The heart and soul of the House Democratic Caucus. Who the voters of San Antonio, in their wisdom earlier this year, chose to keep in the fractious, joyful, rough-and-tumble dynamism of the House rather than exile to the sterile quiet of the Texas Senate.
Let nice guy José Menéndez suffer the deathly decorum over there.
When I arrived for a previously arranged lunch with TMF in his office yesterday, he had just called a successful point of order in the House, winning a small but satisfying victory for Democrats and enemies of the public display of firearms by slowing the inevitable enactment of open carry legislation, and also requiring the Texas House to work harder this Friday than they had planned on.
A computer glitch derailed two hot-button bills in the Texas House on Tuesday and could require fixes to 125 other bills awaiting a floor vote.
The problem was revealed by state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, moments after the House began considering legislation that would allow holstered weapons to be openly carried by those with a concealed handgun license.
Martinez Fischer, who opposes the open carry bill, called a point of order arguing that the legislation couldn’t be considered because a computer-generated report mistakenly listed how some witnesses testified on House Bill 910 during a March public hearing.
After a 30-minute delay and sometimes energetic discussion around House Speaker Joe Straus’ desk, the mistake was verified — halting consideration of the open carry legislation.
Soon after, the same computer problem claimed House Bill 40, which would halt local bans on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
I missed the drama on the floor. When I arrived for lunch, TMF brought me up to date.
I just called a point of order on the open carry bill. I called a point of order because the committee report was inaccurate. Turns out the flaw is not unique to that bill. It sounds like it’s going to touch about a hundred other bills.
I alerted them to the procedural flaw. They did a little research. The House stands at ease while they research these things. And they came back and said, “Well, you raise a good point and it also touches about 100, 125 other pieces of legislation.” The good news is now, with that point of order, they’re going to fix those things. But, I can tell you Larry Phillips was not happy and I said, “I’m just philosophically opposed to people carrying their guns around like it’s the Wild West.”
It’s entirely fixable, but it’s just going to take to take some time now.
The author of the open carry legislation, Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, said he hoped to have HB 910 before the full House on Friday.
Passage is all but assured. The open carry bill has 83 Republican co-authors, already a majority of House members.
“You can’t be angry. This happens,” Phillips said. “It’s the legislative session. We’ve got plenty of time, so it’s not a concern.”
I asked Martinez Fischer, a master of the procedural arts, how and when he came up with this point of order.
When the bills get set on the floor you start looking at them – and it’s clearly something, it takes a lot of time.
You know points of order – we’ve had some now here this session and folks kind of wing it. I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way but I think there is a certain art to a point of order. It’s not just having the substantive capacity to get into the rules. In part, I think you have to have those skills to read, discern and advocate your position, but it also takes a certain level of focus on looking at all the procedural nuances we have here.
Sometimes it’s about the policy, whether its germane, two subjects, but then oftentimes it is procedural. Before a bill can come the floor it must be A, B, C, D, and it’s doing all the due diligence to find out that every single witness followed the right rules, that every single bill get reported by the committee the right way. So it takes time, it takes time.
State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, told House members that the computer problem had been identified and that a fix would be in place by Tuesday evening.
The problem, he explained, was caused when witnesses changed their position for or against a bill while testifying during a committee hearing. A computer program used to generate a report on their changed positions mistakenly listed those witnesses as testifying for the first bill on the committee’s agenda, even if they hadn’t mentioned that bill, Bonnen said.
A full report on the problem will be delivered to the House Administration Committee on Monday, he said.
Points of order, known in the Capitol as “POOs,” can come in many forms and often are employed by lawmakers in the minority as a delay tactic. Martinez Fischer made his name in part with his frequent use of the maneuver, with Texas Monthly crowning him the “prince of POO” in 2013.
I don’t like POO. It’s gross, unseemly, undignified. Last session, along with Claire Cardona of the Dallas Morning News, I vowed not to use it. Instead of POO, I suggested POFO. Much better. And so, instead of TMF being the Prince of Poo, he’d be the Mofo of POFO.
But, the point remains the same. This is much better than being over there in the Senate.
It was a close call for Martinez Fischer. He led Menéndez in the January primary to replace Sen. Leticia Van de Putte by a wide margin.
Race Summary Report
2015 Special Election, Senate District 26
State Senator, District 26 – Unexpired Term
Trey Martinez Fischer
Alma Perez Jackson
But the February runoff handed him an upset defeat.
Race Summary Report
Special Runoff Election State Senator, District 26
State Senator, District 26 – Unexpired Term
Trey Martinez Fischer
I asked Martinez Fischer if he had an regrets about the campaign.
The election didn’t go the way I would have hoped it would have gone but I ran exactly the race I wanted to run.
It just so happens in this runoff, 6,307 identifiable, consistent Republican voters decided to weigh in. and when you have a Republican turnout that is close to a third of total turnout, well they’re going to decide.
Being in my eighth term in Texas House, seven of those terms being a member of the minority party, I’ve gotten beat by Republicans a bunch of times. I get up, I’m stronger, I will come back stronger. I have beaten Republicans, just like I did today.
So the fact of the matter is, the next time this seat’s available it’s going to be in a Democratic primary. And when you look at this special election and you look at the first round as a very indicative example, where Democrats voted for Democrats, Republicans voted for Republicans, I took almost 44 percent of the vote. I’m comfortable with who I am. I am comfortable with the race that I ran. And I’m comfortable knowing the support base that I have. I don’t have any regrets. I don’t have any regrets. I want to stay tried and true to who I am and what I represent
I have never made a single decision politically about how far that gets me with Republicans. That’s not the person I am.
So this means he’s planning a rematch with Menéndez?
What it means is that I ran the race that is most in line with the voters who would make this choice in a presidential primary. What happens between now and March, or now and the filing period in December, is a long time from now. My focus is back here at the Capitol. Every day I get up and stand for Democratic values. So in my mind, December is along way away, Anything can happen. But I don’t have to establish with Democratic voters that I’m with them. They know that.
But, I asked, don’t he and Menéndez see eye-to-eye on most things and won’t Menéndez do a good job of representing those values in the Senate?
I think the job performance (rating) is done by the voters. I think that any time somebody runs for public office, it’s a matter of telling people what they stand for, showing people their track record, what they’ve done, then voters decide what’s their better preference. And so I think ultimately it’s about who can appeal to the voters, and as I said, you know, the voters who will be making this decision the next time around, there wont be 6,300 Republicans getting in the middle of a Democratic primary.
But, if he were to make another run for the Senate, this time he would have to give up his House seat.
You raise a very good point. The stakes are higher. But, at the end of the day, what matters is who you believe can do the best job for the constituents, and frankly … I think truly our job as state lawmakers is to represent the values of our constituents, and anybody who runs for public office knows that ultimately they decide. And so, like I said, December is a long time away for me. I’m back here and I have zero regrets.
But, in his heart of hearts, doesn’t he prefer operating in the House?
Sometimes there’s a higher order of things. We spent some pretty rough times here in the Texas House and we’ve been in some hyper-partisan environments and it took a little bit of standing up and pushing back on leadership to bring some much-needed changes. And some might argue that bringing that same kind of perspective in a Senate chamber that’s losing its way, I think is – I mean the decisions we make in the Texas House, pragmatic or otherwise, can be (he snaps his finger) eliminated like that in the Senate chamber. So if the true outcome is to serve your constituents and provide them with the best level of service, something tells me that there needs to be, or part of anyone’s analysis is to see that San Antonians are being served in both the House and the Senate.
I asked Martinez Fischer for his impression of the early tenure of Gov. Abbott and of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
In fairness to Gov. Abbott, when he was newly elected and had not yet taken the oath of office, he came to San Antonio and he met privately with the delegation and he said he was going to make an attempt to reach out and try to work with folks and you know we’ve seen some of that. and I think that is something I would put on the side of being positive. I think we have some major differences in philosophy, but the notion that we’re sort of arguing over what’s an ideal Pre-K program, it’s a departure from where we before. In 2011, it was, `Let’s just get rid of it, let’s just cut Pre-K,” take $200 million out of the equation, and today it’s the governor thinks we should have $100 million and I tend to think we need $200 million
I think even the governor recognized you have to be a little pragmatic in the House and it’s not this `my way or the highway.’ So you give the governor the benefit of the doubt. That’s a good first step.
Dan Patrick is completely the opposite. It’s a new day for him. It’s his way or the highway. Everything is a party-line vote and I think that what he needs to take … I’ll say this, I don’t know how much he knows that that sort of philosophy kind of dies in the rotunda. That may the operating procedure in the east wing of this Capitol, but when he gets to the rotunda, its’ a different ball game, and the west side the Capitol has demonstrated that,`Hey, we’re going to fix things.’ We’re not going to agree. I mean I called a point of order today on one of the priority bills for the right-wing. This is not kumbaya in the House. But we’ve recognized that we are going to have to work together and so I think that Sen. Patrick is having a tough go.
Tim Moore, the white, 62-year-old senior pastor of Austin’s Walk Worthy Baptist Church, stood on the south steps of the Capitol as part of a press conference and rally sponsored by the Coalition to Save In-State Tuition yesterday, and proclaimed his support for maintaining in-state tuition rates at Texas colleges and universities for unauthorized immigrants who meet certain residency and other requirements.
As a pastor, I don’t think there’s any person of faith – and I think most of the people in this building profess to be people of faith – and as a faith advocate in this state I am here to tell you that I am conservative, I am a Republican, I am a little “t” tea party member, I come from a conservative point of view, but I will understand the need of good people of conscience and people of faith to willingly make a sacrifice for the good of their neighbor. The Bible says in Leviticus … the Lord is talking to just his people, and he said, “Remember that you were in bondage in Egypt, in Babylon, but you are to treat those immigrants, aliens, sojourners among you, the immigrants among you, as though they were native born.”
The Dreamers – as those who have benefited from the in-state tuition provision have come to be known – are deserving of that treatment, Moore said, and Texas, its economy and it everlasting soul, are the greatest beneficiaries.
It’s hard to stand here and say that everything conservatives do is something I support. I’m more inclined to tell you that my brand of conservatism, if I’m still that, is more in line with the conservatism of 2001 than the conservatism of 2015, and I’ve always believed that the strength of conservatism in this state is that good people who may come to different conclusions have the ability to know the value of those things that need to be conserved. In-state tuition is worthy of being conserved.
With their compelling personal stories, the Dreamers have proved their own best advocates in the campaign to maintain in-state tuition. But folks like Moore and Bill Hammond – the CEO of the Texas Association of Business, who also participated in yesterday’s midday press conference – play a critical role as bulwarks and symbols of what was once a practical conservative consensus behind a policy that has, of late, fallen victim to rising tea party passions on the issue of immigration.
“This is a sound policy,” Hammond said. “It would be a cruel tragedy if this were to be repealed.”
He said that he thought that the Dreamers were bearing the brunt of frustration with the failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, to bring form and order to national immigration policy.
“It’s red meat, it’s just red meat,” Moore said afterward. “It’s, `You leave, you’re not one of us.'”
“It denies this time of history and it denies the minority majority that’s coming,” he said.
“Conservatism is being redefined,” Moore said afterward. “I want to be principled.”
On the practical politics of it, said said, “We believe we’re one vote short of killing this thing in the Senate. We’ve got all the Democrats. We need two Republicans.”
The one they have on the record is Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, who has said that repealing the law would be “punishing the wrong people.”
“We need two, we’ve got one,” Moore said. Of the prospect of finding that second Senate Republican, he said, “Let me just tell you the sun is bright, it’s looking good, we’ve got no storm clouds. We believe there is a (second) reasonable Republican that doesn’t like the taste of this.”
“But the lieutenant governor pledged and ran on this and has got that closed-door, arm-twisting ability,” Moore said.
The 2001 law was passed nearly unanimously by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.
But the public has in recent years grown deeply divided over the provision.
Here from Ross Ramsey on how it fared in the most recent, February 2015, University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.
In-state tuition for undocumented immigrants continues to split Texas voters on decidedly partisan lines, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Under current state law, undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities if they have lived in the state for three years, graduated from Texas high schools, applied for U.S. citizenship and have the grades and scores to win admission to those schools.
Overall, it looks like the electorate is deadlocked on that policy, with 42 percent saying those students should continue to pay lower in-state tuition and 43 percent saying they should pay higher out-of-state rates.
The partisan differences, however, are striking: 67 percent of Democrats think the students should pay in-state rates; 75 percent of Tea Party Republicans think they should pay out-of-state rates; and non-Tea Party Republicans fall in between, with 51 percent saying the students should pay out-of-state rates and 35 percent saying in-state tuition should apply.
Moore pointed to a recent survey by LifeWay Research in Nashville that, while it didn’t ask about the in-state tuition question, showed growing evangelical support for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, a term which has been a trip-wire for conservative concerns.
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– When it comes to immigration reform, American evangelicals want it all.
Nine out of 10 (86 percent) want more border security. Six in 10 (61 percent) support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. More than two-thirds (68 percent) favor both. And they want Congress to take action soon.
Those are among the results of a new survey of evangelicals from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table and World Relief, found widespread support for immigration reform.
“Evangelicals are united in their desire for significant immigration reform,” says Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.
A number of high profile evangelical groups have promoted immigration reform in recent years, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. Many evangelical pastors also support reform.
A November 2014 LifeWay Research study found many pastors want a mix of justice and mercy when it comes to immigration. More than half (54 percent) support a path to citizenship. Most (91 percent) evangelical pastors also say the government should stop illegal immigration.
In the February 2015 study, researchers found similar views among all evangelicals.
Nine out of 10 (88 percent) say reform should respect the rule of law and secure the national borders (86 percent).
They also want to protect the unity of immigrant families (72 percent) and to respect people’s God-given dignity (82 percent).
More than two-thirds (68 percent) of evangelicals say it is important for Congress to take action on immigration reform this year. And half (50 percent) are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports border security and citizenship.
“Evangelicals care about immigrants and want immigration reform,” says Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “We pray for Congress to stop waiting and start legislating.”
Perry, meanwhile, appears to be backing off his strong past support for the measure as he prepares for another run for president. While his last bid for president is best remembered for the “Oops” moment at a Republican debate that is generally thought to have sounded the death knell for that campaign, it can be argued that he was done for from the moment, at an earlier debate, that he defended the in-state tuition policy, suggesting that those who would deny those young people that opportunity “did not have a heart.”
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former Gov. Rick Perry, whose support for Texas’ in-state tuition law has drawn conservative criticism and complicated his failed 2012 presidential campaign, offered a less than forceful defense of the measure Tuesday, largely deferring to state lawmakers who are considering a repeal.
“I’m not the governor anymore,” Perry told reporters before a business roundtable at the Central Electric Power Cooperative. The Legislature, he added, “will make a call on whether this is right for Texas or not, but here’s what I’m not going to change on, here’s what I’m not going to back up from, and that is to continue to call for the federal government to do its constitutional duty and secure that border.”
Perry’s remarks came hours after a Texas Senate subcommittee advanced a bill to undo the law, which offers in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who wish to attend public colleges and universities in the state. Perry has provided varying defenses of the statute since it emerged as an issue in his unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2012, more recently suggesting the reasons legislators backed it in 2001 still resonate today.
“We were hoping to look to Rick Perry as our voice of reason. He signed in-state tuition into law and when it was being debated (in the 2012 presidential campaign) he stood firmly behind it,” Ramiro Luna, the director of community affairs for the Keep HB 1403 campaign, said after yesterday’s rally.
“Right now is the time we need him to stand firmly behind it,” said Luna, 30, who came to the U.S. when he was seven and benefited from the law by being able to afford to attend the University of North Texas at Dallas. “The fact that he’s been mute is disappointing to us.”
When he ran for governor, Greg Abbott’s campaign did not seek to make the policy an issue, but, when pressed, said in-state tuition was a “flawed” policy that could stand to be improved, and that he would sign repeal legislation if it reached his desk as governor.
“We’re going to fight to make sure it doesn’t get to his desk,” Luna said. “I’m afraid of the governor if it gets to him. We want to keep it away from him.”
Meanwhile, he said, in the House, Speaker Joe Straus is a “great ally.”
“Right now the Republican Party is a little bit torn,” Luna said. “They don’t want to pass this legislation but some of them feel they have to pass it to appease the extreme right. So there is this conflict. If we are able to create this gap between the moderate Republicans and the extremists – this is not legislation that you want to give that much attention to – we can deal it a slow death, that’s what we’re hoping for.”
I talked to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones yesterday, and he said that’s the likeliest outcome.
“Anybody who’s thinking about the future of the Texas Republican Party or winning swing seats or swing counties in 2016 doesn’t want to see this on the governor’s desk. There’s really no positive outcome. It’s all negative and there’s virtually no positive,” Jones said.
The idea of reforming the program, as suggested by Abbott during the campaign, would not satisfy anyone on either side of the issue, he said.
“There’s really no advantage to a narrowly tailored revision of the in-state tuition law that requires people to do everything possible to apply for citizenship and then follows up, because the reality is everyone is doing that anyway,” Jone said. “I think you would be hard pressed to find anything but a handful of the beneficiaries of in-state tuition legislation who don’t want to become American citizens.”
“All it can do is open up a Pandora’s Box once it gets to the floor and needlessly antagonize Hispanics without providing what the Republican base really wants, which is the repeal of in-state tuition, not some cosmetic modification.”
Ultimately, Jones said, it is in Abbott’s best interest to see the bill never reaches his desk.
“I think if you’re Greg Abbott you don’t want to be forced to make that decision. That’s a decision that Abbott’s people have to keep him from having to make. From Abbott’s perspective it would be very damaging to have an in-state tuition repeal on his desk and be forced to either sign it or veto it.”
Jones said he didn’t know about Moore’s prediction that defenders of the law would be able to pick up a second Senate vote. (The most likely second Republican, he said, would be Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo.)
“The reality is there may be votes in the Senate to block it, or maybe not, but I don’t see any way in-state tuition legislation gets out of the House. That’s legislation that divides the Straus coalition at its core. Actually, it doesn’t even really divide it. The Democrats are 100 percent against it and most centrist and pragmatic Republicans are against it. So really it’s a piece of legislation that already has a majority of Texas House members opposing it.”
“The problem in the House, from Straus’s perspective, is that it’s an issue that will galvanize the conservative base and really pit the various wings of the Republican party against themselves. That’s a losing issue for Joe Straus if it comes to the floor because it needlessly puts Straus-aligned Republicans either at odds with the speaker or at odds with the Republican primary base.”
The answer, Jones said: “Run the clock out.”
But, Jones said, Straus and Abbott would undoubtedly “prefer that it never come out of the Senate.”
“If they still had the two-thirds rule they could blame the Democrats,” he said. “Alas, it no longer exists and either the in-state tuition bill is going to pass the Senate or two Republicans are going to have to step out in front of it.”
After yesterday’s rally, I walked around to the north side of the Capitol where there was a rally by advocates for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender rights against nearly two dozen bills that have been filed that they say would jeopardize those rights, including constitutional amendments that, they say, would, in the name of expanding religious freedom, provide a license for discrimination.
“We will not allow these bills to pass,” Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, told the rally, to a shouted “Amen.”
As in the cases of the Dreamers, González told the activists who were going to spend the day visiting legislators’ offices, “personal stories are important to the political process. When we humanize policy, we create good policy.”
“We have to put ourselves at the foreground. We have to use our stories to makes sure these bills don’t get through,” she said. “Thank you for being here and thank you for being brave. If you need anything or anyone’s mean to you, you can come to my office.”
There was a synchronicity between the two rallies – and the two causes – yesterday.
In addition to the personal stories, in both cases the argument is being made by Hammond, and others, that there would be an economic cost to Texas for either repealing in-state tuition or enacting the new constitutional amendment.
And, Jones said, the precedent set by the extraordinary backlash against Indiana enacting similar legislation, has killed any small chance those “religious freedom” measures might have had in Texas.
“I think the Indiana experience is effectively going to cause Republicans throughout the country to the shelve similar legislation. The learning experience of everything that (Indiana Gov.) Mike Pence and Indiana Republicans have gone through – the local, national and international backlash they’ve seen – is sufficiently strong that I don’t think you’re going to see too many Republican legislatures throughout the country passing similar legislation, in part because I think the LGBT movement has effectively framed that legislation as discriminatory. The actual content of the legislation doesn’t really matter any more. It could be identical to legislation passed five years ago or ten years ago, but symbolically, it’s seen by a large number of political actors and corporations and the media as being discriminatory. They’ve effectively won the battle.”
Like repealing in-state tuition, enacting the “religious freedom” amendment was an issue important to the Republican primary base and one that Patrick campaigned on.
But, Jones said, “in the post-Indiana frame, the context now is very different than the context even as close back as early March.”
A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers to place it on the ballot.
“There’s no way on earth it’s going to get a two-thirds vote of the House,” Jones said. “It was probably dead in the water from the very first day of the session, but any lingering hope by the legislation’s supporters, those were eliminated after the blow up in Indiana.”
A debate over whether deer should be bred for hunting or left to nature is brewing at the Texas Capitol. Last week we asked readers what they thought about upcoming state legislation to place limits on Texas deer breeders.
The long-simmering conflict was recently rekindled by the introductions of House Bill 2471 and House Bill 3271, and is taking place largely between big and small ranch owners as well as a number of wildlife protection and hunting groups.
Disagreements have arisen over the ethical treatment of deer by breeders, economic and health concerns and the tradition and culture of Texas deer hunting. You can read more in our Sunday story.
This is what readers had to say:
@statesman IMO, high fence operations are contrary to how we've treated wildlife in US: as public resource, not for private profit.
Last Tuesday, Rand Paul announced he was seeking the Republican nomination for president.
In his speech, Paul delivered this line:
I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally, and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed.
No other Republican candidate for president, or as far as I know, anything else, has delivered a line like that.
And, for that matter, no Democrat.
It is a truly radical statement on two counts.
First, taken literally, I am not sure how many laws would be left standing. White collar crimes, I suppose.
But, at least as remarkably, especially for a Republican, it is an acknowledgement of the way that race, or racism, distorts the criminal justice system in America, and calls for applying a kind of strict “disparate impact” standard that would seek to remove from the books laws that, while not discriminatory on their face, have a discriminatory impact.
In her 2010 book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, professor at Ohio State University Moritz School of Law, writes
What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather we rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination – employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are all suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
Now, as unlikely as it seems, Rand Paul, with a line buried in his announcement for president, seems to be suggesting he is prepared to dismantle the new Jim Crow.
There are two possibilities here:
1) Paul really didn’t understand the full implications of what he was saying. He was merely expressing a sentiment, a disposition, an abstract ideal, or maybe simply engaging in a little sloppy symbolic politics that was not meant to be read too closely or taken or too seriously. And, worse than that, for him to throw out a line like that without clarity or backup, suggests a candidate not at all ready for what’s ahead.
2) Paul is serious about making criminal justice, and ending the drug war, a centerpiece issues of his campaign. If so, it is an issue that could enable him to outflank Hillary Clinton – whose husband, as president, presided over the escalation of the War on Drugs and a boom in incarceration – on an issue of preeminent concern in the black (and also brown) community. And it is an issue that, were Paul to actually be elected president and act on it, could arguably do more to change the material condition of life for millions of African Americans and the communities they live in than anything the first African American president has been able to accomplish.
We knew Rand Paul had a pretty deep commitment to ending mass incarceration. But his speech announcing a 2016 run for president might have promised something more radical than even he would want: legalizing every type of crime, including murder and assault.
And while it’s clear that’s not what Paul actually wants to do, the line illustrates an important difference between Paul and many criminal-justice reformers on the left about how to fix racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The majority of people in prison in the US are doing time in state prisons, and most of them have been convicted of violent crimes. But across every single category of crime that the Bureau of Justice Statistics publishes data for, non-Hispanic whites make up a smaller percentage of the prison population than they do of the nation at large.
Just take a glance at this chart. The bar at left shows the percentage of non-Hispanic white Americans: 62.6 percent. None of the other bars across the chart for white prisoners comes close to that high.
As president, of course, Paul would only have influence over federal prisons — and a majority of all federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses, which seems more in line with what Paul wants to repeal. But the data on federal prisoners isn’t as good as the data on state prisoners. Federal data does show, however, that the prisoners released in 2013 across all offense categories were disproportionately black and Hispanic — and since African Americans tend to get longer prison sentences for any type of federal crime than whites, that indicates that every category of federal offense also disproportionately imprisons people of color, as well.
It’s likely that Paul will clear up this talking point as he polishes his presidential campaign. But it illustrates that as much as Paul’s emphasis on criminal justice reform might overlap with African-American voters’ priorities, his diagnosis of the problem is different. Paul genuinely does think too many laws create the opportunity for racial disparities in the criminal justice system — that’s why he blamed bans on selling loose cigarettes for the death of Eric Garner. Many African Americans and liberals, on the other hand, think the laws aren’t necessarily the problem, but the way they’re being enforced and policed is.
Well, I take the point that Paul’s starting point might be that there are simply too many laws, and for “many African Americans and liberals,” the starting point might be their racially discriminatory consequences. But if, for example, we are talking about the drug war, there are quite a few “African-Americans and liberals” who also think the laws themselves are the problem.
As for “clearing up” exactly what he meant, here was Byron York in the Washington Examiner in the aftermath of Paul’s announcement.
The Paul campaign says the senator’s words were misunderstood. “Sen. Paul was referring to nonviolent crimes,” campaign spokeswoman Eleanor May told me via email, adding that the passage in question was “a reference to his criminal justice reforms.”
May sent me the same answer: “He was referring to nonviolent crimes.”
That’s not very satisfying. That’s like Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, saying, “I’m freeing the slaves,” and his spokesman later explaining that he was only referring to freeing the slaves in states that remained in rebellion after Jan. 1, 1863.
I would have thought a bold statement like what Paul said would have some staff support, some follow-up.
As to Paul’s criminal justice reform agenda, May referred me to what she sent York, who wrote:
May sent along brief descriptions of five bills Paul is sponsoring that deal with the criminal justice system. These are the Paul camp’s descriptions of the measures:
The REDEEM Act: Creates a judicial process for adults to seal non-violent criminal records on the federal level. It also creates an automatic expungement of records for non-violent juveniles under the age of 15. It mandates the FBI to update their criminal background check system to ensure that employers receive accurate information. States are incentivized to have substantially similar legislation on the state level or risk losing appropriations for law enforcement agencies.
Justice Safety Valve Act: Judges can depart from mandatory minimum sentencing laws if they find that it is in the best interests of justice to do so. This would increase judicial discretion and allow judges to make individualized determinations about the proper punishment for defendants.
Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act: If passed, this would restore the voting rights of every non-violent felon in the country. Non-violent felons would be able to vote in federal elections only and states that do not change their laws to reflect this would not receive federal prison funds.
RESET Act: This bill re-classifies simple possession of controlled substances — very small amounts — as a misdemeanor rather than a low-level felony. It also eliminates the crack-cocaine disparity.
FAIR Act: This bill ensures that the federal government would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that seized property was being used for illegal purposes before it’s forfeited. Forfeited assets would be placed in the Treasury’s General Fund instead of the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Fund. This shift would remove the profit incentive police officers currently have to seize and forfeit property. The bill would also protect the property rights of citizens by eliminating the ability of state law enforcement to circumvent state asset forfeiture laws and use more lenient federal standards instead.
While Paul’s line in his speech on incarceration was mostly ignored, Paul Mirengoff at Power Line blog, wrote that it was disqualifying.
Yesterday, in announcing his run for the presidency, Rand Paul demonstrated his unfitness for the office by calling for the repeal of any law that “disproportionately incarcerates people of color.” In effect, as John and I pointed out, Paul thereby called for the repeal of virtually every criminal law.
Even with the clarification, Paul’s position remains inane and dangerous. Why should non-violent acts that now constitute crimes be legalized just because a particular group doesn’t obey the current prohibition? No criminal law should be subject, in effect, to a “criminals of color veto.”
Even with his backpedaling, Rand Paul is calling for a race-based criminal justice code. This should disqualify him from the GOP nomination.
But for those who have spent decades trying to move the national conversation in the direction Paul was talking about, there was more tolerance for his imprecision.
From Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project:
Yes, I’d picked up on that statement from Sen. Paul. While it’s been very encouraging to see him raise criminal justice issues in a high profile way over the past couple of years, it’s not always done in a very precise way. In this case, I’m assuming that he probably means any laws where there are “unwarranted racial disparities.” And even then, would you repeal them, such as the federal crack cocaine penalties, or modify them to match the powder cocaine laws. And clearly, for a host of reasons, African Americans are disproportionately arrested and convicted of crimes like murder and armed robbery, but unlikely anyone would advocate doing away with all those penalties.
But Sen. Paul is hardly the first politician to speak in imprecise ways at times, so I’m still pleased to see his ongoing advocacy on these issues.
And this, in an email from NYU sociologist Jeff Manza, co-author of the 2006 book, Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy:
I see Paul’s comment as part of an emerging and intriguing dialogue between libertarians, including the Koch Brothers (!), and the long-standing criminal justice reform community.
They (the Kochs) also funded a big conference in DC about 6 weeks ago with a lot of the usual liberal suspects involved. So there is an emerging dialogue, and one that goes well beyond drug legalization (the previous meeting ground). No question the motivations are different for various participants – the libertarians see the criminal justice system as “big government” to be torn down as part of the quest for a free market utopia – but that’s okay in my view.
Their involvement along with other libertarians has the potential to turn criminal justice questions into “wedge” issues where the conventional left-right divide breaks down and we get serious and long-overdue policy discussion going. (Imagine a Republican President debate where Paul’s position gets discussed!).
The felon disenfranchisement question is also intriguing here – Republican operatives around the country have been seeking ways to hold down the black vote in recent elections and criminal justice reform runs head-long into that agenda (which of course cannot be publicly discussed but is well-known to insiders).
I’m not quite sure what to make of the racial angle in Paul’s comment. Liberals have focused on the race angle to attack mass incarceration for 20 years, without getting much traction up until now. Most of the libertarian discussions I’ve seen have not centered specifically on racial disparities. So we’ll have to keep an eye on that.
On the Koch role in criminal justice reform effort, from Dana Liebelson at the Huffington Post in February:
WASHINGTON — Koch Industries, Inc., the corporation led by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, is holding discussions with a coalition of strange bedfellows to tackle criminal justice reform.
In conversations with people like Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and organizations like the ACLU, the Koch brothers are homing in on reducing overcriminalization and mass incarceration, as well as reforming practices like civil forfeiture. Progressives, rather than giving the Kochs the stink eye, are welcoming their efforts.
Koch Industries general counsel and senior vice president Mark Holden told The Huffington Post that he met with Booker and his staff a few weeks ago. The New Jersey Democrat and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are co-sponsoring the REDEEM Act, legislation that would give states incentives to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18, among other reforms.
“We must reform our criminal justice system. It is an urgency more and more recognized by people across the political spectrum,” Booker told HuffPost in an email. “To make change in Congress and beyond I will work with just about anyone who shares my passion for this mission — that includes Republican members of Congress and other leaders I’ve begun to work with like Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and Charles Koch’s team.”
Though the Kochs are best known—and, to liberals, notorious—for the massive amounts of money they pour into politics, they have lately been calling attention to a less polarizing crusade: an attempt to address what they term “the overcriminalization of America.” But not everyone is convinced that their efforts are quite so sincere.
Critics such as Robert Greenwald, director of the documentary Koch Brothers Exposed, suspect that the push to roll back the criminal code is really just the brothers’ deregulatory agenda by another name. Indeed, Charles Koch, the company’s chairman and CEO, has said he became interested in criminal-justice reform after a grand jury’s 1995 indictment of a Koch refinery in Texas for 97 felony violations of environmental law. The company spent six years fighting the charges and eventually settled with the government for $10 million. Seen in this light, the criminal-justice pitch is just another attempt to manipulate the political process to advance the company’s financial interests. That’s the view of the liberal group American Bridge, which maintains the anti-Koch “Real Koch Facts” website. “Their own bottom line isn’t just an important factor in their activity, it’s the only thing,” a spokesman for the group, Ben Ray, told me.
And yet the Kochs have found many willing partners on the left for this effort, even among their erstwhile critics. In 2011, the civil-rights activist and former Obama administration adviser Van Jones cited the Kochs as emblematic of the “economic tyranny” plaguing America, declaring, “We will not live on a national plantation run by the Koch brothers.” He appears in the Koch Brothers Exposed (tagline: “The 1% at its very worst”). But Jones has welcomed the Kochs’ support for his new Cut50 project, which aims to halve the prison population over the next decade. At a recent panel discussion in Washington, he sat next to Holden and gave him a hug. Koch Industries has agreed to participate in an upcoming conference Jones is sponsoring on prison reform. When I asked Jones if it made him uncomfortable to team up with people he’s previously depicted as villains, he responded, “When you’ve got more than 2 million people behind bars, I’ll fight alongside anybody to change those numbers.”
During his recent visit to Austin, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is likely going to seek the Democratic nomination for president, decried what he described as the Koch brothers’ agenda to dismantle government, citing the 1980 Libertarian Party platform, when Davd Koch was the party’s candidate for vice president.
Eight years later, the Libertarian Party candidate for president was Ron Paul, whose subsequent runs for president as a Republican have, in many ways, laid the organizational and intellectual groundwork for his son’s candidacy.
Ron Paul was in Austin Saturday at a one-day conference – Stop the Wars on Drugs and Terrorism – sponsored by the Future of Freedom Foundation and Young Americans for Liberty at the LBJ Auditorium at the LBJ Library. The conference also featured Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and journalist who broke the Edward Snowden story, and Radley Balko, who blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post.
There was a large mostly student-aged crowd of about 400. They gave Greenwald a standing ovation, and Ron Paul an even more passionate standing ovation. There wasn’t a lot of press coverage. I was there, along with Brian Rosenthal of the Houston Chronicle and Patrick Svitek of The Texas Tribune.
Jeff Frazee, executive director of Young Americans for Liberty, who was national youth coordinator for Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign, said they had not made much of an effort to draw media coverage because, coming even as Rand Paul was completing an announcement tour of the early primary and caucus states, they figured that the reporting would focus less on the conference and more on finding points of difference and tension between father and son.
And indeed, while there was no mention of Rand Paul Saturday, Ron Paul did say that, though he agreed that members of the Senate (including Rand) were right to demand that they have a constitutional role to play in reviewing and approving the president’s nuclear deal, he thought that what was really motivating them was, “they’re out to stop peace, they’re terrified that peace might break out.”
Rosenthal wrote a good piece on “the central challenge facing the younger Paul’s bid for the Republican Party nomination: attracting mainstream conservatives while keeping the support of the dedicated and wealthy libertarian base that propelled his dad to stardom in the last two presidential primaries. While Paul has embraced much of his father’s legacy, including skepticism of the Federal Reserve and strict drug laws, he carefully has been moderating some positions on foreign policy and other issues.”
That said, what was most remarkable to me on Saturday was not the distance between Ron and Rand Paul, but the fact that both father and son were quite independently, that same day, states apart, talking about the same thing – the folly and pernicious consequences of the War on Drugs.
Here from Mark Hensch of The Hill, with Rand Paul in Nevada:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Saturday blamed flawed criminal drug legislation as major factor behind urban conflict and related prison overcrowding.
“The War on Drugs has created a culture of violence and puts police in an impossible situation,” Paul told audience members at the Desert Vista Community Center in Las Vegas.
“It has fostered tension in our inner cities,” he added. “There is an undercurrent of unease in our country.”
Paul argued America’s recent racial conflicts may stem from unfairness inherent in the laws and their enforcement. By making them fairer, he charged, citizens of all backgrounds would receive fair judgement from authorities.
“Criminal justice reform is not a black problem or a white problem,” Paul said.
“Everyone should be treated the same under the laws of this country regardless of what religion they are, what color their skin is or how poor they are,” he concluded.
The Kentucky lawmaker said punishments too harsh for their crimes had combined with uneven law enforcement in minority communities. The resulting mix was a perfect storm of inequality, he declared.
“If you look at statistics, white people are using drugs at the same rate as black people,” Paul said, the noted the incarceration rates among different ethnicities.
“We have snatched up so many people of one race that it is now unfair,” he added. “We should do something to make it fair.”
The White House hopeful criticized big government as the source of failing drug policies. Bureaucracy’s size and scope, Paul said, had crowded out space for individual freedom and liberty.
“We have a government that has run amok,” he stated.
And from David Weigel’s report on Paul in Nevada for Bloomberg:
“Go meet people who live in poverty, and ask them why their sons all seem to be incarcerated or killed,” he said. “The war on drugs has created a culture of violence and put police in an impossible situation. Three out of four people in jail for drug crimes are people of color, but if you look at the statistics, white people are using drugs at the same rate. We have somehow snatched up so many people of one race that it is now unfair, and we should do something to make it fair.”
Paul’s audience — largely white, as has been the case in every state — broke into loud cheers. It did the same after Paul mentioned the case of Eric Garner. “If a guy is selling loose cigarettes and not paying the king’s ransom in taxes, couldn’t we give him a ticket?”
Qualify this anyway you will, but it is interesting to me that a bona fide Republican candidate for president on the opening tour of his campaign is drawing loud cheers from white audiences by declaring the War on Drugs not just a failure, but essentially a racist endeavor.
And this is where he parts company with his father, whose long years on the fringe of American politics led to some pretty sketchy associations with the white right.
Thinking about this, I recalled that in his maiden speech in the Senate, Paul, who occupies the desk that belonged to Henry Clay, “the Great Compromiser,” looked instead for inspiration to the uncompromising anti-slavery crusading of Clay’s cousin, Cassius Clay, a Kentucky planter and politician, and other abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass.
And, like Nixon to China, the practical fact is that a Republican president is more likely to be able to end the drug war than a Democratic president.
From Alexander’s The New Jim Crow:
In 1991, the Sentencing Project reported that the number of people behind bars in the United States was unprecedented in world history, and that one fourth of young African American men were now under the control of the criminal justice system. Despite the jaw-dropping impact of the “get touch” movement on the African American community, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans revealed any inclination to slow the pace of incarceration.
To the contrary, 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton vowed that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he. Tue to his word, just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton chose to fly home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for dessert from his last meal to be saved for him until the morning. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”
Once elected, Clinton endorsed the idea of a federal “three strikes and you’re out” law, which he advocated in his 1994 State of the Union address to enthusiastic applause on both side of the aisle. The $30 billion crime bill sent to President Clinton in 1994 was hailed as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans can make it their own.” The bill created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and expansion of state and local police forces. Fa from resisting the emergence of the new caste system, Clinton escalated the drug war beyond what conservatives imagined possible a decade earlier. As the Justice Policy Institute has observed, “the Clinton administration’s `touch on crime’ policies resulted in the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history.”
Ron Paul was between stints in Congress when the crime bill became law, but we know he was against it.
The Clinton crime bill passed by the House and Senate centralizes enforcement in myriad ways. And it also takes the astounding step of recruiting foreigners from the Royal Hong Kong Police to serve in federal “law enforcement” (Section 5108) Fortunately, some state legislators are standing up to this outrageous idea, which reminds me of King George’s Hessian mercenaries used against our Founding Fathers.
The crime bill will also cost the American taxpayers more than $30 billion, yet it will not result in less crime. The bill itself is a “crime” in that it violates the Constitution. It also violates the rights of the American citizens by having more of their wealth confiscated through taxation.
Federal crime control is contrary to all that was intended by the Founders. It raises the number of federal crimes from 22 to 70. The one benefit from this is that it is stirring up the judges and prosecutors in the state law enforcement agencies whoa re losing control. May they someday reject this and all other unconstitutional federal mandates, in obedience to the 10th Amendment.
Of course, this being the Ron Paul Survival Report, the condemnation of the crime bill – under the headline Hessians – follows another entry, under Haitians and Americans, condemning Clinton for intervening in Haiti on behalf of deposed President Jean Bertrand Aristide:
It is a sign of Bill Clinton’s weakness that he has allowed himself to be dragged into this conflict. He knows it is against his long-run self interest. No regular American wants to take over Haiti and put it on AFDC and food stamps, which is what would happen.
And, the Hessian entry is immediately followed by another, Murderous Clintonians, which begins:
The media trumpeted “Independent Counsel” Robert Fiske’s conclusion that Vincent Foster killed himself and was not therefore murdered, contrary to reports in this newsletter and others.
Let’s see. In the entire Foster report, not one mention was made of the decade-long adulterous affair between Hillary Clinton and Vince Foster. Yet this affair has been well documented by many sources. The press in Arkansas and Washington spoke of it often. Everyone in the White House knew about it. Yet this fact, which would seem to have some bearing on the Foster investigation, was never mentioned.
Where does this all lead for Rand Paul, son of Ron and disciple of Cassius Clay, and for Republican voters?
Put simply, Paul offers limited-government conservatives an interesting bargain: They can take America right back to the economic and social policies of the Coolidge Administration—if they give up spying on, imprisoning and sending off to war young people and minorities.
The problem, of course, is that the attractiveness of this bargain depends on how much of the spying, imprisoning and warmaking agenda Republicans are willing to give up for electoral victory, and also their assessments of Paul’s credibility as a vote magnet for young and minority voters. So potentially the candidate himself is caught in a negative dialectic wherein accommodations of conventional conservatives reduce his attractiveness to those outside the Cause. And that in turn reduces the “electability” advantage which makes him attractive to those who might otherwise prefer the uncompromising Ted Cruz or Scott Walker.
It is entirely unclear whether Paul can thread this particular needle.
All in all, the odds are good that Rand Paul’s candidacy will come to represent less a “big tent” where traditional conservatives happily mingle with entirely new constituencies than what Ron Paul’s campaigns ultimately became: people handing out tracts on the margins of the same old crowd of elderly white folks, and maybe drifting off to smoke dope under the rafters and dream of revolutions.
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland wasn’t making any friends on the floor of the Texas House.
Stickland, R-Bedford, appeared to have begun a crusade Thursday to kill bills on the local and consent calendar.
To spike bills on the calendar — ones that are supposed to have no opposition or deal only with issues affecting single districts — any member can talk for ten minutes.
And a slow-talking Stickland did just that. By the end of the day’s business, he successfully torpedoed proposals by state Reps. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, and Travis Clardy, R- Nacogdoches. He spared a measure by state Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, after considering a move to kill it.
Stickland appeared to have a list of other bills that he was planning to knock of the calendar, but he seemed happy with killing just two.
Stickland said from the floor that the bills were neither local nor have broad consent of the members of the chamber.
“I am concerned that we are passing bills that many members are not aware of,” Stickland said during one of his ten-minute soliloquies.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he was told that Stickland may have been seeking some kind of retribution.
“That’s where one person can be a wrecking crew,” Coleman said.
Bills on local and consent can be revived and later approved on the general calendar. Gutierrez said his measure to ban electronic cigarettes at schools should pass later in the session.
State Rep. Borris Miles made more headway this session in cementing his reputation in the Texas House.
Miles, D-Houston, isn’t known for putting in the longest hours. He’s not looked at as the most prolific bill-filer. And he also will never be accused of being the chamber’s most thoughtful member.
Rather, Miles may be recognized as the hottest head and the quickest on the draw.
Just a week ago, on April Fool’s Day, Miles threatened to “beat up” a plainclothes Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who was part of the detail protecting Attorney General Ken Paxton, Terri Langford of the Texas Tribune reported Tuesday.
The recent incident comes a few years after other confrontations that many members still remember.
Back in 2007, a year after first being elected to the Texas House, Miles shot and wounded a burglar. The Houston Chronicle reported that police said the injured man was trying to steal copper from the Miles’ 9,000-square-foot house. Miles was not charged, and the shooting was self-defense, the Chronicle reported.
Then in 2008, Miles again engaged in some gun play. He reportedly brandished a weapon at a holiday party at the St. Regis Hotel in Houston. The Houston Chronicle reported at the time that Miles entered the ballroom “uninvited, confronting guests, displaying a pistol and forcibly kissing another man’s wife.”
Miles owns and operate Borris L. Miles Insurance, the third largest African-American owned independent insurance agency in the U.S., according to his official House bio.
Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, was in Austin for a couple of days last week, the tail end of a trip that took him to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, to see if there is the interest out here in America for him to run for president in 2016.
Sanders would be a novel candidate for the Democratic nomination for president because, for starters, he is not a Democrat, though he caucuses with them in the Senate. He is, in fact, the longest serving Independent in congressional history.
Also, he is an avowed socialist, unlike most Democrats, who are only accused socialists.
He is from Vermont, among the smallest states, which, year by year, vies with Maine for being the whitest state in the nation.
And listen Texas, Vermont is not to be trifled with.
To know why we may soon be living in a however unlikely Bernie Sanders moment, it is useful to know Vermont, the state Sanders has represented in Congress for 24 years, the last eight as a senator. It is helpful to understand that long before Sam Houston and the loutish Lone Star State, before the “patriot” secessionists of Arizona, there was the Republic of Vermont, a sovereign nation with its own constitution. Signed in a tavern during a raging thunderstorm in 1777, the Vermont constitution forbade slavery and guaranteed suffrage to male non-landowners. In other words, it offered more freedom than the famous document promulgated by the vaunted U.S. Founding Fathers and ratified in 1789.
Judging by his reception in Austin, Sanders will be running for president. And, for a number of reasons I’ll explain as we go along, I think Sanders could prove a problem for Hillary Clinton, especially in the early going.
In Austin, Sanders packed them in by the hundreds at a Town Meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall on Ben White on Tuesday night. It was an ebullient crowd of union members and a virtual who’s who of progressive Austin politics. He was introduced by Jim Hightower.
And then, the next night, he sold out the Travis County Democratic Party’s annual Johnson-Bentsen-Richards Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel. (One may recall that last year’s JBR dinner at the Four Seasons, featuring the party’s gubernatorial nominee, Wendy Davis, was “closed press,” except for a Texas Tribune livestream, because of an apparent effort by the Davis campaign and/or the party to tamp down any chance, however unlikely, of her succeeding.)
I interviewed Sanders in between shows, on Wednesday afternoon on the patio of Serrano’s on Red River. There he was holding court – or, in his curmudgeonly style, suffering through – a succession of interviews with local press. I was preceded by Chris Hooks and Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer and followed by Mary Tuma of the Austin Chronicle, whose Q and A with Sanders, you can read here.
I had written about Sanders before. A long time ago. In 1990, I traveled to Vermont to do a story on the possibility that a Brooklyn-born Jewish socialist, coming off eight years as mayor of Burlington – the Austin of Vermont – could become the sole congressman for the state of Vermont. He had run for the seat two years previous and lost, but this time he would win.
Sanders was generous with his time, and my overriding memory of reporting that story was a moment that came during a drive on a glorious spring day with Sanders to Hanover, N.H., where he was going to speak to students at Dartmouth. We must have been an hour into our drive – and I guess I had aleady been talking to him on and off for a couple of days – when, Sanders, who was driving, turned to me and asked, “Can we stop talking about politics?”
It was a briefly searing moment. Gee, I thought, shamefully, I had bored Bernie Sanders into submission. Wow, I thought proudly, I had worn Bernie Sanders out.
Anyway, a quarter century later I’m over that, and I need not have worried this time about wearing Sanders out. Like a waiter at Katz’s Deli in New York, if you pause too long between questions with Sanders, he’ll clear the table – including your half-uneaten pastrami sandwich – and seat the next customer.
Anyway, I began by reading to him a paragraph from a recent Boston Globe editorial, urging Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president, because, at the very least, Hillary Clinton should have a formidable sparring partner to get her into shape.
Democrats would be making a big mistake if they let Hillary Clinton coast to the presidential nomination without real opposition, and, as a national leader, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren can make sure that doesn’t happen. While Warren has repeatedly vowed that she won’t run for president herself, she ought to reconsider. And if Warren sticks to her refusal, she should make it her responsibility to help recruit candidates to provide voters with a vigorous debate on her signature cause, reducing income inequality, over the next year.
The clock is ticking: Presidential candidates need to hire staff, raise money, and build a campaign operation. Although Clinton hasn’t officially declared her candidacy, she’s scooping up support from key party bigwigs and donors, who are working to impose a sense of inevitability about her nomination. Unfortunately, the strategy’s working: Few candidates are coming off the Democrats’ depleted bench to challenge Clinton. Neither declared candidate Jim Webb, a former Virginia senator, nor rumored candidate Martin O’Malley, a former governor of Maryland, represent top-tier opponents; independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has also hinted he might enter the Democratic primaries, but it’s difficult to imagine him thriving on the trail.
OK. Before I tell you Sanders’ reaction, here was mine when I read it.
This has less to do with the Globe thinking America, or the Democratic Party, or Hillary Clinton, needs Elizabeth Warren to run for president, than the Globe wanting to be sure it had a home state candidate it could call its own, have special access to, put out a staff-produced book on, etc. Massachusetts had JFK in 1960, Ted Kennedy’s challenge of Jimmy Carter in 1980, Michael Dukakis in 1988, John Kerry in 2004, Mitt Romney in the 2008 primaries, and as the 2012 nominee. A presidential election cycle without a Massachusetts candidate? Unthinkable.
Anyway, I could tell as I was reading the excerpt to Sanders that he was already bored by it. He said he hadn’t read it, somebody had told him about it, and, “I could care less.”
“As usual, I won’t answer your question,” he said.” It s a good question. Now we’ll ignore it.”
Very good answer, and reason one why I think he could be a formidable candidate.
He doesn’t care about any of the gossipy, horse race, process kind of questions that dominate political coverage, and he makes you embarrassed you asked those questions. All he wants to talk about is what he wants to talk about – income inequality and the “grotesque and obscene” concentration of wealth and income in America. Voters – Democratic primary and caucus voters at any rate – will like that and it will keep him from being embroiled in the petty corruptions and distractions of hour-by-hour press coverage.
Instead, Sanders suggested that I write a letter to the Globe based on his Austin visit, disabusing them of the notion that “it’s difficult to imagine him thriving on the trail.””I was blown away,” he said by the crowd the night before at the union hall. “When we drove in we couldn’t get the damn car in the lot, it was so crowded.”This was true.
And, he said, it was entirely organized by local volunteers.”We didn’t spend a nickel on this thing.”
“We were in LA on Sunday. Five hundred people packed into a union hall. In Las Vegas, the Culinary Workers, 300 people came out. It was mobbed.”
“There is a media mentality that lives in its own world, that keeps listening to each other and keeps repeating the same stuff over and over again and they don’t get outside into the real world. It used to bother me a lot. It bothers me a whole lot less now.”
There is a world out there that the media doesn’t understand – they don’t leave their offices – where people are sick and tired of working longer hours for lower wages, not being able to send their kids to college, not being able to afford health care at the same time as the wealthiest people are doing unbelievably well, and people know, they may not be economists, but they know that there’s something wrong when the top tenth of one percent owning more than the bottom 90 percent, and when 99 percent of all new income is going into the hands of the one percent, which is currently the case. And that’s the message I take around the country and that is the message that I believe people are and will respond to. We need a government that represents all the people and not just the billionaire class, and that’s what I’ve spent my life fighting for and that’s what I’ll continue to fight for whether or not the Boston Globe likes it.
In 2010, Sanders,conducted an eight-and-a-half hour filibuster against President Obama’s proposed tax cut compromise (he was spelled only briefly by Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu) that, Sanders said, would provide “tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need it.”Here’s the last half hour of that filibuster, which he turned into a book, The Speech.
Three years later, Sen. Ted Cruz conducted a 21-hour, 19-minute speech on the Senate floor denouncing Obamacare.
Somewhere in that speech, and I can’t remember whether it came before or after Cruz read Green Eggs and Ham, as a bedtime story to his girls back in Houston, Cruz quoted the writer Ayn Rand: “There are two sides to every issue. One side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice.”
Or, as Cruz put it: “I would far prefer a Senate with 10 Bernie Sanders and 10 Mike Lees to a Senate where the views, the actual commitments, are blurred by obfuscation.” Lee, a Utah Republican, is Cruz’s closest ally in the Senate.
I mentioned that comment to Sanders.
“Yes and no,” he said of Cruz’s notion of a Sanders-Cruz Senate utopia.
“Unfortunately, it’s not quite that,” Sanders said. “We think that we have a chance to actually get through to some of Ted Cruz’s supporters.”
Some of those people are working class people who want to be able to send their kids to college, who are as disgusted with Wall Street as I am, who understand that there is something wrong when both political parties are heavily dominated by big money, and I think what we will do, if I run, is to introduce members of the tea party to the people who founded the tea party, the Koch brothers, and to tell the tea party members what the agenda of the Koch brothers is, which is, end Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and also to have unfettered free trade. I don’t believe that is what most tea party members support.
Which is not talked about – because the media never writes it. The media says, “the Koch brothers are going to spend an enormous amount of money.” But, what do they stand for? What do they want. What does the most powerful political organization in the country want? And they’re very clear: End Social Security. End Medicare. End Medicaid. End federal aid to education. Among other things. And give tax breaks to billionaires.
In my heart of hearts, I believe there is very strong support, very strong majority support to take on the issue of income and wealth ineauality. In the last two years, the wealthiest 14 people in this country have seen their wealth increase by $157 billion. Increase. That is more wealth than the bottom 40 % of the American people. Ninety-nine percent of all new income goes to the top one percent. Very few people believe that is what the American economy should be. I think an agenda which talks about the need to bring millions of decent paying jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, pay equity for women, dealing with overtime so workers get time-and-a-half. Dealing with climate change. Ending our disastrous trade policies. Joining the rest of the world by having health care for all as a right I think that’s an agenda supported by the vast majority of the American people. Demanding that the rich and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes. All of that is supported by the American people.
What I don’t know, and the reason I’m on this trip is “OK, you’ve agreed, are you prepared to actively get involved in a campaign, are you prepared to contribute a few bucks to that campaign?” That’s what I have to ascertain.
Sanders said this is “one of many trips” he has taken testing the waters, and next up are probably return trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.
It’s obviously self serving, but I like the people of Iowa. It’s very much like Vermont. It is very down-to-earth, working class, ordinary people, who are very involved in politics because of the unique nature of their state politically.
New Hampshire is a neighbor of ours. We know the people there fairly, so those are two states, if I run, I think we could do pretty well.
That’s the second reason Sanders could pose a problem for Clinton.
He has been doing this oil-on-water, Brooklyn boy of the Green Mountains thing for decades with great success, by virtue, it seems, of changing almost nothing about his politics or his persona. His practice in Vermont does give him an edge in rural, small-town and working class Iowa and New Hampshire.
His being an Independent gives him the option of being as anti-Washington as Ted Cruz, but from the left, and his being an out socialist will comfort to the activist left that he won’t wilt on those commitments either in a general election or if he were elected.
And his not being Elizabeth Warren means he will generate less upfront excitement and attention and journalistic nit-picking, which is all good for sneaking up on Clinton.
When will he decide whether to run?
It has to be done at an appropriate time and it will be done sooner than later, but I want to make the right decision. I don’t want to go forward if there is not the political infrastructure, if there is not the capacity to raise the money we need.
How much is that?
You need to know you can raise several hundred million dollars and then know you’ll be outspent 5- to 10- to-1, but you need a certain amount of money to run a credible campaign.
I mean you’re going to get some wealthier people to contribute, but it’s mostly going to be small individual contributions.
If you check the FEC, I think you will find, I believe I raised a higher percentage of small donations than any other member of the Senate. I think our average donation is about $45. And, at the event we did last night, I think most people paid $25 to get in, so you had 500 or more people in but you end up not raising a huge amount of money. You know Jeb Bush sits down, he leaves with $10 million from a dozen people, for his Super PAC. We had 500 people and end up leaving with $10,000.
Would it make a difference if another candidate enters the race talking about the same issues of inequality?
Who’s talking about it? Look I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I have a record. The woman next door can announce she’s running on these issues. But I’ve been identified with these issues for 30 years and I have a record of achievement, as a mayor, as a congressman, as a United States senator. This is not something that I had my pollsters – of which I do not have any – go out and poll the American people and let’s see what issues are relevant and,`Oh, they’re interested in talking about income and wealth inequality, I think I’ll talk about it.’ I’ve been talking about this for decades before other people have been talking about it. This is my life.
In other words, I said to Sanders, you were socialist before it was popular.
That made him laugh. A real, hearty laugh. The sting of him asking me, Can we stop talking about politics, a quarter century earlier, was finally assuaged.
“All right?” Sanders asked, as in, enough already.
One more question. You say you have no pollster, but do you have any smart consultant helping you?
Yeah, he said, “I’ve been working with Tad Devine. he does a pretty god job.”
(For more on Devine, a top tier Democratic consultant who has worked with Sanders for a long time, see this National Journalstory from November – This is how Bernie Sanders will run for president.)
And then, one more time from Sanders, “All right? We done?”
No, I said, not quite yet. “We gotta do this video.”
“You should form a union, tell your newspaper that you’re a serious writer and a journalist and not a videographer, and you’re not going to do this.”
Ah yes, working journalists of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your iChains.
“There’s a lot of things I’m not going to do,” I said. Now, please senator, talk into my smart phone.
It came out OK.
“That was good,” I said.
“All right?” Sanders said, as in “goodbye.”
“There was a truck going by,” I said, worried about the ambient noise.
“That’s real life,” Sanders said. “You don’t have a soundproof studio here. You want to capture real life.”
And, satisfied with that explanation and that I had gotten what I came for, I departed.
Here is Sander’s 12-step economic agenda, as outlined on the Senate floor in December.
Also, while in Austin, Sanders did Overheard with Evan Smith.
Here’s the audience Q and A.
And here is Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker from last fall, likening Sanders as a potential presidential candidate, to Ron Paul.
Earlier in the day, Sanders had told me that he was thinking about running for President. If he does, he will be the Democratic Party’s Ron Paul: his chance of winning would be infinitesimal, but his presence in the race and his passion about a few key issues would expose vulnerabilities in the front-runner’s record and policies, as Paul did with John McCain and Mitt Romney. Sanders recited for me a list of grievances that progressives still harbor about the Clinton Presidency and made it clear that he would exploit them in his campaign.
“The Clinton Administration worked arm in arm with Alan Greenspan—who is, on economic matters, obviously, an extreme right-wing libertarian—on deregulating Wall Street, and that was a total disaster,” Sanders said. “And then you had the welfare issue, trade policies. You had the Defense of Marriage Act.”
He said that the George W. Bush Presidency “will go down in history as certainly the worst Administration in the modern history of America.” But he has also been disappointed by Obama. “I have been the most vocal opponent of him in the Democratic Caucus,” he told me. In his view, Obama should have kept the grass roots of his 2008 campaign involved after he was elected, and he should have gone aggressively after Wall Street. “His weakness is that either he is too much tied to the big-money interests, or too quote-unquote nice a guy to be taking on the ruling class.”
Sanders, like Paul, has a loyal national following that finances his campaigns. He made life difficult for Democrats in Vermont for many years. In 1988, when he was the mayor of Burlington, he went to the Democratic caucus in the city to support Jesse Jackson’s Presidential campaign. One woman, angry with Sanders for his attacks on local Democrats, slapped him in the face. Soon after he won a seat in the House of Representatives, in 1990, some Democrats tried to exclude him from caucusing with them. At a meeting to decide the matter, his opponents humiliated him by reading aloud his previous statements criticizing the Democratic Party.
“I didn’t know that they could track back everything you had ever said,” Sanders told me. “That did not use to be the case. You could certainly get away with a lot of stuff—not anymore!”
The Democrats eventually welcomed him back as a collaborator. In 2006, when he ran for the Senate, the Party supported his candidacy. He now campaigns for those Democrats who are comfortable having an avowed socialist stumping for them, and raises money for others. But he has never been a member of the Democratic Party, and if he decides to run against Hillary in the primary, he will have to join. The alternative would be to run as a third-party candidate in the general election. “It’s a very difficult decision,” he said. “If I was a billionaire, if I was a Ross Perot type, absolutely, I’d run as an independent. Because there is now profound anger at both political parties. But it takes a huge amount of money and organizational time to even get on the ballot in fifty states.”
Most likely, he said, he will run in the Democratic primaries, if he runs at all. I asked him if he thought there was deep dissatisfaction with Hillary on the left. “I don’t think it’s just with Hillary,” he replied. “I think it’s a very deep dissatisfaction with the political establishment.” He insisted that he would run a serious campaign against her, not just “an educational campaign” about his pet issues. “If I run, I certainly would run to win.”
It is well known that the Koch brothers have provided the major source of funding to the Tea Party and want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.What else do the Koch brothers want?
In 1980, David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980.
Let’s take a look at the 1980 Libertarian Party platform
Let’s take a look at the 1980 Libertarian Party platform.
Here are just a few excerpts of the Libertarian Party platform that David Koch ran on in 1980:
“We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.” “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.” “We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.” “We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.” “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.” “We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence. Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.” “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.” “We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.” “As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.” “We support repeal of all law which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.” “We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.” “We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.” “We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.” “We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.” “We support abolition of the Department of Energy.” “We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.” “We demand the return of America’s railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.” “We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.” “We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.” “We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.” “We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.” “We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.” “We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.” “We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.” “We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.” “We support the repeal of all state usury laws.” In other words, the agenda of the Koch brothers is not only to defund Obamacare. The agenda of the Koch brothers is to repeal every major piece of legislation that has been signed into law over the past 80 years that has protected the middle class, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the most vulnerable in this country.
Here is a candid shot of Ted Cruz having Easter dinner with his wife and children.
It is a screen grab from the first official paid political ad of the 2016 presidential campaign, and a remarkable ad it is.
It is about the power of the “transformative love of Jesus Christ” in Cruz’s life, and it appeared in the primest of prime time – at just before 9 p.m., on the most Republican spot on the television dial – the FOX News Channel – two hours into the broadcast of the three-hour movie, Killing Jesus.
Political sweet spots don’t get much sweeter than that.
Except maybe during the Good Friday broadcast of Killing Jesus, and Cruz had that covered as well.
Amid commercials for anti-itch cream, the abundance of awe-inspiring national parks in Utah, the hospitable business climate in New York State (!), and an appeal from that very model of the modern Democratic president – the West Wing’s Martin Sheen – to give so that no child in Appalachia should go to bed hungry, the Cruz ad ran twice on each each broadcast of Killing Jesus.
I will admit that, as a Jew, tuning in a show with that title inspires a certain deeply embedded trepidation. Where they going with this? Who made this movie? Is this another Mel Gibson production?
Well, no. From the FOX promotion:
Tune in tonight to watch “Killing Jesus,” a re-telling of the political and historical conflicts that led to the crucifixion, based on the best-selling book by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.
The Cruz ad, called Blessing, opens, “Were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the house.” As that line is being delivered, Cruz is seen hugging his father Rafael, now a pastor, who returned to his family those many years ago, thanks to Jesus.
Here is the ad:
The ad excerpts Cruz’s March 23 announcement for president at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which bills itself as the world’s largest Christian University. It was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority.
Cruz’s speech at Liberty was explicitly Christian in its focus, evangelical in tone and delivery, and very personal.
When my dad came to America in 1957, he could not have imagined what lay in store for him. Imagine a young married couple, living together in the 1970s, neither one of them has a personal relationship with Jesus. They have a little boy and they are both drinking far too much. They are living a fast life.
When I was three, my father decided to leave my mother and me. We were living in Calgary at the time, he got on a plane and he flew back to Texas, and he decided he didn’t want to be married any more and he didn’t want to be a father to his 3-year-old son. And yet when he was in Houston, a friend, a colleague from the oil and gas business, invited him to a Bible study, invited him to Clay Road Baptist Church, and there my father gave his life to Jesus Christ.
And God transformed his heart. And he drove to the airport, he bought a plane ticket, and he flew back to be with my mother and me.
There are people who wonder if faith is real. I can tell you, in my family there’s not a second of doubt, because were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would (not) have been saved and I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the household.
The ad concludes with Cruz saying:
God’s blessing has been on America since the very beginning of this nation. Over and over again, when we’ve faced impossible odds the American people rose to the challenge.This is our fight, and that is why I’m running for president of the United States.
Cruz was the first name-brand candidate to formally announce his candidacy for presidency, and, right now, still the only one. But Sen. Rand Paul is expected to announce his candidacy in his home state of Kentucky on Tuesday, and hit the early primary and caucus states with kickoff appearances the rest of the week. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will announce his plans next Monday.
But Cruz had Easter all to himself. And he seized full advantage.
I had a story in Sunday’s paper about how Dan Patrick seemed to be treading into new rhetorical territory in the history of Texas politics in describing himself as a “Christian first” in his inaugural address after being sworn in as lieutenant governor in January.
It now appears that on the national presidential scene, Cruz is pulling a Patrick.
When Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, launched his 1988 presidential campaign in 1986, he talked a lot about God, but made no explicit mention of Jesus. But here was Cruz, in his announcement and his first ad, aired on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, talking explicitly about Jesus by name.
“I was very excited by it,” Patrick said of Cruz’s speech.. “I would have given a very similar speech.”
Evangelical Christians hold tremendous sway in the Iowa caucuses next January, and Cruz is not the only candidate staking a claim to the vote. The last two winners of the caucuses – former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 – banked on that support, and both may be running again this time.
But Cruz is the latest model and, as is his wont, the brashest.
Compare his ad, for example, to this warm-and-fuzzy Huckabee ad that he put out in Christmas 2007 with its unsubtle but still ostensibly subliminal cross.
And here is another in which Huckabee talks about his faith, but still without mentioning Jesus.
Cruz’s aggressive approach seems to be paying off in Iowa.
As aides politely tried to rush Ted Cruz from an event in Cedar Falls to one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, the presidential candidate continued shaking hands with anyone who wanted to meet him. Finally, after the selfies and conversations started to die down, his aides managed to move him closer to the door when a tall, burly man stopped him.
“Senator,” he said, “can I pray with you real quick?”
“Yeah,” Cruz said, as he clasped the man’s upper arm and the two bowed their heads.
It was one of the many moments when Cruz connected with voters on a religious level last week, as the senator from Texas hit the trail in Iowa for the first time as a presidential candidate.
Being the only official contender in the race, Cruz drew large crowds during his two-day swing across the state. He’s counting on Iowa, known for its vocal and active evangelical base, to propel him forward in what’s expected to be a tough competition among a crowded field of GOP candidates.
Cruz, himself, displays a pastoral swagger when he is speaking on stage and working a room. The senator regularly avoids using a podium, instead favoring pacing the stage with a wireless microphone, a scene reminiscent of a Sunday morning sermon. When he meets with people after events, he embraces each one’s hand with both of his, softens his usually theatric tone and looks people square in the eye — a familiar interaction between churchgoing Christians and their pastors.
The past two winners of Iowa’s caucuses rose to victory with support from the Christian right, and Cruz, who announced his bid last month at the well-known Baptist school Liberty University, is aiming to energize that same base and claim the coveted state as his prize.
Evangelicals make up a large segment of Iowa’s Republican voter bloc. According to a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll from January, 44% of likely 2016 Republican caucus-goers said they were born-again or evangelical Christians.
“If you look at available places for the party to expand the vote, it doesn’t exist in the middle, it exists in the evangelical vote,” said Rick Tyler, a top Cruz adviser. “It isn’t a pond, it’s an unfished ocean of available voters who are conservative.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he expects to see record turnout among evangelicals in 2016 no matter who the nominee is or what that person says.
Now there is plenty of push-back to the notion that Cruz is employing what will be a long-term winning strategy beyond Iowa.
Wait, why were you running again? Because the American people rise to challenges? Or because “this is our fight”? And what is our fight?”
OK, so we shouldn’t expect too much specificity from a 30-second ad. But it’s pretty clear that at least at this point Cruz is presenting himself as the most Christian candidate (Cruz is a Southern Baptist). I get that his religious faith is very important to him, but as a political strategy, even in a party made up in significant part of evangelical Christians, taking Jesus as your running mate is a sure loser.
We know that because so many people have tried it before and failed. That’s what Rick Santorum did in 2012, and what Mike Huckabee did in 2008. It doesn’t succeed for a couple of reasons. First, the evangelical voters to whom it’s primarily aimed are a large part of the party’s voters, but not so overwhelming a part that they swamp everyone else. For instance, in 2012, evangelicals voted 4-1 for Mitt Romney, but they were only 21 percent of the electorate. Which means that they made up only about a third of Romney’s voters. That’s a lot, but it isn’t so many that you can get the Republican nomination if evangelicals is all you’ve got.
Secondly, no one’s going to get all of them in the primaries, or even nearly all. Even if you’re looking for the most devout candidate, there will be plenty of contenders to choose from, including Scott Walker (whose father was a Baptist minister), maybe Huckabee (himself a Baptist minister), possibly Bobby Jindal (who holds prayer rallies), and definitely Rick Perry (who’s “not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian“). Even if Cruz succeeded in becoming the top choice of Christian conservatives, that would still leave him a long way from the nomination.
Somebody always tries to be the Christian candidate, and that person never gets the nomination. But maybe Cruz is just starting out by establishing his religious bona fides, and then he’ll move on to win more people over with his compelling policy ideas.
And here from Steve Chapman, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, in the libertarian magazine, Reason, under the headline, Ted Cruz’s New Campaign Slogan: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” Why catering to the Born-Again GOP is a losing strategy
President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill making “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto, but his approach to religion was not excessive in its rigor. “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious belief,” he once declared, “and I don’t care what it is.”
He might have been taken aback at the spectacle presented by fellow Republican Ted Cruz Monday in Lynchburg, Va. The Texas senator sounded less like he was running for president of the United States than for president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Invocations of the Almighty have long been a normal and harmless part of American political rhetoric. Even Barack Obama, whom many people continue to believe is a Muslim rather than a Christian, ends his speeches, “God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.”
But Cruz takes this custom to a novel extreme. He was not paying the normal tribute to general and widely held Christian beliefs. He was informing a narrow slice of Protestants, “I’m one of you.” Most religious expressions by politicians are inclusionary. His was the opposite.
Politically this sounds like a losing long-term strategy, since white evangelicals (the chief target of his appeal) make up a small, shrinking group. Today, they are only 18 percent of the population—just slightly more than the percentage with no religious affiliation. Cruz’s message will alienate at least as many people as it will attract.
It puts him in a geographic box as well as a sectarian one, since white evangelicals disproportionately live in the South. It hinders him with younger voters, who are the least likely to be born-again Christians.
But in the short run, or the Republican primaries, his born-again appeals may help him compete against candidates like Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, Rick Santorum, a religious culture warrior, and Scott Walker, son of a Baptist minister. One of them is bound to use this campaign slogan: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”
It’s hard to believe that white Southern evangelicals once took a very different view of politics. In 1960, when Democratic candidate John Kennedy needed to address concerns about his Catholic faith—something no president had shared—he spoke to Protestant pastors in Houston.
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” he proclaimed. “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation on him as a condition to holding that office.”
When he was done, his audience applauded. If a politician were to say the same thing to modern evangelicals, they would be more likely to sit in stony silence.
Cruz is unabashed in implying that his religious views are an excellent reason to vote for him. He also thinks they are, and should be, inseparable from his views on policy. He won’t get much argument in GOP debates.
On CNN’s State of the Union, anchor Jim Acosta Sunday had this exchange about Cruz with Rabbi Matt Gewirtz of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey, and Father Edward Beck, CNN religion commentator.
ACOSTA: Ted Cruz was the first to jump in. He announced his candidacy at Liberty University, which is a university who was founded by Jerry Falwell. How did that strike you, to see a candidate for the presidency of the United States launch his campaign from a university that is essentially founded by Christian conservatives?
GEWIRTZ: I think it would have worked well in the ’90s and maybe pre-2001. I think it’s tone deaf now.
I think it’s tone deaf because I do not think faith is under attack. What I do believe is I have members of my congregation who so badly want to embrace faith. When they hear the kinds of things they’ve heard during the last couple of weeks it makes them think, if that’s what faith is about, then I don’t want any part of it. That they want spiritual life, they want inner life.
And, you know, before 2001 it was a luxury to think of the Terri Schiavo’s of the world. Who would think about those kinds of wedge issues that worked really well to get people elected. But guess what, since then I think it’s 36 states have now passed gay marriage laws. And I think either America’s beginning to move on or beginning to see that people of all stripes have a place around the table.
ACOSTA: Father Beck, what do you make — because I think it’s fair to say that Ted Cruz is wearing his religion, his faith on his sleeve. I don’t think that’s a slam on Ted Cruz. Do you find that to be authentic when you see candidates, political candidates wearing their faith on their sleeves?
BECK: I think perhaps it may be authentic for them but polls show Americans don’t want it. Americans want to keep that separation. And so I think that they do it at their own peril because people are going to say, `look, if that’s what it’s going to be about for you, just bringing your faith into every decision, then you’re not going to represent the vast majority of the country. And therefore, you may not be our candidate.’
And that’s reason 1 of 28934233829 why he’s not getting my vote.
Meanwhile, George Will suggests that Cruz’s strategy is even more fundamentally flawed than his targeting evangelicals.
Sen. Ted Cruz was born in 1970, six years after events refuted a theory on which he is wagering his candidacy. The 1964 theory was that many millions of conservatives abstained from voting because the GOP did not nominate sufficiently deep-dyed conservatives. So if in 1964 the party would choose someone like Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, hitherto dormant conservatives would join the electorate in numbers sufficient for victory.
This theory was slain by a fact — actually, 15,951,378 facts. That was the difference between the 43,129,566 votes President Lyndon Johnson received and the 27,178,188 that Goldwater got on the way to winning six states.
The sensible reason for nominating Goldwater was not because he could win: As Goldwater understood, Americans still recovering from the Kennedy assassination were not going to have a third president in 14 months. The realistic reason was to turn the GOP into a conservative weapon for a future assault on the ramparts of power. Hence in September 1964, William F. Buckley told an audience of young conservatives to anticipate Goldwater’s defeat because he had been nominated “before we had time properly to prepare the ground.” The candidacy had, however, planted “seeds of hope, which will flower on a great November day in the future.” Sixteen Novembers later, they did.
Today, however, there is no need to nominate Cruz in order to make the GOP conservative. Cruz sits in a Senate that has no Republicans akin to the liberals Goldwater served with — New York’s Jacob Javits, Massachusetts’s Edward Brooke, Illinois’s Charles Percy, New Jersey’s Clifford Case, California’s Thomas Kuchel. When Jeb Bush, the most conservative governor of a large state since Ronald Reagan (by some metrics — taxes, school choice — Bush was a more conservative governor than Reagan), is called a threat to conservatism, Republicans are with Alice in Wonderland.
Announcing his candidacy with characteristic fluency before the Christian students and faculty of Liberty University, Cruz noted that “roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting” and imagined “millions” of such voters surging into the electorate. Cruz, like Shakespeare’s Glendower (“I can call spirits from the vasty deep”), hopes his rhetorical powers can substantially change the composition of the Republican nominating electorate. Skeptics of Cruz’s summoning respond like Hotspur: “But will they come when you do call for them?”
(Subsequent to Cruz’s announcement, PolitiFact Texas did its own check of of his claim that “roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting,” and found it “mostly false.”)
Will concludes that, ultimately, the outcome of the general election comes down to a handful of competitive states and that the real test is, Which Republican is most apt to flip Pennsylvania by accumulating large majorities in Philadelphia’s suburbs?
He says it’s not Cruz.
OK. So Cruz has his work cut out for himself to get elected the next president of the United States.
But, what seems indisputable is that his roll-out so far has been a stunning success, grabbing the microphone, stealing the headlines, and vaulting him into the top tier of the Republican field. What more could a candidate want?
PPP’s newest Republican national poll finds that Ted Cruz has the big momentum following the official announcement of his candidacy last week. His support has increased from 5% to 16% in just over a month, enough to make him one of three candidates in the top tier of GOP contenders, along with Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.
Walker continues to lead the field with 20%, although that’s down from his 25% standing a month ago. Bush continues to poll at 17%, followed by Cruz at 16%, Ben Carson and Rand Paul at 10%, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee at 6%, Chris Christie at 4%, and Rick Perry at 3%.
Cruz has really caught fire with voters identifying themselves as ‘very conservative’ since his announcement. After polling at only 11% with them a month ago, he now leads the GOP field with 33% to 25% for Walker and 12% for Carson with no one else in double digits. Last month Walker led with that group and almost all of the decline in his overall support over the last month has come within it as those folks have moved toward Cruz. Cruz’s name recognition with Republican voters has increased from 61% to 82% since his announcement. Besides Cruz the other candidate with momentum over the last month is Rand Paul. His support has increased from 4% to 10%.
Two candidates are clearly losing ground. The biggest is Ben Carson, who’s dropped from 18% to his new 10% standing. There’s a lot of overlap between the voters who like Carson and the voters who like Cruz and where previously they’d been naming Carson as their first choice the momentum for Cruz lately seems to have really cut into Carson’s support. The other potential candidate who seems to be losing some steam is Mike Huckabee. A month ago he was at 10%, but now his standing has declined to 6%.
This is pretty phenomenal progress for Cruz.
And this is before his Good Friday and Easter Sunday Jesus ad, which could only send his poll numbers further heavenward.
“I don’t think he could have had a better strategy, all the way from his launch to his swing through Iowa,” said Bob Vander Plaats, an influential social conservative leader in Iowa. “He’s had a strong announcement, and he’s going to be a strong candidate.”
A half century ago, on his way to his crushing general election defeat, Barry Goldwater told the 1964 Republican National Convention, Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Two points. Goldwater won his party’s nomination. And America seems a far more conservative place than Beatlemania America. And, by hugging the right edge with his talent for articulate provocation, Cruz may prove particularly adept at holding the national spotlight.
For the next 20 months or so, we will be talking about Ted Cruz. Whether or not we like the guy, attention to the microscopic details of the Texas senator’s life may very well drive us to the point of madness. But don’t worry, he’s only one of many soon-to-be-declared presidential contenders that will become the awkward topic of conversation at our family dinners and holiday work parties!
I say, let’s enjoy this finite amount of time when Cruz is more human than flesh-standee shoulder of all of our hopes, anxieties, and fears. Let’s really relish, for example, the candidate’s oddball internet acumen, like Cruz’s Twitter avatar, which is the most blatant Jesus pose a person can hold without blaspheming the Lamb of God. Scrolling through Ted Cruz’s Twitter stream is like shopping at a Christian bookstore or cleaning out my grandmother’s guest bedroom.
Cruz knows his demo. Cruz’s big announcement was made at Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian college. Cruz, as Politico notes, is angling himself as a Christian conservative candidate. A picture’s worth a thousand words, so I suppose this GIF, courtesy Vox Media’s Dylan Lathrop, is worth a million.
This watercolor was painted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
As I explained in Sunday’s story:
He offers a card on which is printed a watercolor of what appears to be Jesus Christ as the Statue of Liberty. It is titled “His Nation.”
Patrick painted it on a cruise aboard the Queen Mary from London to New York about five years ago on which he and his wife, Jan, dined with a renowned watercolorist who offered to give them lessons each day of the cruise.
For his second painting, Patrick attempted an avant-garde Statue of Liberty in the style of Andy Warhol, but couldn’t get the face right so dabbed it with a damp paper towel to remove some paint and start over. As it dried, he said, the face of Jesus emerged.
I just looked at that and looked, and said, `Wow.’ That’s a true story. I couldn’t repaint that if you paid me a million dollars,” said Patrick.
“Where is the original?” I asked Patrick.
“You know I don’t know where the original is,” Patrick said. “It’s got to be around the house somewhere.”
The first on his list is commonly used among the Capitol set: #txlege. It’s applied when a tweet on Twitter or an entry on another social media website makes a reference to something in the Legislature.
The #txlege hashtag should promote interaction between elected officials and the citizens of the state, Sheets said.
“Organizations are learning that it is easier to operate in the world using social media,” Sheets said. “It’s how people are communicating.”
Sheets also wants to make official #Texas for anything positive about the state. According to the language of the resolution, #Texas will allow “people of every age and background from around the world” to take part in “an endless conversation about all facets of the Lone Star State.”
Sheets also borrowed from the Texas tourism website with his effort to make #TexasToDo an official hashtag to promote tourism and…well…things to do in Texas.
It remains to be seen if making a hashtag official will make it uncool.
Exposing yet another rift in the Texas House and Senate’s tax cut plans, the House’s lead tax policy writer said in a videotaped interview that emerged Friday that he wants to cut the business franchise tax rate by 25 percent across-the-board.
The Senate has proposed a 15 percent rate reduction and also expanding the exemption to the tax to include 61,000 smaller businesses.
“I compliment the Senate,” state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said in an interview taped last Thursday, the day after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a tax cut package that also reduces homeowner property taxes by more than $2 billion.
“We believe we can do a little bit better than that and cut it 25 percent,” Bonnen continued. “That’s the proposal we’re going to present in the Texas House.”
The chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee is expected to unveil a tax cut package next week that he has said will also include an across-the-board cut to the sales tax rate. He and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, traded jabs in televised interviews this week over the differences in their proposed tax cuts plans.
The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation praised Bonnen’s plan in a statement released Friday.
“While we are in favor of putting the margin tax on a path to elimination for the biggest economic effect, this potential 25 percent cut in both rates is a huge step in the right direction,” said Talmadge Heflin, director of the foundation’s Center for Fiscal Policy Director. The foundation also has promoted replacing the franchise tax with a much higher sales tax, a departure from Bonnen’s proposal.