Sadler joins Dem Senate primary

Published 2:18 pm Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Just when Texas Democrats were collectively scratching their heads, wondering if they’d go into 2012 without a viable candidate for the U.S. Senate, Paul Sadler stepped up.

The well-regarded former state representative filed two days after retired Gen. Ricardo Sanchez announced he was quitting the race. Sanchez had been running for months, but his home burned down, he was having trouble raising money, and his candidacy didn’t seem to be gaining much traction.

Although four other candidates have filed for the Democratic nomination for the Senate vacancy due to Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison not seeking re-election in 2012, Sadler alone among them is known in state capitol circles for his yeoman work as chairman of the House Public Education Committee for several terms in the 1990s.

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“I decided to run because Texas needs an advocate who can put the good of the state ahead of all else,” said Sadler, who since 2008 has been executive director of The Wind Coalition, a group advocating the use of wind energy.

Sadler said the principal focus of his campaign will be education.

“Like all Texans I am disgusted by the gridlock in Washington. I have a solid record of working with members of both parties to accomplish legislation that improves the lives and education of our children and all Texans,” Sadler said in his announcement statement.

“It has been very difficult for me, after working so hard in office to increase funding for public schools, to see the devastating cuts being made to the most important pillar of our democracy,” Sadler said. “The problems facing our country and our state are just too important to trust in the hands of people who don’t believe education should be a priority.”

As a young and very capable plaintiff’s attorney, Sadler was already a multi-millionaire when he ran for the House in 1990.

In 1992, still a 36-year-old freshman, Sadler mounted a campaign for House speaker, aimed at opening up the legislative process and trimming some of the speaker’s powers. But his campaign never took off.

Democrat Pete Laney won the speakership, and Sadler settled into his work on the House Public Education Committee. Then the father of five announced in 1994 that he wouldn’t seek re-election, to spend more time with his kids.

But after the oldest four and his wife came to him and said he should run again, he changed his mind — especially when it became evident he might chair the education committee.

Chair Libby Linebarger had also said she was retiring, and Laney indeed named Sadler to replace her. He became Laney’s go-to guy on education matters.

Sadler also proved effective at working across party lines — at least, with former Gov. George W. Bush during his tenure.

In 1997, when Bush was trying to get a tax cut passed to help burnish his credentials for the Republican presidential nomination, Laney upped the ante by naming Sadler to chair an 11-member special committee on taxation.

The special committee included seven chairmen of other committees. Laney’s choice of Sadler to chair it was read as Laney’s effort to have a strong advocate for teachers and schools dealing with tax policy, rather than the sometimes stingy Ways and Means Committee headed by then-Chairman Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

To his credit, Bush swallowed hard and still backed the legislation the House passed that would have had pay raises for teachers and mandatory kindergarten. The bill died in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Bush thought enough of Sadler’s efforts for education that he planted a pecan tree in Sadler’s yard in Henderson.

Sadler did not seek re-election to the House in 2002, but later ran in a 2004 special election to replace Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mt. Pleasant. Sadler led into a runoff with former Tyler Mayor Kevin Eltife, a Repubblican.

But even though Sadler carried 11 of the district’s 16 counties, he couldn’t overcome the 10,000-vote margin Eltife racked up in the Tyler and Longview area. Eltife won with 51.9 percent.

Whoever wins the Democratic U.S. Senate primary will still have some tough going in the fall. There are 10 candidates for the Republican nomination.

The most notable four are Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who has plenty of his own money and has been raising more; former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert; former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz; and most recently, ESPN football analyst and former SMU running back Craig James.

And So On. . . The filing deadline was Dec. 19, but is expected to be re-opened in advance of the primary elections. They are now tentatively scheduled for April 3, but could change in an ongoing court battle over legislative and congressional redistricting.

Contact McNeely at or 512/458-2963.