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Tony Tinderholt Unloads: ‘People are Going to Die’ at Border

The "only thing that's going to stop the infiltration of our country" is a lot more people dying, says state rep candidate.
Tony Tinderholt, GOP nominee in House District 94, poses with a Texas Border Volunteer
Twitter
Tony Tinderholt, GOP nominee in House District 94, poses with Mike Vickers, head of the Texas Border Volunteers

Plucked from relative obscurity, Tony Tinderholt was one of the Empower Texans-backed challengers that popped up in GOP primaries this year. In Arlington’s House District 94, he beat four-term incumbent Diane Patrick, who’d earned ire from conservative groups for moderate stands. In November, he’s facing a local Democratic businessman named Cole Ballweg, but it’s a heavily Republican district and Tinderholt is favored to win. Last week, Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick helped him block-walk the district.

Tinderholt is a veteran, and an excitable guy. He believes in gun rights and hates Obamacare, which is pretty standard. But he also thinks that border-crossing migrants who are coming here to take our “free stuff” won’t stop coming until we take up arms and put a stop to it ourselves, just like the Spartans did in the movie 300. “People are going to die,” says the likely legislator, and that’s the only thing that’s going to stop migrants from “taking the lifeblood of our country.”

This summer, Tinderholt took a trip to the Rio Grande Valley with the Texas Border Volunteers, one of the major militia groups. They don camo and ride around on ATVs. When he got back, he wanted to share details of his trip. So in July, Tinderholt gave a talk to a Ft. Worth-area 9/12 group. It was the high point of the flood of Central American children and teenagers that consumed the nation’s attention.

At the meeting, Tinderholt stood in front of an American flag, clutching a podium bearing the words “God Bless America.” To the side, a screen showed a picture of Tinderholt in Iraq, titled “Briefing: My Experience on the Texas Border.”

Tinderholt’s speech to the group was recorded and uploaded by his own campaign, which subsequently took it down. But others saved the video, which was provided to the Observer. The whole thing is worth watching, because it helps give a fuller impression of the man and his attitude toward the world. But here are some excerpts. (Emphasis added throughout.)

Tinderholt opens the talk by telling the crowd he’s going to be a little looser than normal. “I’m going to change this up a little bit,” Tinderholt says. “Sometimes God talks to you in different ways, and I feel like he’s talking to me right now. I want to talk about my trip down to Mexico.”

He tells the crowd not to be discouraged by how rotten things are right now—there had been several speakers that night. Conservatives shouldn’t be discouraged, he says. “There’s a whole lot of people like myself and you that are true conservatives. The Bill Zedlers, the Dan Patricks, the Konni Burtons, the Jonathan Sticklands. Myself.”

Then he gets to the subject of his speech. “I want people to quit coming into this country and taking free stuff from us.”

He expounds: “If someone came into my house and started stealing my food, wearing my clothes, and taking my checkbook and using it, I’d be a little bit frustrated. And that’s what’s happening right now,” Tinderholt says. It’s true that there’s a humanitarian side to this. It’s true that the kids who were coming across the border this summer were coming across “for hopes of a better life. But that better life for them is free stuff. We have to stop them.”

Liberty is under attack, he tells the group. Drastic measures are needed. “Have any of you ever seen the movie 300? It’s pretty graphic, right?” In the movie, an intensely homoerotic army of Spartans give their lives at a strategic choke-point to hold off the Persians. “We have to stand in that gap and stop this stuff from happening. We need to stand in the gap and not be scared.”

Having established the theme of military violence, he tells the crowd about his background. He worked with Air Force intelligence in anti-trafficking operations in the 1990s, and he took part in “combat operations” on the Mexican side of the border, he says. “I also did interrogations.”

So he knows about the border, he tells the crowd. He’s speaking from personal experience. It’s a terrible place. Take the “mothers and fathers who are sending these 8- and 10- and 12-year-old children with these coyotes to bring them across—if you got a cute child, do you think they’re going to make it to the U.S.?” Tinderholt answers: “I think they’ll probably make it here. But they’re going to make somebody money. And they’re going to make it in a very illegal disgusting and gross way. Immoral.

After this tasteful evocation of sex trafficking, Tinderholt raises another “staggering and disgusting” concern: The border-crossers include people from Iran, Pakistan, Somalia and China. “They’re not friends of ours. They’re not coming here to live a great life. There’s probably a small percentage of them that might be harmless—but what are they bringing with them? Is it in their mind?” he asks, pointing to his noggin. “Are they coming up with plans to do horrible, disgusting things to American citizens? In a year? In 18 months? In 36 months? Are they regrouping? What are they doing?

Now, Tinderholt gets real. “When I come here and speak to these events, my wife says, ‘Okay, hold your tongue,’” Tinderholt says. He’s a “passionate” guy. “What comes out of my mouth just kinda comes out sometimes.” But he’s going to speak the truth anyway.

Mr. and Mrs. Tinderholt
tonytinderholt.com
Mr. and Mrs. Tinderholt

Tell us, Tony. “It’s very hard for me sometimes to talk about this kind of stuff, because…they’re stealing from us. We’re being thieved. They’re taking from you and I and the American people and they’re taking from the lifeblood of our country.”

What should be done about this, Tony?

Tinderholt recalls the metaphor of the house that’s been broken in to. “At some point, you’re going to lock your doors. You’re going to put up video cameras. You’re gonna do surveillance on your house. You’re gonna call the police to come over and do security around your house every once in a while. If it keeps getting broken into, you’re going to get a gun. You’re going to protect your family and your house.”

He continues: “Well, with 21 years in the military, I’m not proud to say,” he continued, “I saw and did a lot of things that many people would think were very horrific. And they were.

He had seen the dark side, the scum, for what they were. And he knows exactly what needs to be done about it. “It’s really sad to say that at some point, what’s going to happen on that border is going to be bad. And people are going to die. And it’s a sad, sad thing to say. But it’s the only thing that’s going to stop this infiltration of our country.

He returns to his “horrific” past. “War is not pretty. Being in the military is not a glorious heroic cool job like everybody thinks it is. It’s dirty. It’s disgusting sometimes. I’m just telling you the facts, and I’m sorry if you don’t like them. But we have to stop this influx at the border.”

One way to stop it would be to send troops into Mexico, to kick some ass. But that’s in the longer term. “I think we should go across the border and stop it. I think we should shut money off across the border. But I’ll tell you in the short term, we gotta put our military at the border and stop this crap from happening now.” The room applauds. “But we can’t have our military men and women standing at the border with their weapons hugging drug cartels coming across because they don’t like hugs. They use chainsaws. We use rifles.

Perry’s National Guard deployment is a joke, Tinderholt says. “Our border is not even close to secure. Our border is not gonna to be secure with 1,000 National Guardsmen. Our border will be secure when we arm it and stop the people from coming across.” How the rifled men would stop people from coming across, Tinderholt doesn’t say. He doesn’t need to say it. We’re in Dirty Harry territory.

If that seems extreme, Tinderholt would like you to know that you have more to lose by not shooting at migrants than by shooting at migrants. “Your faith. Your family. Your inalienable rights granted to you by God. Your rights granted to you by the Constitution of the United States. All those things are really important to you, and they’re important to me,” says Tinderholt. “And if we don’t secure that border right now and take charge of it, we’re going to lose everything we have.” Everything.

He’s coming to Austin, he tells the crowd, and he’ll use his seat in the hallowed chamber of the Texas House to beat back against the scum and the RINOs and the traitors. “I don’t care who watches this video and I don’t care who’s watching me and listening,” he says. “I’ll tell you this: If you get in my way of trying to stop people from trying to come across the border, I’m rolling over the top of you, period.”

If you have time, and you’d like to know Tony Tinderholt, watch the video. The remarkable thing about his delivery is how neatly he slips in between comparatively reasonable statements—the messaging that conservatives need to talk to moderates—and grandiose threats of violence and profoundly delusional statements. It’s really something. He’s a few shades away from Travis Bickle territory. Some day a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the border: Tony Tinderholt 2014.

How the hell did this guy get so close to the statehouse? On the one hand, the message of “people are going to die” is not too far from the talk of ostensibly more responsible figures, like Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who told Waco Tea Party Radio in August that state troopers would target threats with “suppressing fire, and somebody’s going to get hurt.” But at least in Dewhurst’s fantasies, the violence was a two-way street.

Like with many of our other biggest legislative lumps, you can in part thank Michael Quinn Sullivan for Tinderholt. To knock off Republican incumbents, his groups will back just about anybody. In fact, if the challenger is a nobody, that’s better: They’re easier to control. There’s no vetting process. They really don’t care. When another one of the anti-Straus coalition’s challengers, Phillip Eby, told a room full of folks that Sun Tzu was the guiding light for his primary campaign in March—two months before one of his supporters allegedly assaulted his opponent’s campaign manager—it was par for the course. But this is an entirely different order of magnitude.

For the record, here’s how Empower Texans described Tinderholt in the primary:

Some dedicate their lives to serving others. Others use public office to serve themselves. Tony Tinderholt is one of those who has dedicated his life to serving others, even putting his life on the line on behalf of his country.

[...]

Voters in Arlington need to ask themselves who they would like representing them, a liberal like Rep. Diane Patrick who uses her office to benefit herself and her husband, or a fiscally responsible conservative like Tony Tinderholt who has a lifelong record of service.

Here at TFR we think the choice is obvious. We have endorsed Tinderholt for State Representative.

A lifelong record of service. Let’s allow the man himself to close this out: What kind of state representative will you be, Mr. Tinderholt?

“I’m not going down to Austin to make friends,” he tells the 9/12-ers as he closed his talk. “I’m probably not the greatest speaker in the world, but I tell you what: When I get down to Austin and [others] can come back and tell you how much I fought ‘em at that back mic and pissed a whole bunch of RINOs and Democrats off, you’ll love it.”

The crowd cheers.

Gov. Rick Perry and GOP House candidate Charles Perry pose for photos in 2010.
Abby Rapoport
Gov. Rick Perry and GOP House candidate Charles Perry pose for photos in 2010.

Have you ever heard that story—probably apocryphal—about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington discussing the proper functioning of our bicameral Congress? The idea, Washington says, is that the House, with intense passions, short terms, and many desks, is like a cup of hot tea. The Senate, which moves glacially, is like the saucer that cools the tea and keeps your hand from being burned.

Here’s the way to think about how the Texas Legislature is going to work next year: The hot tea of the House is still there, but the Senate’s saucer is being replaced by a Bunsen burner.

Special elections for the Texas Senate aren’t exactly the sexiest items on the political calendar, but they’re hugely important. The upper chamber isn’t like the House, which depends on parliamentary-style coalitions. The Senate is the sum of its personalities—every new member counts. And the next Senate’s roster is slowly clicking into place. Last night saw the election of state Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) to replace former Sen. Robert Duncan in Senate District 28, a huge district that spans the lower reaches of the Panhandle down through San Angelo and I-10.

Perry beat a six-person field and avoided a runoff—a pretty remarkable feat. He snagged 54 percent of the vote, with Jodey Arrington, a former Texas Tech vice chancellor, pulling only 30. In most recent Senate elections, the guy who has the backing of Tim Dunn, the Midland oilman who finances a number of conservative causes around the state, wins. Perry had it in spades, and has throughout his short political career. So his victory wasn’t necessarily a surprise—but the margin was.

West Texas has had a reputation for more pragmatic-oriented conservative politics, perhaps mostly because of Duncan and the Panhandle/West Texas’ other senator, Amarillo’s Kel Seliger. Arrington ran on water and good government, and seemed to want to mold himself in Duncan’s image. He even openly criticized Dunn’s groups, which didn’t exactly endear him to Dunn’s lieutenant, Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Duncan, a moderate, was one of the Senate’s top dealmakers. Perry seems unlikely to fill those shoes, but neither does he seem likely to be one of the Senate’s biggest bomb throwers next session. He’s a pretty right-wing guy, but he also plays ball. He’s not, in other words, a Steve Toth or a Jonathan Stickland: He was one of the tea party wave that came to Austin in 2010 with the desire to keep moving up, as you could already tell in Abby Rapoport’s piece for the Observer that year.

Still, on the whole, his election is probably not great for the chamber’s comity. There are two big question marks still remaining as to the Senate’s composition. One is in Senate District 10, the only seat with a competition in the general election, where a remarkably far-right tea party leader named Konni Burton may beat Democrat Libby Willis to take over for Wendy Davis. There’s also Glenn Hegar’s soon-to-be-former seat: Hegar is likely to be the next comptroller, and conservative state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst has lined up to replace him, with the possibility of more moderate challengers.

Still, assume for a minute that a Republican sweep happens this November. In that case, napkin math says the Senate next session will have 11 or 12 senators who could be described as tea party members or aligned with Tim Dunn’s faction—with Dan Patrick in the driver’s seat. Democrats in total will only have 11 seats. More moderate and old-school GOPers make up the rest—they’ll be severely squeezed. These days, Austin politicos are wandering around, muttering to each other and themselves, sometimes in the shower: “What a session this is going to be,” they say, before they remember the prospect of a summer-long series of special sessions on school finance and break down weeping.

There’s one other small thing to keep in mind about Perry’s victory: the future of state Sen. Kel Seliger, Amarillo’s man in the chamber. His district and Perry’s new district hug. Seliger, who possesses a healthy independent streak, is one of Dunn & Sullivan’s nemeses in the Senate. Last session, he authored a bill that would have required disclosure of “dark money” expenditures from political groups like Sullivan’s.

He may not be up for another primary challenge until 2018, but this election is another warning of sorts. The biggest shot across the bow came in the primary, when a former Midland mayor came within five points of beating Seliger, after a low-profile race that few in the state had paid much attention to.

Perry’s win in the first round, in a district similar to Seliger’s, is another reminder that his next go-round could be a lot more difficult. Seliger, whatever you may think of him, is ripe for a primary challenge. Picture mailers about his million-dollar Pebble Beach vacation home blanketing Amarillo. Will it change his attitude for the next couple years? Will this continuing groundswell in the chamber change other Republicans’ attitudes as well?

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson
Patrick Michels
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at the 2012 Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth.

It was, despite the gravity of the topic, a pretty standard college panel discussion. On the third floor of UT-Austin’s Texas Union, more than a hundred people convened to consider the “roots” of the humanitarian crisis that’s seized the Texas-Mexico border this year. Grievous human suffering was explored through PowerPoint. In the corner, there was lemonade and cookies.

The speakers exchanged heartbreaking stories of abuse and loss. Ana Lorena Siria de Lara, the consul for El Salvador in Houston, spoke of the anguish of seeing a generation of her country’s youth in humiliating positions in detention facilities in Texas border towns. Seated next to her were representatives from human rights groups in South Texas, and UT faculty members. And on the far side, next to NPR journalist John Burnett, there was the surprising sight of Jerry Patterson, Texas land commissioner.

Patterson was pissed.

“We’ve reached a point in this discourse where it’s not so much what you say, as who is saying it,” Patterson tells the crowd. “If a Republican says it, a Democrat has to disagree. And if a Democrat says it, a Republican has to disagree. And we’re in really sorry shape. Politicians are not serving you well.”

Patterson, a libertarian-minded iconoclast and staunch gun-rights advocate, has, in recent years, become the Texas Republican Party’s only voice in statewide office advocating for a pragmatic position on immigration and border security. He helped get a call for a guest worker program in the 2012 Texas GOP platform. A year later, he ran for lt. governor, where his talk on immigration played a significant role in his last-place primary finish.

So in January, he’ll be leaving office, and there won’t be anyone left to pick up the slack—on this issue, at least. The new slate of GOP heavies are all hardliners. This panel doesn’t mean much in the big scheme of things, but Patterson’s willingness to spend time here at all is a testament to what the state GOP will be losing. It’s hard to imagine Sid Miller here in his place, listening patiently to a Spanish-to-English translation of a consular official’s description of the bathroom facilities at a McAllen detention facility.

At the UT panel, Patterson, given a brief period to speak, was clearly still mulling over the results of his primary battle. “This subject has reached the point where you can’t talk about it. You cannot honestly, objectively discuss. If you are a candidate, you’re relegated to saying things that fit on a bumper sticker,” he said. “That’s your policy. And if you venture outside of a few bumper sticker-like comments, such as ‘Build a Fence,’ ‘No Amnesty,’ ‘Secure Our Borders,’ you’re in deep trouble. That’s where we are politically.”

Over the course of his primary campaign, Patterson became obsessed with halting the rise of Dan Patrick, who elevated hard-line immigration pandering to the level of self-parody. Patrick’s fence-shaped “Secure Our Border” sign has adorned every border rally in the state for months—and littered the 2014 Republican state convention, where delegates undid the guest worker provision Patterson helped add two years before.

The political impasse we’ve reached on immigration, Patterson says, is occurring despite the fact that things have been just as bad—or worse—at many points in the past. “If you think we’re in the dark ages now, go back and look at history,” he said. “There is nothing new that’s going on today. It’s all been done before. And of course we could learn something from that if we choose to. But unfortunately we’re not able to do so.”

He told the crowd of the race-baiting of past governors, including the probably apocryphal quote sometimes attributed to Gov. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson on the question of Spanish-language education: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.” None of the recent National Guard deployments, he said, mattered in scale next to Woodrow Wilson’s deployment of the Army during the Mexican Revolution “to fight real border violence. This stuff that’s going on now is not even violence. Most of it is occurring—it shouldn’t occur anywhere, but unfortunately most of it is occurring in Mexico,” Patterson said.

Patterson’s history lesson may have seemed slightly out of step to some of his listeners. It’s not entirely clear what the story of General John J. Pershing’s punitive expedition has to say about the question of whether the current National Guard deployment will have a positive or negative influence in the Rio Grande Valley. In truth, he’s probably much closer to the rest of his party on border issues than he is to the people in this room. But he’s still the one who came.

“Frankly, the illegal immigration scheme we had was working fairly well when it was circular—when someone could come here to work for two and three months and then go home to their family. That worked pretty well,” Patterson said. “We’ve taken that and made what was a circular scheme a unidirectional system. If you can get here, you can’t go home.” Since workers can’t risk or afford multiple border crossings now, they have an incentive to bring their families here with them and try to stay permanently.

Patterson didn’t offer much hope for a political breakthrough. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do to fix it,” he said. “But I know that the course we’re on right now is not a very good one.”

Afterwards, I caught up with Patterson to ask him if he thought there would be voices in the state GOP who could advocate for some degree of border pragmatism after he leaves office. “I don’t think there are,” Patterson said. “There are people who want to, but they’re afraid.”

They may come around to it later when the political winds shift, he added. “Frequently, you can be on the right side of something, but be there at the wrong time. I think maybe I was a little too early.”

The awful state of the debate was frustrating to him, he said, because “if I was a dictator, I could, if not fix this, I could make it dramatically better in about three years.” There had to be a strong and accessible guest worker program, and the full weight of law enforcement had to go after coyotes and traffickers, not individual undocumented migrants. The conditions in Mexico and Central American countries had to be improved.

But he didn’t see much prospect for any of that, because of the “incomplete narrative” held to by so many—that is, those who talk about border security as being a wholly separate subject from immigration reform, like Patrick.

“You can say, ‘secure the border, build a fence, no amnesty.’ OK, fine. I’m not necessarily opposed to building a fence where it makes sense,” he said. “But that’s not enough. You know, politicians play to the lowest common denominator. Whatever it takes to get by. Whatever you can say to get you the votes. That’s the way it’s always been.”

If the GOP takes the U.S. Senate this year, as some think is likely, “we’ll no longer have an excuse that an immigration bill can’t be passed.” But Patterson doesn’t think we’ll see a breakthrough anytime soon. “I don’t think it’s going to get any better until it gets worse.” Then he set off down the Drag.

Is that a hybrid?
Christopher Hooks
Is that a hybrid?

Did you feel that? It’s as if there was a great disturbance in the Texas Republican Party, as if a voice said something very slightly unorthodox, hundreds screamed in terror, and the voice was suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible happened this past week—or, nothing did? It’s hard to say.

This is a play in three acts: A tale about an interview gone wrong (?) and ill-founded accusations of journalistic incompetence, framed by a true modern-day profile of political courage. It’s a story of one of the rarer feats in politics: The unforced, involuntary walkback. Take your seats, ladies and germs, and set your phones to vibrate. It’s P-time.

ACT I

If you haven’t been following the riveting race for Texas land commissioner, let’s catch up together. The Republican running is a fellow named George P. Bush, whose family you may be familiar with. He has millions of dollars at his disposal, despite the fact that he faced little opposition in the primary, and faces John Cook, a former mayor of El Paso with little funding, in November.

Despite his pedigree, Bush is new at this politics thing. His media strategy has been, essentially, don’t talk to the media. That’s understandable, because he has no strategic reason to do so until he’s more comfortable.

At the same time, he has some freedom to stake out unorthodox positions. He’s virtually guaranteed a victory in November, and he’s modeling himself as a GOP figure who stands slightly apart from the tea party—though not necessarily by his own choice. (They hate him.)

So when Bush granted the Texas Tribune’s Neena Satija an interview and seemed to speak a little off the cuff about issues relating to climate change, it wasn’t that surprising. Satija is the Trib’s environmental reporter—Bush is running for a position where, as head of the General Land Office, he’ll oversee state lands and the Texas coastline, and play a role in monitoring oil and gas leases. So climate change would have been a natural topic of conversation, and maybe Bush was testing his independence a little.

In the interview, a lightly edited transcript of which was published alongside a shorter, fairly gentle article, Bush talked about carbon dioxide emissions and the risks posed by coastal erosion, and spoke of his intention to keep talking about related issues in office. He won’t have gone far enough for some people, but he unquestionably diverged from what’s become the Republican Party’s line on this issue, which is essentially to shrug and whistle in a studiously carefree manner.

It’s either refreshing, coolly calculated, or treasonous, depending on your point of view. Here are a few excerpts, although it’s definitely worth reading the interview in full.

Satija asks Bush about the transition to a natural gas economy. Bush says emphasizing gas use will have various practical benefits. But then, unprompted, Bush raises the idea that the switch will reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

Bush: But more importantly, it’s been proven to result in less CO2 emissions, as far as our vehicles, [and] in terms of our power plants. Regardless of your politics, the EPA is regulating coal and rationing down of its overall usage in our electricity grid. In my opinion, one of the big stories of this century will be natural gas filling in that void, because it’s readily abundant.
TT: I think you may be the first Republican politician running in Texas to ever talk about reducing CO2 emissions.
Bush: [laughs]
TT: Is that something you plan to talk about more during your campaign, or as land commissioner?
Bush: Well, I do … Absolutely.

Later, Satija asks about climate change directly:

TT: So, because you talked about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, what’s your view on climate change?
Bush: Well, I think people can agree that there has been warming, you know, in recent years. The question is whether or not it’s 100 percent anthropogenic, which means man-made.

OK, that’s not the bravest stance in the world, but it’s still a little unusual for Texas. Bush goes on to talk about the importance of adjusting to coastal erosion and other climate-related issues. And when asked again, he adopts the pose of the political straight-talker. (Emphasis added.)

TT: I am really struck by some of the things you said about climate change, or CO2 emissions, and even talking about leveraging federal funds. Most Republican politicians in Texas run away from all of those subjects. Do you think those are going to help you or hurt you as you continue in your political career?
Bush: Well, you know, I’ve said to myself, to my family, to my friends from day one, that I was always going to run based on my principles.
[...]
And if you look at the facts at hand, whether it’s beach mitigation issues or dealing with future generations so that they enjoy the Gulf Coast, I think most Texans will recognize that these investments are the prudent thing to do …

So, Bush has deviated slightly from the party line, but did so in a fairly oblique way. That’s Bush’s style, it seems, or the style that’s been foisted on him: Everyone assumes that he represents something new in Texas Republicanism, but he’s run an extraordinarily cautious campaign and the leash he’s worn has been pretty short. (I wrote about him a bit earlier this year.)

ACT II

Of course, this very gentle acknowledgement that we live in a world whose climate is changing—remember, Bush never said the warming was manmade—was, for some, an extraordinary apostasy.

“Um, climate change??? Did he let on to his obsession with that lie on the campaign trail?” asks Julie McCarty, with the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, who was one of a number of conservative grassroots that tried to beat Bush in the primary. “According to the article he lies awake at night weeping over climate change!”

In the comments section of McCarty’s Facebook page, Texas tea partiers pile on. “I will vote for a Libertarian or a Democrat before I help give this guy a platform to do more damage,” writes Jamie Jordan. Others moot the possibility of organizing a write-in campaign. (It’s too late.) “To believe in ‘global warming or climate change’ you are either a democrat or a moron,” writes Gregory Parker. “I suspect he may be both!”

Bush owes nothing to these people, and he’s earned some plaudits from certain corners for his Real Talk. It will not affect his electability one iota. By the time he’s running for governor in 2022 or whenever, not a single soul will care about this episode. So of course he’ll stand by it, right?

ACT III

On Wednesday, Breitbart Texas released a story with a blustering title: REPORTER MISREPRESENTED GEORGE P. BUSH CLIMATE CHANGE INTERVIEW. Turns out Bush doesn’t even have to undo this—Breitbart will undo it for him.

Let’s break this apart. The Breitbart article accuses Satija of both incompetence and malice, which are, of course, really serious accusations! Firable ones, even! So I’m sure the evidence here is good. Here’s the contention: “In the article, Bush was portrayed as taking a more moderate position on climate change than the standard Republican position,” writes Sarah Rumpf, a Breitbart contributor. “Bush’s comments and positions have been seriously misrepresented.”

Did Bush take a more moderate position on climate change than the “standard Republican position” in Texas? He clearly did—compare Bush’s statements in the interview with other GOP notables, like Dan Patrick, who was once asked about climate change and responded: “Leave it in the hands of God—he’s handled our climate pretty well so far.”

Here’s the weird part: Rumpf’s primary evidence is the transcript of the interview that the Texas Tribune posted and touted on its website. So the idea, I suppose, is that the Tribune, including Satija, knew it was falsely propagandizing and then published and promoted the evidence in the hopes that people would read it.

It’s a thin hit piece that performs amazing acrobatics to leave the reader with the impression that Bush didn’t say anything about climate change—didn’t go any further than Greg Abbott might go. In the interview transcript, there’s a section where Bush acknowledges that the earth is warming, then immediately pivots to a discussion about coastal erosion. Breitbart suggests, amazingly, that the two topics have nothing to do with each other:

For starters, Bush never attributes sea-level rise or coastal erosion to climate change. He remarks that Texas is facing challenges with coastal erosion in several areas, and discusses ways to help fight it, but does not state a cause for the erosion. Similarly, with the issue of sea-level rise, Satija asks Bush if he would support Texas conducting “a comprehensive study on the effects of sea-level rise on the Gulf Coast,” but again, a causal relationship to climate change is completely absent from Bush’s remarks.”

What are the causes of coastal erosion? The General Land Office’s own information—the office currently run by Jerry Patterson, mind you—tells us one major cause is that “sea level is rising in relation to the land surface along the Gulf Coast. Small increases in sea level can have profound storm surge impacts in low-lying coastal areas of Texas.” The rise in sea level, the GLO tells us, is part of a global trend.

There are other factors in coastal erosion—subsidence of land, lack of sediment to nourish beaches, storms—but sea-level rise driven by a warming planet (water expands when heated; ice sheets melt) is the coast’s biggest challenge now and in the future. Bush seems to recognize this.

Perhaps Bush was only referring to other erosion factors. But he was answering a question about climate change, and raised the issue of coastal erosion. It takes a willfully thick parsing of this language to create the false impression Bush is not speaking about climate change.

The Breitbart article objects to a number of other small perceived discrepancies between the transcript and the shorter article. Here’s one: The story suggests that Bush is OK with a move away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables for reasons that include environmental concerns, and Breitbart says that’s a lie. But in the transcript Bush explicitly argues that increased use of natural gas has “been proven to result in less CO2 emissions.”

Breitbart writers wrongly claim that the Tribune article reports that Bush is kept awake at night “by climate change,” when he meant to say that he was kept awake by the threat posed by storms. “Not OK,” writes Breitbart‘s editor.

But here’s the passage from the Trib‘s article:

The 38-year-old energy consultant added that the vulnerability of Texas’ Gulf Coast to storms, which he said is worsened by climate change-related problems like sea-level rise and coastal erosion, is something that “honestly keeps me up at night.”

What’s keeping Bush up at night? It’s “the vulnerability of Texas’ Gulf Coast to storms.”

The short of it is, one reporter accused another reporter of gross negligence (taking quotes out of context) by taking quotes out of context, and not reading particularly closely. But Breitbart’s gonna Breitbart—the sadder thing is the Bush team’s fury with the idea their candidate touched on climate issues, when … he did! Here’s Bush adviser Trey Newton: “This reporter obviously had an agenda. She came in with an agenda and completely misrepresented what he [Bush] said.”

Let’s all cherish this precious week when a rejuvenating wind of spontaneity briefly entered the P. Bush campaign: It could be quite a while before it comes back.

Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco.
Office of the Governor
Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco.

They came to the forbidding landscape of the Rio Grande Valley from miles away, for reasons beyond their control. Their fates were written in the stars. Strangers to the region, faced with a new and imposing culture, they tried to make the best of it. Hungry, thirsty and lacking the means to make it to their intended destination after they were dumped by the border, they fell on the region’s inhabitants for Christian charity and goodwill. Yes, the National Guard are having a rough go of it in the Rio Grande Sector:

They came here to help protect the border but now the first wave of Texas National Guard troops deployed after Governor Rick Perry made the call are needing assistance to pay for food and gas.

“We were contacted that 50 troops that are in the Valley don’t have any money for food and gas and they need our assistance,” said Food Bank [Rio Grande Valley] Executive Director Terri Drefke.

The Texas Military Forces may have a king’s ransom of gunboats and choppers and night vision goggles and what have you, but none of that’s much good if, as the RGV’s Action 4 News reports, you “won’t get paid until September 5th and have been in the Valley since August 11th.”

These are the guys that were supposed to be so threatening that fearful drug cartels would be forced to conduct their business a hundred miles up the river. Or—well, nobody’s really been able to say what they’re doing, or why. At least they’re not shooting anybody.

Seriously, let’s hope the good folks of the Texas National Guard get through this with a minimum of discomfort and without any serious mishaps. But at the same time, keep this in mind the next time Gov. Perry starts bragging about flexing the state’s military might on Fox News Sunday.

Wendy Davis speaks to the press at an election rally, April 14, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Wendy Davis speaks to the press at an election rally, April 14, 2014.

There’s something weird about the Wendy Davis campaign’s recent ads. Have you seen them? If not, you probably will soon.

We’re at the stage of the campaign where candidates start to open their coffers. This is the most expensive race in Texas history, and at the top of the ticket, Davis has amassed a small fortune, which is absolutely dwarfed by the Abbott’s much larger fortune. These campaigns are set to run a formidable air war against each other come the fall, and it’s starting. But Abbott’s cash advantage—he had $35.6 million to Davis’ $11.1 million mid-summer—means he can run pretty much whatever he wants, when he wants. Abbott has ads running in movie theaters, for Christ’s sake.

Davis needs to be more selective. What the campaign can’t do in quantity, it needs to achieve with quality. So her first ads are an interesting reflection of the campaign’s priorities and direction as we close in on the election.

Her first ad, which dropped earlier this month, is called “A Texas Story.” That sounds promising, right? Davis has an incredible personal story: Remarkable individual achievement and perseverance, coming from a highly disadvantaged background. Her story, you could say, is the state’s story writ small. There’s so much most voters still don’t know about who she is. This could make a great ad.

Of course, “A Texas Story” wasn’t about Davis: It was about a “young mother” getting “brutally raped” while “her children slept in the very next room.” Those quotes are from the Davis campaign’s own copy. It’s one of the most disturbing campaign ads you’ll ever see: It makes the Willie Horton ad look like a documentary about a cupcake factory (albeit, a racist one.) It’s the only campaign ad I’ve ever seen that needs a trigger warning.

It’s an extremely slick and exploitative video. It feels like it was pulled from one of the more sordid true crime shows that populate basic cable. A carefully placed upturned tricycle, near the end, signals the lost innocence of the “brutally raped” woman’s children.

About 45 seconds into the ad, we get to the point: The rapist was a door-to-door salesman for a vacuum cleaner company, and the woman sued that company. When Abbott was a Texas Supreme Court Justice, he heard the case and opined that the company didn’t owe damages. He was in the minority.

There’s a lot of weird things about the ad, like the fact that Abbott doesn’t appear until the end. The worst thing might be that the Davis campaign, when asked the obvious question, didn’t seem to know whether they had told the “brutally raped” “young mother” that her story would be on TV, inviting a flood of scrutiny. Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson, who’s the closest thing we have to a referee on these sorts of things, told the Houston Chronicle that if the campaign hadn’t informed the woman, they were at “moral and political fault.”

But that’s not the weird thing I was thinking of at the top of this piece. The rape-y ad was from earlier this month—here’s a more recent one:

In it, Manuel Alvarado, a cancer survivor from Fort Worth, bemoans the failure of CPRIT and ties its failures to Greg Abbott. It’s a much more conventional political attack ad.

Here’s the thing: Where’s Wendy? Does this look to anyone like the kind of campaign people thought Davis was going to be running when she jumped in the race last year?

A caveat: I don’t know how to run campaigns. Bill White ran a bunch of positive ads in 2010 and lost. Maybe these are really, really smart ads. Maybe they’re effective on apathetic, low-information voters, and maybe they’ve tested alternatives and come to the conclusion that this is the best option.

But think about what Democrats were most excited about after Davis filibustered, and declared her candidacy. They were excited to have a Candidate. Bill White and Chris Bell were nice fellows who were OK candidates and probably would have been good governors, but they weren’t Candidates. Davis was a Candidate.

She had massive star power among the Democratic base, and she had a unbelievably impressive biography. She could draw big money from out-of-state liberals. She represented a seemingly center-right district and held it as a Democrat in two rough cycles. Suburban Republican women loved her. Through the strength of her personality and sheer force of will, she would make this a fight. Whatever it was, she had it.

So where is it?

A recent Rasmussen poll had Abbott’s favorability numbers dipping, so maybe the attack lines are working. But Davis’ favorability numbers have been a problem the whole campaign—one PPP poll from April had her unfavorability rating at 47 percent. (Abbott’s was 27 percent.) A lot of voters don’t seem to know much about her, and she has trouble with the ones that do.

There’s a little over two months left, which, in politics, is both an eon and not very much time at all. Can the Davis that Democrats were excited about last year break through the smooth machining of a consultant-driven, attack ad-heavy campaign?

As a coda, consider two other videos. Leticia Van de Putte’s campaign hasn’t had enough money to participate in the ad war yet, but it will at some point. But here’s a video her campaign put together to use as an intro at the Democratic convention in June. It’s a bit corny at points, but it’s humanizing and warm and funny, and it’s hard not to come away from it liking Van de Putte more. It’s the polar opposite of “A Texas Story.”

And here’s one of the zillions of web ads that Greg Abbott has produced—here’s, effectively, what “A Texas Story” stands in opposition to. Consider that Abbott, frankly speaking, is not a charismatic guy, or a particularly talented politician. Watch how effectively the ad masks that:

Look at that smiling, happy man. Look at the pretty boats and sky and fish, and how hard those guys are working. Listen to how he’ll fight for you. Don’t you want him to be your governor?

Rick Perry
Patrick Michels
Rick Perry speaks outside the Travis County Courthouse, Tuesday, August 19, 2014.

When most people get indicted on felony charges, it’s a bad time. Things start bad, and they stay bad. When Gov. Rick Perry got indicted on two felony counts, it kicked off a pretty great week for him. It started with a loud and premature verdict of innocence by the national media, continued through a trip to get ice cream, and ended in Washington, D.C. with a number of meetings with East Asian ambassadors. It was quite a show.

But unless Perry’s lawyers quickly quash the indictments, the rest of this process probably won’t go as smoothly. Perry needs to keep his core narrative about the indictments intact until the charges resolve themselves, and that’s going to be difficult to do as the case rumbles on. We’re likely to face a trickle—possibly a torrent—of new information, not only about Perry’s actions around the veto, but also his tenure as governor in general.

Separately, the story of the indictments is set to give new life to old stories about Perry’s improprieties, in much the same way Chris Christie’s bridge-related indiscretions gave rise to a narrative about his temper and vindictiveness toward political opponents. And Perry’s personality—best suited to offense—was well tailored to the first stage of this ordeal, but may trip him up going forward.

Here’s Perry’s story about the indictments, as outlined in a video released by his political action committee, PerryPAC: He saw a damaged public official, a woman who shouldn’t possibly hold office or any kind of responsibility, and took firm, narrowly targeted action to try to remove her. Now he’s facing political retribution from Democrats.

Parts of that narrative fall apart as soon as you look at them closely—particularly the notion that special prosecutor Michael McCrum, appointed to the case by a Republican judge in San Antonio, is an agent of Battleground Texas. But much of the rest of it could fall apart over the course of a trial, too.

Perry says his veto was about unseating Lehmberg, but it had significant consequences. As the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg wrote on Thursday, Perry’s veto of the funding for the Public Integrity Unit “derailed more than 400 felony level tax and insurance fraud investigations allegedly committed against the State of Texas.”

In other words, Perry’s action didn’t just punish Lehmberg for her refusal to step down—it punished the state as a whole and Texas citizens generally. Think about that: Perry zeroed out the funding for more than 400 felony investigations because a local official wouldn’t step down when he wanted. Kronberg:

The Travis County Public Integrity Unit is the most under-appreciated law enforcement apparatus in the state. Fully 95% of what it does is pursue white collar crime in Texas and on behalf of the State of Texas – motor fuels tax fraud, insurance fraud and legal support for the smaller of Texas 254 counties that do not have the funding or expertise to pursue white collar crimes in their jurisdictions.

When Perry derailed the unit, the Travis County Commissioners Court stepped in and restored a portion of the funding—but the PIU had to slash staff and caseload. The state’s side in serious criminal cases that had nothing to do with Lehmberg’s troubles—or even, politics generally—suffered needlessly.

But the PIU investigates political corruption too. Kronberg dismisses the relevance of the investigation into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas as a factor in Perry’s motivation for wanting a friend in control of the DA’s office, but points to other possibilities.

“It is far more interesting to look at the Public Integrity Unit investigation of Republican AG candidate Ken Paxton and Perry Regent appointment Wallace Hall,” Kronberg writes. “Had Lehmberg resigned, it is doubtful Perry’s appointed replacement would be very interested in either criminal referral.” There’s no shortage of possible motives for Perry’s intervention in the PIU, even if those motives don’t necessarily matter to the legal case against him.

If the trial gets going, there’s really no telling what’s going to get dredged up in the discovery process. What internal communications, what private conversations will we become privy to? This trial might be the most penetrating look at Perry’s workshop in the 14 years since he took office. There’s no politician that comes away from that level of scrutiny looking good.

If Perry still intends to run for president—it will be significantly more difficult to do while facing a marathon legal battle, since he needs to be up and running at full strength in just a couple of months—here’s another consideration. The question of ethics, which now dangles from his candidacy, invites follow-up questions about Perry’s past scruples.

There are the top-level ones—like the use of the Texas Enterprise Fund and CPRIT—and potential improprieties which have faded a bit in most people’s memories, like Perry’s history of inordinately profitable real estate deals conducted with dubious figures like Austin developer Gary Bradley. The criminal case, combined with a presidential campaign, gives national media—the only media Perry cares about—a reason to start looking into these stories again. They never got far last time he ran, but the framing will be different now.

Here’s another question: Does Perry have the right temperament to ride this out? His blustering offense works great in certain cases. But there will be other situations that call for subtlety and tact. Take his statement last Saturday, just after the indictments came down, when Perry predicted “that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and that those responsible will be held to account.” A Travis County judge subsequently warned that it could constitute a second-degree felony. What you’re seeing is a man who hasn’t been accountable to nearly anybody in a long, long time.

Temperament is one thing, ability is another. Before the indictments, the question about Perry was: Is he more prepared this time to face primary voters? In New Hampshire last Friday, we got some more data points on this question. In a room full of Granite State businessmen, Perry seemed oddly unfamiliar with the felonies he had just been charged with, telling the crowd he had been charged with bribery (he hadn’t.) “I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” he told the crowd, who were doubtless reassured.

That night, according to the Texas Tribune’s Jim Malewitz, he told a house party that the states were “lavatories of democracy.” Somewhere out there, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are dreaming of the Ames Straw Poll and smiling.

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish, and the tyranny of evil men.
reddit
The path of the righteous governor is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish, and the tyranny of evil men.

Rick Perry is in trouble.

1) You know what I’m talking about. That thing on the border, with the OTM UACs? The thing that made everyone love him again, and made him look serious? The thing that some in his camp might have hoped would propel him to presidential frontrunner status? It’s been receding as an issue, before the state’s National Guard contingent is even fully deployed.

That’s a bit awkward, since Perry was scheduled to deliver a speech on border stuff at the Heritage Foundation, that great Beltway intellectual powerhouse, on Thursday. With fewer kids coming across the border, and the nation’s attention focused on a number of catastrophes elsewhere, how could the governor best grab headlines and slam President Obama? He’d need to go big: Way big.

Hey, there’s a hot new jihadi group in town that everyone is big on. Maybe Perry could sprinkle a reference to it in his speech in a slightly surreal way, as if he was giving them a guest lyric on his R&B record. “Stump Speech (ft. the Islamic State),” from 2014’s Never Gonna Be President tour.

Mr. Perry said there is “no clear evidence” that terrorists have entered the United States illegally across the southern border.

OK then that’s out. Maybe he could…

“I think there is the obvious, great concern that — because of the condition of the border from the standpoint of it not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across — that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be [crossing the border.]”

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence—if you think about it, it’s more like the opposite. If you have no proof of something, isn’t that kind of suspicious? It’s like someone has hidden the proof from you, on purpose. Think of all of the things that we could have proof of. Hmmm….

It’s a fun gloss on an old tale about our porous border: Terrorists could use it, or sometimes, in the telling of it, Chinese spies, etc. The 9/11 hijackers came legally, of course, and the main reason people are freaked out about ISIS is that many of the group’s foreign fighters already have American and European passports. Apart from all that there’s scant evidence for any of the attendant claims: Once upon a time, the conservative content aggregator Breitbart.com famously misidentified a ripped-up Adidas soccer jersey as a “Muslim prayer rug,” but that’s another story.

The ISIS talk—apart from giving the impression that Perry is cynically honing in on the horrible headlines of the present moment to get a few himself—is proof positive that a lot of Republican border talk is not offered in good faith. It’s about freaking people out, and keeping them freaked out. As a palate cleanser, take this video of Texas conservative ringleader Steve Hotze selling the generalized concept of fear like he’s hawking shake weights on the Home Shopping Network:

2) Of course, the (comparatively) stabilizing Texas border isn’t the only reason the good guv is in trouble: There are also the felony indictments.

Because we as a people take good government seriously in 2014, Perry’s booking this week was a solemn occasion. No one likes to see our elected leaders face jail time.

Will Hailer, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, was outside the courthouse when Perry was booked. In mournful tones, he told reporters: Kids across the state would soon return to school, where’d they’d carefully place apples on the desks of their teachers, and look up with doe-eyed innocence while their teachers explained to them that the governor, the state’s paterfamilias, had broken the public’s trust.

Perry, to his credit, felt the gravity of the situation. He said the charges were bunk, of course, but he’d work hard to regain our faith. A veteran statesman, he knows that the public’s trust in the institutions of government is as fragile as a paper lantern—and just as beautiful—and he’d make sure they remained intact.

Perry never struck me as a stress eater. This week has been full of surprises.

3) Perry caught two felony indictments, and missed out on others. It seemed incomplete. It was only a matter of time, really, that he caught the third:

The judge said that Perry might have made a veiled threat when he said: “I am confident we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and that those responsible will be held to account.”

[...]

The Texas Penal Code that outlaws obstruction and retaliation says that anyone who “intentionally or knowingly harms or threatens to harm” a grand juror faces a second degree felony, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

(Editor’s note: This will be the Observer’s last “three things” joke. We apologize unreservedly to our readers and the public at large, and the author will be disciplined accordingly.)

4) There’s part of me that’s going to miss outgoing state Rep. Steve Toth, who combined all of Jonathan Stickland’s bomb-throwing qualities and nose for policy with the diplomatic skills of an old Eddie Haskell. I’m not just going to miss him for stuff like this:

The best thing has been watching him interact with other legislators. Take this delicate three-act ballet, in which Mr. Toth, who starts by incorrectly asserting that Rosemary Lehmberg indicted Perry, slams a number of his fellow Republicans.

Into the breach steps the conservative but thoughtful state Rep. David Simpson, who explained his vote at length. Instantly, immediately, the fire goes out of Toth’s eyes.

The camaraderie of the Texas House: There’s nothing like it.

5) College is a time for experimentation and exploration. I’m not going to tell anyone that they’re doing it wrong: We all had to find our own way.

But can we all get together and buy these guys a keg or a cheap plastic bong or something? I mean, come on.

Gun Silouhette
courtesy Lisa Roe/flickr creative commons

School districts across Texas have had a rough go of things in the last couple years, starting with the Legislature’s $5.4 billion cut to public education funding in 2011. A lot of the state’s schools went on a starvation diet. Chronic underfunding of public education seems to be the state’s new norm. Which has left a lot of schools in Texas scrambling to find ways to pay for the bare necessities themselves. Take tiny Childress and Shamrock ISDs, two districts in the Panhandle that shelled out quite a bit of money—on guns. Childress ISD spent $150,000.

The money’s for more than just guns, of course—it’s for guns, and a support system for the guns, reports the Amarillo Globe-News.  The nearby town of Shamrock, with a population of 2,000 and a school district enrollment of about 430, paved the way for regional innovation with the installation of gun safes in classrooms, which would let staff members access heat in a hurry. Childress, with a population of a little over 6,100 and a school district enrollment of about 1,100, knew they were on to something good.

Childress ISD’s board approved a similar measure last year that allows certain school employees to access firearms kept in safes, [Superintendent Rick] Teran said. The school district devoted $150,000 to the purchase of firearms, safes, practice ammunition, a panic system and training, he said.

“With all the issues in the nation now, with gunmen coming into our schools and attacking our children, we felt it was our next step for our community,” Teran said.

It’s one of a number of precautions the rural schools are taking.

Childress and Shamrock’s programs include several training seminars, including a three-day session that included a simulated active-shooter situation, Teran said.
Childress police also have participated in active-shooter training in the elementary school, he said.
Childress ISD has completed other safety efforts, including hiring a liaison officer and installing a panic system that gives teachers access to hidden buttons in classrooms to alert law enforcement of a security issue, Teran said. The school district is also adding $150,000 in surveillance cameras, he said.

Teran showed the Globe-News he possessed a keen understanding of public education’s purpose. “We’re not here to take a life,” he said. “We’re here to protect children. Whether we’re safer or not, that’s up to each individual. But I think we’re a little more prepared.”

(Calls to Childress ISD were not returned.)

Questions abound: How long would it take a determined student to find a way into one of those safes? What happens if an adult in the school snaps? How much training is enough to effectively respond to a threat? If they’re going to be armed, are they armed enough? Could they defeat an intruder with body armor and an assault rifle?

It would be easy to poke fun at Childress ISD’s plan. But it’s part of a broader trend, and it’s not completely irrational. School shootings have become part and parcel of American life. Any individual school is very unlikely to be affected by one, but the horror when one is is enough to push schools to take extraordinary precautions. Although little Childress is an unlikely target, no one can really say what the likely targets are.

The parents and administrators of Childress ISD are trying, as best as they can figure how, to safeguard and bolster their children’s future. This is an wholly imperfect way to do that, but the sad thing is that we as a society haven’t given better options to the district’s frightened parents.

Childress has lagged behind academically: In recent years, they’ve fallen behind state average test scores. The $300,000 the school district spent on guns, panic buttons, and security cameras is the going rate of ten new teachers, according to salary information obtained by the Texas Tribune—or could pay for five for two years, two new teachers for five years, etc.

Or it could pay an additional college counselor’s salary for five years, with enough money to keep the debate and math clubs waist deep in the finest pizza Childress has to offer.

But instead, the “arm the teachers” plan is spreading—the Globe-News reports that Bushland ISD, near Amarillo, may take up a similar measure. A number of other schools around Texas already allow some personnel to carry concealed weapons on school premises. Tiny Leverett’s Chapel ISD, in East Texas, made that legal last year, with the charmingly evocative condition that “only ammunition designed to have reduced ricochet hazard will be permitted.” But Childress’ decision to purchase guns directly makes its situation somewhat unusual.

So Childress kids, and kids elsewhere, will have to wait on the next session of the Legislature for those extra college counselors—though they shouldn’t hold their breath.

Rick Perry
Patrick Michels
Rick Perry speaks outside the Travis County courthouse Thursday, August 19, 2014.

Rick Perry’s one of the best politicians around when he can play to a friendly crowd, but lately we haven’t gotten to see much of that. He’s a lame duck, after all. He doesn’t speak much in public in Texas anymore; he’s spending a lot of time in Iowa and South Carolina. So it’s been easy to forget that this is a guy whose tenure as governor is entering its teenage years for good reason—in the right setting, he is excellent at rousing a crowd.

The “right setting” apparently includes the courthouse where he’s being indicted for twin felonies. The drama that started last Friday will go on, presumably, for a long time. But make no bones about it—Perry’s winning the first act. Today, Perry got booked at the Travis County Justice Complex. He got fingerprinted, and got his mugshot taken. And he embarked on one of the most audacious adventures in modern American politics—can Rick Perry use twin felony indictments as a springboard into the White House?

Maybe that’s a stretch, but things are going very well for him so far. Of course, there’s the small caveat that the indictment just came down.

But in a defiant speech, Perry told the crowd—a mixture of the Texas press corps, a variety of left and right political types, and a handful of supporters, some of whom were beckoned here by Sid Miller (and who could ask for a better character witness than Sid Miller?)—that he would do it all again.

Perry spoke before and after he entered the courthouse. He was “standing for the rule of law” when he pressured Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign. The indictments were an “attack on our system of government,” and his legal team would “prevail.” He thanked the crew at the courthouse who booked him for their “great professionalism.” It was slightly less fiery than his press conference Saturday, when he seemed to threaten special prosecutor Michael McCrum with consequences for his grave overreach—but only slightly.

rickperrybooking3

There’s no Perry like Perry on attack. Could he come out of this better than he went in to it? Maybe. A few high-ranking Texas Democrats, who hope otherwise, were in attendance today. Will Hailer, the Democratic Party’s executive director, spoke to the media afterwards. Soon, Texas school kids would be heading back to class, Hailer said, and in civics classes across the state, they’d learn that their governor had been indicted.

Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, was also in attendance. He was less mournful. “The governor’s favorability is going up, not down,” he said. “This is absolutely going to help him.”

Munisteri added: “If he can resolve these charges before the Iowa caucuses, I think he’s gonna be a folk hero.” Could he still be president? “I think Gov. Perry’s going to run for president and I think he’s going to be a very strong contender.”

Those are strong words. The future leader of the free world celebrated his good day, as we all would, with ice cream.