Thursday,
April 24

 
POLITICS

The tort reform proxy fight

As the state Senate District 25 runoff battle between Republican incumbent Jeff Wentworth and Tea Party insurgent Donna Campbell hits its home stretch, it’s largely being funded by forces on opposite sides of litigation issues.

Texans For Lawsuit Reform, an ultra-conservative Houston political action committee, has been determined to oust Wentworth, who they perceive as a friend of trial lawyers and an opponent of tort reform. TLR funded the failed primary campaign of former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones – to the tune of nearly $700,000 – and has quietly shifted their support to Campbell, according to a campaign finance report submitted Tuesday by Campbell to the Texas Ethics Commission.

Campbell, a New Braunfels physician, reported two in-kind contributions totaling $19,595 from TLR in mid-June. Wentworth’s support from Texans for Insurance Reform – a group that advocates for trial lawyers against insurance companies – was considerably more substantial. He reported contributions totaling more than $91,000 from TIR during the first month of the runoff campaign, enabling him to raise nearly five times as much money as Campbell during this period.

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Out of the gate in District 8

If you've driven on the North Side's major thoroughfares lately, you probably already know Eliot Garza believes in you. He's got billboards that say so – "I believe in you, San Antonio." Next to the sentence is a smiling Garza in a nice suit.

Garza is the 38-year-old owner of NSIDE Publications, a stable of glossy magazines dedicated to the upscale and upbeat. He's also the third person to go public with his desire for the City Council seat Reed Williams is giving up in 2013.

He joins Rolando Briones, owner of an engineering firm and a veteran of the City's planning and zoning commissions, and Ron Nirenberg, associate general manager of Trinity University's KRTU Jazz 91.7 FM and former staffer at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

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Why you have to pay to see the president in Texas

For those who waited in line to see him, President Obama’s Tuesday fundraising visit to San Antonio was a heartening reminder of the man’s undiminished charisma. For those who held Obama-go-home placards outside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, the stop merely confirmed their suspicions that this chief executive’s time and attention come with a hefty ($250 and up) price tag. For me, the visit was a good excuse to think about the electoral college.

Between them, Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney have made four trips to Texas this year, and every single one of them has been of the take-the-money-and-run variety – open only to those who are willing to open their wallets. If either candidate sets foot in Texas anytime in the next four months, it won’t be for a meet-the-masses campaign rally, but for another fundraising pit stop.

It’s no secret that Texas is irrelevant in presidential politics. Romney knows he’s going to carry the state, so he doesn’t bother to campaign here. Obama knows he’s going to lose the state, so he doesn’t bother to campaign here, either. But we’ve got plenty of company on the political scrap heap. At least 35 of this country’s 50 states will be ignored during this fall’s presidential race, and we can blame most of it on the electoral college.

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Meet Doggett's Republican (?) foe

Susan Narvaiz doesn’t exactly fit the modern Republican profile.

The former San Marcos mayor – and current GOP nominee in U.S. District 35 – got pregnant and dropped out of high school at the age of 15 (she later earned her GED). Her son was born in a government-funded county hospital, and, after her first marriage ended in divorce, she raised him as a single mom, with the invaluable help of the federal government’s food stamps program. Ultimately, she managed to launch her own consulting business and establish a side career in municipal politics. She’s voted in four Democratic primaries and runoffs since moving to San Marcos in 1995, and has never been actively involved in the Republican Party.

When Narvaiz tells her story, it’s easy to imagine her delivering an “average-citizen” testimonial at the Democratic National Convention about how a compassionate government gave her a hand up, and enabled her to fulfill her dreams. Instead, she’ll spend the next four months trying to knock off Lloyd Doggett and put one more Congressional seat in the Republican column.

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The return of the at-large district?

San Antonio is finally wrapping up its City Council redistricting plans. While we’re not the last major city in Texas without a plan in place, we’re pretty much lagging the pack. Unless there’s a hard push to finish the maps, we’ll only be ahead of Austin, which is planning major changes to its council makeup. So don’t expect a fundamental overhaul of our districts this time around. Expect a shift in borders, spreading out the districts to accommodate the population infill of annexed areas to the north. But 10 years from now, there will likely be monumental changes – in the number of districts and maybe more.

One possibility is the addition of at-large districts.

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A shot in the arm for the Tea Party, and Campbell

The state Senate race between incumbent Jeff Wentworth and Donna Campbell has nothing to do with last week’s Supreme Court decision to uphold most of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. At the same time, it has everything to do with that decision.

Granted, as a federal law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, ACA is well outside the domain of whoever wins the June 29 Republican runoff between Wentworth and Campbell (unless you buy into the legitimacy of state nullification as a tactic in the health-care battle). The winner of the District 25 Senate seat will soon be preoccupied with the state’s education-funding crisis, the challenge of balancing the state budget, and an inevitable rash of socially driven wedge-issue bills.

Even if the winner of this race is unlikely to have any direct impact on the future of the Affordable Care Act, however, the health-care law will almost certainly impact the Wentworth-Campbell runoff. News of the Court’s 5-4 decision had barely registered before conservative demonstrators began to tea party like it was 2009. More than most movements, the Tea Party runs on anger, and an infuriated Tea Party could spike the runoff turnout in Campbell’s favor.

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A history lesson for the Brainpower Initiative

The last time voters had the opportunity to impose the City's remaining 1/8-cent sliver of sales tax on themselves – in 2005, for a crime-control district – they said no thanks. Coming just six months after Mayor Phil Hardberger took office, the election proved to be one of the few times the charismatic old judge didn't get his way in four years at City Hall.

Now Mayor Julián Castro is preparing to make a play for the same pot of money. But there are several reasons to think his chances at the polls will be far better than Hardberger's, though with a couple of major caveats we'll get to shortly.

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