`Harvey, it sounds likes such an innocent name.’ On T(rump) and empathy.

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Good day Austin:

So, Donald Trump, president of the United States and the world’s premier tweeter, was in Austin. I was there, and right in front of him, I tweeted at him and about him.

And look at that.

4,360 likes. 2,323 retweets. 1,155 quotes, or whatever that its.

And counting.

Look. I was trending in Boston.

Tweeting in Austin. Trending in Boston.

How does that happen?


But, even more amazingly, I beat the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek, with the most nimble thumbs in the Southwest, or maybe the world, with this tweet by a matter of seconds.

826 likes. 434 retweets. 300 whatevers.

Nice try, Patrick.

But, seriously, as most of you who read this will know, Patrick is a phenom. Soon after he came to Texas I told Chris Hooks that they should name the basic unit of journalistic productivity the Svitek. In electricity you’ve got your amperes, and in journalism, you’ve got your sviteks.

So how did this happen?

Well, here is what Trump actually said, and note that Ben is Ben Carson who, you may recall, went from being viciously mocked by Trump to being secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

President Trump: Probably there’s never been anything so expensive in our country’s history. There’s never been anything so historic in terms of damage and in terms of ferocity as what we’ve witnessed with Harvey. Sounds like such an innocent name, Ben, right, but it’s not innocent. It’s not innocent.

So I was typing out a tweet based on the first part of that quote, the stuff about how expensive and ferocious Harvey was, when the money quote came, I trashed what I was writing, and, my adrenalin flowing, I tapped out what I heard and tweeted it seconds ahead of Patrick, whose version was a little, a few seconds, more complete.

I knew it was a good quote, but  I must admit, I was surprised by how much reaction it got.

To me, it was the presidential equivalent of a dad joke. I could see being president and saying something stupid like that.

“Hurricane Bob. Bob was my father’s name. He was a great guy. Unlike Hurricane Bob. Which ruined my vacation.”

But, after all the things Trump has said and done, for some reason this one seemed to surprise people.

Let us pause here to consider the question of President Trump and empathy.

He doesn’t have any, or at any rate is incapable of expressing it. He has a form of narcissism that precludes it.

But this is not news. Or I guess maybe it is in the context of all the suffering that was, after all, the reason for coming to Corpus Christi and Austin yesterday.

This question of Trump’s lack of empathy was subtly embedded in the pool report by the incomparable David McSwane, a friend and former colleague at the Statesman, now with the Dallas Morning News.

I was seated with Patrick Svitek and another former Statesman colleague, Mike Ward, somewhere in the bowels of the DPS building waiting on POTUS yesterday, when one of them reported that McSwane had filed a pool report for the president’s event outside Corpus Christi.

My eyes widened. McSwane? Pool report? This ought to be good. I couldn’t help grinning.

It didn’t disappoint.

Here’s a bit of it.

After the briefing, Trump did an impromptu rally type speech in front of a few hundred Trump supporters who somehow managed to know exactly where the president was doing the briefing.

He stood on a raised platform of some type. Couldn’t tell if it was a step ladder or not. But he was not on a truck. Spoke into a microphone.

” I love you, you are special, we’re here to take care of you. It’s going well.”

“What a crowd, what a turnout.”

Reporters heard no mention of the dead, dying or displaced Texans and no expression of sympathy for them. The message was services are coming and Texans will be OK.

“Texas can handle anything,” POTUS said.

“We are going to get you back and operating immediately,” he told the crowd (this contradicts the “Long haul” Sen. John Cornyn has publicly discussed and the caveat from FEMA administrator long moments earlier that it’s going to be a slow process).

This is a pool report that was sent out by the White House of Donald Trump, who also gave all these national reporters he so despises a lift to and from Texas in his big plane (though I guess they pay a lot of money for that).

Which is all good, and a great testament to the hardiness of our institutions, though I did wonder whether the reporter who was actually supposed to do that pool report was tied up in the closet in the fire station in Annabelle, where Trump held his unempathetic rally.



But, hand it to David, he hit the nail on the head. This was the big presidential story today – Trump’s lack of empathy – and a screen grab of David’s pool report was the first thing I saw when I awoke at 5 this morning to see how my retweets were going, and turned on Morning Joe.

Indeed, it seemed that maybe even DT had seen DM’s pool report and taken it to heart.

Come on folks. The man is trying.

Have a heart.

And, even if David hit the nail on the head, there are other nails whose heads need hitting.

As someone who covered the post-Katrina recovery in Washington for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, I can tell you that empathy is swell, but folks in need are more interested in you showing them the big FEMA and other federal money.

So, if you’re Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and you’re interested in doing the best by your state and the people in need, what’s the harm in flattering the president’s narcissism, covering for his lack of empathy, and steering him down a path that will deliver for Texas in a bigger way than all the the other Texas clout in Washington can?

Anyway, speaking of narcissism, back to reaction to my big tweet.









From the AP: Harvey Updyke finishes jail sentence

OPELIKA, Ala. — The University of Alabama fan who poisoned Auburn University’s landmark oak trees at Toomer’s Corner has been released from jail and cleared to leave the state.

Harvey Updyke Jr., 64, left the Lee County jail in Opelika on Monday morning after serving 76 days following his guilty plea. Attorney Andrew Stanley said Updyke was on his way to Louisiana where he will live with his wife, Elva.

“He’s very sincere. He wants to go back to Louisiana and never wants to be heard from ever again,” Stanley said.



Finally, there was the photo, which also got a lot of attention on Twitter.

There’s a lot going on. The president, clearly identified by the cardboard sign. The merchandising of the his and hers USA and FLOTUS hats. What was seen as the Stepford Wife bearing of the First Lady (though I won’t dwell on this because I think the attacks on her yesterday were wholly out of line). The cameo by Austin’s own Roger Williams.




And Eric, this is a total misread of Roger Williams.





For Donald Trump and Greg Abbott, Harvey may be their finest hour

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WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 29: U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he walks with first lady Melania Trump prior to their Marine One departure from the White House August 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump was traveling to Texas to observe the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Good morning Austin:

President Trump will be in Corpus Christi and Austin today.

Barring the unforeseen – which, as I am typing those words, I realize, in the case of our president, is the totally foreseeable, maybe even inevitable – this should be a very good day for Trump, maybe even the finest hour of his tumultuous presidency, now approaching its nine month of gestation.

These last few days, since Harvey descended upon Texas, has also been the finest hour of our governor, Greg Abbott, who has acquitted himself with great skill, aplomb, authority and humanity. In these last few days, Greg Abbott has gone from being the Republican governor of Texas – or the even mostly the governor of the Texas Republican primary electorate – to the governor of all of Texas.

In this, the governor could be an example for a president who seems happy enough to the be president of that relatively small fraction of the electorate that delights in everything he does, without regard for that larger expanse of the American public who find themselves at the aghast side of agog with every mind-boggling twist and turn and tweet.

Gov. Greg Abbott encourages emergency officials working at the State Operations Center on Friday August 25, 2017, in preparation for Hurricane Harvey. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The story of Harvey is a harrowing and tragic tale, but Texas – the people mostly, but also its government   – has emerged with its reputation and even its large self-regard confirmed and enhanced. Hurricanes, disasters of this scale, can make or break mayors and governors and presidents. At this point in the life of Katrina a dozen years ago, the narrative from New Orleans especially was ugly and unsettling and President Bush, appearing hapless, was, metaphorically, drowning.

We are still very much in the thick of terrible peril, especially in Houston – the city that was the extraordinarily capable and generous host to so many of those fleeing New Orleans after Katrina – and the public mood could change dramatically. The recovery and rebuilding will be long and arduous, frustrating and contentious.

But, for the moment, the stars are aligned for a coordinated and complementary state and federal response.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, to Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto Texas to view the federal government’s response to Harvey’s devastating flooding in Texas. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The governor has lauded the Trump administration, from the president on down, giving them an A-plus for their swift and positive response to the storm. The president, in return, has praised the governor to the hilt and in very personal terms.

The way to the president’s heart and loyalty is to lavish praise upon him, and this is certainly the safest, and most sensible terrain for the governor of Texas to commend the president. Indeed, it may provide the governor a safe harbor from having to respond to other things the president does or says (though he has show no previous desire to do so anyway).

The key administration players – FEMA director Brock Long and Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert have, so far, exuded competence. No “heck of a job, Brownie” needed here.

This is a case where it appears the president can rise to the occasion in a way that suits his personality and predilections while also serving the national interest. He is drawn to being the president who presided over the response and recovery – the rebuilding – after a disaster of truly historic proportions. To those who begrudge the president this trip to Texas at this early moment, it is a small down-payment on the enormous investment of federal resources that the aftermath of Harvey will require, and that the president will be instrumental in making happen.

On Monday, the president predicted swift, bipartisan congressional approval of aid for Texas, and if that coms to pass, it would be a signal achievement for this president.

For Trump, it helps that this is Texas, a state whose mythology he is happy to flatter, and, perhaps even more importantly, a state that supported him in 2016. Gov. Abbott is, for the president, an uncomplicated partner. There is, for the president, no obvious ulterior political agenda or score to settle in Texas.

Sean Hannity and Alex Jones – the Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside of the pro-Trump media – would like to blame Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner for not ordering an evacuation, a course of action that the governor had recommended.

You can listen to Hannity here, beginning just after 13 minutes in.

And, a little past two minutes in, Alex Jones explains that it was all a conspiracy to make the disaster as bad a possible so they can blame Trump.

“Pure evil,” said Jones.

But, the Republican Harris County judge, Ed Emmet, and Turner’s mayoral rival, Bill King, agreed with Turner’s decision not to order a mandatory evacuation, and Abbott, with great class, did not for a minute second-guess Turner essentially countermanding the governor’s instinct on this.

As Manny Fernandez and Richard Fausset wrote at the conclusion of their New York Times piece yesterday, Houston Mayor’s No-Win Dilemma: Whether to Tell Residents to Stay or Go:

In the face of so much dislocation, the political positioning diminished once the storm hit. Mr. Abbott has declined to second-guess Mr. Turner and Mr. Emmett, part of a broader spirit that now pervades the state as Texans pull together in the face of tragedy. On Sunday, the governor was asked on ABC’s “This Week” program if Houston officials erred by not ordering an evacuation.

“The local officials know best about this,” he said.

I don’t see Trump wading into this controversy. I see him following the governor’s lead.

In sum, for Trump, Texas is a safe space for him to do the right thing.

For Abbott, Harvey, and his response now, and in the years to come, will define his governorship, and it arrived at a moment when the governor was in danger of giving vent to his inner Tomás de Torquemada, launching a campaign to purge from the Republican House those who thwarted his 20-for-20 agenda in the recently-ended special session.

Texas Greg Abbott visited the Austin ISD Delco Center Saturday evening August 26, 2017 which has been opened as an evacuee shelter for those fleeing their homes from Hurricane Harvey and met Shirelle Franklin and her family who fled from their home in Victoria, Texas yesterday. She cries as she talks about their experience with the governor.

This seemed a risky endeavor prompted at least in part because he has $41 million in his campaign account, with plenty more to come, and a vaunted organization, and nothing so far to spend or vaunt it against. He may still pursue his campaign to change the makeup of the Texas House, but it seems now that Harvey makes a far more productive target than Joe Straus. In the face of Harvey, fretting about the failure of the Texas House to get an up-or-down vote on the bathroom bill seems especially petty and out-of-place.

Harvey also places in sharp relief the difference between being the governor of Texas and the lieutenant governor. Much was written about how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was driving the agenda in Austin, particularly during the regular session, and that he was really the commanding presence at the Capitol. But, with Harvey, it is Greg Abbott and not Dan Patrick who is in charge. That is how the people of Texas will see it. It is how the rest of America will see it. There are for Abbott obvious risks in this, but there would seem to be less need to look over his shoulder to see what Patrick is up to.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott receives a briefing from the dozens of statewide officials gathered inside the Texas Department of Public Safety Special Operations Center Saturday August 26, 2017 as they begin to assess the damage and destruction of Hurricane Harvey.

For what it’s worth, Harvey also makes the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s previous resistance to tapping the state’s $10 billion rainy day fund look good – their argument being that that money should be reserved for rainy days. Those rainy days are here.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk from Marine One to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, for a trip to Texas to get an update on Harvey relief efforts. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)




Was the Battle of Charlottesville the white nationalists’ Gettysburg?

A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is removed from the University of Texas campus, early Monday morning, Aug. 21, 2017, in Austin, Texas. University of Texas President Greg Fenves ordered the immediate removal of statues of Robert E. Lee and other prominent Confederate figures from a main area of campus, saying such monuments have become “symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Good morning Austin:

Sunday evening I spoke by phone with Jared Taylor, the influential white nationalist who presides over American Renaissance 

Taylor said he defends Confederate memorials both because of his Southern pride, and in solidarity with those Confederate heroes’ race consciousness.

But, he told me, not everyone who venerates Confederate memory has a racial motive.

I think there are people like my mother, she’s dead now but she was a liberal in every respect – civil rights, gay right, feminism, all that, but she was a loyal daughter of the South and revered Robert E. Lee and all the Confederate generals. She loved those monuments. For her it was not an expression not of a political view but of an ancestral heritage. She grew up in Kentucky.

She had an ancestral fidelity to the  Confederacy that is not political. And then there racially white Northerners who have no ancestral affinity with the Confederacy, but see the Confederates as racially conscious white men and that’s why they respect them. Those are very different points of departure, and my guess the Unite the Right Rally (in Charlottesville) was more the latter than the former.

Had his mother been in Charlottesville, Taylor said:

She would have gone nuts. She would have been on the other side. She would have been horrified. She loved Robert E. Lee, thought he was the greatest American who ever lived, but she also hated Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy and all of those things.

Today most defenders of Confederate statues probably do have some kind of racial and not just heritage- related motive.

I wrote about Taylor in the last First ReadingMake America white nationalist again. On Charlottesville and Donald Trump, and called him yesterday after reading an Op-Ed in the Sunday New York Times by R. Derek Black, who was identified as a graduate student focusing on the early Middle Ages, headlined What White Nationalism Gets Right About American History

I was startled by it. I had covered four American Renaissance conferences between 2000 and 2008, and I had seen a teenage Derek Black at at least a couple of those conferences.

As Eli Saslow of the Washington Post wrote in a remarkable profile of Derek Black October – The White Flight of Derek Black –  even as a young man:

He was not only a leader of racial politics but also a product of them. His father, Don Black, had created Stormfront, the Internet’s first and largest white nationalist site, with 300,000 users and counting. His mother, Chloe, had once been married to David Duke, one of the country’s most infamous racial zealots, and Duke had become Derek’s godfather. They had raised Derek at the forefront of the movement, and some white nationalists had begun calling him “the heir.”

But the story tells how Derek went to New College, a progressive public college in Sarasota, Florida, where, some students, after learning who he was, chose not to denounce or attack him but to befriend and engage him.

And so, here he was writing in Sunday’s New York Times:

My dad often gave me the advice that white nationalists are not looking to recruit people on the fringes of American culture, but rather the people who start a sentence by saying, “I’m not racist, but …”

The most effective tactics for white nationalists are to associate American history with themselves and to suggest that the collective efforts to turn away from our white supremacist past are the same as abandoning American culture. My father, the founder of the white nationalist website Stormfront, knew this well. It’s a message that erases people of color and their essential role in American life, but one that also appeals to large numbers of white people who would agree with the statement, “I’m not racist, but I don’t want American history dishonored, and this statue of Robert E. Lee shouldn’t be removed.”

I was raised by the leaders of the white nationalist movement with a model of American history that described a vigorous white supremacist past and once again I find myself observing events in which I once might have participated before I rejected the white nationalist cause several years ago. After the dramatic, horrible and rightly unnerving events in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend, I had to make separate calls: one to make sure no one in my family who might have attended the rally got hurt, and a second to see if any friends at the University of Virginia had been injured in the crowd of counterprotesters.

On Tuesday afternoon the president defended the actions of those at the rally, stating, “You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” His words marked possibly the most important moment in the history of the modern white nationalist movement. These statements described the marchers as they see themselves — nobly driven by a good cause, even if they are plagued by a few bad apples. He said: “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

But this protest, contrary to his defense, was advertised unambiguously as a white nationalist rally. The marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us”; in the days leading up to the event, its organizers called it “a pro-white demonstration”; my godfather, David Duke, attended and said it was meant to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump”; and many attendees flew swastika flags. Whatever else you might say about the rally, they were not trying to deceive anyone.

Almost by definition, the white nationalist movement over the past 40 years has worked against the political establishment. It was too easy for politicians to condemn the movement — even when there was overlap on policy issues — because it was a liability without enough political force to make the huge cost of associating with it worthwhile. Until Tuesday, I didn’t believe that had changed.


Yet President Trump stepped in to salvage the message that the rally organizers had originally hoped to project: “George Washington was a slave owner,” he said, and asked, “So will George Washington now lose his status?” Then: “How about Thomas Jefferson?” he asked. “Because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?” He added: “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”

Until Trump’s comments, few critics seemed to identify the larger relationship the alt-right sees between its beliefs and the ideals of the American founders. Charlottesville is synonymous with Jefferson. The city lies at the foot of Monticello and is the home of the University of Virginia, the school he founded. Over the years I’ve made several pilgrimages to Charlottesville, both when I was a white nationalist and since I renounced the ideology. While we all know that Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, which declared that “all men are created equal,” his writings also offer room for explicitly white nationalist interpretation.

Until Tuesday I believed the organizers of the rally had failed in their goal to make their movement more appealing to average white Americans. The rally superimposed Jefferson’s image on that of a pseudo K.K.K. rally and brought the overlap between Jefferson and white nationalist ideas to mind for anyone looking to find them. But the horrific violence that followed seemed to hurt their cause.

And then President Trump intervened. His comments supporting the rally gave new purpose to the white nationalist movement, unlike any endorsement it has ever received. Among its followers, being at that rally will become something to brag about, and some people who didn’t want to be associated with extremism will now see the cause as more mainstream.

Taylor, driving back from Canada to Washington, D.C., had not seen the Times. When I told him there was a piece by Derek Black, he responded, “Oh God, oh dear, all right.”

I described Black’s thesis, and Taylor said he thought Charlottesville had been an unmitigated disaster for the white nationalist movement.


Aside from Donald Trump, the Charlottesville rally was a catastrophe for any Southern heritage movement. As you have noticed, it has accelerated the dismantling the Confederate monuments.

In the dead of night, I noted, referring to events in Baltimore but not knowing that the same was about to occur on the UT campus.

Charlottesville, Taylor said, would have “extreme negative consequences for white advocacy.”

Taylor backed Trump beginning in the primaries.

I asked him how he judged the president’s performance so far.

That is a very difficult question to answer.

Insofar as he is not Hillary Clinton, he has gotten an A-plus-plus so far. But compared to what he could have done, and what he said he would have done, I’d give him a C-minus, maybe a D-plus.

He’s attacked Jeff Sessions, attacked Mitch McConnell. His opponents are right, he has a very strange temperament for a president of the United States and I would rather someone who was a steadier hand on the wheel.

Of Trump’s comments on Charlottesville, which provoked a firestorm of controversy and condemnation, Taylor said:

I think that it’s true that Donald Trump is the only politician I can think of that would say the obvious – that there’s blame for the violence on both sides. To me that’s a completely obvious observation.

No matter how evil and deplorable you think someone is, you don’t have right to attack them physically. And the point that I have been making, but has yet to make it into print, is that the inevitable pattern it that when anyone stands up and speaks as white, it attracts opponents who do not just disagree but want to harass and shut his event down and shut him up, and some of them arrive prepared to do battle and fight, whereas the opposite is never the case.

There’s never an NAACP, or a Black Lives Matter or a National Council of La Raza event that is harassed or menaced or shut down by racially conscious whites. It never happens. And so when racially conscious whites meet along you have an American Renaissance Conference, or you get a peaceful rally the likes of which e had last May, at which there were no counter-demonstrations and no violence. The main demonstration in the same park for the same purpose did not have any counter-demonstrators and there was no violence. The same group . Jason Kessler, who organized this one organized that one.

So when people talk about white supremacist rally turns into violence, it sounds as though a white supremacist or a racially conscious demonstration just has in it, inherently, violence, whereas people never say that about a Black Lives Matter demonstration, which can degenerate into throwing bottles at the police, beating up bystanders with no counter-demonstrators at all. That’s the point I’m making.

The tone was aggressive, I agree with that, but if there had not been aggression from the other side, I feel quite sure there would have been no violence. To me the fact that the police, in addition to this fellow who drove the car, arrested only three people, shows me that they were not doing their job. Where were the police? I think they did a terrible job.

And the other thing that has to be pointed out that nobody seems to care about is that those who hate the very idea of white racial consciousness succeeded in shutting down the event.  And it annoys me when someone like (Virginia Gov.) Terry McAuliffe, claims they are all haters, Nazis, white supremacists, without having even heard what they had to say.

And then one other observation worth making, is that when the (Unite the Right) organizer, Jason Kessler, attempted to hold a press conference the next day, he was attacked by a mob, which would probably been beaten to a pulp if he had not been rescued by the police.

Just imagine if there had been a Muslim terror attack of some kind and the spokesman for an Islamic organization had tried to hold a press conference to put this in perspective and a group of whites had attacked him and chased him away from the microphone and would have beaten him up without police protection, there would have been immediate Department of Justice investigation, there would have been many arrests and it would have been a scandal coast to coast. But because it is a white man standing up for the rights of whites, the whole event is met with an enormous yawn.

The idea of the entire political and media establishment that the violence in Charlottesville was exclusively the fault of Unite the Right is astonishing to me. There was violence and there was a desire for violence on both sides, and only President Trump seems to be prepared to say that.

I think this has solidified bipartisan hostility toward Trump. I think the grassroots are unchanged.  It’s elected officials and editorial writers who are all reacting in horror.

But he’s explicitly not on the side of the white nationalists. He denounced them and I think sincerely denounced them. He doesn’t like Nazis and white supremacists. He doesn’t like them.

But he’s fair-minded enough to realize that the other side was itching for a fight and  shares some of the blame, that’s all he’s saying, and to me that’s by no means an endorsement of racial nationalism. It’s just a statement of fact. Any statement of fact that doesn’t place all the blame, regardless of the facts, on the white nationalists, that’s considered an endorsement of white nationalism. Here he is saying a rather obvious and banal thing, but to say so is to put you in the camp of the sinners.

He said white nationalism is repugnant to everything we hold dear. I take people at their word. And when he says that and then says that there’s blame on both sides – he says there was hate, bigotry and violence on both sides. I don’t think racial nationalism is based on hate and bigotry. I thinks it’s perfectly moral and rational. But for him to say there was hate, bigotry and violence on both sides, I think that there probably were people on both sides who were hateful and violent, but isn’t that obvious?

And it’s certainly not an endorsement of either side, it’s a condemnation of both sides. But, we live in such a time that condemning both sides makes you a partisan of one side.

Taylor said, “It goes to show you a movement is starved for praise when it gets into a conflict and then someone says both side are filled with hate, bigotry and violence,” and it takes that as affirmation.

“That’s not an endorsement,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that, “Kessler, the organizer, said absolutely no Nazi or KKK symbols or regalia, but you just can’t control that stuff. There were some pretty hard-boiled customers there.”

Were there, as Trump said, some good people there?

I think so. I wasn’t there but I think so, certainly to my way of  thinking. People who are peacefully defending the legitimate rights of whites. And, there may have been some who were just protesting the removal of the Lee statue.

On Friday, David Barton, the Christian conservative political activist and author from Aledo – he is a former vice chair of the Texas Republican Party and was a member of the Platform Committee at the national convention in Cleveland last summer –  talked about these issues on Joe Pags radio show.

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Here is a partial transcript and critique of his comments fromWarren Throckmorton followed by excerpts of my interview with Barton last night.

Throckmorton blogs at Patheos, which describes itself as hosting the conversation on faith, and where he keeps a critical eye on the Christian right.

Throckmorton teaches at Grove City College, an evangelical liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.


We’re looking at taking Confederate monuments down, and by the way, from a historical standpoint, if you know your history those monuments don’t scare you. If you know your history in Germany, the fact that you have ovens where the Holocaust occurred. The fact that you have Gestapo headquarters that are now mu – that’s not a problem because you know it’s wrong. And because you know it’s wrong, you can teach the next generation and that’s why you’ll find that Germans are particularly sensitive toward neo-Nazi movements arising in Germany. They don’t tolerate it.  So even though they’re there, they don’t – and so you can do that with history. In Israel, they got great kings like David, but you know what, they’ve also got a monument to Absalom, who was a (unintelligible). They’ve also got a street named after Ahab who was a lousy king. But that helps them know the good, the bad, the ugly.

So when you do Confederate monuments today, we don’t know enough about our own history to know the balance that used to be there and that was part of it. So to put the balance in perspective, when you talk Confederacy, let’s cut right to the chase and say it’s not Confederacy, it’s Southern Democrats, straight out, hands down.

From Throckmorton:

Barton’s faulty reasoning.

Tributes to the Confederacy aren’t necessarily scary; they are offensive. The analogy Barton attempts to make is bizarre. The ovens and Gestapo headquarters were not preserved by the German government as tributes to the Nazis. Confederate statues are tributes erected many years after the events of the Civil War took place. They were erected to elevate the image of the Confederacy. What the Germans kept was not to elevate the image of the Nazis but to demonstrate the evil. The Confederate symbols and monuments which are being targeted were not erected to show how bad the Confederacy was.

For Barton’s analogy to make sense, there would need to be a movement to bulldoze over the battlefields and other historical locations. I don’t know of any efforts to do this and the conversation between Barton and Pagliarulo didn’t touch on any such movement. Removing monuments placed to sanitize the image of the Confederacy isn’t in that category.

Barton came close to making sense when he accurately said the Germans are sensitive to neo-Nazi elements. In fact, Holocaust denial is a criminal offense as is displaying Nazi symbols. If we take that German example and translate it to the U.S., it would suggest that we should be very sensitive about neo-Confederate elements, such as white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis. It would suggest that we should not build tributes to the Confederacy and remove the tributes already in place. If Germany could teach us anything, it would be that those monuments should never have been erected in the first place.

About the Gestapo headquarters: Barton seemed to be about to say that the headquarters was a museum. However, those facilities were destroyed after the war. More recently, a museum dedicated to showing the horror of Nazi institutions was built. Again, what the Germans built was not a tribute to Nazism, but what is called the Topography of Terror Documentation Center.  I don’t believe any of the Confederate monuments at issue document the horrors of slavery or the Jim Crow laws which followed.

Barton and Pags Real Target: The Democrats 

I think the reason Barton has such a hard time with this issue is because he really wants to make Democrats look bad. He really wants people to understand that the Democrats favored slavery and were behind the KKK.


So when you do Confederate monuments today, we don’t know enough about our own history to know the balance that used to be there and that was part of it. So to put the balance in perspective, when you talk Confederacy, let’s cut right to the chase and say it’s not Confederacy, it’s Southern Democrats, straight out, hands down.

 When Landrieu the Governor or the Mayor of New Orleans takes down 4 Confederate monuments, let’s point out that it’s a Democrat mayor taking down 4 Democrat heroes that were heroes in the South. Now would that change the narrative if people knew that today. You bet it would. 

The racism narrative would change if, for example, people knew that Democrats openly acknowledged in Congressional hearings that yes, the Ku Klux Klan is our organization, that’s a Democrat arm. Who knows that today? We know so little about our own history that we can’t even tell the good from the bad anymore so we think we have to wipe it out. And does that mean if conservatives take over, we’re going to get rid of the FDR memorial because he was a progressive liberal? Or if liberals get it, were going to get rid of Calvin Coolidge’s home because he was a conservative Republican? Where does it stop at that point? But you don’t worry about it if you know history, but we just don’t know history today.


True, Southern Democrats were defenders of slavery. However, this fact is well known. Anyone who studies the Civil War even a little bit realizes that the party of Lincoln and emancipation was the GOP. However, it is now a Republican president who is defending what he calls the “beautiful statues and monuments.” The Democrats want to take the statues down. It doesn’t matter much that long dead Democrats were racists when the party of Lincoln has shifted to a defense of the Confederate symbols. Why would Republicans want to leave them up? It makes no sense to me.

Barton’s New Lost Cause

When Barry Goldwater failed to support the Civil Rights Act, Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his followers to vote against Goldwater. Although African-American voters had been steadily moving Democrat for several years, Nixon got about one-third of the African-American vote in 1960. The turning point was Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act. The historical direction of the African-American vote isn’t about African-Americans not knowing the history of segregationist Southern Democrats, it is about the choices made by GOP leaders over the past 50 years.

Barton’s efforts to bolster Republicans by constantly reminding people about the Lost Cause Democrats is a new kind of Lost Cause. The failings of the modern Republican party are not going to be sanitized by reminders of the failings of the Southern Democrats of the past. If anything, it is admirable that modern Democrats want to make amends and, if possible, atone for the history of the party. Shouldn’t Democrats want to remove these symbols? And shouldn’t Republicans, members of the party of Lincoln, be cheering them on?

Barton’s Take on the KKK

Near the end of the broadcast, Barton brought up the KKK. Because the KKK targeted black and white Republicans, Barton minimizes the white supremacist nature of the KKK’s goals.


That’s when the Klan arose and by the way, the Klan did not arise to take out blacks, it’s stated purpose was to take out Republicans. That’s why if you look at lynchings all the way up until 1962, you have 3500 black lynchings, but 1300 white lynchings, so what you have is an organization going after Republicans. Not after blacks per se. It’s just at that time, any black in the South was a Republican. You couldn’t hang any whites, because some of them were Democrats.


The Klan arose to reestablish white supremacy in the South, not just to go after Republicans. Since Republicans at the time stood in the way of that goal, they were targeted by Klan violence.  Barton’s description has some truth to it, but he makes the history more about political party than race. For the most part, white Republicans were targeted if they helped African-Americans.

Barton’s lynching numbers are pretty accurate but a little misleading in the way he uses them. Some of those white lynchings were in Western states for reasons unrelated to white supremacy. As noted, whites who helped blacks were also targeted in the South, but the figures on white lynchings includes people who were killed as victims of frontier justice.

A Couple of White Guys on Slavery

One of the more surreal discussions happened near the end of the segment. Barton and Pagliarulo discussed slavery. For some reason, Barton thought it important to say that 43% of free blacks in South Carolina owned slaves. He added that the first slavery law “done in America provided for white slaves, Indian slaves, and black slaves. How come we don’t hear that slavery is a human issue not a race issue.”

Pagliarulo chimed in to say that the first slave owner in the U.S. was a black man – Anthony Johnson. He was one of the first but what difference does that make? What is the point of this discussion? Are these white guys trying to change the history of slavery in America to make it about something other than race?

I really don’t understand the point of highlighting the exceptions as if they were the rule. The reason we don’t hear that slavery was a human issue is because in America, it quickly became about race. The fact is slave laws evolved so that black slaves were treated differently than all others. Slavery in the United States was about race and by the time of the Civil War, the vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, asserted the following about slavery and race:

MR. STEPHENS rose and spoke as follows:

Mr. Mayor, and Gentlemen of the Committee, and Fellow-Citizens:- . . . We are in the midst of one of the greatest epochs in our history. The last ninety days will mark one of the most memorable eras in the history of modern civilization. . . .

I was remarking, that we are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world. Seven States have within the last three months thrown off an old government and formed a new. This revolution has been signally marked, up to this time, by the fact of its having been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood. [Applause.]

This new constitution, or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited. . . .

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

I spoke with Barton about the arguments he had made on the show.

He said he highlighted the role the Democratic Party played in slavery and white supremacy because not many people know that.

I just don’t think anybody knows that these guys were Democrats.

But, he said, he is not placing that burden of guilt no the modern Democratic Party.

I think it’s a different party since the early 1970s. By the time they got to the 1970s they were pretty much a different party

Of his assertion that the Klan targeted people because of their party affiliation and not their race, Barton said:

There was racism involved. No question there was racism. but the Klan wasn’t exclusively racists. The Klan was after Republicans. Now they were racist along with that, but they were happy to kill Republicans just as much as they were happy to kill blacks.

The Klan was racist then. They are racist now.

I asked if there wasn’t a difference between the maintaining of Nazi sites in Europe as a grim reminder and the heroic glorification of Confederate memorials.

Aren’t the Confederate memorials celebratory?

They were for that period of time, in the same way that the Stalin statues that are still up in the Soviet Union were celebratory for him, but now you point at them and go, “Look, look at what they represented”, but that was in a period of time. They are up because they  were celebrated at the time.

And there’s no doubt in my mind that every one of those Confederate heroes was celebrated at the time because of where they were, the part of the country they were in, the people that supported them, but they were racist. That’s an easy teaching lesson at this point. Or it should be.

But, he said, it’s turned not to be so easy.

Confederate Post Master General John Reagan statue is removed from the south mall of the University of Texas at Austin early in the morning of Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. UT president Greg Fenves ordered the removal of Confederate statues from the campus late Sunday evening. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Why not?

We are at point now where two out of three Americans say there is no absolute right or wrong. Well, I think there is and I think that slavery is one of them. But if you’re at a point where two out of three Americans think it’s all individually determined, you can’t teach about history. You can’t teach about what’s right or wrong with history.

What do you think is the appropriate approach to the Confederate memorials?

It is kind of a case by case thing. With Robert E. Lee, I totally dislike the Confederacy, I have no sympathy for them at all. But Robert E. Lee is not a racist in any way, shape, fashion or form. He fought for Virginia, and there’s no indication of racism on his part. Now you want to go to Nathan Bedford Forrest, you bet, he’s a founder of the KKK. I’ve got all sorts of problems with him. What those guys did at Fort Pillow, the massacre there of black Union soldiers is unbelievable. So it is a case by case basis in some ways.

But for me there is no excuse for what the Confederacy did historically and I’ll be happy to make that point to anyone who wants to listen. But right now we’ve created a slippery slope where we can tear down anything we disagree with, and even on the basis of free speech, there are going to be things you don’t like. If you are going after a culture where you purge everything that offends you, that’s a real slippery slope and I think that’s a dangerous place to be.

I hope in ten years we will have come to our senses and have done a little better job of teaching history and will think that certain things are right or wrong and racism is one of them and we can deal with them without violence. I don’t know of a good solution. Would love to put up a little explanation plaque explaining why it was wrong and why what they did was wrong and use it as teaching tool, but then again there are going to be the white supremacists who are going to be all upset on their side like they were in Charlottesville and all we’re doing now is polarizing the sides. Knowledge is what bring sides together and right now what we’re talking about is platitudes and soundbites, not knowledge.

“Out of the 56 (signers of the Declaration of Independence) only 14 were pro-slavery, and three-fourths of them were anti-slavery,” Barton said. And yet, he said, nobody knows that. “Jefferson devoted about 60 years on the anti-slavery issue.

What about Trump’s comments on Charlottesville?\

I thought he was trying to be a lot morebalanced, a lot more neutral. He was actually trying to have more of a discussion instead of just coming out with a soundbite or a press release, and I appreciated that. There were more nuances there than people cared to talk about right now. And the nuances give a lot of insight and that’s what I thought he was headed toward.

But Republicans jumped on it. Democrats jumped on it. He got up from every side.

I didn’t have trouble for where he was trying to go.


We used to know enough to let the Klan have their rallies and not confront them. Just make them look radioactive. Didn’t have to confront them. Before they went there and after they were there everyone condemns them.

But trying to get right in their face and get a violent confrontation with white supremacists, that’s crazy. That’s a whole different combative approach. Everything is volatile. Everything is an immediate reaction.

We could join, hand in hand, we can get  blacks and whites,and get all denominations and races, and Jews, and Christians and Protestants and Catholics  and condemn and make them radioactive and make it where nobody wants to be around them. But to get in their face and create violence … 

There are a lot of people who think this has  gone too far. That they want to push back. They don’t  want the monuments should be taken down, which doesn’t necessarily mean that  they’re racist.

Results from the NPR/PBS NewsHour/ Marist Poll of 1,125 adults  taken just after events in Charlottesville.




I don’t think the monuments need to be taken down. I think they are a teaching tool, but I’m definitely not a racist. I think that’s where we’re headed with (Trump’s) comments. But we deal in soundbites and we don’t get an explanation and the news runs with, “he supports white supremacists, says they are good people,” and there it is.



Make America white nationalist again. On Charlottesville and Donald Trump.

Harold Newchurch raises the Rebel Flag outside Griffin Funeral Home site of the Civil War Confederate Prison Camp on MLK in Chicago.

Good day Austin:

For the better part of two years around the turn of the century I traveled on Martin Luther King streets across America with photographer Michael Falco for a series of newspaper articles that became a book: Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street. It was the best experience of my life as a reporter. It was a revelation.

(On the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Falco did a battlefield-to-battlefield journey with a pinhole camera and produced a beautiful book, published this year, Echoes of The Civil War, from which I have a used a few images here.)

Above is a photo Falco took along the MLK Drive in Chicago of ..

… stately Griffin Funeral Home from where they buried Jesse Owens and Elijah Muhammad, and where, each morning they raise to half-mast a Confederate flag (along with American flag and a black freedom flag, and a POW flag. It is a practice begun in 1990 by the late owner, Ernest Griffin, when he learned that his mortuary stood on the site of Camp Douglas, a notorious prisoner-of-war camp where more than six thousand Confederate soldiers died. Remarkably, it turned out that before it was a prison, the camp was a Union training and induction center where Griffin’s own grandfather enlisted in the U.S. Colored Infantry during the Civil War. Griffin devote the last years of his life to the study of Civil War history, going South to appear before meetings of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. His funeral home has become a place of personal pilgrimage for the descendants of the Confederate dead who have heard about the black funeral home on King Drive that daily pays its respects.

“I have literally seen prejudices dissipate,” says James O’Neal, Griffin’s son-in-law, who continues his father-in-law’s work. He recalls coming to work one morning to find a white man curled up in a van in the parking lot. The van had Michigan plates, but the man had a deep Southern drawl and said he had lost a great-great grandfather there. “You could tell by his demeanor that he did not wish to be in the middle of an African American community, so I said, “Do you know your ancestors name? `Yeah,’ He was very belligerent, `Yeah!’ I said, ‘Just a second.'” O’Neal brought the man inside to meet his father-in-law. “I said, `Dad, this gentleman lost his ancestor.’ Dad talked to the young man, found his ancestor’s name in the book of all the casualties, and talked to him for twenty minutes,” says O’Neal. “When the young man left here he had a smile on his face, a change of heart, and you could tell that his demeanor had reshaped itself.”

I repeat the story because it says something, at this perilous moment, about the capacity of history, even or perhaps especially, the most fraught history, to produce transcendent moments of reconciliation and mutual understanding.

Someone who understands that is Jerry Patterson, the former land commissioner, state senator and Marine veteran of the Vietnam War.

Jerry Patterson’s great-grandfather, Cpl. James Monroe Cole, was a Confederate prisoner of war at another Union POW camp – Camp Morton in Indianapolis.


Camp Morton. Library of Congress.

Cole lived his later days in the Texas Confederate Veterans Home in Austin and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

“The family lore is that he was so ornery that if he fell in the creek, he’d float upstream,” Patterson told me.

I called Patterson amid the controversy that followed the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia, because I valued his judgment on such things and because, quite typically, he had waded right into the controversy, with a provocative Op-Ed in the Dallas Morning News this week.

“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country.”

All Americans would certainly agree with the statement above. In light of the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, maybe knowing who wrote it might help generate, if not agreement, some level of understanding. Sadly, the miscreant dirtbags who perpetrate violence are probably too far gone for that.

The effort in Dallas to remove Gen. Robert E. Lee’s monument is among many similar efforts underway across Texas and the South. As a descendant of several Confederate veterans, and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I can support the removal of the Lee monument. It may surprise you to learn this.

Statue of Robert E Lee on memorial drive in Richmond, Va 2015
Pinhole Camera Photo by Michael Falco

I supported the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina capitol, in large part because it was historically inaccurate. The battle flag never flew over a state capitol. Instead, South Carolina should’ve done what Texas has done for at least 30 years, and fly the first national flag of the Confederacy instead of the St. Andrews cross inspired battle flag used by the KKK.

The city of Dallas shouldn’t do this in a haphazard manner. Instead, the city council should develop guidelines to measure monuments, as well as the names of parks, streets, and public schools. Statues and other memorials that don’t live up to the guidelines should be removed or renamed. Certainly, any commemoration of a white supremacist should run afoul of these guidelines.

Should we replace the Robert E. Lee statue with a statue of a more politically acceptable historic figure, such as Abraham Lincoln? Would anyone object to a statute of Honest Abe?

Well they should object. When measured by any standard, the “Great Emancipator” was clearly a white supremacist.

The Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC 2015
Pinhole Camera Photo by Michael Falco

In his white supremacism, Patterson writes,  Lincoln was no different than most white males, North and South, at the time.

From his Op-Ed:

Monument removal is a slippery slope fraught with unintended consequences. Would a monument to Buffalo Soldiers pass muster? Probably not. After all, couldn’t it be argued that Buffalo Soldiers participated in a genocidal, white supremacist, war against an entire race of people, the Plains Indians, that in effect enslaved them on reservations?

I’m sure the comments that follow this narrative will say: “Secession was treason and Jeff Davis, General Lee and all Confederates should’ve been hung, not commemorated.” However, the events of 1776, 1810 (Mexico’s secession from Spain) and 1836 would also therefore be treasonous acts. And by the way, a reason Jeff Davis wasn’t tried for treason after the war was the concern by Washington he would be acquitted.

Early in this narrative I wrote I can support the removal of Confederate symbols. All that is needed to gain my support is to change the name of Dallas’ Lincoln Street, Lincoln Park and Lincoln High School. Surely any criteria council would adopt would support the removal of white supremacist names, and Lincoln was certainly that.

And, that quotation above about slavery being a “moral and political evil”? That was in a letter written by Robert E Lee in 1856 while stationed in Texas, five years before the Civil War began. Lee also wrote from Texas in January 1861, “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union,” and, “secession is nothing but revolution.”

History is not easily compartmentalized. It isn’t simply right versus wrong, black versus white, or blue versus gray. But there’s an entire crowd of folks who want to do just that because they believe it is all those things, and most egregiously, they believe there is an individual right for all to go through life unoffended.

Equal treatment. Fairness. Consistency. Who in this progressive and enlightened age can oppose any of those principles? In fact, maybe if we just removed all names and statues of historic figures. All streets would have numbers and letters, and all schools, like in New York City, would be Public School No. _.

We certainly don’t want people to go through their snowflake lives being offended by history.

Patterson’s commentary brought some harsh on-line comments but also some thoughtful letters that the Morning News ran.

Here are two.

An unfinished portrait

Jerry Patterson argues that Lincoln was a white supremacist who supported the deportation of blacks and said that the difference between the white and black races would forbid the races from living together on terms of social and political equality.

Patterson paints a portrait of Lincoln that is unfinished. While it is true that Lincoln said these things early in his career, the full measure of Lincoln is that he, like all great human beings, was a person of intellect, capable of improving his positions when enlightened to errors in his thinking.

Struggling with the great issue of slavery, Lincoln said this in a letter, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery … I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”

We know the path he ultimately chose, and it was not in support of white supremacy. It’s not where you start, Mr. Patterson, it’s where you end up that counts.

Lori Folz, North Dallas

And ..

Patterson selective with facts

Jerry Patterson brings interesting but selective facts to the debate about removing Confederate monuments. History shows that most white men of the era of Lincoln and before were white supremacists. Nonetheless, Lincoln freed the slaves.

The Confederate monuments are not relics from the distant past, but were erected in the 20th century in a tsunami of white rage against signs of black progress. The Confederate symbols, along with the KKK, had all but disappeared until the huge resurgence of fear and bigotry on the part of working-class whites in the 1920s. Thus, Patterson is disingenuous to suggest these are long-standing relics of a glorious and gentle 19th-century Southern past. It is not unlike the backlash to the election of our first black president by the rise of the alt-right.

Let’s erect monuments to our great American scientists, choreographers, writers, artists, entertainers, humanists and move Gen. Lee into a stately museum, along with Confederate flags. And, Mr. Patterson, I am no “snowflake” but a white, tough as nails, Texan-New Yorker with Southern roots and a Daughters of the American Revolution pedigree.

Donna Ross, Frisco

I had dinner with Patterson Monday night to talk about all this.

He understands the moment of peril we find ourselves in.

Patterson thinks a Confederate heritage rally and March in Austin on Sept. 2 is a bad idea that will only create another potential flash point, whatever the sponsors’ intentions.

“You can’t keep people (counter protesters) away so you just ought to quit, stop, go away. Nothing good is going to come of it. Do it next year. Let things cool off a bit,” Patterson said.

(Note: the rally has been postponed to a later date.)

He also thinks it best that Confederate re-enactment groups not bear the Confederate battle flag in Austin Veteran’s Day Parade.

Confederate re-enactors representing the 14th Tennessee Regiment display their battle flag during a reenactment at Gettysburg, PA 2013
Pinhole Camera Photo by Michael Falco


I understand the connotation that goes long with the Confederate battle flag today.

I get it. It’s been co-opted  and, I wouldn’t fly one except at a reenactment or something like that. I wouldn’t and I made that suggestion to the Sons of Confederate Veterans – you know, maybe we should use the Stars and Bars and not the battle flag and, oh my god, these guys are clueless. “We have to defend our heritage.”

“Whatever, OK guys. You want to lose or want to win? You want to win, you’ve got to be smart. You guys aren’t smart.”

“One thing they said when they objected to my suggestion of not using the battle flag the Klan uses and going to the Stars and Bars, one thing they said is true. “We won’t get anything for that because they won’t stop there.

“They’re right.”

Patterson thinks the cause is lost, at least in the cities.

I think all these things are coming down, particularly in municipalities because municipalities are liberal. In the city of Austin, all those City Council members are just tripping over themselves.





We need to slow down and think of what we’re doing here. It’s a slippery slope. Jim Bowie was a slave trader. And that is where they go next, I goddamn guarantee it.

As it happened, the next day, Tuesday, President Trump held his infrastructure press conference when he memorably returned to events in Charlottesville.

This week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

I called Patterson.

“That’s cogent. That’s true,” he said of that line by Trump.

Let’s pause here, in case you are not aware, but Patterson is not an admirer of President Trump. He was not an admirer of candidate Trump. He wrote-in someone for president. (Also note: Patterson’s son, Marine Lt. Col. Travis Patterson, with four combat tours, is among the pilots of Marine One, President Trump’s helicopter.)

From Jim Malewitz at the Texas Tribune in December 2015.

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is not running for state railroad commissioner, and he suggests that Donald Trump has something to do with that.

Patterson was one of several high-profile Republicans flirting late last week with a bid for David Porter’s open seat on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas production. 

But he removed himself from that discussion on Monday, saying he “has better things to do,” in a statement that also expressed disdain for Trump’s presidential ambitions.

“I also believe a nominee of the Republican Party should be able to enthusiastically support all other Republican nominees. With the possible if not probable nomination of Donald Trump for President by my party, I could not do that,” Patterson said. “Telling Trump supporters that they should vote for Jerry Patterson while simultaneously opining that anybody who votes for Trump is an idiot is not a good formula for success.”


But, having made what Patterson thought his cogent statement, what was really stunning about Trump’s remarks at Trump Tower was his suggestion of a moral equivalence between the protesters — who appeared to the naked eye to be replete with torch-bearing Klansmen and neo-Nazis — and counter protesters in Charlottesville; that while you had some bad hombres in each camp, there were also some “very fine people on both sides.”

America was not used to hearing a president speak with such deference about so reviled a group of political outcasts or to see those outcasts basking in his lack of opprobrium.

TRUMP: OK what about the alt left that came charging — excuse me. What about the alt left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this, what about the fact they came charging, that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. Wait a minute, I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news.

That was a horrible day.


I will tell you something. I watched those very closely. Much more closely than you people watched it. And you have, you had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that. But I’ll say it right now.

You had a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.


REPORTER: Do you think that what you call the alt left is the same as neo Nazis?

TRUMP: All of those people — excuse me. I’ve condemned neo Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. So. Excuse me. And you take a look at some of the groups, and you see and you’d know it if you were honest reporters which in many cases you’re not, but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

But they were there to protest, excuse me, you take a look the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.


TRUMP: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left, you’ve just called them the left, that came, violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.

REPORTER: You said there was hatred and violence on both sides —

TRUMP: Well, I do think there’s blame, yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don’t have any doubt about it either. And, and if you reported it accurately, you would say it.


TRUMP: Excuse me. You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group, excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park, from Robert E. Lee to another name.

George Washington was a slave-owner. Was George Washington a slave-owner? So will George Washington now lose his status — are we going to take down — excuse me. Are we going to take down statues of George Washington? How ’bout Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? Ok, good. Are we going to take down the statue because he was a major slave-owner? Now we’re going to take down his statue. So you know what, it’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture. And you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo Nazis or the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.

Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You got a lot of bad people in the other group too.

REPORTER: You said the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?

TRUMP: No. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before, if you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people. Neo Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest. Because I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this, there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country. A horrible moment. But there are two sides.

At this point I was wondering where Trump was getting his information about what went down in Charlottesville, which seemed so detailed and yet so discrepant with the coverage I had seen.

My first thought was maybe Alex Jones, who I have paid a lot of attention to the last year or two, and has proven to be an alternative source of information for Trump.

But, it appears it was another seemingly fringe political figure who I have been paying attention to for nearly two decades: Jared Taylor of the white nationalist site, American Renaissance.

CNN did a report yesterday noting the uncanny similarities between what Taylor had said this week about the events in Charlottesville and what Trump, almost immediately after, was saying.

From 2000 to 2008 I was the only mainstream reporter to cover four biennial American Renaissance Conferences.

After the first, I wrote this: Nietzschean Henry Higgins Strives to Make White Nationalist Presentable.

April 4, 2000
RESTON, Va. – April 1 was Census Day, the moment the 2000 census was supposed to capture, marking the first census of a century that promises by its mid-point to record a United States that is less than half white. By coincidence, it was also opening day for a conference of some 200 white men and a handful of white women who are appalled at that prospect and astonished by the apparent willingness of most whites to let it happen.

“We’ve lost the ability to say ‘us’ or ‘we.’ Most whites simply cannot bring themselves to say, ‘This is our culture, this is our nation and it belongs to us and no one else,’” declared Jared Taylor, the charismatic convener of the fourth biennial American Renaissance Conference, named for the publication that he edits.

Attendees suffered no such lip-lock. The conference brought some of the leading intellectual and political lights of the white far right to the Sheraton Hotel in this planned community a traffic jam from the nation’s capital. For two days, they talked to one another in tones by turn defiant and despairing of the demographic changes threatening white dominance in America and the West, and their determination to rally dormant white racial consciousness to turn back that day or at least to go down in history as those who dared curse the twilight of white primacy.

“Our people are going to be extinct if we don’t stand up on our hind legs and do something,” said Gordon Baum, the affable St. Louis lawyer who heads the national Council of Conservative Citizens, which counts as members at least 80 legislators across the nation.

They talked about an America that they believe once was and ever ought to be a white, European-American nation. Theirs would be a nation bound by blood and sanctified by the genetic scientists who appeared before them as a place where white people might rightly prevail over the black and brown people; a nation where what they consider the natural hierarchy might finally triumph over what they count as the false promise of egalitarianism.

In the words of Samuel Francis, an influential writer and one of its leading ideologists, theirs is “a movement that rejects equality as an ideal and insists on an enduring core of human nature transmitted by heredity.”

This is, of course, many giant steps outside the modern American political mainstream. For the weekend, the Sheraton was a place where racial diversity was denigrated and John Rocker “the one sane man in sports,” Taylor said was celebrated. But, with the exception of a handful of protesters who showed up on the eve of the conference, the broader world barely took notice.

To the faithful in attendance, and to those who warily watch their progress, the American Renaissance Conference represents a notable coming together of previously disparate forces under the banner of white nationalism. Its numbers may be small, but its wingspan stretches from the outskirts of politics and academia to the far reaches of the racist right. And, under Taylor’s tutelage, it is a movement endeavoring to subvert stock stereotypes.

Like a Nietzschean Henry Higgins, Taylor, who was raised in Japan by liberal Presybterian missionary parents, is trying to create a respectable and presentable white racial nationalism.

In advance of the conference, he promised a highbrow affair. “We’re the uptown bad guys,” he said with his genial lilt and disarming self-awareness. The invitation reminded guests that this was a “three-star hotel” and instructed, “Gentlemen will wear jackets and ties.”

Taylor is a graduate of Yale University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies. And he noted that among the featured speakers, only he and Sam Dickson, a fire-breathing Atlanta attorney who closed out the event with an assault on “multiculturalism and race-mixing,” lacked a Ph.D. The others included academics from the United States, Canada and Great Britain, and the second-in-command of the right-wing French National Front.

Taylor, at least in his public role, also tries to steer his operation away from obsessing on the Jews or spinning conspiracy theories too tightly.

At the first conference in Atlanta in 1994, David Duke, who showed up at the hotel, agreed to remain outside the meetings, lest his toxic celebrity poison the infant effort. Duke attended this year, fresh from a bracing appearance at a Richmond shopping mall where he encouraged whites to buy at stores being boycotted by blacks protesting the county’s designation of April as Confederate Heritage Month. At the conference, Duke was received politely but accorded no special attention.

Both friend and foe credit Taylor, 48, as smart, smooth, and so far at least somewhat successful.

Leonard Zeskind, who is writing a book on white nationalism tentatively titled “Barbarism With a Human Face,” believes Taylor’s progress was made possible by the end of a Cold War that once provided the right with sturdy American identity.

“The white nationalist movement has emerged in the critical space between the conservative movement and the Aryan Nations types, and that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” said Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights in Kansas City, Mo. “Their immediate goal is not to win the battle of ideas but to bring their ideas into the battle.”

Of the view that whites are losing their privileged status in America, Zeskind said, “They are right about that.”

America in 1965 was more than 80 percent white. The 2000 census will find a country a little better than 70 percent white. By 2050, it is projected that America will be barely half white, 26 percent Hispanic, 14 percent black and 8 percent Asian. Immigration, mostly from Latin America and Asia, and higher birthrates for some of the non-white populations account for the change.

White supremacy was encoded in the United States until 1865 in slavery and then until 1965 with Jim Crow, said Barry Mehler, director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. Only for the last 35 years has the ideal of equality been dominant.

At the time, I thought if white nationalism ever gained mainstream purchase in American political life, it would be through Jared Taylor – smooth, sophisticated, well-spoken and, in this realm, extraordinarily careful and able to make his arguments in the most disarming way.

What I couldn’t have imagined is that Taylor and white nationalism might gain that purchase in the person of someone as incautious and uncouth as Donald Trump, and that Donald Trump would somehow be president of the United States. (The last American Renaissance conference I covered was in the 2008, when Barack Obama was on his way to being elected president.)

I wrote about Taylor a couple of times during the 2016 campaign, including a January 2016 First Reading,  The `great white hope?’ Behind the white nationalist robocalls for Trump in Iowa.

Taylor told me then:

To me the wonderful effect of Trump is to reopen all these questions that the smug liberals had considered closed for all these decades – the whole question of who do we want to come to America, do we dare make a choice, do we dare express ourselves and have a preference. I think single-handedly he has done in just a few months what scores of us have spent decades trying to do – reopen this question. I think it’s absolutely marvelous.

Whether he himself has any kind of really developed racial consciousness, frankly I doubt it. I think it’s just instinct, he goes on his instincts, and his instinct, like most white Americans, is that he prefers European civilization. But whether or not once he was in office he might start  saying things about how he likes being around white people or that there wasn’t anything wrong with an immigration law that was designed to keep America majority white, whether he would say things like that, I have absolutely no idea.

Finally, to help place all this in context, I called Derek Alderman, a geographer at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, who I’ve grown to know very well, initially because he had studied and catalogued the MLK street phenomenon.


There’s going to be an even greater push for monuments and names and symbols to be toppled, literally and figuratively.

These monuments speak to how much white supremacism was really grounded into the landscape in much of America. Even though neo-Nazis and Klansmen and others are protesting allegedly around protecting these monuments, the monuments themselves are stepped in a white supremacist history that is much deeper and broader than just a group of radicals and a group of extremists.

Virginia is going to great pains to make sure that everybody knows that the folks here in Charlottesville were somehow outside agitators, which is a very ironic turn of phrase because that’s exactly the same kind of arguments that were used against the Civil Rights Movement .

It’s very interesting that this is happening in Charlottesville. That is place very strongly associated with Thomas Jefferson. Here’s Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the country but with a very conflicted, very controversial history with slavery. People have used the fact that this is the hone of  Jefferson’s University ironically, like somehow seeing white supremacy in Jefferson’s Charlotte is just somehow an antithetical thing to see. That’s a very limited interpretation of white supremacy.

 I really think what has to happen, there needs to be a much more systematic study – I don’t mean in a dry academic sense, but more public policy and in terms of people actually taking control of their cities, a real active study of our monuments and our memorials, and that’s not a study tha would always lead to monuments being pulled down or places being renamed.

The point is that we really need to start taking a very sober look tt he memorials and monuments and statues, why they were created, when they were created, for what ideological and political purpose were they created rather than trying to see them as ta very innocent reflection of history, which they are not.

As soon as that monument was created it was doing its own erasing of history, because there were other histories that were not celebrated on public space. It’s very complicated about whose history are being erased and where and when that’s happening

We need a much more sophisticated treatment of the memorial landscape across America. It’s not about black and white or yes or no or binary. It’s  really some very tough public policy.

There needs to be bigger memory work and needs to be bigger discussions and bigger reckonings with the history of white supremacy

The removal of a statue is just a start what really needs to happen.

Alderman talked about what have been called monument graveyards.

Maybe you need to have place set aside where that monument goes, where people can visit. It’s a final resting place with some context to it.

Alderman said that Confederate markers are not limited to the South.

The large number of streets in the US, not just in the South, that are named after Confederate figures, it really represents, for the South to have lost the Civil War, it really has won the war for memory.  Jefferson Davis’s name is really all over the map, and Robert E Lee, the same way, and it’s fascinating.

I think part of it is  – to sort of play devil’s advocate – some of it in Robert E. Lee’s case,he has a following as a military figure that for some people  extends beyond his role in the Civil War. So you have figures that have reputations that sort of transcend region and transcend a specific issue.

However, I think the real reason you see a lot of these things, you see the power of the Daughters of the Confederacy, particularly in the early 20th Century and reaching it the mid-20th Century.

They were very aggressive in promoting the memory  of the Civil War, very aggressive at promoting and expanding that memory into places,  trying to get Jefferson Davis’s named across major highways across the U.S.

I also think, historians would argue,  that it was basically during the latter part of the nineteenth century early part of the 20th century where you had this sort of regional reconciliation that happened, where, at least for white America, there was a coming to terms with the Civil War and really trying to move beyond it and there started to  be these very romanticized notions of the Civil War, romanticized notion of slavery that didn’t just take off in the South but they actually became part of the national memory


You had two big periods of this Confederate memorial creation. One was the late19th and early 20th Century, really the height of Jim Crow and the height of lynching, and then you had the time of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s. and it was very much tied to retaliation or intimidation toward African Americans.

By the time we hit the 1960s, the 100 year anniversary of the Civil War and heart of the Civil Rights Movement, you saw a fair number of monuments and memorials and naming that were happening both in honoring the Civil War and romanticizing it, but also very much about being almost a weapon amid these freedom struggles and the anxiety it created in white America and the social structure they were used to, the status quo. So you saw a lot of Confederate names being put on schools around the time in actual opposition to the Civil Rights Movement.


The last few years I’ve been doing a lot of work in plantation tourism and what I find is when we survey and interview people who visit the plantation museums in New Orleans and Charleston and in Virginia, we find there are a fair number of people who visit these plantations who are not southerners and when they visit often come with these very romanticized notes of what the old South was like and what slavery was or was not like.

One of the big reasons is that there is the creation of this national memory of the Civil War and slavery and the Old South that until recently was highly romanticized and really highly offensive if you were an African American but it made white Americans comfortable with that very divisive part of their past.


I’ll close by returning to an MLK – the Martin Luther King Street in Selma, Alabama.

Intersection of MLK and Jeff Davis streets in Selma, AL 2000
Photo by Michael Falco

It was there, where I first met Marion Tumbleweed Beach living on MLK.

It was a visit timed to the 2000 election in which Selma elected its first black mayor, though Tumbleweed, her house flying a red, black and green African liberation flag had – for her own typically iconoclastic reasons – planted in her lush yard a campaign sign for Joseph T. Smitherman.

Smitherman was the white incumbent who had been mayor when King was leading the voting rights struggle in Selma and Tumbleweed, who had helped King with the Montgomery bus boycott and had been asked by him to return to help in Selma, was charged with finding the “outside agitators” swarming into town to support the protests places to stay.



(Michael Falco. Along Martin Luther King.)

Despite Tumbleweed’s support, Smitherman lost. Selma had elected its first black mayor. And I wrote:

Less than a month after the election, a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general and founder of the Ku Klux Klan, suddenly appears outside the Joseph T. Smitherman Historic Building, a city-owned museum of Confederate artifacts, and the city is again consumed in conflict. Over Martin Luther King Day 2001, protesters led by Rose Sanders lasso the five-ton monument and try to pull it down. It doesn’t budge.

Tumbleweed thinks it would make more sense to place some sturdy wrought-iron benches next to the monument so people could sit and talk about it. “Most of the people in Selma, white and black, have never had  conversation with one another,” she says.

“All people have to have their heroes and symbols,” she says. “To attempt to take them away is to make an enemy.”



No sweat if Gov. Abbott falls shy of special session Shangri-La. The base is chill with Shangri-Lite.

Good morning Austin:

Late last week, in an update on the progress of Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20-item agenda as the special session entered its final days, I wrote about the governor’s “attempts to establish Texas as a kind of Shangri-La of conservative ideals and governance.”

The allusion to the mystical, mythical heaven on Earth, was intended as a playful reference to the unlikely streak of utopianism that the governor revealed in my interview with him about his special session agenda the previous Friday.

“That’s why I said … if we’re going to have a special session I’m going to make it count, and almost to a point of certainty, I can tell you that in 10 days we are going to have a Texas that I consider to be far better, more conservative, that will continue the Texas model for conservative governance.”

There’s a tincture of zealotry here in his assertion  that “almost to a point of certainty” he can guarantee a special session of the Texas Legislature will, in such short order, make Texas a far better place.

While Patrick, who brags that he is the most conservative lieutenant governor in the state’s history, is commonly considered further right than Abbott, the governor has a comprehensive conservative philosophy that places him to the right of George W. Bush – who was, after all, a Bush Republican – and Rick Perry, a former Democrat who, I think, was a more improvisational political figure, adjusting to changing circumstances.

On Friday, Jim Henson and Josh Blank of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, posted a terrific piece –  Slouching Toward Sine Die: A Special Session Driven by Party Politics, Not Public Demand
that forms the basis for today’s First Reading.

In it, they write:

To modify a famous Barry Goldwater line to the current moment, it could simply be the view that extremism in the name of conservatism is no vice. Whether conservative voters are demanding it or not, it may be that the main proponents of the special session’s agenda — the Governor and Lt. Governor — seized a successful moment to build momentum for the agenda that both officials have promoted, often in the name of all Texans. They are, perhaps, fighting the good fight.


Indeed, when Barry Goldwater, in accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1964 said,  “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; and let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,’ it was, at the time, a completely honest and brutally self-discrediting statement, that placed him outside the mainstream of the country he hoped to lead.

But that was then, and  it is a sentiment with which, I doubt, either Gov. Abbott or Lt. Gov. Patrick would really quibble these days. It is in that context, that the governor and lieutenant governor were, with the special session, feeding the body politic’s, or at any rate the Republican base’s, seemingly insatiable appetite for ever-more conservative government.

But, what Henson and Blank found in their polling was that the conservative base was quite happy with what the Legislature did in the regular session, that, with sine die, it was left sated, patting its stomach contentedly and perhaps even emitting a small, happy burp.

That, so soon after, the governor would be laying out a sumptuous 20-course buffet  in a special session that would offer an opportunity to gorge on legislation that had failed to make it through the regular session, was, they found, not a response to some aching hunger or growling stomachs.

And  if some of the governor’s mid-summer banquet went unconsumed – well, gluttony is a vice not a virtue.

We’ll know by Wednesday midnight how many of the governor’s 20 agenda items will make it to his desk as bills he can sign into law.

But, Henson and Blank write:

The lowered expectations for the special session make sense if one looks at conservative and Republican attitudes toward the legislature and statewide leaders at the conclusion of the regular session of the 85th Legislature. While Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and the leadership of some of the state’s most vocal conservative interest groups have either suggested or implied widespread public demand for more action, polling suggests significant conservative contentment with the results of the 85th — and thus, little active demand for more legislation from the legislature at this time.

Last week, with the 30-day special session well past the halfway mark, Governor Abbott told Jonathan Tilove of the Austin American Statesman, “…that in 10 days we are going to have a Texas that I consider to be far better, more conservative, that will continue the Texas model for conservative governance.” The Governor’s comments, like much of the agenda he directed the legislature to address, echoed Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s ongoing calls for the legislature to meet the unfulfilled demands of Texas voters.

However, conservative voters, as a group, don’t appear to show the same discontent expressed by their conservative elected officials, nor by the figureheads and spokespeople of conservative interest groups in the run up to the session. The June University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll suggested that conservative voters in the state expressed the highest levels of approval both of what the Legislature had already accomplished and of the state government leaders who presided over the often fractious session — and approval of the legislature among conservatives was stronger in 2017 than in 2015. Among Republicans who identify with the Tea Party (29 percent of Republicans overall), 75 percent expressed approval, an increase of 6 percentage points over the same time period after the previous legislative session in 2015. These attitudes were also more intense: 34 percent strongly approved, up 12 percentage points from the previous session.





Nor is the narrative of widespread conservative discontent evident in conservative views of the agenda the legislature pursued during the regular session. We compiled a list of high-profile issues engaged by the legislature for the same June poll. Tea Party identifiers expressed more support than any other group in 8 out of the 11 issues assessed. Of these eight, the legislature passed four measures in whole or in part, and appears likely to pass one or two more by the conclusion of the special session.

Whether this level of success is a glass half full or half empty, the strong enforcement measures ostensibly aimed at undocumented immigrants contained in Senate Bill 4 is far and above the most important item to be put on the agenda and delivered for conservatives of all stripes. Immigration and border security are perennially cited by large majorities of Republicans as the most important problem facing Texas in the last several years of polling. By these indications, the most ideological and committed conservative primary voters were highly approving of the work done by their elected leaders, which is not surprising since the legislative agenda reflected their preferences, and the legislature gave them much of what they wanted.


Herein lies the puzzle of the message that the legislature has somehow let down conservatives in the state, who are in turn — we are told — clamoring for them to do a better job.

While this situation seemed like something of a puzzle at the outset of the special session, the increasing evidence of chill attitudes toward what will likely be #WayFewerThan20 results reflects the reality that whatever generated this session, it wasn’t fear of a dissatisfied and mobilized conservative GOP primary electorate.

The chill attitudes of the GOP primary electorate is an arresting image. It is contrary to the popular notion of the Republican primary voters as forever hungry for more red meat.

The members of the House Freedom Caucus are not chill (well, maybe Matt Krause.) Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans is not chill. Julie McCarty of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party is not chill. There is no reason they should be. They are attempting to advance their agenda.

But it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily temperamentally in sync with the broader grassroots.

In fact, after sine die, Gov. Abbott could have immediately called the Legislature back and said, enough fooling around, pass the sunset bills and go home.

In the Capitol, it would have appeared a bold and risky showdown with Patrick, but, the UT/Texas Tribune polling suggests, it would not have alarmed the base.

But he didn’t do that.


From Henson and Blank

It’s not necessary to question the Governor and Lt. Governor’s philosophical dedication to also observe that both are likely attentive to powerful political cross currents as they navigate electoral politics in the run-up to statewide elections next year.

The transition from legislative sessions preceding non-presidential election years in which statewide officials are elected is always colored by the upcoming elections, but this transition is particularly fraught with those electoral politics. The Governor and Lt. Governor will seek re-election to their offices, making them particularly attentive to the Republican primary electorate — an engaged group of very conservative voters. This attention informs the barely subterranean maneuvering between them in their efforts to demonstrate their dedication to claiming credit for conservative legislative accomplishment, and to assigning blame for failures.

So, instead of confronting Patrick with a sunset-and-sine-die session, or conceding to Patrick, with a sunset-and-bathroom session, the governor saw Patrick and raised him 18 other items, burnishing his conservative bona fides, superseding Patrick as top dog, and, essentially providing his re-election campaign, which he launched the Friday before the session’s Tuesday start, with some forward momentum in the absence of any tangible opposition.

In his announcement, Abbott promised  to keep Texas  the “premier state in the greatest nation in the history of the world,” which segues neatly into his promise that the special session would make the state a  “far better” place and national model of conservative governance.

From Henson and Blank:

Given this constellation of interests and positioning, Lt. Governor Patrick’s hostage-taking bid for agenda control elicited what was, in retrospect and at least in its general outline, a predictable escalation from Governor Abbott. The 20-item special session agenda, a pastiche of poll-validated mainstream items (e.g. nods toward property tax…modification) with a good dose of socially conservative niche items (abortion, bathrooms) and just a dash of baroque pet items (trees), simultaneously embraced the Lt. Governor’s distinctive conservative holy warrior agenda while displacing him from the center of the battle in the eye of the public. Battling shoulder to shoulder also allows for an inopportune shove at just the right moment. Abbott’s Facebook narrowcast solo signing of SB4 — the likely centerpiece of every Republican incumbent who needs to mount a primary campaign next year — demonstrated Abbott’s willingness and ability to make such plays despite the griping of allies and reporters. Arguments about whether this play came from weakness or strength are increasingly irrelevant.

For a campaign with nearly $41 million in the bank and no real rival in sight, the special session was an opportunity for some mid-summer maneuvers to show him large and in charge.

But, the session served another purpose as well.

From Henson and Blank:

This seemingly perpetual jockeying for standing among Texas’ most conservative voters has also been reinforced by national politics. While the Texas legislature is inherently focused on state policy and politics, the chaos surrounding the Trump administration and the Republican Congress elected in 2016 creates powerful incentives for Texas Republicans to segregate themselves, and their brand, from their national comrades. This is a complicated effort, as Trump’s approval numbers remain strong among Republican voters amidst brewing scandals and erratic behavior, while job approval of Congress remains dismal — even among Texas Republicans. Further congressional dysfunction only increases the potential value of turning resolutely inward in the face of national midterm elections that will be anything but predictable. It’s a sound hedge for Texas candidates. Given this context, the special session seems not so much about unfinished business, save the matter of sunset legislation, but instead serves the function of strengthening the distinction between the Texas GOP and the brand of their more problematic national comrades.

Right now, the only potentially dark cloud on the horizon for Texas Republicans statewide in 2018 is Trump. And the best way to avoid being done in by Trump is to prove that Texas Republicans are the real deal, a model, as Abbot would have it, of effective conservative governance.

And, the best way to avoid have to answer for Trump this summer was to be busily engaged in something else, in something special.

From Henson and Blank:

While the promotion of a conservative special session agenda fits neatly in the effort to seal off state politics from the national unpleasantness, the emerging acceptance of a relatively low bar for success, in terms of how many subjects get knocked off the Governor’s list, also reflects internal realities of state politics.

While damming in state politics to protect state Republicans from the rough national waters is by most calculations a net gain for state Republicans, politics in the state GOP are fraught with their own powerful cross-currents.

Despite the periodic declarations of shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity in the fight to further entrench “conservative governance” — most often heard from the Lt. Governor — there is plenty of subtle shoving going on between Gov. Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick. Their mutual desire to build and maintain stature among the GOP base and conservative interest groups generates much of this conflict, though it also grows out of the constitutionally baked-in conflict between both their offices and their branches of government — the latter systematically underestimated in press coverage that both dwells on, and feeds, the personal dimensions of this conflict and tension among the big three.

Then there is House Speaker Joe Straus.

From Henson and Blank:

Speaker Straus is naturally the odd-man out, and the most likely to take more public fire from both Abbott and Patrick. The tendency of Straus to seem posed against the other two results in a variation on the same intersection of politics and institutional position that make the Governor and Lt. Governor sometimes seem like Baratheon brothers.

Straus is clearly more moderate in his political temperament and follows a model of balancing Republican interests tilted more in the direction of the party’s economic growth wing. And of course, critically, Straus’s direct constituencies are different: he answers to the voters in his district, and the members of the body that has elected and re-elected him Speaker. As such, he has less of a need to project solidarity with the statewide elected officials other than as a matter of legislative strategy and, much less urgently, party politics.

The day after the special session ends, the Freedom Caucus and its allies will set about the task of trying to see to it that Straus doesn’t return as speaker in 2019, with the argument that it was Straus who obstructed the complete fulfillment of Abbott’s (and Patrick”s) agenda, and with that, the will of the Republican electorate.

But Henson’s and Blank’s numbers suggest that much of that electorate has laid down its pitchforks for the summer.

And, while Straus may not hold their affections, to the extent that he and the House temporized and contained the Abbott and Patrick agenda, he and they  may be saving the party from itself, from the excesses that Republican political hegemony allow but that ultimately could be the party’s undoing.

Because, while Straus may be out of sync with the primary base, of he Big Three, he is closest to the center of gravity of the general electorate and the most representative of Texas writ large, even if Texas writ large has no way of expressing itself. The way electoral politics stand in Texas right now, Republican statewide candidates have every reason to veer right and no real need to ever tack back center.

Reflecting on the bipartisan scene at Gov. Mark White’s funeral, Lisa Falkenberg wrote at the Houston Chronicle:

How have we reached the point in this nation where our leaders come together only in tragedy?

In Texas, at least, I know the main reason. Years of partisan gerrymandering to protect incumbents created noncompetitive voting districts that inspired a monster: an electoral system where winners are chosen by primary voters, whose ideologies lie in the fringes.

Once general election voters lost their say, pragmatism lost ground, bipartisanship became profane and centrists became an endangered species. Mainstream Republicans still in office, such as Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, are viewed by the militant wing with the kind of contempt reserved for wartime deserters.

They don’t understand that Straus’ loyalty, as speaker, isn’t to any one party. He is elected by his colleagues to speak for the House, the whole House, all 150 members who represent Texans in every corner of this vast state, with its varying landscapes and languages, issues and ideologies.

Straus is fighting the good fight, mostly by following the same principle that guided White: do the most good for the most people.

The Freedom Caucus obviously, take the opposite view.

In an interview with First Reading last week, Rep Matt Rinaldi described the House under Straus as a “legislative dictatorship.”

But the case can be made that the process in the House, which lacks the single-mindedness of Patrick’s Senate, is more intrinsically conservative.

I grew up in the waning days of the Conservative Coalition in Congress, which for a generation used its institutional power to throttle change and resist the popular will.

From Conservapedia:

The Conservative Coalition was a coalition in the U.S. Congress that brought together the majority of the Northern Republicans and a conservative, mostly Southern minority of the Democrats. The coalition usually defeated the liberals of the New Deal Coalition; the Coalition largely controlled Congress from 1937 to 1963. It continued as a potent force until the 1990s when most of the conservative southern Democrats were replaced by southern Republicans. The coalition no longer exists.

In its heyday, its most important Republican leader until his death in 1963 was Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio; Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen was the key Republican in the 1960s. The chief Democrats were Senator Richard Russell, Jr. of Georgia and Congressmen Howard W. Smith of Virginia and Carl Vinson of Georgia. Dirksen and the Republicans broke with Southern Democrats and provided the bipartisan votes necessary to insure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Between 1939 and 1963, the coalition was able to exercise virtual veto power over domestic legislation, and no major liberal legislation was passed during this entire quarter century. Harry Truman won reelection in 1948 and carried a Democratic Congress, but the only portion of his Fair Deal program that passed was cosponsored by Taft. Under Lyndon Johnson in 1963-65 liberals broke the power of the coalition by passing the Civil Rights Act, which was assisted by a newly elected liberal Congress in 1964. Congress passed the liberal Great Society programs over the opposition of the coalition. However the coalition regained strength in the 1966 election, in the face of massive rioting in the cities, and the tearing apart of the Democratic New Deal coalition over issues of black power, liberalism, student radicalism and Vietnam.

In their essay, Henson and Blank conclude that the special session will end with Abbott, Patrick and Straus all able to claim success, and no broad public clamor for more.

They write:

The relative political and institutional positions of the big three in this moment also inform the likely acceptance of something well less than the entirety of the special session call. The Governor, ensconced atop the executive branch, can claim credit for whatever successes emerge, and blame the failures on the legislative branch. Even if the dependent clauses in his statements single out the House, to the casual listener some of the criticism inevitably also falls on the Senate — and the Lt. Governor. For his part, the Lt. Governor can cast blame on the leadership of the House for disappointing him and the Governor, as well as conservatives across Texas. Both will appeal to the voters’ role in passing final judgment in next year’s Republican primaries. Speaker Straus will affirm his view that he followed the will of the body to focus on the important business of the state, and to have avoided dangerous and divisive measures — and likely do what successful Speakers have done for time immemorial: get out of the limelight as much as possible.

These matters of positioning among the Big Three will be familiar to watchers of the legislature, most of whom will have their own spin on what sometimes amounts to an Austin version of Kremlin watching. But however the particulars are parsed, in the context of widespread conservative satisfaction with legislative performance during the 85th and a lack of evidence of clamoring for more action outside the headquarters of the usual group of conservative funders, brokers, and advocates, both the origins of the special session and its tepid product are rooted more in the politics of the elite players than in public demand.




Matt Rinaldi’s conservative pilgrim’s progress: `We’re winning the battles more often now.’

Good morning Austin:

Earlier this week I did a First Reading on my interview with Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas. Villalba, who ended the regular session in kind of funk, felt rejuvenated in the special session, mostly because he felt Speaker Joe Straus had stood tall.

Yesterday I interviewed Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, who is the Dallas County Republican least politically like Villalba. Rinaldi ended last session in the thick of a brawl on the floor of the House that put the death threat in sine die.

To the extent that Rinaldi is frustrated by the special session, it is because he thinks Straus is too tall in teh saddle.

Here are excerpts from our interview conducted on my favorite bench outside the Capitol cafeteria.

FR: Would you rate the special session a success?

RINALDI: It remains to be seen. It looks like we’re going to pass some sort of property tax rollback provision. I don’t  know if the rollback is going to be six percent or four percent, which makes a huge difference, and whether or not it’s going to apply to all citizens of Texas,  or whether it’s going to be bracketed to just a few.

So, being the number one priority and not even knowing how that’s going to come out, it’s hard to assess the session.

What’s really important to me is property tax reform, the women’s privacy act and school finance reform and none of those three have yet been passed, so it remains to be seen how successful the session is.

I think a four percent rollback rate applying statewide would be ideal. A four percent rollback rate would mean cities and towns would  be able to raise taxes 20 percent in a five-year period, and any elected official who would oppose that rollback rate is saying they should be able to raise it more and voters shouldn’t even be allowed to have a say. It’s ridiculous.

I would like it four percent and to apply to every political subdivision.

FR:  What is the significance of Calendars Committee Chairman Todd Hunter backing off on not allowing amendments to the property tax bill when it comes to the floor Saturday?ificance of Hunter relenting on the rule to allow amendments

RINALDI: It was an unprecedented move to  attempt to silence members. To tel them that the most important bill to million of Texans who are being crushed under the weight of sky-rocketing property taxes can’t even hear different approaches being debated. I think it was a heavy-handed iron-fist approach. I’m glad that it was rejected.

There were enough votes to defeat the rule. Leadership doesn’t have the hold it once did.

It’s the same story with real property tax reform, with the women’s privacy act as it was for a while with the school finance reform commission. The conservative legislation that the governor has put on his call, that he’s pushed is being obstructed by the House leadership.

Straus has certainly been very demonstrative this session. I think he’s been flexing more muscle than he ever has. I also think he’s weaker than he’s been since I’ve been here.

More demonstrably than ever now, it’s not a member-driven body. Everything’s been driven from the top down. It’s effectively a legislative dictatorship the way it’s being run now, and I think that Calendar rule exhibited that.

FR: If so, the dictatorship relented in that case.

RINALDI: You still need the votes.

He’s flexing his muscles more than ever but I also think the leadership is weaker. (Absent Straus) I think you’d get an outcome more like in the Senate, where 18 of 20 bills passed right off the bat.

I would pass all 20. I think the 20 issues were well-chosen by the governor. I think they were prime conservative issues, mixed with issues that received bipartisan support. I think for the House to have passed only a few of these before this week is unacceptable.

Before this week, the House had been in session about six hours and passed three of the bills that the governor put on his call. We passed other bills that were for show. The Senate passed 18 of the 20 and worked for 36 hours to do it.

I’m thrilled we passed the abortion insurance bill. I think that was a good substantive piece of legislation and huge victory. I hope we are going to pass annexation reform, but I hope it’s annexation reform that applies to everybody. We seem to be excluding those who live in rural areas and I think that’s troubling.

Saturday we are going to have a property tax reform bill. We’re gong to see if it’s real reform or if it’s just a bill to pass to say we passed a bill, and we’re going to have amendments hopefully to make it stronger to provide some real relief for homeowners.

The governor and lieutenant governor have worked to pass all 20 bills and the sole obstruction has been House leadership.

(Fourteen legislators have asked the House Republican Caucus to meet Thursday, the day after the session ends, to talk about the procedure for electing the speaker in the next session.)

RINALDI: I think any procedure would have to be to have our nominee for leadership to be chosen within the Republican Caucus and then that nominee would be chosen by the whole body and I certainly, myself, would pledge to support any nominee that is chosen by the caucus.

FR: Should the choice of speaker be a secret ballot?

RINALDI: I’m undecided. I don’t know. I know the one thing I’m 100 percent decided on is the Republicans ought to be choosing their nominee for speaker and then that nominee ought to be chosen by the body with all of us agreeing to support the Republican nominee.

FR: Will Straus be speaker next session?

RINALDI: I don’t know.

FR: Straus and his supporters say that he is not willful, that what you are seeing is the will of the House..

RINALDI: But it’s clearly not, otherwise we’d be taking votes on these things. His actions have been designed to prevent votes, things are killed in committee. It’s designed to prevent a public vote on a bill.

FR: What would like to see on school finance?

RINALDI: I’d like to see a school finance commission be appointed to look at ways to build the school finance system from the ground up and look at ways to eliminate Robin Hood.

FR: Would you like to do away with property taxes altogether as a source of school funding?

RINALDI: I think property taxes are an inefficient method of raising revenue because you’re taxing capital. When you tax something, there’s less of it. Economic growth comes from capital. I think you want to tax consumption so you incentivize people to produce more and consume less.

FR: The Senate Education Committee is meeting on the House school financing plan Friday.

RINALDI:  The Fisher-Price Bill. That’s what I call it, because we’re spending imaginary money, voting on a bill that has absolutely no chance of passage. I liken it to putting a Fisher-Price steering wheel on your desk, so while we’re voting on an imaginary bill we can drive an imaginary car – honk, honk.

Huberty’s school finance bill will not become law. That was a show put on by leadership.

I’m in favor of teacher pay raises. I though the lieutenant governor’s plan was a good one. I liked what he said at the beginning of session about eliminating Robin Hood. People don’t realize how small in the overall budget is the amount of money spent on Robin Hood each year and we could effectively eliminate it in one budget session by making the state make the payments for the local school districts.

FR: Why a commission?

RINALDI: We know the traditional legislative process has failed to produce a significant change in school finance over the last several legislative sessions, so we need to do something that’s more likely to produce a better product, and I think a school finance commission focused solely on rebuilding a school finance system from the ground up is definitely more likely than the legislative process to produce a product to at least start the discussion.

FR: On the privacy/bathroom bill. Was opposition from the business community instrumental in its demise?

RINALDI: Business community? Forty-five businesses that wrote a letter? Arbitrary, random business letters writing letters?

FR: Some big ones. Some name brands.

RINALDI: There are some big ones. But as an overall percentage of the economy though …

It might be important to the speaker.

In the end, the governor showed his support. The lieutenant governor showed his support. The speaker has made that his last stand and has refused to move. So in the end it’s him standing alone against it.

FR: Do you hear a lot about it from constituents?

RINALDI: The funny thing is the misinformation campaign has been so widespread.

People are under a misapprehension about what the bill does. When I tell them it doesn’t provide criminal penalties for using the wrong bathroom, they usually say, “Oh, never mind.”

What the bill actually does is prevent businesses from being sued for adopting one particular bathroom policy over another and leaves them free to make their own decisions on it. Then they are definitely in favor of that. And then when I say it sets a policy for schools that prevents boys and girls from using the same restrooms or showering together, they say, well that’s common sense. People don’t realize that all it is setting the clock back to two years ago before all this gender theology craziness started … the Obama Title IX directive.

FR: Will the failure of that legislation and others among the 20 that you backed, leave you feeling that you lost ground in the special session?

RINALDI: I don’t think it feels like lost ground. If we come out of special session with an abortion insurance bill that saves lives, I’m glad we had it. If we come out of special session with some property tax relief, then I’m glad we had it.

However, if we come out with one or two things, a property tax bill that doesn’t accomplish real reform and people use that as an excuse not to do more, that’s where it can be harmful.

You don’t want to pass bills just to pass them, because then people say the work is done.

All twenty items would have passed if they came to the floor.

I think you would have had the votes for at least 18 of 20 them easily.

FR: So you’re not buying the argument that the way House works its will is simply more deliberative than the Senate, and that’s what’s special about the House.

RINALDI: Pfff. Notate that as “laughs.”

That’s what people would have said about the Senate until they got real conservative leadership in the Senate and you see a lot different result. When people say that they are making excuses.

FR: But isn’t the Senate more lockstep?

RINALDI: I think the Senate is far more cohesive than the House.

FR: But are they happy?

RINALDI: I see more disgruntled Republicans in the House then I do in the Senate, because these are people who ran on conservative issues and obviously, they want to accomplish them. When the walls (in the House) keep getting put up and things are being driven from the top down in way they disagree with, I think you are going to see people get more disgruntled.

I think we definitely are moving in a more conservative direction. Votes we lost last session, we won this session. Like the sanctuary cities bill. That’s a huge example, on a very high-profile bill.

The Cook vote on trying to strip the Krause amendment (to pay for the restoration of funding for acute care therapy for disabled children with disaster relief money instead of tapping the rainy day fund) as well. You have a committee chair of the most powerful House committee trying to strip an amendment from a bill and loses. That wouldn’t have happened last session. It happened now.

We’ve had two straight sessions with a budget that didn’t increase more than population plus inflation in any year, which is something that didn’t happen in the previous 15 years. We finally addressed a substantive illegal immigration bill with the sanctuary city bill, which has not happened in previous sessions.

HB 2 was a tremendous abortion success, but also the dismemberment abortion ban, defunding Planned Parenthood were all huge pro-life victories, and not just one, but numerous abortion victories this session,  the abortion insurance bill now in the special session.

On conservative priority after conservative priority, we’re still having to fight for it but we’re winning the battles more often now.

FR: Do you think Gov. Abbott should consider calling a second special session?

RINALDI: It could be worthwhile, but only if the governor makes clear that he will keep calling us back until a certain bill (or bills) is passed.

Here is the description of the last day of the regular session from Lawrence Wright in his New Yorker piece, America’s Future Is Texas With right-wing zealots taking over the legislature even as the state’s demographics shift leftward, Texas has become the nation’s bellwether.

The session concluded this year on Memorial Day, and so fallen soldiers were honored. Legislators said goodbye to colleagues with whom they had endured a hundred and forty of the most intense days of their lives.

Meanwhile, buses began arriving at the capitol. Hundreds of protesters, some from distant states, burst through the doors, filling all four levels of the rotunda and spilling into the House gallery. They unfurled banners (“SEE YOU IN COURT!”) and chanted, “S.B. 4 has got to go!” One of the protest organizers, Stephanie Gharakhanian, explained to reporters, “We wanted to make sure we gave them the sendoff they deserve.”

A few of the Democrats in the chamber looked up at the chanting protesters and began to applaud. State troopers cleared the gallery and broke up the protest, but by that time some of the Republicans on the floor had taken offense. Matt Rinaldi, a member of the Freedom Caucus from Dallas County, who is sometimes rated the most conservative member of the House, later told Fox Business Network that he noticed several banners bearing the message “I AM UNDOCUMENTED AND HERE TO STAY.” He called ICE, and then bragged to his Hispanic colleagues about it.

A shoving match broke out on the House floor. Curses flew. Afterward, Rinaldi posted on Facebook that Poncho Nevárez, a Democrat from the border town of Eagle Pass, had threatened his life. “Poncho told me he would ‘get me on the way to my car,’ ” Rinaldi wrote, adding that he made it clear that “I would shoot him in self-defense.”

FR: Does your fame/notoriety help or hurt you politically?

RINALDI: Among Republicans, being strong on immigration helps. Among the general public, the sanctuary city issues, if you look at the Texas Tribune poll, it polls very well even among independent voters. 70 percent of independents supported the policy in the sanctuary city bill, 85 percent of Republicans. My district is highly minority, but the minority is Asians who supported the sanctuary city policy 55-45 in that poll.

If you look at the Asian-American precincts in my district, they vote overwhelmingly Democrat but they vote overwhelmingly for me. I have a very close ties with the Indian community. In the end all politics is local and I do have very close connections with individuals in my community from both parties, so that’s why I do well there.

FR: In view of how the session ended, was it hard to come back, were their lingering hard feelings, were people giving you funny looks, have you talked to Poncho?

RINALDI:  Yeah, we talk to each other..I’ve talked to him. We’ve talked. (Rep. Ramon) Romero and i have talked.

FR: Do you think the incident has compromised your ability to be an effective legislator?


People know I stand up for my principles. People know I act on that.

This morning I asked Nevárez what he thought.

“We talked and forgave each other if that’s what he’s referring to,” he texted me. “Don’t know much about effectiveness part but time will figure that out.”

Texas Two Step: House stiffens penalties for nursing home ballot fraud while repealing a bipartisan solution.

Good morning Austin:

Toward the end of the regular session, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bipartisan voter fraud bill that promised to expand voting by residents of nursing homes even as it eliminated the possibility of fraud.

But Abbott also included further cracking down on ballot fraud on the agenda for the special session, and yesterday he tweeted his approval of legislation approved by the House responsive to his call.

Only, the new bill he touted yesterday would repeal a key part of the bill he touted, and signed into law, in May, before it ever had a chance to go into effect.

It was an especially heartbreaking turn of events for Rep. Tom Oliverson, the Cypress Republican who I wrote about recently on  First Reading: Be nice and carry a gun: Freshman of the year Rep. Tom Oliverson’s nuanced take on the special session.

As I wrote then, Oliverson was most proud of having crafted:


Oliverson was able to put together a bipartisan coalition behind a measure, that was ultimately folded into an election reform bill, to deal with the problem of agents of different candidates fraudulently filling out absentee forms for unsuspecting nursing home residents.


You’re not going to steal a presidential election with mail ballot fraud but you could affect a primary. You could win a school board race. you could perhaps win a county judge or a county commissioner race in a rural county.

We started the process with some very conservative stakeholders in Harris county Ed Johnson (senior director in the IT department of the Harris County Clerk’s office, and Alan Vera (former national poll watcher trainer for True the Vote).

The first week of session, Glenn Maxey (a former Democratic state representative from Austin and now legislative director for Texas Democratic Party) walks in this office – never met him before. He came to see me. He said, “I want to help.”

Any time we can get both parties to agree that there a) is fraud b) that’s right here and c) that we can fix it, it’s something we have to pursue.

Under Oliverson’s plan, borrowed form a successful practice in Wisconsin, “eelection judges go in as team to the nursing homes and manually the ballots are completed in front of them and they collect ballots from the residents. You’ve just removed the opportunity to commit fraud.”

Glenn suggested I go tot talk to (Austin Rep.) Celia Israel, she’s vice chair of Elections, and Glenn, he told me flat-out, he just said, “In my party she is probably the most respected name in terms of elections for us.” He said you should go talk to her I think she’ll really like this bill.

I did. She said, “Let me think about it,” and she got back to me the next day, “I really like it .”

“I’d like you to be my co-author,” Oliverson told Israel, who agreed. He talked with Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who chairs the Elections Committee, and she joined as co-author.

I talked to Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas).  He walked me right over to Eric Johnson ‘s desk – “This almost got him in his election.”

Oliverson said Johnson, another Dallas Democrat, told him:

This is ground zero for me. Can I be a joint author? This is what’s happening in my back yard.

But yesterday, Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who had been tapped by the governor along with Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, to guide the voter fraud legislation in the special session, amended the bill to repeal Oliverson’s measure, which would have gone into effect Sept. 1.

Here, from yesterday’s debate.


As some of you have heard, one of the provisions of this amendment is that it completely repeals a bill which we passed actually twice with super majorities, bipartisanship, a bill that came out of the Elections Committee unanimously, and I just want to clear a few things up because one of the things that I heard is,   and I know some of you were told, is “Man, this bill should have never passed. It was deeply flawed, It was a terrible bill.”

And I just got to tell you, I’ve got a copy of the bill right in front of me, the bill that was added to Rep. (Diego) Bernal’s (D-San Antonio) bill, and I have gone through it line by line, and I have looked at every change as compared to when we filed it and how it came out of the Elections Committee, and the committee substitute, and I can account for every change, and most of the changes that are in here were things like, we established a minimum bed number, we deleted hospitals, we made an exception for small facilities with a small number of beds.

These were all changes that the election clerks came to us and they asked for and the thing about this bill, and the thing about this whole process that is very frustrating to me – I understand that it’s an unfunded mandate, I understand that it’s going to cause some of our election clerks, or all of our election clerks, to do more work and I’m sorry about that. I really am.

But to come up here and say, for for anyone to say, that somehow this product was hijacked, it was corrupted, it was a bad product, it’s just patently false. So unless somebody wants to get on the back mic and go through line by line and show me exactly where in this bill it is corrupted (slaps his hand into the podium) or where it’s flawed, then I don’t want to hear any more of that.

The second thing I wanted to say is that one of the things that makes people uneasy about this bill – and this is really sad, I want you to think about this for a minute – one of the things that makes people uneasy about this bill is the fact that it is a bipartisan election fraud bill, as if to suggest that it is not possible, never has been, never will be, for Republicans and Democrats to agree that there is election fraud, it affects us all and it’s something we want to work on together, and that it’s something we want to come up with a solution we can all agree on.

(Inhales deeply) And I just think that’s sad. I think it’s sad that there are people in the body, that there are people out there listening to me talk right now, that are naturally suspicious of anything that has to do with election fraud that’s bipartisan. They don’t necessarily want to give it a fair hearing, because they assume that if the party that’s not my party is for this bill, then it must be bad for me. And I think that’s sad, members, that we can’t come together on these issues and work together in a bipartisan way.

So I get it. We’ve come too far too fast. I understand that there are some concerns.

I have an amendment, which I’m not going to offer, but I have an amendment here, that would have actually cleaned up a lot of those concerns and things that were brought to me. It includes suggestions from the attorney general’s office, the secretary of state’s office, we continue to work with our election administrators and the clerks.

But we’re going to blow it up, and we’re going to pretend that it never happened, because we’ve gotten cold feet and we’ve come too far too fast, and I guess all I can say is, you know at one point people thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the Earth.

But I will tell you this. I’m not a prosecutor. I’m not a lawyer. I’ve been told these cases are hard to prosecute. I’m told they are difficult to prove. They’re difficult to find.

What was unique about this bill, that we are now going to blow up and repeal, was that instead of punishing somebody after they commit a crime, we were actually taking away the opportunity to commit a crime.

Now I know, I’ve heard some people say, “No, no, no. That’s not true. It will open up the possibility for more fraud.” You know where that come from? Let me tell you where that comes from. That comes from an insecurity of the fact that our bill allows for someone who is registered to vote, a legal registered vote, residing at the nursing home, who did not previously request a ballot by mail, but is eligible for a ballot by mail, to get a ballot by mail and to be able to vote on the spot, subject to filling out an application for ballot by mail, and going through the same judging process to make sure that this was a legitimate process, as we see with many of our other election security things.

But I think it’s sad that at the end of the day, we’re more interested in punishing offenders then in preventing crime. I may not be a lawyer, but I am a doctor, and I will tell you flat-out, there’s an old saying in health care, and that is that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure any time.

And so with that members, I am going to be voting on this bill, I hope you will excuse me that I do not want to blow up my own work product I believe in very strongly. However, I will say that I encourage those of you who are listening to me right now to follow the author on his amendment. We will come back in two years. We will try again, and I will keep fighting.

Laubenberg, who chairs the Elections Committee, came to the back mic to thank Oliverson for his work on the issue.

“I think everyone in the body, Republican or Dermocat, want to make it easy for legitimate voters to vote,” she said.

Oliverson said he “wanted people to have as many opportunities to legitimately vote and to protect their vote.”

Laubenberg, who under the rules of engagement had to be asking Oliverson a question said, “I just want to thank you, how do I put it in  a question? Can I thank you for your work and your willingness to work with everyone, will you accept?

Oliverson said yes and thank you.

But let’s pause here to hear from someone who was not thankful for what Oliverson had tried to do – Aaron Harris of Direct Action Texas, a conservative advocacy group in the DFW area.







That’s cheap freshman of  the year, buddy because, after all, Oliverson was chosen by the members of the House Republican caucus as the outstanding member of their freshman class.

Here, from a few days ago on Direct Action’s website:

House Ballot Fraud Bill – HB184 vs. HB47

Posted by |

The special session is nearing an end and the Governor’s call for increased penalties for mail in voter fraud has stalled in the House in the form of HB 184.

There is a lot of discussion, driven largely by our office, as to the differences between HB184 by Goldman and HB47 by Schofield. We are fighting FOR HB184;, let me tell you why.

First, let me back up and discuss something that happened during regular session. The TX Legislature passed a bill we now refer to as the “nursing home” bill. This  flew under the radar and was added at the last minute as an amendment. This bill opens up every nursing home in Texas to ballot harvesting. It creates an unfunded mandate on every county, and many, many other problematic details. The Democrat party has been bragging about getting this bill passed. One party official even bragged that the Dem party has already calculated this bill will get them nearly 300,000 additional harvested ballots. They did the math;, they wrote the bill;, they got it passed. THIS IS A VERY BIG PROBLEM. This week over 100 county election administrators signed a letter opposing this legislation.

The main difference between HB184 and HB47, both as amended, is that HB184 FULLY REPEALS the nursing home bill. Let me be clear – the “nursing home” bill is flawed at every level, it cannot be “fixed”, but  must be repealed. HB47 naively attempts to patch the “nursing home” bill. This is like trying to fix Obamacare. Repeal and Replace is the only viable choice. This difference alone is worth the fight.

OK, but something doesn’t parse here.

Oliverson said the idea behind his bill originated with Alan Vera, formerly of True the Vote, which is, I thought, as conservative a voting watchdog as you’re going to find, and who is now the chief of ballot security for the Harris County GOP, which I presume is as interested in winning elections there as Republicans in Tarrant County want to win elections where they are.

The bill had buy-in from heavyweights in the state Republican Party.

And, while Oliverson said both the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office called him Wednesday to tell him that they wanted his measure repealed, support for the measure among Harris County Republicans seems to have held fast.

In fact, another Harris County Republican, Rep. Kevin Roberts, R-Spring, came to the back mic to ask Oliverson what he should tell Vera, who had sent the party’s Harris County House delegation a long email, expressing his distress that Goldman’s “amendment  to SB 5 eliminating the new nursing home ballot process.

Reading from Vera’s email, Roberts said, “We’re at a loss to understand these planned actions  when the call for the special session specially highlighted the need to further reduce mail ballot fraud. This new effort to repeal the nursing home mail ballot process makes no sense. Under the current system, mail ballots sent to nursing homes and assisted living centers are a ballot harvester’s dream. My question is why are we repealing this?”


I would answer that two ways. I think you have a legitimate concern among our election administrators and clerks that there is an unfunded mandate attached to that bill. There is. There will be dollars and we can’t exactly say how much that will be. I doubt it will be a significant amount of money, but I guess it could be.

As to the rest of this, I can’t answer your question. I really don’t know.

I’m sitting here with a copy of my bill. We vetted it very carefully. Everybody from True the Vote on the right to the Democrat Party of Texas on the left, and everybody signed off on every change that we made on this bill so, to your point, this was a carefully vetted, carefully thought-out process. It allows the secretary of state discretion in writing rules to anticipate or deal with situations that may not be able to be anticipated that could arise, that would allow for it to be implemented in the least painful process but at the same time preserve the integrity of our elections and make sure that our seniors votes aren’t harvested.

Here is the vote on the amendment repealing Oliverson’s provision, with Oliverson, present, not voting.

SB 5 – (consideration continued)
Amendment No. 5, as amended, was adopted by (Record 99): 89 Yeas, 48
Nays, 3 Present, not voting.
Yeas — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Ashby; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann;
Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burkett; Burns; Burrows; Button; Cain;
Capriglione; Clardy; Cook; Cosper; Craddick; Dale; Darby; Davis, S.; Dean;
Elkins; Faircloth; Fallon; Flynn; Frank; Frullo; Geren; Goldman; Gonzales;
Gooden; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Huberty; Isaac; Kacal; King, K.; King, P.;
Klick; Koop; Krause; Kuempel; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg;
Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Morrison; Murphy; Murr; Neave; Paddie;
Parker; Paul; Phelan; Phillips; Price; Raney; Rinaldi; Roberts; Sanford; Schaefer;
Schofield; Schubert; Shine; Simmons; Smithee; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland;
Stucky; Swanson; Thompson, E.; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; Villalba; White;
Wilson; Workman; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.
Nays — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Anchia; Areval; Bernal; Blanco;
Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Davis, Y.; Dukes; Dutton; Farrar; Gervin-Hawkins;
Giddings; Guerra; Guillen; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Hinojosa; Howard; Israel;
Johnson, E.; Johnson, J.; King, T.; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Minjarez; Moody;
Munoz; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Pickett; Raymond; Reynolds; Rodriguez, E.;
Romero; Rose; Thierry; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Vo; Walle; Wu.
Present, not voting — Mr. Speaker; Cyrier(C); Oliverson.
Absent, Excused — Canales; Gonzalez; Keough; Leach; Nevarez; Rodriguez, J.; Shaheen; Sheffield.
Absent — Deshotel; Hunter
Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-MIssouri City, asked Goldman, “So what are the provisions in the bill that reduce voter fraud that don’t create new crimes and increased penalties?”


Well, I believe the increasing of penalties is the main point of this bill.

Hopefully the harvesters who are creating the fraud will realize that it’s no longer a slap on the wrist, that if you commit such fraud you will probably go to jail.

We’ve had instances in Tarrant County, and there’s been instances in Dallas County, where mainly these vote harvesters are going out and committing such fraud and if they get caught there’s not that strong of a penalty to prosecute those who get caught. So by increasing the penalties, hopefully this is deterrent not to commit these activities in the future.

Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, spoke on her disappointment on the repeal of the bill – the law – that she co-authored with Oliverson.
When we talk to our votes – i know I do this al the time . we’re very proud. We say, “We’re not Congress. We haven’t devolved to the point where like Congress we don’t listen to one another and we don’t work across party lines.”
My friend, Rep. Goldman,  in my view, is taking an assignment from the governor, and making this go down as cleanly and quickly as possible for the sake of political points, and it pains me. I serve as vice chair of this committee. I’ve been a very good vice chair to Chair Laubenberg. I have served hours upon hours and what the chairman has taught me is that ..
At this point Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, called a point of order on Israel.
I call a point of order on this debate under Rule 5 Section 22. The gentlelady has engaged personalities and named Rep. Goldman by name in violation of the House rules.
After a few minutes, Cain was overruled and Israel continued.
“The politics have changed on this and it’s interesting,” said Israel, saying that Goldman was not even open to creating a pilot program for nursing home voting. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Noting her co-authorship with Oliverson on a reform that was signed into law by the governor, Israel said, “we are now redacting that and acting like it never happened. I am disappointed with the way this special session is going for a variety of reasons. and I am disappointed with how this topic is being handled and treated.”
“We took steps during he regular session to address this issue and I am concerned about what this bill says about the state of Texas,” Israel said.
Here was the vote on 2nd reading on the bill.
SB 5, as amended, was passed to third reading by (Record 100): 90 Yeas, 37
Nays, 2 Present, not voting.
Yeas — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Ashby; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann;
Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burkett; Burns; Burrows; Button; Cain;
Capriglione; Clardy; Cook; Cosper; Craddick; Dale; Darby; Davis, S.; Dean;
Elkins; Faircloth; Flynn; Frank; Frullo; Geren; Goldman; Gonzales; Gooden;
Guillen; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Huberty; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; King, K.;
King, P.; Klick; Koop; Krause; Kuempel; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson;
Laubenberg; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Morrison; Murphy; Murr; Neave;
Oliverson; Paddie; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Phillips; Price; Raney; Rinaldi; Roberts;
Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shine; Simmons; Smithee; Springer; Stephenson;
Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thompson, E.; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; Villalba;
White; Wilson; Workman; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.
Nays — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are ́valo; Bernal; Blanco; Coleman;
Collier; Cortez; Davis, Y.; Dutton; Gervin-Hawkins; Hinojosa; Howard; Israel;
Johnson, E.; Johnson, J.; King, T.; Martinez; Minjarez; Moody; Mun ̃oz; Oliveira;
Ortega; Pickett; Raymond; Reynolds; Rodriguez, E.; Romero; Rose; Thierry;
Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Vo; Walle; Wu.
Present, not voting — Mr. Speaker; Cyrier(C).
Absent, Excused — Canales; Gonzalez:  Keough; Leach; Nevarez: Rodriguez, J.; Shaheen; Sheffield.
Absent — Anchia; Deshotel; Dukes; Fallon; Farrar; Giddings; Guerra;
Gutierrez; Hernandez; Longoria; Lucio; Perez; Sanford
When the House adjourned yesterday I spoke with Craig Goldman about what had happened.
Here is what he told me:
Here’s the back story. Oliverson had a bill during session that basically opens up the nursing homes and makes them early voting locations. So Elections (Committee) heard it, passed it, didn’t move after that.
May 22, (Sen. Joan) Huffman (R-Houston) puts it on an amendment on Diego Bernal’s bill dealing with elderly disabled seniors. Fine bill, but tacks that on as an amendment. Sends it over.
Bernal gets it back May 27, puts it on Local and Consent and it passes. Governor signs it. All happened late. Slipped past the goalie. People weren’t aware what it did.
Well, 15 days later, 20 days later, Hancock and I are meeting with our election administrator and county judge (in Tarrant County) – “What did y’all pass? Y’all just slammed the biggest mandate on us that we’ve ever had. This is out of control.”
The more we started talking to other (local election officials ) – “This is horrendous. This is an unfunded mandate we can’t support.”
One by one election administrators and the Election Administrators’ Association –  we  got over 65 of them affecting 120 members saying, “Please repeal it. We don’t like and we didn’t ask for it.” They testified against it in committee and didn’t think it was going to go anywhere.
Goldman said he hadn’t heard their testimony in committee because he doesn’t sit on the Elections Committee. Goldman said he and Hancock were told they were chosen to carry the bill because of the election fraud that had occurred in their counties.
He said Oliverson’s bill also opened up new opportunities for fraud by giving the election judges chosen by each party the opportunity to do their own vote harvesting on their visits to nursing homes.
But that assumes corrupt election judges, I told Goldman.
“Assumption granted,” Goldman replied.
But Oliverson said that there are always two judges present – one from each party – so they would have to collude in their corruption, which he said makes no sense.
Neither the governor’s office or the attorney general’s office offered any comment on the repeal of Oliverson’s law.

But …

This is the way the special session ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

Good morning Austin

If you’re reading this, it means we haven’t yet been incinerated, in, as our president put it yesterday, “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

That’s good.

It would be a pity if the world ended before we find out whether the bathroom bill will get a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.

Or what property tax rate increase will trigger a local rollback election.

Or whether the House Thursday will pass the Senate counterpart of the House sunset legislation – now amended to be identical to the House bill – to extend the life of the Texas Medical Board beyond Sept. 1, an extension without which Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, who is carrying the bill in the House, explained to me yesterday, he or anybody could practice medicine in Texas without a license and with impunity.

Apparently T.S. Eliot was not contemplating the Donald Trump/Kim Jong-un chemistry when he wrote that the world would end, not with a bang but a whimper.

But, it appears that in The Hollow Men, Eliot might have anticipated the denouement of this summer’s special session of the Texas Legislature.

This is the way the special session ends
This is the way the special session ends
This is the way the special session ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

And, with the fate of the world perhaps hanging on an errant tweet, that is quite OK.

Also, counterintuitive as it might seem, that deflated outcome might leave Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus all stronger than when the regular session began.

Everybody’s a winner.

That was my conclusion after talking at the close of yesterday’s session to Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, who has found himself rejuvenated by his recent weeks in Austin.

Villalba ended the regular session, like many of the members, out of sorts.

As I wrote as the regular session was drawing to a close:

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

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

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

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

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


But in ways that seemed unlikely at the time, the special session, even as it appears to be sputtering to a close, has restored Villalba.

There is some consensus. On some areas like TRS (Teacher Retirement System) funding. Whether the model is the Senate’s or ours , who knows.

I think there’s some consensus on some property tax reform, but I don’t know x percent or y percent. But I do think we will vote this week or next on a rollback, probably early next week. I know that’s something that matters to the Big Three.

But I think the other items on the call, it’s beginning to be clear they are not going to be heard or acted on. My guess is about four of the 20, maybe five (will make it to the governor’s desk. We’ll got some voter fraud reform. Maybe the disabled children funds – that wasn’t on the call yet, but I does seem there is some consensus on that. A unanimous vote sends a strong message, not just to the governor but to the other side, and no one’s against children and we didn’t tap into the rainy day fund, so there shouldn’t be any material objection.

The governor has said he will not expand the call unless the Legislature delivers on all 20 office agenda items – which obviously won’t happen – and his office does not like seeing the money coming from the disaster relief fund, which is under his control.


But, Villalba said:

There’s a fix for that and I think the governors know that.

It would be hard to walk away from those children.

This special session has gone a lot like we might have expected.

At the tend of the special session  there was some level of gridlock. Noting has changed. Nothing will change in 30 days. Not until you recomprise the body or unless there is  catalyst for change. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting different results.

There is no reason to think things will be changed. Which is why I don’t think we’ll hear  a bathroom bill in the House. There’s no appetite for it. I don’t think we’ll see ESA (Education Savings Accounts)  for special needs. Those votes just won’t come and the speaker has been very muscular in his response to both of the other two.

That article in the Tribune this week and then his comments to the Burka Blog this week were very strong.

I felt some disillusion at the end of the session because I thought he leadership was a bit rudderless but now I see just a robust, focused-on-issues-that-matter-most, common sense pragmatist like myself.

And you’re seeing that. We’re hitting really important issues, over and over and over again. And we’re ignoring the ideological partisan BS that just seemed to be so popular in the 140 days from the other chamber.

So I think we’re seeing an inflection point in my opinion and, I can’t stress enough, I don’t want to say maturation from the speaker, but I do see a change in his responsiveness and boldness of leadership that I just haven’t seen to this degree, this consistently before. And that matters.

There is going to be a challenge next session probably from somebody, to challenge he speaker, but if he continues to be as strong in the face of the ideological positions that we’ve seen, you’re going to see support for him grow and strengthen.


Villalba said he did not think it would make a difference if, as the Freedom Caucus desires, the House Republican Caucus first has to affirm its choice for speaker before the choice is thrown open to the whole House, with its solid Democratic support for Straus.

What the Freedom Caucus really wants is a secret ballot, their thinking being that if you could really vote the way you want without fear of reprisal, then you might do it. I don’t know if I can agree with that.  No change in my vole one way or other, and most members are pretty open about their support.

So I think you’re going to see Straus continue as long as he wants to be in the chair, as long as he wants to be speaker, and I don’t think I would have said that at the end of session. I think I would have said the jury is still out and things are changing and we’ll see.

I think with the boldness he has exhibited  in the special, for a guy like me who is clearly right in the middle with everybody on the Republican side, I am heartened and very excited to see this new strength and resolve.

Why, I asked Villalba, did the governor in my interview with him Friday still insist that he wanted to see all 20 of his items pass – or at the very least get an up-or-down vote – and to assert his continued ambitions for the session in such certain terms, as in:

That’s why I said … if we’re going to have a special session I’m going to make it count, and almost to a point of certainty, I can tell you that in 10 days we are going to have a Texas that I consider to be far better, more conservative, that will continue the Texas model for conservative governance.

JV:  He’s very shrewd.

He’s asking for the world and he’s the top conservative right now and, “Doggone, the House just didn’t get it done. Gosh, not on me.”

He’s equally as conservative to the populace as Patrick is because of the call. The call had all the checkmarks. If it doesn’t happen, it’s not his fault. It’s not the governor’s fault. Blame it on the House,  you can’t even blame Joe. It’s not Joe’s fault. It’s the House’s  fault.

I noted that bathrooms was the one piece of legislation where the speaker personally laid down his marker.

“He was pretty clear on ESAs as well,” said Villalba.


But, of transgender bathroom policy:

That was the issue.

That’s why we’re here right now, because the sunset bill was meant to bring us back to session so they could put a bathroom bill on there.

The governor met his mark and  checked his box. He made his ask. And doggone if it didn’t get through the State Affairs Committee or whatever.

He’s very shrewd. It’s a very shrewd calculus. He leaves this session – insiders like me or you or people in the building might raise an eye and say, hmm, boy does this strengthen him or weaken him? That’s inside baseball for everybody else. All they know is you got a  governor down there that’s doing the right thing. That’s why he’s so popular when you look at the polling.. We live in this atmosphere where the tiniest minutiae  is meaningful, but nobody looks at it like that. Who’s paying attention?

On the bathroom bill, Villalba said:

I think when business spoke out it strengthened the speaker. you heard him yesterday. When AT&T and Southwest Airlines and TI tend IBM, they all come to you, and their CEOs are and the NFL and the NBA and NCAA are all saying, `Hey  look this is bad for us, this is bad for the job creators of he state. It’s his quote – the Texas miracle is something that’s been taken for granted. You can lose this momentum if you start doing wacky suff like putting in wacky stuff, like put in bathroom bills that people don’t like.

Villalba said that Patrick, Abbott and Straus will likely all emerge from the session in good shape.

Whatever doesn’t get done gives Patrick what he needs to press his crusade against Straus. Abbott has given Patrick no space to outflank him on the right, get credit for fighting the good fight and can blame the House for falling short.

And “Straus is a hero to everybody else – the squishy center.”



Everybody went toe to toe. I think the all leave here strengthened

Fun times. But I have been more excited than I have been in a long time because of what I have witnessed in the last 20 days.

I was highly disillusioned  by the end of session, just emotionally frayed and not sure what was happening. But the leadership  I have seen from the speaker,  he called it out, just called it out. That was just really cool. Before that I felt like I was on an island, like I was the only guy saying stuff like that, saying I’m against the bathroom bill and I’m this and I’m that and I’m looking around. And to have the main dude doing the same thing …

But the world is comprised of the Strauses. At least my world.

The highest number of calls we get are bathroom bill. they are about 100 to 1 in my district – letters correspondence, calls 0 against. Town hall forums are 100 percent (against).  Tea party forums – 80 percent. I went to two tea party forums and said, `Whose here for the bathroom bill – 20 percent raise their hands. I was shocked.

Here was what they said, consistently. We’ve got more important things to worry about than bathrooms. Throw in the Chambers, people I got to the grocery store with, people my mom works with.. Nobody’s for this bill. My consultant tells me it polls well with the grassroots. It’s how you from it. “Do you want your daughter to shower with boys? Of course not. But that’s not what the bill does.

It’s just not working. I think Straus is on the right path here.


Villalba voted for the Paddie amendment at the end of the regular session that House Republicans passed to minimally address the issue, but Patrick found it wanting, and the rest is history.

Paddie to me that was non-discriminatory.  I get shellacked by both side on that. 

Now this time I’m going to vote no, no matter what. I’ve placed my flag in the ground and it happens to be a rainbow.

But he noted, State Affairs Chairman Bryan Cook has said there won’t be a hearing on it and, “without a Cook hearing. We’re down to nine days.”

Villalba carried one of the 20 agenda item bills for the governor – to impose local spending caps, limiting increases to population growth plus inflation.

JV: There are no legs for that either. I talked to Carol (Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, chair of the Urban Affairs Committee) about that today. We tried to move it, to get a hearing.  They can’t even get it through the s=Senate.  Of all the 20 that’s the one that couldn’t make it out of the Senate. You think if you can’t make it out of the Senate, how do you have any chance in the House.

It’s easy to say at the state level to limit spending to population and inflation It’s a much more difficult proposal  for executive at the local level. Cities came out pretty strong against it. I mean,  we’re talking every city. I don’t think there was a single city or municipality that said, `Boy, what a great idea.’ So I think over at the Senate they decided this was one we could really do without.

So there’ no legs over in the Senate and I can’t sell it over here if we don’t have any cover on the Senate side. I asked  Carol for a hearing and she said, `Let’s wait and see if we see some movement,  and we haven’t seen any.

That was my baby. We knew we had uphill lift when we started but didn’t know it would b the hardest to move. That wasn’t my brainchild, not a bill I would otherwise have carried, but when the governor called and said, “You want to do this?” you say, “Yes.” I struggle with being part of leadership and when the governor asks you to carry one of the top 20, that’s a real strong signal, that ‘s a good sign.

I am working on rehabilitation.

Are there any agenda items that may not pass that he thought were crucial?

There are none that are so pressing that it can’t wait until next time.


With a shiv to the cities: Dan Patrick and the practice of `positive polarization.’


Good Tuesday Austin:

Yesterday morning I did a podcast with Jim Henson and Josh Blank of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, one of a series of podcasts that is used as part of a summer course on contemporary Texas politics and government.

We mostly talked about the progress of the Legislature’s special session, ending with a conversation about Lt. Gov Dan Patrick’s provocative comments Friday on FOX about cities, particularly those led by Democrats, being the source of all of America’s problems.

Dan Patrick:

People are happy with their governments at the state level. They’re not with their cities. By the way, Stuart, there’s something going on that you really need to focus on. And that is, our cities are still controlled by Democrats. Where do we have all our problems in America? Not at the state level, run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat mayors and Democrat city councilmen and women. That’s where you see liberal policies, that’s where you see high taxes, where you see high street crimes. Look at New York, look at Chicago, look at…go around the country. So the only place Democrats have control of is our cities and they’re doing a terrible job.

Here from our conversation.

JH: A pretty interesting and direct kind of articulation of this development that we’ve been seeing in the last year or so of kind of mobilizing people’s allegiance to the state and setting up this conflict between the state and the cities.

JT: It’s very much of a piece with Abbott’s whole emphasis on protecting individual rights by curbing local governments and that the state should be the repositoryof power. The thing about Dan Patrick is that he takes it and he sort of adds a shiv to it. He just comes on stronger and makes it more us against them, even though the governor’s been pretty direct about how it smells better when you leave Austin because you get the smell of freedom…

With Dan Patrick it’s always got to be a little bit more ..

JH: Nixonian – edgier, more pointed.

More polarizing.

Gov. Abbott is every inch a lawyer.

Patrick is every inch a talk radio host, where polarization is a virtue, and he is our state’s leading practitioner of what in the Nixon presidency was known as “positive polarization.”

From George Packer in the New Yorker in May 2008: The Fall of Conservatism. Have the Republicans run out of ideas?

Note: Buchanan here is Pat Buchanan, the Nixon adviser who in his subsequent pitchfork campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996 was the clearest forerunner of the populist nationalism of President Donald Trump and most obviously  represented in Texas by Dan Patrick. Note also that, like Spiro Agnew, Dan Patrick is a native of Baltimore, Maryland.

Buchanan urged Nixon to enlist his Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, in a battle against the press. In November, Nixon sent Agnew—despised as dull-witted by the media—on the road, where he denounced “this small and unelected élite” of editors, anchormen, and analysts. Buchanan recalls watching a broadcast of one such speech—which he had written for Agnew—on a television in his White House office. Joining him was his colleague Kevin Phillips, who had just published “The Emerging Republican Majority,” which marshalled electoral data to support a prophecy that Sun Belt conservatism—like Jacksonian Democracy, Republican industrialism, and New Deal liberalism—would dominate American politics for the next thirty-two or thirty-six years. (As it turns out, Phillips was slightly too modest.) When Agnew finished his diatribe, Phillips said two words: “Positive polarization.”

Polarization is the theme of Rick Perlstein’s new narrative history “Nixonland” (Scribners), which covers the years between two electoral landslides: Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964 and George McGovern’s in 1972. During that time, Nixon figured out that he could succeed politically “by using the angers, anxieties, and resentments produced by the cultural chaos of the 1960s,” which were also his own. In Perlstein’s terms, America in the sixties was divided, like the Sneetches on Dr. Seuss’s beaches, into two social clubs: the Franklins, who were the in-crowd at Nixon’s alma mater, Whittier College; and the Orthogonians, a rival group founded by Nixon after the Franklins rejected him, made up of “the strivers, those not to the manor born, the commuter students like him. He persuaded his fellows that reveling in one’s unpolish was a nobility of its own.” Orthogonians deeply resented Franklins, which, as Perlstein sees it, explains just about everything that happened between 1964 and 1972: Nixon resented the Kennedys and clawed his way back to power; construction workers resented John Lindsay and voted conservative; National Guardsmen resented student protesters and opened fire on them. 


Nixon was coldly mixing and pouring volatile passions. Although he was careful to renounce the extreme fringe of Birchites and racists, his means to power eventually became the end. Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum—“A little raw for today,” he warned—that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.” Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in “the Old Roosevelt Coalition,” it recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. “Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country,” Buchanan wrote. “We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”

The Nixon White House didn’t enact all of these recommendations, but it would be hard to find a more succinct and unapologetic blueprint for Republican success in the conservative era. “Positive polarization” helped the Republicans win one election after another—and insured that American politics would be an ugly, unredeemed business for decades to come.

From R.G. Ratcliffe’s interview Monday with House Speaker Joe Straus for Texas Monthly.

JS: Dan Patrick has a history of trying to pit people against each other, and in the House we try to focus on what made Texas a success, not looking to blame anybody, but trying to focus on solving problems. It’s a signal of national politics seeping into Texas. Divisive rhetoric like that doesn’t solve problems.

RGR: Has that hurt the Republican brand in Texas?

JS: You can’t look at elections and say that it has, but it also hasn’t helped us address in meaningful ways some of the problems of the state.

Back to the podcast discussion of the difference between the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s rhetoric around the state vs. the cities.

JH: Gov. Abbott has made this a kind of constitutional argument, about state government … 

JB: Philosophical really.

JH: There’ a philosophical underpinning to it.

JT: He carried Harris and Bexar counties, so he doesn’t want to be so divisive that he sacrifices some votes in the process.

Here is how the governor concluded his announcement for re-election in San Antonio on July 14.

Liberals think they’ve found cracks in our armor.

In 2014, I won Harris County and Bexar Country. In 2016, Hillary won them both.

What happened?

George Soros for one.

He poured big money into Harris County and they won every county-wide race.

Liberals are messing with Texas.

Every far-left liberal you can think of from George Soros to Nancy Pelosi is trying to undo the Texas brand of liberty and prosperity.

But I have news for the liberals. Texas values are not up for grabs.

I’m a fighter and I know that you are too.

With your help, we’re building the largest grass roots army in Texas history right here in Bexar County and across the state.

I’m committed to preserving your Texas Liberty.

I’ve proven that I’m willing to fight Washington D.C. but I’m counting on you to have my back.

Texas is the Lone Star State for a reason. We stand apart as a model for the rest of the nation.

Our exceptionalism is rooted in our very beginning. Courageous heroes died so Texas could be free.

Since that time, Texas has charted a course that has elevated it to the premier state in the greatest nation in the history of the world.

Now I need your help to write the next chapter in our extraordinary history.

Together, we will keep Texas the most exceptional state in America.

But, Patrick goes a little further.

Back to the podcast:

JH: Whereas it takes Dan Patrick all of 30 seconds to paint this portrait of dysfunctional, crime-ridden cities, which is a different kind of tack rhetorically.

JB: There’s not a lot that he could say that would surprise me. He’s a talented politician. He’s not afraid to wade into controversial areas. But the antagonism with which he sort of moved this argument forward is really a pretty notable, and this is a further escalation … in this city vs. the state thing. The fact that all the major cities save Fort Worth banded together in the debate over the sanctuary cities and that’s kind of notable.

As, Blank said, was the ferociousness of Patrick’s attack.

JB: This to me was really interesting, just in it was such an antagonistic tone.

The philosophical argument … Abbott’s not necessarily wrong, right?

The cities and the county governments are creations of the state government. You can’t really deny that that’s true. But to say that basically the cities, where a huge share of Texans choose to live, and elect their own representatives and government are somehow the cause of all the problems …

JH: The cities are also economically very important in a week when the governors been talking about the Texas miracle, when more large corporate businesses actors are getting involved and being a little more aggressive …  about the timing of the special session in this fight over some kind of bathroom legislation and taking a more cosmopolitanposition on this, it really does kind of underline how much there is a political edge to this that I think is not going to be easy to resolve in the longer term. Our polling is showing there is a kind of baseline agreement in the general orientation here, particularly among conservatives Republicans  in their views of state vs. local government.

From my story on Sunday’s Statesman from my Friday evening interview with the governor.

Gov. Greg Abbott had no choice but to call a special session of the Legislature for what amounted to a technical fix.

But, making a virtue of necessity, the governor set out an expansive 20-item conservative agenda, including some previously intractable issues. This weekend, with scarcely a dozen days to go and sweeping success hardly in sight, Abbott expressed complete confidence that the session will end with a flurry of votes on many of his priority items — and compromise between the House and Senate, both led by Republicans with large majorities but with competing visions on how to approach issues ranging from the public school finance system to local tree ordinances.

“That’s why I said … if we’re going to have a special session I’m going to make it count, and almost to a point of certainty, I can tell you that in 10 days we are going to have a Texas that I consider to be far better, more conservative, that will continue the Texas model for conservative governance,” Abbott told the American-Statesman on Friday evening.

From polling by the Texas Politics Project polling in cooperation with the Texas Tribune.




Meanwhile, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, pointed out yesterday that Gallup a year ago found that Americans continue to have more trust in local than state government.

From Gallup in September 2016.

For the past 15 years, Americans have expressed more confidence in their local government than their state government to handle problems. Similar to polls since 2013, about seven in 10 (71%) say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in local government to handle problems, compared with about six in 10 (62%) who say the same for their state government.

Gallup also found that Republicans were those most likely to have confidence in their state and especially their local government.



“Stop, drop, and roll, Lt. Gov. Patrick. Your pants are on fire,” said Rodriguez. “Folks trust their local governments more than any other branch of government, for the government closest to the people is the most responsive and relevant in their daily lives. Survey responses show this trust has persisted since Gallup first asked Americans in 1972. Now, more than two-thirds of people of any political affiliation express confidence in their local government.”

“In fact,” Rodriguez said, “even more Republicans than Democrats trust local government to handle local problems. This just goes to show how far Dan Patrick is out of touch, even with his own base.”

In February of last year, Gallup reported  that residents of smaller states tended to have more confidence in their state government. But Texas was an exception.

In my conversation with Gov. Abbott Friday night I noted that some of his special session agenda items pre-empting local prerogatives – like creating their own cell phone or tree ordinances – had run into resistance and that, for many citizens, his constitutional argument might be new to them and strike them as counterintuitive to their sense that local governments should be free to express the public will in  regulating behavior in their midst.

Abbott replied of his argument:

It actually is old  because it’s a principle that is in the Constitution. The Constitution is very clear. It says all power not delegated to the federal government in the Constitution is reserved to the state or to the people.

The original intent of the architecture of the United States is for the power to rest in the state and in the people. Now states have created municipalities as part of the state process but what we’re really trying to achieve in this session is not to pit the state against cities.  What I’m doing is I’m taking the side of the people, of individuals when individual liberty is being trampled  contrary to what I consider to be constitutional standards.

For example, private property rights used to mean something in Texas. It was quintessential Texas to have private property rights. Now municipalities trample private property rights, right and left. I consider that to be un-Texan. And so someone has to stand up for the individual,and in this case it is the state of Texas.

For the longest time in the state of Texas there wasn’t that much of an issue because private property rights and individual liberties were largely respected and even local governments weren’t all that heavy-handed in the regulations they imposed.

It’s been really a modern concept, as municipalities have worked together, you know, they have these national conferences they are involved in all the time and they talk about the very types of ordinances that Texas-based municipalities are imposing on people.

What has sprung up over the last few decades has been this model of governance at the local level to take away individual liberties.

I asked the governor when he thought these municipal intrusions on the Texas way began.

He mentioned that when Sen. Kirk Watson was mayor of Austin, “Watson was a proponent of smart growth.”

“Austin’s doing something now – Code Next,” he said. “They are not inventing the wheel here, they are applying the prefab wheel. That’s part of the strategy.”

From a 2014 blog post by historian Steven Conn: The anti-urban tradition in America: why Americans dislike their cities.

Conn, who was then at Ohio State and is now at Miami of Ohio, is the author of Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century. 


He writes:

The urban-rural divide has existed in American politics from the very beginning. It is a central irony of American political life that we are an urbanized nation inhabited by people who are deeply ambivalent about cities.

It’s what I call the “anti-urban tradition” in American life, and it comes in two parts.

On the one hand, American cities — starting with Philadelphia in the 18th century — have always been places of ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural diversity. First stop for immigrant arrivals from eastern Europe or the American south, cities embodied the cosmopolitan ideal that critic Randolph Bourne celebrated in his 1916 essay “Trans-National America.”

Not all Americans were as enthusiastic as Bourne about cities filling up with Catholics from Italy and Poland, Jews from Russia and Lithuania, and African-Americans from Mississippi and North Carolina. Many, in fact, recoiled in horror at all this heterogeneity. Many, of course, still do, as when Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigned in North Carolina and called small towns there “real America.”

On the other hand, the industrial cities that boomed at the turn of the 20th century relied on the actions of government to make life livable. Paved streets, clean water, sanitary sewers — all this infrastructure required the intervention of local, state, and eventually the federal government. Indeed, the 20th century city is where our commitments to the public realm have been given their widest expression — public space, public transportation, public education, public housing. And anti-urbanists then and now have a deep suspicion of those public, “collective” commitments.

In this sense, cities stand as antithetical to the basic, bedrock, “real” American values: self-reliant individualism and the supremacy of all things private. The 2012 Republican Party Platform, for example, denounced “sustainable development,” often associated with urbanist design principles, as nothing less than an assault on “the American way of life of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices, and privately owned farms.”

The Austin Public Library doesn’t have Conn’s book. I got it from Amazon on Kindle, and it has a long and very interesting chapter on Houston.

But the Austin Library does have a couple of other books by Conn, including this edited volume.


From the book description:

Americans love to hate their government.

There is a long tradition of anti-government suspicion that goes back all the way to the founding of the nation. The election of Barack Obama, however, has created one the largest backlashes against government in our history.

Tea partiers, fueled by talk radio and cable TV demagogues, have created a political atmosphere of anger and hostility toward our government rivaled perhaps only by the pre-Civil War era of the 1850s.

Lost at the Tea Party rallies and in talk radio fulminations, however, is this simple fact: the federal government plays a central role in making our society function, and it always has.

This book is a collection of essays to remind Americans of that fact. Written by some of the nation’s foremost and most engaging scholars, this book considers ten key aspects of American life – from education, to communication, to housing, and health – and charts the way the federal government hascontributed to American progress and everyday life.

Essential – and fun – reading for anyone who wants to understand our political history and our political present, it will help inform the choices we must make about our future.

Forget Kindle. In Texas, this book sounds more like kindling.

Finally, on the podcast we also talked about comments that Gov. Abbott made in our interview about his predecessor, Rick Perry.

From my story:

It has been noted that unlike his predecessor, Rick Perry, who served as a member of the Texas House and as lieutenant governor presiding over the Texas Senate, Abbott, a former state Supreme Court justice and attorney general, has never served in the Legislature and might be less wise in its ways.

“We have achieved legislative goals that Perry pined for but was never able to achieve,” Abbott said. “Our success rate has been superior. Our results have been superior. We have done more to cut taxes, to limit spending, more to advance education.”

And of his signature success in passing a ban on sanctuary city policies during the regular session, Abbott said, “Perry not only pined for it; he also called a special session for it. He pushed, he pushed and he pushed, and he was just never able to get it done.”

What made the difference this time?

“Could be the pusher,” Abbott said.

As one might suspect, some Perry partisans were taken aback by the governor’s words – that Abbott would think that, let alone say it..

I heard from one who wondered, why in the world Abbott would say that stuff?

I suggested maybe the governor had grown tired of hearing people pining for Perry.

“Sounds like a case of Edward Clark syndrome,” he said.

“Who?” I asked.

“Exactly,” he said.

From the Handbook of Texas:

CLARK, EDWARD (1815–1880). Edward Clark, governor of Texas, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on April 1, 1815, the son of Elijah Clark, Jr., a brother of John Clark, governor of Georgia from 1819 to 1823. Edward Clark spent his early childhood in Georgia. After the death of his father in the early 1830s, he and his mother moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar. In 1840 he was married to Lucy Long in Alabama, but his wife died within a few months. By December 1841 Clark had moved to Texas and opened a law practice in Marshall. In July 1849 he married Martha Melissa (Mellissa, Malissa) Evans of Marshall. The couple had four children.

Clark was a delegate to the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1845, a member of the first state House of Representatives, and a senator in the Second Legislature. He served on the staff of Gen. J. Pinckney Henderson in the Mexican War and received a citation for bravery in the battle of Monterrey. From 1853 to 1857 he was secretary of state under Governor Elisha M. Pease. He was appointed state commissioner of claims in 1858 and was elected lieutenant governor of Texas on the independent Democratic ticket headed by Sam Houston in 1859.

When Governor Houston refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy in the spring of 1861, the Secession Convention declared the office of governor vacant and elevated Clark to the position. As governor, he moved quickly to address problems brought about by secession. Regiments commanded by John S. (Rip) Ford and Henry E. McCulloch were mustered to protect the frontier, ad valorem and poll taxes were raised in an effort to stabilize the state’s finances, and the state was divided into military districts for recruiting and organizing the troops required by the Confederate government. After the firing upon Fort Sumter and the outbreak of war, Clark worked closely with Confederate authorities to help obtain supplies for the army. The archaic state militia system was reorganized, and a system of training camps was built. Clark proceeded cautiously and within his constitutional powers. Even so, he exercised more authority and power than any previous Texas chief executive in recruiting, enrolling, and training troops, in purchasing weapons and supplies, and in communication with Confederate officials and governors of Mexican states.

He ran for election to a full term as governor in the autumn of 1861 but was defeated in an extremely close race by Francis R. Lubbock. Lubbock, who had the support of regular Democratic party leaders, received 21,854 votes, Clark, 21,730, and Thomas Jefferson Chambers, 13,733. Although there were widespread rumors of fraud, Clark accepted the outcome of the election without protest.

After he left the governor’s office, he received a commission in the Confederate Army as colonel of the Fourteenth Texas Infantry regiment, which served as part of Walker’s Texas Division in the repulse of the Union invasion in the Red River campaign of 1864. Clark was wounded in the leg while leading an attack at the battle of Pleasant Hill and subsequently discharged from the army. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general before his discharge, but the promotion may not have been confirmed by the Richmond government.

When the Civil War ended, Clark fled to Mexico with other prominent civil and military leaders of the Southwest. He remained there only briefly and returned to his home in Marshall. After several business ventures, he resumed his law practice. He died on May 4, 1880, and was buried in Marshall.

Friend and foe alert: Gov. Greg Abbott has $41 million, a campaign TV studio and plans to use it.

Good Monday Austin:

Late Friday afternoon I walked over to the Texas Association of Broadcasters Building on East 11th Street a few blocks from the Capitol, to interview Gov. Greg Abbott about the progress of the special session.

The third floor of the building was home to Abbott’s campaign for governor in 2014 and has remained his campaign office ever since.

Of late, the campaign has its own TV studio and I was going to be there to watch the governor do some interviews remotely with evening news shows in Abilene and Lubbock and with another outfit that serves a handful of TV stations across Texas.

I hadn’t been to the campaign office before, and I know that Texans for Greg Abbott raised $10 million in the last dozen days of June, and had nearly $41 million in the bank.

Pretty good.

And yet, I also knew that the Abbott campaign had apparently fallen on hard times, that the fundraising machine was sputtering.

I knew this because of a mournful, heavily underlined and highlighted email I had received only 24 hours earlier from Mary Ruegg with Texans for Greg Abbott.

Mary didn’t mince words:

I have some bad news—we missed our fundraising goal for July.

Because we weren’t able to meet our end-of-month goal, our ability to scale up our field operation will be dramatically impacted–meaning we will be giving serious ground to national Democrats and liberal activist groups like Battleground Texas. Will you contribute right now to make sure we have a strong start this month?

Unless we have a strong start in August, there will be a huge opening for liberal megadonors and their hand-picked candidates up and down the ballot. Make a contribution now to keep Texas red!

Your support for Governor Abbott is critical in making sure we can compete with the endless funds being poured into Texas by liberal megadonors!

Democrats are watching our every move. Not meeting our fundraising goals will only embolden them in their efforts to turn Texas blue. 

Right now, we’re vulnerable. And if we aren’t able to stop attacks from the Democrats, our Texas values will be replaced with a far-left liberal agenda. 

Every conservative principle we value – from our protecting our religious freedoms, to advancing our Second Amendment rights, to securing our border – will be threatened if Democrats win in 2018.

We need to push back and show the Democrats that Texas is not up for grabs. Show Governor Abbott you have his back in the fight to keep Texas red!

There’s too much at stake. We need every supporter to step up and make sure we start strong and don’t fall behind this month. Contribute right now to join Governor Abbott in fighting for Texas!


Mary Ruegg
Texans for Greg Abbott

It was not as if I  hadn’t been warned.

On Monday I had received another email from Texans from Greg Abbott, this time from the wonderfully named Hillary Bombard.

I am going to keep this brief: We need your help.

The last two weeks have been great for our campaign. Governor Abbott’s vision of low regulations, traditional values, and more economic liberty for all is striking a chord with voters all across Texas.

Governor Abbott has also been hard at work to ensure that his priorities for the special session, including property tax reform and preventing local government overreach, will be passed by lawmakers. 

But we aren’t the only ones who’ve been working hard. The Democrats are more determined than ever to turn Texas blue. Because of Governor Abbott’s conservative victories, he’s their number one target in Texas. 

Here’s the bad news: our fundraising is below what we anticipated AND not enough to compete with the millions being brought in by Democrats. Bottom line, we need your help.

Will you step up with a $20.18 contribution now?

If we do not raise an additional $23,235.50 by midnight tonight it will have a dramatic impact on our ability to defeat our Democrat opponents and keep Texas Red. We cannot let this happen. Please step up right now before it is too late.


Hilary Bombard
Texans for Greg Abbott

And now, apparently, it is too late. Texans for Greg Abbott apparently fell short of the $23,235.50 goal.

Such a precise number. I figured maybe it was the past-due balance for the electric bill.

I arrived at the Texas Association of Broadcasters Building not sure what I would find.

On the directory of the lobby, there was nothing listed for the third floor.

Maybe they were behind on the rent. Maybe eviction proceedings were already underway.

But, on exiting the elevator on the third floor, all was well.

The floor was a warren of offices, modestly busy for an after-five Friday afternoon a long way from any election.

The TV studio includes a big photo of the Capitol by day as a backdrop, and another of the Capitol by night for those midnight oil shots, though they haven’t used that one yet.

The studio has also been used to cut Facebook videos, two dozen so far,  with 19 senators and representatives who authored legislation furthering his special session agenda. The format of all the videos is the same. The first half is the governor thanking the lawmaker for leading the charge on whatever the issues is, and talking about the issue a little, followed by the lawmaker thanking the governor for his leadership and talking about the issue a little bit.

(Suggestion: The campaign use the Capitol by night backdrop to produce a more casual series of Abbott After Dark videos in which, say, the governor mixes it up with  Joe Straus and Dan Patrick.)

What follows are the videos that have been posted so far.

Others have been made but not yet posted for Sens. Larry Taylor and Konni Burton, and two for Lois Kolkhorst, and for Reps. Phil King, Travis Clardy, Tan Parker, and two for Ron Simmons.

Following each are the couple of top comments, according to Facebook.

In other words, I didn’t choose them, and I was surprised at the number of Abbott critics who go to his Facebook page and offer negative comments.

So much for the internet segregating us in information silos.

We begin with Rep. Larry Gonzalez of Round Rock and the must-pass sunset legislation.

As I noted at the outset, I was surprised at how much lip the governor was getting on his Facebook page, even spilling over into Trivia Tuesday.

OK Lance, That would be …

From his campaign website:

Meet the Man who will Rise4Texas

A successful business man in Dallas since 2005, Jeffrey Payne is running for governor of Texas. He owns five diverse companies from a court reporting firm, a land holding company, a property management company, a retail clothing outlet, and a night club. His success in Texas business is exactly what he intends to bring to the political office. He wants to see the needs of all Texans being met and not just a select few.

Payne was born in Maine. At only three years old, his mom passed away and he was sent to an orphanage in Louisiana. He spent most of his childhood there, then entered the foster care system at age fifteen. He knows what it’s like to be a child in need. He also knows how effective supportive adults can be in a child’s life. He credits those in his life who helped him become the successful person he is today. He wants to make sure other children have those supportive adults in their lives, too. He also knows a state needs better policies in education, healthcare, environment, labor, and foster care as well as better financial policies and more responsible spending than Texas currently has in order to be successful again.

Jeffrey went through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The devastation of that natural disaster left him with the clothes he was wearing, his two dogs, and $2000 in the bank. Katrina took everything else, so he set out for Texas. Starting life over, Payne has rebuilt his life and not only has he been successful in business – he has helped to raise thousands of dollars for charity. His title as former International Mr. Leather was a great start to his philanthropic work for the LGBTQ community and for the greater Texas community, which he continues to this day. In 2010, he also founded Sharon St. Cyr – a non-profit organization that raises funds and provides hearing aids for hearing-impaired individuals and provides grants to organizations for ASL interpreting services.  This program is near and dear to Payne’s heart as it’s named after his mom and he is hard of hearing as well.

Payne is married to his husband, Sergio, and lives with him and their adopted puppies. He believes the current Texas government is short-changing Texans and he can make a positive difference. Texans deserve a governor who believes in real Texas values such as integrity, honesty, freedom, and independence. Now is the time for a change in Texas politics.

From James Russell writing at D Magazine:

He’s a nontraditional candidate. He is not a native Texan. He claims no political experience. And, should he win the primary, Payne would be the first openly gay gubernatorial nominee from either major party in Texas history. Becoming governor of Texas is hardly easy and it’s absolutely not cheap. He’s up against an incumbent governor seeking his second term in a blood-red statehouse with a war chest filled with $43 million. Abbott also currently faces no credible primary opponent.

For the past 20 years he has been involved primarily in the leather scene, a special interest subgroup, known best for raising money for local LGBT and HIV/AIDS groups.

Many people, particularly voters, may not understand the group’s kinks. But he is not ashamed.

“It’s a community I support and I will always support. It says no matter where you are on the spectrum I support you. Own who you are, be proud of who you are,” Payne said.

He also earned some pretty big titles, including Mr. Leather International 2009. He went across the world talking about LGBT equality and fundraising for HIV/AIDS funds. When the opportunity arose in 2011, he bought The Eagle, Dallas’ premiere leather bar­. He also founded the Sharon St. Cyr Fund, a non-profit providing hearing aids to LGBT people who cannot afford them. (Payne is hard of hearing.)

As the reigning champ, Payne was also a judge for the selection of his successor, which it turned out was truly history-making.

From Brett Anthony at ChicagoPride.com.

Transgender man who uses a wheelchair wins IML 2010 competition

Chicago, IL – Tyler McCormick, Mr. Rio Grande Leather of New Mexico, was named International Mr. Leather at the 32nd Anniversary IML Competition Sunday night in Chicago.

McCormick, a female-to-male transgender man who uses a wheelchair, bested a field of over 50 contestants, from across the U.S. and around the world. 

“When I first transitioned, I was told I would never be accepted and that I would never be able to take my shirt off in public,” McCormick said during Sunday’s competition. “Standing here as a strong, confident leatherman is proof to the contrary.”

Participants were judged on stage presence and personality (Pecs and Personality), leather image, presentation skills, and physical appearance.

Over 2,000 leather enthusiasts packed the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Chicago for Sunday’s competition. Colton Ford entertained the audience. 

First runner up was Lance Holman, Mr. San Francisco Leather, while Jack Andrew Duke, Mr. Texas Leather, was second runner-up.

The Mr. International Bootblack winner was Tim Starkey of the Boston Ramrod.

The judges for the 32nd International Mr. Leather competition are International Mr. Leather 2009 Jeffrey Payne (Dallas, TX), Laura Antoniou (Queens, NY), Shawn Carroll (Ottawa, Canada), Demetri Moshoyannis (San Francisco, CA), Chad Neal (Kansas City, MO), Gene Romaine (Seattle, WA), Daniel Ruester (Berlin, Germany), William “Rubberwilli” Schendel (Chicago), and Robert Valin (New York).

IML began in 1979 when about 400 gay leathermen gathered in Chicago. Today thousands gather in the Windy City over Memorial Day Weekend for what has become an annual tradition for the leather community. 

From a July 24 Payne interview with the Texas Tribune’s Alex Samuels:

When are you going to give your campaign the $2.5 million, and how will you sustain your campaign beyond that?

I’ll give it as soon as it’s needed. Right now, we’re building our campaign headquarters and the money that I have is something that we’ll fall back on when we need it. We already have a huge grassroots campaign out there. We already have donations coming in from all over the state [and] as we build momentum, more and more people will get on the bandwagon.

Abbott has a nearly $41 million war chest heading into his re-election campaign. How do you plan on competing with that?

I plan to be a lot smarter with the spending of money. This is a campaign where I’ll be going out all over Texas and speaking with people one-on-one to get our message out. We know that people want to hear alternative solutions to the issues facing our state, so I know they’re going to listen.

I’ve never believed that you have to compete dollar for dollar. I’m not worried about that. I have no doubt we’ll be able to raise quite a bit of money and we’ll use any donations we receive in a very smart and effective manner.

Why should Abbott see you as a threat?

I don’t think he expects me. I don’t know that he sees me as a threat right now, but we’re 16 months away from the election and that’ll change. 

Right now, I believe Abbott sees me as a single issue — meaning [he likely thinks], “Jeffrey is gay so there’s not much to worry about.” But that’s less of an issue to people than I believe he’s giving credit to. People want someone who’s going to shoot straight with them. They want to know that the person speaking with them is not just looking for the next vote whenever re-election comes up.

When people hear my story, they’ll see that for the last 49 years I’ve been a fighter. I don’t back down and I fight the good fight, but I’m also able to work with people.

But Payne is not alone.

From San Antonio we have …

From Wakely’s website.

But Wakely, who appears to be in the Bernie Sander mold. seems weakly affiliated with the Democratic Party

So what exactly is Abbott worried about?
Soros. George Soros.

This Op-Ed originally appeared in Washington Examiner on July 31, 2017

Liberals are trying to mess with Texas. And they don’t plan on stopping there.
Still reeling from nearly a decade of devastating losses in statehouses across the nation as well as in the 2016 presidential election, Democrats in Washington, D.C. are plotting to pour hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local elections across the country.
With the help of hedge fund billionaire George Soros, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee hopes to wrest control from voters of congressional re-districting in 2021 when booming conservative states such as Texas will gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. All for the benefit of their special-interest donors.
That the first fundraisers for this self-described “super group” were held in San Francisco and Los Angeles reveals one of their goals: to reinstate Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. But they aren’t stopping there.
Headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder, the tax-exempt 527 political action committee plans a three-pronged attack to flood state-level races with outside money, to leverage activist courts to wrest control of state redistricting plans, and finally, with the formidable community organizing prowess of former President Barack Obama, to fund astroturfed ballot initiatives in the guise of “fairness.”
During Obama’s eight years, Democrats lost 12 governorships, nine Senate seats, 62 House seats, and more than 900 state legislative seats.
Republican legislators are now the majority in both chambers in 32 states, and an amazing 33 states, including Texas, are led by Republican governors.
Resoundingly rejected by voters, Democrats’ last hope is to pervert congressional district maps to subvert the will of the people…
Soros also made it into the peroration of the  governor’s July 14 speech in San Antonio announcing his candidacy for governor.
Liberals think they’ve found cracks in our armor.
In 2014, I won Harris County and Bexar Country. In 2016, Hillary won them both.
What happened?
George Soros for one.
He poured big money into Harris County and they won every county-wide race.
Liberals are messing with Texas.
Every far-left liberal you can think of from George Soros to Nancy Pelosi is trying to undo the Texas brand of liberty and prosperity.
But I have news for the liberals. Texas values are not up for grabs.
I’m a fighter and I know that you are too.
With your help, we’re building the largest grass roots army in Texas history right here in Bexar County and across the state.
I’m committed to preserving your Texas Liberty.
I’ve proven that I’m willing to fight Washington D.C. but I’m counting on you to have my back.
Texas is the Lone Star State for a reason. We stand apart as a model for the rest of the nation.
Our exceptionalism is rooted in our very beginning. Courageous heroes died so Texas could be free.
Since that time, Texas has charted a course that has elevated it to the premier state in the greatest nation in the history of the world.
Now I need your help to write the next chapter in our extraordinary history.
Together, we will keep Texas the most exceptional state in America.

In the meantime, with more than $40 million in the bank, the governor will be using his campaign TV studio to cut ads both supporting his allies in the House, and, very possible, opposing those in his own party who crossed him and his agenda.

From my Sunday story in the Statesman based on my Friday evening interview with the governor:

Abbott warned before the session started that he would be keeping track of who was with him and who was against him on his agenda, a delineation that might continue right into the March Republican primaries.

“I think as governor I need to strongly consider getting involved in primaries to make sure we continue to elect the type of officials who are going to be reflective of conservative governance,” Abbott said.

“Texas, as you know, has been known to have its own brand, its own model,” he said. “It’s essential that that model not erode, so I will be doing all that I can in this next election cycle to ensure that we will have representatives and senators who stand for Texas values, that will keep Texas exceptional.”

Could that include working to defeat a Republican incumbent?

“We’ll see. It’s premature,” said Abbott, who has nearly $41 million in his campaign account and, so far, no serious opponent. But, he predicted, “I will be involved in primaries in the upcoming election cycle.”