Good Morning Austin:
So who knew that passing out some playful loteria cards at the Democratic State Convention in Dallas last June – one of which depicted then Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott as a horned El Diablito (the little devil) – would come back to haunt state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer when he sought to succeed Leticia Van de Putte in the state Senate representing a heavily Hispanic and Democratic San Antonio district.
Or, in the most famous line to come out of that convention, Martinez Fischer’s reference to the GOP as standing for Gringos y Otros Pendejos.
But both figured in a clever anti-Martinez Fischer ad run by Texans for Lawsuit Reform in a race that became a proxy war between TLR and trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, benefactor of Martinez Fischer and Democratic candidates more generally in Texas.
The ad includes the Abbott loteria card image, and Martinez Fischer’s convention line – Wait GOP that should stand for Gringos y Otros Pendejos – which is helpfully translated in the ads as Americans and other a##holes.
The tagline on the ad: Bad words, Bad politics. Bad for Texas.
In other words, Martinez Fischer is the bad boy of Texas politics, the rebel with a cause who signals he has come to pick up your daughter for a date by revving his motorcycle out in front of your house, as opposed to that nice José Menéndez, a good boy, who knocks on the door wearing nice slacks and a blazer, bearing flowers.
Last night, the good boy triumphed over the bad boy, winning the Senate seat by a whopping 18 percentage points after trailing in the January preliminary election by the same margin. Here are the results:
MEDIA REPORT BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS UNOFFICIAL RESULTS SPECIAL RUNOFF ELECTION FEBRUARY 17, 2015 RUN DATE:02/17/15 09:06 PM TOTAL VOTES % EARLY VOTE ELECTION DAY PRECINCTS COUNTED (OF 335). . . . . 335 100.00 REGISTERED VOTERS - TOTAL . . . . . 406,235 BALLOTS CAST - TOTAL. . . . . . . 24,961 14,353 10,608 VOTER TURNOUT - TOTAL . . . . . . 6.14 State Senator, District 26 VOTE FOR 1 (WITH 322 OF 322 PRECINCTS COUNTED) Jose Menendez (DEM) . . . . . . . 13,888 59.04 8,107 5,781 Trey Martinez Fischer (DEM) . . . . 9,635 40.96 5,429 4,206
A lot of charges and counter charges were swapped between the old friends, but in the end, the terms of engagement, and what separated the two, was generally agreed upon and revolved around their opposite political temperaments, and the political posture Democrats – and particularly Hispanic Democrats – ought to strike in a state where they are now, but not likely forever, on the outs.
Martinez Fischer portrayed Menéndez as a closet Republican, or, at any rate, someone not averse to seeking and receiving Republican support.
From this Martinez Fischer ad:
Asked if he’s seeking Republican votes, Jose Menéndez, responded I’m talking to everybody.
Talking to Republicans, not fighting for us.
Menéndez, meanwhile, in this ad, described his way as The Texas Way.
In Texas, we have a way of doing things. It’s called working together. That’s why we lead the nation in job growth and economic activity and creativity. In my 14 years of service I’ve authored 55 bills that have become laws. My opponent doesn’t even come close. And he thinks name-calling and fist-pounding is the way to go. Maybe he belongs in Washington. Here in Texas we get things done.
In another TLR-sponsored ad, Martinez Fischer is described as a combative and partisan politician. Jose Menéndez works with all sides to accomplish what’s best for the people of San Antonio.
Here’s a little background on the race from Gilbert Garcia in the Express-News
José Menéndez and Trey Martinez Fischer would never describe themselves as enemies.
The San Antonio Democrats entered the Texas House together 14 years ago and have been personal friends as well as political allies. Their children have even played together.
At the moment, however, they’re competitors sprinting to Tuesday’s special-election finish line in a race for the Texas Senate seat being vacated by Leticia Van de Putte.
Menéndez’s prospects have been aided over the past week by a withering TV attack ad blasting Martinez Fischer, bankrolled (to the tune of nearly $150,000) by the Texans For Lawsuit Reform PAC, a group which champions tort reform and routinely backs conservative Republicans.
Menéndez is never mentioned in the ad, but as Martinez Fischer’s chief adversary in the five-candidate race, he’s the prime beneficiary. At the same time, he knows that his fellow Democrats despise TLR. So even if TLR is the enemy of his rival, Menéndez doesn’t want to appear too friendly with the group.
The TV ad presents TLR’s view of Martinez Fischer as a pawn of Texas trial lawyers.
“Having a bad day?” the ad begins, with an image of Martinez Fischer on a faux digital billboard. “Call me (Martinez Fischer) to sue somebody. 1-800-SUE-YOU!”
A related mail piece brands Martinez Fischer as a “liberal personal injury trial attorney” and a “partisan politician” who is “known in the State Legislature for bullying and bickering.”
When I spoke to Menéndez about the TV ad, he said he hadn’t seen it, adding, “I don’t have time for TV these days.” But he seemed sympathetic to TLR’s concerns about Martinez Fischer.
“Trey’s former work as a lawyer with Steve Mostyn. I think that’s what’s got them worried, because as we know, Steve Mostyn is one of the biggest trial lawyers in the state” Menéndez said.
And here from the Express-News election night coverage by John W. Gonzalez:
The duo clashed bitterly in their abbreviated campaign. Martinez Fischer painted Menéndez as a disloyal Democrat, courting GOP votes and embracing some of their policies. Menéndez fired back with ads portraying Martinez Fischer as too liberal and unable to work with the GOP majorities.
And from the Express-News’ David Saleh Rauf’s piece last week on the outsized spending in the race:
AUSTIN — The race to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has mushroomed into a pricey campaign totaling more than $2.3 million to sway voters in the city’s West Side, according to state data, in what has amounted to a mud fight between two San Antonio Democrats.
Once political allies, State Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Jose Menéndez are sprinting toward the Feb 17 run off with nearly three months of often cantankerous campaigning behind them.
Drawing first blood, Martinez Fischer hit Menéndez back in early January over alleged ties to a special interest group. In recent weeks, with the run off approaching, Menéndez has started to campaign negatively himself, pumping out mailers criticizing Martinez Fischer for accepting money from a payday lender.
Throw this into the mix: Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a powerful Austin lobby that mostly backs conservative Republicans, has dropped more than a half-million dollars into the race, with the bulk of it going to attack Martinez Fischer or for materials to support Menéndez.
The result: A hefty price tag for a race likely to still have disappointing voter turnout.
Saleh Rauf has that right. More than $2.3 million for a race in which fewer than 25,000 ballots were cast. A 6.14 percent turnout. Wow. That’s nearly $100 a vote.
So, back to where I began. Did Martinez Fischer’s convention loteria cards or his indelicate remarks at the convention figure in his demise?
Here is some of what I wrote in the Statesman after the convention:
Throughout his political career, TMF, as he has branded himself, has combined the attributes of an outside agitator and an inside player. He clearly harbors larger ambitions, raising the obvious question, as the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey asked in the headline of his analysis of Martinez Fischer’s convention speech, “Is this any way to attract gringos?”
From his prime spot on the convention speaking schedule, one might have thought Martinez Fischer was already on the statewide ticket. He was introduced with a video presenting him as someone destined for great things, and delegates held white-on-blue TMF signs as he spoke.
Martinez Fischer preceded state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the lieutenant governor candidate who brought a motherly warmth to a speech laced with Spanish, a counterpoint to Martinez Fischer’s in-your-face approach.
“There may be some kabuki in it,” Martinez Fischer said. “Some people respond to love, other people respond to fear.”
In his speech, he said 3.45 million Texas Hispanics are eligible to vote but don’t. “We can take back this state right now if one-third of Texas Latinos voted,” he said.
“My message was very, very specific to waking up the Hispanics by letting them recognize that not voting is exactly what the Republicans want, and the longer we continue to abet Republicans by not voting, public policy is going to get worse for us,” he said.
Martinez Fischer said he doesn’t think “gringo” is pejorative: “What I liked about it is that it starts with the letter `g.’”
Of “pendejo,” he said: “I’m just a traditional, old school westside San Antonio Mexican, and `pendejo’ means somebody who’s dumb. Obviously, folks are going to try to reincarnate the word to paint it in its most extreme interpretation, but I think the street interpretation of `pendejo’ being dumb is universally accepted.”
But is it the kind of word that ought to appear in the newspaper? “I think I’ve succeeded in trying to make the Statesman a bilingual publication,” Martinez Fischer said.
TMF is a talented politician. He has proved to be an important figure in the workings of the House, where he will remain. It would have been something beyond kabuki if he had landed in Dan Patrick’s Senate. This loss won’t kill him. All the greats – Nixon, Clinton, Obama – suffered devastating losses on their way to their destiny. He wants to play on the big stage. But the lesson of last night may be that, even on his home turf, his edges may be too rough, at least until the day that confrontational style demonstrably revs up Hispanic turnout.
Abbott, Patrick, Straus and the National Guard
In yesterday’s First Reading I wrote a bit about if and how Gov. Abbott, in his State of the State address, would deal with the question of how long the National Guard should remain on the border, a developing bone of contention between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. I talked to political scientists Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, and Mark Jones of Rice, and, after Abbott’s speech, I checked back in with the both of them for their appraisal.
Here is what they said:
Abbott probably shaded slightly toward Patrick’s position and toward playing to attitudes among Republican primary voters on the deployment of the Guard to the border, but came across as more compromising by saying he’d pull the Guard out as soon as there was action on his proposal. This position both recognizes the point the Speaker made last week when we spoke that there were much better ways to secure the border than relying on the Guard, but also seems to validate Patrick’s point by not pulling them until there is an alternative in place. The speech conveyed a mixed message on the timing of pulling the Guard which Abbott no doubt hopes he can use to his advantage. As I read the speech, in two sentences, he actually implies two different criteria for pulling the guard:
“As governor, I have identified funds to keep the National Guard in place until the Legislature acts.”
This seems to be two different time horizons, one probably pretty distant (“until the plan is implemented”), one probably pretty near (“Until the legislature acts”). Not unlike his predecessor, Abbott has created a position on border security that will appease nativist sentiment in his party while allowing him room to maneuver within the gray areas of the political process. My guess is that if he gets substantial funding for border security implemented through state agencies, we’ll see a staged withdrawal of the Guard begin in short order after a bill hits his desk. At that point, barring another border crisis (real or manufactured), all of the Big Three will then declare victory as the Guard exits the field while receiving the thanks of a grateful state.
And from Jones:
Abbott did a masterful job of avoiding getting drawn into the Straus-Patrick feud over the continued presence of the Texas National Guard on the border.
Given the myriad of issues Abbott touched on, it was symbolically important that not a word was devoted to either the repeal of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants or a ban on sanctuary cities. By omission Abbott made it crystal clear that those bills should be left to die in committee.
Abbott also in his speech continued his efforts begun at the start of the gubernatorial campaign to reach out to Latino voters via both his rhetoric as well as his proposals for improving pre-K education and public education more generally, while simultaneously not discussing those hot button issues that alienate Latino voters from the GOP most intensely: in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and a ban on sanctuary cities.