The Insider

When the Doves Cry
A brace of good ol' boys embarked on a convivial hunting trip last month in northern Mexico, but their real target may have been bagging a vote rather than a potful of doves. County Judge Robert Eckels, who until now has resisted pressure to back downtown PACster Jim Edmonds to replace Howard Middleton Jr. on the Houston Port Commission, shared that male bonding experience with fellow marksmen Edmonds; Vinson & Elkins' Joe B. Allen; Turner, Collie and Braden's Jim Royer; Port Commission chairman Ned Holmes; and that veteran of epic tropical adventures, state senator-elect and former county judge Jon Lindsay. Lindsay, you may recall, got into hot water in the late eighties for his south-of-the-border hunting expedition with a crew of S&L scammers.

Eckels acknowledges going on the trip and bunking in a hunting lodge with the above-mentioned company, but says there was no discussion of Edmonds' candidacy. The trip, he adds, will have no bearing on his choice for the commission, which he has not yet made.

The Middleton slot is widely viewed as the African-American seat on the commission, and Eckels until now has been loath to make himself a whole new set of political enemies by supporting Edmonds. The judge claims Middleton is a good friend, if not a hunting partner, but points out that he has been on the commission for 18 years, well past the 12-year term limit on county appointees the judge supports. Eckels' proposal to limit the terms of county appointees was voted down by Commissioners Court last week while the judge was home nursing an injury he sustained bicycling.

Eckels has been trying to replace Metro chairman Billy Burge, a county appointee whose term expired more than a year ago, but has been blocked by Commissioners Steve Radack, El Franco Lee and Jerry Eversole. In retaliation, Eckels says he won't move on the Port Commission appointment until the Burge matter is resolved. So far no one has suggested the obvious compromise: putting Burge on the Port Commission and sending Middleton to Metro.

I Shot the Sheriff (with County Equipment)
It helps to be the incumbent, even if you didn't get elected to the post. Sheriff Tommy Thomas took full advantage of his appointed position last week to use county jail facilities and personnel for the shooting of a campaign video. One attorney visiting a client in the hoosegow says a jail employee told him access to elevators would be temporarily blocked while consultant Jim Culberson's video crew shot footage for a Thomas law-and-order spot. Later, Thomas' folks used sheriff's department cars and a MAP (Motorist Assistance Program) van as visuals for an outdoor action scene.

Thomas spokesman Captain Don McWilliams says jail operations were not disrupted during the filming and that employees who participated "did so on their own time." Thomas campaign manager Mary Easterly says she consulted with a lawyer at the Texas Ethics Commission, who, according to Easterly, opined that there was no problem in using county equipment as props. "The sheriff is the sheriff," says Easterly. "If he was doing something with county equipment and he wasn't the sheriff, it would be misleading."

In other words, Thomas' Democratic opponent, Bruce Marquis, can forget about requesting department equipment to spice up his own television ads, presuming he has the campaign money to produce them.

Where the Money Is ... and Isn't
Despite all that rhetoric emanating from President Clinton last week about carrying Texas, his campaign isn't putting its money where Clinton's mouth was. In fact, some Houston Democrats figure the Clinton-Gore campaign is effectively punting Texas to Bob Dole, much as the president's guys did in 1992 against George Bush.

Texans have contributed at least $9 million to Clinton's campaign, with most of it coming from Houston, including an estimated $1.5 million raised at the bash last week at the Memorial home of restaurant magnate Tilman Fertitta. But only $2.5 million of that amount has been earmarked for the re-election effort in the state. No television advertising has been booked for the Houston market, despite the fact that endangered Congressman Ken Bentsen needs all the help he can get in turning out the Democratic vote in the newly rejiggered 25th District. (Clinton ads are running in the less expensive East Texas market.)

Only $75,000 from the Democrats' national campaign is committed to get-out-the-vote efforts in Houston's heavily black precincts, a paltry appropriation that rankles Councilman Jew Don Boney. The director of Clinton's Texas Victory '96 organization, Steve Gutow, found himself the target of Boney's invective at a recent meeting at TSU, where the councilman reportedly threatened to lead a picket line at county Democratic headquarters if funding priorities don't change. Boney later toned down his rhetoric but not the message. "Not only is the re-election of Clinton-Gore important, but also the elections down the partisan ballot," says Boney. "I'm talking about the judicial campaign, and the judicial candidates do not have much funds." Boney says if the Democrats expect to win, they have to take African-Americans on as full partners, rather than taking the vote for granted and funneling money elsewhere.

Boney does have a vested interest in the outcome: he's planning to work as a paid consultant turning out the black vote for the judicial campaigns of two Democratic candidates.

Tip The Insider now at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or e-mail him at Insider@houston-press.com.

 
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