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The Kingdom and the Power

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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."

Hotze's man was an Austin minister, Sam Hoerster. When Denman realized she didn't have the votes to win, she withdrew from the contest and a moderate from Houston, George Strake, beat Hoerster by better than 3,000 votes.

Jones shakes her head.
"It's not lying with these people. It's not breaking your word. It's revelation!"

The defeat of the Straight Slate in 1985 ended only the first chapter in Steven Hotze's political career. Hotze concentrated on building his medical practice, turning his focus to allergies and moving his offices from the North Freeway location to a suite of offices in Katy. But by the early nineties, he was once again building political vehicles to further his views. He helped found the Citizens for American Restoration in 1992, and began constructing the money web that has made his political operation so potent.

How Hotze gets that money is a point of increasing controversy within Republican circles. A caustic, well-researched -- and anonymous -- mailout produced by moderate Republicans recently called attention to the interplay between the Committee for a Well Qualified Judiciary, a downtown PAC run by Crain, Caton & James attorney Frank Harmon III, the husband of U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon, and a trio of PACs under the control of Hotze and his political lieutenants.

Harmon's PAC collected more than $100,000 in contributions from dozens of incumbents and challengers this spring, then quickly disgorged it into Hotze's Harris County Conservative Republicans and Citizens for American Restoration. In 1994, Harmon's PAC performed the same role, though on a much smaller scale. While Harmon and Hotze consultant Allen Blakemore characterize the complicated money trail as an innocuous fundraising device, others see it as a laundromat to funnel dollars from moderates into the hands of the religious right.

Tall, thin and talkative, Harmon seems ill-suited as a political partner for Hotze. He is not particularly religious and claims he does not attend church. A friend, however, describes him as "probably more conservative than Hotze." The alliance between the two provides Hotze with the cash to run his political program and Harmon the ability to deliver a guaranteed pool of conservative votes to candidates and incumbents. Some county insiders also believe, rightly or wrongly, that contributing to Hotze through Harmon's PAC helps win Hotze's endorsement and protects GOP incumbents from facing Hotze-sponsored ultra-conservatives in future primaries. (Hotze has indicated to intimates that three Republican judges elected in the 1994 GOP landslide, Werner Voight, Jim Wallace and Lon Harper, are so incompetent he will find more conservative candidates to run against them in the 1998 GOP primary.)

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Tim Fleck
Contact: Tim Fleck