Reps, Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth

San Antonio millionaire and school-voucher champion Dr. James Leininger got very little love for his money last week.

Last year, he spent about $3 million to elect candidates to the legislature who had one single qualification: they supported his pet cause of private-school vouchers.

But those millions didn’t even buy Leininger one lousy vote when a voucher measure came up during Thursday’s debate on House Bill 1, the General Appropriations Act.

State Representative Joe Heflin (D-Crosbytown), who is now at the helm in former House Speaker Pete Laney’s old district, brought forward an amendment that proposed blocking the use of state funding for any programs that involve private-school vouchers.

After some debate, the measure passed like a shadow: 127-8. For Leininger, it was a very, very telling vote.

One of his million-dollar men from the 2006 GOP Primary, Nathan Macias, a Bulverde Republican who defeated former Representative Carter Casteel (R-New Braunfels) in one of the nastiest races in recent memory, went AWOL during the vote. Whether he was hiding in a bathroom, eating an Eskimo Pie in the Member’s Lounge, or just got distracted, is unknown and irrelevant, because he wasn’t there for Leininger. He was one of  12 members who were absent when this vote was taken.

Another of Leininger’s million-dollar men, Wayne Christian (R-Center), who defeated former Representative Roy Blake of Nacogdoches, actually voted against Leininger.

Another conspicuously absent r­ep was  Mineola Representative Bryan Hughes, a Republican. According to Texans for Public Justice, Hughes, who defeated Representative Bob Glaze (D-Gilmer) following redistricting in 2002, received $30,000 from Leininger or his pet PACs between 2001 and 2005. While that 30 grand is nowhere near what Leininger poured into other races, it’s likely Hughes decided to take the road most easily traveled by missing this vote. Had he voted for Leininger, he likely would have assured himself a GOP-primary opponent backed by the newly influential Texas Parent PAC `“Mom knows best, Jimmy,” January 10-16`. Had he voted against him, he would have risked a Leininger-backed opponent.

Only eight representatives voted the way Leininger would have liked, showing that Leininger’s power and influence in the Lege is not what it once was. Not only that, but a Leininger candidate has actually sued him.

State Representative Tommy Merritt (R-Longview) wanted Leiny’s Heiny for slander following a gag-a-buzzard primary with Leininger-supported candidate Mark Williams. Though a judge dismissed Leininger from that lawsuit last week, Williams has filed a counter-suit against his benefactor, Leininger.

How’s that for gratitude?

— Vince Leibowitz