick member, has recruited and aided Ybarra in her race against Escobar. His hopes to defeat these two members would create rubber stamps for both Craddick and uranium mine interests.

GOP Consultants. Ybarra’s 30-day-out Ethics report reveals that she has close ties with GOP consultants John Doner & Associates. With a largely Republican client base that includes voucher advocates Dan Flynn, Ben Bentzin, Kent Grusendorf and Talmadge Heflin, Ybarra’s choice in consultants reflects poorly on her knowledge of the district. Most notably, Doner has also worked for the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, Rick Perry and David Dewhurst and his personal campaign contributions are also far from the Democratic base of the district. They include:
* Arlene Wohlgemuth for Congress (Author of the legislation cut health insurance from 220,000 kids)
* George Bush ’04 (twice vetoed legislation to provide health insurance to 10 million children)
* HOME-PAC (Run by Republican money man Bob Perry, one of Craddick’s largest financial backers)

Cash for Republicans. Contributed $1,000 to the 2006 GOP candidate for Cameron County judge, who was narrowly elected. Served as his mistress of ceremonies with Rick Perry at his swearing-in ceremony.

Time for another comment: The 2006 Republican candidate for Cameron County judge was Carlos Cascos. Cascos was a Democratic county commissioner who ran against Gilberto Hinojosa, the longtime boss of Cameron County politics and a defender of corrupt and subsequently convicted sheriff Conrado Cantu. Cascos ran as a reform candidate against Hinojosa in the Democratic primary and lost. He then switched parties and defeated Hinojosa, and good for him for getting rid of an old-style boss.

HD 77 –
Craddick D Challenger Marisa Marquez vs. Democratic Incumbent Rep. Paul Moreno

Craddick D consultants. Ricardo Armendariz works for the Marquez campaign. Armendariz also works for Rep. Norma Chavez, whose support of Speaker Craddick helped him win reelection in January 2007. Chavez has also endorsed Marquez and vocally advocated the defeat of Moreno. Rep. Chavez’s position on Craddick’s reelection is currently unknown.

Republican financial support. Marquez raised $8,400 in January, including $1,000 each from Paul Foster, Woody Hunt and Rick Francis — all are established Republican donors. In addition to targeting Moreno, these donors are hosting a fundraiser for Dee Margo, who is challenging Craddick opponent Rep. Pat Haggerty in the Republican primary. When asked about the majority of her financial support coming from Republicans, Marquez said “Those three men believe in El Paso and they’re committed to El Paso.”

HD 146 –
Craddick D Challenger Challenger Al Edwards vs. Democratic Incumbent Rep. Borris Miles

Former Craddick D. Since Craddick’s election in 2003, Al Edwards lent his support and loyalty to Craddick, receiving a chairmanship of a ceremonial committee in exchange for his help.

Helped pass Tom Craddick and Tom Delay map. Refused to go to Oklahoma and join his Democratic colleagues in breaking quorum to halt Tom Delay’s efforts to redraw congressional districts, resulting in the disenfranchisement of minorities across the state.

Supported Republican efforts to hurt public schools. Voted against his constituents and with Tom Craddick and the Republican leadership for HB 3 in 2005special session on finance. Failed to show up to vote with Democrats for public education improvements and teacher pay raises.

Funded almost exclusively by Republican money. Edwards took $30,000from Craddick money man Bob Perry over 18 months. On 12/4/2006 Edwards received $5,000 from Bob Perry, but attempted to disguise it by reporting it as “D&B Perry” and failing to disclose the Occupation and Employer as is required for contributions over $5,000. After getting Perry’s check, Edwards announced his intention to run in 2008 for the seat he lost. On 1/12/08 Bob Perry gave Edwards another $25,000. Knowing Republican support runs contrary to the interests of his district, Al Edwards immediately hid Perry’s money and his campaign activities and filed a signed affidavit with the Texas Ethics Commission, stating that he did “not intend to accept more than $500 in political contributions or make more than $500 in expenditures in connection with any future election within the election cycle. [Edwards] understand(s) that if either one of those limits is exceeded, [he] will be required to file pre-election reports….” This is after having raised 50 times the legal limit and spending 10 times the legal limit under the affidavit he signed.

HD 147 –
Craddick D Challenger LaRhonda Torry vs. Democratic Incumbent Rep. Garnet Coleman

Illegal contributions. Received $750 illegal contribution for filing fee without a treasurer’s form.

Represented by Craddick’s lawyer. Represented by former Representative, lobbyist, and former assistant Craddick parliamentarian Ron Wilson before the Texas Supreme Court during effort to obtain a Writ of Mandamus, ordering her name be placed on primary ballot.

In debt to Craddick’s lawyer. Of $30,970 in campaign account, $750 is filing fee and $30,000 is a loan from Craddick henchman Ron Wilson . Wilson, whose loyal support for Tom Craddick has helped him pass conservative legislation, was instrumental in helping Craddick craft his argument for “absolute power” in the last legislative session. He also aided Craddick and Tom Delay in passing an unconstitutional mid-decade redistricting map that disenfranchised minority votes across the state.

HD 148 –
Craddick D Challenger Jose Medrano vs. Democratic Incumbent Rep. Jessica Farrar

Craddick D and Republican consultant. Partida & Associates are working with the Medrano campaign this cycle, receiving $6,590 in work for Medrano between 1/2/08 and 1/4/08. This cycle they have also performed $10,000 in work for entrenched “Craddick D” Kevin Bailey. Their previous clients include $20,643.07 from Craddick surrogate Ron Wilson in his failed 2004 bid for reelection, $12,395.48 for Craddick’s Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner in 2006 election season, and $4,700 for “Craddick D” Kino Flores during session in 2007.

After working on Ron Wilson’s losing 2004 primary election, Partida & Associates went to work on Pete Sessions’ general election congressional campaign against Democratic Congressman Martin Frost, in a district that was gerrymandered with the help of Wilson. Partida & Associates were paid $178,880 for their work on the campaign, and after Sessions was elected, a Partida staffer went to work in Sessions’ Dallas office.

HD 37 –
Craddick D Challenger John Shergold vs. Democratic Incumbent Rep. Rene Oliveira

Craddick D consultant. Breeden & McCumber firm is working for Shergold. In addition, they have received $92,549.90 over 4 months for work from Tara Rios Ybarra, the Republican-backed challenger to Juan Escobar. Craddick supporter Rep. Aaron Pena has given $60,000 to Breeden & McCumber. On 1/11/08 Pena received exactly $50,000 from Tom Craddick; on 1/15/08 and 1/16/08 spent exactly $50,000 on work from Breeden & McCumber. Breeden & McCumber also received $16,588.28 from Craddick supporter Rep. Kino Flores during this election cycle. M5 Designs produces the campaign literature and signs for Mr. Shergold. This cycle, they are also working with Rep. Aaron Pena and Tara Rios Ybarra.