Young state lawmaker seeks re-election in big-money race

By APRIL CASTRO, Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
October 20, 2004

BUDA: A gruff man answers a knock at the front door of his modest suburban home, a flicker of recognition flashing across his face. Standing outside, Democratic state Rep. Patrick Rose, campaigning for re-election, politely introduces himself.

"I know who you are. You're the one that went to Oklahoma," the resident answers, before slamming the door shut. It was a step up from the expletives Rose heard a few houses down.

The 26-year old legislator knows he has some explaining to do. His quorum-busting trip to Ardmore, Okla., last year with Democratic Texas House colleagues to stymie a Republican congressional redistricting plan didn't play well among conservatives in his Central Texas district. Now Rose is battling to keep his seat in a high-stakes race against Republican Alan Askew. So far, more than $1 million has been poured into the race.

Rose joined the Texas House in 2003, just as Republicans were taking control of the chamber for the first time since Reconstruction. Now, as in 2002, his is one of a handful of toss-up districts Republicans think they can win.

But Democrats, outnumbered by Republicans 88-62 in the House, aren't willing to relinquish another seat. Rose, a Princeton graduate, supports a woman's right to choose abortion, favors gun ownership rights and says he will work to restore health insurance benefits to thousands of Texas children who were kicked off a state program. He's taking a break to campaign after his first year of law school at the University of Texas.

Askew, 29, is a home contractor from Wimberley. He's married with two young sons and makes sure to point out Rose's bachelor status. Askew opposes abortion rights and, like Rose, supports gun ownership rights. He opposes more cuts to the Children's Health Insurance Program. He also says he wants to work to help hard-to-insure kids who have pre-existing conditions.

Give Rose the opportunity, and the first-term legislator and ranch realtor will gladly explain why he felt compelled to flee the state with his fellow Democrats.

"If I had not left to go to Oklahoma, Lockhart would have been divided three ways in the United States Congress," he'll repeat in his slow Texas drawl.

The explanation is often followed by the voter's acknowledgment of his answer, then questions about Texas school funding and what the Legislature plans to do about skyrocketing property taxes. Askew isn't so quick to move past Rose's boycott.

"My opponent took an oath of office to go represent us and he broke it. If you're a student and you don't go to class you fail. If you have a job and you don't go to work, you get fired. I mean, I think it's pretty simple," Askew said.

Two years ago, Rose beat Republican incumbent Rick Green by 360 votes. Rose predicts another squeaker Nov. 2 in his District 45. In his first legislative session in 2003, Rose alienated himself from some in his own party by voting for a hotly debated Republican bill that brought sweeping limitations to civil lawsuits in Texas. A couple of months later he redeemed himself with some Democrats - and angered House Republicans - by hopping on the boycott bus for Oklahoma.

In a land where President Bush is deified, Rose touts endorsements from such conservative strongholds as the National Rifle Association and the Texas Farm Bureau. But don't bother asking the Democrat whom he supports for president.

"When I cast my ballot I do so in an independent way, I vote for the person and not for the party," Rose said, refusing to commit to either presidential contender. Askew proudly declares his support for Bush - a stance greeted with wild cheers at a recent debate in San Marcos.

Rose contends that many in his district are independent voters who will consider voting for Bush and a Democratic legislator on the same ballot. He calls those voters a "Bush-Rose." Timothy Rankin, a Democrat from Buda who supports Bush, is undecided on the House race.

"Is he going to run to Oklahoma again sometime? It irritates me. You can't just run away, you have to face the issue and take it on," Rankin said. But, he said, Rose's response to the criticism during a block walk one Saturday was a "good answer."