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Tom Schieffer

The Schieffer candidacy

Nov 23, 2009 By Paul Burka

It never really got off the ground. Tom had just been out of the game for too long. The conservative Democrats who had been his political allies during the seventies, when he served in the Legislature, had ceased to exist as a political force. I had the opportunity to meet…

The Week in Review

Mar 8, 2009 By Paul Burka

This post has been revised since its initial publication. 1. The Tom Schieffer candidacy. Patricia Kilday Hart and I interviewed Tom Schieffer about his race for the Democratic nomination governor. Interestingly, Schieffer asked to go off the record before the interview to discuss the events that led to his being named one of the Ten Worst legislators in 1975. That was my first year to participate in the writing of the story, along with my then-colleague, Griffin Smith. The writeup was one of the toughest that we have ever written. It was full of anonymous quotes, which we seldom use today. Nowadays, the writeups are largely based on the public record. Schieffer was involved in one of the session's biggest fights, an effort to authorize Texas's first presidential primary in order to aid U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen's bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 1976. The Texas Democratic party in that era was split into liberal and conservative wings, and Schieffer was a conservative Democrat. The liberals were fighting him hard all the way, including my former mentor, Babe Schwartz, and I am sure that that influenced the writeup. The ink was hardly dry on the issue before I began to have second thoughts about whether Schieffer really deserved being on the Worst list. The bill did pass, and Texas did have its first primary--not that it helped Bentsen, who was overwhelmed in his home state by Jimmy Carter. Schieffer has gone on to have a successful career as an oil and gas operator, as president of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and as ambassador to Australia and Japan in the George W. Bush administration. He should be considered a legitimate candidate for governor. The Ten Worst article was 34 years ago. There are lot of obstacles in the path of a Schieffer candidacy, but that article shouldn't be one of them. The main obstacles, of course, are Schieffer's association with Bush and his well motivated, but ultimately self-defeating, unwillingness to distance himself from his friend and former Rangers' business partner; his reluctance as a candidate, including the question of whether he will put his own money into the campaign; and--how do I put this?--a question of whether he has a feel for contemporary Texas politics. I had the feeling, talking to him, that he has one foot in the present and one foot in the seventies, when conservative Democrats ran the state. He still talks about Lloyd Bentsen and John Connally. Connally and Bentsen and Hobby were giants in their day, and they ran things a heck of a lot better than the Republicans have, but Schieffer so far seems like he is just putting his toes in the water. He needs to jump in. 2. The transportation stimulus package. Transportation is one area where the stimulus package can produce real jobs and have real economic benefits. So why is the amount so small--just $2.5 billion overall, and $1.2 billion in the first installment? One of the reasons is that Obama wants to invest in high-speed rail rather than roads. I think this is a mistake. I'd like to see more of the money go to highways and less to high-speed rail. High-speed rail requires total grade separation. For rural Texas, it will make the Trans-Texas Corridor battle look like a walk in the park. I ran some numbers back in the early nineties, when the idea of a bullet train was first floated, and to break even on the project's then $6 billion cost, trains had to run 97% full between Houston and Dallas 24 hours a day. Like it or not, the most efficient method of getting people from point A to point B is one lane of freeway. In an hour, it carries six times the number of people as rail, and the cost is approximately the same. Politically, the most important aspect of the transportation funding battle was the continuing hostility between TxDOT and the Legislature. TxDOT froze lawmakers out of the discussion of which projects should be funded, with the result that 70% of the money will go to toll roads. Legislators did not cover themselves with glory either, as some took the opportunity to lobby for projects in their districts. The level of mistrust of TxDOT is as high as it has ever been--thanks to Commissioner Ted Houghton, who decided to do a little bomb-throwing of his own at the March 5 meeting of the Texas Highway Commission, calling one of the witnesses and the organization he represents "idiots." Senator Hegar fired off a letter to Houghton, which included the following observations:

Let’s talk about this gap on your resume…

Mar 2, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

Fort Worth businessman and former Ambassador Tom Schieffer announced his exploratory committee for the Democratic nomination for Texas governor at a Capitol press conference this morning, and here's the "take away message" he'd like us to seize on: He's a successful businessman and former elected Democratic elected official, who voted for Obama in both the primary and general election. He likes Obama's intellectual capacity and his message that government has become too partisan and divisive. He leans conservative, in that he understands the importance of creating a healthy business climate; but he believes you do so by investing in higher education, a la John Connally, to compete in the world's "knowledge-based economy." As for Gov. Rick Perry's reluctance to take federal stimulus package money, he says, "I just don't understand. Texans are going to have to cover the check. Why would we not want to get that money?"  Not taking the stimulus money means Texas will "leave a billion dollars on the table because somebody want to prove they are more conserative than somebody else in the Republican Primary. I don't think most Texans would think that is fair."