Texas Politics

Comptroller race latest political buzz

 

 

When Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced May 29 that she won’t run for statewide office in 2014, including her own, it set in motion a free-for-all to replace her — at least among Republicans.

After her press release, state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy put out a statement saying he intends to run.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams of The Woodlands, announced he’s the only Certified Public Accountant in the senate, and will closely assess the race after the special legislative session.

Debra Medina, a Tea Party candidate who got 18.5 percent in the 2010 Republican primary race for governor, says she’s considering it. So does former state Rep. Raul Torres of Corpus Christi, who lost a state senate race last fall to Democratic incumbent Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville has indicated interest in running for the job. Unlike the two senators, who would be in the middle of four-year terms in 2014, Hilderbran would be relinquishing his House seat if runs for comptroller.

Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, a former House speaker, is also thought looking at it. Craddick’s daughter Christi Craddick was elected to the Texas Railroad Commission in 2012.

Combs, a former member Texas House member, was elected agriculture commissioner in 1998 and comptroller in 2006. She’s the third statewide officeholder to say she won’t seek re-election to her current post.

The other two – Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples – are running for lieutenant governor, despite incumbent David Dewhurst running for re-election.

Patterson, 66, (DOB 11/15/46) Staples, 49, (DOB 8/24/63) and Combs, 68, (DOB 2/26/45) who has $7 million in her campaign account, had all been ramping up for what they presumed would be an open lieutenant governor’s job.

But Dewhurst lost his unbeaten status after losing to Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz in the July 31 runoff for the GOP nomination to replace U.S Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Dewhurst said in January he was “101 percent” sure he’d seek re-election.

Patterson and Staples, who have grown tired of waiting for Dewhurst to move on, apparently consider him damaged goods, and seem undeterred by his personal wealth.

Combs, despite her campaign swag, decided to go back to the family ranch in West Texas. She told a cable news channel that she told Dewhurst months ago she wouldn’t run against him if he sought re-election.

“I feel a sense of loyalty to friends,” Combs said. “I’m a fan of David’s.”

Patterson and Staples are former state senators, who know the power of the lieutenant governor as Senate presiding officer. Both said they had no plans to switch to comptroller after Combs’ announcement. George P. Bush, grandson of one former president and nephew of another, filed the paperwork last November to raise money to run for some statewide office to be named later.

He revealed in March that the Land Commissioner post Patterson is vacating will be where he will seek to plant the latest Bush flag.

He may get a push by backers to switch to comptroller, viewed as a more substantive job, with far more staff. But George P. has given no sign so far that he’s interested in changing course.

The comptroller, in addition to having a staff of close to 3,000 people scattered across the state, is the state’s tax collector and chief financial officer.

Under the balanced budget constitutional amendment passed in the 1940s, the legislature can appropriate no more in its two-year budget than the comptroller certifies will come in over that period. Thus, the comptroller essentially sets the lid on what the Legislature can spend – a power that carries with it considerable legislative leverage.

Other comptroller powers:

• Setting fiscal notes. Estimate what each legislative bill would cost. A high fiscal note can kill a bill. • Patronage. It’s as easy to hire a secretary or copywriter who’s the son or daughter of a county commissioner as someone else.

•Legislative redistricting. The comptroller is one of the five state officials who sit on the Legislative Redistricting Board. It draws Texas House and/or Senate districts if the Legislature fails to – because of inaction, gubernatorial veto, or court ruling. (The land commissioner is also a member, plus the attorney general, lieutenant governor, and House speaker.)

This should be interesting.

•••••

Combs becomes the first comptroller in the four decades since Texas switched to fouryear terms for statewide offices in 1974 not to run for another office.

Democratic predecessors Bob Bullock (1975- 1991) and John Sharp (1991-1999) each ran for lieutenant governor. Bullock won, and Sharp narrowly lost — to then-Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry, a Republican aided by Gov. George W. Bush’s re-election coattails.

Republican Carole Keeton Strayhorn (1999- 2007) tried an Independent candidacy to oust Gov. Perry in 2006.

She ran third with 18.1 percent – ahead of Independent Kinky Friedman’s 12.4 percent, but behind Democrat Chris Bell’s 29.8 percent, and Perry, re-elected with 39 percent.

DAVE McNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@gmail.com or (c edd512)458-2963.


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