Abbott cites internet crimes; Van Os running against 'Big Business'By Laylan Copelin
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
ODESSA — Democrat David Van Os is taking his campaign for attorney general to all 254 Texas courthouses, trying to invoke memories of President Truman's come-from-behind whistlestop tour in 1948.
In this case, it's more like Van Os is touring a yellow-brick road, attacking the wicked witches of Big Oil, Big Insurance and Big Business. Instead of red slippers, Van Os arrives in his wife's red Chrysler Pacifica. He plays to tiny audiences (at least in GOP-heavy West Texas) and small-town TV reporters.
Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, flies overhead to airport news conferences to tout his record as a cyber crime-fighter against sexual predators. Meanwhile, Libertarian Jon Roland of Austin promises to convene meetings in each county to solicit complaints about possible misconduct by public officials.
All of this for the job of directing the Texas government's law firm, which spends most of its time and money representing state agencies in court, collecting delinquent child support and investigating Medicaid fraud and consumer complaints. The Office of Attorney General has more than 4,000 full-time positions and a two-year budget of $933.2 million.
Besides the power of incumbency, Abbott reported Tuesday that he has $7.7 million in the bank. Van Os, who is spending his donations ($64,171 since this summer) as fast as he gets them, said he has about $5,000 cash. He is paying a personal price as well: His San Antonio law practice has run red ink for two years while he campaigns, he says.
Van Os says the Texas Democratic Party is not supporting its statewide candidates. He complains that party leaders' "defeatism" is drying up donations as the party focuses on winning legislative races.
Nevertheless, on the ground in West Texas, Van Os gives an animated speech to about 15 people. He practically spits as he declares his opposition to oil giants' record profits; home insurance rates, which are the highest in the U.S.; rising health care costs; and the Trans-Texas Corridor, a planned system of toll roads operated by "European corporations."
And Van Os vows to sue or investigate every one of them.
"The middle class is under attack from robber barons and sold-out politicians who serve them," Van Os says.
For his part, Abbott contends that he and officials in other states have looked at oil companies and found only market forces at work in setting prices. He cites lawsuits against Allstate Insurance for not paying the living expenses of Hurricane Rita evacuees and to stop scams targeting elderly and Hispanic consumers.
More strikingly, consumer groups seem ambivalent about Abbott's record.
Luke Metzger, formerly with Texas Public Interest Research Group, said Abbott is no Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic New York attorney general who has prosecuted major corporations.
"He's not taking on the special interests of the world," Metzger said. "From that perspective, he hasn't been a champion, but he hasn't tried to turn back the clock on consumer protec- tions."
The Abbott-Van Os face-off is a rematch of sorts.
In 1998, Van Os campaigned against Abbott, a George W. Bush appointee to the Texas Supreme Court, charging that Abbott dispensed "payola justice" bought by corporate donors.
Abbott has corporate donors on his side again. A study of Abbott's largest donors, by Texans for Public Justice through June, showed six-figure donations from home builders, telecommunications investors, beer distributors and other business interests.
Van Os accuses Abbott's donors of "buying protection" to keep the state from meddling.
Top donors to Van Os are labor organizations.
In his swing through the state's largest oil-producing region, Van Os cited his East Texas oil roots — his father was an oilman — but didn't back off on attacking oil companies' profits.
"I hope the drilling doubles," he said. "We need the production."
However, he said the companies' profits are obscene, and the decline of gasoline prices immediately before an election is suspicious.
"What a coincidence!" Van Os mocks, suggesting a price-gouging probe might be in order. "An attorney general shouldn't take that at face value."
Abbott said his office, working with attorneys general in other states and federal officials, investigated gasoline prices, particularly during the 2005 hurricane season.
In November 2005, the equivalent of subpoenas were issued to several oil companies, according to his office.
"Everyone has investigated these issues for years," Abbott said. "We found no illegal antitrust action."
(i) Greg Abbott
Occupation: Attorney general
Education: Law degree, Vanderbilt; bachelor's, University of Texas
Experience: Texas Supreme Court justice, 1996-2001; state district judge, Houston, 1992-96; private practice, 1984-1992
Worth noting: Emphasizes programs to collect delinquent child support, prosecute Internet crimes against children, sex offenses and Medicaid fraud. Personally defended Capitol display of Ten Commandments before U.S. Supreme Court.
Web site: gregabbott.com
David Van Os
Hometown: San Antonio
Education: Law and bachelor's degrees, University of Texas
Experience: Private practice, 1984-present; Texas AFL-CIO general counsel, 1983-89; Communications Workers of America, 1981-84; National Treasury Employees Union, 1976-78
Worth noting: Promises to fight oil companies over prices, insurance companies over premiums and corporations over business practices. Opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor of private toll roads.
Web site: www.vanosfortexasag.com
Jon Roland (L)
Occupation: Computer professional
Hometown: Marble Falls
Education: Bachelor's, University of Chicago
Experience: Real estate investor; U.S. Air Force
Worth noting: Promises to get grand juries to investigate complaints about possible misconduct by public officials, independently of public prosecutors, and to revive private criminal prosecutions; reduce abuses in Child Protective Services; and protect Texans from abuse from federal government.
Web site: www.jonroland.org