- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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.


The Dallas Morning News. May 28, 2014.

Primary runoff elections deliver victory for GOP fervor

The muscular tea party faction of the Texas Republican Party - that would be the Sen. Ted Cruz wing - proved its staying power by carrying two statewide candidates to victory Tuesday.

Neither winning candidate was the favorite of this newspaper. We saw neither GOP lieutenant governor nominee Dan Patrick nor attorney general nominee Ken Paxton as the superior steward of core government functions.

Yet both were overwhelming choices of the sliver of the electorate that decides party runoffs in this state. For today’s Texas GOP, the bulk of that sliver is the hyper-involved, animated faction on the right. Where tea party candidates have lost luster recently in some states, they operate on high octane in Texas.

Patrick and Paxton proved they can ride tea party fervor to victory, but a bigger question remains down the road: Are those principles the way to govern a growth state that’s a national economic phenomenon?

We have grave doubts about obsessive focus on the size of government. Texas’ public education and higher education systems are stressed. The highway system is chronically underfunded, and galloping population growth is putting water resources to the test.

The state’s economic future depends on taking care of those basics within the confines of a balanced budget and low-tax traditions, a difficult political feat. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has shown the right instincts for that challenge, but GOP voters have now spurned him twice - once vs. Cruz and now vs. the fiery Patrick, a state senator and radio talk-show host from Houston.

Patrick developed the fight against illegal immigration into his signature issue, depicting Dewhurst unfairly as a hapless Jimmy Carter-like figure in the face of that challenge.

For Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, his years of building up the university system show he understands the imperatives of tending core government functions. But GOP voters in the attorney general’s runoff apparently were more swayed by Cruz’s testimonial in Paxton’s behalf. Never mind that Paxton had negligible legislative achievements in the Texas House and Senate. Never mind that he broke state law by failing to register as a solicitor of investment clients. Paxton talks the right talk to the Republican right.

The general election is the next heat for Patrick and Paxton, but for years Democratic opponents haven’t amounted to much more than a speed bump for statewide GOP candidates.

If that trend plays out, Patrick will step onto the lieutenant governor’s rostrum in the Senate with the political wind at his back. Turnover there could give him more foot soldiers on the right to control the flow and tenor of legislation.

The GOP in Texas has traditionally reflected chamber of commerce issues centered on business climate and core government functions. That was the Bush faction, and the Bush faction is all but erased from Austin’s political landscape.

Tea party activists have been outhustling chamber of commerce Republicans with true zeal and vivid talking points.

But the future of Texas depends on the GOP right awaking to the challenges of a growth state. The basics of government need some fervor, too.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 28, 2014.

Runoff election results mean voters will have distinct choices in November

With Tuesday’s runoff elections completed, the stage is set for classic political contests come November.

The strength of Tea Party-supported candidates in statewide races and a state Senate contest on the Republican side means the general election battles will feature sharp philosophical contrasts between major party contenders, giving the electorate clear choices on a variety of issues.

Texans will decide this fall just how “red” their state remains, and how far to the right or left its officials can move and still stay in touch with the majority of their constituents.

The candidates for governor were decided in the March primaries. Attorney General Greg Abbott will represent Republicans, and state Sen. Wendy Davis won the nomination among Democrats.

The hardest-fought primary battle, resulting in the biggest upset, was for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination. Ultra-conservative state Sen. Dan Patrick’s defeat of three-term incumbent David Dewhurst wasn’t a surprise, but his margin of victory - 65 percent to 35 percent - certainly was. Patrick will face Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in the general election.

In the Republican runoff for attorney general, another vicious contest, state Sen. Ken Paxton beat state Rep. Dan Branch, setting up a battle with Democrat Sam Houston.

And in the fight for Senate District 10, the Tarrant County seat being vacated by Davis and one that could tilt the Senate to a supermajority for Republicans, Tea Party-backed Konni Burton soundly defeated former state Rep. Mark Shelton. She will be opposed by Democrat Libby Willis.

The Tea Party strength in Texas, due in part to superb organization and funding, will dictate that Republican candidates continue to oppose what they see as too much government spending, get tough on illegal immigration and oppose anything remotely related to the Obama administration.

Democrats, with two women at the top of the ticket, no doubt will want voters to know how different they are from their opponents, on the issues and on leadership style.

Voters this time around shouldn’t have any trouble seeing the differences and deciding who they want to represent them.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. May 29, 2014.

An extreme minority of Texas voters chose extremism

Seven percent of Texas voters - 6 percent of Nueces County’s - made some of the most momentous decisions of the 2014 elections in Tuesday’s primary runoffs. The other 93 percent of Texas and 94 percent of Nueces County chose not to matter.

Recognizing that their right to complain about the outcome is protected by the First Amendment, any complaining by those who didn’t vote will lack the moral imperative earned by those who did.

Those who voted own the rights to I-told-you-so. And on that note, if, as momentum suggests, Dan Patrick ends up the next lieutenant governor, Ken Paxton is the next attorney general and Sid Miller is the next agriculture commissioner, don’t say we didn’t warn you. We did, repeatedly.

Those three right-wing extremists are the Republican nominees for those offices. And, considering that Republicans outnumbered Democrats nearly four to one in runoff voting, is it reasonable to expect such a strong trend to reverse itself by November?

That question is easy to answer. This one is not so easy: Has Texas really moved that far to the right?

So far to the right that far-right incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wasn’t far enough right to avoid losing to Patrick in a landslide? So far to the right that voters would choose a Ted Cruz acolyte - Paxton - whose ethics are compromised, also in a landslide?

We’re not sure how Republican voters who believe that President Barack Obama should be impeached but who voted for Paxton can look themselves in the mirror. We expected principle to assert itself. Paxton talked up investments without bothering to disclose that he would receive a commission. It’s not a mere allegation; it has been confirmed.

We’re relieved but mystified that these same voters got it right in the Railroad Commission runoff, in which highly technically qualified oil and gas industry professional Ryan Sitton’s relevance overcame former state Rep. Wayne Christian’s pro-Second Amendment, anti-abortion bible-thumping. This triumph of reason bucks a trend.

In Nueces County, Magistrate Melissa Madrigal’s victory in the Court-at-law No. 5 race sets up an interesting November contest with Republican Timothy McCoy. We’re pleased that the voters chose Madrigal but troubled that only 3,813 of the county’s 185,778 voters determined the race between her and former district judge Martha Huerta Quintanilla for the county’s juvenile court judgeship. That was the largest Democratic vote total on the ballot in Nueces County. Only 3,568 voted in the top-of-the-ballot race, the U.S. Senate runoff won by David Alameel.

The county’s Republican turnout exceeded 7,000 voters, which bodes well for McCoy in November.

The county, unfortunately, has unsettled business in the runoff for Precinct 4 county commissioner. Incumbent Joe McComb, our endorsee, has requested a recount despite losing by nearly 4 points. We find it hard to argue with local political analyst Bob Bezdek’s observation that the margin is a lot larger than what usually warrants a recount.

But McComb is basing his request on software glitches discovered during the tallying. That’s a legitimate reason to request a recount, even if the margin makes the request iffy. We also have to agree with McComb that he shouldn’t have to pay for the recount, considering the circumstances not of his making.

All told, the runoff results reflect the will of an extreme minority of the population. The verdict in November probably will reflect the will of a slightly larger minority. The silence of such an overwhelming majority doesn’t speak volumes. It doesn’t speak at all. That’s a problem.


The Brownsville Herald. May 25, 2014.

No thanks

It’s ironic that this Memorial Day weekend, which honors those who died defending our country and its interests, comes just a few days after congressional Republicans blocked a widely popular proposal to offer a path to citizenship to people who are willing to give their lives to protect ours.

What greater proof of a person’s devotion to this country than enlistment in our armed forces risking their very lives in its service? The least we can do to show our appreciation is to offer them the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $601 billion defense bill that is laden with pork and waste. But despite allowing 162 amendments to the bill, many of which extend contracts for outdated planes and weapons systems the Pentagon neither needs nor wants, the House Rules Committee threw out a provision that would offer a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children and serve in our military.

Many members of Congress seem to take pride in their fear of people who aren’t just like they are. But to tell those who would lay down their lives for our country that they’re still not welcome here is a bit much.

It wasn’t that long ago that military citizenship proposal had widespread support in Congress. It’s certainly popular among the American people.

Fortunately, a bill to grant citizenship to those immigrants who actually are killed in action was passed before the current virulence of hatred had infected too many Congress members. However, the dichotomy created by denying the same consideration to those who are lucky or alert enough to survive their military service, and could actually enjoy the benefits of citizenship, essentially codifies into law the reprehensible notion that too many Congress members seem to hold - that the only good foreigner is a dead one.

The issue isn’t just about Mexicans, who seem to dominate many debates on immigration. Less than a third of all U.S. immigrants come from that country, according to the Pew Research Center. This slap to immigrants who enlist in our military also defiles the gallant contributions of so many others who have, and continue to, fight and die for our freedoms. They include the famed and highly decorated 442nd U.S. Infantry Regiment, made up mostly of Japanese soldiers who fought valiantly, and effectively, during World War II - even as they were segregated into their own all-Asian unit and their families were corralled into U.S. detention camps.

Fortunately, the Rio Grande Valley’s representatives have supported efforts to show our gratitude to those immigrants who are willing to fight, and die, for our country. It’s something that the 81 percent of current Congress members who never served in the military didn’t have the guts to do.

Let us hope that America’s voters, who in November will decide all House and a third of the Senate seats, see the need to vote for candidates who appreciate the rich, diverse history of our country, and who respect the contributions of our military forces, regardless of their backgrounds.

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