Austin bag ban would be overturned by new proposal

A suburban Dallas lawmaker has proposed overturning bag bans like the one in Austin.

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, filed legislation on Wednesday that would make any city rule that restricts businesses from distributing bags invalid.

“You’re restricting the flow of commerce,” said Rinaldi, whose district covers parts of Dallas, which passed an ordinance in 2014 that requires businesses to charge customers five cents for every single-use bag they require.

Rinaldi said there’s “no compelling environmental reason for prohibiting the single use bags.”

But environmental groups and others have said plastic bag bans are effective in keeping creeks and trees cleaner and keeping waste out of landfills.

At least 11 Texas cities have passed rules to minimize the distribution of bags.

“These communities have reduced litter, saved their local businesses money, and their constituents have been overwhelmingly supportive,” said Robin Schneider, head of Texas Campaign for the Environment.

A similar bill in the 2013 session did not make it to the House floor.

That bill was supported by the retailers and plastics manufacturers, but opposed by environmentalists and the Texas Municipal League, which lobbies for cities to have more power.

But this time around, Rinaldi’s proposal will have the support of Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he supports overturning certain local rules, including ones preventing the distribution of plastic bags.

Asked if he had evidence that businesses were hurting from the bag bans, Rinaldi said: “It’s simple economics: Increase prices and you affect demand. I know they’re hurting.”

Tarrant County Rep. demands his in-state tuition bill gets considered

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, took the back mic on the floor of the Texas House on Thursday to blame Speaker Joe Straus for not referring to committee his bill to end the practice of offering in-state tuition to Texas high school graduates who are not in the U.S. legally.


Stickland complained that his House Bill 209 has remained in legislative limbo as other bills filed the same day have moved forward.

(It probably won’t be the last time this session that Stickland will try to make a ruckus from the floor.)

After his griping from the floor, Stickland left with a member of Straus’ staff.

Stickland got the assurance he sought, saying later that he believes his bill will get a hearing.

“I think they know that I won’t back down,” he said and added that he would return to the mic every day until his bill moves.

In an interview with Jim Henson, director of UT’s Politics Project, Straus said earlier this month that he holds similar views on in-state tuition as former Gov. Rick Perry, who in 2001 signed a law to allow students residing in Texas without legal authorization to pay in-state tuition for public colleges and universities.

David Axelrod on Cruz, Perry, Clinton and why 2016 may be less about hoping than coping

Good morning Austin:

David Axelrod, the political consultant who was the chief architect of President Obama’s extraordinary rise from the Illinois state Senate to the presidency, will speak at the LBJ Library tonight at 6 about his memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, with members of the Friends of the LBJ Library. All the seats are booked, but they will be posting a full recording of the program after the event. I’m in D.C. this week so believerwon’t be there tonight, but I talked to Axelrod for about twenty minutes yesterday by phone as he drove from one appointment to another in Chicago, where it was, fittingly, election day, and in its own way, a hometown test for Obama.

Rahm Emanuel, Axelrod’s comrade-in-arms in the Obama’s presidential campaigns and administration, was up for re-election as mayor, but didn’t get the majority vote he needed to avoid a runoff, despite President Obama’s best efforts on his behalf on his home turf.

As Alex Isenstadt and Kyle Cheney reported in Politico:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fell short of an outright win in his reelection battle Tuesday — despite President Barack Obama putting his hometown political clout on the line to push his former top aide over the finish line — and will face the second-place finisher in an April runoff.

Emanuel pulled in 45 percent of the vote — well short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia finished second at 34 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting.

There is nothing to suggest that Obama is at fault for Emanuel’s showing. The mayor has had a rocky first term highlighted by clashes with teachers, a wave of violent crime and backlash over his plan to increase taxes. The famously hot-tempered Emanuel, long known in Chicago and Washington as “Rahmbo,” also met criticism for his sometimes hard-headed style.

But the result is also a disappointment for Obama, who put himself at the forefront during the final days of the campaign. He cut radio ads for Emanuel, his first White House chief of staff. And on Thursday, just five days before the election, the president flew into Chicago to give the mayor a boost. They appeared together at a stop in the Pullman neighborhood, where the president declared that he could not “be prouder of [Emanuel] and the extraordinary service.”

Obama and Emanuel then made a trek to one of the mayor’s campaign headquarters, where the president told volunteers that Emanuel was “somebody who cares deeply about this city.” Video of the president’s testimonial ended up in the mayor’s final television ad before Tuesday’s vote.

Those appeals, however, were not enough to give Emanuel, who was facing a group of underfunded and less well-known opponents, a majority of the vote.

As Axelrod wrote in his book of Emanuel, when he was first contemplating running for Congress:

For Rahm, failure of any kind was a terrifying prospect … Losing? That was not an option, and Rahm’s allergy to it already was legendary.

President Barack Obama talks with Senior Advisor David Axelrod at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, La.,, following a meeting on the response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, June 4, 2010.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama talks with Senior Advisor David Axelrod at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, La.,, following a meeting on the response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, June 4, 2010.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

What follows is my quick Q and A with Axelrod yesterday. His answers are just as he gave them. My questions are improved for succinctness and to make me sound more intelligent.

FR  – The Obama-Clinton Texas primary was your only experience working on a campaign in Texas?

DA – No, that’s not true. I worked for Bob Lanier when he ran for mayor of Houston. I worked for John Sharp when he ran against Rick Perry in 1998. I worked for Lee Brown when he ran for mayor.

FR – Democrats and Battleground Texas didn’t have much success turning Texas blue this past year. Do you think that remains a wise investment of Democratic resources?

DA – I think it’s a long-term project. I think it’s a project well worth pursuing. There are still a huge number of unregistered Hispanic voters that can be a huge force in the politics of that  state but that’s a long-term project. I don’t think that’s going to happen tomorrow.

FR – You don’t mention Rick Perry in your book even though he was, briefly, a threat to knock of Mitt Romney and become the Republican nominee in 2012.

DA – We took him seriously, like everyone else, for a brief period of time. It was pretty clear once he got out there that he wasn’t terribly prepared for all of the rigors and challenges of a campaign at the time that he took that on. That evidenced itself fairy quickly. But as you remember there was a little boomlet there. He was certainly on our radar screen, but it was always our assumption that Romney would navigate his way through.

I knew Perry a little bit because I did media for Sharp in 1998. We came very close to beating him for lieutenant governor. I think we lost by a point or a point-and-a-half,  while Bush was carrying the state with 69 percent of the vote.

George W. Bush(I) REP 2,550,821 68.24%
Garry Mauro DEM 1,165,592 31.18%
Lester R. ‘Les’ Turlington, Jr. LIB 20,711 0.55%
Susan Lee Solar W-I 954 0.03%
Race Total 3,738,078
Lieutenant Governor
Rick Perry REP 1,858,837 50.05%
John Sharp DEM 1,790,106 48.20%
Anthony Garcia LIB 65,150 1.75%
Race Total 3,714,093

So I had some sense of Perry.  So obviously he wasn’t the guy in 2012 that he was in ’98. He had become sort of political colossus in Texas, which he wasn’t back then, but we always thought that Romney would be the guy.

FR –  Former Gov. Perry likes to point out that previous Republican nominees have had to run more than once before they succeeded. Ronald Reagan didn’t prevail until his third run for president. But is there a precedent for a candidate who did as poorly as Perry did in his first outing to ultimately capture the party nomination?

DA – You’re always hesitant to say never,  but it’d say he’s pretty freighted here and it would be  a remarkable story if he were to come back. Ronald Reagan was the leader of an ideological movement, and had world-class communications skills  He ran kind of half-hearted race in 1968, but in 1976, Ronald Reagan very nearly won the nomination. I would not be so presumptuous as to suggest that as a historical parallel.

FR – After Gov. Perry’s indictment you tweeted you thought the case against him seemed kind of “sketchy.” Perry and his allies delighted in touting your tweet, but Texas Democrats, like Glenn Smith, called you to task.

DA – I spoke instinctively. My feeling generally is that we should not criminalize politics and I still feel that way, but I’m not steeped in the facts of that case and can’t speak to the facts of that case, so, if you have just enough knowledge to fill 140 characters, you should think before you hit send.

David Axelrod with David Gregory on Meet the Press
David Axelrod with David Gregory on Meet the Press


FR – In a New Yorker profile of Ted Cruz last year, Jeffrey Toobin wrote: “The speed of Cruz’s rise makes Barack Obama’s ascent seem almost stately.” What to you make of the swift rise of Cruz?

DA – I think he is a very, very bright, very skilled demagogue and he knows exactly who his audience is and he trying to build a following by catering to, pandering to that audience and I am sure he will find some sort of following within the Republican base. But that’s a lot different than building a national constituency that could win the nomination and win the presidency

FR – How do you rate the Republican presidential field?

DA – You never know until you see them in action. I mean Bill Clinton had followers and he had some enthusiasm but he started out as an asterisk and ended up as the nominee. And so you know you have to see how people handle the process.

I’m not dismissive of the Republican field. I think Bush is obviously an interesting candidate. I don’t know if taking the positions he’s taken he can survive the primary process, and I think that will be a big question. There has been a lot of ballyhoo about (Scott) Walker. This last couple of weeks has given me pause because he’s punted on everything. He’s like the Ray Guy of Republican politics, he’s basically punting on every play. But, that said, he’s obviously a guy who has chance to unite the right and center right  and therefore is a guy who you should watch. Marco Rubio is obviously doing interesting stuff on policy. Rand Paul  is doing interesting stuff in terms of building an unusual constituency, kind of a right-left constituency that is different. Others as well. I’m not minimizing the field

But I think the challenge of the Republican Party is the same as for the last several cycles, which is, can you cater  to the most strident voices in your party and still win a national election and I think the answer’s no. And that’s why what Bush is doing is interesting, why what Paul is doing is interesting.

FR – The Obama-Clinton battle was such a gripping drama that it caught the attention of a lot of people who don’t normally follow politics. Is there a danger for Democrats that this time around all the drama and interest will be on the Republican side?

DA – Well I think the Republicans don’t think so. They’ve worked very hard to limit the length of their process. I think that their biggest fear is that Americans will be peering into the sausage factory so they have shortened their process and tried to limit the number of debates. One thing about our race, as competitive it was, it wasn’t destructive and there weren’t huge differences between the candidates and there wasn’t the impulse to drag the whole party off into a direction. That’s what Republicans have faced. They have nominated two center-right candidate who basically  had to make Faustian bargains with the right in order to be the nominee, thus rendering themselves unelectable. And the primary process itself in 2012 was a mess in terms of  the debates where people are chanting and cheering about capital punishment, you know just a bizarre set of events. I think the question is whether they can avoid all that. So I would not be worried about them getting all the attention. It might be best for Democrats for them to get a lot of it.

David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs visit reporters on the campaign plane (Believer)
David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs visit reporters on the campaign plane (Believer)

FR – You acknowledge in your book that President Obama’s effort to change the climate in Washington – so central to his candidacy – did not succeed. Is that now lost as a theme that a candidate for president can plausibly strike?

DA – I think it’s still something we should aspire to. We are all Americans, we share that and our common humanity. One of the reasons I wrote this book is because I think the process is bigger and more worthy than it sometimes appears now, and I have great respect for those who enter the arena, regardless of their views, if they feel passionately enough about the country that they want to get in there and try to shape the future.

What happened in 2008 was that, on this platform of healing these breaches to solve problems, we swept in huge Democratic majorities, and then we faced this big crisis, the epic economic crisis, and then the Republican Party, some of the strategists in the Republican Party, made this shrewd if not admirable decision to make us solve those problems alone. They knew the decision we would have to make in order to solve the crisis would be difficult and politically unpopular, and they knew the problems would take a long time to abate, so they had a strategy to win in 2010 to force us to act alone, to force a president who promised bipartisanship to operate on a partisan basis, and it was a diabolically clever political strategy.

Barack Obama in his campaign office in Chicago, IL during his 2004 Illinois U.S. Senate Campaign on March 15, 2004.     David Katz
Barack Obama in his campaign office in Chicago, IL during his 2004 Illinois U.S. Senate Campaign on March 15, 2004. David Katz


But I think the country’s weary of it and in the long term we tend to be self-correcting and our democracy tends to be self-correcting, and I hope that we get past it but we’re clearly not past it yet.

But I think as it relates to 2016, I think it’s more likely that voters will be looking for somebody who they think can manage the system in 2016, rather than somebody who can wholesale change the system. They may be a little bit weary of the notion of anyone’s ability to change it, so I think a candidate who says, `I know how to manage that system,’ may do better in 2016. I actually thinks that’s something that favors a candidate like Hillary. That was her argument back in 2008, but it wasn’t the right argument for that cycle.


Leticia Van de Putte says goodbye to the Senate

After 24 years in the Capitol, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said goodbye Tuesday, using her final floor speech to honor her colleagues and the chamber she will be leaving.

Van de Putte submitted her resignation before the session began in January, contingent on her replacement being sworn in, so she could run for mayor of San Antonio. That won’t happen until March 4, when state Rep. Jose Menéndez, D-San Antonio, takes the oath of office, but Van de Putte isn’t expected back at the Capitol after today.

“We are all so very blessed to be part of a legacy, blazed long ago, in this most deliberative body,” Van de Putte said, husband, Pete, joining her at her Senate desk.

“The Texas Senate is a place where you work hard, and you work hard to find common ground, despite the political differences. We’re a family here,” she said, identifying each senator’s strength or impact individually.

Van de Putte, a senator since 1999 after serving almost 10 years in the Texas House, was the unsuccessful 2014 Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, a race won by Dan Patrick, who recognized Van de Putte for her final speech.

“I’m not going to say goodbye because I think you’re going to be down here lobbying for your city in a very short period of time,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

Many of the senators who spoke Tuesday praised Van De Putte’s work on behalf of military veterans, particularly as the former chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

“I’ve never seen one who cares so much about the issues, and your constituents, than you,” said Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls. “You will be missed.”

Corrected: Amount of time Van de Putte has served in the Legislature.

Man of the moment: In Texas, Scott Walker passes Perry, rivals Cruz

Good morning Austin:

“I think we have a momentum candidate and I think his name is Scott Walker,” said University of Texas government professor Daron Shaw, co-director of the UT/Texas Tribune poll, when I talked to him yesterday about their latest survey, which found the Wisconsin governor breaking out of the pack to surge past one prospective Texas presidential candidate – former Gov. Rick Perry – and rival a second – Sen. Ted Cruz – in the esteem of those likely to vote in the Republican presidential primary a little over a year from now.

 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks to people at his table before President Barack Obama arrives to speaks to members of the National Governors Association, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, in the State Dining Room of White House in Washington. As they gather in Washington, many of the nation's Republican governors are blaming President Barack Obama for a budget standoff that threatens a potential Department of Homeland Security shutdown. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks to people at his table before President Barack Obama arrives to speaks to members of the National Governors Association, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, in the State Dining Room of White House in Washington. As they gather in Washington, many of the nation’s Republican governors are blaming President Barack Obama for a budget standoff that threatens a potential Department of Homeland Security shutdown. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

I also talked with Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT and co-director of the poll, who said that Walker seemed to have succeeded in emerging as a kind of Cruz-Perry blend, someone with hardcore conservative credentials but with governing experience, that together added up to a candidate who seemed both ideologically acceptable and electable.

“He has a track record winning elections against the odds in hostile territory,” Henson said.

Here are the results of the most recent survey.

Republican Presidential Primary Vote Choice, February 2015. UT/Texas Tribune Poll
Republican Presidential Primary Vote Choice, February 2015. UT/Texas Tribune Poll

(The Internet-based state poll was conducted between Feb. 6 and Feb. 15 by the market research firm YouGov. The sample included 1,200 self-declared registered voters and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points.)

In the October UT/TT survey Ted Cruz was way out front with 27 percent, followed by:

2. Rick Perry 14
3. Ben Carson 10
4. Jeb Bush 7
5. Rand Paul 7
6. Mike Huckabee 7
7.Paul Ryan 4
8. Marco Rubio 3
9. Chris Christie 3
10.Bobby Jindal 2
11.Scott Walker 2
12.Rick Santorum 1
13.John Kasich 0
14.Haven’t thought enough about it to have an opinion 11

Shaw said that Perry’s number saw a decline in intensity, both positive and negative, which, he believes, has mostly to do with his no longer being governor.

“When somebody leaves office, people no longer feel they have to be intensely for or against them,” Shaw said. “The armies have left the battlefield.”

In fact, Henson said Perry’s October numbers – which were up a bit over previous surveys – now appear to be the anomaly, and these new numbers are  return to form.

“I think the blip we saw for Perry in October came from people rallying to his defense after the indictment and Perry’s campaigns’ successful framing of that indictment. I think Perry is about where he has been in these heats – high single digits – that seems to be his natural place,” Henson said.

Walker is clearly cutting into Cruz’s support.

If Walker is out, Henson said, Cruz and Ben Carson each get 22 percent of his support, and Perry gets eight percent. If Cruz is out, 31 percent of his support goes to Walker, 18 percent to Rand Paul and 11 percent to Perry.

Walker’s emergence surprised me because, even though he has been the “it” candidate of the last few weeks, I didn’t think the broader public would have been paying enough attention to notice. Walker’s success with Texas voters surveyed here suggests there is keen interest among Republicans about the upcoming nomination battle. Of Walker’s rise in the Texas’ standings, Henson said, “this does not seem that strange to me, given Scott Walker’s emergence on conservative talk radio and conservative media.”

“I think that’s why Walker is kind of having his moment,” Henson said.

But, Henson said, if history is any judge, “It is very likely that momentum will be short-lived.”

Shaw said this cycle’s Republican field is large and rich, far more impressive than the last time around. Even a repeat candidate, like Perry, appears to be an improved version of his old self, Shaw noted.

Walker’s sudden emergence offers him both a great opportunity, and even more peril. There is a predictable pattern. Rise ’em up, and knock ’em down.

Here, at Slate a few years ago, is Jeff Greenfield recalling the 1984 Democratic nomination contest, in which Sen. Gary Hart parlayed a distant second finish to former Vice President Walter Mondale in the Iowa caucuses into a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary:

Even as Hart’s face splashed onto the covers of news magazines, unsettling questions began to pop up. Why had he changed his name from Hartpence? Why had he dissembled about his age? Why had his signature radically changed? Then came a memorable moment during a debate in Atlanta, shortly before the March 13 primaries in several Southern states. Turning to Hart, Mondale borrowed a line from the famous Wendy’s TV ad of the day: “When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad: ‘Where’s the beef?’ ” (Mondale had actually never seen the ad; his campaign manager, Bob Beckel, had to act it out for him).

Mondale’s borrowing from the Wendy’s ad helped him right the ship, defeat Hart and go on to a thorough drubbing by Ronald Reagan – losing  by 18 percentage points, almost as much as Wendy Davis lost to Greg Abbott for governor last year,  and losing every state but Minnesota (and, of course, Washington, D.C.).

I pause here for a moment for an advertisement for the new CNN Quiz Show, hosted by Anderson Cooper, in which, as CNN describes it, “Three teams of CNN anchors battle it out for charity in a wild quiz show that tests their knowledge of Presidential trivia!’

I know there has been a lot of criticism for the overuse of exclamation marks, but this one is well merited, because in the annals of self-parody, this show has few peers.

In any case, I didn’t have a lot of photos I could use of Scott Walker to illustrate this First Reading, so instead, I will illustrate the rest of today’s entry with a quick succession of shots I took of the Quiz Show as it appeared on the TV at the Atlanta airport Sunday night on the layover on my way from Austin to DC, where later this week I will get to see Walker, Perry, Cruz, et al, at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The CNN Quiz Show
The CNN Quiz Show

OK, back to Scott Walker and the perils of his new front-runnerish status.

In the Washington Post, Dan Balz and Robert Costa caught Walker Saturday at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith, Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

Walker said such questions from reporters are reflective of a broader problem in the nation’s political-media culture, which he described as fixated on issues that are not relevant to most Americans.

 “To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he said. “The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”

CNN Quiz Show
CNN Quiz Show


Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank followed Monday with a piece, Scott Walker’s Insidious Agnosticism:

“I don’t know.”

Thus proclaimed Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential hopeful, when asked by The Post’s Dan Balz and Robert Costa on Saturday whether President Obama is a Christian.

This is not a matter of conjecture. The correct answer is yes: Obama is Christian, and he frequently speaks about it in public. Balz and Costa presented Walker with this information to give him a second chance to answer.

But even when prompted with the facts, Walker — in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting — persisted, saying, “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” and, “I’ve never asked him that,” and, “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that.”

This is an intriguing standard. I’ve never had a conversation with Walker about whether he’s a cannibal, a eunuch, a sleeper cell for the Islamic State, a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome or a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. By Walker’s logic, it would be fair for me to let stand the possibility that he just might be any of those — simply because I have no personal and direct refutation from him.

 Walker justifies his agnosticism on grounds that he is avoiding gotcha questions. He caused a furor when he used the same logic last week to avoid saying whether Obama loves his country after Rudy Giuliani, at a dinner with Walker, volunteered his view that Obama does not. “To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington acepted by 17 percent of Americans at the end of Obama’s first term) that Obama is a Muslim.

Beyond that, Walker’s technique shuts down all debate, because there’s no way to have a constructive argument once you’ve disqualified your opponent as unpatriotic, un-Christian and anti-American. On the Internet, Godwin’s Law indicates that any reasonable discussion ceases when the Nazi accusations come out; Walker is essentially dond, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he told my colleagues Balz and Costa, two of the best in the business.

This is insidious, and goes beyond last week’s questioning of Obama’s patriotism, because it allows Walker to wink and nod at the far-right fringe where people really believe that Obama is a Muslim from Kenya who hates America. The governor is flirting with a significant segment of the Republican primary electorate: those who have peddled the notion (acing the same by refusing to grant his opponent legitimacy as an American and a Christian.


Meanwhile, also Monday, Husna Haq, with the Christian Science Monitor, wrote under the headline, Gov. Scott Walker on Obama’s love for America: Did Walker stumble? 

Did Scott Walker just stumble on his way to the 2016 Republican presidential primary?

The Wisconsin governor and GOP presidential candidate found himself in the hot seat after comments Rudy Giuliani made last Wednesday in which the former New York mayor said he doesn’t believe Obama “loves America.”

When asked by the media about the former mayor’s comments, not only did Walker refuse to affirm the president’s love for his country (“I’ve never asked the President, so I don’t really know what his opinions are on that one way or another.”), he also punted when asked if he believed Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” the Republican governor replied when asked about the President’s faith in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that,” Walker said.

A Walker spokesperson later called the Washington Post to say “of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” but his initial response reflected a disapproval of “gotcha questions” that “distract” from his record.

Was this Walker’s “oops” moment?

The CNN Quiz Show
The CNN Quiz Show

But wait, whoa, wrote, Charles C. W. Cooke Monday in National Review , under the headline, The Media’s Embarrassing Scott Walker Spectacle:

For a question to be posed in good faith, it must be possible both for the respondent to deliver an honest answer, and for his inquisitor to accept that answer at face value. Evidently, Balz and Costa did not ask in good faith. Rather, they wanted a specific response, and they were determined to crucify their man if he didn’t give it to them. That, I’m afraid, is not journalism; it’s entertainment. Their goal wasn’t “asking questions”; it was enforcing a catechism. The intention here wasn’t to ascertain facts; it was to begin a call-and-response. For a brief moment in the lobby, the Washington Post was the high priest and Walker was the congregant. The inquisition did not end well. (Walker’s press team seemed to recognize this, and undercut him at the first opportunity.) Politically speaking, Ross Douthat has a kernel of a point when he proposes that Walker could have answered the “bad question” more adroitly. Certainly, it would be nice if conservatives were not always so tongue-tied. But, in a case such as this, one really cannot extricate the question from the answer. Because the Post’s inquiry could only provoke one correct response — “yes” — and because the questioners knew that Walker was unlikely to repeat the words upon which they had conditioned his salvation, any longer meditation on how he should have addressed the ambush seems rather pointless.


Such suspicions are routinely expressed on the left. At various points during Obama’s tenure, public figures such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher have openly suggested that President Obama is either an atheist or an agnostic, and that he is merely pretending to be a Christian to placate the rubes in the middle of the country. “You know who’s a liar about [his faith],” Maher suggested last year, “is Obama. He’s a drop-dead atheist, absolutely.” “Our new president,” Christopher Hitchens told France 24 in 2009, “I’m practically sure he is not a believer.” Richard Dawkins, meanwhile, has noted correctly that this theory is popular among progressives. “Like many people,” he averred in 2014, “I’m sure that Obama is an atheist.” These statements lacked the modesty of Scott Walker’s effective “dunno.” In fact, they were far, far harsher. And yet they were met with relative indifference. Are we to conclude that the bien pensant class considers it to be more honorable for a person to suggest that the president of the United States is lying than to say that he does not know and does not care?

In remarks before the National Religious Broadcasters on Monday, Walker sought to use the media contretemps to his advantage. From Reid J. Epstein in the Wall Street Journal.

His comments about his treatment in the press are the latest indication he plans to make tensions with the media a central part of his appeal as he moves toward a presidential campaign. Earlier Monday his Wisconsin campaign apparatus released a fundraising appeal seeking donations to help Mr. Walker “stand up against the publicity hounds and the journalistic pack” and “show the clueless and mindless journalistic herd that you know what matters most and that it is not the pointless minutiae that they are pushing.”

“Enough with the media’s gotcha game,” Mr. Walker wrote Sunday on Twitter.

Mr. Walker’s speech here comes as he finds himself engaged in the most substantial scrutiny of the campaign to date. In the last month he has come under fire for avoiding an answer on whether he believes in the science of evolution, whether he agreed with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s since-recanted assessment that Mr. Obama doesn’t love the U.S. and, in a Saturday interview with the Post, saying he doesn’t know if Mr. Obama is a Christian.

Mr. Walker’s office eventually walked back his initial statements on evolution and the president’s religion, releasing statements saying “faith and science are compatible” and suggesting to the Post that the governor was making a rhetorical point in declining to answer the question about the president’s faith.

To the religious broadcasters, Mr. Walker pledged to mount a positive campaign if he seeks the presidency. He won’t, he said, delve into “what’s wrong with our primary opponents or what’s wrong with our general election opponent.”

Who was Deep Throat?
Who was Deep Throat?

Also in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman writes

The reason for Scott Walker’s recent rise in the early stages of the 2016 Republican primary contest isn’t his stunning personal charisma, his inspiring life story, or his extraordinary rhetorical gifts. He’s getting more attention because unlike most of the contenders, he seems like a candidate who can unite establishment Republicans and grassroots Republicans, appealing equally to both. You can see it in a pair of articles out on him today: this one in the Post on how he crushed labor unions in Wisconsin, and this one in the New York Times on how he has been emphasizing the divisive social issues like abortion that he played played down in his races in the state.

But most of the attention Walker has been getting in the last few days has been about his relationship to the Republican fever swamp, the place where Barack Obama is a Muslim foreigner on a mission to destroy America, the country he despises.

Walker has been rather inelegantly dancing around questions about the president, and the Democrats calling attention to each clunky step may be hoping that this will be a liability should Walker become the GOP nominee. But they might not want to get their hopes up too high. Republican candidates seldom lose the presidency because they’re too ideologically or temperamentally right-wing.

Mark Felt was Deep Throat
Mark Felt was Deep Throat


Writing at The Federalist, Robert Tracinski says that what really irks the left about Walker is that he left college his senior year without graduating. He is running for president and he is not a college graduate. The headline: Scott Walker Is a Threat to the Existing Social Order

After all, he has won three straight elections in a swing state, while challenging the public employees’ unions head-on and significantly reducing their government privileges. (This is precisely what makes him interesting to those of us on the right.) The mainstream media feel that they need to disqualify him now, so they’re looking for anything they can use against him.

But behind that, there is a more visceral reaction. The real purpose of higher education is to learn the knowledge and skills required for success later in life. So if someone has already become a success, whether or not he went to college is irrelevant. If he has achieved the end, what does it matter that he didn’t do it by way of that specific means? But for the mainstream elites, particularly those at the top level in the media, a college education is not simply a means to an end. It is itself a key attainment that confers a special social status.

There are no real class divisions in America except one: the college-educated versus the non-college educated. It helps to think of this in terms borrowed from the world of a Jane Austen novel: graduating from college is what makes you a “gentleman.” (A degree from an Ivy League school makes you part of the aristocracy.) It qualifies you to marry the right people and hold the right kind of positions. It makes you respectable. And even if you don’t achieve much in the world of work and business, even if you’re still working as a barista ten years later, you still retain that special status. It’s a modern form of “genteel poverty,” which is considered superior to the regular kind of poverty.

If you don’t have a college degree, by contrast, you are looked down upon as a vulgar commoner who is presumptuously attempting to rise above his station. Which is pretty much what they’re saying about Scott Walker. This prejudice is particularly strong when applied to anyone from the right, whose retrograde views are easily attributed to his lack of attendance at the gentleman’s finishing school that is the university.

At the Washington Post, Jeffrey J. Selingo, placed Walker’s lack of a degree in useful context:

Much attention has been given in recent weeks to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to drop out of Marquette University in the spring of his senior year. The Republican presidential hopeful was just 34 credits short of earning a bachelor’s degree in 1990. He never went back.

Various media reports have analyzed how the lack of a college degree makes Walker unusual presidential material, at least in recent history, though the distinction makes him like most Americans, 70 percent of whom don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

But that figure includes people who never even stepped foot on a college campus. What’s more significant about Walker dropping out of college is that he’s like an increasing number of Americans who have some college credits, but no degree to show for their work.

There are nearly 45 million Americans over the age of 24 who have some college and no degree. That’s more than one in five U.S. adults. In many ways, those people are no better off financially than high-school graduates who never attempted college at all. College dropouts don’t earn much more, on average, than those with only a high-school diploma.

The salary premium for a college degree only comes if you actually earn a degree.

Of course, as president, Walker would presumably earn the same as Barack Obama (Columbia and Harvard Law) and George W. Bush (Yale and Harvard Business), etc.


If CNN Quiz Show turns out to be success, how about MSNBC revives To Tell the Truth hosted by suspended anchor Brian Williams?

And, here is a more vintage clip, the way I remember the show, featuring one of Cruz’s favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, who, like Harper Lee, has a new book coming out.

As Sun Tzu said: On Ted Cruz, immigration and turning the political world upside down

Good morning Austin:

Yesterday, at 4 p.m., a fashionably late time for a press conference, the four men in their matching dark suits made their way into the Governor’s press conference room at the Capitol – an event appropriately packed with press – for an event that was staged mostly, it seemed, to savor the moment.

Left to right, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick arrive a at news conference at the Capitol to talk about President Obama's immigration executive order on Wednesday February 18, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Left to right, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick arrive a at news conference at the Capitol to talk about President Obama’s immigration executive order on Wednesday February 18, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Since Obama became president, Gov. Greg Abbott had built his career on suing the president, and on Monday night, the very eve of his first State of the State address – the tangible fruits of his labor – Andrew Hanen, a federal judge in Brownsville, had delivered a 123-page ruling that stopped President Obama’s executive immigration action dead in its tracks. The judge’s order was a consequence of a lawsuit brought by Abbott Dec. 3, in the waning days of his 12-year tenure as attorney general.

“My 31st and last lawsuit against President Obama may turn out to the one that has the greatest constitutional consequence,” Abbott said with great satisfaction.

General Abbott had been as good as his title in this case, marshaling a phalanx of states – eventually 25 in all – to join in the lawsuit, and offering mapmakers a new way to split up America.

The man sitting to Abbott’s right – Sen. Ted Cruz – was a leading figure in the fight against the president’s immigration orders in Washington. But the bond between Abbott and Cruz, and their relationship in developing Abbott’s practice of suing Obama, was far deeper than that.

Sen. Ted Cruz talks about the court ruling blocking President Obama's immigration executive order at a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday February 18, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Sen. Ted Cruz talks about the court ruling blocking President Obama’s immigration executive order at a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday February 18, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

As Jeffrey Toobin wrote in his excellent June 2014 profile of Cruz in The New Yorker, The Absolutist:

In the nineteen-nineties, several states created the position of solicitor general, a chief appellate advocate, modeled on the one in the United States Department of Justice, which represents the federal government before the Supreme Court. The Texas job was started in 1999, when John Cornyn was the state attorney general. (Cornyn is now Cruz’s senior colleague in the Senate.) But when Greg Abbott became attorney general of Texas, in 2002, he decided to expand the responsibilities of the solicitor general beyond simply handling appeals in cases involving the state. Abbott had served on the Texas Supreme Court and developed strongly conservative views on legal issues. “I wanted someone who had the capability to handle appellate arguments in court, but I wanted to do so much more,” Abbott told me. “I wanted Texas to be a national leader on the profound legal issues of the day. I wanted us to be able to have a larger footprint, a larger impact.”

Though Cruz was only thirty-two, he persuaded Abbott that he was up to the job. In 2003, he moved to Austin. “We wanted Ted to take a leadership role in the United States in articulating a vision of strict construction. I look for employees with batteries included,” Abbott said. “Ted was supercharged and ready to go.” In effect, he asked Cruz to roam the country in search of cases that might advance the Constitutional agenda that Cruz had first embraced as a teen-ager. Sometimes Texas was an actual party to the cases Cruz argued, and sometimes he simply volunteered to write friend-of-the-court briefs for causes that he and Abbott supported. They intervened in cases supporting gun-owners’ rights, states’ rights, and the right to religious expression in public places. In one high-profile case, Cruz wrote the brief that persuaded the court to approve a monument of the Ten Commandments outside the state capitol, in Austin. (Abbott argued that case.)

In just over six years, Cruz argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, more than any other Texas lawyer during this period and more than all but a few lawyers in the country. In addition, he filed dozens of briefs in federal and state appeals courts. In his arguments before the high court, Cruz won five cases and lost four, but that understates the magnitude of his success. The cases he lost were rather minor; in one of them he appeared as a friend of the court. The cases he won had more drama and importance.

This latest lawsuit – which also seems destined to end up before the Supreme Court – is one of great “drama and importance,” like the Ten Commandments case, only this one suggests an Eleventh Commandment:  Thou shalt not “grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants based entirely on one man’s perspective.”

That part in quotes comes from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s comments at yesterday’s press conference.

Paxton, Abbott’s successor, was seated to the governor’s left.

Paxton, by the way, is having a great run.

First and foremost, he was elected attorney general by a nearly 21 percentage point margin over a Democrat who couldn’t budge the needle even with the name Sam Houston.

Second, “General Paxton” sounds like “General Patton,” and that’s got to be a good thing, especially in Texas.

Then, last month, the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office – the folks enmeshed in the indictment that is complicating Rick Perry’s path to the White House – closed out their probe of Paxton, though, as reported by Chuck Lindell and Jazmine Ulloa in the Statesman, that was less a ringing declaration of Paxton’s innocence than an acknowledgement of their office’s lack of jurisdiction:

The Travis County district attorney’s office has concluded its investigation into securities law violations by Attorney General Ken Paxton without filing charges.

An investigation by the agency’s Public Integrity Unit determined that Travis County lacked jurisdiction over the Paxton allegations, District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said Thursday.

“Any conduct that might constitute an offense occurred outside of Travis County, and venue for any further investigation would be in the county where the conduct occurred,” Lehmberg said in a statement.

And then, icing on the proverbial cake, at yesterday’s press conference, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, seated to Paxton’s left, described Cruz, Abbott and Paxton as “three of the greatest constitutional minds in the country. We’re blessed to have them in Texas.”

If the immigration case ends up before the Supreme Court, arguing on behalf of Texas will be a plum assignment. If this were a movie, there would be a little-known codicil in Texas law that would allow Governor Abbott to step back into this old role and argue the case, or better yet, Sen. Cruz, or best of all, in buddy-film tradition, both Abbott and Cruz.

As it is, Paxton’s office is replete with Cruzers. Scott Keller, formerly  Cruz’s chief counsel, was named by Paxton to fill Cruz’s old role as solicitor general; Bernard McNamee, Sen. Cruz’s senior domestic policy advisor, was named Paxton’s chief of staff, and Cruz’s chief of staff, Chip Roy – who helped Gov. Perry with his book, Fed Up! – was Paxton’s choice to be his first assistant attorney general.

Cruz by SABO
Cruz by SABO

Patrick, meanwhile, is in his political approach and appeal, most similar to Cruz. And he certainly owes Cruz for softening up David Dewhurst by defeating him for U.S. Senate in the 2012 Republican primary as a prelude to Patrick defeating Dewhurst for lieutenant governor in the 2014 Republican primary. That Patrick was a Dewhurst stalwart against Cruz in 2012 is, I suppose, now a footnote to history, as is the fact that they were seated at opposite ends of the table at yesterday’s press conference.

As Toobin recounts, Abbott’s and Cruz’s career arcs were also inextricably linked:

In 2010, Greg Abbott was planning on running to succeed Rick Perry as governor, and Cruz decided to step out on his own and run for attorney general. By this point, Cruz had reached such a level of prominence as solicitor general that he had basically cleared the field to take over for his boss. But Perry decided to run for reëlection and, as a result, so did Abbott. Cruz stepped down as solicitor general and joined a law firm in Houston. In short order, another opportunity presented itself: Kay Bailey Hutchison was retiring from the U.S. Senate, opening up a seat in the 2012 election.

In the wake of Judge Hanen’s ruling, John Cassidy wrote in The New Yorker:

In Washington, where every day provides another opportunity to wage partisan warfare, twelve months is an eternity. The ruling had barely been issued when attention shifted to the battle du jour, which just happens to be over immigration reform and the funding of the Department of Homeland Security. Fearful that the new rules about deportations would go into effect before Hanen or anybody else had a chance to stop them, the Republicans have been threatening to defund the entire department unless the new funding bill includes measures designed to gut immigration reforms. Democrats, relying on a filibuster, have refused to allow such a proposal to advance.

On the basis of what passes for common sense outside the Beltway, you might suspect that the Republicans, once Judge Hanen had done their work for them, would declare victory and move onto other issues. But no. “We will continue to follow the case as it moves through the legal process,” Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security department.” Translated into English, this means that Republicans are still threatening to close down the department at the end of next week if they don’t get their way. Or, in the words of Ted Cruz, “At a time when we face grave national-security threats, at home and abroad, it is the height of irresponsibility for the Democrats to block this funding in an extreme attempt to save Obama’s amnesty, which a federal judge has just declared illegal.”

Only in the upside-down world of Washington does refusing to accept “you win” as an answer make sense. Boehner may have been reëlected handily at the start of the year, but he still needs the support of rank-and-file G.O.P. members, many of whom campaigned vigorously against any suggestion of amnesty for the undocumented. Just a few weeks into a new term, the Speaker can’t risk being outflanked on the right. And so it’s onward into battle.

From Toobin:

In both law and politics, I think the essential battle is the meta-battle of framing the narrative,” Cruz told me. “As Sun Tzu said, Every battle is won before it’s fought. It’s won by choosing the terrain on which it will be fought. So in litigation I tried to ask, What’s this case about? When the judge goes home and speaks to his or her grandchild, who’s in kindergarten, and the child says, ‘Paw-Paw, what did you do today?’ And if you own those two sentences that come out of the judge’s mouth, you win the case.

I don’t think there is anyone better than Cruz in “framing the narrative,” in hashtag/bumper sticker terms.

As I wrote in today’s story on yesterday’s press conference, for Cruz it is the Senate Democrats, not he, who are the figures of irrational obstinacy on the Homeland Security funding. He is simply following the political logic dictated by the clear outcome or the 2014 election:

Cruz said it is Obama who has placed Senate Democrats in an untenable position by making the 2014 elections into a referendum on his policies, with immigration at the top of the list. Republicans won a resounding victory, gaining control of the Senate, and Republicans now have an obligation to fulfill the mandate of their election, Cruz said.

As Toobin explains it, Cruz’s ability to synthesize and ultimately simplify his arguments has everything to do with his experience as an appellate lawyer:

Cruz came to the Senate, in 2012, and then to national prominence, through an unusual route. Like many politicians, he is a lawyer, but his legal expertise is of a special kind, which helps explain both his fame and his notoriety. Before he ran for the Senate, Cruz was on his way to becoming one of the most notable appellate advocates in the country. “He was and is the best appellate litigator in the state of Texas,” James Ho, who succeeded Cruz as solicitor general of the state, told me. Trial lawyers, civil or criminal, are often brought into cases when there are compromises to be made; much of their work winds up involving settlements or plea bargains. But appellate litigators, like Cruz, generally appear after the time for truce has passed. Their job is to make their best case and let the chips fall where they may. That is the kind of politician Cruz has become—one who came to Washington not to make a deal but to make a point. Citing Margaret Thatcher, Cruz often puts his approach this way: “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.”

Cruz is all about argument, and if that makes him a very unpopular man with his Senate colleagues, it is entirely a virtue in the realm that really interests him now – presidential politics.

From Toobin:

Cruz’s ascendancy reflects the dilemma of the modern Republican Party, because his popularity within the Party is based largely on an act that was reviled in the broader national community. Last fall, Cruz’s strident opposition to Obamacare led in a significant way to the shutdown of the federal government. “It was not a productive enterprise,” John McCain told me. “We needed sixty-seven votes in the Senate to stop Obamacare, and we didn’t have it. It was a fool’s errand, and it hurt the Republican Party and it hurt my state. I think Ted has learned his lesson.” But Cruz has learned no such lesson. As he travels the country, he has hardened his positions, delighting the base of his party but moving farther from the positions of most Americans on most issues.

When Toobin wrote about Cruz nearly a year ago, the senator was in the midst of a particularly hot streak:

Last fall, though, he nearly single-handedly precipitated the shutdown of the federal government. Today, polls show Cruz in the thick of the crowded race for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, along with Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and others. Last year, he won the Values Voter Summit’s Presidential straw poll. Last month, he won the straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference and, not surprisingly, the straw poll at the Texas G.O.P. convention. The speed of Cruz’s rise makes Barack Obama’s ascent seem almost stately.

At the present moment, it would appear that the Cruz fever has broken.

According to the RedState Presidential Power Rankings, Cruz now ranks seven among the top ten potential Republican presidential candidates.

(According to RedState, “These predictions are based on polling data, media buzz, momentum, and of course the secret sauce formula.”)

In this most recent ranking, Cruz trailed, in order, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee.

Here was RedState’s rationale for the Cruz ranking:

Cruz rebounded back to earth with the most recent round of polling with especially disappointing numbers in the Southern states (South Carolina and Virginia) where he was not able to top 5 per cent. That said, Cruz on a debate stage still stands the possibility of stealing the show a la Newt in 2012. The most obvious avenue of attack against Cruz, that “he doesn’t play well with other Republicans in Congress” will likely be a feature rather than a bug by the time the campaign season begins in earnest.

Cruz as ahead of Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson, and last on the list of ten, Rick Perry, of whom Red State wrote:

Another week, another very bad set of polls for Perry who continues to struggle to break even 3%, even in the South. Perry is no doubt on the floor, but he stands a reasonable chance of getting back up and redeeming himself with the voters if he can put his disastrous 2012 campaign behind him.

Sub-Perry there was this:

Not on the list: Rick Santorum (No serious chance of winning at all), Mike Pence (probably not running), Sarah Palin (No chance and also not running), Lindsay Graham (LOL)

Meanwhile, The Fix, at the Washington Post, had Cruz tied for sixth with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, behind Bush, Walker, Rubio and Paul. and ahead of Jindal, Huckabee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. No Perry in their top ten.

Of Cruz, The Fix’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake wrote:

Remember that while Cruz is roundly derided by his colleagues — Democrats and Republicans — in the Senate, he may be closer to how the Republican base feels on most issues than anyone else running.

Indeed, they wrote this under the headline, Ted Cruz is the most underrated candidate in the 2016 field:

A prominent Republican consultant — who isn’t working for any of the 2016 presidential candidates and who has been right more times than I can count — said something that shocked me when we had lunch recently. He said that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had roughly the same odds of becoming the Republican presidential nominee as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

Jaw-dropper, right?


Think of the Republican primary field as a series of lanes. In this race, there are four of them: Establishment, Tea Party, Social Conservative and Libertarian. The four lanes are not of equal size:  Establishment is the biggest followed by Tea Party, Social Conservative and then Libertarian. (I could be convinced that Libertarian is slightly larger than Social Conservative, but it’s close.)

Obviously the fight for the top spot in the Establishment lane is very crowded, with Bush and possibly Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leading at the moment. Ditto the Social Conservative lane with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Rick Santorum all pushing hard there. The Libertarian lane is all Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s but, as I noted above, it’s still not that big.

Which leaves the Tea Party lane, which is both relatively large and entirely Cruz’s. While Paul looked as though he might try to fight Cruz for supremacy in that lane at one time, it’s clear from his recent moves that the Kentucky senator is trying to become a player in a bunch of lanes, including Social Conservative and Establishment.

So, Cruz is, without question, the dominant figure in the Tea Party lane. What that means — particularly in the early stages of the primary process in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — is that he will likely be able to win, place or show repeatedly, racking up enough strong-ish performances to keep going even as the Establishment lane and the Social Conservative lane begin to thin out. (Cruz’s ability to raise money, which remains a question, is less important for him than it is for other candidates — especially those in the Establishment lane. His people are going to be for him no matter how much — or little — communicating he does with them.)


So, watch Cruz. The combination of his running room as the race’s one true tea-party candidate, his debating and oratorical skills and his willingness to always, on every issue, stake out the most conservative position make him a real threat.

Dan Patrick reveals how he wants to pay for tax cuts

Texas’ Republican leaders have called for multibillion dollar cuts to business and property taxes but so far have remained mum on what mechanisms they’d prefer lawmakers use to get there.

On Wednesday, though, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick indicated he’d like to pay for the tax cuts by boosting sale tax collections while slowly weaning the state off its reliance on property tax revenue.

“The revenues we get at the state level are primarily sales tax,” the Houston Republican said Wednesday in a speech at the Texas Association of Business’ annual conference. “What we’ve done is a gradual transition from bringing more people in to help pay for what a handful of people – businesses and property owners – have been paying.”

Asked what, if any, legislation has been filed on that front that Patrick might get behind, his spokesman mentioned two “loosely related” bills filed by state Sen. Brandon Creighton.

The Conroe Republican’s SB 186 would require the state comptroller to “conduct a comprehensive study” analyzing “the feasibility of implementing alternative methods” to the state’s business franchise tax and what alternative ways the state could raise sufficient funds to “address the needs of this state.”

Among those, the study would have to look at: imposing a value-added tax, eliminating exemptions from the sales and use tax and increasing the rate of the sales and use tax.

SB 331 would require the comptroller to issue rebates to businesses that pay the franchise tax if there is unspent general revenue leftover from the previous two-year budget cycle.

The first-draft Senate budget Patrick unveiled last month calls for $3 billion in property tax cuts and $1 billion in business franchise tax cuts. The House’s budget plan, released before the Senate’s, did not account for tax cuts although officials have said they will be added later.

Asked Wednesday what the House has in mind for tax cuts, House Speaker Joe Straus said the lower chamber hasn’t “come to a conclusion yet.”

“We left room in our base budget for tax cuts but didn’t specify what they would be,” he told reporters after his own speech to the business association. “Again, that’s what the session’s for. In the House, we don’t just say: Here it is. Vote on it. This is what the speaker wants. We have ideas. We have a lot of leaders and a thorough discussion.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015



El Diablito is in the details: On El Jefe’s loss in Senate District 26

Good Morning Austin:

So who knew that passing out some playful loteria cards at the Democratic State Convention in Dallas last June – one of which depicted then Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott as a horned El Diablito (the little devil) – would come back to haunt state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer when he sought to succeed Leticia Van de Putte in the state Senate representing a heavily Hispanic and Democratic San Antonio district.

El Diablito loteria card distributed by Trey Martinez Fischer at the Democratic Sate Convention
El Diablito loteria card distributed by Trey Martinez Fischer at the Democratic Sate Convention

Or, in the most famous line to come out of that convention, Martinez Fischer’s reference to the GOP as standing for Gringos y Otros Pendejos.

But both figured in a clever anti-Martinez Fischer ad run by Texans for Lawsuit Reform in a race that became a proxy war between TLR and trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, benefactor of Martinez Fischer and Democratic candidates more generally in Texas.

The ad includes the Abbott loteria card image, and Martinez Fischer’s convention line – Wait GOP that should stand for Gringos y Otros Pendejos – which is helpfully translated in the ads as Americans and other a##holes.

The tagline on the ad: Bad words, Bad politics. Bad for Texas.

In other words, Martinez Fischer is the bad boy of Texas politics, the rebel with a cause who signals he has come to pick up your daughter for a date by revving his motorcycle out in front of your house, as opposed to that nice José Menéndez, a good boy, who knocks on the door wearing nice slacks and a blazer, bearing flowers.

Trey Martinez Fischer loteria card distributed at the 2014 Democratic State Convention
Trey Martinez Fischer loteria card distributed at the 2014 Democratic State Convention

Last night, the good boy triumphed over the bad boy, winning the Senate seat by a whopping 18 percentage points after trailing in the January preliminary election by the same margin. Here are the results:

MEDIA REPORT                                       BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS                                UNOFFICIAL RESULTS
                                                   SPECIAL RUNOFF ELECTION
                                                   FEBRUARY 17, 2015
RUN DATE:02/17/15 09:06 PM

                                        TOTAL VOTES     %      EARLY VOTE  ELECTION DAY

 PRECINCTS COUNTED (OF 335).  .  .  .  .        335  100.00
 REGISTERED VOTERS - TOTAL .  .  .  .  .    406,235
 BALLOTS CAST - TOTAL.  .  .  .  .  .  .     24,961                14,353        10,608
 VOTER TURNOUT - TOTAL  .  .  .  .  .  .               6.14

State Senator, District 26
 Jose Menendez (DEM) .  .  .  .  .  .  .     13,888   59.04         8,107         5,781
 Trey Martinez Fischer (DEM)  .  .  .  .      9,635   40.96         5,429         4,206

A lot of charges and counter charges were swapped between the old friends,  but in the end, the terms of engagement, and what separated the two, was generally agreed upon and revolved around their opposite political temperaments, and the political posture Democrats – and particularly Hispanic Democrats – ought to strike in a state where they are now, but not likely forever, on the outs.

Martinez Fischer portrayed Menéndez as a closet Republican, or, at any rate, someone not averse to seeking and receiving Republican support.

From this Martinez Fischer ad:

Asked if he’s seeking Republican votes, Jose Menéndez, responded I’m talking to everybody.


Talking to Republicans, not fighting for us.

Menéndez, meanwhile, in this ad, described his way as The Texas Way.

In Texas, we have a way of doing things. It’s called working together. That’s why we lead the nation in job growth and economic activity and creativity. In my 14 years of service I’ve authored 55 bills that have become laws. My opponent doesn’t even come close. And he thinks name-calling and fist-pounding is the way to go. Maybe he belongs in Washington. Here in Texas we get things done.

In another TLR-sponsored ad, Martinez Fischer is described as a combative and partisan politician. Jose Menéndez works with all sides to accomplish what’s best for the people of San Antonio.

Here’s a little background on the race from Gilbert Garcia in the Express-News

José Menéndez and Trey Martinez Fischer would never describe themselves as enemies.

The San Antonio Democrats entered the Texas House together 14 years ago and have been personal friends as well as political allies. Their children have even played together.

At the moment, however, they’re competitors sprinting to Tuesday’s special-election finish line in a race for the Texas Senate seat being vacated by Leticia Van de Putte.

Menéndez’s prospects have been aided over the past week by a withering TV attack ad blasting Martinez Fischer, bankrolled (to the tune of nearly $150,000) by the Texans For Lawsuit Reform PAC, a group which champions tort reform and routinely backs conservative Republicans.

Menéndez is never mentioned in the ad, but as Martinez Fischer’s chief adversary in the five-candidate race, he’s the prime beneficiary. At the same time, he knows that his fellow Democrats despise TLR. So even if TLR is the enemy of his rival, Menéndez doesn’t want to appear too friendly with the group.

The TV ad presents TLR’s view of Martinez Fischer as a pawn of Texas trial lawyers.

“Having a bad day?” the ad begins, with an image of Martinez Fischer on a faux digital billboard. “Call me (Martinez Fischer) to sue somebody. 1-800-SUE-YOU!”

A related mail piece brands Martinez Fischer as a “liberal personal injury trial attorney” and a “partisan politician” who is “known in the State Legislature for bullying and bickering.”

When I spoke to Menéndez about the TV ad, he said he hadn’t seen it, adding, “I don’t have time for TV these days.” But he seemed sympathetic to TLR’s concerns about Martinez Fischer.

“Trey’s former work as a lawyer with Steve Mostyn. I think that’s what’s got them worried, because as we know, Steve Mostyn is one of the biggest trial lawyers in the state” Menéndez said.

And here from the Express-News election night coverage by John W. Gonzalez:

The duo clashed bitterly in their abbreviated campaign. Martinez Fischer painted Menéndez as a disloyal Democrat, courting GOP votes and embracing some of their policies. Menéndez fired back with ads portraying Martinez Fischer as too liberal and unable to work with the GOP majorities.

And from the Express-News’ David Saleh Rauf’s piece last week on the outsized spending in the race:

AUSTIN — The race to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has mushroomed into a pricey campaign totaling more than $2.3 million to sway voters in the city’s West Side, according to state data, in what has amounted to a mud fight between two San Antonio Democrats.

Once political allies, State Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Jose Menéndez are sprinting toward the Feb 17 run off with nearly three months of often cantankerous campaigning behind them.

Drawing first blood, Martinez Fischer hit Menéndez back in early January over alleged ties to a special interest group. In recent weeks, with the run off approaching, Menéndez has started to campaign negatively himself, pumping out mailers criticizing Martinez Fischer for accepting money from a payday lender.

Throw this into the mix: Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a powerful Austin lobby that mostly backs conservative Republicans, has dropped more than a half-million dollars into the race, with the bulk of it going to attack Martinez Fischer or for materials to support Menéndez.

The result: A hefty price tag for a race likely to still have disappointing voter turnout.

Saleh Rauf has that right. More than $2.3 million for a race in which fewer than 25,000 ballots were cast. A 6.14 percent turnout. Wow. That’s nearly $100 a vote.

So, back to where I began. Did Martinez Fischer’s convention loteria cards or his indelicate remarks at the convention figure in his demise?

Here is some of what I wrote in the Statesman after the convention:

Throughout his political career, TMF, as he has branded himself, has combined the attributes of an outside agitator and an inside player. He clearly harbors larger ambitions, raising the obvious question, as the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey asked in the headline of his analysis of Martinez Fischer’s convention speech, “Is this any way to attract gringos?”

From his prime spot on the convention speaking schedule, one might have thought Martinez Fischer was already on the statewide ticket. He was introduced with a video presenting him as someone destined for great things, and delegates held white-on-blue TMF signs as he spoke.

Martinez Fischer preceded state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the lieutenant governor candidate who brought a motherly warmth to a speech laced with Spanish, a counterpoint to Martinez Fischer’s in-your-face approach.

“There may be some kabuki in it,” Martinez Fischer said. “Some people respond to love, other people respond to fear.”

In his speech, he said 3.45 million Texas Hispanics are eligible to vote but don’t. “We can take back this state right now if one-third of Texas Latinos voted,” he said.

“My message was very, very specific to waking up the Hispanics by letting them recognize that not voting is exactly what the Republicans want, and the longer we continue to abet Republicans by not voting, public policy is going to get worse for us,” he said.

Martinez Fischer said he doesn’t think “gringo” is pejorative: “What I liked about it is that it starts with the letter `g.’”

Of “pendejo,” he said: “I’m just a traditional, old school westside San Antonio Mexican, and `pendejo’ means somebody who’s dumb. Obviously, folks are going to try to reincarnate the word to paint it in its most extreme interpretation, but I think the street interpretation of `pendejo’ being dumb is universally accepted.”

But is it the kind of word that ought to appear in the newspaper? “I think I’ve succeeded in trying to make the Statesman a bilingual publication,” Martinez Fischer said.

TMF is a talented politician. He has proved to be an important figure in the workings of the House, where he will remain. It would have been something beyond kabuki if he had landed in Dan Patrick’s Senate. This loss won’t kill him. All the greats – Nixon, Clinton, Obama – suffered devastating losses on their way to their destiny. He wants to play on the big stage. But the lesson of last night may be that, even on his home turf, his edges may be too rough, at least until the day that confrontational style demonstrably revs up Hispanic turnout.

Abbott, Patrick, Straus and the National Guard

In yesterday’s First Reading I wrote a bit about if and how Gov. Abbott, in his State of the State address, would deal with the question of how long the National Guard should remain on the border, a developing bone of contention between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. I talked to political scientists Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, and Mark Jones of Rice, and, after Abbott’s speech, I checked back in with the both of them for their appraisal.

Here is what they said:


Abbott probably shaded slightly toward Patrick’s position and toward playing to attitudes among Republican primary voters on the deployment of the Guard to the border, but came across as more compromising by saying he’d pull the Guard out as soon as there was action on his proposal.  This position both recognizes the point the Speaker made last week when we spoke that there were much better ways to secure the border than relying on the Guard, but also seems to validate Patrick’s point by not pulling them until there is an alternative in place. The speech conveyed a mixed message on the timing of pulling the Guard which Abbott no doubt hopes he can use to his advantage.  As I read the speech, in two sentences, he actually implies two different criteria for pulling the guard:

“I ordered them to remain deployed on the border until my security plan is implemented.”

“As governor, I have identified funds to keep the National Guard in place until the Legislature acts.”

This seems to be two different time horizons, one probably pretty distant (“until the plan is implemented”), one probably pretty near (“Until the legislature acts”).  Not unlike his predecessor, Abbott has created a position on border security that will appease nativist sentiment in his party while allowing him room to maneuver within the gray areas of the political process.  My guess is that if he gets substantial funding for border security implemented through state agencies, we’ll see a staged withdrawal of the Guard begin in short order after a bill hits his desk.  At that point, barring another border crisis (real or manufactured), all of the Big Three will then declare victory as the Guard exits the field while receiving the thanks of a grateful state.

And from Jones:

Abbott did a masterful job of avoiding getting drawn into the Straus-Patrick feud over the continued presence of the Texas National Guard on the border.

For all intents and purposes, he agreed with Straus that the guard troops need to be brought home as soon as possible and agreed with Patrick that they should stay until a new plan to secure the border involving the hiring of DPS officers and expanded local police forces has been implemented.  

Given the myriad of issues Abbott touched on, it was symbolically important that not a word was devoted to either the repeal of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants or a ban on sanctuary cities. By omission Abbott made it crystal clear that those bills should be left to die in committee.

Abbott also in his speech continued his efforts begun at the start of the gubernatorial campaign to reach out to Latino voters via both his rhetoric as well as his proposals for improving pre-K education and public education more generally, while simultaneously not discussing those hot button issues that alienate Latino voters from the GOP most intensely: in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and a ban on sanctuary cities.

While the emphasis on border security results in exasperated expressions and comments among many Democratic elites who correctly state that the border has never been more secure than it is today, the reality is that the goal of improving security on the Texas-Mexico border enjoys widespread support among Texans.  And, Abbott effectively addressed in his speech the one principal source of dissonance among supporters of a secure border: the questionable continued presence of the Texas National Guard patrolling the border.  Pretty much everyone was left satisfied: those who believe the guard should be withdrawn now know that the troops will be home at some point this summer while those that believe the guard should stay at the border now know that it will remain there until it is relieved by a combination of DPS officers and additional county sheriff deputies supported by state funds.
Also, by and large Abbott tended to stress non-partisan or bi-partisan issues of education, ethnics reform and transportation, and generally avoided too many overtly partisan references, although certainly his support for open carry and for property tax relief caused some sour expressions among many Democrats.
Also from Jones:
Governor Abbott signaled to the 20 to 40 House Republicans who oppose the passage of open carry legislation that they would be wise to pick their battles elsewhere; perhaps for instance on campus carry legislation, which remained unmentioned by the governor.


Howard not sure what Abbott meant in name dropping her

State Rep. Donna Howard had no idea Gov. Greg Abbott was going to name drop her in his first ever State of the State speech Tuesday.

The newly-minted Republican governor called on several lawmakers by name in his 45-minute address, including the outspoken Austin Democrat when he noted that his budget proposal “includes an appropriation that makes school districts whole for any tax revenue they may lose” under the $4.2 billion in tax cuts it also calls for, including $2.2 billion to school property taxes.

Howard, who said she had no prior discussion with Abbott on the topic, noted that it was not entirely clear — in either Abbott’s remarks or his budget proposal unveiled Tuesday — whether he thinks the state should let local school districts keep property tax revenue growth (projected at about $4.5 billion for 2016-17 biennium) or if he was saying simply that the state should make up for any of that revenue it takes away, although she suspects the latter.

“If he is saying he wants it to go back into education, then I’m all for that,” said Howard, who serves on a budget subcommittee handling public education funding.

Howard, a former Eanes school district board member, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, have harped on the fact that as local property tax collections soar, the amount the state must pay into public education diminishes. House and Senate first-draft budgets handle the issue differently with the House spending plan letting school districts keep a lot of that and the Senate instead returning it to taxpayers in the form of property tax cuts. As a result, the House spends about $2 billion more on public schools, although it hasn’t specified how to use that sum.

“I do appreciate the fact that he publicly acknowledged and recognized that property value increases are currently just offsetting what the state owes and that the state has been taking those funds … and using them in whatever way the state chooses to and not necessarily using it for public education,” Howard told the American-Statesman. “We need to correct that.”

After offering his assurance to Howard, Abbott immediately said: “But the property tax reduction must be lasting. We cannot allow it to evaporate with rising property valuations.” That is largely what happened after state lawmakers cut school property taxes in 2006 by $7 billion, which meant most property owners did not really notice it although tax bills likely would be much higher now if not for it.

The business franchise tax expansion passed to make up for that massive cut also has never fully made up for the lost revenue.

Howard said she has trouble imagining how things could go any differently this time around, although she conceded the devil is in the details, which are often sparse in Abbott’s proposed two-year spending plan.

On Tuesday, Abbott “talked about holding the schools harmless,” Howard said. “That’s exactly what we said then when we did the property tax swap and we did not uphold our end of the bargain then. I don’t know why I believe we would be holding up our end of the bargain with a new proposition like this.”

“The way I would address it is: Let’s go ahead and put more state money in and really hold them harmless so we’re really not taking as much from the local property owners,” she said.



State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin

Gov. Greg Abbott ‘welds’ a bit of humor into higher ed discussion

Gov. Greg Abbott had a rather clever line Tuesday in the portion of his state of the state address devoted to higher education. Alas, my colleague Jonathan Tilove tells me the governor has used it before.

The moment came as Abbott spoke of how a two-year certificate or degree, as opposed to a four-year degree, can suit some people just fine. He gave the example of Justin Friend, who earned a two-year welding credential from Texas State Technical College in Waco and made about $140,000 during his second year in the business.

“I’m thinking if this governor thing doesn’t work out, I’m going to TSTC and getting myself a welding certificate,” Abbott said.