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Democrats Pick Novice In Texas Race for Governor

Sanchez Not Typical Texas Democrat

Introducing The Hispanic Michael Bloomberg: In Texas, the Republican Party's Sure Thing Faces Un Gran Problema

Democrats Pick Novice In Texas Race for Governor


March 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

HOUSTON, March 11 - Tony Sanchez, the political novice who spent nearly $20 million of his own money to introduce himself to voters, won the Democratic primary for governor tonight after a contentious campaign that underscored the rise of Hispanic political power in Texas.

Mr. Sanchez, 59, an oilman and banker from Laredo who had never before sought office, led Dan Morales, a former state attorney general, 59 percent to 34 percent, with 74 percent of the precincts counted. The two men staged an often-nasty campaign that attracted national attention as the two Mexican-American candidates clashed not only on issues like affirmative action but also about ethnicity and the use of Spanish.

``It is a great privilege to be entrusted with your hopes and dreams as we chart a new course for the new century,'' Mr. Sanchez said at a victory party at a hotel in Austin.

He added, ``Texas is a can-do state that will no longer tolerate a do- nothing governor.''

In the Democratic primary for the seat being vacated by Senator Phil Gramm, Victor Morales, who is a high school teacher and former Mayor Ron Kirk of Dallas are headed for a runoff on April 9. Mr. Morales had 34 percent of the vote to Mr. Kirk's 32 percent. Representative Ken Bentsen of Houston was third with 27 percent.

Gov. Rick Perry, who rose from lieutenant governor to governor after George W. Bush left for Washington, was unopposed in the Republican primary. Attorney General John Cornyn won against token opposition to become the party's Senate candidate.

In response to voting irregularities in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, a local judge ordered that some polling stations be kept open an additional three hours, until 10 p.m. Voters became confused after some polling stations were unexpectedly consolidated because of a shortage of election judges. Other polling stations failed to open when judges did not show up.

The November general election in Texas will be watched closely as the first statewide races in the post-Bush era. Republicans dominated during Mr. Bush's six years as governor, winning every statewide office. But Democrats believe the increase in Hispanic voters, as well as the absence of Mr. Bush, could help them regain some offices.

Mr. Sanchez's candidacy has been embraced by most Democratic Party leaders, who hope that his presence atop the ticket will help attract Hispanic voters. His wallet is also considered a plus. With a fortune believed in excess of $600 million, Mr. Sanchez is expected to spend more than $40 million by November. He spent nearly $20 million during the primary to air a torrent of television commercials that introduced himself to an electorate and beat back Mr. Morales, who was far better known.

Mr. Sanchez's candidacy is also a reminder of how eagerly Democrats covet victory. Some party regulars, particularly liberals, were initially dismayed with Mr. Sanchez, who contributed to Mr. Bush's campaigns for governor and later president. In return, Mr. Bush named him to the powerful Board of Regents for the University of Texas.

There had been rumblings among Democrats late last year that Mr. Sanchez's campaign was unfocused and ineffective. But the surprise entry of Mr. Morales into the race on the last day of qualifying immediately transformed a presumed coronation for Mr. Sanchez into a dogfight. The two men jousted repeatedly, with Mr. Morales growing more strident as polls showed him trailing in the race. He was outspent by roughly 40 to 1.

Sanchez Not Typical Texas Democrat

March 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- To some, Texas millionaire Tony Sanchez does not seem like a Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

He donated $300,000 to Republican George W. Bush in his gubernatorial and presidential bids and was a Bush appointee to the University of Texas System Board of Regents. He is a banker who has made millions in the oil and gas industry.

On Tuesday, the political neophyte became the state's first Hispanic nominee for governor, easily defeating former attorney general Dan Morales, a fellow Mexican-American.

Sanchez, a seventh-generation Texan, will face Gov. Rick Perry in the November general election.

When Sanchez announced his bid in September, he said some people would be tempted to call it a ``campaign of firsts.''

``I am not running to be first in anything. I am running to make sure Texas is first in everything,'' he told a cheering hometown crowd.

Sanchez, 59, grew up in Laredo, the son of Antonio Rodolfo Sanchez Sr., a former office supply salesman, and his wife, Alicia M. Sanchez.

As a youth, he packed pineapples and melons at produces houses near the Texas-Mexico border. He later became the first in his family to attend college, earning business and law degrees from St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

Working with his father, Sanchez built his wealth through Sanchez O'Brien Oil & Gas Corp. and International Bancshares Corp., a bank holding company with $6.1 billion in assets.

Sanchez says his donations to Bush symbolize his middle-of-the-road political personality. Some analysts say he was forced to take a more liberal approach when Morales entered the race, but will need to move back toward the political center as he battles Perry.

On the issues, Sanchez said he wants to bring his business skills to state government. He supports the death penalty, but says he would have signed a bill Perry vetoed banning the execution of mentally retarded inmates.

Sanchez, a Catholic who is personally opposed to abortion, also backs abortion rights. Perry opposes abortion except in cases of rape and incest or to protect the life of the woman.

His top issue is education, and he said he wants to be governor to fix the state's educational system. He is married, to wife Tani, and has four children.

To win the primary, Sanchez spent more than $20 million. He is on pace to break the $50 million record for a Texas governor's race, set in 1990.

``I want this job desperately so I can give back to my state,'' Sanchez said.

Introducing The Hispanic Michael Bloomberg: In Texas, the Republican Party's Sure Thing Faces Un Gran Problema


March 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002
New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

SAN ANTONIO -- A Hispanic business tycoon willing to spend tens of millions of his own fortune on a maiden political venture is hard to come by. Still, Republicans witnessing Tony Sanchez's Texas gubernatorial campaign must be asking themselves: Why didn't we think of that?

Mr. Sanchez combines the two hottest political trends of the moment -- Hispanic candidates and very, very wealthy candidates. He is expected to secure the Democratic gubernatorial nomination easily in today's primary, a race that has overshadowed all other local contests.

There is much talk these days of the nation's two most populous states becoming one-party fiefs, talk fueled in Texas by the Republicans' sweep of all major recent statewide races. But many believe the G.O.P. faces a demographic time bomb in the second-largest state, and Mr. Sanchez wants to help set it off.

Hispanics account for 32 percent of the state's population, and are projected to become an absolute majority within the next quarter-century. They represented only about 12 percent of the vote in 1998. Richard Murray, director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston, says it will become more difficult for Republicans to win statewide races once Hispanics account for 20 percent of the vote, which is roughly the turnout Mr. Sanchez is aiming for. ''At the most, a strong Republican candidate like George Bush can count on 35 percent of the Latino vote in Texas,'' said Mr. Murray. ''A weak candidate facing a Hispanic Democrat will get closer to 15 percent.''

But mindful that the overwhelming majority of voters this year will still be Anglos, Mr. Sanchez is eager to sell himself as a kind of Hispanic Bill Cosby, an ethnic role model that others can be comfortable with. ''I don't perceive myself as being a threat to anyone,'' Mr. Sanchez said, summing up precisely what could make him such a threat to the Republican hold on this state in the post-Bush era. His family's banking and oil-and-gas empire, based in Laredo, firmly establishes him as a good old boy familiar to Dallas and Houston corporate circles. He contributed more than $300,000 to George W. Bush's gubernatorial and presidential runs but now says he is disappointed that the president has been pulled to the right on domestic issues since arriving in Washington. (Except for platitudes about education and a passionate defense of affirmative action, Mr. Sanchez's own platform remains very much of a work in progress.)

Republican operatives concede that the state's long-term demographics could spell trouble. For the short term, though, they believe Gov. Rick Perry remains a prohibitive favorite, even if he is in danger of being outspent. They are hoping -- not without some cause -- that Mr. Sanchez will turn out to be one of those wealthy candidates who alienate people by appearing overbearing.

Dan Morales, the tenacious former attorney general, is Mr. Sanchez's main rival in today's primary. Mr. Morales, a critic of affirmative action who is still hoping to pull a major upset, has accused Mr. Sanchez of acting as if he were running for governor of Mexico, comparing him to a Mexican patron who feels entitled to buy the election because he already owns everything else.

The unprecedented Texas showdown between the two Hispanic candidates has been a slugfest, filled with charges of ethical and ethnic shortcomings, and presenting different models of Mexican-American assimilation. Mr. Sanchez insisted that one of their two debates be in Spanish. Mr. Morales accused Mr. Sanchez of using race and language to drive a wedge between Texans. ''This is Texas and in Texas we speak English as our primary language,'' he said. During the Spanish-language debate, Mr. Morales, like some defiant hostage unwilling to be cowed by his captors, insisted on translating his own answers into English.

Mr. Sanchez accuses Mr. Morales, a Harvard Law School graduate, of being a product of affirmative action who reached the top and then pulled up the ladder behind him. (As attorney general, Mr. Morales concluded that a federal court ruling invalidating the University of Texas Law School's affirmative action program required the state to discontinue other such programs.) Mr. Morales raises questions about drilling for oil in a state park by one of Mr. Sanchez's companies.

Mr. Morales's attacks haven't gained much traction, partly because he is having a hard time getting a hearing. Mr. Sanchez agreed to only one night of debates, and is outspending his opponent by a roughly 40-to-1 ratio. Mr. Sanchez has spent $20 million, most of it his own, blanketing Texas with feel-good TV advertising about a proud state leading a proud nation. The campaign is reminiscent of Michael Bloomberg's lavish, and successful, effort to acquaint New York City with its rookie billionaire politician.

If Governor Perry answers Mr. Sanchez's advertising barrage by picking up Mr. Morales's line of attack that the Mexican-American candidate from Laredo is acting like a foreigner, he will be pilloried as a Texan Pete Wilson, the California governor remembered for his anti-immigration rhetoric, and contribute to what the University of Houston's Mr. Murray calls the ''Californication'' of the party. An alternative is to wage a populist campaign against Mr. Sanchez's business dealings, but that might seem a tad hypocritical for a Texan Republican.

Before deciding on his strategy, Governor Perry may want to page his predecessor at the White House for some advice.

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