`Berniecrat with a Panama hat,’ Tom Wakely launches campaign against `neofascist’ Greg Abbott


Good Monday Austin:

Last Monday’s First Reading  was headlined, Democrat Jeffrey Payne launches his `outside the box’ candidacy for governor.

Today, I am writing about Tom Wakely, who on Saturday, a week after Payne held a kickoff rally for his campaign in Dallas, kicked off his own candidacy for governor at Mallberg Ranch in Blanco.

I wasn’t there, but I recently visited with Wakely at his home in San Antonio about his campaign.

It is also outside the box.

The filing deadline for candidates for the March primary is Dec. 12, and while the state Democratic Party does not endorse a candidate in the primary, word is that they are looking for someone a little less outside the box to run against Gov. Greg Abbott.

“They’re going to find someone like Mike Collier,” Wakely said. “Another ex-Republican, multi-millionaire, owns an oil company.”

Collier, a former Republican, was the Democratic candidate for comptroller in 2014 and is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor this year.

“He didn’t vote for Barack Obama twice,” Wakely said. “Collier even admits it. He voted for McCain and then he voted for Romney.”

I asked Scott Spiegel of Collier’s campaign about Wakely’s characterization of Collier. From Speigel:

Mike is a CPA and was a partner for many years at Price Waterhouse Coopers. Before he ran from Comptroller in 2014, he was Chief Financial Officer of a Texas Oil Company.

Mike has been open about his presidential votes, and joined the Democratic Party in 2014 because of massive cuts to public education, based off false forecasts.

Wakely was the Democratic candidate for Congress against U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, in 2014.

I asked why he decided to run for governor.


I got talked into it. Hey, I’m 64 years old, I don’t need to be running around the state of Texas talking about progressive issues, but I am.

I would much prefer someone 20 years younger than me. I ran in the 21st. We got more votes than any Democrat in the state of Texas running against an incumbent member of Congress.

That’s true, and telling.

It says something about the work that Texas Democrats have cut out for them that Wakely got more votes losing to Lamar Smith by 20 points than Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, got in narrowly defeating Democrat Pete Gallego in a majority Hispanic district that was the state party’s top priority in 2014.


Like Bernie Sanders, Wakely said that income inequality will be the focus of his campaign. He has been traveling the state from La Quinta to La Quinta.

From a recent blog post at Down with Tyranny!

My first step was to map out a travel schedule and since I planned to drive the state I selected La Quinta Inn and Suites, a chain of low-cost limited service hotels, as the place where I would hang my hat each night. My travels would take me from south Texas to north Texas. From central Texas to east Texas and all points in between. I calculated I would put little over 3,500 miles on my vehicle in August, staying on the road for 20 nights. I estimated the travel costs at $1,500. I called a friend up in Austin and he funded my first month on the road.

Over that first month on the road, I talked to dozens of Texans each morning in the La Quinta hotel’s dining room where a free breakfast was served. I didn’t tell anyone I was running for Governor because I wanted to find out what they thought about politics in general and Texas politics specifically. I also wanted to find out if they voted or not. I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of folks I spoke to were registered voters but didn’t vote. When I asked them why they didn’t vote, the response was basically the same in town after town “why should I vote; my life wasn’t going to change.” I also took the time that first month on the road to talk to the staff at each of the hotels I stayed at. No one I spoke to earned over $10 an hour and without exception, not a one of them told me they voted. When I asked them why, they told me basically the same thing the hotel guests told me, “why should I vote; my life wasn’t going to change.” By the end of my first month on the road I estimate I talked to around 600 people; about 100 hotel employees and 500 guests.

My second month on the road took me back to the Texas/Mexico border towns I had already visited but also to many places I hadn’t been to since I was a child, cities like Amarillo, Lubbock and Abilene in the Texas panhandle. I also visited places I had never been to– tiny communities like Goliad (pop. 1,900) and Garfield (1,700). Once again, I stayed in La Quinta hotels in or near the town I was planning to visit. I also added another venue to my tour– Washaterias (for you Yankees, a laundromat). This time around, I told everyone I met that I was running for Governor on a platform of addressing income inequality in Texas. I told the folks at the hotel breakfast, the housekeeping staff, and the dozens of women I met in the washaterias that I was advocating for a $15 minimum wage and without exception, everyone I spoke to said “YES!” The only thing the women in the washaterias added to the conversation was “healthcare.”.



I campaign on $15 minimum wage. Theres no candidate out there talking about $15 minimum wage. I am campaigning on income inequality all around  the state. It’s the number one issue in the state of Texas.

If we can start resolve income inequality we can solve everything  – from school finance to our prison population, everything.

What can you do as governor to address income inequality?

All I can do is provide a voice,  hopefully  people  will listen  and we can push our lieutenant governor.

We can have an impact with all those damn appointments. I think over a four-year period the governor will make 3,000 appointments. That’s where a governor like me can make a change in the state of Texas, by appointing an actual progressive to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

I recalled that Texans, back in 1982 and 1986, elected the populist Jim Hightower agriculture commissioner, though his defeat in 1990 by Rick Perry ushered a new era in Texas politics.

Has Wakely met Hightower?



That was 30 years ago. The people I’m talking to, from El Paso to Brownsville, they’re 25 to 30, 40 years old. They don’t remember Jim Hightower. They don’t even remember Victor Morales.

Morales, a schoolteacher, drove a white pickup truck out of nowhere to the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1996. He lost the general election to U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm by a little more than ten points, half the margin by which Wendy Davis lost to greg Abbott in 2014.

“So Lettie (Wakely’s wife, Norma Leticia Gomez Rodriguez de Wakely) and I drove up to meet with Morales  in Crandall about six weeks ago,”   Wakely said. He  said that Morales told him, “All I talked about was income inequality.”

I asked Wakely if he had run into Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, who is seeking to be the party’s Senate nominee next year against Sen. Ted Cruz.


I’ve run into him four or five times, we’ve been at the same events, and just this last weekend he was in the Dallas paper saying there is no one running for governor. I just saw him last Saturday He was quoted as saying he’s not concerned that there’s no one running for governor.

From  Gromer Jeffers Jr. at the Dallas Morning News on Sept. 21: Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke not worried Democrats still don’t have candidate for Texas governor

U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke said this week he isn’t worried that Democrats haven’t found a viable candidate to run for governor of Texas.

“The only thing I can do is what I can do. I can control our campaign,” O’Rourke told The Dallas Morning News during a campaign stop at the University of Texas at Dallas. “I’m not concerned. There’s clearly something different in Texas right now … folks are coming out like I’ve never seen before. As word gets out, as people see that, there’s going to be a greater interest in getting into the race.”

O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso, has been mounting a Democratic challenge against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz for most of the year. And this week, O’Rourke was in North Texas for a two-day campaign swing.

Democrats, looking to win their first statewide race since 1994, are thrilled that O’Rourke is giving up his safe congressional seat to run against Cruz in the 2018 general election for Senate.

But party leaders have failed to persuade a big-name, well-funded candidate to run at the top of the ticket against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.

Wakely said he is accustomed to getting dissed by the Texas Democratic Party.


What happened last year, which I guess we can expect to happen this year, when I was running against Smith. There was a guy I ran against in the primary – Tejas (Vakil) – nice guy.

So I won the primary. I sent his wife some fliers. We want out to lunch. He said here’s what I can do to help you is give you access to the (Texas Democratic Party’s) VAN (Voter Activation Network) the voter files, he said, “I paid for it,” so he gave me his password and ID and we use it, and then (Chairman) Gilberto Hinojosa of the state party cut us off, they didn’t even call us or anything, end of July, we didn’t have access to it,  just cut us off. 

Then we had the (2016)  state party convention right here in San Antonio. He refused to let me speak to the delegates. He flat refused.

I confronted Gilberto and he said, “We know you’re a Bernie guy and we’re afraid if you get out there (he’d rile up the Bernie delegates).

They were paranoid. He wouldn’t let me speak. Cutting off the VAN,  not letting me speak. That’s where we are with the Democratic Party.

I don’t expect to have any support from the Democratic Party.

I spoke with Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the state party.

He said the state party provides candidates with access to its voter file for a deeply discounted fee. But, once your campaign ends, you automatically lose access to the file. Wakely could have paid for access to the file but didn’t.

I spoke with Vakil, who confirmed what Wakely told me. He didn’t know that the state party had cut off Wakely’s access to the files and it “seems strange that the Democratic Party would want to hamper its own candidates.”

Garcia explained that the party was concerned that a defeated candidate could potentially misuse the file.

Garcia also said that congressional candidate rarely get to address the state convention. The exception, at the last convention, was Pete Gallego, running in the party’s’ featured race.



You know when right to work laws were passed in Texas?  In 1993. You know who signed that?  Ann Richards.

I said that didn’t sound right. Ann Richards? And didn’t Texas have right-to-work laws well before 1993?

I asked Ed Sills, communications director of the Texas AFL-CIO, about Wakely’s claim about the 1993 right-to-work legislation.

From Sills:

I conferred with Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy on this and we are certain the bill was just a re-codification of the Labor Code. (I was a reporter at the time and don’t remember the bill creating any news.)

Re-codification occurs periodically in major statutes. Such bills are supposed to be non-substantive and they only make news if a lawmaker tries to slip something in, which has happened once or twice. 
The purpose of re-codifying is to make technical corrections, such as renumbering. Over the years, insertion of amendments can create confusion. Such bills are often very long because the entire statute is reprinted, but they are so uncontroversial that formal printing of the bill may sometimes be waived. 
On the obvious front, Ann Richards had a very strong relationship with the Texas AFL-CIO and would have heard from us if that bill had done anything to worsen the position of working people. 
 The so-called “right to work” law was passed in 1947. 

From the Handbook of Texas 

Since the passage of the union regulatory laws of 1947, little significant legislation in the area has been enacted. In 1951 the legislature sought to strengthen the “right to work” provisions of previous legislation by making violations by either the employer or union “conspiracies in the restraint of trade” and thereby invoking the penalties under the state’s antitrust laws.

I also checked with Glenn Smith, who served as a campaign manager for Ann Richards during her 1990 gubernatorial run. He said that Wakely should be careful about making bogus claims about Richards’ strong pro-labor record.



I asked Wakely what inspired him to run for office in the first place.

He told me about Lucy Coffey and Joe Biden.

First a little background.

From a Down with Tyranny! post by Wakely in July:

My wife and I run a private care home for hospice patients in San Antonio. We offer them a place in our home to die. We have been doing this for a little over eight years now and we have helped 48 people to die with dignity and respect.

Among those patients was a remarkable woman by the name of Lucy Coffey.

From the San Antonio Express-News:

March 19, 2015:

Lucy Coffey, the nation’s oldest woman veteran, died Thursday morning in San Antonio. She was 108.

Coffey met Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama last summer in the White House as part of a final visit she wanted to make to Washington, D.C.

She put on the uniform in 1943.

“I am so honored to have met this incredible lady,” Bexar County veterans service officer Queta Marquez said, in announcing Coffey’s death Thursday afternoon. “She was truly a pioneer, and full of life and spunk.”

 A small-town girl from a farm in Martinsville, Indiana, Coffey was working at an A&P supermarket in Dallas when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She quit the store and joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, settling in San Antonio after a decade in Japan following the end of the war.
 Last summer, Coffey met Biden for a half-hour in the West Wing and also received a surprise visit from the president.

“We spent some time together and, you know, I know she doesn’t speak, but she spoke to me, ” Biden said.

Wakely said that Coffey was 35, less than five feet tall and underweight when she tried to enlist. The fist two times, she was rejected. The third time, she told Wakely,  returned with lifts in her shoes and rocks in her pockets and was accepted.

He said she ended up on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff and won two Bronze Stars.

“She’d never tell us how a 4-11 women who weighed 80 pounds earned two Bronze Stars,” Wakely said.

There are a couple of photos of Coffey and Biden on the walls at Wakely’s home.


We took her to see Biden when was speaking to a veterans group in San Antonio at the Marriott in January 2015. So she wanted to go. So we packed her up. It was raining, it was cold, so we didn’t want her to go out. She had COPD, so you don’t want to take someone who has COPD out in the cold and the rain and all that, but she wanted to go see her friend, Joe.

So we took her to the Marriott and we were backstage waiting for him afterwards, and we’re all sitting around talking and his wife’s there, and Biden’s standing next to me and at some point it comes up that Abbott just got elected, and he told me, “If you don’t like it, do something about it, run for office,” and that’s what Lucy had been telling me for three years, that’s why she joined the military. She saw something that was bad and she said, “I’m going to do something to change it.”

Coffey paid a price for that last visit with Biden.

“She caught cold and she died two months later,” Wakely said.

Wakely said that Biden, who had called Coffey on a regular basis,  sent flowers to her funeral.


When Bernie announced in July (2015) that he was going to run for president, I recalled what Lucy had said, what Biden had said. I held a meeting out here in front of my house  just to announce that Bernie was running and we had a hundred people out in the front yard, most of them people who had not voted before, young people,

I asked Wakely about the lively field of Democratic candidates seeking to take on Lamar Smith in 2018.

I asked if that’s a function of Trump.


No, I think that’s me. That’s what they tell me.

I think they saw that there was this 60-some-odd democratic socialist that had no money was able to get more votes (than any other Democratic congressional candidate running against a Republican incumbent in Texas) and thought, “I can do better.”

The way to win, Wakely said, is to run to the left and talk about the issue – income inequality – that will enable Democrats to reach and rouse those who don’t vote.


From his La Quinta Tour blog:

The last time a Democrat was elected Governor of Texas was in 1991 when Ann Richards was elected. She served until she was beaten in the 1994 November general election by George Bush. That year a little over 50% of registered voters voted. Bush took a little over 53% of those voting and Richards took about 45%. But as a percentage of total registered voters in Texas, Bush took about 25% and Richards about 20%. It’s been downhill ever since for the Texas Democrat Party.

In 1998, Bush beat Garry Mauro to win a 2nd term as Governor. That year only 32% of registered voters voted. As a percentage of total registered voters, Bush took about 22% and Mauro received less than 10%. In 2002, Republican Rick Perry beat millionaire Democrat Tony Sanchez. That year, about 36% of registered voters voted. As a percentage of total registered voters, Perry took about 24% and Sanchez received about 12% of the vote. In 2006, Perry won a second term, beating Congressman Chris Bell. That year, about 33% of registered voters voted. As a percentage of total registered voters, Perry took about 13% and Bell received about 10% of the vote. The remaining votes were split between two Independent candidates, Carole Keeton Strayhorn and singer/songwriter Kinky Friedman. In 2010, Rick Perry won a third term, beating former Houston mayor, Bill White. That year, about 38% of registered voters voted. As a percentage of total registered voters, Perry took roughly 20% and White received about 16% of the vote. In 2014, Greg Abbott was elected Governor of Texas beating State Senator Wendy Davis. That year, about 33% of registered voters voted. As a percentage of total registered voters, Abbott took roughly 19% and Davis received about 13% of the vote.

Since 1998, on average, only about a 1/3 of registered voters in Texas are voting. Republicans have been winning with a little under 20% of registered voters voting for the party. Democrats have been losing with a little over 13% registered voters voting for them. Another way to put it, on average 80% of the state’s registered voters are either voting against the Republican candidate or not supporting the candidate but the Republicans are still winning; why? Because 87% of the state’s registered voters are either voting against the Democratic candidate for Governor or not supporting the candidate by not voting– 87%– that is amazing. It should also be noted that all of the Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor since 1998 have been wealthy lawyers with ties to the oil and gas industry, some with very deep ties. So, it seems that Republicans don’t mind voting for wealthy lawyers with ties to the fossil fuel industry while Democratic voters in Texas don’t like wealthy lawyers with ties to the oil and gas industry and don’t vote for them.

Does anyone see a pattern to the above?


A quarter of the state, or less than that, is the conservative, neo-fascist, white supremacists, and they’ve always been here and they’ always be here.  We’ve got to get the other people out to vote

From Texas Monthly’s roundup last month of the gubernatorial field, on Wakely:

A San Antonio native who once served as the minister of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and who also owned a wine bar and jazz club in Manzanillo, Mexico, Wakely is a self-described “Bernicrat,” according to his campaign website. The blog Brains and Eggs describes Wakely as “everything you’d expect in a seasoned white progressive populist,” and “Bernie Sanders with a cowboy hat.” He supports issues like raising the minimum wage in Texas to $15 an hour and the complete legalization of marijuana. “Our world, our country, our state, is facing the end of times—not in the biblical or religious sense, but in the sense that the world as we know it, the world we grew up in, will not be the world we leave to our children or grandchildren,” Wakely writes on his website. “Climate change and corporate control over pretty much every thing in Texas is the new reality. But if we act together, and if we act now, we can stop climate change and reign in the corporations. We can ensure that our children and our grandchildren will inherit not just a safer world but a better world… My campaign for Governor is about advocating for a progressive change in the Texas Democratic party and to removing Abbott, Patrick, and their tea party brethren from power.” Wakely challenged U.S. Representative Lamar Smith for District 21 in 2016, but got smoked at the polls, garnering just more than 36 percent of the vote to Smith’s 57 percent.


Seasoned white progressive, which I guess is a euphemism for being old.

Bernie Sanders with a cowboy hat?

It’s not a cowboy hat. It’s a Panama hat. I’m a Berniecrat with a Panama hat.

And where does he place Gov. Abbott on the political spectrum?



He’s a neofascist.

How so?


He held that target up with bullet holes in it and made some reference to shooting reporters.



That did makes headlines, as far away as Time Magazine:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joked about shooting reporters while visiting a gun range and carrying a target sheet with bullet holes in it.

As he was holding the bullet-ridden target, Abbott allegedly said, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters,” according to the Texas Tribune.

I told Wakely I was there, but was out of earshot and didn’t actually hear what Abbott said and was not particularly alarmed when I found out, though others were. In his column, Ken Herman wrote that:

The intended humor is obvious, especially in light of its target. But it was particularly ill-timed and ill-advised in the wake of this week’s body slam of a journalist by now-U.S. Rep.-elect Greg Gianforte of Montana who took umbrage and resorted to quick-temper violence when a reporter had the audacity to ask him a question about health care reform, the hottest button issue in D.C. these days (other than anything having to do with our nontraditional president who says journalists are enemies of the people).

Abbott’s Friday quip brought swift and certain rebuke from folks from whom you’d expect swift and certain rebuke, including journalists and gun-control advocates who understandably have hair triggers about such things.

But proof of Abbott’s neofascism?

I asked Wakely for more evidence.

He said Abbott’s Texas was beginning to recall  Mussolini’s Italy, with its “round-up and stigmatizing people.”


We’re doing the same with Hispanic people, transgender people. We’re seeing a lot of parallels between what happened in 1930s Europe and what’s happening in 2017 United States.

I believe totally that Abbott is a neofascist and unless we stand up to try to stop him we will find ourselves in the next five, ten years, in some type of totalitarian sate. They’re made  being brown a crime. They’re making being transgender a crime. They’re making everybody a crime.

Definitely outside the box.

Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

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