AUSTIN ‘ Hardly had the Legislature left town before the dome of the capitol collapsed’politically speaking. As lawmakers returned to Hometown, Texas to bask in the glory of what they had done or take heat for what they had not done, no one expected any big political news sooner than July. That big news, no real secret, would be the announcement by Laredo Democrat Tony Sanchez that he had definitely decided to seek his party’s nomination for the run for governor against incumbent Republican Rick Perry. Of course, former University of Texas football star Marty Akins also will be seeking that spot on the ballot opposite Perry. The probable shape of the governor’s race, however, is old news. The figurative dome collapse came on June 5, with the surprise announcement by acting Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff that he would not run for a full term as presiding officer of the Senate, arguably the most powerful elected office in the state. Ratliff said, in so many words, that he just did not want to go through what it takes to run a political campaign these days. Two of those things are being able to raise a lot of money and having an affinity for TV sound bites. The dust raised by Ratliff’s dome tumbling announcement, coming only 10 days after he said he would run for a full term, has not settled yet. In short order, Republican Sen. David Sibley of Waco said he would run for the job. So did Texas Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, also a Republican. Sibley, 53, just barely lost to Ratliff last December when the Senate elected its acting presiding officer after Perry moved to the Governor’s Mansion. Abbott, 43, has been on the state’s highest court since being appointed by Gov. George W. Bush in 1995. Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, though he has not officially said so, also is expected to wade into the Republican primary battle. Then, whoever comes out on top in the spring 2002 election likely will face Democrat John Sharp in the November general election. So what does it all mean’ For one thing, it shows the power of the office. Power abhors a vacuum. In addition to being the person who runs the 31-member Senate, the lieutenant governor oversees the Legislative Budget Board. Another thing all this scrambling means is that Texans are in for one of the spiciest political seasons they have seen for a long time. No matter who wins the primary, it’ll be the hottest governor’s contest since the man who is now our President defeated incumbent Democrat Ann Richards. It’ll be the wildest lieutenant governor’s race in memory. Exact change only, please If you’ll be visiting any prison units in Texas after Aug. 1 and think you might get thirsty for a vending machine beverage, better have change available. To guard against inmates getting any prohibited folding money, the Department of Criminal Justice is barring paper currency from prison. Visitors will only be allowed to enter with coins, and no more than $20 at that. The problem, the agency says, is that friends and family members of prisoners have been known to smuggle $20 bills to inmates. One way, they say, is by exchanging a contraband bill through a lingering kiss.