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The Republican House Runoffs (April 8)

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Most of the action is on the Republican side, which features five House races in which the R’s will choose their nominee. Due to spring break, which, for different school districts, took place at different times during March, there has been little campaign activity because so many voters were not reachable. Runoffs are always dicey, but this campaign season is going to be so short — it will probably begin just before early voting commences on March 31 — that it is going to be difficult for campaigns to get their vote out.

District 52 (Williamson County)
Incumbent Mike Krusee is retiring to await his appointment to the Texas Transportation Commission in January 2009. The four-way race to succeed him was very close; the three top candidates were separated by a mere 2.5%. Dee Hobbs, a prosecutor in the Williamson county attorney’s office, edged insurance executive Bryan Daniel, 31.75% to 29.98%, or 183 votes. John Gordon, a former GOP county chairman, missed the runoff by just 83 votes. Vivian Sullivan finished out of the running.

The conservative chorus–Betty Brown, Charlie Howard, Nathan Macias, Tom Annunziato, Bill Zedler, Randy Dunning (see district 112), and Heritage Alliance PAC, the latest vehicle of the infamous Free-PAC founder Richard Ford–has endorsed Daniels. (An earlier report that Dan Gattis is supporting Daniel was erroneous. He says he is has offered to provide advice to both candidates but is not taking sides in the race.) A local politico who is familiar with the race described Daniel’s campaign as “totally consultant driven, very slick” and said Daniel is getting the lobby money too.

Both Gordon and Sullivan endorsed Hobbs, whose family has a long history in the county. His grandfather was chief of police in Taylor. His mother, Judy Schier Hobbs, currently serves as justice of the peace in a commissioner’s precinct that closely tracks the lines of the legislative district. Hobbs’ signs identify him as a “Republican Prosecutor” in a county known for (some would say “notorious for” its law-and-order attitude. Last but not least, the eastern part of the district, where Hobbs lives (in Hutto), tends to outvote the western part of the district.

The speaker’s race: The pro-Craddick crowd is clearly for Daniel and vice-versa. Hobbs is believed to be supportive of Craddick but it cannot have escaped his notice that the Craddick machine is supporting Daniel.

The general election: The winner faces a tough race against the Democratic nominee, Diana Maldanado, former president of the Round Rock school board. Krusee won reelection with 50.44% of the vote against an unfunded, unknown Democrat in 2006. This district is awash in demographic change and will be a major battleground in the general election.

District 55 (Bell County)

This seat has been ably occupied by Dianne Delisi, one of the Legislature’s best members, who, alas, decided to retire. The race to succeed her is between Martha Tyroch, a member of the Temple city council, who led the first round of voting on March 4 with 36% over Temple restaurateur Ralph Sheffield’s 31%. The votes had barely been counted when Sheffield’s consultant, Ted Delisi (son of Dianne, husband of Deirdre) issued a statement that all but claimed victory. I quote selectively below:

There are three factors that will lead Ralph Sheffield to victory on April 8th:

1. Mike Pearce, a Marine veteran who performed well in the areas surrounding Fort Hood, used his concession speech on local television to state emphatically that he supports, endorses, and intends to help Ralph Sheffield win the runoff. Sheffield and Pearce’s support together equal over 51% of the vote.

2. The demographics of House District 55 are changing; Temple’s portion of the vote us decreasing while the western portion of the district, the Harker Heights/Ft. Hood area, is increasing. Temple historically produces 37% of the total vote. In this election, Temple only produced a little over 30% of the vote.

3. Ralph ran a strong race on election day, narrowly losing by 33% to 32%. It is clear that Martha saw a significant drop in support after early voting when it was disclosed that she was a member of Tx-DOT’s Trans-Texas Corridor Citizens Advisory Committee.

(The last comment ought to make for some merry moments at the Delisi household, since Rick Perry wants to name Deirdre to the Texas Transportation Commission.)

Delisi’s memo did not mention Sheffield’s long history of not paying his taxes. The Temple Daily Telegram is reporting on March 27, two days after I first posted this story, that Sheffield had tax liens filed against him or his business entities on five occasions dating back to the mid-eighties. These included unpaid local property taxes; unpaid federal taxes withheld from employees’ paychecks; unpaid partnership income taxes; unpaid state unemployment compensation taxes; unpaid sales taxes; and unpaid corporate franchise taxes. The total amount of unpaid taxes was around $80,000 over a twenty-year period. Sheffield paid off the last of the tax liens five years ago. Yesterday (Wednesday) Sheffield held a press conference to criticize Tyroch for negative campaigning by raising the issue of his not paying his taxes, when he has paid his taxes for the past eight years. Tyroch declined to be interviewed and was skewered for it by the local TV reporter.

I don’t regard using public records of an opponent’s failure to pay his taxes to be negative campaigning. The facts are true. People who are seeking public office, which brings with it the power to tax, ought to pay their taxes. Ordinary people have to pay their taxes; those who seek a public trust should do so too. I don’t see anything unfair about Tyroch’s raising the issue.

The speaker’s race: Empower Texas PAC, which generally supports candidates aligned with Craddick, is backing Sheffield.

The general election: Sam Murphy, a retired serviceman and former district staffer for congressman Chet Edwards, is the Democratic hopeful, but this is a tough district for Democrats.

District 81 (Ector County and environs)

An ailing Buddy West is trying for his ninth term against Tryon Lewis, who served as district judge in Odessa for twenty years. The conventional wisdom before March 4 was that West had no chance. West has kidney problems that require dialysis. West refused to debate Lewis, saying, “All he has done is judge people. I’ve worked for the people. I’ve done everything he’s trying to do.” The Odessa American, which does not endorse candidates, strongly criticized West’s failure to debate in an editorial, which concluded with these lines:

West’s refusal to debate Lewis, or speak very much at all in public for that matter, leaves a silence that is deafening. In fact, you might conclude that it speaks for itself.

Lewis’s ill judged response was to call on West to give up his seat if he was unable to carry out his job. Nice fellow. On election day, Lewis led West by 44% to 38%, but the other two candidates in the race have endorsed West, one even spray-painting his own sign to read “Go West.”

Lewis’s main problem, aside from West’s general popularity, is that some (including one of the losing candidates who endorsed West) say he is not conservative enough. The Eagle Forum has described him as having moderate leanings on abortion. West’s problem is that local community leaders have grown addicted to the state funding Craddick has directed Odessa’s way, and they see West as anti-Craddick. Craddick’s stated position is that Odessa is lucky to have two good candidates running for the seat. Jim Pitts and other anti-Craddick Republicans held an odd press conference in Odessa to declare, of all things, that West had supported Craddick. Lewis, who apparently hadn’t gotten the memo, told the local paper, “I don’t know of any reason that Tom Craddick would endorse or support Buddy,” Lewis said. “For many reasons, but most specifically because Buddy refused to support the speaker from this area for re-election in the last session.”

The speaker’s race: West has opposed Craddick in the past. Lewis supports the speaker. Craddick could pick up a crucial vote here if Lewis wins.

The general election: The Democrats did not field a candidate.

District 112 (Dallas County)

Incumbent Fred Hill, who became a Craddick critic, is retiring. The race to succeed him is between Randy Dunning, a former Garland city council member, and Angie Chen Button, a marketing executive with Texas Instruments. Button led on primary election day with 38% with Dunning close behind at 35%. Hill’s (and the Dallas Morning News’) choice, Jim Shepherd, finished a strong third. Like Hill, he opposed appraisal caps.

This has turned into a classic battle between the two factions of the Republican party in North Texas — mainstream business conservatives and the far right. Dunning is the darling of the latter group, the sort of politician who, according to a former legislative candidate from the area, loves to go to conventions and fight over resolutions. He has been endorsed by former U.S. Republican majority leader Dick Armey, Republican national committeeman Bill Crocker, committeewoman Denise McNamara, and former vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party David Barton, and the predictable assortment of red-meat conservative legislators: Jim Jackson, Jodie Laubenborg, Ken Paxton, Betty Brown, Dan Flynn, Bryan Hughes, Phil King, as well as the Texas Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams and former state party chairman Tom Pauken.

Button is the prototype civic activist. Her resume includes awards and recognitions and memberships (DART board) that represent just about every major institution in Dallas, from SMU to various museums. But she is anathema to the right because from time to time, she contributed to Democrats — for example, Ron Kirk in the 2002 Senate race (as most of the Dallas business community did). Suzyblitz, a Garland blogger and a Dunning supporter, recently penned this doggerel about Chen’s recent criticisms of Dunning (see criticisms below, and if you haven’t seen them before — the release was on the Quorum Report — DO NOT SKIP OVER THEM … UNBELIEVABLE STUFF!)

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Round about the cauldron go
In the poison’d entrails throw
Mix slander and slime and a lie or two
Then feed the voters her witch’s brew
Angie Chen-Button shows off her cunning

To keep this election from going to Dunning.

Like all runoffs, this one will come down to a matter of which side can turn out its votes. Normally, the far right would be better organized and able to mobilize the churches, but Button can count on the support of the district’s influential Asian community. This will be a close one.

The speaker’s race: Hill was a leader of the effort to oust Craddick, so this is an opportunity for the speaker to pick up a Republican vote. Dunning’s endorsements make it obvious that, his eccentricities notwithstanding, Craddick’s allies in the Republican party are for Dunning. That is very disturbing. Button is thought to view Craddick unfavorably.

The general election: The Democratic candidate is Sandra VuLe, whose family fled Viet Nam in 1975. She came to America knowing two words — “yes” and “no.” She has a law degree from SMU and practices family law in Dallas and is active in the Bar association. The scenario for VuLe to win is for Dunning to defeat Button, in which case the Asian community might unite behind VuLe.

While I was doing an interview about this race, my co-conversationalist forwarded to me an e-mail from the Button campaign about Randy Dunning. It has been making the rounds, but this is the first time I had seen it. All I can say is, If he makes it to the Legislature, he’ll be the talk of the Capitol. This guy is going to be chairman of the Black Helicopter Caucus. The press release, with footnotes:

The Strange Record of Randall Dunning

Before the March 4th Primary, few Republicans knew candidate Randall Dunning in District 112. According to a December poll, less than 10% of District 112 had heard of Dunning and many of those who did know him did not like him.

Voters learned very little more about him during the election. Much of his advertising was directed at attacking his opponents while his opponents did not even mention his name in their advertising.

So, who is Randall Dunning?

Dunning, a former Garland City Councilman, is known by Council members who served with him. None are supporting him in this election. Virtually every Republican Council Member who served with Dunning has endorsed Angie Chen Button.[2]

Why would those closest to Dunning support someone else? Here are a few reasons:

  • After the 9/11 attack, Dunning blamed the “wicked, delusional, and thoroughly evil” federal laws that prevented citizens from arming themselves aboard commercial airplanes.[3]

  • According to his colleagues, Dunning frequently wore a bulletproof vest to city council meetings. The Dallas Observer reported that following a contentious argument between Dunning and a colleague, Dunning said “shoot me in the head because I wear body armor.”[4] In another Council meeting, a different colleague mentioned he had received phone calls calling him a NAZI due to his position on stopping construction of a mini-warehouse. Dunning commented “If the jack boot fits, wear it” prompting the other colleague to say that he would take away Dunning’s “pistol and bulletproof vest and see who the man is.” Failing to bring the meeting to order, the Mayor called an immediate recess.

  • Dunning’s home features several tall radio towers, a communications trailer in the backyard and a 48 square foot underground bunker. He told his council colleagues that he would “defend his fortress to the death.”[5]
  • Dunning boasts he was fired from his prior job because he brought a gun to the work site after being told by his supervisors not to.[6]

  • Dunning suggested that the torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib were an outgrowth of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. No one seems to know what this means.[7]

  • Dunning voted against DWI stops by Garland Police likening them in a public Council meeting to Nazi Gestapo tactics.[8]

  • Dunning’s one major initiative on the Garland Council was to buy U.S. Military communication technology for the Garland police and fire departments at a cost of $8 million. When the program went over budget by $6 million dollars (total cost to the taxpayers stands at approx. $14 million), the program was shut down. It never worked. The remnants of the program still hang from light poles throughout the city of Garland.
  • Dunning wants to end public education. He signed a proclamation saying he “proclaims that he favors ending government involvement in education.”[9]

  • Surprising conservatives and against the wishes of neighbors, Dunning was the driving force behind a Garland low income housing project built by Southwest Housing, the same company investigated by the FBI in Dallas. He stuck by them even after the FBI took action.

  • Dunning voted to raise property taxes in Garland twice– once in 2004 and again in 2006. In his five years in office, city property tax revenues increased by 48%.

  • In his spare time, Dunning writes book reviews and blogs which read like a manifesto.


[1] Shaw Research Poll, December 10-12, 2007. N=300 Republican Primary Voters

[2]

Button is endorsed by Honorable Doug Athas, Honorable Barbara Chick, Honorable Larry Jeffus, Honorable Mark Monroe, Honorable Jim Dunn, Honorable Weldon Bradley; Honorable Sharon Stotts and Honorable Michael Holden..

[3]

Baileydog.com. Randall Dunning on 9/12/01,

[4]

Dallas Observer, “SourTownJune 29, 2006, and many other sources including council meeting videos.

[5] Dallas County Appraisal District Records describe the underground bunker. Council Colleagues are the source for the comments on “defending his fortress.”

[6] Source: Dunning Council Colleagues.

[7] Dallas Observer, “SourTownJune 29, 2006

[8]

Dunning Council Colleagues.

[9] www.schoolandstate.org/proclamation.htm Dunning signed proclamation entitled: I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education.

District 144 (Harris County)


This was Robert Talton’s seat, before he made a futile bid for the Republican nomination for the 22nd congressional district, a seat currently held by Democrat Nick Lampson. Preliminary polls showed that Ken Legler would win the primary without a runoff. Not so. Legler won 46% of the vote to Fred Roberts’ 40%, or 2,635 to 2,368. This was a low-turnout election, with the third-place finisher drawing fewer than a thousand votes. Legler owns a wire manufacturing plant and served as a Bush appointee on the advisory board for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Roberts has served on the board of trustees for the Pasadena Independent School District.

The speaker’s race: Apparently somebody thinks that this is an important election in the speaker’s race. That somebody is Edmund Kuempel, who contributed $2,500 to Roberts, a Pasadena school board trustee.

The general election: This seat has been targeted by the Democrats. Joel Raymond ran unopposed.

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