Houston Chronicle. May 28, 2014.
Texas Tea: With political turmoil afoot, can state government address our many needs?
“You think Texas Democrats have it bad,” a Texas Democratic officeholder was saying a few days ago, “but it’s moderate Republicans you ought to feel sorry for. They’re quickly becoming an endangered species.”
Tuesday’s runoff accelerated their looming extinction. The cadre of hard-core Republicans who vote in party primaries ignored qualifications and experience in favor of ideologues who hew to the hard-right on abortion, immigration, marriage and other non-negotiable positions of the hard-right catechism. While tea-party types and social conservatives around the country have either been co-opted by mainstream Republicans or rejected as unelectable, Texas Republicans have surrendered to the vociferous far right.
The poster boy for this trend is Dan Patrick, the Houston state senator and former radio shock jock who is on the verge of taking control of what is arguably the most powerful public office in Texas. Never mind that he has neither the trust of his colleagues nor the temperament to help lead a growing, changing, increasingly diverse state. He’s impassioned and right, far right, and to Republican primary voters that’s what counts.
The man he resoundingly defeated, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, has only himself to blame. He calculated early on that if he didn’t win the nomination outright he would prefer to be in a runoff against Patrick, so he held his fire in the early days of the campaign. And, in a disastrous rerun of his U.S. Senate loss to Ted Cruz, Dewhurst sought to portray himself as the conservatives’ conservative, despite a record of accomplishment in office worthy of a pragmatic problem-solver. The results, both times, were painful to watch.
State Rep. Dan Branch, a smart and capable Dallas lawmaker, learned the same hard lesson on Tuesday. Never mind that he had the skills and the experience to run the attorney general’s office; like Dewhurst, he felt he had to pander to the far right, and he failed to give moderate, business-oriented Republicans like himself - “the silent majority,” Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka calls them - any reason to vote for him.
The radical right’s candidate was state Rep. Ken Paxton, a lawmaker of modest accomplishments who won the nomination with an ethics cloud hanging over his head, not to mention a possible indictment for multiple violations of the Texas Securities Act. Presumably, the Republican right concluded that the state’s top law-enforcement official needed a passing familiarity with the other side of the law.
Tea party favorite Sid Miller, a former state representative from Stephenville, won the agriculture commissioner nomination. His qualifications? He sports a big, white hat, and he co-sponsored the bill requiring Texas women seeking an abortion to undergo a sonogram.
On the Democratic side, a paltry turnout of voters dispatched comedian/writer/musician Kinky Friedman back to his animal rescue ranch near Utopia. Apparently they weren’t ready for a cigar-chomping quipster whose only issue was marijuana legalization.
The candidate they chose, Jim Hogan, hasn’t said how he feels about marijuana, but apparently he’s as laid-back as any stoner. The owner of a small cow-calf operation near Cleburne, he has no campaign manager, no staff and no budget. William McKinley waged a front-porch campaign for the presidency in 1896; we’re not sure Hogan has even made it that far out of the house.
The Democrats also vanquished U.S. Senate candidate Kesha Rogers, who, as an acolyte of fringe political figure Lyndon LaRouche, advocates impeaching President Barack Obama. The candidate they chose, David Alameel, a wealthy Dallas owner of a chain of dental clinics, has never held public office.
With an angry, anti-government tea party rampant in Texas, with moderate Republicans in retreat and with Democrats still confined to the porch (figuratively and otherwise), it’s hard to be optimistic about state government and its capacity to address Texas’ needs in the near future. Perhaps House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and other moderate Republicans will rally to take back their party. Perhaps gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, will wage a spirited campaign about water and transportation and public schools, issues that really matter to most Texans. Perhaps Patrick and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, will do the same.
Texans are nothing if not optimistic, but current political trends are bound to test that sunny view.