Return of the Boogie Man

Can the Texas Ten "MoveOn" without him?

The battle is now in a temporary lull, as Perry's operatives put out the word that he wouldn't call a third special session before Saturday's constitutional amendment election. The governor is juggling two priorities: serving the insurance companies and the medical establishment by concentrating on getting the Prop 12 tort reform amendment passed, while helping Congressman Tom DeLay mint a handful of new GOP congressional districts in time for the 2004 elections. Perry's still hoping to accomplish both tasks before fall is over.

Despite Whitmire's defection, his colleagues seemed in no hurry to abandon the cool New Mexican plateau and descend into the last steamy weeks of the Texas summer. In fact, their month-old adventure may be just beginning.

Backed by a liberal Democrat Internet organization called MoveOn, the remaining Texas Ten may take their show on a nationwide tour ending with a new encampment in Washington, D.C. Three of them, including Houston's Rodney Ellis, headed to the nation's capital late last week to explore that scenario.

Runaway Senator John Whitmire resurfaced at a 
downtown Houston bar and shocked political allies.
Tim Fleck
Runaway Senator John Whitmire resurfaced at a downtown Houston bar and shocked political allies.

MoveOn is the brainchild of two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, who created a database of more than two million e-mail addresses of politically like-minded people. Using what it calls "flash campaigns," the MoveOn network generates contributions for Democratic causes. A former aide to Senator Ellis put him in touch with the group, which first provided a $25,000 contribution to the Texas 11 and within a week raised more than $1 million on the Internet.

MoveOn Texas spokesman Glenn Smith calls the Texas redistricting dispute just one facet of a national Republican campaign coordinated out of the White House by Bush adviser Karl Rove.

"If you want to get the White House's attention, you've got to speak to voters around the country," says Smith. "It's thought that the efforts outside of Texas will reflect back into Texas and may help resolve this thing in a way favorable to Democrats and not to Republicans."

Whitmire is suspicious of the group's fund-raising and emphasis on turning the redistricting fight into a national campaign against the White House. He notes that MoveOn has provided only a pittance to the Texas 11, while using their cause to raise a fortune. Smith responds that all the money will be spent on the communications campaign to bolster the fight against Republican redistricting plans in Texas and elsewhere.

"We were told in one briefing that MoveOn was going to have us go to Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, New York," says Whitmire. "If they want to do that, go for it, but I'm more constituent-oriented than gearing up to campaign against George Bush and Tom DeLay across this nation."

Representative Coleman finds Whitmire's stance both shortsighted and self-serving.

"Our goal is to stop redistricting and the taking away of people's votes," says Coleman. "But it requires a whole lot of fortitude, which John Whitmire doesn't have."

"I was not elected to serve in New Mexico or Washington, D.C.," retorts Whitmire. "You've got to come back, fight it out, and ultimately it will be decided in the courts."

When Perry calls the third special session, we'll all find out which persona is currently in control of Whitmire's brain: Democratic loyalist John or that unpredictable Boogie.

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