5 best zingers from the Republican debate

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Cox Media Group National Content Desk

BOULDER, Colo. – Republican presidential hopefuls sparred Wednesday night in their third debate – and, unsurprisingly, there were plenty of memorable moments.

Here are some of the best zingers from the face-off, hosted by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado:

1. Bush and Rubio duke it out. The Florida Sun Sentinel recently called for the resignation of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who reportedly has missed one-third of this year’s Senate votes.

Jeb Bush seemed to agree, telling Rubio to shape up or ship out.

“You should be showing up to work,” Bush said. “I mean literally, the Senate, what is it, like a French work week? You have like three days where you have to show up? You can campaign or just resign and let someone else take the job.”

Rubio was ready with a quick retort.

“The only reason why you’re [attacking me] now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” he said.

>> Click here to watch the clip

2. Cruz calls out the debate moderators. Although plenty of candidates blasted the media in Wednesday’s matchup, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made headlines with his attack, which received enthusiastic applause from the audience.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” he said. “This is not a cage match. And if you look at the questions – ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ ‘John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?’ ‘Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?’ ‘Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?”

He added, “The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and why?'”

>> Click here to watch the video

3. Rubio takes aim at Hillary Clinton – and the media, too. The Florida senator also charged at media outlets while taking a swipe at the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate.

“The Democrats have the ultimate super PAC – they’re called the mainstream media,” he said.

“Last week, Hillary Clinton went before a committee. She admitted she had sent emails to her family saying, ‘Hey, this attack in Benghazi was caused by al-Qaida-like elements.’ She spent over a week telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of a video. And yet the mainstream media is saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was the week she got exposed as a liar. … But she has her super PAC helping her out – the American mainstream media.”

>> Watch the clip here

4. Christie blasts fantasy football topic. After Bush told moderators how he’d tackle regulation of the popular pastime, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stepped in to shut down the line of questioning.

“Wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt,” Christie said. “We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al-Qaida attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?”

He added, “How about this? How about we get the government to do what they’re supposed to be doing, secure our borders, protect our people, and support American values and American families. Enough on fantasy football. Let people play. Who cares?”

>> Click here to watch

5. Carson takes on “PC culture.” When Ben Carson was asked to address his views on homosexuality, the neurosurgeon said, “I believe that our Constitution protects everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other aspect. I also believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. And there is no reason that you can’t be perfectly fair to the gay community.”

But his comments soon turned toward the issue of political correctness.

“They shouldn’t automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe,” he said. “And this is one of the myths that the left perpetrates on our society, and this is how they frighten people and get people to shut up. You know, that’s what the PC culture is all about, and it’s destroying this nation.”

>> Watch the video here

At GOP debate, candidates turn on their questioners

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush went after his protege-turned-rival, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, for missing Senate votes to campaign for president. But the most acrimonious exchanges at the third Republican debate Wednesday debate were between the Republican candidates and the CNBC panelists and what Donald Trump described as their “nasty and ridiculous questions.”

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” said U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who won a tremendous ovation from the live audience at the University of Colorado in Boulder for corralling the grievances of his fellow candidates into a sustained, well-delivered attack on the interrogators from CNBC, the cable channel that broadcast the debate.

“This is not a cage match, and if you look at the questions: `Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain?’ `Ben Carson, can you do math?’ `John Kasich, will you insult the two people over here?’ `Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?’ `Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’”  Cruz said.

“How about talking about the substantive issues people care about? The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, `Which of you is more handsome and wise?'” Cruz continued. “And let me be clear: The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. And nobody watching at home believes that any of the moderators have any intention of voting at a Republican primary.”

Cruz’s attack struck a powerful nerve with the party faithful, in the live audience, on social media and in Frank Luntz’s focus group, where the renowned Republican pollster and consultant monitors second-by-second responses to every line delivered in the debate.

“Ted Cruz’s focus group dials hits 98 with his attack on media bias,” Luntz tweeted. “That’s the highest score we’ve ever measured. EVER.”

Even before the debate had ended, the Cruz campaign was raising money online with the message:  “Tell the Media: Stop the Attacks.”

“I don’t know who will win but there’s widespread agreement that CNBC lost tonight,” tweeted Amanda Carpenter, Cruz’s former communications director.

There is no richer vein in Republican politics than animus toward what conservatives perceive to be a powerful left-wing, Democratic bias in the so-called mainstream media.

In January 2012, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich injected a sharp shot of adrenaline into his campaign for president by rebuking CNN’s John King at a Republican presidential debate for asking him a question about his second ex-wife’s allegation that he suggested that she accept his affairs as part of their marriage.

“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office,” Gingrich said to thunderous applause at the Charleston, S.C., debate. “And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

“I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans,” Gingrich said.

“The Democrats have the ultimate super PAC; it’s called the mainstream media,” Rubio said Wednesday.

“Last week Hillary Clinton went before a committee. She admitted she had sent emails to her family, saying, `Hey, this attack on Benghazi was caused by Al-Qaeda-like elements.’ She spent over a week telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of the video, and yet the mainstream media is going around saying it was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was the week she got exposed as a liar.”

“Tonight saw a revival of the Gingrich 2012 strategy: win applause from a conservative audience by attacking the mainstream press,” said Texas Christian University political scientist Adam Schiffer. “Their obsession with the `liberal media,’ while predictable and dependable as an applause line, completely misses the point. The moderators were indeed awful – but not because of ideology.”

“Instead,” Schiffer said, “they couldn’t manage the clock or the candidates, they were inconsistent with the questioning, and they tried too hard to inject themselves into the story with trivial gotcha questions. But sometimes confrontation is the journalistically responsible approach. For example, Ben Carson’s tax plan simply doesn’t add up. That’s something voters need to know, and who else will tell them?”

Trump, Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who is competing with Trump for front-runner status in the polls,  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rubio all took turns taking whacks at the CNBC questioners and media bias more generally.

When panelist Carl Quintanilla asked Bush a question about regulating gambling on fantasy sports, Christie jumped in.

“Carl, are we really talking about getting the government involved in fantasy football?” Christie said. “Wait a second. We have $19 trillion in debt, we have people out of work, we have ISIS and Al-Qaeda attacking us, and we’re talking about fantasy football?”

Winning cheers, Christie continued, “How about this? How about we get the government to do what they’re supposed to be doing: Secure our borders, protect our people, and support American values and American families. Enough on fantasy football. Let people play. Who cares?”

And when John Harwood, another of the questioners, interrupted as Christie was answering another question, Christie objected,  “No, John, do you want me to answer, or do you want to answer? Because I’ve got to tell you the truth. Even in New Jersey, what you’re doing is called rude.”

Marco Rubio deflects Jeb Bush's criticism of Rubio's Senate absences.
Marco Rubio deflects Jeb Bush’s criticism of Rubio’s Senate absences.

And it appeared that Rubio, who was a far more dominant presence Wednesday night than at the first two debates, got the better of Bush, who sided with Rubio’s media critics in suggesting that he was not living up to his responsibilities as U.S. senator by missing so many votes.

The question to Rubio from Quintanilla cited an editorial from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, calling on Rubio to resign his Senate seat because he is spending so little time there.

“You’ve been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election for your 20s,” Quintanilla said. “Now, you’re skipping more votes than any senator to run for president. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first, or at least finish what you start?”

“Well, that’s an interesting question,” Rubio replied. “That’s exactly what the Republican establishment says, too. Why don’t you wait in line. Wait for what? This country is running out of time. We can’t afford to have another four years like the last eight years.”

Noting that John Kerry, John McCain and Barack Obama all missed a lot of Senate votes in their successful campaigns for their party’s presidential nomination, Rubio said, “So, this is another example of the double standard that exists in this country, between the mainstream media and the conservative movement.”

But Bush, who now finds his campaign competing head to head in polls with Rubio in the middle ranks of the field, and competing for the same donor dollars, joined in the attack on Rubio, who was standing right next to him.

“I’m a constituent of the senator, and I helped him, and I expected that he would do constituent service, which means that he shows up to work,” Bush said. “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work. Literally, the Senate, what it is like a French work week? You get like three days when you have to show up?”

Rubio shot back that Bush was modeling his comeback candidacy on McCain’s in 2008, which involved a lot of missed Senate votes.

“Do you know how many votes John McCain missed?” he asked. “I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record.”

“The only reason why you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you,” Rubio said. “Here’s the bottom line: my campaign is about the future of America. It’s not going to be about attacking anyone else on this stage.”

“The key moment was the confrontation between Rubio and Bush,” said Claremont-McKenna College political scientist John Pitney. “Rubio won. Bush lost. And it’s a double win for Rubio because he will inherit Bush’s support.”

“Jeb Bush did not help his cause tonight,” said Joshua Scacco, an expert on political communication at Purdue University. “His line of attack against Marco Rubio’s attendance record was anticipated by the Florida senator and rebutted in a way that made Rubio look stronger. Bush had to distinguish himself, particularly for donors wary of a looming multi-million dollar failure. The donors may be looking elsewhere after tonight.”

“Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were at their best when they went after the news media, Scacco said.  “CNBC did not help their cause by allowing candidates to go over time, apologizing for particular lines of questioning, or allowing the candidates to talk over one another.”

“Marco Rubio hit several home runs: he was polished, if not slightly rehearsed,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. “Ted Cruz attacked the media with sensible outrage, given the context.”

David Redlawsk, a Rutgers University political scientist who is a fellow this semester at Drake University in Iowa, rated both CNBC and Bush as losers in the debate.

“First, the biggest loser was CNBC,” Redlawsk said. “But it is not entirely the moderators’ fault. Ten candidates on stage is too many when the stakes are getting as high as they are. Randomly splitting the 14 into two equal-sized debates seems to make more sense.”

“Second,” he said, “Jeb Bush just did not give any real sense of why people should continue to consider him.”


Nathan Hecht pays $1,000 to end $29,000 ethics fine

Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has settled a long-running ethics case by agreeing to pay $1,000 — down from a $29,000 fine issued in 2008 after state regulators determined that he violated campaign finance rules by receiving a large discount on legal fees.

The settlement agreement, released Wednesday, ends Hecht’s appeal of the fine and specifies that neither Hecht nor the Texas Ethics Commission prevailed in the dispute.

Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, settled a long-running ethics case by agreeing to pay $1,000.
Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, settled a long-running ethics case by agreeing to pay $1,000.

And while the settlement acknowledged that the public has an interest in knowing about fee arrangements between public officials and their lawyers, “certainly things could have been clearer in the law governing such fee agreements,” the document said.

Watchdogs criticized the settlement, which must be approved by a district judge.

“Nathan Hecht is being let off the hook, pure and simple,” said Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, which filed the ethics complaint in 2007 that led to Hecht’s fine. “This saga makes a mockery of so-called ethics ‘enforcement.’”

But Hecht’s lawyer, Steve McConnico, said the written settlement between Hecht and the ethics commission includes language that should help lawyers and judges handle future billing arrangements.

The $1,000 settlement payment from Hecht will go into the state’s general fund and should not considered a fine, McConnico added.

“A fine is where some government agency said you violated this. This is a payment to settle a suit, it’s not a fine,” he said. “I think both sides just want to be done with the lawsuit, and this is the simplest way to get it settled.”

The Hecht saga began in 2006, when the State Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded Hecht for misusing the prestige of his judicial office when the White House tapped him to become a vocal advocate for the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of his longtime friend, Harriet Miers.

Hecht hired nationally recognized First Amendment lawyer Chip Babcock to challenge the decision, eventually winning when a special review court tossed out the reprimand.

But Hecht found himself in trouble again when Babcock’s bill included a $167,200 discount. Because Hecht paid his legal bill with campaign donations, the ethics commission determined that Babcock’s fee discount amounted to a political contribution that violated the $5,000 legal limit on donations from law firms and from individual lawyers.

Hecht appealed the ruling and fine to Travis County District Court in January 2009, where little action had been taken until last year, when the Texans for Public Justice watchdog group filed suit seeking to remove then-Attorney General Greg Abbott from the case, arguing that Abbott violated his duties by failing to pursue the case on ethics commission’s behalf.

“Hecht’s fine is seven years late and $28,000 light,” said Craig McDonald with Texans for Public Justice. “Hecht’s token fine is not just an immediate outrage, its a long-term blow against the ethics commission’s authority.

GOP candidates square off in Colorado debate

The top 10 Republican candidates for president debate in Boulder, Colo., at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.

Update 9:05: CNBC moderators took center stage at the third GOP presidential debate, as several candidates took aim at what they called unfair questions.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the last to blame moderators, complaining about John Harwood’s interjections: “Even in New Jersey, what you’re doing is called rude.”

Update 8:50: Donald Trump said he would feel more comfortable if his employees carried guns to work.

“I think gun-free zones are a catastrophe. They are feeding frenzies for sick people,” Trump said at the GOP presidential debate Wednesday night.

When asked if Trump resorts that don’t allow guns should change their policies, Trump said, “I would change them.”

Update 7:55 p.m.: U.S. Sen Ted Cruz drew huge applause in the GOP presidential debate Wednesday night by attacking the moderators for trying to turn the debate into a “cage match.”

“The questions illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said.

Given a second chance to answer a question about the pending federal budget agreement, Cruz continued to attack the moderators.

Moderator John Harwood then shut down Cruz and addressed U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

“You don’t want to hear the answer, John?” Cruz said.

“You used your time on something else,” Harwood told him.

Update 7:44: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, facing a pivotal moment in his flagging presidential campaign, attacked fellow Floridian U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for being absent for votes in the Senate while running for president.

“You should be showing up to work,” Bush said at the third GOP debate Wednesday,  or “just resign.”

Rubio deflected a question about a South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial calling for Rubio to resign by saying the mainstream media has a double standard with Republican and Democratic candidates, drawing the biggest applause line of the night so far.

Update 7:35: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, standing at the end of the GOP presidential debate stage, came out swinging Wednesday night, calling the tax plans of frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson “fantasy.”

“Folks we gotta wake up. We cannot elect somebody who doesn’t know how to do the job,” Kasich said. “These plans would put us trillions and trillions of dollars in debt. … Why don’t we just give a chicken in every pot.”

Kasich, who touted his experience balancing budgets in Congress and in Ohio, said his plan would “create jobs, cut taxes and balance the budget.”

Earlier: Donald Trump’s standing in the important early voting state of Iowa is slipping, and his appeal is dimming nationally, at least according to a recent poll. Will he continue to bask in the debate stage limelight?

Fellow political novice Ben Carson finds himself leading the race in one poll out this week. His laconic debate style didn’t leave a strong impression in the first two debates. Will that be enough this time around?

Jeb Bush recently cut staff and needs a strong, aggressive showing to reassure his donors. If he turns in another milk toast performance, his supporters may start searching for a new candidate.

Ted Cruz has been scooping up backers of Scott Walker, who departed the race since the last debate, and claims momentum, but he is still registering in single digits in national polls. Last debate Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, ranked near the bottom in terms of air time. Will he seek to play a bigger role in this debate?

Marco Rubio is now in a distant third place, according to an aggregate of polls, and the top ranked politician in the race. Can he break free from the pack in Boulder?

Austin-born Carly Fiorina scored points in the first two debates, but she hasn’t been rewarded in the polls. How will she be remembered in the third debate?

For those in the back of the pack — Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich — this debate stage seems the best, and possibly last, chance to make a strong impression.

The four remaining candidates — Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham — will debate separately at 5 p.m.



5 things to watch for at the third Republican presidential debate

The third Republican presidential debate between the top 10 candidates — Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie and John Kasich — is 7 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It will run two hours and will be broadcast on CNBC. The theme is “your money, your vote.” Five things to keep an eye on:

University of Colorado facilities management employee Jon Klarich puts up banners outside the Coors Events Center, the venue for the Oct. 28 Republican presidential debate, at CU Boulder, Colo., Monday Oct. 26, 2015. Republican presidential candidates taking the debate stage are hoping to carry momentum from a 2014 U.S. Senate victory in this toss-up state where independent voters outnumber the electorate from both major parties. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
University of Colorado facilities management employee Jon Klarich puts up banners outside the Coors Events Center, the venue for the Oct. 28 Republican presidential debate, at CU Boulder, Colo., Monday Oct. 26, 2015. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

1. Trump’s two-front war: This thing’s getting serious, and Trump can be expected to continue to goad Bush with belittlement and cast doubt on Carson.

2. Jeb! Game or lame?: The debate follows Bush slashing staff and talking about other “really cool things” he could be doing. Will he appear up to the fight or headed out the door?

3. Gentle Ben: Carson’s quietude underwhelmed at earlier debates, but did nothing to undermine his steady rise to front-runner status in the latest CBS/New York Times poll. Can he stick to his whisper campaign?

4. In the wings: If Trump and Carson fade, it could become a Cruz-Rubio contest. Look for each to audition for the lead.

5. She’s Carly: She’s had two electric debate performances, but since then Fiorina’s mojo flagged. Can a third spark a resurgence and convince Republicans she’s not really trying out for vice president?

Ted Cruz adds billionaire backer to presidential campaign

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a press conference Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Houston. AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a press conference Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Houston. AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

By Julie Bykowicz

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has picked up the backing of a Texas billionaire and the state’s lieutenant governor, his campaign said Monday.

Darwin Deason, a technology entrepreneur, and his son, Doug, had given millions of dollars to the 2016 efforts of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who ended his bid for the White House last month.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — a one-time foe of the Texas senator — also will now serve as the Texas chairman of Cruz’s presidential campaign.

Cruz is one of several Republican presidential candidates with Texas ties, but he has dominated the state’s generous donor class. In the first nine months of the year, Cruz raised more than three times as much in the state as did Jeb Bush, according to an Associated Press analysis of donations.

Bush, a former Florida governor, spent much of his youth in Texas, and his father and brother, both former presidents, still call the state home.

Cruz called his own fundraising “astonishing” and said it’s “positively nuts” that he’s in some ways in a stronger financial position than Bush.

“There are some other campaigns that have a lot of high-dollar donors and bundlers, but not much grassroots support,” he said, speaking just a few miles away from where the Bush family was rallying around Jeb Bush at an event for his donors.

Patrick’s backing of Cruz gives him a powerful surrogate in a delegate-rich state where Republican primary voters go to the polls March 1. And adding the Deasons to his financial team could significantly boost Cruz’s presidential campaign accounts.

Earlier this year, Darwin Deason poured $5 million into pro-Perry super PACs — making him one of the biggest contributors in presidential politics. After Perry’s withdrawal from the race, the super PACs returned much of that money.

Cruz also has super PACs working on his behalf. Those groups can take unlimited amounts from donors, while the campaigns themselves cannot accept contribution checks from each donor of more than $2,700 per election.

When super PACs are factored into the mix, Cruz’s fundraising is second only to Bush’s in the GOP field. Together, the pro-Cruz groups had raised at least $64 million by the end of September, fundraising documents show.

Bush and Cruz have both shown they can land big contribution checks. But Cruz holds a sharp fundraising advantage over Bush when it comes to small donors.

While only about 4 percent of Bush’s campaign haul has come from contributors giving $200 or less, 41 percent of Cruz’s campaign money is coming from such small donors, fundraising records show.

Those kinds of givers are especially valuable because they can provide a constant stream of cash without taking up the candidate’s time attending traditional fundraising events.

The Deasons are marquee names for Cruz, but he has quietly consolidated the support of many former donors to Perry and another 2016 dropout, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The Cruz campaign added five other former Perry backers to its finance team, officials said on Monday.

Cruz gained a larger share of those candidates’ donors than anyone else in the race, according to an analysis by crowdpac.com, a nonpartisan political analytics company.

After $68 million deal, 2 state workers and vendor being investigated

By J. David McSwane, Andrea Ball

Two state health workers are being investigated for potential conflicts of interest involving how a $68 million contract was awarded by the Health and Human Services Commission, a massive agency struggling to rebuild after becoming the focus of a contract scandal and subsequent criminal investigations.

Technology service managers Jean Garcia and Pam Lamb remain in their jobs while investigators at the commission’s Office of Inspector General look into their potential relationship with a vendor competing for state business, officials told the American-Statesman on Monday.

“There is an open investigation by the inspector general’s office — really into two areas,” Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor said. “One is whether evaluators conducted themselves appropriately in the process and whether or not vendors involved in the procurement conducted themselves appropriately.”

The investigation was triggered last week after the Statesman asked questions about two contracts — one worth $68 million for technology services and another worth $30 million for office furniture — signed last month with SHI Government Solutions.

Both Garcia and Lamb were involved in a grading process that led to the $68 million contract, records show. Officials said both are being investigated for a possible conflict of interest with another vendor that was competing for that business, Austin Ribbon & Computer.

“There is potential that evaluators and vendors may have compromised the procurement in some way,” Traylor said.

Responding to the Statesman’s questions last week, officials discovered Garcia had sent an email to an Austin Ribbon & Computer employee in which she provided her daughter’s resume and inquired about a job for her, Traylor said. The email was sent well before the bidding process began, he said.

Lamb, who works for the Department of State Health Services, is being investigated because as SHI was poised to get the contracts, she tried to boost her score for Austin Ribbon & Computer, said Ron Pigott, the commission’s top contract oversight manager.

Had she been allowed to update her score, SHI would have lost the $68 million deal to Austin Ribbon & Computer, Traylor said.

Why Lamb asked to change her score is unclear. Neither employee responded to emails sent by the Statesman last week and Monday.

Attempts to reach Austin Ribbon & Computer were unsuccessful.

The inquiry is the latest contract hiccup after a year of scandal following the commission’s contract with 21CT, an Austin data analytics company hired to help detect Medicaid fraud. A $90 million contract extension with 21CT was canceled in December following a Statesman investigation that revealed problems with the deal, including the lack of a traditional bidding process, little oversight and a possible conflict of interest.

Investigations by the FBI and the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office continue.

The contract with SHI was brokered through the same program as the 21CT deal, through a so-called master contract awarded to the company by the Department of Information Resources. Unlike the 21CT deal, however, officials say SHI faced significant vetting and competition before given a state contract.

Contract protested

Questions about the $68 million SHI deal emerged in September, when another bidder, CSI Leasing, filed a protest over the technology contract. The company accused the state of not following new contract rules created by the Legislature in the wake of the 21CT debacle. The state contests that, saying they followed proper procedure.

A director for SHI Government Solutions — which has been paid at least $445 million by Texas agencies — said the company won the contract fair and square.

“We are confident that the bidding process was conducted properly and that we were awarded the contract on the merits of our terms,” Darron Gross, director of sales for the company, told the Statesman.

But CSI also argues that SHI was falsely described as a historically underutilized business in the company’s bid for the contract.

Historically underutilized businesses are women- and minority-owned businesses that receive special consideration when competing for state contracts. They must be designated by the state as a small business — criteria can vary — and the company owner must live in Texas.

Health commission officials say they didn’t give more preference or points to SHI because of that status, but state agencies often prefer to contract with businesses classified as historically underutilized because of internal benchmarks for giving a certain percentage of work to local companies owned by minorities and women.

CSI says SHI isn’t the sort of company that is supposed to be helped by the program. First, CSI representatives say, owner Koguan Leo does not live in Texas. So on Sept. 29, the Texas comptroller’s office — which approves historically underutilized business designations — sent a letter to SHI’s Austin office asking Leo to prove his residency by providing tax forms, his license, identification or voter’s registration card, and other information.

When the comptroller officials didn’t receive those documents by Oct. 15, the agency pulled the company’s historically underutilized business status.

But the state reinstated that status Monday after Leo’s lawyer said his client had not received the state’s letter and accused the agency of failing to follow its own rules.

“Remedying your premature certification revocation is paramount to my client,” Leo’s lawyer wrote to the state. “Accordingly, my client will provide the requested documentation as soon as possible.”

CSI also contends that SHI is too big to be a small business.

SHI Government Solutions, based in Austin, is an affiliate of SHI International, a $6 billion, New Jersey-based company founded by Leo and Thai Lee. In its bid to the state, SHI Government Solutions stated that it is affiliated with the larger company and that it handles some of the Austin office’s administrative work, such as paying rent, leases and other expenses.

The Austin company files separate tax forms, said comptroller spokeswoman Lauren Willis. Because of that, she said, the state doesn’t have to consider SHI International’s finances when determining historically underutilized business designation. Thus, SHI Government Solutions meets the size requirements, she said.

Is SHI an underutilized business?

Dozens of records reviewed by the Statesman give the appearance that the Texas office is a subsidiary of the multinational company:

• SHI International’s website refers to SHI Government Services as a regional office.

• The New Jersey company advertises for Austin jobs online, noting that SHI International is a $6 billion company.

• SHI International’s career page states that the company was “recognized by our employees as one of the best places to work in both Austin, Texas, and New Jersey.”

• The company shares key employees with Government Solutions, including Gross, who is described on SHI International’s website as “responsible for SHI’s government and academic business across seven states.” A contract specialist listed in the Texas bid documents works on SHI International deals across the county and an IT security employee named in SHI Government Service’s bid has a New Jersey address.

• The domain registration for SHI Government Services was paid for and registered in New Jersey.

Gross did not respond to a phone call and email about the historically underutilized business size questions but did say in an email last week that “for more than 15 years and through multiple re-certifications, SHI Government Solutions has met the qualifications for HUB designation.”

A CSI official said he could not comment because the review of the company’s complaint is ongoing.

Ten questions: On Patrick endorsing Cruz, the winnowing of the Democratic field and other cool things Jeb could be doing

Good morning Austin:

A lot has happened in the last week.

The Democratic field has winnowed. Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee are out and Joe Biden is not getting in.

Hillary Clinton testified before a House Select Committee on Benghazi for roughly the length of time of a Jerry Lewis Telethon, except that she was the whole show and she didn’t sweat, smoke a cigarette, say, “Hey, laaaaady!” or sing, You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Ben Carson passed Donald Trump in polling in Iowa, and Trump, who is leading every other poll in every other place, was not pleased.  In retaliation, he intimated that his religion is better – or at least more socially acceptable – than Carson’s religion.

Carson defended himself from Trump’s suggestion that he was low energy by reminding Chuck Todd on Meet the Press Sunday that, “As a teenager. I would go after people with rocks, and bricks, and baseball bats, and hammers. And, of course, many people know the story when I was 14 and I tried to stab someone.”

Jeb Bush dramatically reduced his campaign’s personnel budget, and said there are “a lot of really cool things” he could be doing besides running for president, and that if America loves Trump so much, why don’t they marry him.

And, this very morning, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is endorsing Ted Cruz for president of the United States, even though, or maybe because, former President George W. Bush let it be known of Cruz that, “I really don’t like that guy.”

To help sort all this out, here are some answers to ten follow-up questions.

1Why is Dan Patrick endorsing Ted Cruz for president today?

FR – Simple. Because, when he was running for lieutenant governor, Patrick pledged to support Ted Cruz if he ran for president, and he is a man of his word.

Here is what Patrick said in September 2013:

My opponents have criticized my statement published in the Texas Tribune recently where I said that I would support Senator Cruz if he were to be a candidate f or president.

It is true that I did not support candidate Cruz during the (U.S. Senate) primary elections – but then again neither did any of my opponents. I supported Ted in the General Election, as did all good Republicans.

Since taking office, Sen.Cruz has impressed me, over and over. I have been quick to give him credit where credit is due. I appreciate Ted for his willingness to take strong stands in Washington. He is providing critical leadership for other conservatives. He is the prescription for what is ailing the country and our Party.

Two of my opponents, Commissioner Staples and Commissioner Patterson are quick to call me a flip-flopper.

Unlike Mr. Staples and Mr. Patterson, I am not afraid to say I would support Ted Cruz if he were to be a candidate for President. Neither of them seem convinced that he is the right candidate or have yet mustered that courage to say so.

I choose not to act like a politician, never admitting a mistake. It is amazing to me that my opponents do not recognize or will not admit what an outstanding job Ted Cruz is doing in Washington, pressing the battle for conservative ideas.

“Who are Mr. Staples and Mr. Patterson supporting for President in 2016 – Chris Christie?


Good one.

2. Will Gov. Abbott back Ted Cruz for president?

FR: Hmm. Good question. Don’t know.

Abbott has indicated he may endorse a candidate for president before the March 1 primary.

After early voting on Wednesday, Abbott once again laid out his criteria for picking a candidate.

From Brandi Grissom at the Dallas Morning News:

Abbott listed the top criteria for a candidate to win his support:

– “Do more than talk, but take action to secure the border.”

– Fix Medicaid. “Promise and commit to at least a block grant program so that Texans can do a better job of taking care of themselves with regard to the health care system.”

– Stop federal overreach by agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “I’m looking for a candidate who will rein in what Barack Obama has done under the EPA.”

– Repeal or overhaul financial regulations of the Dodd-Frank Act, which he said is “really hampering the ability of both lenders to make loans and borrowers to access capital.”

So far, he said, no one has checked all those boxes.

“Not ruling out, not ruling in any candidates,” Abbott said. “I will continue to evaluate the process as they move forward.”

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


Abbott could endorse Cruz, but he need not.

Cruz was his solicitor general when he was attorney general. He can take credit for being his mentor. Cruz is a likely front-runner in Texas, or at the very least will be depending on Texas to keep him in the competition, and he is extraordinarily popular with the Republican base, which might be mightily displeased if Abbott seemed to be dissing Cruz by failing to endorse him or, far worse, endorsing another candidate.

On the other hand, Abbott and Cruz are in contention to be the top GOP dog in Texas, Abbott is not quite as keen on making enemies as Cruz, and there are some Republicans in the state who would think more of Abbott if he steered clear of Cruz.

But, if not Cruz, who?

I think Abbott actually believes, after a long career in elective office, that some experience in governing is an advantage. That would rule out Trump and Ben Carson – who, with his wife, visited with Abbott Monday while in Austin – and Carly Fiorina.

It would make no sense to endorse someone who could not compete effectively in Texas.

Jeb Bush is struggling, and so anathema to tea party folks, that Abbott would pay a steep price for endorsing him.

Rand Paul is fading fast. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are too moderate and have no traction in Texas.

Which leaves Marco Rubio, who Ross Douthat, the so-called conservative columnist at the New York Times, wrote Sunday, is the one.

The betting markets have him as the most likely nominee, and — since this is quadrennial prediction time — I’ll say that I agree: I think he’s the real front-runner, and I predict that he will win.

But, as far as I know, Rubio has made no effort to court Abbott, and for Abbott to endorse anyone but Cruz would be a very bold move by a very cautious politician.

Ted Cruz at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Ted Cruz at Prestonwood Baptist Church


3. Is Ted Cruz dislikable enough to be president?

FR: Well, yes. Sure he is.

Normally, this question is asked in the reverse, as Erica Grieder did last week in Texas Monthly.

Is Ted Cruz Likeable Enough To Be President?

That followed the blockbuster story by Eli Stokols at Politico, which began like this:

Inside a sleek Denver condominium, George W. Bush let a hundred donors to his brother’s campaign in on a secret. Of all the rival Republican candidates, there is one who gets under the former president’s skin, whom he views as perhaps Jeb Bush’s most serious rival for the party’s nomination.

It isn’t Donald Trump, whose withering insults have sought to make Jeb pay a political price for his brother’s presidency. It isn’t Marco Rubio, Jeb’s former understudy who now poses a serious threat to his establishment support.

 It’s George W. Bush’s former employee — Ted Cruz.

“I just don’t like the guy,” Bush said Sunday night, according to conversations with more than half a dozen donors who attended the event.

One donor in the room said the former president had been offering mostly anodyne accounts of how the Bush family network views the current campaign and charming off-the-cuff jokes, until he launched into Cruz.

“I was like, ‘Holy sh-t, did he just say that?’” the donor said. “I remember looking around and seeing that other people were also looking around surprised.”

Of course, W is not alone among Republican heavyweights in his low opinion of Cruz.

House Speaker John Boehner, also at a Colorado fundraiser, referred to Cruz this summer as “that jackass,” and later as a “false prophet.”

John McCain took an instant dislike to Cruz when he arrived in the Senate, labeling him a “wacko bird.”

And earlier this month, McCain’s alter ego, Mark Salter, wrote a scathing column at Real Clear Politics, which began:

Although I find Sen. Ted Cruz’s “lonely man of principle” act as tired as it is phony, I should give the devil his due. Cruz has given Americans exasperated with Washington gridlock hope that Congress can, when sufficiently motivated, find consensus and act.

In this instance, the consensus is that Ted Cruz is a jackass.

Last week it was columnist Frank Bruni’s turn at the New York Times, with The Scary Specter of Ted Cruz:

And remember that when someone is as broadly and profoundly disliked as Cruz is, it’s usually not because he’s a principled truth teller.

It’s because he’s frightening.

The Huffington Post.

OK. So Cruz has a bit of an edge.

But the ads write themselves.

“I just don’t like the guy.” George W. Bush.

“What a jackass,” John Boehner.

“He’s a wacko bird,” John McCain.

Stop the Washington Cartel: Cruz for President

Likability is overrated.

Barack Obama is really likable, and yet he may be the most hated person in the country, in the world.

You want likable? There’s Rubio.

You want stand-up tough? It’s Cruz.

Cruz fashions himself the next Reagan, but maybe he’s more Nixon.

A lot of people hated him, but, before  he wasn’t, he was the one.

From Grieder:

Since Cruz was first elected to the United States Senate in 2012, I’ve heard more people than I can count express the same kind of aversion that Bush did over the weekend. I’ve heard it so often that I think it has to be taken seriously, even though the feeling has consistently been reported without reference to a compelling explanation, and often without any stated reason at all.

While reporting Texas Monthly’s 2014 profile, for example, I talked to dozens of sources who had personal history with Cruz—these were conservatives, contemporaries, most of them Texans. Some of them did express a visceral distaste for the senator. But when I asked those sources to elaborate, none of them produced a concrete reason. They just disliked the guy. The only explanations offered were ex post facto and unconvincing.

OK, but Cruz is courting trouble, in the Republican race, but especially in the general election if he is the nominee, by running a campaign that seems predicated on the idea that an electoral and governing majority can be assembled entirely of people to the right of George W. Bush and Chief Justice John Roberts.

It is a strategy that doesn’t do him much harm – and may help him – with the base in a crowded race.

But, as the former president’s comments suggest, there are powerful people in the Republican Party who I think would rather see Hillary Clinton elected president – would rather see Bernie Sanders elected president – than Ted Cruz.


4What other cool things Jeb Bush could be doing if he weren’t running for president?

FR: Here is what Bush said over the weekend in South Carolina:

If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.


Well, all right then.

Not that you feel entitled or anything, and not that Trump is getting to you, but, say, for instance, what cool things?

I don’t know.

I did a little digging, and this is what I came up with:


1 – Horseshoes. His father installed a horseshoe pit at the White House, probably on the instructions of Lee Atwater, who figured it was a good activity while eating pork rinds.


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Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.38.58 PM

What else?

2 – Skiing.

From the New York Times’ First Draft in January.

“I like to ski.”

Jeb Bush, while boarding a plane at Reagan National Airport heading to Salt Lake City, responded to questions about whether he was going to meet with Mitt Romney in Utah.

5Who makes better presidents –  Presbyterians or Seventh Day Adventists?

FR: In between calling Bernie Sanders “a communist,” and suggesting that if you want America to go to hell, Hillary is your girl, Trump, in a raging river, stream of consciousness rant in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday, hurled a few insults in the direction of mild-mannered Ben Carson, including a seemingly dismissive comment about Carson being a Seventh Day Adventist.


I’m Presbyterian. Can you believe it? Nobody believes I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks. In all fairness, I mean, Seventh Day Adventist. I don’t know about.

It is true that there have been a lot of Presbyterian presidents.

Andrew Jackson – 7th U.S. President
James Knox Polk – 11th U.S. President (converted from Presbyterian to Methodist)
James Buchanan – 15th U.S. President
Rutherford B. Hayes – 19th U.S. President
Grover Cleveland – 22nd and 24th U.S. President
Benjamin Harrison – 23rd U.S. President
Woodrow Wilson – 28th U.S. President
Dwight D. Eisenhower – 34th U.S. President
Ronald Reagan – 40th U.S. President

There  have been even more Presbyterian vice presidents.

Aaron Burr – U.S. Vice-President under Jefferson; killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel
Daniel D. Tompkins – U.S. Vice-President under Monroe
John C. Calhoun – U.S. Vice-President under John Quincy Adams and Jackson
John C. Breckinridge – U.S. Vice-President under Buchanan
William A. Wheeler – U.S. Vice-President under Hayes
Thomas A. Hendricks – U.S. Vice-President under Cleveland
Adlai E. Stevenson – U.S. Vice-President under Cleveland
Thomas R. Marshall – U.S. Vice-President under Wilson
Charles G. Dawes – U.S. Vice-President under Coolidge
Henry A. Wallace – U.S. Vice-President under F.D. Roosevelt
Walter Mondale – U.S. Vice-President under Carter
Dan Quayle – U.S. Vice-President under George H.W. Bush

Of course, some of those vice presidents turned out to be losers, when they ran for president. Bob and Elizabeth Dole, both losers as presidential candidates, are also Presbyterians. William Jennings Bryan, a three-times presidential loser, was Presbyterian.

There has not yet been a Seventh Day Adventist president or vice president, according to Adherents.com, and the ranks of SDA politicians is pretty thin – U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson of Houston. Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street. A handful of others.

But Sojourner Truth was SDA. Malcolm X was born SDA. Paul Harvey was SDA.

And Art Buchwald. For a while.

Buchwald’s mother went mad after his birth and was institutionalized, and, according to the New York Times obit by Joseph Severo:

Mr. Buchwald soon parted from his father as well. Joseph Buchwald, unable to support his children after his business ran dry during the Depression, placed his son in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York. Mr. Buchwald was shuttled to a series of foster homes, including a Queens boarding house for sick children — he had rickets — run by Seventh-day Adventists.

There, young Arthur, a Jew, was taught that eating meat, fish and eggs was sinful. Years afterward, he wrote, “There is still a tiny Seventh-day Adventist inside of me screaming to get out every time I make a pass at a tuna fish sandwich.”

Mr. Buchwald remained at the home until he was 5. He and his father and sisters were eventually reunited and lived in Hollis, Queens.

Ben Carson at book signing at Austin Costco
Ben Carson at book signing at Austin Costco

6. Does Ben Carson want a national ban on abortion?

FR: Yes. No. Maybe. Or maybe it all depends on exactly how you frame the question.

This is what Carson told me last week when I asked about Mike Huckabee’s suggestion that the Constitution’s 5th and 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection provisions could be invoked to end abortion.

Carson believes that most decision-making should rest with the states, except when, as in the cases of slavery and Jim Crow, something is “so out of whack” that the federal government needs to assert its authority.

And, for the same reason that he thinks the question of gay marriage ought to have been left to the states, Carson, who opposes abortion, believes regulating abortion should be left to the states.

“I think you have to give the states some leeway on issues that are controversial. There’s no general agreement about life. I obviously believe what I believe, but there are people on the other side who believe just as strongly that that’s not a life,” Carson said. “Now that is moving, it is moving toward the pro-life side as we become more knowledgeable, as ultrasound techniques improve, as endoscopic techniques improve, and we learn more about that individual in the womb.”

“But there’s still quite a dichotomy and it’s always tempting to say, `Now it has to be my way or the highway,’ but we live in a pluralistic society and I think we do much better when we’re willing to sit down and discuss things. When we sit down with somebody who thinks this is a meaningless mass of cells and you begin to explain to them, `We can see this organ and this organ and it’s responding to the environment, the limbs move,’ I think that tends to be a much more powerful, convincing tool than just to say, `This is the way it is,’ and I think that just creates animosity, and I think that’s what we’ve been doing”

But here is what he had to say on Meet the Press Sunday:


Does life begin at conception?


I believe it does.


Does that mean, whose right, I guess, should be superseded? The mother or the unborn child? Whose rights, who has greater rights?


In the ideal situation, the mother should not believe that the baby is her enemy and should not be looking to terminate the baby. You know, things are set up in such a way that the person in the world who has the greatest interest in protecting the baby is the mother. We’ve allowed the purveyors of the division to make mothers think that that baby is their enemy and that they have a right to kill it. Can you see how perverted that line of thinking is?


What if somebody has an unwanted pregnancy? Should they have the right to terminate?


No. Think about this. During slavery– and I know that’s one of those words you’re not supposed to say, but I’m saying it. During slavery, a lot of the slave owners thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave. Anything that they chose to do. And, you know, what if the abolitionist had said, you know, “I don’t believe in slavery. I think it’s wrong. But you guys do whatever you want to do”? Where would we be?


Definitively, do you want to see Roe v. Wade overturned?


Ultimately, I would love to see it overturned.


And that means all abortions illegal? Or is there still an exception that you would have?


I’m a reasonable person. And if people can come up with a reasonable explanation of why they would like to kill a baby, I’ll listen.


Life and health of the mother?


Again, that’s an extraordinarily rare situation. But if in that very rare situation it occurred, I believe there’s room to discuss that.


Rape and incest?


Rape and incest, I would not be in favor of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way. And all you have to do is go and look up the many stories of people who have led very useful lives who were the result of rape or incest.

And then here is another pass on Carson on abortion from an excellent recent piece – The Political Education of Ben Carson – by Yahoo! Politics senior political correspondent Jon Ward.

Given Carson’s flair for impolitic comments, I was surprised to find the 64-year-old candidate curiously opaque when we spoke about matters of importance to conservative voters. At one point I mentioned that rival presidential campaigns were criticizing his views on abortion. “And what is my position on abortion?” he asked, prompting me to explain what his critics were saying.

I told him other candidates had pointed out that in 1992, Carson had said, “I would never advocate it be illegal for a person to get an abortion.”

He indicated that he did not believe that now — “I have definitely changed my views.”

But when I asked Carson whether he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and abortion made illegal without exceptions – both nearly standard positions these days for GOP candidates – he refused to answer.

“I favor life. That’s what I favor,” Carson said.

That wasn’t very clear. So I asked if he instead believed that Roe should remain the law of the land. Again, he didn’t answer the question, talking about how he would appoint Supreme Court justices who “believe in life” and “understand that a baby in the uterus is a human being and is protected by the Constitution.”

“What does that mean for Roe, though?” I pressed.

“It means that we will try to protect human life because all people in our country have a right to the protections of the law,” Carson said.

After four attempts, I moved on. But it was puzzling to me why — when it seemed clear that Carson was pro-life — he refused to be precise about how he would approach laws governing the issue if he were elected president. When I asked Carson’s spokesperson Deana Bass afterward why that was, she said Carson preferred to focus on the process rather than the outcome. She later sent me a text message saying that Carson had been “pretty clear about appointing judges who value life.”

Uncertainty about Carson’s views on abortion go back to 1992, when he appeared in a political ad arguing that Maryland voters should reject a ballot amendment that would have preserved abortion rights in the state in the event that Roe v. Wade was ever overturned. There was an uproar, and Carson disavowed his involvement with the ad, asking the anti-abortion group to remove it.

Carson was defensive about this. “I came from a background where I was a Democrat, and where I was a fairly radical Democrat and had a different belief system,” he told me. “That has changed over the course of time. Does a person not have a right to have an alteration in their thinking over the course of time?”

People change their views on one issue or another all the time in politics. But they usually provide some justification or explanation — even if flimsy — and try to establish what their new position is. See Hillary Clinton on same-sex marriage.

Perhaps Carson’s lack of clarity on Roe can be ascribed to what he himself has called his own “political inexperience.” At this point in a presidential campaign, however, it’s the kind of basic question on a core belief that is usually ironed out.


7. Why did Lincoln Chafee get out of the race for president?

FR – Why did Lincoln Chafee get into the race for president?

From Jennifer Bogdan and Lynn Arditi of the Providence Journal under the headline, End to Chafee’s run called right move in R.I.

“It looks like we can put our metric system converters away for a few years,’’ state Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Joseph McNamara quipped when asked for his thoughts on Chafee’s decision to drop out. Chafee made the announcement Friday at a women’s forum hosted by the Democratic National Committee in Washington.

McNamara was referring to a heavily mocked comment the former U.S. senator made while announcing his presidential bid in June. Chafee, also a former Warwick mayor, called for the United States to “join the rest of the world and go metric.”

Still, McNamara called Chafee “a gentleman” and said he’s raised important issues about the U.S. handling of the Middle East conflict. Among Chafee’s primary campaign points has been a call to “change the paradigm” in the Middle East from a militaristic situation to a peaceful negotiation.

“I certainly give him credit for participating,’’ McNamara said. “[But] as the governor would probably say, when the gains of his campaign are measured in centimeters and not kilometers, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.’’

From The Slot at Jezebel.

Lincoln Chafee, a gentle, smiling bird you’d rather not be killing for dinner but you have to, that’s nature, has raised just over $15,000 for his Democratic presidential campaign. Of that sum, $4,100 came from his own wallet, while $8,300 was collected from a selection of major donors as numerous as toes on your feet, or stars in a cluster of 10 stars.

I want to cry.

NPR interviewed three of the 10 itemized donors, who each willingly parted with at least $200 to support a campaign averaging one-tenth of 1 percent in the latest Democratic primary polls. Two of them are Chafee’s friends, and one of them just likes his vibe.

Well at least Chafee put his own money where his mouth was, paying for budget hotel rooms, gas for the car and, this $4 here, to feed a parking meter.


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Maybe he got out of the race because his time was up.


8. Why did Jim Webb drop out?

FR: Webb, the former senator from Virginia, is a very smart and impressive guy. He shoulda been a contender.

My guess is that his campaign team, such as it was, was infiltrated by double agents on behalf of powers-that-be who feared his potential, and who advised him to keep his powder dry until the first Democratic debate at which, he was instructed that, no matter what the question, he was to whine about how he wasn’t getting called on for any questions.


9. Why did Joe Biden decide not to run for president?

FR: For exactly the reason he stated on 6o Minutes last night:  He didn’t think he could win. (Usually when prospective candidates choose not to run, they start out by insisting that if they had run,  they could have won.)

I’ll be very blunt. If I thought we could’ve put together the campaign … that our supporters deserve and our contributors deserved, … I would have done it.

10. Why did Hillary Clinton laugh when Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama asked her whether she was alone, “the whole night” the day of the terrorist attack in Benghazi.

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FR: From Politico:

Roby asked if Clinton had a SCIF, or a sensitive compartmentalized information facility, in her home. Clinton said she did.

“Were you alone?” Roby asked.

“I was alone, yes,” Clinton said.

Roby pressed: “The whole night?”

Well yes, the whole night,” Clinton said, bursting into prolonged laughter.

“I don’t know why that’s funny. Did you have any in-person briefings? I don’t find it funny at all,” the Alabama Republican admonished her.

“I’m sorry, a little note of levity at 7:15,” Clinton said.

“The reason it’s not funny is it went well into the night,” Roby said.

Clinton’s response: “Congresswoman, you asked if I had a SCIF. I had secure phones, I had other equipment that kept me in touch with the State Department at all times. I did not sleep all night. I was very much focused on what we were doing.”

Well, I don’t know the answer.

Humor is subjective.

But I think it may have something to do with being married to Bill Clinton.




A tale of two buses: On Ben Carson, Zoltan Istvan, millennialism and eternal life

Good morning Austin:

Yesterday began with a 7:30 a.m. call from Dr. Ben Carson for what I thought was a pretty good half hour interview about his new book, A More Perfect Union, his primer on the Constitution, which I read over the weekend.

I was pleased.

According to the most recent Fox News poll, Carson is one percentage point behind Trump. According to the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, he is three points behind Trump. All within the margin of error.

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Real Clear Politics

In other words, that means, in terms of preciousness-of-time-per-percentage-point-in-the-polls, my half hour with Carson was roughly equivalent to a half hour with Trump.

That’s pretty cool.

And by my preciousness calculation, my half hour with Carson is the equivalent of well over an hour on the phone with Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, between 90 minutes and two hours with Carly Fiorina, three-and-a-half hours with Mike Huckabee, John Kasich or Rand Paul, and a full calendar day on the phone with Chris Christie.

Pretty good.

Carson is also a good interview because his answers are not entirely predictable.

For example, on Sunday’s This Week on ABC, host George Stephanopoulos found himself repeatedly confounded.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s turn to some domestic policy. I was struck by reading your previous book, “America The Beautiful,” of things that you wrote there that sound a little bit more like Bernie Sanders than some of your Republican rivals.

In that book, you wrote about taking the positive aspects of socialism and actually implementing them within capitalism.

CARSON: I meant one of the things that happens, for instance, in Europe, for medical school, is that you don’t have to pay for it. And, as a result, they don’t have the skew that we have here. A lot of people, when they finish medical school, they’re hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

And instead of, you know, doing what they may have wanted to do, which was maybe be a private — a primary care doctor, they decide that I’d better become, you know, one of the specialists that makes a lot more money so I can pay this money back.

That’s not an issue in Europe and they don’t have this — the kind of primary care deficit that we have.

And later:

STEPHANOPOULOS:  You are the only Republican, the only major candidate who opposed President Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan after 9/11.

And I want to show what you said at the debate.


CARSON: Declare that within five to 10 years, we will become petroleum independent. The moderate Arab states would have been so concerned about that, they would have turned over Osama bin Laden and anybody else you wanted on a silver platter within two weeks.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s what you said he should have done.

But how would that have worked?


I simply don’t understand how you think this would have worked.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And just before I move on, though, I just want to be clear here. So you’re standing by the statement that, had President Bush simply declared energy independence back after 9/11, that would have caused the moderate Arab governments to turn over Osama bin Laden?

CARSON: I think they — I think they would have been extremely concerned about what the ramifications of that would have been. And I believe they would have been considerably more cooperative.

Of Stephanopoulos, Carson told me, “He’s trying to act like he doesn’t get it and, `I’m a really smart guy, this guy must be way off the wall.’ That’s the impression he’s trying to give.”

Of his campaign’s success, Carson said, “There’s no question that all the experts and political pundits can’t understand it.”

Carson continued:

And I do believe there’s more going on here than meets the eye and I actually do believe in God and interestingly enough, we claim as a nation we believe n God, we’re always saying , particularly when there is a tragedy, “Let us pray.: So are those just empty words?

I am advocating that people be who they are, that they stand up for what they believe in and not allow someone else tell them what they believe and what they can say, and I think that’s a huge part of what being what an American is. We give that away when we allow others to tell us what’s permissible.

Carson said he ran because he was drafted, his house full of boxes of petitions, people imploring him, “you’re the only hope.”

I said, “Lord, if you really want me to do this you will open the doors, I’m not going to bang them down but if you open them I’ll walk through.” And they’ve been flying open.



Ben Carson at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Ben Carson at Prestonwood Baptist Church

Of course, Carson is not the only Republican candidate called by God to run.

On Sunday, he was one of six candidates who talked about the role faith played in his candidacy at Prestonwood Baptist Church, a huge evangelical church in Plano.

It was an in intense session and both Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina seemed to me a little too tightly wound.

Carly Fiorina at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Carly Fiorina at Prestonwood Baptist Church


Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, seemed wound a little too loosely, like he’s mostly running for president just to get a breather from the rigors of his Fox show and is testing material for his next broadcasting gig.

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Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, with Mike Huckabee

Cruz was his usual laser-guided missile, but leavened with well-practiced affability, and was the home state favorite.

Ted Cruz at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Ted Cruz at Prestonwood Baptist Church

Dr. Jack Graham, Prestonwood’s pastor, interviewed each of the candidates, offering warm praise for all of them, though he was especially effusive with Cruz:

The Lord seems to be elevating you and giving you favor with people.

But, even Jeb Bush, with his high church Episcopal upbringing and conversion to Catholicism, hit the right evangelical notes.

“My parents taught me right and wrong,” said Bush, “But my personal journey began a little later in my life.”

A husband with three kids and involved in myriad things, Bush said,  “I was so overwhelmed.”

I decided to slow down. I started to read the Bible cover to cover, and I got about halfway through Romans when I realized that Jesus was my savior I accepted him as my savior and from that moment on I’ve had a partnership with Jesus Christ that gives me counsel .

I can think with serenity. I can think clearly. I’ve learned to pray. I’ve learned to get down on my knees to pray about things before I make big decisions, and in public life today, it is so important to pray and to think about things clearly because the world has been torn asunder.

But, along with Cruz, the crowd favorite was Carson.

Ben Carson at Prestonwood Baptist Church
Ben Carson at Prestonwood Baptist Church

Some find all this God talk unsettling.

But as I thought about it, I realized that if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and you are running for the Republican nomination for president, and Jesus has not let you know that you may be the one, well, maybe you shouldn’t be running for president.

Yesterday, a few hours after our phone conversation, Carson signed copies of his book for more than 500 people who lined up at the Costco in Northwest Austin, part of a book tour that Carson, with his preternatural calm, can execute in the midst of a presidential campaign – and watch his numbers climb.


For the Carson faithful at Costco, faith counts for a lot. But, since I first encountered Carson’s foot soldiers at the Conservative Political Conference in March, what impressed was how singularly, positively focused they are on him. They mostly don’t even think about or offer a cross word about the other Republican candidates.



photo by Laura Skelding


lhs Carson book signing 11
Kiyan Caras and his mother Mahshid, center at Ben Carson book signing at Costco. Photo by Laura Skelding Photo by Laura Skelding


Ryan and Kiyan Caras at Ben Carson's book signing at Costco in Austin
Ryan and Kiyan Caras at Ben Carson’s book signing at Costco in Austin (photo by me)
Leaving the Ben Carson book signing at Costco in Austin. Photo by Laura Skelding


But it seems there is also a touch of Christian millennialism in the rapture for Carson as a chosen figure at a chosen time.

Here is a link to a Carson interview with Sharyl Atkisson on her new Sunday show Full Measure, in which he says we may be getting close to the end of days, a point of view consistent with his faith as a Seventh Day Adventist.

Bob and Joanne Pontius attended Ben Carson’s book signing at Costco. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“The Bible says, `He who blesses Israel will be blessed. He who curses Israel will be cursed,” a cheery Joanne Pontius told me after getting her books signed yesterday. “That’s why we’re in trouble. We’re not blessing Israel.”

Let’s pause here for a brief primer on Christian millennialism.



Among Southern Baptists, differences of opinion arise on the nature of the millennium referenced in Revelation 20. That passage describes a 1,000-year period, known as the millennium, during which Satan is bound. Disagreement occurs regarding the timing of Christ’s return relative to the millennium and whether the number 1,000 is literal or symbolic.

Premillennialists believe Christ will return prior to a literal 1,000-year period.

Among premillennialists, there are varied opinions on whether Jesus will remove Christians from the earth prior to a tribulation preceding His return. Some, known as dispensational premillennialists or dispensationalists, believe in such a rescue for Christians. Others, known as historic premillennialists, believe Christians will not be taken out of the world until Jesus returns. A minority of premillennialists believe Christians will be raptured halfway through a period of tribulation preceding Christ’s return.

Postmillennialists believe the 1,000-year period will occur before Jesus returns. Adherents of this position generally believe the millennium will be a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity under the lordship of Christ. Although postmillennialism has enjoyed proponents such as Jonathan Edwards and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary founder B.H. Carroll, the view faded from Baptist life in the last century.

Amillennialists believe the number 1,000 is figurative and that we are currently in the millennium (some premillennialists and postmillennialists also believe 1,000 is figurative). They argue that Satan was bound by Christ through His finished work at the cross and has limited power until Christ returns. Thus, the millennium refers to the current era when Christ reigns in the hearts of believers without Satan’s interference. Christ’s return will mark the close of this era, amillennialists believe.

Then, of course, there are simply millennials – those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the new millennium.

courtesy Zoltan
courtesy Zoltan

Enter Zoltan Istvan, who sent me an email at the fateful hour of one minute before midnight Sunday.

I wanted to invite you or one of your journalists to ride on our Immortality Bus as we tour Austin tomorrow (Monday) promoting transhumanism and cyborgism. Our tour is a bit unusual, but increasingly a number of people consider me the leading 3rd party 2016 US presidential candidate in America. My campaign has some totally original ideas about the future and politics, and we’re the only presidential campaign talking policy on designer babies, artificial intelligence, robots taking all our jobs, a universal basic income, ectogenesis, living to 150, etc. We also think our bus tour is possibly historic, and will one day join the ranks of buses like Ken Kesey’s “Further” which helped start the 1960s.

We are just completing the 3rd stage of our national tour tomorrow, and our final event is in Austin. It will be a show and tell of “biohackers”–who put technology in their bodies as upgrades. For example, many of them (like myself) have chips in them.

Well, that’s different.

LIke the folks at Prestonwood, Zoltan wants everlasting life. He just doesn’t want to have to die first.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 2.43.10 AM

From a recent Huffington Post blog by Zoltan (and yes, it’s such a cool and seemingly fitting first name, that I’m going with it as a standalone name.).

It seemed a wild, impossible dream a year ago when I told my wife and young daughters I was going to drive a bus shaped like a coffin across America to raise life extension issues. A week ago, I just finished the second stage of the tour. Soon I’ll begin the third stage from Arizona to Texas, and then across the Bible Belt to Washington DC, where I plan to post a Transhumanist Bill of Rights to the US Capitol building.

Andi Hatch Photography
Andi Hatch Photography

If the bus tour seems like a wacky idea–especially for a presidential candidate–it’s because it is. Of course, to transhumanists, a more wacky idea is how most of our nation largely accepts death as a way of life. In the 21st Century, with the amazing science and technology this country has, I don’t believe death needs to be left unconquered. If, as a nation, we would just apply our ingenuity and resources, we could probably conquer death in a decade’s time with modern medicine. That’s precisely the reason why I’m running for president and driving the coffin bus around the country; I want to tell people the important news and get them to support radical technology and longevity science.

Zoltan in Austin last night

From a Dylan Matthews report in Vox:

Zoltan Istvan is the presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. The party is new, but the movement it represents is not. Transhumanism is the belief that humans can and should use every technology we have to improve and further evolve the species. We should use elective protheses to gain better arms and legs. We should perfect robotic hearts so no one ever dies of heart disease again. We should use cloning and stem cell research and genetic engineering to design the best humans possible. And those humans should be able to live forever.

The coffin-shaped Immortality Bus symbolizes that goal, and serves as a reminder of what Zoltan is promising, and what his opponents are not. Hillary Clinton will let you die, it says. Donald Trump will let you die. Bernie Sanders will let you die. But Zoltan Istvan will conquer death.

Zoltan — who almost always goes by his first name — is only too aware of how fringe an agenda this is. He knows that third-party candidates stand no chance, especially when their party is contesting its first election ever. The operation is about as low-budget as could be. The Immortality Bus is a 1978 Blue Bird Wanderlodge RV, which Zoltan bought for $10,000 near Sacramento, drove back to his home in Marin County, and, along with volunteers, tricked out with a wooden coffin top, new tires, a new paint job, and even some flowers on the roof (how sad would a coffin be with no flowers tossed on top?).

The mission isn’t to win — not yet, anyway. This campaign — including the opening bus trip that will, knock wood, take us from Mill Valley to a “biohacking” festival in the Mojave Desert to the Venetian in Las Vegas — is more of an awareness-building effort. It’s an attempt to force Americans to consider the possibility that the issues that consume most contemporary political debate are basically sideshows distracting from what is, in Zoltan’s view, the only question that really matters: How can we live as long as possible, ideally forever?

So, 12 hours after my wake-up call from Ben Carson, I found myself at a sweet little house tucked away on a little street off Lamar at a bio hackers meet up with Zoltan.

It was easy to find. It was the house with the retrofitted coffin-shaped Immortality Bus parked outside.






Ok. The Ben Carson bus was cool, and definitely more comfortable.

But the Immortality Bus is sick.

Here are Zoltan’s remarks last night:

And here is a Ted Talk by Zoltan.

On the Immortality Bus with Zoltan was his driver/sidekick/videographer Roen Horn, a reporter from Slate, and two film crews – one from the Guardian and the other an independent documentarian.

Not bad. Carson at Costco had a lot of photographers, local TV, and film crew from the Today Show. And, unlike Zoltan, Carson is about to get Secret Service protection. But still, not bad for third party candidate.

At the meetup, there were presentations by biohackers about cutting edge research – including something that one of the presenters said he stuck inside his gums on one side of his mouth and caused his graying temples to return to brown, and experimental eye drops that allowed for extraordinary night vision.

In between, Horn offered an animated pitch for Zoltan.


“Dying is mainstream,” he said. “Vote for Zoltan If you want to live forever.”


Zoltan and Horn are atheists. They believe religion is a drag on sound thinking.

Horn said that dying rendered living meaningless.

That provoked an interesting back-and-forth with some of the biohackers.

Wouldn’t a limitless lifespan sap any urgency and energy out of living?

Isn’t a belief in atheism as much an act of unprovable faith as a belief in God?

Zoltan wants to build a movement among millennials – like environmentalism – devoted to transhumanism.

He would also, in the future, like to make a more serious run for president.

He has a chip implanted in his hand, but it is not about life-extension but convenience. It can be programmed to open a car door, get through a security system, maybe open a garage door.


Machiavelli, the organizer of the meetup, wants to have a Bitcoin wallet inserted in the same place in his hand, but that’s also just as a cool convenience.

But Machiavelli speaks persuasively about how incredibly fast the world is about to change, with people retrofitting themselves with all kinds of enhancements.

On his way to Austin, Zoltan stopped by the cryonics company where Ted Williams is frozen – in two pieces:

After Williams died July 5, 2002, his body was taken by private jet to the company in Scottsdale, Ariz. There, Williams’ body was separated from his head in a procedure called neuroseparation, according to the magazine.

The operation was completed and Williams’ head and body were preserved separately. The head is stored in a steel can filled with liquid nitrogen. It has been shaved, drilled with holes and accidentally cracked 10 times, the magazine said. Williams’ body stands upright in a 9-foot tall cylindrical steel tank, also filled with liquid nitrogen.

I am worried.

How will Major League Baseball survive a world of bionic implants?

What will a defrosted and reassembled Ted Williams think of all this?

I know a defrosted Bernie Sanders will be assailing life span inequality – the one percent living as perpetual 24-year-olds while the 99 percent age and wither and die.

I returned home late night and told my wife that we may be the last generation to die.

“Isn’t that great,” she said. She meant it.

Not to stereotype, but my wife is Irish American and can hold a grudge, and the idea of her refusing to talk to certain people not just for one finite lifetime but  for the rest of time is exhausting to contemplate.

I can hear myself saying, “It’s been 50,000 years. Can’t you just get over it.”

Also, as someone concerned about eking a few more years out of a career in journalism, the idea of having to do it forever is more than I can bear.

But, listening to Zoltan on the Immortality Bus, I realize I’m just not getting it.

Jobs are going away.

With self-driving vehicles, truck driving won’t even be an occupation in five years.

Zoltan’s wife is a surgeon and her job, he said, will disappear not too many years after that.

No wonder Ben Carson went into politics.

I have other practical concerns.

OK. Fine. I can live with living forever. There’s already more good TV being produced these days than any one person can consume in multiple lifetimes.

But the thought of everyone else living forever is disturbing. If new people keep being born, and no one leaves, well, isn’t that a problem? And if nobody new is being born, yuck.

Where have you gone Ben Carson?


Kendra Biegalski, left and her daughter, Christa, 8 wave goodbye to the Carson bus. Ben Carson brings his improbable campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to Austin Monday for a book-signing of his book A More Perfect Union, at the Costco in Northwest Austin. Carson has suspended most campaigning for the next few weeks for the book tour. He signed books for an hour and a half on Monday. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN