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


Good day Austin:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We already have a shared common goal.

We have a platform.

Some people give us grief because it has 260 items.

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

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

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

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

Back to Dickey’s remarks at the bash.

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

Property tax relief.

Giving special needs students choice.

These are plain things.

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

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

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

A lot has happened since then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


But did he personally support the censure?


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

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


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

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

Of the vote, Dickey said:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, here it is:

Bexar County Executive Committee

Resolution to Censure Joseph R. Straus, III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality

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

Battleground Texas’ solution: Donate Now.

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

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

But they have a great virtue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was disappointed by the Straus censure.

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

Meanwhile, in other Texas Republican Party purge news:

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


And from the Sarah Davis campaign:

Deceptive Dokupil Ad Continues Campaign of Distortion

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

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

Beto pulls an all-nighter. `We are absolutely going to ace this.’

Good morning Austin:

I am all about the all-nighter.

I thrive by night.

I dare say there are not that many people on the planet, aside from people who actually get paid to work the night-shift or chronic insomniacs, who have pulled more all-nighters.

And what do I have to show for it?

Rude question.

But I’ll answer it anyway:

  1. A college degree.
  2. Almost every longish story I’ve ever written not on a same-day deadline. So, with 40 years and counting as a reporter … lots.
  3. First Reading. Every time you read a First Reading you are reading the product of an all-nighter, or something perilously close to it.

Why the all-nighter?

Why not just do what I need to do within the conventional confines most people adapt to?

Good question.

Here are a few answers:

  1. Daytime is cluttered with all those other things you could or should be doing.
  2. I am easily distracted and find it hard to get started. Once I get going, stopping is stupid and unproductive.
  3. Nighttime is the right time.

I have a complementary taste for marathons, telethons for almost any cause, but especially those with a single host, like Jerry Lewis, who strains and sweats and loosens his bow-tie and cries, legislative hearings that run till dawn and extra-inning games, the longer the better.

In other words, I don’t like things to end.

I tell you all this to explain why I reacted so positively when I heard that Beto O’Rourke was planning a 24-hour live-stream of a long day of campaigning, beginning at 5:15 Sunday morning in Houston, and culminating in a midnight Sunday rally at his Austin campaign headquarters on Airport Boulevard, and – this is it – a UT Austin All-Nighter with Beto at Kerbey Lane Cafe,  the all-night restaurant right by the campus on Guadalupe, beginning at 1:30 a.m.


It’s a gimmick.

But everyone’s got a gimmick.

The purpose was two-fold: attention and momentum.

O’Rourke’s Senate campaign already live-streams much of what he does.

He’s a natural on camera and wears well.

Against Cruz, they think their ace in the hole is O’Rourke’s likability – his winning personality.

The live-stream is a way to make him totally accessible, answering any questions that come his way, but also to build a very loyal fan base that is sucked into his story.

But, Texas is big and, to succeed, they’ve got to scale up to a bigger and bigger audience, and, like a telethon, they need to give people periodic reasons to pay special attention.

This last live-stream also was a way to build momentum, by showing him gathering large and enthusiastic crowds all along the way.

They got a head start with a big crowd at their town hall in Garland on Friday  night.

And then, they juiced Sunday’s unfolding events with the evening announcement – a few days before the report is due – that they had raised $2.4 million in the last three months of 2017. That’s a good number, and it was made better when the Cruz campaign issued its own numbers, in order to show that it still had a big fundraising advantage. But the numbers indicated that O’Rourke had raised more than Cruz had in the last quarter of 2017, and that they were gaining on them.

From my story:

Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke out-raised Sen. Ted Cruz in the last quarter of 2017, $2.4 million to $1.9 million. But the Republican incumbent maintained a $7.3 million to $4.6 million cash advantage heading into 2018, though the third term Democratic congressman from El Paso has narrowed that gap since the middle of 2017, from a 3.9 million to a $2.7 million deficit.

Here, then, are my tweets off of O’Rourke’s all-day-and-all-nighter.

I first checked in when he was returning to his hotel room after a morning run with supporters.

OK. This next one was by far my most popular tweet of the day.

Why was this so popular? Because it’s sweet and personal.

This led to a riff about how he didn’t used to like Matthew McConaughey, probably because of how much his wife, Amy, liked McConaughey, but he likes him a lot now.

Peterson is really good.

The Statesman has written about him before.

He’s worth another couple photos.


O’Rourke was given a really warm introduction at Kerbey Lane by its CEO, Mason Ayer.

Talking to young woman in charge at Kerbey Lane afterward, she estimated there were 500 to 600 people there. At that time on a Monday morning, they are usually maybe a dozen people there.

At this point, for heightened documentary effect, I switched to black and white photos, or what my iPhone calls silvertone.

O’Rourke spoke, answered questions and then had his photo taken with everyone who wanted one.

Finally, O’Rourke posed for photos with the people who work at Kerbey Lane, then took off to meet and thank some campaign workers, and then headed to the airport.

Throughout the live-stream, he would answer questions and engage the comments from viewers that would scroll across the Facebook page.

And that was it. Except for me, who had an all-nighter to finish.

Recalling the effort to draft Stormy Daniels to run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana

Good morning Austin:

It was nine years ago Thursday that I first became aware of the seriousness of the effort to  recruit Stormy Daniels to run against Republican incumbent David Vitter for the U.S. Senate from Louisiana. I was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times Picayune and I was at the Washington Hilton for the opening night of what is called Washington Mardi Gras.

As I explained in an advance in that day’s paper:

WASHINGTON — The revelry of Washington Mardi Gras begins tonight at the Washington Hilton.

Physically, the Hilton is at the intersection of Connecticut and Florida avenues. Metaphysically, the Washington Mardi Gras is at the crossroads of what people like about Louisiana and what they don’t like about Washington, a long weekend bacchanal that unfolds in the twilight glow of good times and ethical questions.

For three days and nights, Washington lawmakers and lobbyists and Louisiana movers and shakers make merry — at a Thursday night party “free” to those fortunate enough to score a coveted wristband, at a $150-per-person Friday night dinner dance and at a $200-a-head Mystick Krewe of Louisianians Ball.

The Mystick Krewe, the governing authority of Washington Mardi Gras, decides who can buy tickets to the dinner and ball. Another group, Louisiana Alive!, run by Wayne Smith, a Washington lobbyist and former chief of staff to Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, distributes the wristbands to corporate sponsors, krewe members and congressional staff.

In a new age of ethical transparency, Mystick Krewe and Washington Alive!, both private organizations, are opaque. The Mystick Krewe was created by Sen. Russell Long in the 1950s to take over responsibility for Washington Mardi Gras. Its membership includes all the members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, who take turns chairing the annual event. This year the honor belongs to Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.

I did not have a “coveted wristband” that night, so I simply planted myself at the bar to watch the comings and goings, which included the official debut of the effort to draft Daniels to challenge Vitter, who had confessed to having sinned sexually, for re-election in 2010.

Here is the release that went out that day.

DraftStormy Storms DC Mardi Gras January 29, 2009

Washington DC—Against the backdrop of the annual Washington Mardis Gras, DraftStormy, a non-partisan grassroots movement to draft Baton Rouge native Stormy Daniels into the 2010 Louisiana Senate race, celebrated its official launch on Thursday.

To commemorate the launch, DC Mardis Gras attendees were greeted Thursday morning with a complimentary string of Mardis Gras beads featuring the soon-to-be iconic DraftStormy logo in metallic pink on a white medallion. Hours before, the official DraftStormy website went live.

Inviting Louisianans and Americans to “Join the Storm” the website features a petition page along with an extensive overview of Stormy Daniels and her qualifications to tackle some of the biggest issues facing both the Pelican State and the nation in general.

For example, a section titled, “It’s the Economy, Sexy,” examines how the current economic crisis is impacting all sectors of the economy including the adult entertainment industry.


Back in the fall, the draft effort had gone on Craigslist in search of a porn star to take on the challenge.

Seeking a female candidate to challenge David Vitter in the Republican primary for the United States Senate in 2010. Candidate must be over 30 years old and a registered Republican in the state of Louisiana. Beyond this, we are looking for a candidate with a history in some aspect of the adult entertainment industry who has taken the benefit of that experience both monetarily and otherwise and translated it into success in their later career.

Candidate will have the benefit of an experienced campaign staff, including finance and media teams. Reasonable compensation as allowed by federal campaign finance rules will be offered. This is a serious offer for a serious candidate who cares about the direction of her state and community and who is willing to accept the serious commitment of a statewide political campaign.

Please forward a résumé or CV with contact information along with a 200-word description telling us who you are and why you think you are the ideal candidate to challenge David Vitter.

In late January,  Christopher Tidmore of Louisiana Weekly reported that they had found their woman.


Several months ago, a curious ad went on the Internet swapshop page searching for a registered Republican woman with experience in some area of adult entertainment that would be willing to run against Vitter in the 2010 Republican Senatorial primary. It was a blatant attempt to dredge up media attention on the Senator’s past trysts with prostitutes for public view, both as a State Representative and later as a Congressman.

At first, many observers considered the ad a joke, yet indications came that the postings promises of financial compensation for a porn actress or exotic dancer to challenge Vitter were serious. Insiders within the Democratic Party began to admit that some senior members of the party were behind the plot. Sources within the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) began to express their approval and complicity with the idea.

Then, late on January 19, 2008, this posting was added to Craigslist, “Seeking Energetic Field Organizers for Senate Campaign (New Orleans)…After an exhaustive review process, we are announcing that we are no longer accepting applications for a female candidate with a history in the adult entertainment industry to challenge Senator Vitter. We want to thank all the talented candidates who applied and endured through our rigorous application process. We furthermore apologize for any inconveniences the applications or interviews may have caused. We are certain many of you will go on to achieve long and accomplished careers in public service, and wish you well in your future endeavors.”

The posting continued, “An announcement pertaining to the final results of our selection process is forthcoming. We are, however, now accepting applications for energetic and personable field organizers for our grassroots campaign. Past or current affiliation with a political party is unimportant, this is a bipartisan effort of civic-minded citizens with a desire to change Louisiana and the nation.”

Organizers, the ad went on, should be at least 18 years old with two years of campaign experience, or put another way, WE HAVE FOUND OUR PORN STAR, AND SHE NEEDS A STAFF.


Within a couple of weeks of Washington Mardi Gras, I had a telephone interview with Daniels.  From Feb. 13, 2009.

WASHINGTON — Sen. David Vitter, R-La., whose phone calls to a prostitution ring were exposed by an investigator for Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, now faces a potential Senate challenge from adult film star Stormy Daniels, who has asked Flynt to run her campaign.

In a telephone interview Thursday from Tampa, Fla., Daniels said that while Flynt had nothing to do with the “Draft Stormy” boomlet that has drawn her into contemplating the 2010 Louisiana Senate race, “I have reached out to him in the last couple of days that I want to discuss if he wants to be my campaign manager.”

“Oh my goodness, I can’t wait to see those brochures,” said Hastings Wyman, founding editor of the Southern Political Report, which tracks campaigns across the South. Of Vitter, Wyman said, “He can’t be pleased.”

Vitter’s office offered no comment.

Daniels, who grew up in Baton Rouge, said she has not been able to reach Flynt, who is at an adult entertainment trade conference in Woodland Hills, Calif., this week.

It was Dan Moldea, an investigative author working for Flynt, who in the summer of 2007 found Vitter’s number on the 2001 phone records of the so-called D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Palfrey, who was later found guilty of racketeering and money laundering, committed suicide in May while awaiting sentencing.

It also was Flynt who, on the eve of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998, said he had information about then-Rep. Bob Livingston’s extramarital affairs, leading Livingston, who was then speaker-elect of the House, to announce he was going to step down. He was succeeded in the 1st Congressional District by Vitter.

Daniels’ interest in Vitter’s seat was spurred by a low-budget movement started by a University of New Orleans political science student.

Zach Hudson, 22, of Metairie said that a few months ago, he and his friends placed an ad on Craigslist seeking an adult entertainer to run against Vitter. There were no takers, but he said he was alerted to Daniels, a contract actress, writer and director with Wicked Pictures, who posts comments occasionally on an LSU fan site.

Hudson said he has never talked to Daniels and that while he has volunteered on some local Democratic campaigns, including doing press work for Shawn Barney in his unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat last year, he is not tied to the Democratic Party in any way.

“The Louisiana Democratic Party is not affiliated with the ‘Draft Stormy’ initiative — that movement is a nonpartisan, grass-roots effort,” said Scott Jordan, a spokesman for the state party.

Daniels said she was initially wary of “Draft Stormy,” but then flattered, and when she announced she was thinking about a candidacy — including a Louisiana ‘listening tour’ — it spread like wildfire across the media landscape: CNN, a Politico Podcast, Jay Leno’s monologue, and so on.

By Thursday, Hudson said the Web site had received about 180,000 hits.

The Daniels campaign is clearly intended to mock and embarrass Vitter.

Daniels enters the scene just as Vitter has appeared to regain his footing on Capitol Hill and as a favorite for re-election.

In an interview Sunday on C-Span, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that although “Sen. Vitter made a very serious mistake, which he’s admitted, and he has apologized for . . . I do not think Sen. Vitter is in any trouble, but that’s not by accident. It’s because he is working very hard and going to be very well prepared for whatever comes at him.”

Daniels’ publicity could prove a distraction for Vitter. “At least in the short term, she’s a real problem,” said LSU political scientist Kirby Goidel. In the long term, probably not, said Goidel, while cautioning, “if Jesse Ventura can win in Minnesota, why can’t she win in Louisiana?”

Daniels, 29, is a 1997 graduate of Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge. Her first name is really Stephanie, but she declined to reveal her actual last name. She said she is legally changing her name to Stormy Daniels.

She said if she runs, she is not sure whether she would do so as a Democrat or Independent, and might well not run at all rather than risk siphoning votes from a more qualified Vitter opponent. “I wouldn’t want to inadvertently help the person I am trying to stop,” she said.

Aside from assailing Vitter for “hypocrisy,” Daniels said she would press her pet causes: safe sex and eliminating sexually explicit images of children from the Internet. She hopes to be in New Orleans for three weeks this spring filming a non-adult horror movie about the Cajun werewolf that she is writing, directing and producing.

The plot: “Five years after Hurricane Katrina, some environmental students go down to the swamp to study the lasting effects of the hurricane, and they don’t make it back.”

In early May, 2009, my Times-Picayune colleague, Bruce Alpert, and I reported that, just like Hillary Clinton did when she was deciding whether to run for the New York Senate, Daniels would embark on a “listening tour” of the state.

She’s back and she’s ready to listen. Veteran porn star, and political novice, Stormy Daniels is returning to her native Louisiana next week to kick off her “listening tour” as she ponders whether to keep her clothes on and run for the Senate against Republican incumbent David Vitter, who is up for reelection next year. Daniels, who grew up in Baton Rouge, will kick off her listening tour with a lunch stop at The Roux House in her hometown Tuesday at noon. On Wednesday at noon, she will be at Serio’s Po’ Boys & Deli on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.

The Times-Picayune’s incomparable columnist Chris Rose reported on Daniels’ first stop on May 7, 2009.

Po-boy shop serves up a porn star for lunch

The sign on the door to Serio’s Po Boys in the CBD Wednesday morning said: “Storm Warning at Noon.” It was the only official notice to customers that business would not quite be usual.

The occasion was the second stop on the “listening tour” — her words, not mine — of Stormy Daniels, the as-yet undeclared candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by David Vitter.

Daniels is not your run-of-the-mill politician, no party mouthpiece in a suit, no policy-leaden talking head, she. Daniels — of no stated political party — is a star of, as her website attests, “the adult entertainment industry.”

You might know it by its other name: Porn.

But don’t take Stormy for a dumb blonde. Draftstormy.com points out that she not only performs porn, but she also writes — and directs! — as well. She was also, it should be noted, the president of her 4-H club in high school back in Baton Rouge.

And, as previously stated, she is on a listening tour of south Louisiana, “a conversation with the citizens of Louisiana” about “the ongoing struggles they face in these troubled economic times.” And nothing gets a downtown diner more charged up than a populist porn star and thus it was that Serio’s was packed.

When I walked in to check out the scene, my eyes came to rest on the two biggest meatballs I have ever seen in my life. No, I’m serious. Have you ever seen Serio’s spaghetti plate? Meatballs like Volkswagens. These guys, they know how to meet a man’s appetite.

As for Stormy, she carries an impressive carriage herself. She handled the assembled press, gawkers and lunch-bucket Joe’s with casual aplomb. If the whole point of her “listening tour” — the sum total of which was the stop at Serio’s and a similar event Tuesday in Baton Rouge — is to keep the pokes in the eye coming at Vitter, it seems to be working.

There was plenty of media on hand to trumpet the occasion and my gracious colleagues from both WWL and Gambit actually asked policy questions. And they asked about Vitter whom, you may remember, had a little “family values” issue a while back — and whoever the money is behind Stormy wants to make sure none of us forget it.

When given the opportunity to speak to Stormy, I demurred. The meatballs had made me hungry as hell. And I did not feel that I could top the very astute political commentary offered by the renown historian, John Barry — author of “Rising Tide” and “The Great Influenza” — who was also in attendance (he happens to be a Serio’s regular) and observed: “She has done something I never saw a politician do before.”

Many things came to my mind. I forgot all about the meatballs. And Barry finally explained: “She showed up on time.”

Proprietor Mike Serio was the gadfly of the moment, reveling in the in-house insanity, flashbulbs popping and a throng of hungry guys lining up at the lunch counter with mischievous smiles and open wallets.

“Truth is, I’m a Vitter fan,” Serio said. “But I’m open to suggestions. And all I can say is that she’s been a very good stimulus package for me.”

The AP’s Kevin McGill caught her afternoon stop that May day in Baton Rouge:

BATON ROUGE — Stormy Daniels strode onstage at a downtown Baton Rouge restaurant in a tight black blouse with a plunging neckline and a knee-length skirt in the popular purple of Louisiana State University. She introduced herself with a warning.

“For those of you who don’t know who I am,” she told the lunch crowd at The Roux House, “I’d suggest that you don’t Google that until you get home from work.”

She’s a Louisiana-born porn star who says she is considering a 2010 run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican David Vitter, whose family-values reputation was marred in 2007 when his name was linked to a Washington prostitution ring.

Daniels, 30, insists she’s serious. She’s spending her own money on a “listening tour” to hear what people have to say as she considers a possible run, and said she isn’t just starting a publicity stunt to promote her work or embarrass Vitter. However, she said she hasn’t lived in Louisiana for seven years — she currently resides in Florida — and would need to re-establish residency to run.

She sprinkled her presentation Tuesday with the occasional joke (“If you get any closer you’re going to have to start tipping me,” she told a crowd of reporters and photographers) but she kept the topics serious.

Daniels’ platform contains a few issues she probably has professional knowledge of — backing efforts to remove child pornography from the Internet and keeping minors from viewing adult material — as well as the bread-and-butter issues of many other candidates: Support for a national sales tax to replace the income tax and pushing to get troops home sooner from Iraq.

She doesn’t want to take questions about Vitter. “I think it’s about time David Vitter started answering David Vitter questions,” she said.

Vitter has steadfastly refused to discuss the “serious sin” he confessed to after his phone number was linked to Deborah Palfrey, the so-called “D.C. Madam” who committed suicide as she faced prison time for running a prostitution ring that catered to the powerful. His office declined to comment Wednesday on Daniels’ possible candidacy.

Vitter, 48, kept a low profile in the months after his scandal broke but has emerged as a chief critic of government bailouts and President Barack Obama’s spending plans — popular stands in a state that went solidly for Republican John McCain in last year’s presidential election.

He also has been aggressively fundraising, amassing $2.5 million in campaign funds for what will be his first re-election attempt since the Palfrey scandal broke. He won the Senate seat for the first time in 2004, spending more than $7 million to defeat four major opponents for the open position.

Noting Vitter’s solid conservative stances and his healthy campaign account, Ed Chervenak, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans, doesn’t think a Daniels candidacy would do much damage.

“It’s probably going to be fairly easy for him to ignore her,” he said.

“What it really shows is the lack of any real credible Democratic challenger,” he added.

Pollster and political consultant Bernie Pinsonat agreed. But he said a possible Daniels’ candidacy could be a distraction if Vitter is challenged in next year’s Republican primary.

“Is she a threat to beat him? No. Is she really going to run? I seriously doubt it,” Pinsonat said. “But if I had my druthers and I was running the campaign of David Vitter, I would rather she not be there.”

Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne has expressed interest in the GOP primary. Others reportedly considering a run are retired state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, a Republican; and state Sen. Eric LaFleur and Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard, both Democrats. Nobody has announced.

If nothing else, a Daniels candidacy could bring color to the Senate campaign the way adult film star Mary Carey did as a candidate for governor in California’s 2003 recall race, which Arnold Schwarzenegger won. And Daniels could restore the spectacle missing from Louisiana politics since the unabashed gambler, reputed womanizer and now-felon Edwin Edwards left the governor’s office in 1996.

Edwards was succeeded by the staid Mike Foster, the grandmotherly Kathleen Blanco and the young policy wonk, Bobby Jindal. All are a far cry from other colorful characters from Louisiana’s political past: the windmill-armed Depression-era orator, Huey Long; country-singing Gov. Jimmie Davis, who once rode up the Capitol steps on horseback; or Gov. Earl Long, Huey’s brother, who openly cavorted with Bourbon Street stripper Blaze Starr in the 1950s.

Let’s pause here to recall Earl Long and Blaze Starr.

From Blaze Starr’s June 16, 2015 obit in the Los Angeles Times:

Born Fannie Belle Fleming in Wayne County, W. Va., Starr long performed at the Two O’Clock Club in Baltimore, earning her the nickname “The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque.”

Starr, however, became better known for what happened when she landed at the Sho-Bar club in New Orleans, where she famously had an affair with Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long, who served in the 1940s and 1950s.

Gus Weill, one of Louisiana’s first political consultants, who got his start in politics in the 1960s, said Starr was a knockout beauty who gave New Orleans glamour. He did not know her personally.

“They had the romance and history, and she added a good dollop of glamour,” Weill said about her contribution to New Orleans. “She was a wonderful dancer and much loved.”

Ted Jones, 81, a former aide to Long, said the governor’s affair was the reflection of “a 60-year-old man trying to reinvent his life.”

Jones said the open affair lasted from 1959 until Long’s death in September 1960, but didn’t appear to mar Long’s legacy — although it served as political chum for his opponents

“Of course, Ms. Blanche (Long’s wife) didn’t like her, but that was beside the point,” Jones said. “It didn’t mar his legacy; it demonstrated that old men have a flair for nice women.”

Jones recalled the last time he saw Long was right after the former governor had secured a congressional seat in 1960. He was sitting on the edge of a bed at the Bentley Hotel in Alexandria, La., with his arm around Starr.

“Personal misbehaviors on the part of male politicians were not an unusual thing,” said Alecia P. Long, a history professor at Louisiana State University. She is not related to the Long political family. But she added that Long was a “particular case because he was so open about it.”

The flamboyant stripper also claimed she had slept with John F. Kennedy before he won the presidency.

Stormy Daniel’s potential candidacy that year always teetered between mock seriousness and semi-seriousness, and the further she got from New Orleans in her listening tour, the harder it was to tell the difference.

From July 2009.

Daniels storms Shreveport

Reporter Sharon Fullilove: “When most people hear the name Stormy Daniels they think adult film star and not U.S. senator.”

Daniels said that at first she thought the draft effort was joke, and, “although I am hilarious and have a great sense of humor, this is one thing that I would never joke about.”

Fullilove: “She admits to not being qualified for the job but says there are a few issues she would like to reform.”

Daniels ultimately didn’t run for Senate in 2010.

Vitter, running against illegal immigration….

and Barack Obama, defeated Charlie Melancon, a relatively conservative Democrat, by nearly 19 points.

Vitter didn’t run again for the Senate. I think he realized that, in Washington and on the national stage, his past would always haunt him. So, in 2015 he decided to run for governor of Louisiana, which is a much bigger deal back home than being in the Senate, and where he would presumably be judged in the campaign and in his day-to-day existence  by more forgiving Louisiana standards.

But Vitter’s Democratic rival, John Bel Edwards, debuted a devastating political ad during the LSU-Alabama football game, alleging that Vitter, while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, had been on his cellphone with a call-girl service, missing a vote on a measure “honoring 28 soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our freedom.”

Edwards won easily and Vitter didn’t seek re-election to his Senate seat in 2016.

Stormy Daniels, of course, is back in the political news, bigly.

And yet, as a genuine scandal, Trump’s relationship with Stormy Daniels doesn’t really seem to have taken hold, seemingly lost in the shuffle.

From Colin Jost on Weekend Update:

It was reported that just before the election last year, President Trump’s personal lawyer arranged a six-figure payment to cover up an alleged affair between Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels. So at least there’s one storm Trump will pay for.

Let me just say what a thrill it is to be alive at a time where “Porn Star Blackmails President”’ is like the fourth-biggest story of the week. At this rate, in a year from now, we’re going to see the headline ‘Trump Found With Dead Hooker’ right next to the crossword puzzle.

Which, of course, recalls Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards classic 1983 quip:  “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy”.

He wasn’t and he didn’t, winning election that year to a third, non-consecutive, term as governor.

Eight years later, in 1991, after losing for re-election in 1987, Edwards won a fourth term, this time against David Duke, a former Klansman. As Edwards pointed out during the campaign,”The only place where David Duke and I are alike is we are both wizards under the sheets.”


Deer in my headlights: How a day of reckoning on immigration shut down the federal government

Deer graze along the road leading into Rocky Mountain National Park as national parks remain as “accessible as possible” during a government shutdown Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Estes Park, Colo. Almost half of the 2 million civilian federal workers will be barred from doing their jobs if the shutdown extends into Monday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Good morning Austin:

I’m back. I was gone East on family matters since Thanksgiving. But I’m back. I’ve been back in Austin a week, but it’s taken me a few days to sufficiently screw my courage to the sticking post, or some such, to return to First Reading.

The drive back to Austin from Western Massachusetts went relatively smoothly, with one exception. About 2 in the morning the first night on the road I was cruising along I-81 in Virginia toward Roanoke, Virginia. The 70 mph highway was empty, I was in the right-hand lane when I felt these eyes upon me. I looked to my left out the driver’s side window and there, mere inches away, was a deer, standing stock-still, lighting up the night with its bright eyes, a bracing near miss.

I have had two previous run-ins with deer that ended less well. Back around 2000, I was with my wife and kids, driving back to D.C. from buying a Christmas tree from a farm in rural Maryland when a young deer leapt in front of our car. The deer was killed, the car was damaged, we were shaken up, but we were OK.

The second time was the very end of 2015. I was driving back to Austin from Cisco, a tiny town in the Big Country region between Abilene and Fort Worth, where the Wilks brothers, the billionaire frackers who with their wives had donated $15 million to one of several pro-Cruz super PACs, had put on a prayer meeting and pep rally sendoff barely a month before the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa, where Cruz was looking like a frontrunner.

No sooner had I seen a deer alongside the road to my right when another deer came crashing across my car from the left. Again, the car was damaged and I was shaken up but OK.

But, after my near-miss on I-81 in Virginia, hugging he West Virginia line, I wondered, what were the odds.

It turns out, in Texas, a motorist has a 1 in 269 chance of hitting a deer in a year; in Virginia, it was 1 in 94, and in West Virginia 1 in 43.

Driving the rest of the way to Roanoke, I felt exposed and vulnerable.

I mean, what can you do?

From ABC 27 News:Troopers urge deer caution after fatal I-81 crash, November 9, 2015.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – State police say there’s a lesson to be learned from a fatal crash early Monday on Interstate 81.

Three people were killed after their car was hit from behind near Chambersburg. Police said the Nissan became disabled on the roadway when it struck a deer.

“The Nissan Sentra burst into flames, caught on fire, and was pushed into the median, and all occupants of the vehicle were killed,” Trooper Rob Hicks said.

Travis Lau, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said you’ll see more deer on the roads over the next couple weeks because it’s mating season.

Lau said you should drive with extra caution, especially during certain hours.

“Deer can be on roads at any time,” Lau said. “Typical times for deer movement are dusk and dawn and overnight between those periods.”

Deer often travel in groups.

“They often travel in single file lines,” Lau said. “So, just because one deer has crossed the road in front of you, that doesn’t mean that the hazard to the driver is over. There could be another one behind, so be mindful of that, as well.”

Hicks said if a deer darts in front of your car, don’t swerve.

“Generally, if you try to steer away and try to miss the deer, then you might go off the roadway, strike a telephone pole, might go across the roadway and strike another vehicle head on, which increases the likelihood of having some serious injuries or death,” he said.

Hicks said if you hit a deer, get off the road.

“You have to try to get your vehicles off the roadways as quickly as possible because people are not going to expect a vehicle to be stopped,” he said. “Put flashers on, do whatever you can to get people’s attention.”

So let us review.

Drive with caution, especially at dusk or dawn, or the hours between dusk and dawn, and if you see a deer, drive directly into it.

No. This is not acceptable.

There must be an answer. A way to keep the hooved menaces off our highways. Yes. We should build a wall. Many walls, on either side of all our major thoroughfares. Big beautiful walls.

And make somebody pay for them.

I should have told you that on my drive back to Texas, I was listening to Michael Wolff’s book on Audible

It’s a great read, or in this case, listen.

I don’t know if it’s all true but its written in an omniscient voice and sounds right.

As Fred Armisen, as Michael Wolff, put it on SNL:

Look, you read it, right? And you liked it? You had fun? Well, what’s the problem? So shut up.

You know, even the stuff that’s not true … it’s true.

Trump wants to build his wall to protect Americans from being raped and killed by “illegal immigrants.”

From a February 2017 Washington Post fact check:

THE FACT CHECKER | Trump likes to use anecdotes as evidence for associating violent crimes with illegal immigration, telling stories of victims of homicide by undocumented immigrants. He brought family members of those killed by illegal immigrants as his guest to tonight’s speech. He often talks about the death of Jamiel Shaw Jr., a 17-year-old football star who was killed in 2008 by a gang member who was in the country illegally.

Clearly, stories like this exist. But the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants do not fit Trump’s description of aggravated felons, whose crimes include murder. U.S. Sentencing Commission data shows homicides are a small percentage of the crimes committed by noncitizens, whether they are in the United States illegally or not.

The Congressional Research Service found that the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants do not fit in the category of aggravated felons, whose crimes include murder, drug trafficking or illegal trafficking of firearms.

This is the unfathomable chart that went with the Post fact check.

Which brings us to this weekend’s government shutdown, and an ad the president’s re-election campaign has started running.


Now, from what I can tell, the average American is more likely to be killed by deer than …

But I think that misses the point.

What has shut down the government is not the wall, or even the fate of the DACA Dreamers. It is, ultimately, immigration and the consequences of a half century of mass immigration since the Immigration Act of 1965, which has been the engine of America’s growing diversity ever since, and which, ultimately – a day of reckoning long in the making – led to the backlash that elected Donald Trump president.

I have written a lot about this over the years.

In August 1993, then writing for Newhouse News Service, and relying on an analysis of 1990 Census data by University of Michigan demographer William Frey, now with the Brookings Institution, I wrote that:

Unprecedented white flight from the breaking waves of immigration is transforming the American landscape in sweeping ways.

A first-of-its-kind analysis of the 1990 census by the Newhouse News Service reveals that most immigrants have been flooding into just a handful of states, and that non-Hispanic whites in those states are fleeing to places largely untouched by immigration.

It is a new pattern that is dividing America into two very different nations one changing, churning, intensely diverse; the other, staider, simpler, whiter, each dangerously out of synch, politically, economically and culturally, with the other.


“A broad swath of America is largely untouched by the new infusion of immigrants and minorities,” says Frey, noting that for some whites, “that lack of diversity is a plus.”

Especially among older whites, Frey says, there appears to be a “yearning for stability” and a desire to escape the upheaval of rapid racial and social change.

The data, in fact, confirm that whites are moving to states on the southern Atlantic Coast and in the West that have fewer immigrants.

In the meantime, much of America’s white heartland remains largely undisturbed by new arrivals either from other states or abroad.

“What is really developing here is two very separate societies, two separate Americas,” Frey warns.

The peril is that these two Americas will have increasingly little in common and little understanding or identity with one another. One America will be immersed in the tumult and scramble of a cultural whirlpool while the other remains high and multiculturally dry. One will be the changing America you are always reading about in the news magazines. The other will be more akin to the Wonder Bread America you remember from 1950s TV.


“In the whole history of the world, no society has ever experienced such dramatic ethnic change over such a short period of time,” says Alan Heslop, director of the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College, which charts Southern California’s hurtling population changes.

This is high-impact demography and it has its casualties in cultural whiplash and economic dislocation.


To John Higham, one of the nation’s leading historians of immigration, America’s past foretold the present. The feverish political reaction, like that swelling today against immigration. The riots, like those experienced in Miami in the ’80s and in Los Angeles last year. These are predictable outcomes of massive, concentrated immigration.

“The brute fact of tension, of conflict, of susceptibility to riots and so on, has to be regarded as a really serious problem,” says Higham, the author of the classic, “Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925.”

Higham believes that today’s immigrant concentrations are more dangerous and less likely to disperse than in the past. Never before, he says, have so many immigrants arrived at a time when values of Americanization, citizenship, and assimilation, “a readily available pride in being an American, a kind of national consciousness” were at such low ebb.

(Claremont McKenna sociologist Frederick) Lynch, who writes on diversity and white reaction, says it is the combination of surging demographic change, and the politics of multiculturalism, which apportions rewards by race and ethnicity, that is leading more and more whites to ask themselves, “Do we want to be strangers in a strange land?”

In 2007, I contributed a chapter – Strange Bedfellow, Unintended Consequences and the Curious Contours of the Immigration Debate – to an edited volume, Debating Immigration. 

From that piece:

In the summer of 1995, armed with new metro area figures, Frey and I contributed a short piece to The New York Times Magazine. This time the headline screamed, “Immigrants In, Native Whites Out.”

We wrote, “Look collectively at the New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Boston metropolitan areas – 5 of the top 11 immigration destinations. In the last half of the 80s, for every 10 immigrants who arrived, 9 residents left for points elsewhere. And most of those leaving were non-Hispanic whites. Of the top immigrant destinations, only metropolitan San Diego was attracting more whites from the rest of the nation than it was losing.”

The story also discussed another largely unreported impact of immigration. Again quoting our piece: “Because of immigration, in the 30-odd years since the dawn of affirmative action, blacks have gone from more than two-thirds to les than half of America’s minority population. Nationally, black workers, and especially the black middle class, are disproportionately concentrated in government jobs. But with substantial numbers of new immigrants arriving, blacks in these port-of-entry cities find themselves increasingly overrepresented vis-à-vis their shrinking percentage of the minority population. The result: The new minorities’ affirmative action claims for fairness can’t help but come at the expense of blacks.”

This time the reaction came from Frank Sharry. Sharry was and still is director of the National Immigration Forum, the dormitory for the strange bedfellows that make the pro-immigration coalition so formidable. Its board of directors include leaders of the National Restaurant Association and the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Manufacturers and UNITE-HERE, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (an organization of Hispanic farmworkers in Oregon), and the International Franchise Association. National Immigration Forum dinners are events where those who exploit immigrant labor bread with those who labor against that exploitation.

In Sharry’s letter to The Times Magazine, Frey and I stood accused of  “sociological shenanigans,” of  “substandard research,” and of “scapegoating immigrants” for suggesting that there was any cause and effect between the arrival of immigrants in places like California and the departure of native-born whites.

Well, we had begun our piece by describing Marilyn Yarosko, who had moved to the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada, after she began to feel out of place in her native Southern California. We wrote, “The Asian population of her hometown of Torrance, just south of L.A., had doubled to 22 percent in the 1980s. The pastor and most of the parishioners at her Roman Catholic Church were now Vietnamese. Most of her fellow nurses at Charter Suburban Hospital, she says, were Filipino, super-hardworking and, she thinks, a bit cliquish. Yarosko, whose parents were Canadian and paternal grandparents were from the Ukraine, is not a xenophobe. She is not bitter or looking for someone to blame, “We took it from the Indians: who are we to complain?” she says. But, she acknowledges, “I began to feel like an outsider.”

Hardly a frothing nativist. But Yarosko had moved at least in part because of some very swift demographic changes, changes precipitated by immigrants moving in and accelerated by native moving out. (Some academics would refer to this process as “invasion and succession,” but that kind of language is way too provocative for daily journalism.)

One could argue that the dislocation of folks like Yarosko was the way of the world, part of a natural cycle of change and renewal. But instead, the impulse by Sharry and others was to deny that people like Yarosko existed or mattered and to suggest instead that reporting or scholarship that took them into account was out of bounds. I was learning – white flight from immigrants demanded a higher order of proof than white flight from blacks.

Classic white flight was a given.  It was perfectly obvious that for decades whites were moving to deep white spaces in the suburbs and leaving many cities, an especially what came to be known as the “inner city,” increasingly black. No one doubted that race played a role in this white flight, even if many, probably most, whites made their choice of where to move without ever explicitly thinking about race. The proof of white flight was the changing demography of cities and their suburbs. Period.

To bring the numbers up to the recent past, now consider that Miami has become only 12 percent Anglo, to use the local terminology. Whites are less than 30 percent of the population of Los Angeles – until 1960 the whitest big city in the United States. In 1970, the New York City borough of Queens, the home of Archie Bunker, was 86 percent white, whiter than Utah is today, whiter than Kansas. Queens is now a third white and nearly half foreign-born.

But – and I think this helps explain the political whirlwind we are now reaping – the American public, writ large, never really gave its assent to immigration policies that led us to where we are today.

In June 1998, I wrote a couple of stories posing what seemed to me to be the big question America was going to face in the coming half century: Are Whites Ready to be a Minority

Quick. Imagine an American. Is your American white? Come the middle of the next century, according to the best estimates, most Americans won’t be.

To those who welcome the prospect, and those who dread it, it represents a demographic transformation without peer or precedent in history: a nation freely surrendering its historic racial and ethnic majority.If it happens: “if” because the projections are based on immigration from Latin America and Asia continuing at current high levels, it is a transformation that cannot help but challenge existing notions of what it means to be white, redefine the content and character of race relations, and metamorphose the look and feel of American identity.

It is a prospect that would have appalled the Founding Fathers, who by modern standards were stone racists. But today it is heralded by President Clinton and his race advisory board as a given and a good; good because diversity is good and because America is an idea and a promise not bound by blood or color.

Despite its sweeping implications, rarely is a public rejoinder heard. For a white person to acknowledge fear or suggest limiting immigration to keep the nation mostly white sounds to the modern ear racist and unAmerican.

But lurking beneath this patina of acceptance, and looming between demographic projection and lived reality, is a primordial question – at once stunningly obvious and surprisingly unasked: Are white people really ready and willing to become a minority?

For now, the answer comes in the myriad, conflicting ways people live their lives every day. It is answered in the growing embrace of friendship and love across color lines, but also in the swelling exodus of white citizens to whiter states, gated communities and private schools.

White people, meaning non-Hispanic white citizens, are like everyone else – a diverse group. Even single individuals may blend exhilaration and apprehension at the remaking of their America. Each subsequent generation displays more comfort across racial and ethnic lines than the past. And the ultimate answer rests with those yet to be born.

To Clinton, an America without a white majority is a worthy destiny.

As he put it a year ago to a small gathering of black columnists, “Along with our founding, which was an act of genius, and the freeing of slaves in the Civil War and the long civil rights movement, this will arguably be the third great revolution of America, if we can prove that we literally can live without having a dominant European culture.”

It is a prospect, in the estimation of Raymond Winbush, director of the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, provoking white political reaction even as it tantalizes today’s minorities with the promise of power. Unlike white people, Winbush says, “People of color tend to dread the past and romanticize the future.”

But University of Florida law Professor Juan Perea, who sees a mounting white backlash against Latinos and Asians, cautions that “more people of color doesn’t mean we get more power.”

Polls, on balance, indicate a wary tolerance among white citizens toward the nation’s changing complexion, though most would prefer less immigration, slower change.

In a commencement address in June at Portland (Ore.) State University, Clinton captured the concern that “unless we handle this well, immigration of this sweep and scope could threaten the bonds of our union.”

Some Americans, Clinton said, “feel unsettled. . . . They’re afraid the America they know and love is becoming a foreign land.”

Nearly a decade later, in June 2007, I traveled I-81 to Hazleton, Pennsylvania, as it prepared to celebrate the Fourth of July.

HAZLETON, Pa. – Salvadore DeFazio, the poet laureate of Hazleton, is on deadline. In the days leading to the Fourth of July, his hometown is celebrating its 150th birthday. The centerpiece of the commemoration is a history pageant DeFazio is furiously working to finish. He is searching for an ending, though he has settled on a musical theme in Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

It’s a perfect fit, DeFazio says: “Hazleton is a fanfare for the common man.”

Not everyone is thrilled with the choice of music.

“Fanfare for the Common Man burns me up,” says Joseph Palaggi, 80, who has played clarinet with the Hazleton Philharmonic Symphonic Orchestra since its founding in 1954. Palaggi is the son of a shoemaker who came here from Italy at the age of 16. Having worked most of his days in shipping and receiving, his common man credentials are impeccable. But the Fanfare, he complains, was written for brass and percussion. At the sesquicentennial performance, he and the other woodwinds will be mostly idle with “all those measures rest.”

For better or worse, these are the brass and percussion days in Hazleton.

A year ago this little city nestled high in the depleted coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania put itself on the map by enacting a law to fine landlords and employers who provide shelter or employment to people who are in the country illegally. It was July 14, Bastille Day, and Hazleton itself felt under siege by an influx of newcomers, some of them illegal immigrants. Mayor Lou Barletta complained of violent crime, drugs, gangs and graffiti, and a burden on the school system and hospital that the community could not bear.

Overnight, Hazleton literally and figuratively became a Lou Dobbs special, wildly cheered and just as passionately condemned, the ordinance emulated by small communities across the country even as its constitutionality is being weighed by the courts in a case that may eventually find its way to the Supreme Court.

But beneath the fanfare, Hazleton is also a small American town celebrating the Fourth of July. And more than most, it remains a timeless American place, a throwback to an America before mobility and globalization exalted the new, the ersatz and the interchangeable over the settled, the staid and the distinct.

Parochial, perhaps, but, small as it is, Hazleton has its own poet laureate, symphony, and Liberty Band. The band, like the philharmonic a volunteer assemblage, traces its history to the Civil War, when it reputedly provided the soundtrack of Lee’s surrender to Grant outside Appomattox Courthouse, playing “Auld Lang Syne” (a number they will be reprising for the pageant).

As remarkable, Hazleton still has a drive-in with nightly first-run double features.

Hazletonians ought to know better than most that America has always been a melange. The town’s multitude of church spires are monuments to its thick wickerwork of contending ethnic communities.

In the pageant script, DeFazio quotes a magazine from the 1890s, describing in lurid terms the fate that befell communities like Hazleton amid an onslaught of undesirable new immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe: “One of the richest regions of the earth overrun with a horde of Hungarians, Slavs, Polanders, Italians, Sicilians, Russians and Tyrolese of the lowest class; a section almost denationalized by the scum of the Continent.”

Or, as Mayor Barletta puts it, “Hazleton was built on diversity.”

Like today’s diversity, it was driven in part by demand for people willing to do work under conditions “Americans” would not, in this case excavating the hard anthracite coal so prized because, though slow to ignite, it would burn longer and hotter.

The coal is gone. Hazleton rests on a hollowed core. By 2000 the Census described an aging city of only 23,000, about 93 percent white and about 5 percent Hispanic. Nearly nine out of 10 Hazletonians were native Pennsylvanians.

Then Hazleton was unexpectedly reborn in the ashes of Sept. 11. The only Hazeltonian to die in the attacks was a Puerto Rican man by the name of Efrain Franco Romero, who worked as a painter at the World Trade Center. Romero lived during the week in Jersey City, N.J., and on weekends joined his family in Hazleton, where they had moved to find a better life.

After Sept. 11, many Hispanics, including many immigrants and especially Dominicans, moved their families from New York and New Jersey to Hazleton. They were drawn by jobs, lower housing costs and Hazleton’s quiet, small-town atmosphere, by word of mouth and family ties with the Latino community already budding there. They opened more businesses.

Hazleton’s population swelled to more than 30,000, about a third Hispanic, according to the mayor, who estimates that among the immigrant population (which is not exclusively Hispanic), about 3,400 were not in the country legally (some of them left after the ordinance was enacted).

The immigrants were an answered prayer, says Amilcar Arroyo, a Peruvian immigrant who married a Hazleton woman he met working in a factory here, and who now runs the city’s only Spanish-language newspaper, El Mensajero. “Downtown Hazleton five or six years ago was a ghost town,” Arroyo said; now, property values have soared.

But it also meant that little Hazleton was contending in microcosm with the kind of demographic change the nation is encountering over a period of generations, all in less time than the series run of “The Sopranos.”

“It happened too fast,” says John T. Medashefski, 51, a native-born artist and proprietor of a cafe and gallery, who lives in the house where he grew up.

“That’s my covenant. That’s my blankie,” he says of the family homestead, from which he flies an assortment of American flags (which also serve as a recurring theme in his art). “It’s my heritage.”

He explains, in the plain-speak of Hazleton: “I’m not a Polack, I’m an American.”

With the election of Barak Obama as president in 2008, it seemed the question about America’s future was settled. The demograhic die had been cast and Americans, on the whole, seemed OK with it.

Luzerne County, where Hazleton is locate, went for Obama by nine points in 2008. But, in 2012 that shrunk slightly to a five-point edge. In 2016, Trump crushed Clinton there by a 20-point margin.

Pennsylvania places third among states on the State Farm deer collision rankings.

West Virginia, the state where you are most likely to run into a deer, was Trump’s best state, and Trump won all the top ten deer collision states with the exception of Minnesota, where Obama had easily beat Mitt Romney and Clinton’s victory, as Dan Rather might put it, was deer-tick tight.

But, ultimately, I don’t think fear of deer accounts for Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton. Nor do I think it is really about the even less likely danger posed by criminal aliens. I think, as much as it was about anything, it was about the way immigration has remade America, and the hope that America could be made great again by somehow reversing, or at any rate, slowing that remaking.


Last Wednesday, I went out to Oatmeal, in Burnet County, and then to Leander, to talk to two women about last year’s Women’s March in Austin, and Saturday’s rally at the Capitol on the anniversary.

Driving home on 183 that night I was confronted with a big mattress in the middle of the highway. I attempted to brake and veer around it, but made contact, and as I drove on, something – I assumed part of my undercarriage – was dragging. I slowed down but wanted to make it to the next exit, but saw a pickup slowing down behind me and pulled over to the slender shoulder, with the man in the truck pulling in behind me.

The Hispanic man in the pickup approached to see if I was OK. When I tried to open the door, I realized I couldn’t, that the mattress had lodged to my undercarriage, some metal wrapped around my wheel, and I had been dragging it. I got out the passenger side, got on my stomach and, with the man’s help, dislodged the mattress and left it on the side of the road. I was fine – except for a small cut on my forehead where the piece of metal slapped me when I freed it. And the car was fine. The good Samaritan, after making sure I was OK, headed off and I drove home, thinking, if it’s not a deer it’s a mattress.

At least with the deer you could build a big, beautiful wall.

Then again, mattresses are a softer target.


From April 3, 2017 by Brian Koerber at Mashable,  Mattress flies off a truck, causes accident and also saves the day:

Motorcyclist Aaron Wood was riding his bike through the Clem 7 tunnel in Brisbane, Australia last week when a mattress flew off the back of a truck directly into his lane. Unable to avoid the mattress, Wood hit it with his bike, but fortunately, it was a mattress. 

The squishy landing pad became lodged in his front tire, causing the bike to slow down rapidly. Fortunately, he was not rear ended, and was able to walk away from the wreck without serious injury. 

“I was just very lucky to come out unscathed — apart from some cuts to my hands,” Wood told the Queensland Times.

This isn’t the first time a mattress both caused an accident and simultaneously saved the day. In 2014, a video surfaced of a bicycle being taken out by a mattress, and in 2016, the same thing happened to a motorcycle rider in Thailand.