The Kingdom and the Power

Money may be the root of all evil, but it's fueled Steven Hotze's rise from a fringe player on the religious right to kingmaker in the local Republican Party. Now he's trying to stretch his influence further afield.

This Easter found Mickey Lawrence taking a break at home from what had been an increasingly vitriolic campaign for the Republican nomination for county attorney. Her runoff against Michael Fleming was only two days away, but politics was off the front burner for Lawrence for at least a few hours that Sunday, as she sat down with her family to a holiday dinner, followed by an afternoon of sun and lawn chairs. The phone in the house rang, and Lawrence left her grandchildren playing in the back yard and went inside to answer it. When she picked up the receiver, a taped message began rolling. A male voice identified himself as Dr. Steven Hotze, and then began to tell Mickey Lawrence all about the politics of ... Mickey Lawrence.

Lawrence, a corporate attorney and longtime GOP activist, recalls the prerecorded Hotze's telling her that she had been endorsed by United Republicans, "a very liberal group that is pro-abortion." In fact, United Republicans is a broad-based organization of both pro-life and pro-choice Republicans that takes no position on abortion and focuses instead on fiscal issues.

Stunned that her anti-abortion views could be so distorted, Lawrence numbly listened as Hotze declared, "Mickey Lawrence is not who she says she is." He went on to accuse her of being a liberal in disguise and lumped her with Kevin Brady, another Republican running against a onetime underwriter of Hotze's political activities, Dr. Eugene Fontenot, in the 8th Congressional District. Since Lawrence had already explained her position opposing abortion on demand at a gathering attended by Hotze, her first reaction was outrage.

"I'm listening to this, and it's Easter Sunday," she recalls, "and what he was saying were lies."

Christians are not supposed to lie any day of the year, of course, but on the day of Jesus' resurrection, it somehow seemed more galling coming from the leading voice of Houston's Christian conservatives. Lawrence was angry, but there was no time to get even. Fleming won the GOP nomination by eight points on the following Tuesday, contributing Lawrence's blond scalp to the tape recorded caller's growing political trophy case.

The automated call to the Lawrence household was one of thousands crafted and paid for by a Houston allergist who in his spare time is a self-proclaimed champion of biblical values as a basis for civil government. Thin and long-faced, 46-year-old Steven Forrest Hotze has carved out a niche in local politics over the past decade as an unyielding and occasionally strident opponent of abortion and public acceptance of homosexuality. He may not be a household name outside Republican circles, but within the party he is admired by a devout coterie of followers, catered to by secular conservatives and feared by moderates, who find themselves in a position of needing his approval to win nominations in GOP primaries. Those summoned to kiss his ring encounter a tough, uncompromising zealot who is used to getting his own way.

"It comes by position in family," says his mother Margaret, herself a grand doyenne among Christian conservatives who once took to the lectern at a City Council meeting to hector Mayor Kathy Whitmire for her support from gay activists. "The oldest person in a family tends to have a certain personality, and you can look in the psychology books and find it. Steve's the oldest of eight, and he's had eight children. He's used to being the boss, I guess. He has his own practice, and he's always been the person who took charge of things."

Adds Clymer Wright, until recently a political associate of Hotze's: "Every meeting I've ever been to with Steve, he ran it."

In addition to operating a successful two-clinic medical practice in Katy and west Houston, Hotze constructs and sells custom homes on the side. He has set up two private firms, Texas 2000 and Forrest Marketing, to handle his political operations, which are based at his Katy medical clinic. Monica Luedecke, his clinic manager, is the administrator for one of his political action committees, Conservative Republicans of Harris County. Hotze also controls at least two other active PACs, Citizens for American Restoration and the Houston Republican Forum.

Forrest Marketing has been paid $58,000 for professional services from several of those PACs in the last two years, giving rise to claims by opponents that Hotze profits from his political activities -- a charge denied by those close to the doctor (Hotze himself did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story). Texas 2000 also received large contributions from lawyer John O'Quinn and furniture magnate Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale to stage a prayer breakfast for ministers and judges at George W. Bush's 1995 gubernatorial inaugural in Austin. Since plaintiff's lawyers and would-be casino operators are usually about as welcome in the conservative Republican temple as Mary Magdalene, Hotze's ideological purity has been called into question recently by some old allies.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office received complaints last year about Hotze's use of his private companies in his political activities, but a preliminary investigation turned up nothing illegal. Rather than personal profit, it's more likely that Hotze's motive in creating the companies was to put the more controversial of his political activities and associations outside state disclosure requirements and beyond public view.

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