Demo turnout may affect House
The Texas Democratic presidential primary election is expected to bring record turnouts, because of the fierce face-off between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the presidential nomination. They'll debate at the University of Texas campus today, Thursday, Feb. 21, two days after early voting started Tuesday, Feb. 19, in advance of the March 4 primary.
Based on record turnout in Democratic contests in states that have already voted, plus more than 25,000 people applying on-line for the drawing for 100 public tickets for the debate, Democratic officials are even encouraging early voting, hoping to shorten long lines on election day.
Those new primary voters could spell trouble for some of the "Craddick D's" - Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives whose support was (and probably still is) critical for Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick to keep living in the speaker's capitol apartment.
The new folks may also vote on other races down the ballot. And in several districts where Craddick D's have challengers, Craddick is a big issue.
These new voters attracted to the "change" message used by both Obama and Clinton may also be willing to change out the Craddick D's, or "Craddicrats," as one Web site calls them.
Craddick may think so, because he pumped $250,000 from the Tom Craddick Campaign Committee into the Texas Jobs & Opportunity Build a Secure Future Inc. PAC. That PAC in turn donated $50,000 each to Craddick D's Kino Flores of La Joya, Aaron Pena of Edinburg and Kevin Bailey of Houston. All are challenged in the Democratic primary, and were happy to get the money.
Another $50,000 was offered to Dawnna Dukes of Austin, but she turned it down -- probably because Craddick is already a big enough problem for her campaign. Dukes is opposed by political novice Brian Thompson, an attorney, who has accused Dukes of selling out her district to pad her personal political fortunes.
A Thompson press release said he's been "humbled and overwhelmed by support I have received from friends, strangers, citizens and community leaders who have encouraged me to run.
"Their message has been uniform and resolute: Our community is tired of being represented by a Republican-funded, career politician who has pledged absolute loyalty to the Republican Speaker of the House and who continues to vote against the best interests of her district."
Thompson has been endorsed by several Democratic groups in the northeast Travis County district, a few miles from the capitol, but has said he's having trouble raising money. Even without the $50,000 flowed through from Craddick, Dukes had just under $100,000 in the bank going into the final weeks of the campaign.
In South Texas, six-term incumbent Flores is challenged by Sandra Rodriguez, a former juvenile probation officer and teacher. Rodriguez says Flores is supporting someone who's on the way out.
"While Flores brags about his ties to Craddick, recent political events suggest that the Speaker is quickly losing his grip on power," Rodriguez says on her Web site. "Two former Craddick D's announced their opposition to the Speaker, another announced his retirement and a fourth is challenging him for the Speaker's seat."
Also in South Texas, businessman Eddie Saenz is trying to keep Pena from winning a fourth term.
In a press release, Saenz challenged Pena "to return tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash that he pocketed this week from Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick and three major Republican donors.
"These special interests are working against South Texas," Saenz said.
Flores, Pena, Dukes and Bailey - who is opposed by Armando Walle -- say their closeness to Craddick helps get things for their district - like a drug treatment center in Edinburg that Pena, whose 16-year-old son died of a drug overdose, said was the reason he'd gone to the Legislature in the first place.
There are other Republican and Democratic members who Craddick wants to win - or lose - and his opponents hope they can knock off Craddick supporters and protect those who oppose him.
With the jacked-up turnout, March 4 should be interesting.
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What's the Law? Texans for Public Justice has filed a criminal complaint about Craddick's donations to a political action committee, under a 1973 law that prohibits spending anything of value to aid or defeat a speaker candidate.
Yet in an odd coalition, the Texas Civil Liberties Union has joined with the conservative Free Market Foundation and the Texas Eagle Forum, to ask a judge to rule that the law is an unconstitutional limitation of free speech.