In Salman v. Stickland, a celebration of diversity in Euless is tested

 

Good Monday Austin:

On Saturday, one week to the day after he was narrowly elected to the City Council in the little Tarrant County city of Euless – population about 55,000 and half white – Salman Bhojani and his supporters gathered at one of the parks that are the city’s pride to celebrate his victory.

Bhojani spoke and then delivered some of the 140 awards he had prepared for the many folks who, in one way or another,  had helped with his winning campaign.

Here is what Bhojani had to say:

We have made history here in Euless. There has never been a Muslim candidate for City Council. No member of an ethnic minority has ever been elected to office in Euless. And, to the best of my knowledge, no other City Council candidate has had to run not only against their opponent, but also against their own representative in the Texas Legislature.

To prevail against these odds truly is a historic achievement. That’s why stories about our campaign continue to appear daily in local papers, in the statewide press, and now in the national news media.

Folks, this is a big deal, and I’m glad you’re all here to experience this with me and my family.

Friends, when people refer back to this historic race, I hope they will not just focus on the victory itself, but our journey and the values we displayed. The great people of Euless voted for us because they saw something in our campaign. Chances are they were drawn to our values. These values underpin  every piece of communication that came from our campaign, whether it was a Facebook post, a tweet, a  mailer, a press interview or a conversation with a voter, and in my humble opinion, there are three important values that we displayed. 

Number one: Hard work. Boy, have we worked hard on this campaign. We knocked on more than 5,000 doors. Made thousands of phone calls. Sent out at least three mailers. And were out at the polls every day from dawn to dusk.

Second: Resiliency and perseverance. We received a lot of hateful speech and anti-Muslim bigotry. But we persevered through it and always brought back the focus of my love and passion to serve this great city. We did not give up.

Third: Honor and humility. We took the high road. We did not let negativity and hatred drag us down. But instead, we made it help us pull upwards. As Michelle Obama aptly put it, when they go low, you go high.

And these are the values that I have grown up with in my family, in my faith and in my community, and these are the values I will continue to display in the coming months and years as I work to improve our city.

For my Ismaili friends, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of this victory during the year when millions of Ismailis are celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of our beloved leader, his Highness, Prince  Karim Aga Khan, who is the 49th hereditary spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims. For the past 60 years, the Aga Khan has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life of people around the world and he is my role model. Hence, this is doubly historic for me and the entire Ismaili community, and I wish everyone Diamond Jubilee Mubarak.

(Note: From the  official website of the Ismaili Muslim community: The Shia Ismaili Muslims are a community of ethnically and culturally diverse peoples living in over 25 countries around the world, united in their allegiance to His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan (known to the Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam) as the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader), and direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family.)

Friends, I’ve been congratulated many times in the last week – in person, on the phone, in text messages, and on social media. I’ve been especially moved by people who wrote to say that this win restored their hope in America, or in democracy, and in their neighbors. I do think that people have been losing hope. The man who is now president of the United States launched his campaign by declaring, “The American dream is dead.” Well, the American dream is not dead here in Euless. It’s alive and well in this cities and cities like it, here in Texas and all across the nation.

I knew nothing about Euless politics a few days ago. Since then I have learned something about the recent municipal election and I think what happened there provides a useful microcosm of Texas politics, and where it may be headed. At its crux is the state’s changing demography and the political meaning of diversity, which can be the most benign even insipid of terms, or most the most loaded and charged in the  modern American political vocabulary.

Euless is also interesting because Bhojani’s opposite number – his own representative in the Texas Legislature –      is Republican state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, who lives in neighboring Bedford.

Neither Bhojani or Stickland have ever met or talked to one another.

But I’ve spoken to them both at length in the last few days, both to try to figure out what happened in Euless, but also because I felt some obligation as, I would humbly submit, a leading Sticklandologist.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, right, talks to a lawmaker in the House Chamber at the Capitol on Wednesday January 11, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

One of the first stories I wrote after moving to Texas to cover politics for the Statesman was a Jan. 16, 2013 piece about the huge incoming class of newly elected Republican representatives. It began as follows:

State Rep.-elect Jonathan Stickland is 29. He left high school early and got a GED. He had never held or run for office before. His local elected officialdom was virtually unanimous in its preference for his Republican primary opponent. If he has a charisma it’s in his super-ordinariness. And he doesn’t even have the “r” in his last name that everyone assumes is supposed to be there.

And there, in brief, are the keys to Stickland’s stunning success. Every strike against him, he marvels, turned out to be an advantage in what turned out to be a crushing, 20-point primary victory. Each provided a way for people to remember and identify with him. He just had to own it, live it, be it.

Now, Stickland is one of the reasons why the new Texas House, when it convenes Tuesday for its biennial session, will be swollen with freshman – 43 in all. Together with 24 sophomores, the new and the near-new will make up close to half the 150 members of the House.

“It’s an incredible number,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

Much of that has to do with places like Stickland’s home turf – Tarrant County – a tea party stronghold where voters gave one well-tenured Republican after another the boot.

 Said Stickland, “Tarrant County lost a lot of seniority in this wave – Northeast Tarrant Tea Party. They won every single race they endorsed in.”

So, as Stickland proclaimed to huzzahs at a well-attended NE Tarrant Tea Party gathering in December, “Tarrant County just sent the most conservative group down to Austin that this state has ever seen.”

And Stickland said in an interview, “I plan on having the most conservative voting record in the entire House of Representatives.”

CREDIT: Jonathan Tilove, American-Statesman.
Freshman legislator Jonathan Stickland of Tarrant County, December 2012.

Later in the story, I explained that:

Stickland was “discovered” by Julie McCarty, president of the board of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, who was especially impressed with the way he confronted U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, at a town hall meeting after Burgess voted in 2011 to raise the debt limit.

“Jonathan was so well spoken, and it wasn’t just that he had good points to make. They were so well-thought out and easy to understand,” said McCarty. “It was truly the voice of the people.”

“Honestly, I never considered running until I got an email from Julie McCarty at 11:45 at night, sitting in front of my home computer eating a bowl of ice cream,” recalled Stickland. “My wife was leaning over me and started laughing. Then she said, ‘Crap, you might be able to do that.’”

Suffice it to say, Stickland has more than fulfilled the promise that first Julie, and then I, saw in him.

So it was not at all surprising on Thursday, when Stickland came up at Evan Smith’s interview of Austin’s Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and the author of, among many books, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2007, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, and his newest, God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State.

EVAN SMITH: Which is more in inscrutable, impenetrable institution: Al-Qaeda, Scientology or the Legislature?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT: Well, I spend a lot of time studying cults.

SMITH:  I was asking about the people. Bin Laden, L. Ron Hubbard or Jonathan Stickland? Who’s a better character to write about?

WRIGHT: If they had a swap, you might not notice some of the differences.

Let me put this in a more sober way. These are all people that believe in what they are doing.

These three entities are filled with true believers, and depending on what they believe they can act for good or ill.

We first met Jonathan Stickland on page 233 of God Save Texas.

Which brings us to the recent Euless City Council election in which Hubbard, who died of a stroke in 1986 played no role, and Bin Laden, having been killed by the chancellor of the University of Texas, makes only a cameo, but Stickland is the looming tower.

Bhojani, a Pakistani immigrant, moved to Carrollton 18 years ago. He moved to Bedford in 2007 and in 2010 he bought a home in Euless after reading an article in the Dallas Morning News about how it was the best place to raise a family in North Texas.

An attorney, he has served on the Euless Park & Leisure Services Board for four years.

Last year, he ran for council, challenging Place 2 City Council Member Jeremy Tompkins. He lost.

In March of last year, as he wrote, “For the first time in Euless history, a verse of the holy Quran (and its English translation) was recited to start the City Council meeting. Blessed to be part of this momentous occasion (with Amir Makhani) and hope to bring more diversity in the Euless City Council! #VoteBhojani”

Bhojani, a Boy Scout leader, was invited to the ceremony by the affiliated Cub Scout troop, which had been  the ones invited to recite the pray.

“I got a lot of heat for it,” Bhojani said.

But, he said, the concerns were unfounded.

“For decades, or for a century, for more than a century, we’ve read a Christian invocation before City Council and I have not taken offense at that. Every single Park Board meeting I have attended starts out with a Christian invocation, and I have not taken any offense at that,” Bhojani said.

That, one time in a century, the Quran was recited, should not have been cause for alarm.

“What’s wrong with it?” Bhojanni said. “Even the words that were recited were about unity among faiths.It was a proud moment for all the City Council members. Everybody that was there commented on it.”

But the Cub Scout invocation had roiled the waters, Stickland said, not so much the event itself but, he said,  Bhojani’s touting of it in his campaign.

STICKLAND:

There’s foreign media doing this big international story – `It’s great we’re reading from the Quran for the first time in the city of Euless.”

It totally freaks out the establishment, energizes my people. This guy’s got an agenda here way bigger than I wanna fix the roads or help out the police officers, just the way that he did it.

It was that that was the centerpiece of his campaign. Nobody campaigns on, “Oh we need t to change the prayers at City Council.”

It’s, “we’ve got roads to fix.”

That’s the normal stuff. This guy’s running a hard-core crazy campaign, this is what he is about, this is what he wants, to turn the city of Euless into a news story,

This is a little small bedroom community, this is suburbia, people move out of Dallas to get away from this sensationalized stuff.

And then there is cricket.

STICKLAND:

Theres a major park here in Euless and he started campaigning on changing the park and turning it into a cricket field and people are saying, “No one plays cricket except a small, small portion of people and then we are going to get all these cricket players coming into Euless taking up our park.”

Bhojani didn’t win in 2017, but he ran a strong second.

Stickland said, it was a rare local election in his district since he’s been elected, that he didn’t get in the middle of – with, he acknowledeged, uniformly disastrous results.

STICKLAND: 

I literally, especially when I was first elected, came in with  guns ablazing. I had candidates, a conservative, tea party candidates, running in every (city council and school board) spot in the district and I got crushed. I have never, ever backed a candidate who won any local election.

Why? Stickland said he has clout in partisan election, but not the ultra low-turnout non-partisan elections.

Of Bhojani’s 2017 campaign, Stickland said:

It was under the radar, it wasn’t on anyone’s radar, this guy comes out of nowhere, spends a bunch of money and nearly takes out the establishment which, frankly, we had been trying to do for years, unsuccessfully. Anyhow, I had a lot of people who support me voting for him just because they’re so used to voting for whoever is running against the establishment. It’s usually a conservative, but we didn’t run anyone.

So he nearly wins, the Euless Council folks frankly freak out a little bit, come to me behind the scenes and say, “Hey we almost lost and we’re a little bit worried about this guy,” and I’m, “Ah, whatever, I’m not going to help you guys, you guys don’t like me, whatever.”

Fast forward, and about six months later, he is, “I’m going to run again,” and he totally does a 180 on who he is and what he’s doing, and he starts exposing himself as a hard-core progressive liberal hanging out with some of the known Democratic leaders in the area, and starts getting active on Facebook and it’s all centered around this one theme that we didn’t hear in the first race, Oh, we need diversity. We’ve got enough white Christian types, Euless is diverse, which it is, and he makes it all about this racial diversity and religious diversity that we need.

They don’t have a candidate, usually the establishment has their little hierarchy, they’re like, “Hey, do you have anybody who could run?” And I’m going through my Rolodex and there’s this sweet little old lady, Molly Maddox, retired teacher who’s kind of political, lived in Euless for like 42 years, lot of people know her, she still substitutes up at Trinity High School up to this day, regularly, so we convince her to run and I promise to help fund the race.

And frankly, when they didn’t have a candidate and were wiling to take mine, I was like, maybe I can sneak a conservative on there. Win-win.

(I was in contact with the mayor and three members of the Euless council who dispute Stickland’s version of events. More on that later.)

Meanwhile, the Texas Democratic Party endorses Bhojani, even though the election is non-partisan.

From a March 12 release:

Texas Democrats Endorse Local Candidates

Austin, TX– Today, the Texas Democratic Party endorsed progressive candidates enrolled in our Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program for the May 5th elections.

Project LIFT works with local party leaders and progressive partners to recruit, train, and support candidates – with a special focus on winning local, non-partisan races.

Meet the Texas Democratic Party’s Project LIFT endorsed candidates:

  • Salman Bhojani, Euless City Council Place 6

    Salman is a young, but experienced, progressive leader with a passion for connecting citizens with their local government. In addition to being a lawyer and having worked at one of the nation’s top law firms, he is a successful business owner. Salman has taken a leadership role in various community-focused organizations and currently serves on the Euless Parks and Leisure Services Board. Salman has lived on three different continents, he calls Euless his home, where he lives with his wife Nima, two children, and his parents.

STICKLAND:

It got to the point where we felt like, hey, we need to put out the alarm and we put up that first Facebook post.

STICKLAND:

If you go back and you look at it, it’s all about, this guy’s a Democrat, he only votes in Democrat primaries, he’s only donated to these Democrats, these are the issues he is campaigning on, and up at the very top of the stupid thing I  described him as a “Muslim, lawyer, liberal Democrat,” because that’s the way he’s described himself all over this deal, and on it I put a link to a video on his campaign Facebook page to this news article about how great it was that for the first time we were reading from the Quran and I just regurgitated it back out to the public

And then, oh man, the gates of Hell open up and it’s like, `Oh, he’s anti-Muslim, he’s an Islamophobe, he’s a racist bigot”, all that stuff starts, and it blows up, and it kind of shocks you to be honest with you, because in my own head, I’m he least Islamophobic guy in the Legislature being a Ron Paul Republican. I’m the only guys who has spoken out publicly against the wars in the Middle East. I’m the only guy who endorsed Shahid Shafi for Southlake City Council.

Stickland said he’s been a big backer of the very diverse Harmony Public Charter School in Euless.

I have been a hardcore advocate for these people in the community and taken a ton of heat for it. I spoke at their graduation ceremony. I teach there like three times a year. It’s very diverse,  got a lot of Muslims there.

As a libertarian-leaning Republican, I’m not anti-Muslim at all. In fact, that’s the main platform of me being a libertarian is I hate all that crap.

I could care less about how he prays to or any of that kind of stuff. My problem is I don’t want to turn the city of Euless into a circus, trying to bring in media and everything else. And I don’t like his politics.

I agree we have great diversity in our district. I spent thousands of dollars last session to sponsor and charter a bus – we’ve got a large Tongan community in Euless – and we had our first Tongan Day at the Capitol, and I chartered a bus and we had a Tongan celebration at the Capitol and recognized them, I paid for every cent of it because I think that’s great. But when you stand up and say, vote for me because of my skin color, that’s a problem. He literally made campaign videos about this issue.

There’s a difference between, “Vote for me because I’m diverse,” and celebrating diversity.

The second you say this matters, you are at the same time casting out the white folks.

I think it became a problem when he said it was a reason to vote for him. “Vote for me because I am this.” If I stood up in a crowd and said, “Vote for me because I’m a white Christian,” I think that’s a problem.”

If I sand up and say I’m Christian conservative and use that in my speech and talk about my values, that’s completely fine. If I stood up say, “Vote for me because I’m the only Christian,” or, “That person’s not a Christian, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

I don’t care, like Joe Straus for instance, if people are like, “I don’t like him because he’s a Jew,” that’s ridiculous, I never cared about that all, because you know what, I cared about his positions on the issues. I would vote for Craig Goldman for speaker tomorrow if I had the chance to and he’s a Jew. It’s completely irrelevant.

I think it’s fair to talk about who you are as a person, because I really do think your faith determines values in a lot of instances, but his faith is not what I had a problem with. What I had a problem with, what I thought was offensive, was that he was using this as a way to create a schism in the community.

Bhojani said that is a complete mischaracterization of his campaign.

BHOJANI:

(Stickland’s Facebook) comments were very hurtful and excited people in a very negative way. Those were Islamophobic comments just deliberately set up to rile up people and rile up support for his investment in Molly Maddox.

A lot of people who had Islamophhobia in their minds, they turned them out, that’s why it was close. We ran a very positive campaign and tried to talk about the city issues.

My kids (9 and 12)  are getting an education of a lifetime because they would not get this education anywhere, in any college, any university or any school, so I was very blessed to run a positive campaign that was away from hatred and negativity.

Bhojani said he and his wife were at the Euless Library every day of early voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., talking to voters.

Some people would say, `America is for Americans, you need to go back to Pakistan.’

I would be telling them that, with all due respect, I am an American citizen as well. The United States government has issued a passport to me. I have two kids that were born here. Where else would I go. `No, you’ve got to go home to your country.” But this is my country. “No, you’re not born here.” By your definition, only American Indians would be Americans. “You’re not a true American. I won’t vote for you.”

That’s one rhetoric.

Another rhetoric would be about religion, They would ask, “What religion do you follow?”

First I would answer back and say religion has no place in politics. There is no religious test to run for office . But they wouldn’t want to hear that answer and they’d spit out hatred, “No, you’re a Muslim, we are not going to vote for you.”

For others, I would say I am a Muslim, and they would say, “We don’t vote for terrorists.”

Another man told his wife that if he were elected the crime rate would soar and there would be retaliation against him.

She was really concerned.

They said, “We like Euless he way it is right now. We don’t want any change.”

A couple of people, really educated, talked about friends they had who were Muslim, and at the end asked, “What do you think of Osama Bin Laden?” I said, “What do you mean?”

They wanted to know if I thought the Pakistani government had harbored Bin Laden.
I said that’s a good question, I have no idea, I have no ties to the Pakistani government I left Pakistan when I was ten-years-old. I have no idea.

He said. “You’d be very naive to think I should not hold you accountable for that.”

Hold me accountable for being on the Park Board for four years. Hold me accountable for being a Boy Scout leader.

A Texas A&M professor asked my wife whether I wanted to bring Sharia .aw. She said absolutely not.
I came in and said I vowed to defend the Constitution twice, once when I became a citizen and then when I became  an attorney. The Constitution is the law of the land. Sharia law is not. I don’t practice Sharia law.

There are millions of  moderate Muslims that live their lives and are contributing citizens of the United States They give so much back, more than they take and they have the true American values and ethics.

It was disheartening, but a lot of people  came from Colleyville, McKinney, Plano, Bedford, they couldn’t even vote for us but they’d bring a snack, a sweet, and they brought their kids as well saying, “You’re fighting the good fight. and we want to celebrate and we want to show our kids that when you have adversity, negativity and hatred, this  is how you fight, you keep your chin up and shrug off all the negativity and fight with a smile.”

That’s what we did and it worked out.

During my first campaign, a person asked what kind of pork do you eat? I said I’m not sure I heard you correctly. I didn’t know here were different kinds of pork but I don’t eat pork and I’m not sure how that’s relevant to serving on the City Council. He said, “It’s important for me to know. If you don’t eat pork, you don’t have my vote.”

I don’t go out and tell people that I’m Muslim. There’s no need for telling people that. There’s a lot of Islamophobia that’s out there already.

We all know that Islamophobia is rampant in our country. We know how our president feels about Muslims. it’s just given them a license to speak, however they choose to speak about Muslims.

Why was there a need (for Stickland) to say that and not say, “He’s a father, he’s a son, he’s a Boy Scout leader, he’s an SMU graduate?” There is a reason why, he had basically made a $15,000 investment in my opponent and now he was trying to make his investment pay off, and he’s trying to make other people worried about me, and where does he get this idea of a scary agenda or a dangerous agenda?

How could I have a sneaky agenda? Show me where I”ve gone wrong. There is no basis for that.

On cricket.

There are lot of Nepalese people that play cricket. I have not played cricket for like decades. I don’t even watch cricket. (My wife is from India, so our marriage is already sort of taboo. Luckily we don’t watch cricket so we have a harmonious marriage.)

They had told me there are a lot of baseball fields, soccer fields, why is there not a cricket field? And I mentioned that in my speech to the Nepalese people at their Holy Festival (in March). Remember, these guys don’t come out to vote. They are in their own world. I’m not saying hat in a bad way. That’s a reality.

I’m  trying to talk to them, you guys don’t come out vote and then you complain to me. Oh nobody listens to us, we don’t have a cricket stadium. Well, they’re not going to listen because you don’t go out to vote. If you guys want something to happen, you’ve got to petition your City Council and I want to serve on that City Council.

 

Stickland said that it was Bhojani and his supporters who inflamed matters by focusing on him as a purported  symbol of intolerance, and successfully selling that story to a willing media.

BHOJANI:

What he did was wrong, first of all. And we did not call the media, the media called us and he media saw that he was wrong and the media wanted to call him out on that. I did not call people to say come interview us or come see what Jonathan had to say.

It’s crazy that I have not only my opponent to run against but I have a Jonathan Stickland to run against, my own state representative. OK, that’s a challenge I have to surmount. 

State Representative Jonathan Stickland wrote a Facebook post referencing Bhojani’s religion. In it, he speaks against “progressive liberals” stepping into a non-partisan council race and points out that Salman Bhojani is a Muslim and what he calls a “lifelong Democrat” responsible for having a passage from the Koran read for the first time at a council meeting. The passage referenced having an openness to different religions and was read by a local Boy Scout troop.

“I don’t think that by itself is something that means he’s unfit for office,” said Rep. Stickland. “But what I think is this is just a foreshadowing of some of the massive changes that he would like to see in the city of Euless.”

Representative Stickland points to Bhojani’s own speeches calling for diversity on the council.

“He can’t have it both ways,” Stickland said. “If he wants to use it as a plus, he has to be OK with other people thinking it’s a relevant issue as well.”

“I think that’s totally inaccurate. I have not brought my religion public,” Bhojani countered. “He should have come and asked me about my beliefs because I’m also one of his constituents.”

Bhojani said religion would never influence his council decisions but he does want a fresh perspective. He would be the council’s only minority.

“Any time you have a homogenous group of people who came together and make decisions for people who are not like them I think you can be blindsided by your own tunnel vision,” Bhojani said.

From a Texas Democratic Party April 30 email.

Austin, TX – Last week, Texas Republican Jonathan Stickland found it pertinent to mention that Project LIFT candidate Salman Bhojani is a Muslim and ‘lifelong Democrat’ on Facebook.

Salman Bhojani is a father, successful lawyer and running for  Euless’ City Council Place 5.

Democratic State Representative Rafael Anchia came out in Bhojani’s defense, “Religious tests were something that our founding fathers rejected when we revolted against the crown. The only thing that matters in this election is each candidate’s vision for Euless and North Texas.”

Bhojani had spoken to Anchia of his concerns for the safety of his family amid the rancor after Stickland’s Facebook post and Anchia negotiated a rhetorical cease-fire between Bhojani and Stickland.

But it quickly broke down with each accusing the other of not abiding by it.

Bhojani had gotten to know Anchia when he worked as a summer associate at Hayes and Boone, Anchia’s law firm.

BHOJANI:

He’s a great guy and I really respect him and we had a conversation and he said, “I can help turn the volume down on this thing and if you don’t post anything on him he won’t post anything on you.”

Bhojani said he held to the agreement until he saw Stickland was back at it on his personal Facebook page.

BHOJANI:

I forwarded it to Rafael and said, “I thought we had a cease-fire.”

It’s just not worth it. How can I trust that guy? I said Rafael, let’s forget it, he’s done the damage already. He should pay for not having a filter. So I called Rafael and told him that he could call Stickland and tell him the deal is off.

STICKLAND:

We tried to amp it down and I agreed to do it, but this is what he wanted the whole time.

Hostilities resumed

Bhojani won, but not by much.

BHOJANI:

When we received the early voting results at 7:00, 7:15, we we were only 74 votes  behind so that assured us that we would win. because we felt we had 75 to 80 percent of the votes that were counted on Election Day..

Surprisingly, we were only 112 votes ahead (in votes cast on Election Day), which is really, really surprising. I’m not sure how that even happened. I said, “It’s a win, we won fair and square. We don’t want to ask a lot of questions about what happened inside.”

People truly told us as they were going in, we’re here to vote for you, we’ve read what happened in the newspapers, we’ve read about all that negativity that was thrown at you by Stickland. A lot of people came in and said, “We hate Stickland. We don’t like him. Why is he messing with a City Council election? We don’t like that. We’re here to vote for you.” So that’s what made us feel like we had a huge lead, at least 200 or 300 votes for sure. So i was very surprised by the election results. It came out much closer than we had thought.

I went out door-knocking every night after early voting, because that’s the way to get votes. To tell our story. Because once they heard our story it was the American dream, it was very consistent with American values and ethics and so they really resonated with people regardless of their skin color or faith.

I will be he first minority elected in the history of Euless to the City Council. That is a very powerful end in itself.  You see a lot of people of color, but the City Council is not reflective of that diversity.

Also I will be the only City Council member with young children. All the others, their children are grown.

About a thousand people usually come out to vote. in local elections.. Last year there were 3,084, so I brought out at least a thousand first-time voters that never voted in their lives before. And then this year we surpassed that with about 4,201.

Historically, usually minorities don’t come out to vote as much in local elections especially. They don’t know about it. Some people come from countries where politics is a corrupt profession.

A lot of people come from Tonga. I think Euless is home to the second largest Tongan population outside of Tonga. It has a lot of people from Nepal, Indian, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. I think 24 percent of Euless is Hispanic, there’s a big African-American population as well, that may or may not be immigrant.  There’s a Nigerian and Sudanese group as well.

The Texas Democratic party crowed about Bhojani’s victory

It was the perfect twofer for them, electing an up-and-coming minority candidate and casting Stickland as the diabolical heavy.

Project LIFT Candidate Salman Bhojani Wins in Euless Defying the Hate Campaign Led by Rep. Stickland

After an attack on his faith and integrity, led by Texas Republican Jonathan Stickland, Salman Bhojani, a Project LIFT Candidate, was elected to city council in Euless by a margin of 37 votes. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 5, 2018]

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Salman Bhojani faced down hate and brought his community together to march forward and fight for progressive solutions for the city of Euless.

“Never let anyone tell you your vote doesn’t count. By a margin of a few dozen votes, the people of Euless elected a candidate that is qualified, hard-working, and a family-man deeply rooted in his community. Americans across the country are rejecting Trump style hate and fear-based politics. Congratulations on a well-deserved win, Salman!”

The whole point of Project LIFT is to groom candidates to take out folks like Stickland.

STICKLAND:

Look, I’m going to win my race, it’s a Republican district, but they are definitely making a concerted effort in my House district fort the long-term. This is the first legitimate candidate they have put-up. He’s raising money, he’s block-walking, he’s a smart guy.

The Democratic candidate Stickland is referring to is Steve Riddell, who, with his wife, were among those Bhojani gave an award to for their help at Saturday’s victory celebration.

STICKLAND:

They’re building the infrastructure for a serious run.

I think it’s trouble when you let your enemy get their foot in the door, but I don’t think they’re going to go through it.

BHOJANI:

If you look at any of my posts I have never, ever stated any party affiliation or said I’m leaning this way or the other because that’s not needed in city politics. I may favor one side or the other, because that’s my right, but when I’m looking at the city I’m independent. And the issues that the parties are (focusing) on, don’t matter in city government. It’s bascially you have your police, fire, water, streets, park and library.

People ask me about abortion or gun rights, all stuff that doesn’t come into play in city elections. I’m not a lifelong Democrat. It’s weird for anybody to be a lifelong anything.

“He’ll be a good fit on the council,” Mayor Linda Martin told me. “We will work very well together.”

Martin said that Stickland ran a candidate against her in the past and the idea that she would have asked him to find a candidate to run against Bhojani is “patently false,” and she can’t imagine any of the members of the council approaching Stickland either.

“We do just fine on our own,” said Martin, who said that Stickland always says he’s going to stop messing around in local non-partisan politics, and never does.

She said Stickland’s contribution to the campaign was unfortunate, “because we celebrate out diversity.”

She said her grandson is in the first grade at a school where 42 different languages and dialects are spoken.

“He has friends of every different race. They just love each other. They are crazy about each other.”

I talked with Place 1 City Council member Tim Stinneford:

STINNEFORD:

When Perry Bynum announced that he wasn’t running for re-election, I was home with the flu and strep throat and I guess Salman had already filed and Jonathan called me and said, “Do you have anybody to run against him?” and I said, “I’m home sick right now and I don’t know of anybody running against him but the guy’s a pretty nice guy, I don’t really see an issue.”

And he said, “Well, I’m going to find somebody.” And I said, “Fine, OK.”

And it’s kind of funny that he would say anyone would have called him because two re-elections ago, the first time I had ever spoken with Mr. Stickland, was when he came out on an election Saturday campaigning  for my opponent, and he walked up to me and said, “Hello,”and I said, “Rep. Stickland, it’s nice that after all these years being a  representative the first time you speak to me is to try to get somebody else elected in my place.”

We’ve gotten along fine since them. When he said he was going to find somebody, “Fine.” I of course didn’t realize he was going to contribute that much money. There was more money spent in this election than I spent in four elections combined. It’s crazy.

I can’t speak of the other council members, but I can’t imagine anybody called him

As I told Molly, the candidate that he was supporting –  I’ve known Molly for years, I volunteer with Molly on a lot of things – and I told her, “Molly if I were an undecided voter, and I read what Stickland put out there, I would have immediately voted for Salman, no matter what because that was such vitriol, hatred, anger, I just don’t know how to describe how awful that was.”

We are non-partisan, that’s the only reason I run. I am a Republican but in every election I’ve run the Mid-City Democrats have supported me. I’ve gone to their meetings and gone to their dinners that they have once a month and I’m introduced as a Republican. On our council, we’re not Republicans or Democrats, we’re Euless citizens, and our only agenda is what’s best for the city of Euless, and that’s why I have no interest to go beyond this because then it becomes all about party and not about what’s right.

Tompkins, the council member who defeated Bhojani last year, emailed me, “I had several inquiries from Euless Citizens for the open seat of Place 6, and sat down and talked with 3 persons. Molly Maddux was one of the persons. There was not a call out for recruitment from me.”

Place 4 Council member Linda Eilenfeldt, who I believe is the only Democrat already serving on the council, was among those receiving recognition for her support at Bhojani’s victory party Saturday. She told me that she can’t imagine any of her colleagues seeking Stickland’s help to field a candidate against him.

Bynu, the retiring Place 6 incumbent, backed Maddox.

STICKLAND:

The establishment folks begged me to find and fund a candidate for them to get behind and then as soon as race got interjected into it, none of them followed through with their public endorsement. I’m never helping the with anything again.

BHOJANI:

My effort going forward is how to unite the city behind the outcome and make sure that I can lead and represent those who voted for me and those who didn’t vote for me and those that gave me hatred because it’s not personal, they don’t even know me and once hey see my actions they will really respect me for who I am.

I really hope for a tolerant Euless where people can respect each other’s faith, their ethnicity, their national origin and say we can all work together behind a united goal and make Euless a better place.

I  think (Stickland) hurt the city of Euless because it is divided by him injecting politics in this race. He made people see black and white instead of shades of gray and we need to focus on shades of gray and not say, this is white, this is black in all kinds of different ways.

It never helps to bring negativity.

I last spoke to Bhojani just after his victory celebration Saturday.

BHOJANI:

One of my supporters, a Republican, said today, “Let’s go buy a cake and let’s go to Stickland’s office, Let’s go and let’s thank him and say, `We couldn’t have done it without you.'”  He was serious.  And I was like, I haven’t met him and I don’t feel the need to meet him.

 

Lupe Valdez talks Latinx activists into backing the White guy for governor

(Photo by Ken Herman)

Good Monday Austin:

As of today, thanks largely to the forces of political inertia, Lupe Valdez remains the favorite to win the May 22 runoff and become the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018.

But, steadily, bit by bit, Valdez appears determined to chip away at her lead.

On Sunday it was an appearance, along with rival Andrew White, Miguel Suazo, the Democratic Party’s candidate for land commissioner, and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso,the party’s candidate for U.S. Senate, at a town hall put on by Jolt, a barely year-old organization intended to mobilize younger Latinos as a political force in Texas (note that both Suazo and O’Rourke are both running against Hispanic Republican incumbents in Land Commissioner George P. Bush and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.)

But somehow, on the strength – or weakness – of her performance, Valdez lost the endorsement of a passionate and energized group of Latinx (as I have learned, the gender-neutral term for Latinos/Latinas) Texans to a white man named White who is the son of a white man named Mark White who served as a centrist governor of Texas for one term from 1983 to 1987,  and who is running in 2018 as a centrist Democrat for governor.

(The Valdez campaign issued a statement Monday night in which she apologized for her performance at Jolt.)

Valdez ought to be worried, and if she isn’t, Texas Democrats ought to be worried about the prospect of nominating a candidate for governor on the increasingly questionable premise that her name and identity alone guarantee that she will be the stronger general election candidate or, at any rate, the candidate best able to help draw an increased Hispanic turnout in November, which is the raison d’être of Jolt.

Jolt is relatively new (here is an early story about Jolt from Gus Bova at the Texas Observer), not that well-known and has no electoral track record yet, though it has made an impression with its creative organizing efforts, including the Quinceañera at the Capitol celebration of resistance to SB 4 last year that they said reached 50 million Americans through social media.

Jolt has ambitions, according to its founder and executive director Cristina Tzintzun, of mobilizing 30,000 Hispanic voters who don’t usually vote and bringing them to the polls this year.

And, on Sunday, Jolt’s first endorsement town hall generated newspaper headlines across the state that were bad for Valdez.

There’s my story:

Young Hispanic activists ‘Jolt’ Valdez campaign by backing Andrew White

In a stunner, Jolt, a year-old organization of young Hispanic Texans with ambitions of spurring a surge in turnout this year, endorsed Andrew White over Lupe Valdez for the Democratic nomination for governor Sunday after a town hall at which Valdez failed to effectively answer questions about whether her record as Dallas County sheriff was “anti-immigrant.”

There’s Immigration questions put governor hopeful Lupe Valdez on hot seat at young Latino voters’ forum from James Barragán in the Dallas Morning News.

AUSTIN — A group of young Latino voters has endorsed Andrew White for governor instead of his opponent, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, after she struggled to answer questions about her record on immigration during a forum Sunday.

There’s Latino voting group snubs Lupe Valdez, backs Andrew White for governor by Peggy Fikac in the San Antonio Express-News.

AUSTIN — After expressing dissatisfaction with Lupe Valdez’s answer when she was quizzed about her allegedly “anti-immigrant” policies as Dallas County sheriff, a Latino voting group Sunday instead endorsed Houston businessman Andrew White in the Democratic runoff for governor.

There’s  Austin town hall turns heated for Dems Valdez, White by the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Ward.

AUSTIN – The two Democrats running for Texas governor were confronted Sunday during a town hall forum over their positions involving immigration, putting them on the defensive at an event that was expected to be friendly.

Injecting drama into a race that so far has mostly been a snoozer, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez was questioned about why she cooperated with federal immigration detainers while she was in charge of the Dallas County Jail.

The forum that attracted about 200 people was staged Sunday by Jolt The Vote, a civic-engagement organization working to mobilize Latino millennials in the 2018 elections. Only Democratic statewide candidates appeared.

Later in the day, hours after the forum, Jolt group endorsed White over Valdez, the first Latina to run for Texas governor, saying he had shown his “commitment to improving the lives of Latinos.” The group also endorsed Beto O’Rourke for Texas Senate for the same reason.

And there’s the Texas Tribune story – Democratic statewide candidates get tough questions from Latino youth – from Patrick Svitek:

 Karla Quinoñes did not mince words as she asked the first question to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez.

“Ms. Valdez, you were sheriff of Dallas County for many years, and it seems that your legacy was one of supporting anti-immigrant policies that actually expanded ICE enforcement,” said Quinoñes, a Dallas high school student, posing a series of pointed questions about Valdez’s cooperation with the federal agency and intentions if elected governor. “Why should we trust you today?” 

The less-than-direct answer that followed from Valdez did not appear to satisfy Quinoñes and the group she represents — Jolt Texas, which was created last year to mobilize young Latinos in turning the state blue. And before the end of the afternoon, Valdez had lost another endorsement to her runoff rival, Democrat Andrew White, after coming across as ill-prepared or -informed.

Ay yi yi

As Svitek wrote, the endorsement of White was probably largely due to Valdez’s inability to successfully answer the mutli-pronged question from Quinoñes.

As I wrote:

It was a question from Karla Quiñones, an 18-year-0ld senior at W.T. White High School in Dallas, that crystallized ongoing concerns about Valdez’s record in the Latino activist community, and her inability to offer a crisp and clear response.

“Miss Valdez,” said Quiñones, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who grew up watching Valdez coverage on Univision, the Spanish-language television network, “you were the sheriff of Dallas County for many years, and it seems that your legacy was one of supporting anti-immigrant policies that actually expanded ICE enforcement.”

“Given that, one, the Dallas community walked out of your forum with (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) saying that you turned your backs on them; two, you complied with every ICE request for warrantless ICE detentions even when other counties, like Travis County, were taking a courageous stand against them … why should we trust you today?”

Valdez thanked Quiñones for a “chance to explain.”

“Of course, look at me, I’m going to fight for as much immigration as I can,” Valdez said, detailing her vigorous opposition to Senate Bill 4, the ban on so-called sanctuary cities passed by the Legislature and signed into law last year by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Let’s pause here.

Valdez has taken to introducing folks at her appearances to the “Greg Abbott tracker” in their midst – the young man with the nice earrings who records things she has to say that might find their way into Abbott campaign ads.

It’s a funny, and well-received, when she tells her audience to welcome him. But her generosity of spirit should not extend to giving him what he is looking for.

Of course, look at me, I’m going to fight for as much immigration as I can.

One could fairly hear Abbott strategist Dave Carney’s YEEHAH! echoing from his lair in Hancock, New Hampshire, off Skatutakee Mountain, the 1667 miles to Austin, Texas, above the low hum of Abbott Oompa Loompas working through the night to churn out a new line of 100 percent cotton T-shirts with an image of Lupe Valdez and the words, Of course, look at me, I’m going to fight for as much immigration as I can.

It’s not just that that’s not a policy. It’s that it’s exactly what Texas Republicans think, or their leaders would like them to think, is the actual Democratic thought process on immigration – fight for as much immigration as possible to help turn the state blue over time.

Two weekends ago, the last time I saw Valdez in Austin, she introduced her Abbott tracker to the crowd and then, after brief remarks, had this to say in answer to a question about debates.

(Photo by AMANDA VOISARD)

Asked by a Democratic activist at a campaign event at North Austin brewpub Black Star Co-op on Friday night if she was going to debate White, Valdez replied, “I’m open to any kind of debate, but my staff are the ones who are going to take care of all of that.”

Pressed for a firmer answer, Valdez said, “You know there’s only certain decisions that they let me make, and most of them have to do with policy. … I can’t even tell you where I’ll be in the next few days. They’ll tell me. So they’re taking care of that.”

Abbott is primed to run against Valdez.

As John Moritz wrote in early April in a piece that appeared in the Caller Times under the headline, Greg Abbott declares Lupe Valdez a winner in the May 22 Democratic runoff for governor. The Democratic runoff for Texas governor is more than a month away, but the Republican incumbent is eager to cast Democrat Lupe Valdez as pro-sanctuary cities.

AUSTIN – Texas Democrats needn’t bother voting in the May 22 runoff because Republican Gov. Greg Abbott already has declared former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez the winner over Houston businessman Andrew White.

“The next 7 months will be a battle between @LupeValdez and me about whether or not Texas will secure our border and protect our sovereignty,” the governor said in a tweet Wednesday night. “It’s about whether sanctuary cities will remain banned or be allowed.”

Abbott, with the power of incumbency running in a solid red state, will be the prohibitive favorite no matter who the Democrats choose next month. But the tweet that came in response to Valdez’s statement castigating President Donald Trump’s plans for troops on the Texas-Mexico border suggests Abbott likes the idea of making sanctuary cities and illegal immigration Topic One for the general election campaign.

Valdez was happy to engage with Abbott on the issue.

The fact that Valdez find herself whipsawed between Abbott’s claims that she is too soft on immigration and the activist’s charges that she is too hard-line, is a dilemma that perhaps cannot be avoided. But she could attempt to make the case that she is charting a reasonable middle ground.

But her responses Sunday fail to reveal a coherent through-line.

Returning to Valdez’s response to Quiñones’ question Sunday, from my story:

She talked about the May 2015 community engagement meeting in Dallas at which immigrant activists confronted Sarah Saldaña, director of ICE, over what crimes constituted just cause for deportation.

“I brought in the director of ICE so they could come and explain the whole situation that was going on, and there were a couple of people who were upset with me because I couldn’t explain what was going on, and they literally got up and turned their backs and walked away,” Valdez said. “The thing that was uncomfortable about that was there were many people there that needed to hear what they needed to do, what they could do, and the director of ICE was standing right there to tell them. But because of that, they weren’t able to hear the direction that could have been given and the paths that they could take.”

OK. So in the course of providing an answer that may have figured importantly in Jolt’s turning its back on her, Valdez explained that back in 2015, there were a couple of people who were upset with me because I couldn’t explain what was going on, and they literally got up and turned their backs and walked away.” 

Things didn’t get any better after the speech when Valdez was confronted by a gaggle of reporters who wanted to follow up on Quiñones’ question.

After the town hall, Valdez was asked about Quiñones’ question suggesting she had an “anti-immigrant” record.

“I think it was one person’s opinion,” Valdez said, recalling her vocal opposition to SB 4.

“As you recall, the governor actually sent me what I call nastygrams because of my decision of defense of the people that were being deported and separated from their parents,” Valdez said.

Valdez was also asked about a 2015 federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Dallas County jail inmates against the county and her as sheriff, claiming they were being illegally detained because of “immigration holds” placed on them for ICE.

Valdez said the lawsuit was “filed against immigration being able to take people from the jail; the lawsuit was against the authority of ICE to be able to deport.”

“The lawsuit is still going on, so I have to be real careful how I discuss that,” Valdez said.

Asked about Quiñones’ question of whether she deserves the trust of the Latino community, Valdez said, “I think there’s a misunderstanding of the track record. I went to fight SB 4 way before anybody else.”

With that, Valdez told the scrum of reporters, “I’ve given you some answers. You wanted some answers, and I’ve given them to you. OK, now let us do what we love to do best and deal with some of the voters and go on to some of the other things we’ve got to do.”

The bad/good news for Valdez was that, from my limited experience, Sunday’s was one of her better performances. She was more lively and animated and had more rhetorical threads than I had seen before.

She certainly has way more endorsements than White, including at least three state senators, 24 state representatives, and U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio.

The Democratic nomination for governor, of course, could have been Joaquín’s or his twin brother, Julián’s for the taking but Joaquín chose to stay in Congress and Julián is exploring a run for president, which is apparently less daunting than running statewide in Texas.

For her fellow Democratic politicians, endorsing Valdez is the safest course, the path-of-least-resistance option.

But, for Jolt, the political calculation is  different.

It brought to mind what Mike Webb, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus told Ken Herman in February about the organization’s decision to endorse White, who is straight, over Valdez, who made history as a lesbian sheriff.

 

“Let’s be clear: Our members wanted to endorse Valdez,” said Mike Webb, Houston GLBT caucus president. “There’s nothing that would make us more proud than electing a member of our own community. However, we also have an expectation in our community to endorse the person who will do the best job. And our members just thought that Andrew White would do the best job.”

Webb also said, “Our members were convinced he would be best positioned to fight back hard against the aggressive bigotry we are getting from our governor” and that on “questions of deportation of immigrants, (Valdez’s) answers just weren’t very empathetic.”

Jolt’s founder, Tzintzun, who’s mother is Mexican and father is white, is originally from Columbus, Ohio, but moved to Texas when she was 21.

“My parents told me that it had the three things I love the most: year-round sunshine, lots of Mexicans and vegan food,” Tzintzun said.

The last seems a questionable draw, but she lives in Austin.

Before Jolt, Tzintzun spent 12 years building the Workers Defense Project .

Tzintzun is 36. Jolt is intended to mobilize Latinx voters younger than she is.

Founder and Executive Director Cristina Tzintzun said they chose the name Jolt “because when Latinos come out to vote, we are going to be a shock to the political system, not only of Texas but of the entire country.”

For Tzintzun and Jolt, there is little incentive to follow the safer course, the path-of-least-resistance option of endorsing Valdez if they don’t really believe she would best advance their goals.

At 18, Quiñones, grew up with Valdez as a public figure in her hometown.

“It was always good seeing her on TV. Wow, someone who looked like me was in such a high position.”

Energized to get involved in politics by the 2016 election,Quiñones got in touch with Jolt and became the  president of her high school chapter, which meant she would be among 16 leaders of the organization to vote on its endorsement this weekend.

Assigned the task of posing a question to Valdez, Quiñones did her research and delivered her accusatory question in a very even manner. When I spoke to her after the town hall, she said she didn’t think that Valdez had answered her question: “I think she kind of veered off.”

(JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

White is making the argument that he is a more capable candidate who will acquit himself better as the party’s nominee for governor, that he will stand the ticket – topped by Beto O’Rourke  and followed by the candidate for governor – in better stead. He is also making the case that, as long a shot as it may be for either of them, he stands a better chance of defeating Abbott than Valdez.

As he told the town hall Sunday, there is a blue wave building and it has already elected a moderate Democrat to the Senate in a special election in Alabama, and a moderate Democrat to Congress in a special election in Pennsylvania.

“And,” White said, “our turn is next.”

Electing a middle-of-the road white guy might not seem to be the most compelling argument to win over Latinx activists in Texas in 2018. But, on Sunday, thanks to Lupe Valdez, it carried the day.

 

 

 

 

 

`My son, who is autistic, was robbed by three black thugs.’ Lisa Luby Ryan on why she will oppose gun regulation `to my last breath.’

Challenger Lisa Luby Ryan points a hand gun at state Rep. Jason Villalba while debating gun control.

Good morning Austin:

Yesterday, seventeen people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a Florida high school.

It was the deadliest mass shooting since Nov. 5, when 26 people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Which was the deadliest mass shooting since 58 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on a crowd at a music festival in Las Vegas from a room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Right after the Sutherland Springs tragedy, I wrote in the Statesman:

In the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs church shooting, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, is calling for the creation of a Commission on Gun Violence to examine its causes in Texas and recommend “common sense gun control reforms” to the next session of the Texas Legislature.

In an open letter to his “Fellow Texans,” Villalba wrote that he was asking Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to create a Commission on Gun Violence in Texas to be chaired by an appointee of the governor and vice-chaired by appointees of the lieutenant governor and speaker. It would be made up of four senators — two from each party — four members of the House — two from each party — and four other members — a law enforcement specialist, a mental health expert, a member of the clergy and an ethicist, all chosen by a majority of the other appointees.

“The primary charge of the commission shall be to determine the root causes of gun violence in Texas and to provide proposed legislation to address these issues and which shall be adopted in the 86th Legislature,” Villalba wrote. “The secondary charge of the commission shall be to publish the findings of the commission and disseminate through education and conference the proposals of the commission.“

There is no question that mental health plays a significant role in these attacks, and certainly, adequate mental health funding and accessibility shall be a key component to any solution to this complex issue,” Villalba wrote.

“But, to be perfectly clear,” the letter continued, “the commission shall focus on ALL possible causes of gun violence in Texas INCLUDING lax or deficient gun control laws and regulations in Texas. No shibboleth shall be off limits. THERE NEEDS TO BE COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL REFORMS IN TEXAS! If we expect a change in the outcomes, we must consider all inputs. The time is now to DO something. Whatever that may be.”

“Tonight,” Villalba, “I will go home and I will rest my hands and my face on the tops of my children’s heads. We will say our prayers and we will hug and I will thank God for them. For many families in Charlottesville, Sandy Hook, Killeen, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and across America, that will not happen. Today is the day that Texan parents like you and me stand up and say, enough. As God is our witness, this stops here.”

On Tuesday, Lisa Luby Ryan, who is challenging Villalba in the March 6 Republican primary, took Villalba to task for that initiative at a debate hosted by the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters of Dallas.

As James Russell, who covered the debate for the Quorum Report, wrote:

Citing Villalba’s op-ed in The Dallas Morning News last year calling for a statewide commission to study the causes of gun violence ahead of the next legislative session, written after a man shot and killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, a town just east of San Antonio.

Ryan maintained her strong stance against any restrictions on gun ownership and usage, taking a personal view on the issue.

“My son, who is autistic, was robbed by three black thugs. He wouldn’t give them the money and they beat him up,” she said. Texas laws currently bars anyone deemed mentally unfit from owning a gun.

Villalba said Ryan essentially wanted to equip terrorists with guns.

“I’m sorry if Ms. Ryan wants to give guns to ISIS,” he said.

Here is the pertinent portion of the debate, followed by a more complete transcript.

Ryan:

We are so pro-Second Amendment. We own guns. My husband has a concealed carry license. The only reason I don’t have one is I haven’t had time to do it. But my opponent, in the last campaign and this campaign, has not been endorsed by the NRA or the Texas gun rights association.Why? Because after the Sutherland Springs shooting, my opponent, who is a Reagan conservative (Ryan gestured air quotes as she said this) –

and by the way, Ronald Reagan would never call for the governor of Texas to create a special commission for gun regulations in Texas. Never would Ronald Reagan call for that, nor would a conservative call for special gun regulations, I don’t care what the situation is.

My younger son that I told you about, who’s autistic, 29-years-old, who lives on his own, didn’t live in the best part of Dallas because he couldn’t afford to. He came home four weeks ago Saturday at 9 p.m. He called me and said, `Mom, I’m home.’ He had been out with some friends. He called me at home and  I said, Great.’ Three minutes later my phone rang and he called me, hysterical. He had been robbed by three black thugs. with 9mm guns to his head, asking for his money.

Here’s a kid who makes $15 an hour and lives off that, and they asked him for his money. And you know what he said? He said, `No.’ And you know what happened to him? They beat him up.

And do you think Mr. Villalba that special regulations and regulations on guns would protect my son? Guns don’t kill. People do. And I will fight all day long against gun regulation, and stand pro-Second Amendment to my last breath.

I tried to reach Ryan yesterday to ask about that loaded turn of phrase: three black thugs.

Why not just say, three thugs?

I couldn’t reach her, but I did receive a statement made on her behalf from Jordan Powell, spokesman for her campaign:

 Less than a month ago, Lisa’s autistic son had two handguns pointed at his head while being assaulted and robbed. If she had it to do over again, she would use different words but as a mom this crime and the lingering trauma caused to her son is still very real and raw. The substance of the exchange centered on Representative Villalba’s support for gun control, which Lisa strongly opposes.

The problem, though. is that Ryan’s reference to three black thugs is lodged in a statement otherwise disconnected from any logic.

How would her son’s traumatic experience have been different, and worse, if Villalba had his way and the state examined the causes of gun violence in Texas?

This incident occurred under the current state of Texas’ gun laws, which Ryan does not want to see infringed upon by the likes of Villalba.

Her son did not have a gun on him, and if he did, someone might have gotten killed.

As it was, according to the Dallas Police Department report on the incident, the victim’s injuries were, thankfully, limited to “redness on cheek.”

If the police – or an armed citizen – had shown up at precisely the right moment that night, and events unfolded in precisely the right way, the perpetrators might have been caught in the act.

But that didn’t happen, and nothing about Texas gun laws or what a study commission might recommend about changing Texas gun laws, would have changed what happened on Saturday Jan. 6 (the incident was slightly longer ago than she remembered it), unless, of course, they came up with better ways of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

Nonetheless, Ryan’s real and raw reaction to her son’s trauma at the hands of three black thugs, armed her with the emotional ammunition she needed to fight all day long against gun regulation, and stand pro-Second Amendment to my last breath.

Here, in part, was Villalba’s reaction at the debate:

The panel that I called for didn’t call for additional gun regulation or gun control. It said, let’s look at the root causes of gun violence in Texas. Let’s find out why this happens.

xxxxxxx

I am a concealed handgun carrier. I have several weapons. I voted in favor of campus carry. I voted in favor of open carry. I voted against Constitutional carry because it’s a foolish, ridiculous law that makes no sense in Texas, or at least the urban centers. It might make sense in certain counties where it’s OK, but not in the middle of Dallas County.

Constitutional carry means permitless carry, which means you don’t have to have any kind of certification. You don’t have to have any kind of test. That means that anybody can have access to them, and that means somebody who could be mentally infirm, that could be somebody who’s a domestic abuser. That could be somebody who is a card-carrying member of ISIS. I’m sorry Ms. Ryan, if you want to give guns to ISIS, that’s your business.

As for Ryan’s assertion about President Reagan on gun regulation, there is this, from Janel Davis at PolitiFact Georgia on Feb. 5, 2013, on the question, “Did Reagan support an assault-weapons ban?”

About a month after a mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., left 20 schoolchildren and six adults dead, President Barack Obama rolled out a package of gun-control proposals during a speech with Vice President Joe Biden. The package included initiatives such as an assault-weapons ban that requires congressional approval, along with 23 executive actions that the president can implement on his own. The price tag for the package is estimated at $500 million.

 In presenting the package, specifically the portion dealing with the assault-weapons ban, Obama made a point of conjuring past President Ronald Reagan’s stance on the same issue.
“Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater,” Obama said during the speech. “A majority of Americans agree with us on this. And, by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994, urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to listen to the American public and to the law-enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons.”

Evoking past presidents is a frequent practice by politicians. Unfortunately, sometimes the context and the content of the recollections are incorrect. PolitiFact Georgia decided to check the accuracy of Obama’s statement, as well as whether most Americans support a ban on military-style assault weapons.

Obama pitched his gun plan at the White House surrounded by school-age children who had written letters to the president about the Newtown school shooting. In the audience were the parents of one of the students killed at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with a survivor of the 2007 shooting massacre at Virginia Tech that left more than 30 people dead and an additional 15 wounded.

Against this emotional backdrop Obama’s plans drew immediate and intense reaction from supporting groups such as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, as well as opponents such as the National Rifle Association.

Obama’s push for an assault-weapon’s ban hearkens to the original ban passed in 1994 that expired in 2004. At the time of that ban’s passage, Reagan — who took office in 1981– supported it. In a joint letter to The Boston Globe with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, the former presidents wrote, “While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals.”

Eight years before this letter in the newspaper supporting the assault-weapons ban, Reagan, who was then president, signed into law the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which was supported by gun rights advocates. In addition to providing protections for gun owners, the act also banned ownership of any fully automatic rifles that were not already registered on the day the law was signed.

These items provide a framework for Reagan’s actions around an assassination attempt on his life months after taking office in 1981. The shooting left Reagan wounded and presidential press secretary James Brady paralyzed. The shooting provided the impetus for the Brady Bill, introduced in 1987, that required background checks for gun purchasers and a waiting period before a buyer could take possession of a gun.

In a 1991 New York Times op-ed titled “Why I’m For the Brady Bill,” Reagan detailed his support of a seven-day waiting period for gun buyers. “Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics,” Reagan said in the op-ed. “… If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.”

“Reagan supported the Brady Bill. That was after he had left office, but he did support it,” said Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. “His views are a little complicated because he also signed legislation easing the (1968) Gun Control Act, so you can take Reagan either way.”

As for the president’s assessment that “a majority of Americans agree” with the assault-weapons ban, we went to the polls for answers.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll involving guns, politics and governing priorities was conducted by telephone Jan. 10-13. The poll included a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including land-line and cellphone-only respondents. The poll’s results have a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The poll includes three pertinent questions about weapons bans:

— Would you support or oppose a law requiring a nationwide ban on semi-automatic handguns, which automatically reload every time the trigger is pulled?
Fifty-one percent of all adults said yes; 46 percent said no. Fifty percent of registered voters said yes; 47 percent said no.

— Would you support or oppose a law requiring a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, meaning those containing more than 10 bullets?
Sixty-five percent of all adults said they supported a ban; 32 percent opposed. Those same numbers applied to registered voters.

— Would you support or oppose a law requiring a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons?
Fifty-eight percent of all adults supported a ban; 39 percent opposed. Fifty-nine percent of registered voters supported a ban; 38 percent opposed.

So how does Obama’s statement rate?

During his speech laying out a package of gun-control proposals, the president evoked Reagan’s support of an assault-weapons ban. History shows that Reagan’s track record on guns is a winding road. He was a strong gun rights supporter who signed legislation easing an earlier gun law. But he also supported legislation for background checks and a waiting period for potential gun owners. He did support an assault-weapons ban and even joined two other former presidents in a letter to a major newspaper urging congressional approval of a ban.

Not only did Reagan support the ban, but so do most Americans, Obama said. Information from a Washington Post/ABC News poll supports the president’s statement.

On these two issues, we gave Obama a True rating.

Ryan might also might want to read this: How Ronald Reagan learned to love gun control, from Peter Weber at The Week.

Or, When Ronald Reagan embraced gun control, by Francis X. Clines at the New York Times.

From the recent Dallas Morning News endorsement of Villalba over Ryan:

Villalba has a pragmatic approach to finding solutions to everything from highway funding and addressing the working poor, and is not afraid to cross the aisle to get things done. We worry that Ryan, the 57-year-old owner of an interior design firm, is unprepared for office,  given her shallow understanding of important issues facing her district and her misstatements of fact.

Meanwhile, there was this.

Here is the top of what I wrote in that story on May 27, in which Villalba expressed his frustrations with the last session.

When state Rep. Jason Villalba was first elected to the Legislature in 2012, he was described as the future of the Texas Republican Party.

Five years later, representing an affluent North Dallas district that Hillary Clinton carried and whose constituents include former President George W. Bush, Villalba is one of only three Hispanic Republicans in the Legislature. During his years in Austin, he has been a loyal and outspoken advocate for House Speaker Joe Straus and an unabashed admirer of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Yet despite his talents and ambition, Villalba remains literally and figuratively a back bencher in the Texas House. Denied a chairman’s gavel, he is custodian of the House candy jar, his talents thwarted and ambitions blunted as he now closes out a session he calls “my toughest yet,” a self-described Reagan Republican out of step with the continued rightward march of his party.

“The conservative grass roots and Lt. Gov. (Dan) Patrick and his followers can say, ‘We moved the needle materially this session from where it was last session, and last session we claimed it was the most conservative session in Texas history,’ ” Villalba said this week, in the session’s waning days. “So I think it’s a real win for Lt. Gov. Patrick. I think he had an excellent session. Did he go as far as he wanted to go? The answer to that is ‘no.’ But I think he got further than he expected to get.”

But for Villalba, with tough votes on sanctuary cities, transgender bathroom policy and abortion, “There have been more times this session when I felt icky when I drove home, just gross with what the body had done, that I never felt before.”

Rep. Jason Villalba on the House floor on May 26, 2017.
(RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The story concluded with this:

Villalba, meanwhile, finds himself wondering: “Is this worth it? I come down here away from family, making less money away from my kids, away from my wife. I did some really good things for Texas, but I went sideways a lot of the time, not because of my votes but because of the votes that were influenced by ideologues and purity police.”

Ultimately, Villalba decided it was worth it and to seek another term. He faces Ryan on March 6, and, if he prevails, a serious Democratic challenge in the swing district in the fall.

I asked Villalba last night whether he had ever heard anything back from the Big Three about his call for a study commission on gun violence.

“No,” he replied. “Nothing.”

Knocked for a Lupe: Morning News, Chronicle, Houston GLBT Caucus snub Valdez for Andrew White

(Mark Matson for American-Statesman) Democratic gubernatorial candidates Lupe Valdez (L) and Andrew White participated in a question and answer session Saturday afternoon at the AFL-CIO convention on Jan. 18 in Austin.

 

Good morning Austin:

I  recently wrote a profile of Lupe Valdez, who stepped down as Dallas County sheriff  at the end of last year to seek the Democratic nomination for governor.

As I wrote then:

So far her sole paid, all-purpose campaign aide is Kiefer Odell, a 2016 graduate of the University of Texas, where he studied government and was head of the University Democrats.

Lupe Valdez, Democratic candidate for Texas governor talks with her campaign aide Kiefer Odell at her home and campaign headquarters in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.

Valdez said she’s interviewing people for campaign manager, but noted that there will be more talent available after the March 6 primary.

First she has to win the primary, in which, out of a field of nine candidates, her prime rival is Andrew White, a Houston businessman and the son of former Gov. Mark White, making his first run for elective office.

“We are going to win the primary.” Valdez told me matter-of-factly.

I checked in with Odell yesterday to see if they had added any staff to the campaign.

“Yes!” he replied by text. “We’ve added two finance staffers recently and rounded out our consulting team with mail, media and fundraising consultants and a pollster.”

And what about a campaign manager?

“We’re interviewing for the right fit,” he texted back.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but it may already be too late.

The reason I had gotten in touch with Odell on Sunday was because Valdez had a weekend that may have  done irreparable damage to her campaign.

It’s not like she had any chance of defeating Greg Abbott for governor to begin with. And I’m not saying that she won’t still end up being the Democratic nominee. But, after this weekend, that is less certain than it was before, and she is more likely to have to go to a runoff to secure the nomination.

But mostly, after this weekend, her chances of running a formidable campaign are severely diminished.

It’s not simply because the state’s two biggest newspapers endorsed Andrew White. It’s not just because the Houston GLBT Political Caucus chose White over Valdez, a groundbreaking lesbian sheriff. It’s because in each case, Valdez was found to be unprepared to be governor, or a good candidate for governor.

Most devastatingly, this is how the Dallas Morning News, her hometown paper, wrote of her in its endorsement of White.

We had high hopes for former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the only candidate who’s held elective office, having been elected in 2004 and re-elected four times since, and someone we’ve supported locally at various times.  We were disappointed by her gross unfamiliarity with state issues, however, particularly an almost incoherent attempt to discuss state financing. 

At one point, Valdez, 70, volunteered that she didn’t know whether the state was spending $8 million or $8 billion on border control. (It’s closer $800 million.) On college tuition, she first suggested the Legislature “and stakeholders” should set tuition rates, but then contradicted herself, and she later said the state should move to reduce local property tax rates, apparently unaware of those set by local jurisdictions.  

Those two paragraphs will be hard to recover from.

No matter what she does from here on out, they won’t go away.

White, in his own campaign, may choose to rely on the positive things the Dallas Morning News had to say about him.

Houston businessman Andrew White has a famous last name but it is his knowledge of the state’s complex challenges that make him far and away the better choice in the crowded nine-way Democratic primary for governor.

White, 45, whose father was the late Texas Gov. Mark White, also displays a collaborative demeanor and centrist approach that would make him well-suited to lead the state and work with what most likely will remain a GOP-controlled Texas Legislature.

White blames the state’s school finance and property tax problems on state lawmakers who have failed to provide adequate state funding. He offers a multi-pronged solution that includes closing a “$5 billion loophole” that gives builders a tax break at the expense of homeowners, shifting nearly $1 billion in state spending for border security to help finance public education, and expanding Medicaid to draw down additional federal dollars.

He says university freshmen should be able to pay the same amount in tuition each year, if they graduate on time, rather than be subjected to destabilizing rate escalations. And he shows both pragmatism and political courage in advocating for more toll roads, given the fact that transportation spending by lawmakers hasn’t kept up with population growth. His caveat: Tolls should expire when construction costs are repaid.

But those lines about Valdez will haunt her campaign if she faces Greg Abbott. The ad writes itself:  gross unfamiliarity with state issues … almost incoherent attempt to discuss state financing … didn’t know whether the state was spending $8 million or $8 billion on border control.

In the meantime, it will take whatever meager wind there was out of her sails. It will set the tone of coverage from here on out. Reporters writing about the race will feel obliged to test her knowledge of the issues. And, even if she acquits herself more ably from here on out, she can’t undo this first impression, which was not limited to the Morning News editorial.

In its editorial, the Chronicle wrote that:

We’re not exactly fans of political dynasties, but White ultimately won our endorsement with his answer to one obvious question. He’s the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who seems to have given serious thought to the state government’s role in protecting Gulf Coast residents from flooding. While the other candidates who spoke to our editorial board offered only vague thoughts about this critical issue, White specifically discussed the need for a third reservoir in west Harris County and the importance of leveraging federal funds to build a coastal barrier system.

After Hurricane Harvey, flood control should be the top concern voters in the Houston area consider when they cast their ballots. Maybe White has a grasp of the issue only because he lives here and he piloted his boat around inundated neighborhoods rescuing flood victims. But any serious candidate for governor speaking to people in Houston should have good answers for basic questions about this topic.

Here’s how seriously we take flooding issues. If not for his fuzzy answer to this predictable question, we might have thrown our support to another candidate. Adrian Ocegueda runs a private equity firm in Dallas, and he was an economic policy adviser to the mayor of El Paso. Beyond his views on priorities like education and health care, Ocegueda brings up big issues that aren’t on any other candidate’s radar. He’s concerned Texas isn’t doing enough to train workers who are about to lose their jobs as technology displaces human labor. He even has the courage to touch the third rail of Texas politics, suggesting we need to seriously discuss introducing a state income tax. Ocegueda is a conspicuously smart and impressive candidate who has little or no chance of becoming governor, but he deserves serious consideration if he decides to run for another office.

Lupe Valdez, the former sheriff of Dallas County, is arguably the most high profile contender in this primary, but she also stumbled over flooding questions. Also on the ballot are Jeffrey Payne, a Dallas business owner; Joe Mumbach, a Houston audio-video technician making his first run for public office; and Grady Yarbrough, a retired educator and perennial candidate for statewide office. Three other candidates – Tom Wakely, James Jolly Clark and Cedric Davis Sr. – did not appear before our editorial board.

Next month, Democrats must pick a standard bearer with the best chance of winning votes not only for him or herself, but also for candidates running in down-ballot races. They would be wise to choose Andrew White as their nominee for Texas governor.

In other words, Valdez, who gets a single sentence in their editorial, isn’t even the Chronicle’s second choice among the nine Democratic candidates for governor.

And, then there was this.

As Mike Ward wrote in the Chronicle:

AUSTIN — Democrat Andrew White on Saturday won the endorsement of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus over primary rivals who are gay.

White is straight.

White, a Houston entrepreneur and son of the late Gov. Mark White,  is among nine Democrats who are running in the March 6 primary for a chance to face incumbent Republican Greg Abbott in the November general election.

Among the others are gay Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is lesbian.

“I’m humbled by and unbelievably grateful for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ endorsement,” White said in a statement.

“Mark my words: I will fight hard for full LGBTQ equality as governor and come out swinging against any efforts to discriminate. It’s past time to treat all Texans fairly and equally under the law.”

 The Houston GLBT Political Caucus, billed as the oldest equality rights organization in the South, has been endorsing candidates since 1975.
Valdez was in Houston, which has a large gay voting population, on Saturday campaigning. Payne has been in Houston several times courting votes, as well, since he started his campaign.

I watched a live-stream of the endorsement vote by some 400 members of the caucus gathered at a Houston church.

A man – I don’t know his name – presented the recommendation from the screening meeting to endorse White.

“He interviewed very well,” he said of White. “We grilled him and we were very satisfied with his answers.”

And, of Valdez: “We absolutely, positively wanted to endorse Lupe, but she didn’t do as we as we would have liked in the interview.”

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with Mike Webb, the president of the caucus, about the choice of White over Valdez.

The screening committee and the general membership, he said, “felt that White would do a better job in fighting back against (the actions) targeted against the LGBT community now by the current governor, and quite frankly, Valdez did not reassure us that she would be able to, or even had knowledge of the position of the office, to do so.”

This comes off earlier stumbles out of the gate by Valdez.

Lupe Valdez, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, marches from City Hall to the Capitol for the 45th Texas Roe v Wade Rally on Saturday January 20, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From Ross Ramsey in the Texas Tribune on Jan. 22.

Every once in a while, you have to repeat a lesson for the new kids in class.

Last week, Democrat Lupe Valdez told one interviewer — The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith — that if elected the state’s next governor, she would not close the door to tax increases if they turn out to be necessary. “We keep the door open to a lot of stuff,” Valdez said. “Come on in.”

Just a few hours later, she told another interviewer — Karina Kling of Spectrum News — that tax hikes are off the table. “No, I would not look at that,” Valdez said. “I’d have to lose a leg before I do that and I certainly don’t want to lose a leg.”

She must’ve seen something scary in between those conversations. Or, more likely, she heard from a herd of handlers.

Odell last night sent me the following statement from Valdez, responding to the newspaper endorsements of White: “While we’re disappointed we can’t win them all, I’m proud to have the support of progressive clubs across the state, Stonewall Democrat chapters in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, the Texas AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, the Tejano Democrats, and others that’ll be rolling out shortly.”

 

Before I met Valdez in Dallas to interview her for the profile, I wondered whether she was lured into the race at the last minute by a state Democratic Party which, while technically neutral, clearly preferred having Lupe Valdez, the Hispanic lesbian sheriff of Dallas County, at the top of the ticket, and not a middle-of-the-road white guy named White.

I came away from that interview convinced that Valdez wanted to run for governor and was eager, at 70, to take on a new challenge. She has an impressive life story, and people who know her well really like and admire her. But, she also came across as preternaturally calm and confident for someone setting out on such an audacious journey so late in the day.

Lupe Valdez, Democratic candidate for Texas governor is shown here with her dogs Vinny and Madge at her home and campaign headquarters in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. The photograph is from the Big Bend area from one of her trips.

As I wrote:

“She’s very Zen,” said Susan Hays, an Austin attorney who chaired the Dallas County Democratic Party when Valdez first ran for sheriff in 2004. “I’ve described her as the tortoise that wins the race. She’s not very flashy, but she keeps on moving.”

Perhaps, but Texas is a big state, Valdez is little known outside of Dallas County, and the hare in this race has a huge head start. Greg Abbott first won election as governor in 2014, defeating former state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth by 20 points. Before that, he served three terms as attorney general and six years on the Texas Supreme Court. He has his own epic story of overcoming adversity — he was just out of law school when a tree limb fell on him as he jogged, smashing his spine and leaving him a paraplegic.

And, at $43 million and counting, he has amassed more money in his campaign account than any candidate in Texas history.

“How can I compete with that?” Valdez asked a friend. “They said, `Either you’ll get the money, or you won’t need that much.’”

By the end of 2017, Valdez had raised less than $50,000 for her campaign, which she launched Dec. 6, a startlingly small haul. In a Jan. 18 conversation with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune, she said she was now raising $300 to $500 a day. But even if Abbott stopped fundraising today, and Valdez maxes out at $500 a day every day of the year, she wouldn’t catch up to Abbott until the middle of the 23rd century.

Lupe Valdez, Democratic candidate for Texas governor is shown here with her dog Vinny as she checks campaign texts at her home and campaign headquarters in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.

In a state in which Democratic hopes hinge, in part, on inspiring Latino turnout, Lupe Valdez is a good name — unambiguously Hispanic.

“We had only one candidate win in 2002,” Hays told me. It was a county court seat won by Sally Montgomery, a party-switching incumbent who eked out a victory.

But Democrats that year came excruciatingly close in two district judge contests with Latina candidates: Sarah Saldaña, who would go on to be director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Obama administration, and who got 49.49 percent of the vote in a well-financed campaign, and Lena Levario, who got 49.29 percent and “didn’t spend a dime.”

“When Lupe showed up and said, `I want to run for sheriff (in 2004),’ I’m like,`Yes. You can win, because your name is Lupe Valdez,” Hays said.

“The pendulum was swinging,” Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who oversees the jail, Valdez’s prime responsibility sheriff’s office, told me. “Dallas County was in the throes of transition and she caught the right train.”

When I was writing the profile I spoke with Garry Mauro, the former land commissioner and among the last class of Democrats elected statewide in 1994, who said, at that moment, Valdez was probably right that she would win the nomination.

“You have two very good candidates,” said Mauro, the Democratic candidate for governor against George W. Bush in 1998, of Valdez and White, but, “there’s an inevitability, because of demographics and experience, about a Dallas woman Hispanic sheriff winning unless Andrew White can create a compelling reason for Democrats to vote for him.”

This past weekend, White and Valdez, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, may have done just that.

Andrew White, Houston investor and the son of former Gov. Mark White is interviewed in his home in Houston, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. White is running for Texas governor as a democrat candidate. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

“We had a great weekend,” White told me Sunday afternoon.

This morning, White’s campaign announced that it had raised more than $1.1 million in the first three weeks of January, loaning his campaign $1 million, with an additional $138,632 coming from donors.

On the Straus censure: How an ideological fidget spinner became the engine of the Texas GOP

 

Good day Austin:

Last June, James Dickey, then the Travis County Republican Party chairman, was elected chair of the Texas Republican Party by a single vote, defeating Rick Figueroa, who had been the chosen successor of the outgoing chair, Tom Mechler.

The next month, on the eve of the summer special session of the Legislature that Gov. Greg Abbott had called, I went to the Travis County Republican Party’s Summer Bash at the Texas Disposal System’s Exotic Game Ranch in Creedmoor.

 

I did a First Reading: For Texas GOP, the special session may be The Most Dangerous Game in which I noted that as I drove out to the ranch I had an “uneasy feeling.”

What really unsettled me was the mounting Republican-on-Republican acrimony leading up to the opening of today’s special session.

After witnessing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick going after House Speaker Joe Straus last week and again yesterday, I worried things were headed in an ominous direction.

As Chuck Lindell and I had written in the paper that day:

In back-to-back appearances Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held what amounted to a pep rally for the special session that begins Tuesday, with the governor calling for a running public count of who is with or against his 20-item agenda, and Patrick warning House Speaker Joe Straus not to get in the way.

“I’m going to be establishing a list,” Abbott said in a midday question-and-answer event on the session at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the conservative think tank where many of the governor’s priorities are born and raised.

“We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis to call people out,” Abbott said. “Who is for this. Who is against this. Who has not taken a position yet. No one gets to hide.”

Patrick was more direct and personal, identifying Straus as the odd man out in a special session that he portrayed as a kind of ideological buddy movie in which he and the governor were entirely in tune, and Straus was discordantly out of sync.

At one point, Patrick warned of Straus, “If he personally attacks the governor, I will be his wingman.”

But, as I wrote, when I arrived at the Travis County bash, I found that, James Dickey, the former TCRP chair and recently elected new chairman of the Texas Republican Party was speaking, and offering some words of GOP reconciliation vis-a-vis the speaker. Dickey was talking about the challenge of maintaining party unity, and what holds Texas Republicans together:

We already have a shared common goal.

We have a platform.

Some people give us grief because it has 260 items.

So, first of all, there are over 6,000 bills filed so 260 is not that big a deal. It’s not.

If there are 260, there are five or ten that any single elected official should have no problem going to the mat for, and they get to pick those. We believe in that. That’s the kind of party we are.

I met with the speaker of the House a couple of weeks ago. he referred to the letter I’d sent to him and to the lieutenant governor.

The letter identified the priorities for the special session and, by number, the particular planks from the Texas Republican Party Platform that corresponded to them.

Back to Dickey’s remarks at the bash.

The governor has said that of the 20 items he asked for, ten are going to be right out of our  platform, and the majority of those items are mom and apple pie: Don’t let people get annexed without a vote. Don’t spend taxpayer money, taxpayer money, Republican taxpayer money, to collect union dues that then get spent 99 percent for Democrats.

Property tax relief.

Giving special needs students choice.

These are plain things.

And the speaker said, “There are a couple of things here that the House may not be able to give any more on,” and my response was, “Give us any seven or eight of those and we will cheer you for those seven or eight. Let other people scold you for what you wouldn’t do. We in the party. We are not putting our thumb on the scale. Our platform is our platform. If it’s out of there and you pass it, I will thank you for doing so.”

Next year, our convention, the largest political convention in the free world, will take place during the 300th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio, during the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Republican Party of Texas, a block from the Alamo, and the theme of that convention is a line in the sand, and my comment to the speaker was, “Let’s show the line in the sand, let me make your intro video so that when you walk up there, our delegates cheer for what you have done for us. That’s what we want.’

That, I wrote, prompted a single whoop and some tepid applause from Dickey’s audience.

A lot has happened since then.

Abbott and Patrick got some of what they wanted from the special session, but not everything, and they both blamed Straus for what they didn’t get.

Straus announced he was not going to seek re-election to the House, and so would not be speaker again come 2019.

And, on Saturday, the State Republican Executive Committee voted to censure Straus, with Dickey and Vice Chair Amy Clark providing the decisive votes to pass it.

It was a dramatic moment, because the chair and vice chair normally don’t vote and without the vote of at least one of them, the censure would have fallen short of the two-thirds threshold and failed.

Here was what Dickey said in declaring that he and Clark, who did not speak, were putting their thumbs on the scale for censure.

This is a very unusual case and a very unusual situation. It has been Vice Chair Clark’s and my norm that we do not cast votes unless they have a consequence and it is our strong preference that that not be the case – that the body be unified enough that that not be the case. We have spoken at length about this upcoming vote and we frankly have some concerns. We have had people raise concerns that this could have a practical impact on support for the Party—both ways. And as people who are committed to growing the Republican Party, building the Republican Party, there are pros and cons to both sides of this. We are, together, supporting this motion and voting yes.

Please know, we do not do this lightly and it does not reflect any personal opinion on particular details in this discussion. This is us being committed to supporting the convention, the delegates, Republican voters across Texas in unifying our party to move forward. We must win in 2018. We’ve got to put this behind us…

I was at the SREC meeting, and wrote about the censure. I thought back to Dickey’s hopeful words at the summer bash at the game preserve, and his decision, as chairman of the Texas Republican Party, to provide the decisive vote to censure one of the three most important and powerful Republican elected officials in the state.

“I trust the body to do the right thing,” Dickey told me after meeting’s end..  “And clearly in this case it seemed clear to me that a supermajority of the body did feel this was appropriate and was important.”

Dickey said he also felt it reflected a supermajority of sentiment among party activists more broadly.

 

But did he personally support the censure?

Dickey:

As chair I absolutely separate my personal view and I’ve spoken to the speaker and could not have more clearly stated my desire to work with him as an elected official and member of the Republican Party, and that has been my strong and sincere desire, and, in my effort to grow and unify the party, I’ve spoken  to him multiple times.

But this probably puts the kibosh on producing the Straus intro video for the state convention in June, right?

Dickey:

There’s still time. There are interim charges that we’ve been trying to get progress on. There are other activities that will happen between now and then. I still hope for growth and unity in the Republican Party.

Ah yes, Joe Straus in sackcloth and ashes. Ah, no.

Of the vote, Dickey said:

Clearly, it’s nothing that we take lightly, it is absolutely nothing that we take lightly. But it was not censuring him, it was censuring actions that were in opposition to our priorities.

But doesn’t a state party repudiating its speaker suggest a party divided?

Dickey:

I don’t believe so. I think being clear about what’s important to the party and what we stand, for what we all stand for – our principles are  a broad tent, we have principles that represent the vast majority of Texans as shown by voters – standing up for those principles strongly does not divide or shrink the party, it allows us to grow.

This is how the state party described the censure in a statement posted on its website Monday:

AUSTIN, TX –  On Saturday, the State Republican Executive Committee held a vote to recognize the censure resolution sent to the body by the Bexar County Republican Party under Republican Party of Texas Rule 44, which was passed by the state convention in 2016. After the body voted the result was 42 in favor and 19 against, one vote short of the required 2/3 threshold for passage.  The Chairman and the Vice Chairman had not voted, in accordance with their usual policy of letting the body decide matters on its own.

Neither the Chairman nor the Vice Chairman went into this meeting with the intention of voting on this issue. As leaders of the Party, they seek to represent all Republicans and their various points of view.  Yet with this issue being one vote short of the necessary threshold it would not have been effective leadership to abdicate the decision and not cast a deciding vote.

After joint consultation, they decided to affirm the resolution from Bexar County for which an overwhelming majority of the body had just cast their vote.

The votes cast by the Chair and Vice Chair do not necessarily represent their personal views on this matter, but were cast in a sincere effort to foster unity, heal division, and put this issue behind the RPT so that we can move forward and focus on our goal of growing the Party and electing Republicans in critical races up and down the ballot in 2018.  That is and will continue to be the Party’s number one priority in the weeks and months to come.

So, the way the process works is that the censure resolution has to emanate from the home county or one of the home counties of the censuree – in this case Bexar, and so what the state party was doing was concurring with the Bexar County resolution of Dec. 11.

And there is really no way to do justice to the Bexar County resolution, and its Torquemadan tone, without reading it.

So, here it is:

Bexar County Executive Committee

Resolution to Censure Joseph R. Straus, III

WHEREAS, Rule 44 of the Republican Party of Texas allows the party to sanction a Republican office holder who takes three or more actions during a biennium in opposition to the core principles of the Republican Party of Texas; and

WHEREAS, Rep. Joseph R. Straus, III, as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, has abused the power of his office and taken over three actions during this current biennium that, cumulatively, are in opposition to the core principles of the Republican Party of Texas; and

WHEREAS, Straus has taken actions in opposition to the first, third, fourth, fifth, and tenth core principles of the Republican Party of Texas by abusing his authority as speaker to usurp the power of the people’s duly elected representatives of the Texas House of Representatives; and

WHEREAS, In disregard of House rules and the Texas Constitution Art. III, Sec 12(c), an act described by Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick as “walking off the job,” Straus unilaterally adjourned the Texas House of Representatives early on August 15, 2017 during the First Called Session of the Texas Legislature without a vote despite the objections and demands for a record vote of at least 17 members of the House of Representatives; and

WHEREAS, During the 85th legislative session, Straus repeatedly refused to recognize proper motions and amendments made by the people’s duly elected representatives, only allowing motions and amendments to proceed when he consented to their substance; likewise Straus set aside parliamentary procedure to deny representatives the right to appeal his parliamentary rulings; and

WHEREAS, Straus obstructed the agenda of Governor Abbott, denying members of both parties an opportunity to vote on the proposed legislation; and

WHEREAS, Such actions impede and make a mockery of representative government in contradiction of the principles enshrined in the Texas Constitution and in opposition to the first and fourth core principles of the Republican Party of Texas; and

WHEREAS, Such actions have damaged the sovereignty of Texas, which is predicated on the consent of the governed; Straus’s actions have removed the people from control of their government through their representatives by sabotaging those representatives’ sworn duty to control the legislature through orderly motions and votes, and this result is in opposition to the third core principle of the Republican Party of Texas; and

WHEREAS, Such actions are in opposition to the fifth core principle of the Republican Party of Texas in that Straus has refused to allow himself to be held personally accountable for his actions by cutting off the means by which his colleagues in the House of Representatives can do so; and

WHEREAS, Such actions are in opposition to the tenth core principle of the Republican Party of Texas; any office holder who does violence to the Texas Constitution by abusing the authority granted them by the people dishonors all persons who have served to protect our freedom; and Page 2 of 3 Resolution to Censure Joseph R. Straus III

WHEREAS, Straus acted during the 85th legislative session in opposition to the second core principle of the Republican Party of Texas by repeatedly obstructing legislation designed to protect the right to life; the foremost right for which governments are established to protect; and

WHEREAS, For the 85th Legislature, he appointed as Chairman of the House State Affairs Committee State Representative Byron Cook, who has been outspoken in his defense of certain third trimester abortions and has repeatedly killed pro-life bills in past regular sessions, necessitating special sessions in order for such legislation to pass; and

WHEREAS, Straus referred many pro-life bills to Cook’s committee and Cook did proceed to obstruct those bills, delaying some of them and preventing others from passing; included amongst these was House Bill 14 during the First Called Session, which Cook obstructed administratively for 17 days, causing its demise; and

WHEREAS, The consequences of the failure of such legislation will be measured in human lives; and

WHEREAS, Straus acted repeatedly during the 85th legislative session in opposition to the seventh core principle of the Republican Party of Texas by obstructing legislation designed to secure the freedom of choice for Texas parents in the education of their children; and

WHEREAS, He appointed as Chairman of the House Public Education Committee State Representative Dan Huberty, who has vociferously opposed all legislation that would give parents choice in their child’s education; and

WHEREAS, After his appointment, Huberty publicly announced all school choice bills “dead on arrival” in his committee, yet Straus proceeded to refer all bills giving greater parental choice in education to Huberty’s committee; Huberty and Straus did proceed to kill such bills, including legislation designed to give greater choice to the parents of children with special needs; and

WHEREAS, Straus has taken actions in opposition to the sixth, eighth, and ninth core principles of the Republican Party of Texas by unilaterally obstructing the Texas Privacy Act, legislation designed to protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of Texas women and children and honor the principles of the free market; and

WHEREAS, Senate Bill 6 (Texas Privacy Act) during the Regular Session of the 85th Texas Legislature was received by the House from the Texas Senate on March 16, 2017, yet Straus refused to refer the bill to any committee for the duration of the regular session and refused to allow members to make motions to refer the bill themselves; and

WHEREAS, Senate Bill 3 (Texas Privacy Act) during the First Called Session of the 85th Texas Legislature was received by the House from the Texas Senate on July 27, 2017, yet Straus refused to refer the bill to any committee for the duration of the special session and refused to allow members to make motions to refer the bill themselves; and

WHEREAS, Texas House Rule 13, Section 2, provides that “[s]enate bills announced [in the House] as passed shall be read for the first time and referred to the appropriate committee as soon as practicable,” and Texas House Rule 7 reserves to the members of the House the right to refer and re-refer bills to a committee of the body’s choosing; and Page 3 of 3 Resolution to Censure Joseph R. Straus III

WHEREAS, Senate Bill 6, Senate Bill 3, and other legislation that was obstructed, in opposition to the first and eighth core principles, were designed to clarify the law regarding public accommodations, acknowledging natural men and natural women, were designed to provide for the safety of Texans in their communities, in particular women and girls in intimate facilities, and were designed to protect the free enterprise society by reserving to businesses and private property owners the right to manage and control intimate facilities unencumbered by government interference; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, In accordance with Rule 44 of the Rules of the Republican Party of Texas, the Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Bexar County, meeting October 9, 2017, a quorum being present, by a vote of at least two-thirds present and voting, hereby censure Joseph R. Straus, III, a public office holder representing a portion of Bexar County; and be it further

RESOLVED, We request that the State Republican Executive Committee and the delegates to the next State Convention of the Republican Party of Texas concur in this resolution of censure and impose on Joseph R. Straus, III, the penalties provided in Rule 44 of the Rules of the Republican Party of Texas; and be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared and transmitted to the Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas.

Now, I must admit, that I am one of those reporters who delights in covering the workings of convention platform committees, Republican and Democrat, because of the arcane, intense, earnest madness of those proceedings.

I wrote a First Reading on the 2014 Texas Republican Party Platform: By their fruits, ye shall know them. On the Texas GOP platform, that began:

What is another word for a party’s political platform? Opposition research.

Indeed, the document produced by the 2014 Republican Convention in Fort Worth was probably most eagerly awaited and avidly read by Texas Democrats. The instant the Republican convention approved its platform before adjourning Saturday afternoon, Battleground Texas issued a fundraising appeal under the headline, “This GOP Platform Will Shock You,” with the following bullet points drawn (in a couple of cases with a little interpretative license) from the Republican platform.

– Reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality

– Climate change is a conspiracy
– Drug test welfare recipients
– Abolish the Department of Education
– Abolish the Department of Homeland Security
– Deny a women’s right to choose even in cases of rape or incest
– Disband the TSA
– Defund Texas schools
– Reject the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
– Withdraw from the United Nations

Battleground Texas’ solution: Donate Now.

If you are actually shocked by that list, you may be a Democrat.

It’s probably a mistake to make too much of a party platform. They are like grade school finger-painting – more about self-expression and remaining usefully occupied than great art.

But they have a great virtue.

While much of politics is about obfuscation and obscuring what a candidate really thinks or would do behind market-tested slogans and bromides, platforms are painfully earnest documents that express what the party, or at any rate factions within the party, truly believe and care about. Sometimes, when the issue gets big enough – like immigration – the planks represent efforts to wrestle a consensus position out of competing points of view. But, most often, they offer a real peek at what the most devoted folks within the party are thinking.

Well then, consider Saturday’s Straus censure the Revenge of the Platform Nerds. 

As one of the proponents of the resolution said during the debate, no longer would platform writing be dismissed as busy work for the committed. With Saturday’s vote, that fidget spinner for ideologues can now clearly be seen to be the engine of the party – the Republican Party in the nation’s biggest and most important Red State.

What was perhaps most remarkable, was that during the debate over the resolution, not a single member rose to actually say something nice about Straus (except that he sends very nice Christmas cards).

Opponents of the resolution merely made the case that Straus had already suffered their opprobrium.

Proponents of the censure described it as historic, the biggest vote of their lifetimes, that it would resound across the national political landscape.

Yes, McCloskey, who represents Senate District 5 on the SREC, told me Monday, the vote was a big deal, but not in a good way.

“I’m in DC today it was being discussed up here,” said McCloskey, who will be attending the Republican National Committee meeting in D.C. later this week.”We’re now a party that mainstream Republicans would not recognize.”

“There are people who are considered impure, and it starts with the speaker, but there are other people that they feel the same way about,” he said.

“There is a disconnect between the grassroots, which they consider to be attendees at the Republican State Convention, and what I consider grassroots, which are the voters,” McCloskey said.

The censure, he said, attempts to abrogate the rights of the voters, not to mention all those Republicans in the Texas House who kept Straus as speaker for five terms – as long as any speaker in Texas history – most recently by a unanimous vote. And, he noted, the SREC approved a separate resolution Saturday thanking the Legislature for all the good things it had done. Straus was speaker for those things as well.

 

“I‘m a conservative Republican as much as anyone can claim to be without going to what I consider to be the extremes that some people do that are not reflective of Texas and probably not reflective of their districts,” he said.

“Remember, these are the people who said two years ago that the most important vote you would take in your lifetime was to put secession on the ballot and I said at the time, I never thought that I would get a chance to vote in my lifetime on whether Texas would remain part of the United States. Isn’t that the craziest thing?” McCloskey said. “They went on radio shows and they went after me personally because I wasn’t going to support secession.”

“To give you an idea, when I joined the SREC (four years ago)  I started receiving this magazine, it was from the John Birch Society. I take great joy in standing in my Post Office, when they send it to me and throwing it away, because they are trying to get everybody to be of that mindset, I call it the black helicopter crowd.”

McCloskey was not suggesting that the party had anything to do with him receiving the magazine, only that, in the SREC, the John Birch Society, saw ripe targets of opportunity.

“I get a lot of this kind of stuff, and I have a filter on me that can reject it, but a lot of these folks, it just feeds them. They are very much influenced and controlled by the Tim Dunn crowd, whatever they says goes. The TPPF (Texas Public Policy Foundation) crowd, Michael Quinn Sullivan.”

And, he noted, it is the SREC members who get to choose the people who, at each convention, craft the party platform.

“There’s just a disconnect with reality,” McCloskey said. “The best that could happen to us is to have no meetings.”

And, McCloskey aid, it was a given that Dickey would ultimately side with those seeking the censure, because those are the folks who elected him chair by a single vote.

“The people who wanted that resolution, who spent a long time working on it, elected him. He had a payment he had to make.”

Wayne Thorburn, who was executive director of the Texas Republican Party from 1977 to 1983 and wrote the 2014 book, “Red State: An Insider’s Story of How the GOP Came to Dominate Texas Politics,” was also distressed by the Straus censure.

“The guy’s not even running for re-election, his term is over so why bother doing that,” Thorburn said. “I think it’s a really bad move. I think it’s embarrassing to someone who is one of the top elected officials, albeit elected by the Legislature, to be censured by his own party. It’s such a small closed shop kind of a vote, kind of says that party is going to stick to this and we’re not going to consider deviation from what we think is the right policy. It’s one of those divisive things and they should have let it die in Bexar County.

Also, Thorburn said, “I don’t think all the grassroots agree.”

“Some activists in the party  thought what Straus was doing was the right thing in letting positive legislation get out of the House and not divisive bills that weren’t essential to the running of the state,” he said. “There’s so much that should be focused on in terms of school finance, infrastructure,  juvenile justice, so many other things in the state that have priority over which bathroom someone uses.”

“The legislators are not really engaged in who gets elected to party positions so, by default,  those who hold more extreme motivations for their political involvement tend to be the one who get elected to these positions,” Thorburn said.

When  Mechler became chairman, he named Thorburn to a new position, party historian. With Dickey’s election, Thorburn relinquished the job.

Last night I spoke to  Mechler, who is from Amarillo and who I first met when he chaired the Platform Committee at 2014 state convention (he chaired in 2012 as well).

He was disappointed by the Straus censure.

“When I was state chairman I focused my administration on unifying the party – that the Republican Party belonged to all Republicans throughout the state of Texas,” Mechler said. “What happened Saturday is, I think, most unfortunate. While the people who passed that said it was about unity nothing could be further from the truth. I think it was a very divisive thing that was done against a sitting speaker who is not even on the ballot in March.”

Meanwhile, in other Texas Republican Party purge news:

AUSTIN – Texans for Greg Abbott today released its second TV ad supporting Susanna Dokupil for State Representative. The ad points out how Dokupil’s opponent, Sarah Davis, has consistently voted against conservative policies and Governor Abbott’s legislative priorities, including protecting the unborn and limiting state spending.

 

And from the Sarah Davis campaign:

Deceptive Dokupil Ad Continues Campaign of Distortion

Abbott-Funded Desperate Attack Ad Rests on a Throne of Lies

West University Place – State Rep. Sarah Davis corrected the record concerning a newly released Susanna Dokupil ad that uses Governor Abbott’s campaign funds to deceive voters. The ad claims Davis supports late-term abortions, but ignores the record and even ignores an important passage in the story they cite in the ad.

`Let Her Speak:’ Inside the screenplay of the Wendy Davis (Sandra Bullock) biopic

Good Monday Austin:

That, above, would be from the title page of the 133-page screenplay by Mario Correa, an accomplished Chilean-born, Brooklyn-based playwright and television and film writer, about Wendy Davis and the abortion filibuster that made her famous, a script that came into my possession Friday and which I read over the weekend.

Giving me a look. 2013.

On Thursday, Variety  broke the news.

Sandra Bullock will star in the spec “Let Her Speak” as Texas senator Wendy Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in the Texas state house.

Todd Black and Jason Blumenthal are on board to produce through their Escape Artists banner.

At the time, Davis was a little known Democratic senator who soon became a national icon on the subject of abortion after filibustering for 11 hours in order to stall a bill, and ultimately delaying its passage beyond the midnight deadline for the end of the legislative session. The bill would have included more restrictive abortion regulations for Texas and would have closed all abortion clinics in the state. (note: Not quite, but almost.)

Mario Correa penned the spec.

The package will now be shopped to studios and should court several suitors over the next week.

The role seems right up Bullock’s alley and could be another awards play for the star who won her first Oscar for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy in the real-life story “The Blind Side.” She just wrapped production on Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven” spinoff, “Ocean’s Eight,” and is about start filming on the Netflix movie “Bird Box.”

She is repped by CAA.

I would have read it on Friday, but I was busy writing a Sunday story about Texas Democrats’ search for a candidate to oppose Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election, with Davis leaving the door open a crack that she would do it if an appropriate other candidate did not step forward.

The script is a good read.

I must admit, it’s a kick to read a screenplay about a moment in history to which you were first-hand witness – with all the name players bearing their real names – and to see how it’s done.

The script is drawn from the public record, from Davis’ book ” –  Forgetting to be Afraid: A Memoir – published two months before the November 2014 gubernatorial election, and, no doubt, from conversations with Davis.

It is written from Davis’ point of view and is hagiographic in the extreme. If you don’t agree with Wendy Davis on abortion, this will not be the movie for you, though, considering the subject and  the state of American political polarization, that should not be surprising.

The film opens with a terrifying and disturbing scene from Davis’ childhood that she wrote about in her memoir. As I wrote in the Statesman when it came out two months before the November gubernatorial election:

The book is replete with details of a sometimes harrowing childhood, of a loving but philandering father and a cold but dutiful mother who, after the first of two breakups with her husband, placed the infant Wendy and two siblings in the trunk of their car in the family garage with the intention of turning on the engine and killing herself and her children. Only a fortuitous visit from a neighbor who talked and prayed with Davis’ mother broke the spell of despondency and spared their lives.

We cut from that nightmarish scene to Wendy Davis on an Austin running trail in the spring of 2013, that sets the tone for rest of the movie.

Davis is portrayed as a hero –  strong, brave, brilliant, determined, relentless, tireless. This is not one of those movies where they throw in a fault or foible, however  minor, to give the character a more realistic texture.

This is not flawed-character-as-reluctant hero. This is up by her bootstraps, against the odds, hell bent for leather heroine.

The only hint of an imperfection is when colleague and ally Kirk Watson suggests to her that maybe she possesses the slightest hint of holier-than-thou moral preening – like she alone among her Democratic peers has the right stuff to lead the battle against the forces of darkness. But, of course, in the view of the film, she is also right, and so maybe, like all the great ones since Joan of Arc, she comes on a little strong.

At the time of the June 25, 2013 filibuster, I had been in Austin six months and it was one of the most dramatic scenes I’ve witnessed in 40 years as a reporter.

As I wrote in a First Reading on the third anniversary of the filibuster:

The Texas Capitol was the center of the political universe, the building fairly shaking, throbbing, pulsing with tension and consequence, with Wendy Davis – and that terse bard of the Texas Senate, Mike Ward – seizing the Twitterverse by the neck and shaking it for all it’s worth, and the moribund corpse of the Texas Democratic Party, laid out cold on a slab, being thumped and electric-shocked back to life.

I had been up the night before writing an anticipatory First Reading so I had only had an hour or two of sleep before showing up in the Senate that morning, and never leaving until well after it culminated in a delirious moment of confusion/triumph/defeat that made Mr. Smith, and all the fuss made about him, seem quaintly understated.

As I wrote in the Statesman that Sunday:

By standing her ground on the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours Tuesday against legislation that would severely restrict access to abortions in Texas, the petite Davis, in her now-celebrated rouge red Mizuno Wave Rider 16s, had provided downtrodden Texas Democrats with their best moment of the 21st century.

Overnight, Davis had raised the possibility that Democrats, against all odds, might mount a serious campaign for governor in 2014, scrambled Gov. Rick Perry’s political timetable, undermined Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s chances of re-election, and revised the politics of abortion in Texas by pushing final passage of Senate Bill 5 past its midnight deadline.

“That was the moment when the Democratic Party in Texas came alive,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said the next day. “I was in the Texas Legislature for 10 years waiting for that moment. I never got it. It happened last night.”

This is the Wendy Davis that Wendy Davis and her campaign wanted to present to Texas voters when she ran for governor in 2014.

From Robert Draper’s February 2014 cover piece in the New York Times Magazine: Can Wendy Davis Have it All?

It did not take long for her and everyone else in the chamber to see that the usual permissiveness attendant to Texas filibusters — furtive sips of water, hard candy for sustenance, languid reading of the Bible, leaning against furniture, even a dash to the bathroom — would not apply to her. But as the hours wore on and the spectacle of the slight woman standing erect if dehydrated, and reading testimony from women who had gotten abortions, in a chamber full of glowering and mostly male Republicans spread across the Twitterverse, something began to tilt in her favor. At one point, opponents complained that she had violated the rules by getting off topic. At another, Rodney Ellis, a Democratic colleague, whispered, “The president just tweeted about you,” and Davis responded with an expletive of surprise. When the presiding Republican, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, ruled that she had three violations and ended her filibuster, pandemonium ensued, thus delaying a vote on the bill until just after midnight, when the session officially ended. Shortly after 3 a.m., Dewhurst reluctantly announced that Davis’s filibuster had prevailed and that S.B. 5 was dead. (The next month in a second special session, Gov. Rick Perry reintroduced the bill, and it passed.)

When she walked out to the Capitol steps, someone handed her a microphone, allowing her strained voice to be heard by the crowd of thousands who had gathered to greet her. She then decompressed in her office, after which she and Will Wynn walked together to her car — backs to the camera, savoring the semblance of privacy.

Overnight, a once-obscure state senator had become the Democrats’ most appealing new face. “I felt like she was Joan of Arc, standing up there for women all across the country,” (former Michigan Gov. Jennifer) Granholm said. Democrats in Washington were enrapt. When Davis visited the nation’s capital a few weeks later for a fund-raiser, Nancy Pelosi and more than a dozen senators were there. Anna Greenberg, a Washington-based Democratic pollster who until recently worked for Davis, explained that even for Beltway insiders, “there has been a feeling of disappointment in Obama — the inspiration just isn’t there anymore — not to mention all of the dysfunction in Congress. Then these new voices emerge,” like Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “and Wendy, all speaking truth to power. They make Democrats feel inspired again.”

The cinematic possibilities of the moment were instantly obvious  and  the casting commenced almost at once.

I don’t think what I’m going to tell you about the screenplay requires any spoiler alerts. We all now how it ends.

But I think I can be of service by letting you know which roles require casting, and how the script treats each of those characters.

First things first.

The only reporter with a name and a real part is Laura Kamen. There is her cameraman, and another unnamed reporter, who gets to engage in some irrelevant reporter banter, but, otherwise Kamen’s it. I don’t think there is an actual reporter named Laura Kamen, and I don’t think she is based on anyone in particular, but I think Kamen is  a Jewish name, for what it’s worth.

So, sorry Johnathan, Evan, Steve. Not gonna happen.

The villain of the piece is Dan Patrick, then a senator, now lieutenant governor.

Here is how Dan Patrick is introduced in the film.

 

Well, I suppose he’s available. But not nice.

MY CHOICE TO PLAY DAN PATRICK: Dennis Quaid.

Patrick’s sidekick in the screenplay is Sen. Donna Campbell.

Here’s her intro.

Not nice.

MY CHOICE TO PLAY DONNA CAMPBELL: Holly Hunter.

The best line that I haven’t heard before is delivered by Dan Patrick (think Dennis Quaid) to Donna Campbell (think Holly Hunter) about eight hours into the filibuster.

The most interesting and demanding role is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – because he is written as conflicted and is a character with shades of gray. Dewhurst in the script is  torn between his own fundamental decency and respect for the traditions of the Texas Senate and political reality, and, what in retrospect, was a wholly legitimate concern about a challenge from Dan Patrick.

Here is Dewhurst’s intro.

Ted Hebert is, as far as I know, a made up name. I think he’s probably a composite, or maybe he’s just made up. He’s the slick political adviser/chief of staff/consultant, who tells Dewhurst what he needs to do to keep his job and keep Patrick at bay.

For Hebert, a special session that includes abortion is a gift that will enable Dewhurst to show the Republican base that no matter that patrician persona, and his previous defeat in the 2012 Senate primary runoff at the hands of Cruz, Dewhurst has the right right stuff.

The base is represented by three made up characters.

The script offers a sympathetic view of Dewhurst. He is not just some hapless ditherer.  I would like to see them build his character a little more. If the movie is going to be ore than a polemic, it’s got to build on Dewhurst’s dilemma.

I like that.

But, MY CHOICE TO PLAY DAVID DEWHURST: Colin Firth

Why Colin Firth?

The stutter, and the empathy I think Firth would bring to the role. (They can make him up to look older than he is.)

From a story I wrote on the eve of Dewhurst’s May 2014 primary runoff loss to Patrick, coming after his defeat two years earlier in a runoff with Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate.

Dewhurst found himself being challenged for the Senate by, among others, Cruz, who would turn out to be a once-in-a-generation political talent — a championship debater at Princeton and former solicitor general for Texas who had argued nine cases before the Supreme Court. Dewhurst put $20 million of his own money into the campaign, spending a lot on attack ads that hurt him more than Cruz. Most crucial for Cruz, the campaign calendar was stretched by court battles over redistricting, giving him time to mount a campaign that forced a runoff, and he stampeded to victory in the midsummer runoff.

Now, in an awful deja vu for Dewhurst, he is facing, in Patrick, another natural talker — a former sports broadcaster who for years has made his name as a conservative talk radio host on a station he owns in Houston.

“It’s very frustrating for me,” Dewhurst said in an interview in his campaign office Monday, just before going over to the early voting trailer at the H-E-B at Oltorf Street and Congress Avenue to cast his ballot. “On any given day, I’m going to be a slower talker than Dan Patrick or Ted Cruz because my father was killed by a drunk driver when I was 3, and it must have been so traumatic because for a while I couldn’t speak and then I had a horrible stutter.”

“It was a long time before I started to get it under control,” Dewhurst said. “In ninth grade, I was president of the student council, and I would try to preside over meetings, but I couldn’t talk sometimes.”

The remnants of his speech problem are still well in evidence. He speaks slowly — more slowly if he’s tired — and very deliberately.

Campaign staffers have in the past urged him to just speak from the heart and not overthink everything he is about to say, but the desire to get things just so seems to have become a general habit of mind.

The other Democrats in the Senate get roles of varying size.

Watson plays Davis’ foil – a friend and ally but just lacking a little of her moxie until the close of the filibuster when he delivers in brilliant fashion.

The script makes it plain why Davis was chosen to make history.

MY CHOICE TO PLAY KIRK WATSON: Billy Bob Thornton.

You want someone with a little friendly tension with Wendy/Sandra. Someone who can puncture her sanctimony, appear a bit world weary but who rises to the occasion and sounds like he’s really from Texas.

There are a couple of other meaty roles.

Sonya Grogg, as Davis’ chief of staff, is the woman behind the woman. The script describes here as a “young Wendy in the making.”

Dr. Lisa Chang is the 28-year-old physician – I have no idea if that is her actual name – who fits Davis with the catheter that enables her to make it through the filibuster, which allows for no bathroom breaks. Only the catheter is too large and painfully cumbersome so Dr. Chang has to rush over through impossible Austin traffic and an impossible line to get into the Capitol, to fit Davis with a more appropriately-sized catheter moments before the filibuster begin.

I predict the catheter scenes will be Oscar bait.

And, by the way, it’s Donna Campbell, a physician, who realizes Davis is catheterized.

 

There’s also a nice part in Javier Costa, the wide-eyed 21-year-old intern who arrives in Davis’ office on Sine Die of the regular session and finds himself thrust into the middle of history and playing his own pivotal role when he is dispatched, deep in to the filibuster, to the local CVS to procure a back brace Davis needs if she is oil to make it to midnight. Against all odds, Costa gets the brace to Davis just in the nick of time, although Sen Rodney Ellis’ memorable assist to Davis in getting the brace on cost her one of the there strikes she was allowed, imperiling the filibuster.

Ellis’ part is good, but doesn’t take full advantage of his personality.

Senate Parliamentarian Karina Davis – no relation to Wendy – has a nice little part in the thick of the filibuster action.

There are also roles, in flashback, for Jeff Davis, Wendy’s second husband, and former Austin Mayor Will Wynn, who plays her sympathetic and supportive boyfriend. It’s the kind of part Sam Shepard could have played, but, lamentably, he’s dead.

There is also, of course, Leticia Van de Putte, who the script describes as “Latina, confident, big-boned.”

The filibuster created the Democratic ticket in 2014 – Davis for governor and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor, though, for whatever reason, Davis kept her distance from Van de Putte during the campaign, which was odd considering their triumphant moment of sisterhood at the close of the filibuster.

As I wrote in a First Reading just after the election:

The most self-defeating and inexplicable aspect of the whole Wendy Davis campaign was the failure to take advantage of the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor.

Davis and Van de Putte should have campaigned side-by-side across the state. They needed each other. Van de Putte needed the exposure, needed to let Texans know who she was and that, notwithstanding her married name, she was actually Hispanic. And Davis desperately needed the Van de Putte touch. Van de Putte is warm and approachable and spontaneous where Davis is cool and distant and canned. It was Van de Putte who, arriving late in the filibuster after burying her father, delivered the killer line – “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”- that threw the gallery into pandemonium and won the day for the Democrats.

And how does he screenplay handle that moment?

Very oddly.

Wait. What? Hold on.

In the script, Davis is delivering Van de Putte’s spontaneous, immortal line.

That’s just not right. They’ve got to fix that.

MY CHOICE TO PLAY LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE; Kathy Bates.

UPDATE:

https://twitter.com/andreagrimes/status/930546250679705600

In the script, as Davis, Kirk and the other Democrats celebrated after the filibuster, we see Rick Perry, in a silk bathrobe, over at the Governor’s Mansion, taking in the scene on TV, and talking to an aide on the phone.

That’s it. Perry could play himself. He’s got an equity card.

The Legislature passed the law in the next special session that Davis had filibustered, but three years later, the Supreme Court struck down the law.

But, for Davis and Texas Democrats, the political aftermath of the filibuster was a letdown.

A First Reading I wrote on the occasion of

Well, the adrenalin rush didn’t last, except maybe for Dan Patrick, who used the public flummoxing of David Dewhurst to launch a successful bid to remove and replace him. Davis’ gubernatorial campaign was a disaster. And somehow, when all the dust had settled, we had Sid Miller occupying the august office of Texas Agriculture Commissioner, once occupied by Jim Hightower and Rick Perry, and Ken Paxton succeeding Greg Abbott as attorney general.

From Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece.

(T)he campaign had chosen as its lead narrative a heroic struggle of a different sort: that of a teenage, trailer-dwelling single mother, who, while raising two daughters, bootstrapped her way into Harvard Law School and soon, possibly, the governorship. On many levels, the story was politically exquisite. It connected the candidate and her devotion to issues like education in a personal rather than an ideological manner. It also sidestepped the divisive issue of abortion while framing her as the kind of hard-working mother to whom suburban women (a critical voting bloc) could relate. More broadly, as one of her Washington-based ad makers, Maura Dougherty, would tell me: “The bio connects her to Texans in a way that very few other things do. Her personal story makes her one of them.” Playing on the state’s self-reverence, the campaign titled the slick four-and-a-half-minute ad announcing her run for governor “A Texas Story.”

But it was also very much the story of a female politician — and was thus fraught with choices for which male candidates are seldom second-guessed by either voters or pundits. And, as it would develop two days after our drive around Fort Worth, the story was far from a tidy one.

In the movie, the tidy story makes a comeback and fits seamlessly with what led her to perform the Great Filibuster of 2013.

But, as I wrote in a First Reading  just after the 2014 eelection: O Pappy where art thou? What Wendy Davis could have learned from W. Lee O’Daniel:

Davis’ gubernatorial campaign peaked three months before it began, with her filibuster. From the moment she formally launched her campaign, it appeared to be an exercise in negative branding.

In other words, Davis ended up getting something less than the base Democratic vote. Not good. Jim Hogan, running for agriculture commissioner, did a great service by providing what amounted to a real-world control experiment. He raised no money. He did not campaign. He simply got his name on the ballot as the Democrat running against Sid Miller for agriculture commissioner and received 37 percent of the vote, two points less than Davis.

The 2014 election nationally had the lowest turnout in 72 years, since World War II, since Pappy O’Daniel roamed the campaign trail.

The starkest statistic of the Davis campaign is not the 20 percentage point margin by which she lost – vastly larger than former Houston Mayor Bill White’s 12.7 point loss four years ago to Gov Rick Perry – but how she lost it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott did not much improve on Perry’s performance – he received only 53,246 more votes than Perry out of a larger potential electorate. But Davis received 274,148 fewer votes than White, who has all the dynamism of Ferris Beuller’s high school economics teacher, and even though Davis would regularly remind voters at campaign appearance that her candidacy had generated more excitement than any Democratic candidate for governor in decades.

 

 

The screenplay ends, fittingly enough, with a call to action.

 

In the screenplay, that is followed by a note explaining what subsequently  happened to the people depicted in the movie.

One correction – Rodney Ellis is now a Harris County commissioner.

As for Davis’ vow to run again for office. We’ll see about that. Perhaps sooner than later.

But I got to figure being played by Sandra Bullock in a big-budget biopic has to be way better than being governor of Texas, and certainly far better than running for governor.

I admit I’m jealous.

If only there were a bankable star who could play me on the big screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maureen Dowd: On Trump’s Fantasia, Cruz’s Thunderdome and 41’s affection for David Cop-a-feel

 

Good morning Austin:

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and her Times colleague, Carl Hulse, are  coming to Austin Nov. 18  for an appearance at the Long Center.

Monday night, I spoke with Dowd. She was in Los Angeles for a benefit for the public library.

FR: Who persuaded you to come to Austin?

MD: Well, I love Austin, and I love Texas, and I love the Hotel San José. I love the Continental. And my dream in life is to get a poster of Ann-Margret singing at the Continental. If I can ever track that down.

So any excuse to come to Texas. I love Texas. Though it’s a sad time for Texas now.

FR: So why do you love Texas?

MD: I was the White House reporter for the Bush 1 White House and so I used to go to Beeville. I got my first cowboy boots in Beeville, where he would go quail hunting, and we would go to Houston for New Year’s Eve. I spent my New Year’s Eves in Houston.

And I love Texas women and I love Texas men. I love the whole state.

In a way it’s like California. You feel like you’re going to a completely different place with really cool people.

Austin is clearly one of the coolest places on Earth. I don’t think anyone disputes that.

FR: Do you wear boots?

MD:  Yes, I am trying to figure out which boots to wear. I always buy a pair at Allens when I’m there.

I love cowboy boots. The first ones I got were real hardcore cowboy boots in Beeville and they hurt and somebody told me that if just walked through a stream or something and wear them straight for a week, but I never could break them in. I finally had to give them away. But I never have trouble with the ones from Allens.

I love Guero’s. And I really love the Hotel San José

There was a picture in my room at the San José of Ann-Margret at the Continental and I really wanted to steal it but it was a big poster.

FR: Of the first President Bush, what do you make of recent revelations about his affection for David Cop-a-feel?

From Dave McKenna’s October 25 story in Deadspin:

Earlier this week, actress Heather Lind said in a now-deleted Instagram post that former president George H.W. Bush had sexually assaulted her. “He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side,” she wrote. “He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again.”

That is not the end of things. Jordana Grolnick, a New York actress, has a story to tell that doesn’t sound very different at all. “I got sent the Heather Lind story by many people this morning,” Grolnick says. “And I’m afraid that mine is entirely similar.”

Rumors about Bush groping actresses in this manner have been circulating for a while. More than a year ago, a tipster passed word about the Heather Lind incident to Deadspin. We were told that Bush had, during a photo opp, groped her and told her that his favorite magician was “David Cop-a-Feel” while fondling her.

(Reached for comment, Bush spokesperson Jim McGrath provided the following statement: “At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”)

In reporting out the tip, I found two actresses—Lind and Grolnick—who had accused Bush of groping, and also two Twitter users who, on April 4, 2014, made reference to the “David Cop-a-Feel” joke

MD: It makes me very sad because I think that probably the family is upset that this would be kind of the final things that’s talked about in his legacy.

I went down to Houston to have lunch with him in 2011 and he wasn’t talking well or moving well and that was six years ago, and I get the feel that he’s been sick for a long time.

That being said, if women don’t feel comfortable, I would never challenge a woman on that. If women were made to feel not comfortable, that’s not something I can speak to. I wasn’t there. I can only say he was a perfect gentleman with me when I covered him and when I’ve seen him in the years since. I can only talk about myself. I would not dispute anything that other women say along these lines.

I didn’t see that side of him. When you take a picture with him you have to scrunch down because he’s in a wheelchair. I’m not going to get into what other women feel or say. That’s not my place. I did not experience anything like that.

FR: Have you maintained any relationship with the second President Bush.

MD: I interviewed him during his first campaign, and I had a couple of interviews with him. I was very quickly kind of writing very critical columns, which went on for six or seven years, about how we got into Iraq and how it was being conducted, so I really wasn’t a favorite of the White House.

You know I think was the one who originally coined that Dick Cheney was Darth Vader, which then, in the end, Dick Cheney began using, so I was not a friend of that White House. I agree with the historians who say  that was the worst foreign policy mistake in American history.

You know we were attacked by one fiend, and then we said, “Let’s go after this other fiend because we have his address.” That is not the way we should conduct ourselves. It’s not fair.

FR: Have you, like many others, softened on Bush, post-Trump?

MD: When I see President Bush, Bush Jr., when I see him, when he makes a speech that’s very great about the need for civility and pushing back on President Trump, you know you can see where he has a lot of aspects where he could have been a very popular president, if he hadn’t come under the sway of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. But unfortunately he did, and when you see him being very dignified and appealing in speeches like he made last week it makes me sad that he couldn’t have been that president, but he wasn’t that president, unfortunately.

FR: It seems you adopted Trump’s word sad.

MD: Yes, but his is capital letters, exclamation mark. Mine is lowercase.

FR: Trump’ s been very good for the New York Times and the Washington Post,right?

MD: I say that Trump is the Rosemary’s baby of social media, reality TV and politics.

I mean it is the biggest story in presidential history. And White House reporters look exhausted but also they have all these lucrative contracts and magazine profiles.

When I covered the first President Bush, I don’t even think I got in the paper for six months, and then I think it was because he was showering with his dog Millie, or something.

I don’t think the White House reporters have a full appreciation of what it’s going to be like when they  go back to a normal politician and they are not on the front page, or on the home page twenty times a day, and they are not feted and they don’t have these big TV contracts you know because, unless Trump opens up the floodgates to a lot of celebrity presidents, and we end up with President Cuban (see Dowd’s recent, Mark Cuban Not Done Trolling Donald Trump), and President Kanye West, you know, everyone you see now on TV making a lot of money will have to kind of go back to a more boring White House existence.

It’s a kind of co-dependency, right, because Trump is like a heroin addict with attention, he has a heroin needle hanging out of his arm because he has the job where he gets the most attention of anyone in the world, which is what he wants, and we are dependent on him. So there’s a sort of a toxic mutual interdependence, where we have much higher subscription rates, and so does the Washington Post, and Rachel Maddow has the top ratings, and CNN, they can afford to call up reporters and give them contracts, and so this is plush time and it gives us a respite while we figure out a new business model for when Trump isn’t president.

But he’s the most accessible president in modern history, that’s what Maggie Haberman has said, and I think it’s true. Not to me, because he’s kind of mad at me. He tweeted that I was a wacky, neurotic dope, because there was something I said he didn’t like – I don’t know what it was – but he is incredibly accessible. He talks about the failing New York Times, but he talks to  Times reporters all time.

FR: When the president of the United States tweets that you’re a neurotic dope, is there a kick in that?

MD: Well, I think it got my book up fifteen places on Amazon, but it was kind of upsetting for me because Carl (Hulse) had a book party for me and he blew up the tweets and I looked at the bottom and I said, “What is that 20,000?” And he said, “Well, 20,000 people liked it,” and that was a little jarring.

 

But he always calls women “wacky and neurotic,” and I was a little disappointed because I was hoping for a more customized name from him having known him for thirty years.”

FR: You’ve talked to him for thirty years.

MD: The first time I talked to him was in 1987 when Mikhail Gorbachev made his first trip to  the United States and I was covering that, so I called the New York businessmen he was meeting with and before Trump went in the meeting, he was, “Oh, we’ve got to be careful, we’ve got to be skeptical of the Soviet Union, we don’t want to make any deals with them.” And then I called him after the meeting and he came out and he goes, “They’re fantastic, they love Trump Tower, they want to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, I love them, we have to make deals with them.”

So the very first time I interviewed him, I realized, just one compliment and the guy completely turns around, and it was just funny that it was on the subject of Russia too.

And then about a year later he was up at Trump Tower and he heard that Gorbachev was on Fifth Avenue, and so he came running down with this bodyguard, but then it turned out it was this actor from New Jersey named Ronald Knapp, and so Trump was trying to talk to him until he realized he was an actor.

From Dowd’s Dec. 7, 1988 column:

Gordon Elliott, who is the host for several Channel 5 programs and who accompanied Mr. Knapp in his charade, said afterward that Mr. Trump had fallen for the gag. ”There was absolutely no question that he bought it,” Mr. Elliott said.

Mr. Trump said that, once he got close up, he knew immediately that it was not the Soviet leader – especially since the pretender did not allude to the previous time the two had met and treated the deal-making mogul as a stranger.

”He looked fabulous and he sounded fabulous, but I knew it couldn’t be right,” Mr. Trump said. ”For one thing, I looked into the back of his limo and saw four very attractive women.

”I knew that his society had not come that far yet in terms of capitalist decadence.” 

MD: So Trump was the same Trump then.

He doesn’t change.

In ’99, I went to Miami with him where he was testing out a bid for 2000 and I said, “Why on Earth do  you think you could be president?” And he said, “Well, I’ve got the biggest ratings on Larry King,  and all these men hit on Melania, and Melania’s been on a lot of magazine covers, and my name is on the General Motors Building five times,” and that ego arithmetic you still see today – that he got so upset the day of the Inaugural with the crowd size, or just any day of the week – that has always been in place.

FR: What do you make of Alex Jones?

MD:  It’s hard to know where to even weigh in on the crazy. It would be interesting to meet him and cover him.

FR: Are you able to sort out this Donna Brazile thing?

MD: Basically, I have thought for a long time that the Clintons treated the Democratic Party as the party of the Clintons, and then Obama treated the Democratic Party as the party of Obama, so I wasn’t that surprised.

I just think they were very tone deaf in looking at the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and not knowing what that meant, and Obama had come up on a similar wave of hunger for change and instead of recognizing it, they tried to suppress, he and Hillary suppressed it, and so if they had realized it maybe they would have realized they needed Elizabeth Warren as a running mate, or she needed something else, but by suppressing  that sense of revolution, they couldn’t even read the room.

I never understood  why (Obama) shut down Biden so easily, he took him to lunch and told him that he couldn’t run because Biden seemed – he had an amazing life story and he was more in touch with blue collar people – and I thought they dismissed him as someone who wouldn’t do well way too easily given the political mood.

FR: Biden was greeted as hero at the LBJ Library last month.

From a First Reading in early October: Old-school Joe Biden hailed as a hero by students at the LBJ Presidential Library.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden takes a photo with LBJ School graduate students after speaking at the LBJ Presidential Library’s Auditorium on the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Yes, Biden will be 75 in November.

But that makes him a whole year younger than Bernie Sanders.

Like Sanders, the kids love him.

By the kids I mean the students at UT and the LBJ School who made up much of the audience last night for his appearance as the Tom Johnson Lecturer at the LBJ Presidential Library, giving Biden a hero’s welcome and seeming very much in his thrall though his conversation with Updegrove.

HIs appeal is different from that of Sanders.

Sanders is the cranky socialist iconoclast, all issues all the time, and the issue being income inequality.

Biden’s appeal, especially to Millennials, is less obvious. He is a throwback to a time of respect and comity and consensus in politics.

But on a day that President Donald Trump was casually insulting Puerto Ricans stricken by disaster – aka, another day on the job – Biden’s homespun philosophy and appeals to decency and American first principles, carried some extra punch.

Watching him hold court, at length, last night, a Biden presidential candidacy in 2020 seemed perfectly plausible.

MD: It just seemed that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were just sort of these cerebral Ivy Leaguers and these other people weren’t good enough. But to me it was just a complete misreading of the electorate and the mood and the type of person that you need and the kind of choices she would have to make, so I thought that all along, so I wasn’t all that surprised by Donna’s stuff.

FR: Do you feel any personal responsibility that Joe Biden hasn’t already served as president for eight years?(I am referring here to classic early Dowd, a September 1987 story – Biden’s Debate Finale: An Echo from Abroad – that effectively knocked a then-young Joe Biden out of the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11— The Neil Kinnock commercial did not lead to electoral success last May in Britain, but the 10-minute spot of the Labor Party leader’s passionate speeches, against a cool soundtrack of Brahms, raised his approval rating by 19 points and became an instant classic.

On this side of the Atlantic, many Presidential campaign strategists of both parties greatly admired the way it portrayed Mr. Kinnock, who subsequently lost to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as a man of character. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a Democratic hopeful, was particularly taken with it.

So taken, in fact, that he lifted Mr. Kinnock’s closing speech with phrases, gestures and lyrical Welsh syntax intact for his own closing speech at a debate at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 23 – without crediting Mr. Kinnock.

In the commercial, the Briton began, ”Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university?” Then pointing to his wife in the audience, he continued: ”Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?”

Senator Biden began his remarks by saying the ideas had come to him spontaneously on the way to the debate. ”I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?” he said. Then, pointing to his wife, he continued: ”Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?”

In his speech, Mr. Kinnock, an orator of great eloquence, rhetorically asked why his ancestors, Welsh coal miners, did not get ahead as fast as he. ”Did they lack talent?” he asked, in his lilting rhythm. ”Those people who could sing and play and recite and write poetry? Those people who could make wonderful beautiful things with their hands? Those people who could dream dreams, see visions? Why didn’t they get it? Was it because they were weak? Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football? Weak?”

Senator Biden’s Irish relations, it would seem, were similar, though they seemed to stay underground longer.

”Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse?” continued Mr. Biden, whose father was a Chevrolet dealer in Wilmington. ”Is it because they didn’t work hard? My ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of Northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours?”

xxxxxxxxx

Thomas Donilon, Mr. Biden’s campaign aide, said that the Senator was traveling and did not care to comment on the similarities in the two speeches.

xxxxxxx

Asked which of Mr. Biden’s relatives had been coal miners, Mr. Donilon said the Senator had not necessarily been referring to his own relatives but had been talking about the ”people that his ancestors grew up with in the Scranton region, and in general the people of that region were coal miners.”

Told that Mr. Biden had used the phrase, ”my ancestors,” Mr. Donilon said, ”Evidently he had a great-grandfather who worked in a mining company.” Asked the name of the man, the company and the sort of job he held, Mr. Donilon pronounced himself at a loss.

Rereading that made me smile, considering this line from Biden at his LBJ appearance.

If you listen to Barack, he makes me sound like a guy who crawled out of a coal mine with a lunchbox.

MD: No (Biden does not hold a grudge about that story), he gives me credit, if he hadn’t gotten off of the campaign trail he might have missed his aneurism. So he thinks I saved his life. We’ve had a really good relationship for the last twenty years.

He is a really interesting guy. I think President Obama  and Hillary were, “Oh Biden makes gaffes,” and, we used to have an editor, Howell Raines, who used to say, everything depends on who you are in the field with, who you are running against, so compared to Trump, Biden’s gaffes would have been teensy-weensy little gaffes. They wouldn’t even have been noticed.

I just think that if he had wanted to run, even as a way to deal with his grief, I think they should have let him. I don’t think they should have shut him down. I mean he was the vice president. He was a very popular politician. Again, everything had to get out of the way for the juggernaut of the Clintons and I think they made a lot of tone-deaf decisions.

FR: Do you have a gut feeling about how long the Trump presidency is going to last?

MD: I know there are a lot of stories that get written that he’s so unhappy, he really would like to get out of there, but I don’t see it that way. I think he thinks he’s doing a good job. I think he is completely in his own reality and I think that reality is that he’s doing a good job. I think he will be there unless he gets dragged out of there.

But (special counsel Robert) Mueller and Trump are such a fascinating counterpoint because Mueller is the ultimate Boy Scout, and Trump is sort of the ultimate con man. They are sort of a cultural collision you’d see in a movie.

If I had Mueller coming after me with all the Dirty Dozen of people who are experts in all different things – like one’s a witness flipper, one’s organized crime, one’s this and that and (one’s skilled at) closing –  I would be very scared.

But then again Trump lives in his own Trump Fantasia, so he probably isn’t that scared.

Roger Stone has a theory of how he can get out of it. I saw something the other day. He has some backdoor way of getting rid of Mueller because Mueller was the FBI director with the Hillary uranium deal, some crazy conspiracy thing.

From the Oct. 30 Daily Caller:

Stone told TheDC that it is “really simple” how Trump ends Mueller’s investigation. The Trump confidant said that Mueller intends “to levy phony charges against Trump in order to impeach him.”

Trump has received past suggestions to fire Mueller, however, Stone maintains the president “doesn’t have to fire anybody.” Instead, Stone wants Trump to direct the DOJ to appoint a special counsel to investigate “all involved in the Uranium One investigation.”

The Hill recently reported that in 2009 the FBI “gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States.”

Russian firm Uranium One ended up being approved to purchase a Canadian firm that controlled around 20 percent of America’s uranium supply. No charges were brought by federal officials and Stone said that there was a “cover up.”

Mueller was director of the FBI at the time, Stone said that investigating him is Trump’s “only change for survival.”

“Mueller can’t be a special prosecutor when he himself is under investigation,” Stone said. “Mueller is guilty of obstruction and cover up in Uranium One.”

FR: Who knows. Who would have thought the fate of the 2016 campaign would have rested with Anthony Weiner.

MD: I know. You know I always told Michael Beschloss, the historian, that he should do a book on how many hairpin turns sex has created in history.

FR: Did you see Weiner?

MD: It’s one of the most amazing documentaries I’ve ever seen.

The one on Roger Stone is good too.

FR: Any thoughts on Rick Perry?

MD: It does make me a little nervous that Rick Perry is in charge of nuclear weapons, but everyone is already scared to death that Trump is, so it really doesn’t matter. You know Gail Collins, my colleague, loves to torment Rick Perry, so I like to let her do it because she does it so brilliantly.

Like this Collins column, from way back last week:

Oh, that Rick Perry.

Our secretary of energy was in South Africa recently, for Africa Oil Week. Whenever the word “oil” is mentioned, Perry responds like a dog on the scent of a hamburger. So no surprise there. We wouldn’t even have noticed he was gone, except for the part where he suggested that fossil fuels would protect women from sexual assault.

“Let me tell you where people are dying is in Africa,” he told an audience after he returned, launching into a story about a young village girl who yearned to be able to read by electric light instead of a smoky fire.

O.K. so far …

“But also from the standpoint of sexual assault,” Perry continued. “When the lights are on, where you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuel is going to play a role in that.”

Now we all support electrification of rural villages. But where the heck did the sexual assault part come from? The Department of Energy wasn’t really forthcoming. It just issued a statement saying that while Perry was in Africa “he was told how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and can provide security in remote areas.”

Environmental groups quickly pointed out that there is a hefty sexual assault problem in places that have more electricity than they know what to do with. But let’s be generous. Maybe he was still quoting that village girl. Do you really think she insisted that the light come from fossil fuels? Inquiring minds want to know.

Rick Perry is an absolutely terrible secretary of energy. We all remember that he took the job without realizing that his central responsibility would be overseeing the safe handling of nuclear materials, a topic he knew nothing whatsoever about. Interested bystanders recalled sadly that Barack Obama’s first secretary was a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and the second a nuclear physicist.

On the other hand, Rick Perry once shot a coyote while jogging.

He claims.

FR: Gail Collins seems to have a little bit more ambiguous relationship with Texas than you do.


MD: I know. That is true. I don’t know what it is. I do love Texas.

FR: She’s a Texas skeptic.

MD: Maybe it’s because I was born below the Mason-Dixon line, in D.C., so I like to pretend I’m a Southerner.

FR: Have you met Beto O’Rourke?

MD: I think he tried to set up a meeting, but our schedules didn’t match. Yeah, he’s a punk rocker or something? He sounds interesting. I’m not sure Texas is quite prepared for blue Senators yet, but I would like to cover him.

FR: He’s from El Paso, which has never elected one of its own to statewide office.

MD: You should get this book, the thing that I’ve been up all night writing about, by Jaron Lanier, you know he invented virtual reality, and the whole beginning of this book is how his parents fled the Holocaust and pogroms and  went to this town in the Southwest corner of Texas, and that’s where he was raised.

 

 

From a 2011 New Yorker profile by Jennifer Kahn:

Lanier’s mother and father belonged to a circle of artists in Greenwich Village, but they moved soon after Jaron was born—on May 3, 1960—first to Colorado, and then to a spot near El Paso, Texas, on the border with Mexico. The area was desolate and impoverished, and Lanier has speculated that the move was driven, at least in part, by fear. Lanier’s mother, Lilly, a pianist, painter, and dancer, had emigrated from Vienna when she was fifteen, after surviving a concentration camp. His father, Ellery, the child of Ukrainian Jews who had fled the pogroms, worked as an architect, painter, writer, elementary-school teacher, and radio host. When Ellery was seven, a close relative was murdered by a gang of anti-Semitic men wielding swords. A younger sister of the victim, who witnessed the assault but was warned by the attackers not to speak of it, was so traumatized that she spent the rest of her life as a mute.

FR: What about Ted Cruz?

MD: I kind of blame Ted Cruz. I think he’s the one who kind of kicked off this whole nihilism in the voters, when he was, what I called it, Ted Cruz’s Thunderdome, when he just got into this whole nihilistic thing about Obamacare and shutting down spending bills. Because I noticed when voters were interviewed about Trump – “Doesn’t Trump make you nervous?” and, “Don’t you think it’s a bad idea to vote for him?” and they would give very nihilistic answers – “We don’t care because politicians don’t seem to care  about anything so why should we.” So I think that whole attitude became kind of infectious.

From Dowd’s October 2013 column, Welcome to Ted Cruz’s Thunderdome

A PLACE ONCE CALLED WASHINGTON

AN ape sits where Abe sat.

The year is 2084, in the capital of the land formerly called North America.

The peeling columns of the Lincoln Memorial, and Abe’s majestic head, elegant hands and big feet are partially submerged in sludge. Animals that escaped from the National Zoo after zookeepers were furloughed seven decades ago migrated to the memorials, hunting for food left by tourists.

The white marble monuments are now covered in ash, Greek tragedy ruins overrun with weeds. Tea Party zombies, thrilled with the dark destruction they have wreaked on the planet, continue to maraud around the Hill, eager to chomp on humanity some more.

Dead cherry blossom trees litter the bleak landscape. Trash blows through L’Enfant’s once beautiful boulevards, now strewn with the detritus of democracy, scraps of the original Constitution, corroded White House ID cards, stacks of worthless bills tumbling out of the Treasury Department.

The BlackBerrys that were pried from the hands of White House employees in 2013 are now piled up on the Potomac as a flood barrier against the ever-rising tide from melting ice caps. Their owners, unable to check their messages, went insane long ago.

Because there was no endgame, the capital’s hunger games ended in a gray void. Because there was no clean bill, now there is only a filthy stench. Because there was no wisdom, now there is only rot. The instigators, it turned out, didn’t even know what they were arguing for. Macho thrusts and feints, competing to win while the country lost.

Thomas Jefferson’s utopia devolved into Ted Cruz’s dystopia.

xxxxxx

“In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many of the feverish pols believed they were waging the right and moral fight even as G.O.P. party elders like Jeb Bush, John McCain, Karl Rove and James Baker warned them that they were dragging the country toward catastrophe. The Tea Party leaders liked to refer to themselves as the Children of Reagan. But as Baker told Peggy Noonan, Reagan always said, ‘I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.’ ”

The boy frowns. “But Papa, didn’t the healthy Republicans realize the infected ones had lower brain functions?”

“Well, son, they knew there was something creepy about the ringleader, Ted Cruz,” the man replies. “His face looked pinched, like a puzzle that had not been put together quite right. He was always launching into orations with a weird cadence and self-consciously throwing folksy phrases into his speeches, like ‘Let me tell ya,’ to make himself seem Texan, when he was really a Canadian.”

The boy looks alarmed. “A Canadian destroyed the world, Papa?”

xxxxxxx

“What is left of the world is being run by Julian Assange from what is left of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and by some right-wing nut in a cabin in Idaho.”

The boy begins to cry. “Papa, stop. You’re making me sad. Are all the good guys gone?”

Looking through the gray skies toward the ashen Lincoln Memorial, where an ape sits in Abe’s chair, the man replies sadly, “Yes, son.”

MD: In my book I write that I think my sister spurred one of the only apologies that Trump has ever given because she was thinking about voting for Trump in the primary and he asked, “Is she still for me,” and I said, “No, because you put out that mean tweet about Heidi Cruz with that mean picture of her.”

From an April 2016 Dowd column Trump Does it His Way.

WASHINGTON — YOU could hear how hard it was for Donald Trump to say the words.

“Yeah, it was a mistake,” he said, sounding a bit chastened. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have sent it.”

I was telling him he lost my sister’s vote when he retweeted a seriously unflattering photo of the pretty Heidi Cruz next to a glam shot of his wife, Melania.

He repeated his contention that he didn’t view the Heidi shot “necessarily as negative.” But I stopped him, saying it was clearly meant to be nasty.

Trump also got into his schoolyard excuse of “he did it first” and “that wasn’t nice,” insisting that Ted Cruz wrote the words on the digital ad put up by an anti-Trump group aimed at Utah Mormons; it showed Melania in a 2000 British GQ shot posing provocatively and suggested that it was not First Ladylike. Cruz denies any involvement.

Truth be told, Trump said he “didn’t love the photo” of Melania. “I think she’s taken better pictures,” he said, also protesting: “It wasn’t a nude photo, either. It wasn’t nude!”

It’s ridiculous how many mistakes Trump has made in rapid order to alienate women when he was already on thin ice with them — and this in a year when the Republicans will likely have to run against a woman.

He did a huge favor for Hillary, who had been reeling from losing young women to a 74-year-old guy and from a dearth of feminist excitement. And for Cruz, who started promoting himself as Gloria Steinem, despite his more regressive positions on abortion and other women’s issues.

FR: Did your sister end up voting for him?

MD: She sort of went back to him, but then he lost her again with all the crazy treatment of women that she read about. I think in the end she voted for me, but unfortunately it was just the one vote.

FR: Trump is hardy. Sens. Corker and Flake call him out but nothing much follows. With Nixon, when one domino fell, others followed.

MD: There’s no precedent for covering all this and every time you try to use some prior way you covered it, you can’t.

I thought Trump was finished when the piece came out about how he pretended to be his own PR guy. I thought that would finish him during the campaign.

From Dowd’s May 2016 columnThe Mogul and the Babe:

The Washington Post revived a story, with a new damning audio, about how Trump had masqueraded as his own publicist, named either John Barron or John Miller, to boast about himself back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Trump admitted in court testimony in 1990 that he had used the name John Barron as an alias. Former Times editor Joe Sexton told me that he thought he interviewed Trump-as-Barron in 1985 while working as a sportswriter with UPI and chasing a story about the New Jersey Generals. The Post audio on “John Miller” contained classic Trumpisms like “That I can tell you.” CNN interviewed a forensic audio specialist who believed that Trump was posing as Miller. But Trump insisted to me that the Post recording was not his voice. “ Do you know how many people I have imitating my voice now? It’s like everybody.”

FR: That appears now to be almost a charming story.

MD: Yeah, compared to the cascade of other stories.

FR: So you’re not in a panic about America?

MD: Not really because a lot of our modern presidents have been mentally kind of a little deranged. You know, they found out recently  that Nixon and JFK kept pscyhotropic drugs in the medicine cabinet. And Lyndon Johnson’s aides used to argue about whether he was paranoid or a manic depressive, and Jimmy Carter saw UFOs.

As Arthur Schlesinger said, the White House doesn’t seem to have much of a provision for nuts and the last taboo is the idea that we’d have a White House shrink, but I definitely think we should have a White House shrink.

FR: Just to be on call? Or to be able to say, “You’re done. Get out of here.”

MD: To be on call.

You know I made the mistake, Ashley Parker, she’s my former assistant, she’s the Washington Post White House reporter, and so we were at a dinner and she told me about how when Trump tweets, her phone makes a little noise. And so I went, “Oh that’s cool. Do it to my phone.”

And now I don’t know how to take it off. I’ve got to get back to Washington and figure out how to take it off because that beeping, he’s tweeting all times of the day and night.

FR: It’s like a wake up call.

MD: But if you’re in Los Angeles, it’s more like the middle of the night. I definitely do not want him beeping, beeping, beeping on my phone anymore.

And on that, we said our goodbyes.

I had originally intended to write this up for yesterday’s First Reading, but I ran out of time, because as I explained to Dowd, I had to be up bright and early Tuesday to see Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ conversation with Evan Smith (who Dowd will be having lunch with while in Austin) at the Austin Club.

“Who?” Dowd asked.

An Austin state representative, I said – searching for a short and intriguing intro – who in a little more than a year paid an online psychic more than $50,000.

https://twitter.com/DraperRobert/status/910911512205815811

MD: Oh my God. See that’s why I love Texas. Thats exactly why.

Amid the sleeping giants, is there a place in Texas politics for the Milder White Guys?

Andrew White, the son of former Gov. Mark White

Good Monday Austin:

In the last couple of weeks — nine months into the Age of Trump –  two Milder White Guys stepped forward to indicate a desire to run for statewide office in Texas under the MARA (Make America Reasonable Again) banner.

Last week, it was Scott Milder of Rockwall announcing he was going to run in the Republican primary against Lt. Gov Dan Patrick.

From my Statesman story:Rational Republican’ Milder enters race against ‘extremist’ Dan Patrick

Presenting himself as “a rational, conservative Republican running against an extremist incumbent,” Scott Milder, a former Rockwall city council member and advocate for public education, declared Thursday that he is challenging Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the March Republican primary.

“Somebody’s’s got to stand up and confront the bully who’s never going to stop picking on the little guy,” Milder, 49, said in an interview in Austin with the American-Statesman. “He’s insulting. He’s polarizing. He’s divisive. He’s not a strong a leader. He doesn’t represent the values of class and character that Texans have.”

Patrick’s political consultant, Allen Blakemore, responded that, “Dan Patrick is unequivocally the hardest working, most effective, conservative leader in the history of the Texas Senate. He enjoys overwhelming support among Texas Republicans, including early endorsements from Gov. Abbott, Sen. Cornyn, Sen. Cruz, major conservative grassroots leaders, a majority of Republican county chairs and SREC members, and a long list of Texas business leaders.”

But, Milder said he believes “there is a groundswell of anti-Patrick sentiment all over Texas. I hear it everywhere I go, and these are traditional conservative, rational Republicans. And that’s what I consider myself,”

A week earlier, it was Andrew White, expressing interest in seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

From my story with Sean Collins Walsh:

Pitching himself as a centrist and a pragmatist, Andrew White, the son of former Gov. Mark White, is exploring a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

White, an investor in Houston, has never run for office but said he became interested in challenging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott after his father died in August and after Hurricane Harvey, during which he helped rescue about 100 people on his small fishing boat.

White said hearing old stories at the funeral about how his father grappled with such weighty issues as taxes and public school finance made him realize the triviality of Abbott’s push for policies like the “bathroom bill” to prohibit transgender Texans from using the restrooms of their choice.

“Compared to what he was doing, our politicians today are playing games, and they’re trying to get more and more extreme,” Andrew White said in an interview. “Our governor and lieutenant governor are representing really well the 200,000 fringe voters in the very extreme end of their party and ignoring the 27.8 million other Texans.”

So far, the Milder White Guys entrance onto the scene landed with a quiet thud. But maybe that’s their way and we have to give them time for their subtle pheromones to waft their way into the nostrils of  the body politic.

In fact, Milder told me that part of his strategy was for his low-key, non-entity status to lull Patrick and his base into a false sense of security.

So far that strategy would appear to be working to a tee.

His challenge is to persuade Texas Republicans that a strategy that has given them a stranglehold on Texas politics is not in the long run, for them or the state, a great idea.

As for White, his is an even more complicated and interesting challenge  as the Democratic Party, which hasn’t won statewide office since 1994, approaches the opening of the one-month filing period for the March primary ballot, on Saturday.

On Sunday ,Julián Castro and Wendy Davis shared a panel, moderated by the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, at the Voto Latino Power Summit at the AT&T Center on the UT campus. (Voto Latino is nonpartisan organization founded by actress Rosario Dawson that focuses on Latino voter registration, civic engagement and issue advocacy.)

Wendy Davis was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2014.

Here is some of what she had to say Sunday:

We get ignored in presidential contests. And yet, if Texas were to turn, and Republicans certainly know this, Texas is the prize. Texas with all its electoral votes, can dictate what happens in this country going forward. That’s incredible responsibility, and it’s an incredible opportunity, for all of us  in this state, and it was one of the reasons I was committed to running for governor  in 2014, believing that every amount of effort we could put into being engaged, to registering new voters in this state would be something we could build upon and build upon and build upon moving forward and I think that’s a commitment that the Democratic Party and the members of the Democratic Party and the leaders of the Democratic Party need to take very seriously. But it’s also a shared responsibility.

It’s not just the leaders of the party who are going to be able to move that forward as proactively and productively as it needs to happen. I think Julian just said it beautifully, it’s really up to all of us in this room and the unique responsibility that rests on the shoulders of your generation. Interestingly, by the year 2020, your generation is going be reflective of 40 percent of the eligible voting population in this country and when you think about electoral outcomes right now and you look at who’s voting and the percentage of their representation in the population that’s voting, what you’ll see is  that the older white people are really dictating the outcome of elections because they’re voting in much greater percentages of what they represent in the population and so if we each encourage the people in our circles to understand that responsibility and the opportunity that comes with taking the responsibility we do have an opportunity to turn it around. And I think the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of sending that message and to embrace the fabulous energy of the people who are in this room and others like them.

Smith noted that Abbott did relatively well with Latino voters, winning outright among Latino males.

Davis said that was because Latinos didn’t really know who Greg Abbott was, and were influenced by his Mexican-American wife, and her mother, who did ads vouching for his character.

They didn’t think he would sign a ban on sanctuary cities.

“I’m hoping there will be a better response to who he is in the next election cycle,” Davis said, “if we’re able to field a candidate for governor.”

Also, Davis said:

I think quite candidly that I and the Republicans did a very good job of trying to silo me around one issue and that was abortion – and I am never going to shy away from my support for women to make their own decisions about their bodies –  but, as much as that enabled me to gain some prominence about who I was as result of that filibuster, there are so many other things that I have championed and worked on and tried to advance as governor, and it was very hard  to get that message across.

So, one might think, it would be some relief for Davis that Andrew White,  son of a governor with whom Davis had a close and positive relationship, had chosen to grab the baton or try to.

But one would be wrong. Very wrong.

White, on Sunday, released What I believe positions on a host of issues.

Here is White’s position on women’s health.

Let’s start here: personally, I can’t understand when a human life actually begins.  It’s a mystery known only to God, and, as such my faith tells me to protect the beginning of life.  To me, that means working on policies to reduce the demand for abortions.

However, I want this to be clear: Roe v Wade is the law of the land, and I respect the law.  While my stance on abortion is not the traditional Democratic position, I’m not a blind extremist on this issue like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. 

Do I respect the rights of the mother?  Yes.  Do I respect that a woman’s body is private?  Absolutely.  So, does this mean at times my own views conflict with each other?  Yes. 

One thing I am sure of: Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick—for the sake of politics—are holding 97% of all women’s health services hostage—cancer screening, contraceptives, pre-natal care…The result? More women dying of cancer.  More women with unplanned pregnancies.  More women not getting basic health services.  We must never return to the days of back alley abortions. That’s not progress. That’s also not pro life, and I won’t be a part of it.

“We should be loving expectant mothers with acts of kindness, while respecting their legal right to choose.”

We Democrats need to nominate a candidate who can win in November, so we can end the games our state leaders are playing with women’s health.  It’s time for more humanity and less politics. 

So, let’s focus on where we agree. Reasonable people on both sides want fewer abortions and better health care.  There’s common ground here. We should be loving expectant mothers with acts of kindness, while respecting their legal right to choose. 

Soon, I’ll be meeting with organizations devoted to women’s health services to learn more.  Together, we can increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.  That’s progress. 

If we don’t aspire to a better place, a better community, what are we left with?  Healthy community starts with a new conversation, respecting the views of others and working toward common ground. 

Is this a path forward? What do you think? Send me a note.

From the comments on Wendy Davis’ Facebook post on White:

Aimee Boone Cunningham Thanks friend! This guy has no place in our party at all.

Stephanie Ryburn His rhetoric sounds like donald trump.

Aimee Boone Cunningham Michelle, nope, nope, and nope. He is anti-choice. And trying to have it both ways, apparently. Don’t be fooled by the B.S., friends.

Yvonne Massey Davis Thank you!!! He is definitely not his father.

Curiously, the last previous Facebook post on Davis’ page was about White’s father, who was a defender of abortion rights.

It would be interesting to know why the son has come to a more conservative view on abortion than his father, but in the meantime, abortion rights are a litmus test to Wendy Davis and many Democrats, and disqualifying for White.

If only he could be more like Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, which votes Tuesday.

But wait.

From Michael Tomasky  at the Daily Beast

A BITE OFF YOUR NOSE

The Most Self-Righteous Political Act of 2017 Just Took Place in the VA Governor’s Race

Democracy for America chose to un-endorse Ralph Northam over an entirely hypothetical issue. Is there any wonder why people can’t stand the left?

The left-wing firing squad is back.

The geniuses at Democracy for America, the organization that grew out of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, have un-endorsed (without ever having actually endorsed him in the first place) Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam over a recent flip-flop on sanctuary cities. 

It’s the most appallingly self-righteous and idiotic thing that’s happened in American politics this year. And this has been a year filled with self-righteous and idiotic things.

Northam once cast a crucial vote against a bill banning sanctuary cities in Virginia. He did so because, he explained, there were no sanctuary cities in Virginia. Republican Ed Gillespie, once a country-club Yankee Republican now trying to reincarnate himself as Jeff Sessions, has been hammering him on it. So Northam flipped.

Though he has said he opposes sanctuary cities, this past week he conceded that he’d sign a bill banning them. It’s cowardly. It’s probably bad politics, too. It’s better politics to take your lumps and turn it into a character issue by proving that you have a backbone. People respect that even if they disagree with your position.

But we’re five days away from an election. A hugely important election, where there is an incredible amount at stake.

1. A Gillespie win would be a big victory for Donald Trump—and, given the kind of race-baiting and Confederate-statue worshipping and immigrant-bashing campaign Gillespie has run, for Trumpism and Bannonism.

2. It would be a huge defeat for a reeling Democratic Party, which really needs this win to put a little wind in its sails heading into next year.

3. A Gillespie win would give the GOP total political control in Virginia, assuming neither state house flips. That’s one more state capital with ne checks on a hyper-conservative agenda, which will include the redistricting process that comes after the next census, in the third year of the next governor’s term.

4. Oh, and this would make Virginia the 33rd state fully in GOP hands. You know how many states are needed to agree on a constitutional convention? Thirty-four. If you haven’t read much about Republicans’ ideas about what a constitutional convention would accomplish, you’d better.

So, in the view of some of those on the left, Northam was not a profile in courage on sanctuary cities.

But, neither was House Speaker Joe Straus.

Castro on Sunday said that while he likes and admires Straus, Straus buckled on SB 4 – the ban on sanctuary cities.

Castro:

Joe held off a lot of legislation that would have not only hurt the Latino community but many communities, but when he had to choose it was the anti-Latino legislation in SB 4 that he allowed to go through. Now why is that? One reason is that the  knows that is the reddest of red meat for that constituency. He knew, that is the one that I am going to get out of the way

Davis said that when it comes to choosing Sraus’ successor as speaker in 2019, no Democrat should vote for any Republican who voted for the Schaefer amendment – what Democrats called the show me your papers amendment.

Here, from Sunday, is  Andrew White on Sanctuary Cities

Show me your papers

“Put your hands up.” Put them up. 

“Don’t move.” Don’t move. 

Usually when a police officer says do something, most of us listen. Not our Governor. 

Police chiefs in six major cities told Governor Abbott: “Don’t sign the Sanctuary Cities law.” These chiefs knew that saying, “show me your papers” to Hispanic people would end the close, trusting relationships that took years to build. Gov. Abbott did it anyway.

Local police fight crime, not illegal immigration. Border patrol agents fight illegal immigration. That’s how law enforcement works.

But our governor, who says he’s against “over-reaching government,” now decides he must sign state laws that handcuff local police into doing the work of federal authorities. 

“Gov. Abbott’s law reduces crime reporting, which makes our cities more dangerous.”

That’s not supporting local law enforcement. That’s playing politics. The Sanctuary Cities law is a “Made for TV” issue, perfect for 200,000 fringe voters. It’s playing to the conspiracy crowd.

According to Houston’s police chief, sexual assault reports by Hispanics dropped by over 40% because witnesses were afraid to be detained by immigration. The simple fact is Gov. Abbott’s law reduces crime reporting, which makes our cities more dangerous.

Let’s be clear. The Sanctuary Cities law means that when Hispanic-Americans get pulled over in a state that’s nearly 39% Hispanic, they’ll be asked to show their papers more often than ever. But, when people who look like me get pulled over, they probably won’t even be asked. That’s discrimination. Pure and simple. And that’s not right.

We have the power to fix this. I’ll end this nonsense.

It would appear he would pass that litmus test, but, well, it’s too late for him because he flunked the abortion litmus test.

But Democrats still have their sleeping giant. Actually, sleeping giants, according to a new analysis from Ed Espinoza of Progress Texas:

Analysis: New Voters in 2016 contributed to increased margins
for Democrats over Republicans by 5-to-1
 
 Austin, TX — A Progress Texas analysis of Texas voter turnout in the 2016 election shows that new voter growth contributed to increasing support for Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 5-to-1.
 
The analysis focuses on the state’s 20 most populous counties and measured growth in support for presidential candidates in each county from 2012 to 2016. The analysis is part of a new project entitled Special Report: Flipping Texas in 2018.
 
“Texas is one of the fastest growing states in America and, over the past decade, the growing electorate has increased the Democratic vote by more than 1,000,000 compared to 150,000 for Republicans,” said Ed Espinoza, Executive Director of Progress Texas. “Democrats are making up ground statewide while Republicans are at a relative stand still.”
 
Progress Texas concludes that these new voters demonstrate that there are Two Sleeping Giant in Texas – the Latino one, and the growth of new progressive voters who are moving to the state. Combined, these constituencies are making notable changes in the electorate. While these audiences are growing the Republican vote has been virtually stagnant.
 
“More than 1.8 million new voters went to the polls last year fueled largely by 1.4 million Millennial and Generation X voters,” added Espinoza. “These are voters who clearly do not support the divisive politics pushed by Donald Trump and Texas Republicans alike.”
 
The report also analyzes drop-off voting trends from presidential to midterm elections and projects that the 2018 election will produce 2.8 million votes for Republicans and 2.3 million votes for Democrats. That 500,000 vote gap could potentially be overcome by turning out progressive-minded voters among those 1.4 million Millennials and Gen-X new voters.
 
 
Perhaps, but political neophyte Andrew White’s wisdom is that the Democratic Party in 2018 might be better off trying to appeal to those people who reliably vote than depend on those who need to be stirred from their slumber.

 In order to win in Texas, with the electorate as it is, Democrats need to win about 36 percent of the white vote. Davis in 2014 won a little more than a quarter of the white vote.

In her book, Turning Texas Blue: What It Will Take to Break the GOP Grip on America’s Reddest State, Mary Beth Rogers, a Democratic strategist who ran Ann Richards campaign for governor in 1990, the last successful Democratic campaign for governor in Texas, recounted some of the lessons from Wendy Davis” 2014 campaign, which ended in a twenty-point loss to Abbott:

  Lesson Five: The campaign never had a strategy to reach white voters. In there canvassing, Battleground Texas volunteers were supposed to classify voters into three categories: (1) off the table; (2) hard but persuadable; and (3) on board. If voters were Anglo, the assumption that they were probably “off the table,” meaning that they might be difficult to persuade to vote for Davis and probably not worth the time or effort to pursue.
 
Even though Davis had always considered white, pro-choice women likely source of others, there was never a distinct strategy to win them other use. While Planned Parenthood’s PAC,sent $2.6 million to target identified pro-choice voters, the Davis campaign never developed an effective strategy to to reach Anglo women for whom abortion might not have been a primary issue. As a result, white voters were basically ignored. Given the fact that exit polling that white voters in non presidential election years still averaged 65 percent of the vote, how can you write off two-thirds of the voters and still expect to win?
 
Successful ventures to not ignore two-thirds of their potential audience.

From my story in today’s Statesman.

 Despite disaffection with Trump and the possibility that Democrats could benefit from a “wave election” in 2018, Castro acknowledged that, in Texas, “it has been a tough cycle to recruit candidates” for the statewide ticket, with both Castro and his twin brother, Joaquín, passing on a run for statewide office in 2018.

“My brother thought about running for Senate (against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz) but decided not to and (U.S. Rep.) Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) is doing a great job,” Castro said, of putting himself into position to win if there is a big Democratic wave nationally that carries into Texas.

Joaquín Castro also passed on running for governor.

“He’s not” running, his brother said.

Smith asked if that’s 100 percent, and Julián Castro replied that, “as much as we like to think we’re the same person, we’re actually two different people, so, I can only rule him out 99 percent.”

Castro shared the Voto Latino stage with former state Sen. Wendy Davis.

When Smith asked Davis, who lost to Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014 by 20 points, whether she might run for governor again in 2018, she replied, “I rule it out 99 percent.”

Why leave a one percent chance she might run, Smith asked.

“Because no one’s stepping forward,” Davis said.

So far, three candidates — Jeffrey Payne of Dallas, Tom Wakely of San Antonio and Garry Brown of Austin — have announced their intention to run for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Andrew White, the son of former Democratic Gov. Mark White, who died in August, is exploring the possibility of a candidacy, but in a Facebook post last week, Davis wrote the White’s “anti-choice” position on abortion made him unacceptable as the party’s nominee: “Uhh – no. Just no.”

Castro, meanwhile, said he will decide by the end of 2018 whether to run for president in 2020, which apparently is seen as a more realistic ambition than to be elected a Democratic governor of Texas.

Austin’s Garry Brown announces for governor: `Help me make sure that Hell freezes over.’

Good morning Austin:

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Garry Brown of Austin announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

It was a simple affair on Brown’s front lawn in Milwood. A podium. About 30 folding chairs and as many people.

Here’s the whole show.

But first, about that game last night.

This, below, clearly seemed, in retrospect to be the karmic turning point of the game, though when it happened, it seemed both comical and even ugly, with the potential to become even uglier.

https://twitter.com/robdeadtech/status/924871334357696514

From the Houston Chronicle:

When FOX cameras caught an Astros fan ripping a Dodgers home run ball out of another’s fan hands and throwing it back onto the field, it seemed for sure there would be a fight in the stands — or at the very least two people who wouldn’t be talking to each other for a long time.

Yeah. I kept wanting the cameras to check back in on them.

Instead, just an inning later, they were laughing about it.

It helps that Sarah Head and Kirk Head are in-laws and that Sarah has a sense of humor.

Well, that explains why the two men looked very much alike even if they were temperamentally different and apparently had a different code of baseball, or in-law, ethics.

 When Yasiel Puig hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning that cut the Astros’ Game 5 lead to 12-11, Sarah wound up with the ball. She briefly celebrated her prize. Very briefly. Kirk reached around his brother and snatched the ball out of Sarah’s hands and threw it back on the field.

It’s a Minute Maid Park tradition that all home runs from the visiting team get thrown back.

Sarah told the Chronicle she knew the tradition but would have liked to have thrown it back herself. But Kirk said the stakes were too high, and who knew how the baseball gods would view even a moment’s hesitation.

Kirk said he didn’t have the patience to wait on Sarah, especially with his Astros in the process of blowing a three-run lead.

“It’s bad karma to keep it,” Kirk said. “You’ve got to throw it back. I was just making sure she did.”

Back to Garry Brown’s announcement, which was a very homey affair.

Three friends introduced Brown.

First up was Angela Rodriguez-Mayers, who has been friends with Brown since their University of Texas days, where they were both involved with Alpha Phi Omega, the service fraternity.

Rodriguez-Mayers said that Brown was for a while president of the UT chapter and that “he kept a bunch of mostly immature but well-meaning and well-intentioned people focused on the important stuff, which was helping people.”

Very good.

Next up was Eileen Ladd.

 

Ladd recalled the Robert Fulghum book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

“All I need to know about Garry Brown, I learned in pre-school,” said Ladd, noting that Brown had been her children’s pre-school teacher, where he earned her deepest trust and excelled at “teaching kids to play well with each other, put their toys away and behave.”

Last up as Kellie Sauls, who many years ago taught with Brown, and, she said, learned from him.

“From the first time I met Garry he was a force,” Sauls said. The children, “loved him, they  listened to him, they respected him.”

Then came Brown.

“I know most you are here to see if I’m really going to do it,” he said to appreciative laughter.

Them he made his pitch:

Texas by its very name means friend. Unfortunately, Absent Abbott and his Republican faction of so-called leaders have made this state hostile to almost everyone. They hate children, people who are sick, women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and working and middle class families.

You can watch the video to hear the litany of Brown’s grievances, including the fact  that the state’s leadership seemed, “so infatuated with who takes a leak in a bathroom.”

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, which by the way is melting faster and faster because they hate the Earth too,” Brown said.

“And this is the Texas Miracle we keep hearing about?” Brown said. “There is only one thing to call this: Bullshit.”

Brown:

Absent Abbott is allowing this to happen while he is involved in a one-sided pissing contest  with the state of California. Really? Just check his Twitter account.

He bashes California at least once a week and meanwhile California is like, “What’s this rain on my leg?”

And:

Well- educated citizens don”t believe crazy ideas like some of those jack-asses you hear on television, in the state Legislature, or even in the White  House.

Brown called for better funding education, Medicaid expansion and preserving local control.

Of Abbott, he said, “He dislikes Big Government when it involves the Fed, but he himself practices it eery day. And now he’s begging the Feds to send us money for the Harvey recovery work. This isn’t just irony, folks, it’s hypocritical bullcrap.”

“I didn’t make the decision to run for governor lightly,” Brown said.

Brown said he will keep his day job, that he can’t afford not to. He is a renter and he is also supporting his mother, sister and nephew.

“I moved them all in with me to take care of them,” he said.

Then he offered what I thought was his most arresting image.

“Texas GOP leaders have been in power so long they believe we all have Stockholm Syndrome.”

Stockholm Syndrome refers to, Feelings of trust or affection felt in certain cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim toward a captor.

From Business Insider, a quick explanation of the original of the name:

Forty years ago, a guy wearing “toy-store glasses,” blush, and a thick brown wig burst into a bank in Stockholm and took four employees hostage, according to an epic 1974 New Yorker article, titled “Bank Drama.” The captives bonded with him during the six-day standoff, at one point offering to leave the bank with him and his accomplice so their captors could flee unharmed.

Television stations broadcasted updates from the standoff day and night. Everybody in Sweden was captivated by the drama, and they were especially intrigued by the victims’ apparent sympathy and compliance with their captors.

Swedish psychiatrist Nils Bejerot later coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome” to describe so-called captor bonding.

Same deal in Dog Day Afternoon, about victims, and the broader public, identifying with Sonny, played by Al Pacino, who ties to rob a bank in Brooklyn to pay for his boyfriend’s sex change.

Br J

It may not be a perfect metaphor for the Republican takeover of Texas politics, but you get the idea, and to follow it to its logical conclusion, here from Max D. Gray at OneHowTo.com, How to Treat Stockholm Syndrome.

Gray offers seven “steps to follow. Here are the four that I think Brown should be most mindful of as he attempts to snap Texans out of their empathy with what he views as their political captors.

2. Do not insist. People with Stockholm syndrome fail to see the complexity of the situation. Do not try to convince them of what may happen or try to force them to change their mind. Just talk to them and calmly explain your point of view. You need to avoid pushing them further away from you in order to help them.’

3. Show them affection. Try to show your love and support. You must convey trust so that they do not see you as an enemy.

5. Keep calm. Often, this situation generates a feeling of helplessness. The important thing is to remain calm to avoid pushing the person away. Staying calm is the greatest help you can give. Be patient, they will listen to you if you convey trust and understanding.

7. Listen. If they feel they can trust you, they will talk about their situation. When this happens, you should control your feelings. Don’t show you’re angry or infuriated if the person with Stockholm syndrome defends or identifies with the abusers. Listen to them, and when you think it’s necessary, give your opinion. However, be careful about the way you do it and how you say it, so as to avoid them becoming defensive.

Brown offered another metaphor:

“Most of us know you must turn over the soil periodically to kept soil fertile. After twenty-plus years of Republican government. It’s time to turn over the soil.”

He finished on an optimistic note.

Now, I want you to imagine where you’ll be, Nov. 6, 2018, at about 11 p.m. at around the time that it is reported that Hell has frozen over and Texas has elected a Democratic governor.

It’s a pretty good feeling.

I need your support and ask that you help me make sure that Hell freezes over.

That was it.

I spoke to Brown afterward.

He was born in Corpus Christi, grew up mostly in Louisiana – in Gretna, just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, and Lafayette. He finished high school in McAllen. He went to UT and finished up with an English degree from UTSA.

He has lived most of the time since then – with three departures and returns – in Austin, most recently returning in 2006.

“I love this place,” he said.

He is executive assistant to Williamson County Commissioner Terry Cook, who last year became the first Democrat elected to the Commissioners Court since 1994, which is also the last year Texas Democrats elected anyone statewide.

Brown said Cook OK”d his running for governor while keeping his job, which, he said, he will continue to thoroughly execute.

I told her if she said, “no,” I wouldn’t be doing this but she understands why I’m doing this. And I promised her that, whatever was going on, I’d always be back for Tuesday morning Commissioners Court meetings.

Before that I was working for Constable Sally Hernandez I was community outreach director for her before she became sheriff. I love Sally.

Before that I worked for Commissioner Karen Huber and when we lost our re-electionn I was going through the seven stages of grief and Sally called me out of the blue a couple of days later and said, “Garry, you don’t have to worry about, you have a job.”

Has Brown run for office before?

“Yes, County Commissioner,  Precinct Two, three years ago.”

He came in third, behind winner Brigid Shea and distant runner-up Roland Jung.

The Burnt Orange Report endorsement of Brown in that race offers a sense of his politics and background.

Burnt Orange Report endorses Garry Brown for Precinct 2 Travis County Commissioner owing to his experience in county government and long history as a Democratic activist.

In the other open-seat election for a position on the Travis County Commissioners’ Court, politicos have engaged in a large debate as to whether we should elect an experienced wonk or a long-time party activist. In Precinct 2, we don’t need that argument: Garry Brown is both. Brown offers strong credentials both as a partisan Democrat and an experienced Travis County employee, and that combination compels us to recommend a vote for him in the upcoming primary.

Brown currently serves as the Public Relations Director for Travis County Constable Sally Hernandez, and beforehand he spent four years as Chief of Staff to County Commissioner Karen Huber. That knowledge of county government will allow Brown to hit the ground running on the Commissioners Court, which can benefit from that infusion of energy. Brown’s progressive history-he has worked for Lloyd Doggett, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Travis County Democratic Party-leaves us confident that he will be part of the movement towards a better, bolder County government.

“There’s 60 to 65 percent of registered voters in this state that don’t vote,” Brown said.

He said they need an unconventional, straight-talking candidate to shake them out of their apathy.

“I’m the different kind of candidate. I’m calling people out for what’s happening in this state,” he said.

“Look, there’s no illusions of grandeur here, but I think there are opportunities, and I think I have the right message. Hopefully, with the strong language that I plan to use across the state, hopefully that will resonate with some people.”

Why governor?

You know, after the regular session, I was just really upset at what happened. 

I just posted out there, “You know if it just doesn’t get any better, I’m going to run for governor.And people were like,”Garry, Oh my God, you should do it.”

It really started out as half a joke. And then when the special session happened, and no big-name Democrat was stepping up, I was like, “Someone’s got to call these people out. Let’s do something different for a change.

I mean, God love our past candidates but I just don’t think we can engage in bureaucratic-speak anymore. You know, “What they’re doing is wrong. They’r’e not nice people.”

No, that doesn’t energize anybody, and you know Democrats have gone middle-of-the-road so long, and look where it’s gotten us.

I pointed out that Tom Wakely, one of his rivals for the Democratic nomination for governor, wasn’t exactly a rhetorical shrinking violets.

I wrote about Wakely in a recent First Reading`Berniecrat with a Panama hat,’ Tom Wakely launches campaign against `neofascist’ Greg Abbott.

https://twitter.com/TexansforTom/status/914658417364652032?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fpolitics.blog.mystatesman.com%2F2017%2F10%2F16%2Fberniecrat-with-a-panama-hat-tom-wakely-launches-campaign-against-neofascist-greg-abbott%2F

(I devoted an earlier First Reading – Democrat Jeffrey Payne launches his `outside the box’ candidacy for governor to a third candidate in the race, a Dallas businessman who has promised to devote a lot more money to this campaign than either Wakely or Brown are likely to be able to come up with.)

Brown’s nickname for Abbott is Absent Abbott.

We didn’t see Greg Abbott at all except when he went on Facebook Live to sign SB4 (the law banning sanctuary cities.) Are you kidding me? That was just one of the nails in the coffin for me. And then he cedes all leadership to Dan Patrick. He takes everything Dan Patrick says and tries to form a special session around those things. It’s just – GOLLLLLY –  unbelievable.”

Brown said he had a cordial meeting with folks at the Texas Democratic Party.

It was a nice meeting and they totally understood where I was coming from. I was told that there are still a couple of people that they’re talking and it looks like … the same thing you’ve been hearing for the last three or four months. And I said, that’s great, and if somebody like Castro decides to jump in, then I’m good (and would get out).

Brown said he understood why a current Democratic officeholder might not want to give it up to challenge Abbott and his $41 million campaign kitty. That’s another reason, he said, his candidacy makes sense.

This way, I don’t have anything to lose and I can call them out and take one for the team. There’s nobody out there calling them out in such strong language that I’m seeing. l would love to see that.”

Dave Carney is Abbott’s chief political strategist.

And @randrewwhite, is Andrew White, the son of former Texas Gov. Mark White, who died in August.

Andrew White said last week that he is strongly considering seeking the Democratic nomination for governor as a pragmatic, independent-minded, conservative Democrat.

But, aside from being the son of a former governor, White is otherwise a political – and Twitter – neophyte.

 

Joe Straus for governor? `I don’t think so.’

 

 

Good day Austin:

On the eve of the special session I wrote a First Reading, For Texas GOP, the special session may be The Most Dangerous Game, in which I mused about the peril for the Texas Republican Party in two of the Big Three of Texas government – Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick  –  gunning for the third – their fellow Republican, House Speaker Joe Straus.

At the close of that First Reading I wrote:

 Not that he’d do it, but Joe Straus could conceivably run for governor or lieutenant governor in 2018, and win.

He just can’t do it as a Republican, because he would never survive a Republican primary. But he could do it as an independent in which the Democrats, who really have no prospects of winning for either governor or lieutenant governor next year, simply stand down.

Straus would run as an independent – in the name of saving Texas and his Grand Old Party from the extremists – pick up most of the Democratic vote, and win just enough of the independent and Republican vote to defeat Abbott or Patrick who would be in the unnatural position of having to pivot to the center.

IndeOut of that, a bumper sticker was born.

 

Fast forward to yesterday morning when Straus, who never seems hurried or harried, all of a sudden seemed in a hurry, if still notably unharried, to announce that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election in 2018 and, therefore, wouldn’t be seeking to extend what would be an unprecedented run as speaker in 2019.

From my story today:

“A confident leader knows when it’s time to give it back,” Straus said. “This is the first time in decades that a speaker has been able to leave this office on his own terms. So I feel good about that.”

Straus did not rule out a future run for public office, possibly even including challenging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election next year, though he said, “I don’t think so.”

Of the chance that he would be on the ballot for anything in 2018, Straus said, “I highly doubt it.”

Do I think Joe Straus is going to run for governor – or anything else –  in 2018?

I don’t think so. I highly doubt it.

But it would have been easy enough for Straus to simply say, “No.”

Or to scoff at the suggestion.

But he didn’t say, “no.’

He didn’t scoff.

And what he did say, well, General Sherman it was not.

What gives?

I don’t know.

My guess is that he was simply giving Abbott and Patrick something to think about.

No more.

I mean, my point about Straus’ potential as an independent candidate is that he really is at the center of gravity of state politics if you can see your way to counting Democrats and independents and all those Republicans who don’t vote in primaries as part of the body politic.

Indeed, Democrats led the mourning yesterday for the coming loss of Speaker Straus, nervously caressing their #TGFJS bracelets.

In subsequent interviews yesterday afternoon with the Texas Tribune and the San Antonio Express-News, Straus continued to tease about the possibility of running for something else.

From Peggy Fikac and Allie Morris at the San Antonio Express-News:

Asked whether he might run for statewide office, Straus told the San Antonio Express-News in an interview Wednesday afternoon that people approach him every day and encourage him to run for statewide office.

“People do come up to me every day and encourage me to run for statewide office, but I have always focused on the job that I have. This is the first time I have ever not had an immediate campaign to go to in a two-year cycle, so I will take some time and check in with my major supporters, which I have been doing today … and make decisions.

“It’s doubtful that I would do anything right now, other than follow through on the commitment I have to support responsible Republicans in the House,” he said.

As for whether he was ruling out a race for governor, Straus said at his news conference, “I don’t have a plan today beyond helping other responsible Republicans in (2018),” he said, adding at another point he is “not one to close doors.”

Straus gave no indication, however, that he would challenge Abbott, who is considered virtually unbeatable in the GOP primary and has more than $40 million in his campaign kitty.

In their story, Fikac and Morris noted Straus deep ties to the Republican Party.

Straus, who comes from a prominent, civic-minded family, has longstanding Republican bona fides. His mother has long been a force in Republican politics, and he started at the grassroots level as a Bexar County precinct chair. He was an intern for former U.S. Sen. John Tower, worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, managed U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith’s first campaign for Congress and last year chaired the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee. He has raised and donated big money to benefit Republican candidates.

But his backing for speaker by Democrats, and the House leadership team he installed that included Democrats in key positions, angered conservatives including Michael Quinn Sullivan of the tea-party-aligned Empower Texans, who has long been on a crusade to unseat him. More than 50 Republican Party organizations around Texas have taken votes of no-confidence this year or otherwise rebuffed Straus’s leadership.

MQS notwithstanding, Joe Straus is no RINO. He is not some accidental or incidental Republican.

He has done as much as any Texan – maybe more than any –  to elect Republicans to legislative office nationwide.

RLCC Announces 2016 Executive Committee

RSLC News

NAPLES, FL—Today, the Republican State Leadership Committee’s (RSLC) legislative caucus, the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC), announced its 2016 Executive Committee at the RLCC Annual Spring Meeting in Naples, FL. The committee, composed of Republican state legislators from across the country, will join previously-announced 2016 RLCC Chair Speaker Joe Straus (TX) and Vice-Chair Speaker Mike Turzai (PA) in their efforts to strengthen the Republican Party in state legislatures nationwide.

RLCC Chair and Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus issued the following statement: 

“With the help of the RLCC, the Republican Party has grown at the state level to control a record high of 69 out of 99 legislative chambers nationwide. This success was born from a deep commitment to providing the American people with the most effective, accountable and representative government possible. In anticipation of an incredibly competitive election year, it is more important than ever that we maintain this commitment to our constituents. I am pleased to be joined by 18 other dedicated legislative leaders through the RLCC as we continue working to promote conservative leadership in the states.”

From the RLCC:

It’s just over one week since a truly historic election night for Republicans at all levels of the ballot. This includes at the state level, where Republicans maintained their record 69 of 99 legislative chamber majorities (while gaining two tied chambers in the blue Delaware and Connecticut Senates), held 31 of 45 lieutenant governors and grew to 31 of 50 secretaries of state, while also electing 145 new women and 17 new diverse candidates to state-level office.

Last week’s results prove once again that focusing on running the right candidates in the right districts and states can make any seat competitive. It’s what has allowed us to win in red, purple and blue states over the last eight years, and it was true again last Tuesday. Below is a snapshot of just some of the coverage we’ve seen over the last week on the GOP’s success in the states.

In other words, the  Republican Legislative Campaign Committee under Straus’ leadership had …

And …

 

And here was the speaker, just last weekend, from James Russell at Quorum Report.

DALLAS – To a warm reception from the crowd gathered at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus on Friday gave the keynote speech at the Texas Federation of Republican Women’s luncheon. It’s part of the group’s 31st biennial convention unfolding this weekend in DFW.

“It’s great to be with the people who made this the most reliably red state in the country,” Straus said. Speaker Straus touted the state’s Republican leadership for making Texas as big as “its trucks, its economy and Republican majority.”

Noting that he’s helped the party claim majorities at other state capitols in his role with the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, Straus said he’s often asked how Texas stays rock solid GOP.

When people in other states ask me how our party has won election cycle after election cycle in Texas, I always tell them about TFRW,” Straus said. “From the time that Republicans were a small faction in the back of the House chamber…up until today, when we are the most successful state party in the country…you’ve made it happen.”

From Texas Monthly in February 2015:

BDS: Did you look to a former speaker to learn how to do the job?

JS: I don’t have a speaker role model. I just try to approach the job with a sense of fair play and try to be patient and even-tempered. I don’t take a position on every bill. I don’t try to micromanage the leadership. I just try to treat the members and the institution with respect. I don’t apologize for building coalitions or working across the aisle. I think that’s been a real disappointment in Washington in recent years: the “aisle.” We don’t have an aisle in the Texas House. We don’t divide ourselves by party, and I think very few members want to do that. The results are almost always better when everyone gets to participate. I think we have a good thing going in the Texas House and that we can be a model for others around the country. I’ve agreed to chair the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee for the ’16 cycle, and the members there look to Texas with great envy.

BDS: Where do you want your career to go from here? Is there something beyond being speaker that interests you?

JS: I’m not a long-range planner. At the end of every session I have members come to me and say that they’re not going to run again because they’re exhausted, or they’re thinking of running for another office, perhaps the state Senate, heaven forbid. But I tell them not to make a decision at the end of May in an odd-numbered year. Go rest, relax, and let it sink in what you’ve done. So I don’t worry about where I’m going to be in a couple of years. I don’t even consider myself a full-time politician, though serving as speaker does take up most of my time. I don’t have a long-term career plan in politics.

From the First Reading in July on the Most Dangerous Game.

Patrick is the heavy and Straus the hero in  Austin writer Lawrence Wright’s epic recent piece in the New Yorker, The Future is Texas: The state is increasingly diverse, but right-wing zealots are taking over.

Since Patrick became lieutenant governor, one of his signature accomplishments has been the passage of the open-carry gun law; he also successfully pushed to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons on public-college campuses. During the 2016 Presidential race, he deftly pivoted from supporting Ted Cruz to becoming Donald Trump’s campaign chair in Texas. Evan Smith, the co-founder of the Texas Tribune, an online journal dedicated to state politics, told me, “Dan Patrick is the most conservative person ever elected to statewide office in the history of Texas.” (Patrick himself declined to speak to The New Yorker.)

Patrick has driven his chamber in a far more radical direction. Even Democratic senators are loath to cross him. In this year’s session, Patrick worked on lowering property taxes and addressing some obscure matters, such as hailstorm-lawsuit reform. But the heart of his agenda was legislation that spoke to the religious right, such as a bill that would provide vouchers for homeschooling and private-school tuition, and a “sermon safeguard” bill, which would prevent state and local officials from issuing subpoenas to members of the clergy or compelling them to testify. He also worked to toughen the state’s voter-I.D. law. Patrick’s legislative agenda, if passed in its entirety, would bend Texas farther in the direction of the affluent and, above all, would fortify the political strength of white evangelicals who feel threatened by the increasing number of minorities and by changing social mores.

Patrick’s extremism is often countered by Joe Straus, the speaker of the House, a centrist, business-oriented conservative from San Antonio. Whereas the lieutenant governor is elected by the voters of the state, the speaker is chosen by the members. That makes a crucial difference in the way that Patrick and Straus govern. “Dan Patrick rules by fear,” Representative Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, told me. “Joe Straus rules by consensus.”

The 2017 session in Austin proved to be a bruising example of raw politics waged by two talented people, Straus and Patrick, who fervently believe in their causes. The story in Texas both reflects and influences the national scene. At a time when Democratic voices have been sidelined—“We’re lost in the wilderness,” Wu told me—the key struggle is within the increasingly conservative Republican Party, between those who primarily align with business interests and those who are preoccupied with abortion, gay marriage, immigration, religion, and gun rights.

And from Christopher Hooks yesterday at the Texas Observer: Burning Down the House: Joe Straus and the End of the Moderate Texas Republican

Joe Straus’ reputation is that of a boring and studious moderate, but that’s dead wrong. The speaker of the Texas House is a freak, a space oddity, an aberration of nature too weird to live and too rare to die. For the last decade, Joseph Richard Straus III has been one of the most unusual figures in American politics — a moderate, soft-spoken Republican who turned the chaotic lower chamber of an extremely conservative state into a parliamentary body run by a grand coalition of both parties, and kept it that way year after year despite venomous and deep-pocketed opposition.

He’s also a sort of one-man control group in Texas politics — a business-friendly, country club Republican who stayed the course while the rest of the Texas GOP disappeared entirely up its own behind. What once made him mundane now makes him almost unspeakably radical. And now that he’s not seeking re-election, Straus is best understood against the backdrop of how everything else has changed.

A nice Jewish boy from San Antonio whose mother was an old friend of the Bushes, Straus came up through the clean-cut early Republican organizations in the state, playing volleyball with Kay Bailey Hutchison and networking at Camp Wannameetagop in Brenham. He fell into public service and then fell harder, into the speaker’s chair, the subject of a plot not of his own devising. He served as speaker for five terms, longer than anyone would have thought — a lone survivor in a political party that had overheated and started to melt, like a box of G.I. Joes on a midsummer car dashboard.

The announcement came suddenly today — on Facebook, followed by a short, impromptu press conference in Straus’ office. “I feel really confident and really good about this decision,” he said. But he lamented that the position of speaker, though it carries enormous power, can “be sort of inhibiting. Every decision I make, every statement I make, I have to think about 149 other members.” In the last year or so, he said, he had tried to more directly “speak for myself about issues that I care about,” and “the reception that I’ve gotten as I’ve been more outspoken has been really strong, really positive. I want to do more of that.”

RUN JOE RUN!!!!

Straus’ announcement came the morning after Andrew White indicated his interest in seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

From the story by Sean Collins Walsh in today’s Statesman:

Andrew White, the son of the late Gov. Mark White, may challenge Gov. Greg Abbott next year.
 
White is pitching himself as a conservative Democrat and a pragmatist.
 
Abbott is viewed as a prohibitive favorite to win, and Democrats have struggled to find credible candidates.
Pitching himself as a centrist and a pragmatist, Andrew White, the son of former Gov. Mark White, is exploring a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

White, an investor in Houston, has never run for office but said he became interested in challenging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott after his father died in August and after Hurricane Harvey, during which he helped rescue about 100 people on his small fishing boat.

White said hearing old stories at the funeral about how his father grappled with such weighty issues as taxes and public school finance made him realize the triviality of Abbott’s push for policies like the “bathroom bill” to prohibit transgender Texans from using the restrooms of their choice.

“Compared to what he was doing, our politicians today are playing games, and they’re trying to get more and more extreme,” Andrew White said in an interview. “Our governor and lieutenant governor are representing really well the 200,000 fringe voters in the very extreme end of their party and ignoring the 27.8 million other Texans.”

The state party, which doesn’t choose sides in primaries, but has been searching for a formidable candidate for governor to emerge, didn’t sound all that excited about White.
From Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party:
Texas Democrats are all about a fair shot for all, and it is clear that millions Texans, from all walks of life, can no longer endure Greg Abbott’s failed policies and dangerous agenda. Mr. White is one of these people.
In the upcoming primary, candidates vying to lead our party and this great state must earn the trust of every single Texas Democrat. We look forward to supporting a nominee who proves they can deliver on the respect, dignity, and opportunity each Texan deserves.
There’s the rub.
It makes absolutely no sense to me that Joe Straus would abandon the Grand Old Party to run for governor as a Democrat, or that the Texas Democratic Party could, its dignity intact, accept a man with an unparalleled record of electing Republicans nationwide as its nominee.
So, forget about that.
It’s ridiculous.
As for Option 2, Straus simply can’t win a Republican primary for statewide office.
It’s impossible.
So cross that out. He would just be setting himself up for a predictable humiliation.
And that just leaves Option 3: Run as independent, the standard-bearer of the Reclaim the Republican Party /Fair Play for Democrats/Beyond the Fringe Fusion Party of Texas.
Talking to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones yesterday about Straus’ announcement I asked him about all this.
He said that Straus would have no trouble gathering the signatures to get on the ballot as an independent, but that he would have been a lot better off if the Legislature’s enactment this year of legislation to put an end to straight-ticket voting, which Straus supported, went into effect in 2018, not 2020.
Jones:
I really don’t think Straus has any concrete plans on his political future because there’s no position that he would be able to obtain that would be nearly as influential as continuing to be speaker of the Texas House. He’s not going to be the next governor of Texas. Nobody knows who he is. I think he is a loyal enough Republican that he would not overtly undermine Republican efforts. 
Straus is already one of the three most powerful public officials in Texas, and if he is interested in fighting Abbott and Patrick in the name of the public good and the honor of the Republican Party he grew up in, he stands an infinitely better chance of prevailing by seeking to keep his speakership than by making an incredibly long-shot bid to run for governor or some other office.
So, as much as I would love to cover the campaign, is Straus running for governor?
I don’t think so.