A Candidate Experienced Enough to Drop Out

Tom Pauken, who is running for governor, speaking to a young Republicans group in Houston on June 27, 2013.
Tom Pauken, who is running for governor, speaking to a young Republicans group in Houston on June 27, 2013.

Tom Pauken lost the finance primary and, unlike some less experienced or self-aware candidates, realized it and got out of the 2014 race for the Republican nomination for governor.

Early on, he said he would need to raise at least $2 million and pull together a statewide organization to forge ahead. That’s a shoestring budget in a statewide race in Texas. For instance, it’s about the amount you need to run one week of television commercials at the required level of saturation.

Even that was out of reach, and Pauken — a veteran of campaigns for Congress and for attorney general, a former chairman of the Texas GOP, a pugnacious conservative for more than three decades and, importantly, a former venture capitalist — pulled the plug. VCs know when to do that.

This is from his press release:

When I first filed our exploratory committee in March, I said at the time that there were certain, minimum objectives we needed to achieve to win the Republican nomination: (1) We had to raise a minimum of $2 million; (2) We had to build a strong, statewide organization; (3) We had to develop a major social media presence in a short period of time.

Even though I have worked hard to get our message out across the state the past six months, unfortunately we are nowhere near where we need to be financially and organizationally to win this race. And, the primary is only three months away. I can no longer in good conscience ask friends and fellow conservatives to continue to help me when there appears to be no realistic path to victory. Greg Abbott has a $25 million war chest and the media depicts this as a Greg Abbott v. Wendy Davis race.

It’s hardly an endorsement of Abbott. Pauken went on to write that his message — that the GOP needs a new style of leadership, etc. — “has not resonated with enough contributors, party leaders and grassroots conservatives to show a pathway to victory.”

It’s also a testament to starting early. Abbott has been aiming at this race for years, waiting for Rick Perry to move along but raising money and building an organization at the same time. His stack of money is just the most visible sign of a campaign designed to scare even well-established Republicans, like Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and a handful of others, out of running for the state’s top office.

Pauken’s bet was that voters would see Abbott as an extension of Perry’s administration — he said on occasion that Abbott was running for Perry’s fifth term — and that those voters might be looking for something new.

His decision not to file leaves Abbott with three Republican opponents, each with thinner political résumés than Pauken’s: Lisa Fritsch, Larry “Secede” Kilgore and Miriam Martinez. Democrat Wendy Davis awaits in the fall, along with the winner of the Libertarian primary.

Pauken’s withdrawal from the race, while not surprising, affirms Abbott’s strategy of raising enough money fast enough that nobody else can catch up, either in the number of donors or the number of dollars. It’s like the old military strategy of building so many missiles that no other country dares start a war.

Texas Governor Hopefuls Primed for Fight Over Education

Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott (l.) and Wendy Davis (r.).
Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott (l.) and Wendy Davis (r.).

The first direct exchange of gunfire between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott previews what could be a key fight in their upcoming general election battle for governor: public education.

It resulted after Abbott was asked at a campaign stop in Plano on Tuesday about the $5.4 billion in budget cuts enacted by lawmakers in 2011. The leading Republican candidate declined to condemn the Legislature's action, instead saying he would "ensure that we adequately fund public education." As attorney general, Abbott has challenged a lawsuit against the state brought by more than two-thirds of its school districts as a result of the cuts — and in Plano he asked his audience whether Davis, if she was elected, would ask her attorney general not to defend the laws passed by the Legislature.

Davis, a Democrat who has made her support for Texas public schools a centerpiece of her campaign, quickly issued a public statement saying that as governor she would have vetoed the budget bill enacting the cuts. 

“This is one of the very few paths the Democrats have to make this a competitive race,” said Daron Shaw, a University of Texas at Austin political scientist and Republican pollster. “And I think the Abbott people know it and want to get out there and to prevent Davis from defining the race as ‘mean Republicans want to starve our children’ versus a Democrat who has a strong and positive vision for educating Texas.”

Engaging on education has an appeal specific to Davis beyond party identification, too. In her years as state senator, she has a strong record of involvement in public school policy, including a 2011 filibuster of the budget cuts Abbott's office is now defending in court. An education-oriented discussion could also have the advantage of diverting attention away from her more polarizing — and more famous — position on abortion that gave her the momentum to run for governor.

Almost a year before the general election, Abbott, who has had limited contact with public education issues in his time as attorney general, has decided to challenge Davis in her own territory. He recently launched a series of education roundtables around the state, which are expected to culminate in a detailed policy rollout in January. 

So far, Abbott’s focus appears to be online learning and charter schools. Davis has largely stayed away from those topics in her work in education policy — giving Abbott the chance to generate his own brand. And they have the potential to be palatable in both the Republican primary and general election.

But he could be pushed to go further than that. A faction of conservative voters is likely to want his support for a version of private school vouchers, and navigating that issue could prove complicated. The policy is overwhelmingly supported by Republicans, according to a February University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, and strongly opposed by Democrats.

Davis is sure to continue raising the issue of public school funding even if Abbott does not approach it directly himself. The issue could play in her favor: a UT/TT poll released in December 2012 showed that 52 percent of Texans believe the state underfunds its public schools. Beyond clarifying his role in the school finance lawsuit, Abbott will also probably have to decide how much he will contradict the statements of other Republican leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, who claim the state has actually increased funding for public schools over the years.

But with the absence of a strong Tea Party challenge to Abbott in the primary, Shaw said he still saw limited risk for Abbott in his foray into education policy — even if that means having to talk about funding.

“I think this is an issue that has potential for the Democrats," he said, "but I don't know that they are tapping into a sentiment that is strongly felt."

Texas Sees Growth in Natural Gas-Powered Vehicles

Folks driving natural gas vehicles around San Antonio will soon have less to fear about running out of fuel. This month, at a Pilot Flying J truckstop off Interstate 10, a Clean Energy fueling station is expected to flip the switch on the city’s first natural gas pumps.

The liquefied natural gas station will plug a gap in what Texas calls its “Clean Transportation Triangle,” a growing network of natural gas fueling stations along highways that link San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. The bustling region is home to 10 percent of the nation’s traffic.

Natural gas enthusiasts say the station is one of many signals that the fuel, which burns cleaner than unleaded or diesel gas, is gaining more than a toehold in Texas’ transportation sector, as a mix of factors combine to erode long-standing barriers to expansion, including a lack of fueling infrastructure across the U.S. and the high upfront costs of natural gas vehicles.

“The tipping point has already started,” said John Esparza, president of the Texas Trucking Association. “We’re seeing an across-the-board increase.”

Oil, of course, still has a stronghold in the auto industry, and costs continue to limit the number of natural gas-powered personal vehicles from hitting roads. But truckers, large companies and even public agencies across Texas are increasingly purchasing natural gas vehicles in hopes of saving on long-run costs and boosting their green credentials. Those include public transit systems in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, which also operates the state’s largest fleet of gas-powered refuse trucks.

The trend is unfolding across the country. For instance, some 60 percent of new waste trucks purchased in 2013 were powered by compressed natural gas. That was up from 3 percent in 2008, according to Americas Commercial Transportation Research.

Texas is home to 69 active natural gas fueling stations (both liquified and compressed gas) in at least 40 cities, and more than $75 million in private investment has been put toward 62 stations, according to tracking by Pioneer Resources, a large oil and gas company that has been gradually converting its fleets to natural gas power. 

It’s hard to tell how that number, which includes private stations, compares with tallies in other states, because that data is not publicly available. Of all 654 public stations across the country, however, 42 are in Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The vehicle’s growth in Texas is thanks in part to the millions of dollars in grants the state has doled out in recent years. That includes $3.9 million spent on fueling stations in the “Triangle,” following passage of legislation in 2011, and nearly $1.8 million for storage and compression infrastructure in counties that struggle to meet air regulations, made possible by legislation in 2013.

“Texas is certainly leading the way,” said Patric Rayburn, a spokesman for Clean Energy Fuels, which owns more than 400 fueling stations across the country. Those policies and others are a “vote of confidence,” he said.

But Rayburn and other observers say the trend’s far bigger drivers amount to simple economics. The nation’s surge in natural gas production has made the fuel far cheaper — as much as $1.50 less per gallon, in some cases — than gasoline and diesel, while natural gas engine technology is rapidly improving, boosting mileage between fill ups and driving down the vehicles’ upfront costs.

“That helps,” Rayburn said of the incentives, “but it is happening regardless.” 

Newsreel: Final Filings, Tax Returns, Health Care Snags

This week in the Texas Weekly Newsreel: It's the final week of filing for candidates in the 2014 primaries, Wendy Davis releases her last three tax returns and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act hits a few more snags.

Inside Intelligence: About Choosing Leaders...

A faddish proposal about choosing legislators and a vacancy at the top of a major university system got the attention of our insiders this week.

An overwhelming majority said they would oppose repeal of the 17th Amendment — the one that moved selection of U.S. senators from legislators to voters. If that constitutional provision changed, 57 percent said John Cornyn would have been chosen for the Senate by the Legislature — as he was by voters. But 78 percent said legislators would not have given the job to Ted Cruz.

In a popularity contest among chancellors of the state’s public university systems, the insiders judged Texas A&M’s John Sharp the best, followed by Texas State’s Brian McCall and the University of Texas’ Francisco Cigarroa.

We closed with a question about Texas Tech, where Chancellor Kent Hance is stepping down next year. Given the choice, 53 percent of the insiders said the replacement ought to have the combined talents of a highly respected academic and a former officeholder with fundraising skills. Another 28 percent chose officeholders, and 9 percent chose academics.

As always, we collected verbatim comments about the questions and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:


Some have suggested repealing the 17th Amendment and putting the selection of U.S. senators in the hands of the state legislators. Do you think that’s a good idea?

• "Wow. What a colossally bad idea. 'The U.S. Senate...now brought to you by the people who handle redistricting!'"

• "No member of the U.S. Senate has been fully responsive to their State interests in all matters in the past 40 years-- reason enough to go back to the original Constitutional concept!"

• "Legislators would be tempted to vote for other legislators . . . especially if it opened up opportunities to move up the food chain."

• "It would probably be good for federalism but would obviously never happen. One of the great paradoxes of American politics is that the a lazy and ill-informed electorate cherishes its right to vote."

• "People may think I am crazy for choosing yes, but I think a state should have some representation in the federal government and I believe that is how the founding fathers set it up. Also, I think it would have a moderating effect and Ted Cruz would no longer be one of our US Senators."

• "Nowadays, Senators seem to represent parties. Repealing the 17th amendment would seem to incentivize them to represent their home states."

• "I am uncomfortable letting the Texas legislature choose lunch. If the 17th Amendment is repealed, the Texas legislature will devolve into factionalism, emphasize radicalism, and let our state's infrastructure crumble. So no one would notice, but it's still a bad idea."

• "Politicians electing our politicians doesn't sound like a solution to anything."

• "Actually yes, it is. It will help restore some balance and return power to the states. It will have an amazing impact on states rights, reduce unfunded mandates on the states, and stop federal government encroachment."

• "It won't happen. But if it did, the ship would almost immediately stop taking on water and would have some chance of righting itself."

• "This is the dumbest idea I've heard in a long time."


Would the Texas Legislature have chosen John Cornyn for the Senate?

• "When he was originally elected yes; today probably not."

• "The current Texas Legislature is ruled by the business establishment, and Cornyn is an establishment figure."

• "Maybe in 2002 or 2008, but not 2012. Cornyn isn't the desired choice of either party, but inertia is a powerful force in politics."

• "Yes - the tea drinkers are loud, but thankfully not the majority in the Texas House and Senate."

• "No. The Legislature is almost always going to choose one of its own to 'promote' to Washington."


Would the Texas Legislature have chosen Ted Cruz for the Senate?

• "They definitely would have chosen Dewhurst, especially as so many of them were aspiring to his job!"

• "Interesting. Probably not. Not sure the Tea Party has that much sway. Pretty sure it would be a more moderate republican. Plus, the Senate might have pushed for Dewhurst (a) to appear supportive and (b) to promote one of their own to lead the Texas Senate"

• "All senators would probably be chosen from among the Legislature."

• "Never. That's why this amendment should not be repealed. Power to the people."

• "Cruz may be popular with the voting base of the GOP, but to fellow elected officials he is a scenery-chewing ham."

• "Insider game. Nominee would have been brokered"


Who's the best current chancellor of a public university in Texas?

• "Cigarroa is very good, but Khator is an exceptionally gifted academic leader."

• "It depends on what you view as the job of a Chancellor. All have strengths. Some fundraising. Some problem solving. Some academic. But if you are asking who gets in front of a camera more, that goes to John Sharp."

• "Khator has put the University of Houston on the map. Her driven commitment to make the school a Tier 1 institution is amazing. She has raised unprecedented amounts of money, created new partnerships with business, particularly energy and is striving diligently to improve the athletic programs. I would put John Sharp at a close second."

• "McCall has worked nothing short of magic in San Marcos--but really, Texas is fortunate that right now we have great top administrators at all our public universities. Higher ed has had a rough time over the past decade, but I have high hopes for our future. You should ask who's the most awesome second-in-command next time...I bet Mr. Hamilton would come out on top."

• "Hance - hands down is the great communicator. No one makes each one of their students feel more personally invested, more inspired in their university than Kent Hance. I have to give John Sharp props for his artful skill but the best ROI in the state is Kent Hance. What he has done on the fundraising trail is simply unprecedented in Texas and will pay dividends for Tech for years to come."

• "The job at the top is always the hardest and Cigarroa has managed to delicately keep Perry's regents from turning UT-Austin into the nation's largest endowed community college while also keeping his own job."

• "Viewed from within the pink building, Sharp edges out Hance for first place. Not sure of the view from academia, but having seen her speak I am wondering if they wouldn't choose Renu Khator?"


What should Texas Tech look for in its new chancellor now that Kent Hance is resigning — a highly respected academic administrator or a former officeholder with great fundraising skills?

• "Tech ought to look for someone capable of putting their system in the limelight. They have the ability to steal more kids that are leaving Texas to go to OU, OSU and Arkansas. Fundraising is important but a Brian McCall-type thinker and provocateur is what is needed for this system."

• "Being way out west, Tech is too often forgotten by the folks back east. They need someone who can bring back the bacon."

• "The idea of chancellor has changed from an academician to a fund raising, cheerleading former office holder. Pete Laney would be perfect for Tech but for his political party, so they may go with technocrat Duncan."

• "Hance got the dollars - the new person should build upon that but also flex some academic muscle."

• "Texas Tech must defy expectations and do the unexpected. Don't hire local, bring in an academic rock star."

• "Major university systems are now like big corporations and need a variety of talents and skills to run well. You're unlikely to find these skills in an academic."

• "That ship has sailed. Actually, multiple ships have sailed, and their names are: John Montford, Mike McKinney, Lee Jackson, Kent Hance, Brian McCall, John Sharp....”

• "Tech's greatest need is improving its academics. Hance did a good job with fundraising, but money will follow improved academic credibility."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Jenny Aghamalian, Victor Alcorta, Brandon Alderete, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Dave Beckwith, Amy Beneski, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Blaine Bull, David Cabrales, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Thure Cannon, Snapper Carr, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, Elizabeth Christian, Elna Christopher, Rick Cofer, Chad Crow, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, Nora Del Bosque, Glenn Deshields, Holly DeShields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jeff Eller, Jack Erskine, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Neftali Garcia, Norman Garza, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, Jim Grace, John Greytok, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Richard Hardy, John Heasley, Jim Henson, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Kathy Hutto, Deborah Ingersoll, Bill Jones, Mark Jones, Robert Jones, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Dale Laine, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, Bill Lauderback, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Richard Levy, Ruben Longoria, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Matt Matthews, Bryan Mayes, Dan McClung, Mike McKinney, Robert Miller, Steve Minick, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Steve Murdock, Keir Murray, Nelson Nease, Keats Norfleet, Pat Nugent, Todd Olsen, Gardner Pate, Jerod Patterson, Robert Peeler, Jerry Philips, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Richard Pineda, Allen Place, Royce Poinsett, Kraege Polan, Gary Polland, Jay Propes, Bill Ratliff, Karen Reagan, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, Kim Ross, Grant Ruckel, Jason Sabo, Luis Saenz, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Robert Scott, Steve Scurlock, Nancy Sims, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Todd Smith, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Tom Spilman, Jason Stanford, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Sherry Sylvester, Trey Trainor, John Weaver, Ware Wendell, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Seth Winick, Alex Winslow, Lee Woods, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Friday, Dec. 6

  • Fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady; Austin Club (11:45 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for state Rep. Diane Patrick; Austin Club (8:30-9:30 a.m.)

Tuesday, Dec. 10

  • Texas Democratic Party Holiday Party; Bar 96, Austin (6-8 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for state Rep. Jeff Leach featuring guest George P. Bush; 5700 Seville Ct., Plano (6 p.m.)

Wednesday, Dec. 11

  • Fundraiser for state House candidate Celia Israel; El Mercado, 1702 Lavaca St., Austin (5-6 p.m.)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Only 10 of 48 statewide candidates shared their tax returns with The Texas Tribune for a story. One who did was Wendy Davis, who released her returns for the last three years to the Tribune's Jay Root. Greg Abbott released his returns for the past three years in August.

Greg Abbott launched a series of education policy roundtables, debuting what his campaign said would be a "major issue" for the campaign of the leading Republican candidate for governor. The occasion soon led to a back-and-forth with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis over $5.4 billion in cuts for public education in the 2011 state budget.

Former Republican Party of Texas Chairman Tom Pauken decided against continuing his long-shot campaign for governor against Attorney General Greg Abbott. Pauken explained that "unfortunately we are nowhere near where we need to be financially and organizationally to win this race."

To address privacy concerns raised by state leaders, the Texas Department of Insurance proposed additional rules for the so-called navigators directed to help Texans find health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst charged lawmakers with examining a recent crime enforcement surge effort in the Rio Grande Valley and said he would push to add $60 million worth of border enforcement per year until the border is secure.

Texas doesn't require enough disclosure from its judges to fully inform the public about conflicts of interest, according to a new report.

Political People and their Moves

Well, that didn't take long. Outgoing Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin has been officially named the new chancellor of the University of Missouri.

James Clancy of Portland and Tom Ramsay of Mount Vernon were both reappointed to new terms with the Texas Ethics Commission by Gov. Rick Perry. Their new terms in office run through Nov. 19, 2017.

Steven Mach of Houston was appointed by Perry to a spot on the Public Safety Commission. His term runs through Dec. 31, 2015.

Margie Johnson has been named to lead the Texas Education Agency's Office of Complaints, Investigations and School Accountability. The new office will receive and investigate "complaints and allegations regarding school accountability, educator misconduct, and misuse of state and federal funds," per a TEA release.

Ted Shaw will take over as leader of the Texas Hospital Association on Feb. 1. He is currently chief financial officer at Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas.

David Reynolds, the former director of the Texas Medical Association's political arm, will take over as executive director of the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association on Dec. 9.

The Texas Border Coalition has named Adan Farias, Pharr's mayor pro tem, as its new chairman and former Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas as its new chairman-elect. Their terms run until 2015.

Quotes of the Week

He always had a powerful story to tell. We just had him all hurt and bunged up when we got him the first time.

Katon Dawson, chairman of Rick Perry's 2012 South Carolina campaign, on why he might do better in a second try for president

Governors, like Nikki Haley, who know they are in competition and put on their running shoes make the rest of us uncomfortable.

Gov. Rick Perrylauding his counterpart's attempts to make the Palmetto State more competitive economically

Tony Soprano didn’t own the pork store for the sandwiches.

Josh Orton, the political director of Progressives United, arguing for further restrictions on "social welfare" groups' ability to channel money from anonymous donors to influence elections

I think it would be a fool’s errand to try to compete with Lone Star. That kind of music can only be composed by one person.

The Gates of the Alamo author Stephen Harrigan, saying he didn't re-read T.R. Fehrenbach's classic Texas history while preparing to write his own history of the state

Of course it was a beating. If [Rice administrators] don't have zero tolerance for what I saw with my own eyes, I will deal with them in Austin.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, calling for the firing of Rice University police officers caught on video striking a suspected bicycle thief with batons

To ask me — a business degree major from Texas Tech University — to distinguish whether the Earth cooled 4 billion years ago or 4.2 billion years ago for purposes of approving a textbook at 10:15 on a Thursday night is laughable.

State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, establishing some limits on the board as a deliberative body