Texas holds best secret election money can buy

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HOUSTON — Texas held its March 7 primary election in virtual secrecy. Only 5.3 percent of the electorate voted in the Republican primary and 4.1 percent in the Democratic primary.

Pundits marveled over how much money was spent on so few voters. There was virtually no mainstream media coverage before the election other than political ads featuring Tom DeLay’s grinning face. Most people on the street, when asked about the election, were surprised to hear there was one.

Indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Sugar Land) won the Republican nomination with 62 percent, down from over 80 percent in the 2004 primary. Democrats relish the coming match-up between DeLay — mired in corruption and a record of consistently fighting for the interests of the wealthy — and labor-backed Nick Lampson, who has a record of fighting for working people.

It appears many Democrats may have voted for DeLay. Some observers speculate that without a significant crossover vote, DeLay would have faced a primary runoff. In 2004 about 16,000 votes were cast in the Republican primary in DeLay’s district and over 10,000 in the Democratic primary. This time over 33,000 voted in the Republican primary and just over 2,000 in the Democratic primary, with DeLay getting over 20,000 votes. In Texas it is legal to cross over to the opposing party from one primary to the next.

In any case, the primary was costly for DeLay in time and energy, while Lampson is well funded, rested and has a bone to pick as a victim of DeLay’s notorious redistricting scheme. Lampson is campaigning on supporting working families over multinational corporations, and has strongly opposed tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas.

In 16 contested state races that drew AFL-CIO COPE endorsements, nine of the labor-backed candidates won. Three more are hoping to win runoff elections on April 11.

The most disappointing race for progressives was the Democratic primary contest between Henry Cuellar and Ciro Rodriguez in San Antonio. Cuellar, who narrowly avoided a runoff with Rodriguez, will run unopposed in November. Rodriguez had strong support from labor, but Cuellar got the first-ever endorsement of a Democrat by the right-wing Republican Club for Growth, a free-market advocacy group with over 34,000 members.

Cuellar has repeatedly enraged Democrats by his collaborative relationship with Republicans. He supported George Bush in 2000, although he backed Kerry in 2004. Cuellar supported CAFTA and is viewed as pro-globalization, but voted for labor issues nine out of 16 times.

In a highly unusual move, 15 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives contributed to Rodriguez. Many suspect that Republicans redrew the district to benefit Cuellar, who served as secretary of state under Bush’s successor, Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

In one display of Texas extravagance (and megalomania), school voucher zealot billionaire Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio spent $3 million targeting Republican representatives who had voted against tax-paid private school vouchers. It appears Leininger’s candidates won two out of five races.

One incumbent, Carter Casteel, lost her bid for re-election by 44 votes. Though Casteel raised nearly $400,000 for her campaign, Leininger spent $800,000 on her opponent, hiring professionals who ran slick attack-ad campaigns filled with distorted information.

Casteel, who has decided to ask for a recount, said after initially conceding, “What this means is that no representative can take an independent vote because someone with money might take issue with it. … I want to make sure a schoolteacher’s $10 donation means as much as the millions someone else has to spend. Let me tell you, the Republican Party is in trouble. And we’ve got to do what we can to save it.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Carlos Uresti defeated Sen. Frank Medla in a Democratic primary in San Antonio Senate District 19. Uresti pounded Medla on his voting record, which supported privatization and cuts in benefits to the working poor. Uresti is recognized as a champion of a social services system to help the working poor and those with mental illness and mental retardation.

Progressives in Texas are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Tom DeLay’s congressional redistricting shenanigans. The ruling is expected before July 1 and could result in boosting progressives in the November election.