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.

Through his links to a downtown PAC called the Committee for a Well Qualified Judiciary, this year Hotze has received ample resources to fund his ongoing effort to reshape the face of the local judiciary and, perhaps in the future, city government. One of his allies estimates that Hotze can deliver a 60,000-vote bloc to his candidates. That's not enough to dictate winners in a high-turnout general election, but in low-turnout contests, particularly runoffs in a GOP primary, Hotze can and has called the psalm, page number and verse for the winners.

It's a considerable amount of clout for someone whose stated beliefs place him to the right of the religious right. "If we are to survive as a free nation, and if justice and liberty are to be restored in our land, then biblical Christianity, with its absolutes, must once again be embraced by our citizens," he wrote several years back in a Chronicle op-ed piece. "Only then can we expect to see Christianity's influence once again to be reflected in the laws of our civil government."

Hotze is a national leader in the Christian Reconstruction movement, whose more extreme elements advocate replacing democratic government with rule by a theocratic elite. Hotze himself has denied that he favors establishment of a theocracy, and one of his brothers, Jim, says that even if the doctor were in a position to do so, he wouldn't do away with democracy. On the other hand, Jim admits he's never discussed the matter directly with his brother. Moderates who have come to grief at the hands of Hotze's political machine would prefer not to put Jim Hotze's conjecture to the test.

Assuming he's not a theocrat, Steven Hotze's politics would still hardly be classified middle-of-the-road, which leads one to wonder why more than $100,000 in contributions flowed to Hotze's PACs this spring from such mainstream Republicans as County Judge Robert Eckels, County Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole and a host of others via a roundabout route. The answer to that question reveals both the extent of Hotze's evolution from a fringe player into a serious local power broker and the lengths to which moderate candidates will go to win election.

Mickey Lawrence was not the only candidate in this spring's GOP primary to get a nasty surprise from Hotze. When Martha Wong, the first Asian-American elected to City Council and a candidate for county tax assessor-collector, received a mailed copy of endorsements by Hotze's Conservative Republicans of Harris County, she discovered he had attacked her as a phony Republican who had previously voted in Democratic primaries. The charge was false, and Wong had her past voting records to prove it. As it turns out, so did Hotze.

"I was outraged," Wong remembers. "It was an outright lie."
Wong called her consultant, Allen Blakemore, who was also on Hotze's payroll, and demanded that he arrange a meeting with Hotze to get him to retract the false claims or face a lawsuit.

Since Wong and Hotze were using the same consultant, she figures the doctor either knew his description of her voting record was a lie or he simply didn't care about the truth. While Blakemore says Hotze just made a mistake, he remembers the doctor later conceded he had Wong's voting records in his database all along but never bothered to check them. Hotze also told Blakemore that it really didn't matter, because he would have found something else to say about Wong that would be equally damaging.

Hotze did apologize to Wong and issued a press release the following day. But early voting had already ended, and the damage had been done. Wong says the retraction did not reach the same elderly voters who might have been influenced by the endorsement sheet.

"He was very clever," she says. "He didn't call me until after the polls closed and it was too late for early voting. And that's where I lost." While Hotze agreed to destroy fliers with the false charge and cancel a round of automated phone calls, he continued to endorse the councilwoman's opponent, Roland Elledge, who edged out the better-known Wong in a runoff. The early vote margin proved to be the difference.

Wong doesn't accept Hotze's claims it was all an innocent mistake.
"The ethics of a Christian lying," she says, "are deplorable."
Hotze's mailing didn't carry his name, and on Election Day Wong stood at a polling place and questioned voters who carried the Conservative Republicans of Harris County endorsement sheet to see if they knew its source. Most did not and were shocked to learn it came from Hotze, Wong claims.

Brent Perry, the winner of this year's Republican primary in the 25th Congressional District, found himself on the wrong side of Hotze after federal judges overturned the primary results and created wide-open special congressional elections on the November ballot.

Following the judge's decision, Hotze's brother Jim declared his candidacy in the special election in the 25th District. But after the younger Hotze dropped out, Perry buttonholed Steven Hotze at a candidates' forum and asked for his support. According to Perry, Hotze bluntly informed him he didn't consider Perry a strong enough challenger to incumbent Democrat Ken Bentsen.

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