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.

In a pending lawsuit against Cable Communications Network, Hotze claims he suffered $363,000 in actual damages for the company's alleged failure to broadcast his commercials for his allergy clinic as specified in a signed contract. Hotze claims in the lawsuit that he makes most of his profit on his practice from August to November -- the autumn pollen season -- and the failure of the Cable Communications to air the commercials in 1994 "devastated" his practice. Since business at Allercare is now booming -- at least according to Hotze's mother and others who know him -- the term "devastated" must have been relative.

By the early eighties, Hotze had achieved a moderate degree of economic security and was ready to assume a more active political role in Houston. He seized the day when Houston City Council, at the urging of gay and lesbian activists flush with the victory of Kathy Whitmire and other candidates they supported in 1983, pushed for an ordinance providing protection against discrimination for gays in the city workplace. Council approved the measure, but in the process provoked a backlash that would level the political gains achieved by gays.

In the eyes of Hotze and other conservatives, the ordinance granted homosexuals status as a protected minority and was a de facto approval of their lifestyle. Hotze mounted a petition drive that led to a 1985 referendum and voters' overwhelming rejection of the ordinance. It was the first taste of victory for Steven Hotze the political organizer. Clymer Wright recalls being amazed at Hotze's knack for energizing conservatives in the effort. "He had called this meeting at Westin Oaks Hotel, so I went. I saw streams of hundreds and hundreds of people coming in. And I wondered where all these people were going. They must have had close to a thousand people there. I was really impressed by his ability to get that kind of turnout at any kind of meeting. He ran the whole thing."

The win emboldened Hotze and his supporters to organize the "Straight Slate" of family-values candidates, including his mother Margaret, for that fall's city elections. Though none won office, Slate candidate Jim Kennedy forced incumbent Judson Robinson Jr. into a runoff, and the entire effort spooked Whitmire into distancing herself from her gay allies.

At that point, Judith Jones found herself one of the few women in Hotze's inner circle, working on the effort to defeat the gay job-protection referendum. Wright and the late River Oaks banker Jimmy Lyons also were involved in the effort. Hotze printed up his own petitions to force the referendum and began circulating them through Houston churches.

"Hotze never works with anybody," says Jones. "He does it his way. Even when it's the right way to do it, he still doesn't work with anybody."

Hotze regularly scheduled 7 a.m. meetings on Saturday at his home on Piping Rock. His wife never participated. Jones remembers that Hotze would first conduct a prayer, then open each meeting by saying, "Okay, keymen ... and Judith." Those close to Hotze included Charlie Hartland, a home schooling advocate, former Council candidate Al Clements and computer whiz Paul McClintock. That inner circle has remained stable for years, although McClintock recently moved to Seattle to organize for the Christian Coalition there. David Lane, a fundraiser for Hotze, has also departed town to work for Jerry Falwell. For the most part, Hotze has stuck with the guys.

Jones says Hotze positions himself so he doesn't have to deal with women in a serious political way. That's a frequent observation by other Hotze watchers. Although Steven's mother is a towering influence in his political life, according to Jim Hotze, for the most part Hotze's peers are male. And even with his mother, Jones says, the tension between the two was often palpable during meetings where both were present. During the mid-eighties, Hotze, according to Jones, was "running on sheer nervous energy, jumpy as a cat on a hot tin roof, just bouncing off the walls."

Hotze's frenetic style showed in other ways, including a tendency to over-commit himself financially on his political activities. "During the Campaign for Houston [the vehicle to fight the gay-rights ordinance], everybody showed up one morning to run the phone banks," Jones says, "and it was locked because he hadn't paid the phone bill." She laughs at the memory. "But Ernie [Hotze's father] came through that day and paid the people in the building what Hotze owed them."

"He's bailed him out of more stuff," Jones says of the late patriarch of the Hotze clan, "and I want to see what happens now."

Margaret Hotze seems to suggest the family will no longer pick up the overruns for Steven's political adventures.

"What really bothers me is that people think that Steven does this for some benefit," she says. "He's run in the hole every year with [his political activities]. His dad sometimes would have to help him because it would cost him more than he could afford. And now his dad is gone, so that's that."

Over the years, Hotze also has developed a reputation for making and then breaking pledges to candidates, often citing divine guidance as an excuse. Jones remembers an incident at the 1986 GOP state convention where conservative Diana Denman, the party's incumbent vice chair, thought she had Hotze's support for the chairmanship. "We'd been working on this race for months, and two days before the convention, he switches to someone else," says Jones, who recalls sitting in a hotel suite watching as Hotze walked into the room. "Clymer Wright literally pounced on him and picked him up by the lapels, yelling, 'How dare you do this!' And Hotze very calmly told Clymer that he'd had a middle-of-the-night revelation from God to support this other guy."

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