Turkeys (and Other Creatures) On the Ballot

Quick! It's almost Election Day!! Do you know who your candidates are? Check this guide to the mother of all ballots!

O'Neill clobbered Devine in the Bar Association's poll by a 7-to-1 margin. Devine also ducked a head-to-head encounter with O'Neill before the Houston Chronicle editorial board recently, a not atypical tactic for the religious right, which tends to ignore conventional media whenever possible.

Devine has received $4,800 in contributions from a committee called "The Friends of John Devine," which apparently failed to file a legally required report itemizing the sources of the cash. Committee treasurer Michael Monahan did not return a phone call from the Press. One public figure who's on record backing Devine is congressional candidate Eugene Fontenot, who contributed $200 to Devine in February. Meanwhile, Devine has shelled out $1,200 in fees to the Link Letter and $120 to the John Birch Society, a blast from the past which, yes, is apparently still functional.

Stealth Turkeys
Devine, of course, isn't the only candidate grounded in the religious right -- just the most obvious. The most prominent of the "stealth" candidates is, of course, Dr. Eugene Fontenot, the Republican nominee in the 25th Congressional District, whose big-bucks campaign against Democrat Ken Bentsen Jr. has been scripted right down to the candidate's hand gestures. Fontenot, a wealthy investor who owns part of Cypress-Fairbanks Hospital, has already forked over more than $2 million of his own money on a campaign to win a seat in a south Houston district where he didn't live and had no record prior to launching his candidacy. His only noticeable previous political involvement was as a financial angel and board member of Dr. Steve Hotze's Citizens for American Restoration, which, among other things, believes that property taxes are forbidden by biblical scripture. But Fontenot doesn't mention that in his campaign.

Another Hotze-backed candidate who has promoted his churchgoing is Gary Elkins, the Republican nominee in state House District 135. Elkins was the first clear winner among local stealth candidates, taking the GOP nomination in the party's spring primary over moderate opponent Pat Curran. Now, the only opposition Elkins faces in the rock-solid Republican district, which encompasses a portion of the West Houston-Villages area, is from Libertarian Graham Bass.

Elkins' business, Personal Rental Corporation, which buys consumer items for "quick cash" and then rents them back to the former owners, was sued for "loan sharking" by the attorney general's office, which claimed customers had to pay exorbitant interest rates. A jury found the arrangements did not violate state credit regulations, and Elkins sued the attorney general for defamation. He also sued Curran for pointing out the suit, and she, in turn, sued Elkins (both suits were dropped). Elkins was distinguished by being possibly the only candidate in this year's primary with his own lobbyist for his business: former House Speaker Billy Clayton.

If the Republican tide reaches "sweep" proportions in Harris County, shoo-in Elkins will have lots of company of the stealth variety. But don't think all the candidates who wear their religion on their sleeves are to be found on the Republican side of the ballot. Check out Bob Moore, the Democratic nominee for Place 1 on the 14th Court of Appeals, who's touting himself as a "Christian Democrat." Advertising his candidacy in the latest Link Letter, Moore proclaims that "being in public service is significant only as it would relate to God's plan for my life as His disciple." Well, at least Moore -- who's opposed by Republican Harvey Hudson -- is honest about being in it for himself. But pity Poor Mr. Moore. He apparently isn't a good enough Christian to merit the endorsement of the far right. Although the Link Letter published an ad for Moore, publisher Terry Lowry added a damning statement in an adjacent box: "While interviewing Mr. Moore, he stated he is pro-life but upholds the Democratic platform of choice and even though he considers abortion to be murder, he will not impose his views on others." Picky, picky. (Lowry pulled the same number on two other candidates, taking their money and then countering their Link Letter ads with quotes from the Houston Press to the effect that the candidates had accepted unholy Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus endorsements.)

And heads up for Steve Stockman, the Republican making his third bid for Democrat Jack Brook's seat representing the 9th Congressional District. Stockman, who emanates from the Hotze wing of the GOP and has a documented history of misrepresenting his background, managed to hold Brooks to under 54 percent of the vote two years ago, when his campaign efforts included a fundraising appearance by Oliver North. A piece of living statuary after four decades in Congress, Brooks is a prime target for anti-incumbent fallout this year, especially after he was caught larding President Clinton's crime bill with pork for Lamar University in his hometown of Beaumont. But there would be something worse than his continued presence in Congress: Steve Stockman.

There are other contenders who, while not solely identified with the religious right, have gone above and beyond the call of duty in courting its favor. One is Debbie Mantooth, the Republican nominee for the 180th District Criminal Court. An assistant district attorney, Mantooth has been an editorial contributor to the Link Letter, whose publisher has nicknamed her "The Iron Maiden." Mantooth draws staunch support from her coworkers in the district attorney's office, as well as a $100 contribution from her boyfriend, Don Stricklin, Johnny Holmes' first assistant. She is running against Democrat Susan Spruce, a bar poll winner endorsed by both daily papers.

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