If Aunt Ginny in Austin and Uncle Roberto in Palmview are thinking of sulking at home this year because they may not get a say in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary (what else is new?), pick up the phone (or send them an IM or email) and tell them they have a reason to vote on March 4. Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, fearful of losing his majority in the Texas House of Representatives as Republicans slink slowly away from his autocratic rule and corrupt influences, is playing on a new court this year: the Democratic primary races.
From El Paso to the Valley, Craddick is hanging his hopes for a fourth term as Speaker on winning a handful of Democratic Primary races where he hopes to install or keep conservative, pro-Craddick legislators — the so-called Craddick Ds — in power. At present, Democrats only need to gain five more seats in the Texas House to attain a majority and, in theory, elect a Democratic Speaker. However, losing any one of the Craddick D targeted races, could affect a speakers’ race. The Speaker needs only a simple majority to get elected and, five or six Craddick D wins could either help Craddick remain in control or, in the likely event of a Democratic majority in the House, force a compromise candidate.
Here’s a brief rundown of major races in which the much-feared-and-loathed legislator (or at least his allies and his allies’ money) is in play on March 4.
— Vince Leibowitz
House District 36: State Representative Kino Flores (D-Palmview) faces a challenge from former probation officer Sandra Rodriguez. Flores is regarded as one of Craddick’s key lieutenants in the Valley, and Rodriguez is mounting a tough challenge. However, Flores has no shortage of money on his side. PREDICTION: Too close to call. Rio Grande Valley races are tough to handicap, and it is highly likely that machine support for Flores will make the difference.
House District 40: State Representative Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg), a Craddick D, faces a second challenge from civil engineer Eddie Saenz in the Democratic Primary. Peña should have no difficulty in this race, in spite of the fact that Valley political machines are backing Saenz. Not only has Peña brought home significant appropriations to his district, but he was handed a plum when Saenz was caught allegedly driving under the influence late last year. PREDICTION: Peña wins handily.
House District 46: In this race, Representative and Craddick D Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) faces a stiff challenge from Brian Thompson, an Austin attorney `see “Out to get Craddick,” January 16, 2008`. Dukes, who voted for Craddick as Speaker last session, will have no shortage of cash for her campaign, although Thompson has been fundraising at a good clip. Dukes is burdened by various allegations concerning credit-card spending on her financial reports, and, among other things, a photo of her in Las Vegas that cropped up on Democratic blog Burnt Orange Report earlier this year.
PREDICTION: Dukes should start packing her office and saying her good-byes, as Thompson will win this one by a healthy margin.
House Districts 77 and 78: Two Races in El Paso (although one is a Republican race) also feature hotly contested primaries with pro- and anti-Craddick forces battling it out. In HD 77, Representative Paul Moreno (D-El Paso), the Dean and Conscience of the Texas House (and longest-serving Hispanic elected official in America) is facing a challenge from Marissa Marquez, a political newcomer and Craddick-backed Democrat in the Primary. This will be a tough race for Moreno, who hasn’t faced a credible challenge in ages. Marquez charges that Moreno is “ineffective” in spite of his long record of service to the district and Texas.
In neighboring HD 78, anti-Craddick Republican Pat Haggerty (R-El Paso) is facing a challenge from former state senate candidate Dee Margo, who carpetbagged into Haggerty’s district just before the filing deadline claiming that he needed a single-story house for his aging housekeeper. Clearly, Margo has the force of the Craddick machine behind him. But if he wins, look for legal challenges: Margo, according to Haggerty’s camp, fails to meet residency requirements.
PREDICTION: In HD 77, Moreno will win by a decent margin after a tough campaign. In HD 78, depending upon how much third-party money weighs in on this race against Haggerty, the outcome could range from “close” to “very close.” We predict, however, that Haggerty will win by a percentage point, at minimum.
House District 140: In this race, Representative Kevin Bailey (D-Houston) faces Armando Walle, chair of the Harris County Tejano Democrats and a former staffer for Congressman Gene Green and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, both Houston Democrats. Bailey has some degree of institutional and PAC support given that he is the incumbent, but will face a tough race from Walle in this minority-heavy district.
PREDICTION: Walle will prevail in a close race.
House District 147: State Representative Garnet Coleman faces a Craddick-ally-backed challenge from LaRhonda Torry, who has had an off-and-on-the-ballot saga played out in the courts in which she was represented by former Craddick D Al Edwards. Coleman is a heavy favorite to hang onto the Houston seat, but Torry’s entrance into the primary was clearly a strategy fostered by Craddick and company to keep Coleman occupied so he couldn’t help Democrats across the state.
PREDICTION: Coleman’s safe.
House District 148: In this race, State Representative Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) will face former staffer Jose Medrano in the Democratic Primary. Campaigning on a platform that alleges Farrar has become “ineffective” in Austin, Medrano will give Farrar a tough race. Although Medrano denies the claims, it is widely believed — including by Farrar — that he is a plant by Craddick allies to unseat a representative who has consistently voted against the Speaker. PREDICTION: Farrar will hold the seat. •