Monday, August 27, 2012

Tour de Force

When House Bill 1, the base budget, was introduced in the Texas House in January 2011, it eliminated state funding for four community colleges.  Brazosport College, which Rep. Dennis Bonnen described as “the hub and center” of his district, was one of the four.  Bonnen went ballistic and vowed that state funding would be restored in the final budget:  It was.
Saturday night, a plethora of state leaders gathered at Brazosport College in Lake Jackson for a roast and toast of Dennis Bonnen to celebrate his 40th birthday.  Bonnen, who was elected to the Texas House at the age of 24, has now served 16 years and is 21st in seniority in the 150 member House.  Rep. Dan Branch, Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, served as Master of Ceremonies, and roasters were Brazoria County Judge Joe King; Sen. Glenn Hegar; Rep. Allan Ritter; a svelte Rep. Senfronia Thompson; Rep. and soon to be Sen. Kelly Hancock; and Speaker Joe Straus.  Other elected officials in the crowd included Sen. Joan Huffman, and soon to be Reps. Greg Bonnen and Ed Thompson.
There were the usual bald jokes.  Chairman Branch noted that Bonnen did not have a gray hair on his head.  Ritter referred to Bonnen as the “Tasmanian Devil” of the Texas House, calling him “Tas.”  Speaker Straus noted that there would now be two Bonnen’s in the House: “One who heals people (Dr. Greg) and one who rips a path of destruction.”  Judge King noted that Bonnen’s parents must be so proud to have raised three doctors (two brothers are physicians and his sister is a geneticist) – and a politician.
The event was wildly successful and raised $300,000 for the Brazosport College Foundation.  In appreciation, Dr. Millicent Valek announced the money would be used to endow the Kim and Dennis Bonnen Scholarship.  (Full disclosure:  Kim Bonnen is an attorney and Of Counsel to Locke Lord LLP).
The Brazosport College funding episode and fundraising roast epitomizes the complex personality and political power of Dennis Bonnen.  As noted by the roasters, at times he can be the enfant terrible of the Texas House.  Yet, he also has a brilliant political mind and is a superb strategist. 
Saturday night completed a tour de force for Bonnen.  He not only restored funding for his community college in the 82nd Session, but he brought the Speaker and the House Higher Education Chair to the college 18 months later on a Saturday night in August and raised another $300,000 for the college.  When the base budget is introduced in January 2013, I suspect that Brazosport College will be in it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Primary Potpourri

Hispanics broke through in the Republican primary last night.  Ted Cruz, J. M. Lozano and Jason Villalba won tough runoffs, although Supreme Court Justice David Medina lost his reelection bid.  However, three out of four victories dispels the proposition that Hispanics can’t win a Republican primary, at least in 2012.  Chris Cillizza notes in his Washington Post blog this morning that Cruz “will immediately join a rapidly growing group of rising national Republican stars that have one big thing in common: None of them are white.”  We are beginning to see that trend in Texas as well.
Statistically, Texas legislative incumbents in a runoff are always in trouble with only one out of three winning over the last twenty years.  Last night, it was one out of five, with Wentworth, Hopson, Landtroop and Miller going down, and only Lozano prevailing.
Michael Quinn Sullivan, otherwise known as Captain Ahab for his fixation to defeat Speaker Straus, had a decidedly mixed evening.  Empower Texas endorsed nine House candidates.  Five won:  Bonnen, Clardy, Klick, Leach and Springer; and four lost:  Anderson, Keffer, Landtroop and Miller.  That’s a pretty poor showing, especially with a Tea Party wave sweeping the top of the ballot.
However, the Tea Party wave lost momentum as it moved down the Republican ballot.  I expected the candidate perceived as the most conservative to prevail with the Tea party wave.  That happened at the statewide level (Cruz and Devine) and at the Congressional level (Stockman and Weber), but had a much weakened effect at the State Representative level with King, Lozano, Ratliff and Villalba bucking the tide.
There are now 97 days until the November 6 general election, a much shorter period than normal when the primary is in March.  At this point, the races appear to me as follows:
U. S. Senate – The Democrats will need to quickly decide if they are going to contest this race.  Without funding, Sadler has no chance.  With funding, he would appear to have little chance.
Congressional – Democrats nominated their strongest candidate for CD 23 with State Rep. Pete Gallego to oppose Cong. Quico Canseco.   This will be a very close race.  None of the other Texas Congressional races appear particularly competitive to me at this time.
Texas Senate – As I previously blogged, the Sen. Wendy Davis race with Rep. Mark Shelton will be close and expensive.
Texas House – I see about a dozen seats as competitive.  In three of those seats, the Republicans nominated their strongest November candidate last night with Faircloth, Lozano and Villalba.  I will take an in-depth look at the November House races in a subsequent blog posting.
On to the General!