While speaking with one of Mayor Tom Leppert's consultants last month, I asked if Leppert was considering running for U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat. At that point, I heard he was contemplating the political leap from a few sources, but the response was something along the lines of: "Right now, Tom is focused on being the best mayor he can be for the citizens of Dallas."
The rumors have continued to make the rounds, and yesterday Wick Allison asked the man himself if there was any truth to the speculation. As Schutze pointed out, Leppert's comment to Allison sounded a heckuva lot like he's running, or at least giving it serious consideration. With that in mind, it's worth mentioning that the mayor pro tem at the time of Leppert's potential announcement would get the nod as his replacement, such as when former Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss took over for Ron Kirk when he announced his Senate bid in November 2001.
As it stands today, the mayor pro tem (Dr. Elba Garcia) is Hispanic and the deputy mayor pro tem (Dwaine Caraway) is black because Leppert is white. Of course, this is a result of the city council's unofficial form of affirmative action by making sure each race is represented in the three positions of power. And after each election cycle, the mayor pro tem and deputy mayor pro tem positions are alternated by race, as Don Hill was the previous mayor pro tem while Garcia was the previous deputy mayor pro tem.
Find out what this means regarding Leppert's potential replacement and why Leppert, a political novice before becoming mayor in June 2007, would be ready to take a gamble on leaving his first term early after the jump.
The rotating schedule of power means the next mayor pro tem (voted on by the new council after the May elections) will be black, and the likely candidate to be endorsed by the council will be Caraway, Leppert's close ally. In fact, Caraway appears to be maneuvering to make sure he's in the right place at the right time if Leppert does decide to try for Hutchison's seat.
When Dallas elected four new black council members in May 2007, both Caraway and Vonciel Hill were interested in becoming deputy mayor pro tem, and apparently Hill backed off because Caraway said he would yield mayor pro tem to her in two years. However, eyebrows were raised when Tiffinni Young filed to run against Hill in the May election. Young was Caraway's representative on the Park Board, and he's been spotted introducing her around town. With Hill out of the way, his path to become mayor if Leppert leaves becomes much easier.
Like Poss, Caraway would serve until a special election is held for the remainder of Leppert's term, which expires in June 2011. As for Hutchison's seat, Governor Rick Perry would appoint someone to serve until a special election in 2010 for the remainder of her term, which expires at the end of 2012.
Cal Jillson, the oft-quoted professor of political science at SMU, says Hutchison is likely to resign from her Senate position in the second half of 2009. Everyone will likely let Hutchison and Perry battle for governor and jump at the chance to grab her open Senate seat, especially since state and national politicos don't have to surrender their current jobs to run in a special election. So far, names being tossed around as contenders include Houston Mayor Bill White and former Texas Comptroller John Sharp on the Democratic side, along with such Republicans as former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, State Senator Florence Shapiro (our Boss's sister), Texas railroad commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones, and U.S. House Representatives Pete Sessions, Kay Granger and Joe Barton.
Jillson says Roger Williams, who resigned as secretary of state in July 2007 to become a fund-raiser for Rick Perry and the Republican Party, has the inside track on being named as Hutchison's replacement until the special election. "They're close," he says of Perry and Williams. "I would not be surprised to see Perry appoint him to an open seat."
Leppert's interest in Hutchison's seat isn't surprising, Jillson says, because special elections are seen as a "free for all" where "everybody and their brother piles in." He notes that the last special election for a Senate seat was in 1993 when Hutchison beat Bob Krueger, who had been appointed to replace Lloyd Bentsen after he left to become Bill Clinton's secretary of treasury. That election yielded 24 candidates, and Jillson expects that many to compete for Hutchison's seat. "It's that unpredictability and the fact that a Senate seat so rarely comes open that so many people are likely to roll in," he says.
For those who view Leppert's entry into high-level politics as too early, Jillson says it's not necessarily early given the mayor's age (54) and that he had a successful business career, is "an energetic guy" and is comfortable financially. "He appears to enjoy the Rotary Club circuit and dealing with local ministers, but I'm sure when he closes his eyes at night, mayor of Dallas might not be the end of it for him."
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Jillson says he views Leppert as "an effective guy," but he's unsure if he has a second gear politically. In order to win a statewide office, Jillson maintains that Leppert will have to show a lot of stamina by giving his stump speech numerous times to more people than he did when he ran for mayor. "You never know whether a person's political skills will translate to the next level."
Leppert might be banking on support from Hutchison in order to have a leg up in a crowded race. He has a strong relationship with her and Roger Staubach, who also is close with the senator. Kay Bailey's husband, Ray, also happens to serve as co-bond counsel for the City of Dallas, and his law firm (Vinson & Elkins) contributed to Leppert's campaign.
Or maybe this is all a ruse to serve Leppert's massive self-pride.
"A lot of times, guys that have ambitions for higher office float their name out there even though they don't plan to run," a political observer told me. "They just like to be written about as if they're viable candidates because when the day comes that they do want to run, then they have a history of being talked about. So I think that's what it is. It's amazing what holding office does to people's egos."