Texas: Junior Senator|
Sen. John Cornyn (R)
Last Updated July 15, 2003
Sen. John Cornyn (R)
1st term up 2008
Feb. 2, 1952,
Trinity U., B.A. 1973, St. Mary's Law Schl., J.D. 1977, U. of VA, L.L.M. 1995
Church of Christ
San Antonio Dist. Ct. judge, 1984-90; TX Sup. Ct., 1990-97; TX Atty. Gen., 1998-02.
Practicing atty., 1977-84.
Recent Articles ·
|More On Texas
At A Glance · State Profile|
Senior Senator · Almanac Home
John Cornyn, a Republican, was elected to the Senate in 2002. He was born in Houston and grew up in San Antonio. He graduated from high school in Japan; his father was an oral pathologist in the Air Force stationed there and after retiring from the service settled in San Antonio and taught at the University of Texas Health Science Center. John Cornyn graduated from Trinity University and St. Mary's University Law School, both in San Antonio, in the 1970s. He practiced law for five years with a firm that defended doctors and insurance companies in medical malpractice cases. In 1984 he ran for District Court Judge on the Republican ticket in Bexar County and upset a strong favorite in the race.
In 1990 he was elected to the state Supreme Court as a Republican. This was at a time when Texas voters were regularly replacing pro-trial lawyer Democrats with Republicans who believed that their predecessors had made law unduly favorable to plaintiffs. Cornyn generally ruled for defendants in tort cases, but not always; he dissented in 1995 from a decision that stripped juries of the right to determine the credibility of expert witnesses. The same year he wrote a 5-4 decision upholding the "Robin Hood" school finance system in which property-wealthy school districts had to send money to property-poor districts. In 1997 he resigned from the court to run for attorney general. In the March 1998 Republican primary and runoff he defeated two better-known opponents. In the general election he faced a grizzled veteran of Texas politics, Jim Mattox, a populist-sounding Democrat, congressman from Dallas from 1976 to 1982, attorney general from 1982 to 1990, second place finisher to Ann Richards in the 1990 primary and runoff for governor. Cornyn won 54%-44%.
Cornyn was the first Republican attorney general since Reconstruction. He recruited top law school graduates to serve two-year stints in the office, supplementing civil service lawyers. He collected over $3 billion in overdue child support, up 63%, $4 million in penalties from nursing home operators and $5 million from insurance companies that underpaid on auto insurance claims. He launched a program called Texas Exile, to confiscate firearms from career criminals. He won a $35 million settlement from Koch Industries under the federal Clean Water Act. He ruled that federal law bars public hospitals from giving illegal immigrants anything but emergency care, immunizations and treatment of communicable diseases. He sued Farmers Insurance, the state's largest homeowners insurance company, for deceptive trade practices. He argued two cases before the U. S. Supreme Court, including the Santa Fe Independent School District's defense of reading the Lord's Prayer at football games (the Court nixed it).
Cornyn had been planning to run for reelection in 2002. But on September 4, 2001, Senator Phil Gramm announced that he would not run for reelection. Cornyn immediately set out to run for the Senate and seemed to have the support of George W. Bush. Other Republicans considered the race but quickly ran for something else--Land Commissioner David Dewhurst for lieutenant governor, Congressmen Joe Barton and Henry Bonilla for reelection. Cornyn announced September 21 and said he hoped to raise $6 million for the March primary, he had no serious opposition there and didn't raise that much until later. National Democrats found a Texas candidate they liked: Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. Kirk had an interesting life story: he is black, the son of the first black mailman in Austin and a teacher; he graduated from the University of Texas and its law school and was an aide to Senator Lloyd Bentsen, known for hiring top-notch staffers. In 1995 he was elected mayor of Dallas and in 1999 he was reelected by a wide margin. He soothed an often fractious Council and won wide support from the business community for pushing for approval of a downtown arena and supporting the Trinity River Project. Before Gramm's announcement he had said he would run for the Senate only if Gramm retired. In 2001 he announced he was resigning as mayor and in January 2002 he announced he was running for the Senate.
Kirk was not the only Democrat who ran. Another was Congressman Ken Bentsen of metro Houston, nephew of Senator and Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. Bentsen had a moderate record and a well-known name; at the time he was threatened with an unfavorable redistricting. But neither Kirk nor Bentsen ran first in the March primary. That place went to Victor Morales, a geography teacher and track coach from the Dallas suburb of Crandall, who raised $7,000 for his campaign. Morales had won the nomination to run against Phil Gramm in 1996 with 36% of the vote against two former congressmen; his main assets were his Hispanic identity and the fact that he had the same last name as Attorney General Dan Morales. (This scenario may recur as more Hispanics enter politics. There are many fewer surnames among American Hispanics than among American Anglos.) In 2002 Morales won 33.2% of the vote in the primary, to 33.1% for Kirk and 27% for Bentsen. This contest split voters on geographic and ethnic lines. Kirk carried most counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin media markets. Bentsen carried the Houston media market and the Wichita Falls, Lubbock and Amarillo media markets. Morales carried, often with large majorities, counties with large Hispanic populations. There was a big turnout in the Rio Grande Valley inspired by Laredo-based governor candidate Tony Sanchez; this helped Morales and sank Bentsen. In the four weeks before the runoff, Kirk was endorsed by Bentsen and Houston Mayor Lee Brown. In the lower-turnout runoff, in which two-thirds of votes were cast by blacks and Hispanics, Kirk won 60%-40%. Again Morales won big majorities in most heavily Hispanic communities, but Kirk won just about everywhere else.
In the general election Cornyn ran as a supporter of George W. Bush, and of making the 2001 tax cuts permanent, extending the research and development tax credit and raising Texas's share of gas tax funds from 90.5 cents to 95 cents per dollar of gas tax revenues. He supported school vouchers, individual investment accounts as part of Social Security and colorblind standards nationally in college and university admissions. Kirk took an opposite stand on all these issues, but portrayed himself as a moderate Democrat who would often support Bush. Cornyn favored Bush-level spending on missile defense; Kirk did not. On Iraq, Kirk equivocated, taking different stands at different times.
Kirk was a favorite of Democratic contributors and spent much time--50 days, Cornyn's spokesman charged--outside Texas schmoozing with Democratic contributors in Washington, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in Beverly Hills and in similar venues. Republicans ran ads linking him to Hillary Rodham Clinton and liberal out-of-state moneygivers. Eventually he spent $8.9 million--almost as much as Cornyn's $9.5 million, most of it raised in Texas. Kirk was helped here by his sense of humor and a considerable charm, making fun of his bald pate and answering--mindful of Texas mores--when asked whether he owned a gun, "I have a wife and two little girls. You figure it out." But in the course of the campaign Kirk made some mistakes. He opposed the nomination to a federal judgeship of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen--something Republicans seized on in ads. He refused to disclose his income tax returns, except for allowing reporters one peek at his 2001 return. When Cornyn came out for a bill in the legislature requiring district attorneys to seek the death penalty for killers of law enforcement officials (the liberal Austin district attorney had not sought the death penalty for the killer of a Travis County sheriff's deputy), Kirk said Cornyn was acting like he was running for district attorney--and then had to apologize abjectly to a convention of law enforcement officials a few days later, while Cornyn met with the deputy's widow. In San Antonio on September 12 he said that Cornyn might not support military action in Iraq if our military forces were not "disproportionately ethnic [and] disproportionately minority." He said he supported military action only if it met with international approval. Four days later he apologized and then said he backed Bush's position; he endorsed the Iraq war resolution in October.
Texas Democrats called their ticket of Kirk for senator and Tony Sanchez for governor the "dream team." They hoped it would draw a large turnout of blacks and Hispanics. Phil Gramm in June said the Democrats were trying to divide Texas along racial lines; Cornyn's spokesman in April said the Democratic ticket was the product of a "racial quota system," a comment that Cornyn said was "shocking and inappropriate." Democrats at one point they said they would register 500,000 new Hispanics, though they later scaled that back and concentrated on Election Day get-out-the-vote. Meanwhile Republicans quietly registered thousands of new voters in the heavily Republican fast-growing suburban counties around Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin.
Polls showed the race close in the spring, with Cornyn well under 50%; one nonpartisan firm and Kirk's pollster showed Kirk ahead or leading in the summer and fall. But this race may never have been as close as it seemed to some. Neither candidate started off very well known in most of the state, and Kirk had the regional advantage--he was quite well known in his larger home media market of Dallas-Fort Worth than Cornyn was in his smaller home media market of San Antonio. Spending on this race was dwarfed by the spending in the governor's race, so that Cornyn's relatively low substantive identification may have depressed his poll numbers to the end. Democrats operated on the assumption that Kirk had to win 85% of blacks, 65% of Hispanics and 35% of whites to win. He clearly achieved the first and probably achieved the second of those goals, but failed by a solid margin to achieve the third. Cornyn won 55%-43%--almost the same numbers as in his race for attorney general in 1998, and a fair reflection of basic party identification in Texas in recent times. Kirk carried historically Republican Dallas County 50%-49%. But Cornyn carried the entire Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex 58%-41%. Cornyn carried metro Houston 55%-43% and the combined San Antonio and Austin metro areas 51%-47%. The Border went 69%-29% for Kirk, a 148,000-vote margin. But rural Texas, much larger, went 62%-37% for Cornyn, a 346,000-vote margin. Kirk may have increased black turnout in Dallas, and Sanchez clearly increased Hispanic turnout in Laredo, but otherwise black and Hispanic turnout does not seem to have risen much above that in 1994, the last big-turnout off-year election. In contrast, turnout was up from 25% to 52% in fast-growing counties around Dallas-Fort Worth (Collin, Denton, Rockwall), Houston (Fort Bend, Montgomery), San Antonio (Comal, Kendall, Bandera) and Austin (Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Burnet). Cornyn holds the seat once held by Sam Houston, Lyndon Johnson and John Tower and is the first Texas senator to come from San Antonio, which in the state's first decades was its largest city and which he argues is the most representative.
Cornyn won seats on Armed Services, on which he will try to protect Texas military bases from base closing; Environment, on which he will fight for a more favorable highway spending formula; Budget and Judiciary, on which he is chairman of the Constitution Committee.
Recent News Coverage
Search the CongressDaily, Hotline, National Journal and Technology Daily archives using the form below:
202-224-2934; Fax: 202-228-2856; Web site: cornyn.senate.gov
512-469-6034; Dallas,972-239-1310; Harlingen,956-423-0162; Houston,713-572-3337; Lubbock,806-472-7533; San Antonio,210-224-7485; Tyler,903-593-0902.
- Armed Services: Emerging Threats & Capabilities; Personnel; Readiness & Management Support; Strategic Forces.
- Environment & Public Works: Clean Air, Climate Change & Nuclear Safety; Transportation & Infrastructure.
- Judiciary: Administrative Oversight & the Courts; Constitution, Civil Rights & Property Rights (Chmn.); Crime, Corrections & Victims' Rights; Immigration, Border Security & Citizenship.
||John Cornyn (R)
|Ron Kirk (D)
||John Cornyn (R)
|Bruce Lang (R)
|Douglas Deffenbaugh (R)
|Dudley Mooney (R)
||Phil Gramm (R)
|Victor M. Morales (D)
National Journal Group offers both print and electronic reprint services, as well as permissions for academic use, photocopying and republication. Click here to order, or call us at 877-394-7350.