Texas, A Three Party State
Some who don't follow Texas politics closely might have been puzzled by the news reported by Burnt Orange Report that Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison chose Democratic Senate candidate Bill White to confide her plans to resign from the U.S. Senate after September 1 to run for Texas Governor in 2010.
Her resignation on that date will trigger a May 2010 special election to replace her in the U.S. Senate.
Its not puzzling that White would want to know. He's already announced to run for her seat; what's puzzling is why Kay Bailey is confiding in White instead of any of the several Republicans who would like to have the news first so they can plan accordingly.
As Phillip Martin wrote on Burnt Orange Report:
Since we posted that tidbit, myself and one other writer on Burnt Orange Report have been told, by several sources, that White has been sharing this information privately from as early as January.
Those who follow Texas politics closely however know why KBH would be sharing her secrets with Bill White rather than any of her erstwhile partymates like Lt Governor David Dewhurst or Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Texas is a three party state. Has been since at least 2005 when numerous wealthy players gave up on the Texas Democratic Party as a viable host organism and began heavily funding "moderate" Republicans.
In 2006 a group led by former Lt Governor Ben Barnes heavily backed Republican turned Independent State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn in her run for Governor, leaving Democrat Chris Bell to twist in the wind.
Who's Barnes? This 2007 post from Burnt Orange Report is the best capsule summary of the man:
A power broker par excellence and charter member of the Me First school of self-centered politics, Barnes long ago stopped letting the greater good stand in the way of his own personal ambition or financial gain. For him public service and partisan politics are all about which candidates can help him line his pockets-- period.
As Lt. Governor in the early 1970s, he fell all over himself to help a young George W. Bush escape dangerous military service and instead get a coveted spot in the Texas National Guard. Then, Barnes spent the next quarter-century refusing to talk publicly (privately, he told anyone next to him on a bar stool who was willing to listen) about the favor his did for the Bush Family while first Pappy, then Jebby, then W. rose to power and did irreparable harm to the ideals Democrats like Barnes claim to hold dear.
Along the way, Barnes has repeatedly sold out his party and its principles when the price was right, which it often has been. He kept quiet about George W.'s military service when Bush made sure that the lucrative Texas Lottery contract would remain his. He has worked behind the scenes to keep good candidates out of statewide races by cutting off their funds. And this year, he supported Republican-turned-Independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn over potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates-- including the eventual nominee, Chris Bell-- to safeguard his personal business interests, which include a major contract with the State Comptroller and controlled by Strayhorn.
Don't get me wrong. Soulless lobbyists are commonplace in D.C. and in Austin. It's just that most them don't simultaneously dictate Democratic Party decisions at the highest level, from Harry Reid to Boyd Richie. Barnes does.
For background on Barnes here's a March 2009 feature on Barnes that ran in the Houston Chronicle after he got embroiled in the collapse of his client "Sir" Allen Stanford's ponzi scheme:
From the Sharpstown banking fraud that ended his political career to the current financial collapse of his lobby client Stanford Financial Group, former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes has played a constant character on the stage of state and national scandals.
Through it all, Barnes has remained one of Texas' and the nation's most influential Democrats, even if it is mostly behind the scenes.
Barnes lives in Austin. He thrives in Washington, D.C.
Barnes is one of the top money-raisers for Democratic U.S. senators. He and his wife, Melanie, personally gave more than $600,000 to federal Democratic candidates and committees since 2004. Barnes last month donated $1 million to the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
When the U.S. Senate was evenly divided early in this decade, then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle called Barnes the "51st senator."
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Schumer at a New York luncheon for 250 committee donors last year singled out only two fund-raisers with exceptional praise. Barnes was one.
The clients Barnes has represented before Congress have paid his firm $24 million since 1999.
Barnes has been a big backer of Kay Bailey throughout her career. Even going so far as to clear the field of credible Democrats for Governor in 2010 so all she has to do is win the primary against sitting Governor Rick Perry.
Bill White is the kind of Democrat that dances to Barnes' tune and in return he's got Barnes' support in the race to replace KBH in the U.S. Senate.
Bill White, while Mayor of Houston, has long practiced Barnes' style of post-partisan pocketbook politics, even doing a fundraiser for Tom DeLay in 2004 when DeLay was facing his first serious challenge from pioneering netroots candidate Richard Morrison.
At a time when Democrats were fighting against DeLay and trying to end his reign of terror, Bill White was helping him raise money against those very same Democrats and extend that reign of terror. Then, when DeLay finally fell, White hired his top district aide at taxpayer expense.
Now Kay Bailey and Bill White, who share a key fundraiser in Herb Buttram (White is Buttrams only Democratic client) are conspiring to put two Barnes allies at the top of the big marquee races in Texas in 2010. No matter what party wins, Barnes figures to be well represented at the highest levels of Texas politics.