Farmer Yarbrough ?

In terms of improbable candidacies, this one would be at the top of this fall's statewide ballot, except that the hopeful's name doesn't appear. After plunking down $3,000 with the Texas secretary of state to be certified as a write-in candidate, Houston District Councilman Michael Yarbrough is out beating the bushes for contributions in his invisible bid for Texas agricultural commissioner.

Yarbrough, a bribery-conspiracy indictee in the Hotel Six federal sting probe of City Hall politicos, reported raising $14,283 and spending $17,072 by October 5 in the ag commissioner campaign. Since the Councilman is term-limited in his city job and cannot raise money as a municipal candidate, several political consultants suspect he only wants more cash at his disposal. It's for sure he's not much of a threat to the candidates on the ballot. They are two former state reps, Republican Susan Combs of Austin and Democrat Pete Patterson of Brookston.

In an October 5 letter, attorney and City Hall insider Zinetta Burney exhorted the troops to raise some greenbacks for Yarbrough. "As we move into the new millennium," declared Burney, a $1,000 contributor to the Yarbrough cause, "it is crucial that we prepare for the embetterment of all our communities and our great state.... Council member Yarbrough will bring together private industry and local state government in striving for solutions that will ensure economic growth."

This rhetoric pertains to a public official who admitted during the first inconclusive trial of the "Hotel Six" that he had not filed personal income taxes for several years and did not maintain a personal bank account. On the infrequent occasions when he has filed campaign reports in the past, they have shown large cash withdrawals in Yarbrough's name without accompanying documentation of expenditures.

True to form, Yarbrough's campaign reports for his write-in candidacy are as inventive as his previous filings have been. In addition to a raft of billings for restaurant outings, including an $84 tab at Diamondback's Restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a $50 tab at Pappadeaux Seafood in Arlington Texas, Yarbrough also charged a $4.31 bill from Petco, presumably for the campaign mascot. The candidate must have a sweet tooth, since there's a $31 entry for the Cheesecake Factory in Houston.

In her solicitation letter, Burney went on to invite supporters "to be part of our statewide movement to educate, empower and develop a clear understanding on the fields of agriculture and the power of agribusiness." Perhaps the first educational chore would be informing the candidate himself about the duties of the post, since as an inner-city politician, he has little previous experience in agricultural realms.

Burney advised letter recipients to send contributions to 1314 Texas Avenue, Suite 519. Unable to contain his curiosity, The Insider made a beeline for the address, which turns out to be an unlabeled door on a floor of a brick office building. Luckily, Yarbrough arrived at the same time we did, and was able to answer a few queries about his write-in campaign.

The lanky Councilman denied he planned to use the money raised to pay his lawyers, adding that the cash wouldn't go very far in paying high-priced lawyer Mike DeGeurin. Texas Ethics Commission attorney Karen Lundquist says that under state law, Yarbrough could use the money raised from the state race to pay legal bills incurred while he was a councilman.

Asked what qualified him to be ag commissioner, Yarbrough replied, "I have an interest and think I can make a contribution."

Judging from Burney's letter, the Councilman has it backwards. Clearly, he has an interest in the race, but it's his supporters who are going to have to make the contributions.

-- Tim Fleck

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