- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

DALLAS — Democrat Tony Sanchez, a millionaire banker from the Rio Grande Valley, yesterday tossed his hat into the ring for the 2002 Texas governor's race — just hours before the state's senior U.S. senator, Republican Phil Gramm, announced he won't run for a fourth term.

Mr. Sanchez declared his candidacy in his hometown, Laredo, and later here, Austin and San Antonio. He has been the favorite with party leaders for months.

His message — government for everyone, not just an anointed few — resonated well with the swarms of Hispanic voters who welcomed him to his first political race.

"He understands. He's one of us," said Orlando Vasquez, a Dallas tile worker who brought four fellow tradesmen to watch Mr. Sanchez make his Dallas remarks. "Now if we can get Dan Morales revved up, Texas will be a new frontier."

Mr. Morales, former state attorney general, is said to be considering a race for the U.S. Senate, as is former San Antonio mayor and HUD director Henry Cisneros. A recent poll indicated either of them would make a strong candidate in the 2002 Senate race. Dallas' popular black mayor, Ron Kirk, also is considering running.

"There are those who say things in Texas are fine," Mr. Sanchez said. "And perhaps that is true for some. But I have looked at Texas and I know we can do better."

Mr. Sanchez — who has remained restrained and politically quiet for months as a swirl of anticipation has surrounded him — said he was proud that if he wins he would become the state's first Hispanic governor, but said he wanted everybody's backing, regardless of ethnicity.

"The biggest challenge," he said, "is not just to govern, but inspire and to help people reach their dreams. I accept that challenge, and I accept it proudly."

If he wins the Democratic nomination next spring, Mr. Sanchez would probably face Republican Gov. Rick Perry in November. Mr. Perry, who moved up from lieutenant governor when George W. Bush became president, has no major challenger in his party.

Mr. Sanchez, 58, is a wealthy oilman and banker. Never a candidate himself, he has generously funded many other Texas politicians which definitely will be mentioned in the Democratic primary.

The matter came up with reporters yesterday, particularly donations totaling $300,000 to Mr. Bush in his two races for governor. Mr. Sanchez was chided about never having voted in a Democratic primary election.

"I've helped hundreds of Democrats and a couple of Republicans," he said, "and that doesn't make me a Republican."

Democratic opponents, such as Marble Falls lawyer Marty Akins and Houston lawyer John Worldpeace, are expected to question Mr. Sanchez's heavy funding of GOP candidates.

Republicans likely will dig in on what they consider questionable business practices.

Mr. Sanchez's Laredo thrift, Tesoro Savings and Loan, was under federal investigation for reputedly being a conduit for Mexican drug dealers' money-laundering schemes in the 1980s.

More than $25 million was laundered by depositors, according to federal investigators.

Federal officials finally absolved Mr. Sanchez and his employees of any wrongdoing.

He denied having any knowledge of what went on. GOP operatives likely will suggest that he should have known.

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