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Hooks on Politics

Backs to the Future

At the Texas Republican Party’s convention in Fort Worth, it’s 2010 again.

Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri address the Republican Party of Texas' 2014 convention. June 7, 2014
Christopher Hooks
Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri addresses the Republican Party of Texas' 2014 convention. June 7, 2014

Does the Republican Party of Texas need to become more “inclusive” for the sake of its electoral future? For many people, including a significant number of the party’s leaders and strategists, the answer is “yes.” For many of the party’s activist stalwarts, who gathered at the Fort Worth Convention Center this weekend to set the party’s course, the answer is emphatically, passionately, and angrily “no.”

The “Texas Solution,” the much-touted effort from the Republican Party of Texas to move toward acceptance of some kind of immigration reform, is dead. The measure, which was written into the party platform in 2012 and called for an expanded guest worker program, had been watered down in the convention’s drafting process—but it was replaced wholesale on the convention floor by hard-line immigration language that spells the end, for now, of one of the state party’s highest-profile dalliances with reform.

The new language emphasizes cracking down on immigration, calls for the end of in-state tuition as well as a raft of other measures, and waters down the guest worker provisions into almost total insignificance. “Once the borders are verifiably secure,” the plank reads, “and E-Verify system use is fully enforced, [the party calls for] creation of a visa classification for non-specialty industries which have determined actual and persistent labor shortages.”

The Republican Party now has, effectively, the immigration platform it had in 2010, the peak tea party year. It’s a remarkable reversal for several reasons. The Texas Solution’s inclusion in the party platform in 2012 was highly contentious among delegates at the time, but it was just as highly touted by party elders who wanted to show the GOP was evolving on an issue central to the future of a state with an increasing number of Hispanic voters—and a continuing need for a steady supply of labor.

But Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who was the most significant backer of the Texas Solution in 2012, was absent this year—shying away from the convention after an incredibly contentious lieutenant governor primary in which he backed David Dewhurst. In his place this year was ascendant lt. governor nominee Dan Patrick, whose tough-on-immigration campaign helped make today’s result inevitable.

Behind the scenes, Patrick and the GOP nominee for governor Attorney General Greg Abbott, had tried to weaken the immigration plank in the run-up to the floor fight to make it more acceptable to the base. But that gambit failed. The new plank contains language taken more or less directly from Dan Patrick’s campaign website. The heated rhetoric candidates use in primaries has consequences.

The platform is a statement of principles, and no more. But these principles happen to be Dan Patrick’s principles. The Republican Party of Texas’ 2014 platform calls for the abolition of “sanctuary cities,” and the abolition of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants—a measure Republicans passed through the Legislature just a few years ago. The Republican consensus is shifting, and the platform fight is a preview of what the Legislature could look like under Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, who, come November, could lead a Texas Senate drifting significantly further to the right.

Norman Adams, left, and Steven Hotze, right, two prominent supporters of the so-called Texas Solution, at the back mic during a heated floor debate.
Christopher Hooks
Norman Adams, left, and Steven Hotze, right, two prominent supporters of the so-called Texas Solution, at the back mic during a heated floor debate.

Only one other issue made it to the floor Saturday afternoon: medical marijuana. The party had flirted with endorsing medical pot during the platform drafting process earlier in the week, but eventually stripped it out. Some activists succeeded in pushing it to the floor, but delegates voted the efforts down. The issue’s appearance at the convention at all was a victory for the pro-medical marijuana crowd, who won a surprising degree of support.

But if that showed incremental progress, consider what didn’t make it to the floor. Consider also that it’s 2014. The new Republican Party of Texas platform endorses what’s known as “reparative therapy,” the practice of training LGBT people to “convert” to heterosexuality. The platform committees dropped some archaic anti-gay language, but added a provision recognizing the “the value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.”

Delegates who objected to the language wrote amendments attempting to alter it, but they never got a chance to introduce them on the floor. Debate over the platform was ended after five hours, and pro-gay Republicans were out of luck.

“I want every Republican elected. I’m here today trying to get Republicans elected,” said Rudy Oeftering, a vice president of the Texas Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group that had been banned from having a booth at the convention’s trade shows. But he admonished reporters on the convention floor to keep focus on the plank, even if the state party didn’t feel like talking about it.

“Every reporter should be asking every Republican candidate if they believe in reparative therapy. If they believe that homosexuality is a choice,” he said. “If you’re going to put language like this in the platform to drive away voters, then every Republican candidate should be accountable for what’s in the platform. The platform itself says that every candidate needs to take a position on this.”

There was one other thing the GOP got around to before adjourning—deleting a four word sentence in support of “net neutrality,” an effort seeking to ensure internet providers to charge the same amount for all internet traffic. Net neutrality is a complex issue, but it basically pits internet providers and their shareholders against internet users and web companies like Google and Netflix


Delegates had been explicitly banned from introducing amendments on the floor—they were supposed to be in at 6pm the previous night—but when Congressman Randy Weber ambled to a back mike with four state reps. by his side, including Bryan Hughes and Steve Toth, Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri proposed the convention make a special allowance for the officeholders to propose an amendment. They were the only officeholders to speak on the platform all day.

Weber pointed to the sentence endorsing net neutrality. “I don’t know how the hell that got in there,” he said. (Presumably, because Republican delegates on the platform committee wrote it in.) Weber handed the show off to state Rep. Hughes, who told the crowd: “If you love Obamacare, you’ll love net neutrality,” he said.

There was a very brief debate, and the delegates quickly acquiesced to the special request from the legislators and congressman. Verizon and Time Warner Cable, both internet providers resolutely set against net neutrality, were major sponsors of the convention.

So on immigration, the GOP returns to 2010—and we now know that the last-minute wishes of telecommunications companies are more important to the party than the very existence and identities of gay people. What an election year 2014 has been—and it’s just starting.

Ted Cruz addresses an anti-gay marriage rally during the Republican state convention on June 5, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Ted Cruz addresses an anti-gay marriage rally during the Republican state convention on June 5, 2014.

At the Republican state convention in Fort Worth, GOP leadership has been trying to cattle-prod the base in the direction of immigration reform, with mixed success. But there are other issues in the platform that fall under the general question of party “inclusivity,” issues that are stuck in neutral—perhaps none so much as the question of how the party should treat gay people.

Earlier this year, a federal court nixed the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment—and while that’s being appealed, it increasingly feels like gay marriage will become a reality across the country soon. Republicans in bluer states have acquiesced to that reality. But for a considerable number of people in Texas, the idea of homosexuality remains absolutely terrifying. And the state’s biggest names and brightest stars are still resolutely on their side.

On Thursday night, hundreds of convention attendees gathered in the ballroom of the swanky Omni hotel, at the heart of the action, at an event sponsored by the Conservative Republicans of Texas, one of the state’s largest Republican PACs. The emcee for the night was Houston megachurch Pastor Steve Riggle, who’s been active in opposing Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance and famously compared making Christians sell products for gay weddings to forcing a Jewish baker to make a swastika cake.

In attendance: most of the state GOP’s new leading lights. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, lt. governor hopeful Dan Patrick, and much of the rest of the state slate, like Ken Paxton. But first: the assembled watched a 30-minute long video made by a reedy Massachusetts anti-gay activist named Brian Camenker, whose group, MassResistance, has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The video aims to depict the quasi-totalitarian social order that descended on Massachusetts after gay marriage was legalized in that state. It’s incredibly fearful, if somewhat crude, propaganda. The film alternates between stories of Massachusetts Christians who were allegedly penalized for holding anti-gay views, and in-your-face depictions of certain aspects of gay sexuality (If you’ve never seen hundreds of older white people in formal dress look at a picture of a “leather daddy” together, it’s really something to behold.)

And it put the fear of god into the audience, who gasped their way through the film until it seemed like many could barely stand it. A young mother and her husband stood in the back, cradling an infant, as if the world was falling apart around them.

Enter Ted Cruz, the night’s first speaker, who Riggle called “the next president of the United States.” These are Cruz’s people, and they love him as they would Moses. Earlier, Riggle joked that each of the night’s long list of speakers would get five minutes, but Cruz could talk as long as he wanted. He was greeted by riotous applause.

Cruz lived up to their expectations. “From the dawn of time, marriage has been the foundation of our civilization. The basic building block, going back to the Garden, where God said it was not good for man to be alone. And so God made Adam a companion from his own rib so they might live together and raise children up in the world.”

Heterosexual marriage was the bedrock of the natural order. “There was a time that that was not considered to be a controversial statement,” he said. “There was a time that a duck hunter in Louisiana wouldn’t be threatened with losing his TV show for saying something like that.”

Marriage is “under assault in a way that is pervasive and unrelenting,” and the assault was emanating, first, from President Obama. Three things needed to be done to beat him back, Cruz said. Prayer was one. Legislation to protect state laws on marriage was another. And the third was to win elections, including the presidential election in 2016.

Patrick came next. Cruz appealed to the religious folks’ sense of the way things were—but Patrick played more directly on his audience’s fear. He seemed even more cocksure than he did in the primary. Alluding to Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance, he asked: How could Democrats say that Republicans were waging a war on women, when Democrats were passing laws that would allow men to use their bathrooms?

Younger Republicans may be a lot squishier on homosexuality than their elders, but that’s not translating to much real change in the party. In a draft of the party’s platform being circulated in Fort Worth, the party embraces the idea that gay people can be made un-gay with therapy. Gay rights are making steady progress nationally, but this increasingly fearful cohort holds great sway in the GOP.

Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Republican state convention in Fort Worth. June 5, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Republican state convention in Fort Worth. June 5, 2014.

Party conventions are a time for collective healing—an occasion to pivot away from the infighting of primary season and summon hatred for the other side. It’s a time to come together and put away the angry words directed at each other as recently as the week before. As healing events, conventions are usually successful, and there’s no reason to think that the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth this week won’t be, too. But there are a few fault lines in the party that have developed in recent weeks, and the way they’ll play out in the next couple days will say a lot about where the Texas GOP is in 2014.

The biggest fight this week will likely be over a small part of the Republican platform that contains what’s become known, in a strangely grandiose fashion, as the “Texas Solution.” At the 2012 convention, the party managed to include an endorsement of an expanded guest worker program into the platform—a first for the party—but kept other red meat provisions, like calling for English to be made the country’s official language. The idea that this small, symbolic step represented a novel or interesting “solution” to the country’s immigration problems was always somewhat farcical, but it was nonetheless extremely controversial among the conservative base. And for two years, that group has been yearning to strip it back out.

For weeks, conservatives have been gaming out strategies to do just that. But the immigration provisions are a top priority for party leaders, who are trying desperately to drag the party toward a pragmatic approach on immigration, for the sake of both the business wing of the GOP and in the service of the nebulous concept of “Hispanic outreach.”

Conservatives accuse the party of stacking the platform committees with “pro-amnesty” puppets, and of intimidating those who don’t support the measure. On Wednesday night, a platform committee gave a nod to reworked immigration language that kept the main tenets of the 2012 language. The new language rails against “special pathways” to citizenship for undocumented residents, but leaves the door open for undocumented residents who receive legal status of some kind to become citizens using the traditional method—in other words, it wouldn’t aim to prevent them from becoming citizens.

But the current version of the 2014 plank also contains changes designed to assuage conservative fears. The words “guest worker” don’t appear in the platform language—they’ve been replaced by support for “an efficient, cost effective system that responds to labor shortages,” though who this is supposed to fool is unclear.

Lt. governor hopeful Dan Patrick had much to do with the crafting of the new language, as did Greg Abbott. Though Patrick supported a guest worker program in 2007, his recent rhetoric made it appear there was at least a chance he’d weigh in against the plank with the tea party and against the party leadership. So far, that hasn’t been the case. However, the “Texas solution,” which used to be a single package, has been broken up into five planks—making it easier, later in the process, to strip out some provisions but not others.

There’s also the gays. When the party denied the Log Cabin Republicans, a prominent pro-gay GOP group, a booth at the convention last week, it was unsurprising—they’d done so before. In 1996, the Log Cabin Republicans sued for the right to be included in that year’s state convention, and the case went to the Texas Supreme Court. The gay GOPers lost. The justice who wrote the opinion for the majority? Greg Abbott. Eighteen years later he’s running for governor, and the party’s position hasn’t budged an inch.

Well, it’s changed a tiny bit. The draft platform that’s out now nixes previous language: “the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God.”

If that sounds discouragingly like progress to you, be reassured that the draft adds an endorsement of anti-gay “therapy.” The GOP is preparing to recognize “the value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.”

Thursday night will see two competing rallies on LGBT issues. The Republican Liberty Caucus, a libertarian-oriented organization, is holding a barbecue on the periphery of the festivities to call for me a more “inclusive” party. The Conservative Republicans of Texas, meanwhile, are holding a fête at the swank Omni Hotel to huff and puff about the recent ruling against Texas’ anti-gay marriage amendment. That one boasts the RSVP of “180 state and local elected officials”—from Ted Cruz and John Cornyn on down.

There’s also a heavy open carry presence here—groups pushing for the right to carry long guns in cities and handguns openly are doing their damnedest to push the issue under the noses of next session’s legislators. They’ll be having a rally Thursday night at Fort Worth’s Water Gardens, but their presence is just as keenly felt indoors. Angela L. Peña, a delegate who’s also representing the Rio Grande Valley chapter of Open Carry Texas, brought her Pietta 1858 New Army Revolver onto the convention floor. Though TABC regulations ban guns in the convention center, there’s an exception carved out for pre-1899 models. Many feel a growing sense of certainty the 2015 Legislature will side with them on their issues.

Then there are the losers—the supporters of David Dewhurst and other “moderate” candidates who got more or less crushed in last week’s primary. Dan Patrick and crew may have won easily, but there’s a not-insignificant cadre of GOPers who don’t have a lot of respect for the man—or his ticketmates.

You wouldn’t know that by walking around the convention center, though. Most of the true believers here—the most passionate and energized in the Republican base—are all in for Patrick, Ken Paxton, Sid Miller, et al. The most popular buttons, stickers and shirts are still those circulated by Ted Cruz’s floor crew—but Patrick is a close second. Dewhurst, meanwhile, the vanquished foe, might have been expected to come and hug Patrick, and smoke the proverbial peace pipe—but he’s going to France instead, for the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

Fort Worth is a lovely place, but he might be getting the better deal. While Dewhurst might be savoring a pricey bottle of Pinot Noir in Caen, the true believers here will be slugging it out over amnesty, gay marriage and Obamacare while Dew’s two-minute goodbye video plays on the convention floor to people who were never that into him in the first place.

Gov. Rick Perry made a significantly flashier exit at his last GOP convention in office. A lengthy video montage and an introduction from his wife, Anita Perry, set up a speech that hit all of the points we’ve come to expect from a Perry address: For example, did you know that Texas’ economy is doing very well according to many metrics?

Perry’s speech was one of the first agenda items on the convention, after which he’s bowing out. Also keeping a low profile, strangely enough, is the fellow who’s at the top of the GOP ticket—Attorney General Greg Abbott. He’s addressing the convention, on Saturday, but he’s not showing his face much otherwise—while Dan Patrick’s supporters flood the convention. It’s an odd thing.

This convention belongs to the new generation—even if that new generation is composed exclusively of white men of a similar vintage as the old generation. Even if they look the same, their politics are very different. This weekend will give us some insight into how they’ll govern.

The Moody Gardens, Galveston. May god preserve them.
The Moody Gardens, Galveston. May god preserve them.

Remember the good old days, before this massively dispiriting election cycle had begun? It was a simpler time. We were as children then, in a land of milk and honey. But time makes fools of us all. We’ve seen each other through hard times—hard, weird times. We’ve grown up, and now is the time to put away childish things. Grave challenges await us.

1) Do you know about Ukraine? You’re one of remarkably few Americans who do. Ukraine—a country so young it qualifies as a Millennial—has always been short on national and social cohesion. It’s being squeezed by a new Russian Empire. Ukraine’s new government is fragile, financially broke, and threatened on both sides by pro-Russian militias and anti-Russian fascists.

They’re holding an election on Sunday, and we’re showing our support. We’re sending election observers—emissaries of the great potential of Democracy, with a capital “D.” A sign of goodwill—that we have this new government’s back. We’re sending our best and our brightest—beacons of the shared values of the liberal democracies of the west. We’re sending Steve Stockman.

2) Stockman, perhaps the most incompetent congressman in living memory, is leaving his seat after a failed bid to defeat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. So the voters of Congressional District 36, in southeast Texas, have a heavy responsibility: They have to select a new representative to voice the people’s will in Washington, D.C. Their district includes the Johnson Space Center—our foremost center for manned spaceflight and a critical economic engine—which gives the district’s congressman a unique responsibility to champion the cause of space exploration and federal support for scientific and engineering research, at a time when NASA is in direly in need of direction.

So it seems less than fitting that the two men in a runoff to replace Stockman, former Woodville Mayor Brian Babin and tea partier Ben Streusand, have been arguing primarily over who’s more supportive of homeschooling. (Both homeschooled their kids.) A claim that Babin supports subjecting homeschooled kids to standardized tests—entirely fabricated, he says—has kicked off a mighty frenzy in the last week of campaigning, with both candidates struggling to position themselves as the one who’s supportive of the right to keep your kids out of public schools.

Neither Babin nor Streusand mention the Johnson Space Center—or anything to do with space—on their websites.

3) The Texas Nationalist Movement also have an important responsibility—to educate and promote the next generation of Texas Nationalists. The TNM’s been getting even weirder lately. They’ve appointed a cultural director, pined for the days of noblesse oblige, and have taken to calling each other blueshirts. At times, they can verge on seeming like the beginnings of a far-right or fascist movement—albeit, one without many followers.

With this in mind, perhaps, they’re softening their image—with a youth baseball team.

A group of young baseball players in Bowie Texas are turning the heads of Texas Nationalists. Not only do they play with heart, but they also wear their heart on their sleeves.

Yep! That star is none other than the Texas Nationalist Movement patch.
Speaking of heart, TNM Member Joe Mayfield has sponsored this group in the name of the TNM.

You might see Joe at some events wearing his circa 1836 wardrobe working to recruit members to the TNM and spread the word about our mission and goals, but, come game time, this Texian will be seen at the ballpark cheering on our team.

Did your dad once embarrass you at little league games? Just be glad he wasn’t a secessionist who dressed up like William Barrett Travis.

4) Up in the Metroplex, Chart Westcott, currently in a runoff with Morgan Meyer in Texas House District 108, has been circulating unusual mailers in his increasingly aberrant campaign: tickets to “Morgan Meyer’s Amnesty,” a fun fiesta brought about by Meyer’s plan to “giv[e] every illegal immigrant a ticket to permanent residence,” accompanied by a literal ticket at the bottom: “FREE DE FACTO AMNESTY: Good for any illegal immigrant. Never Expires. No fine print. Bring your friends!”

That’s a great deal—most coupons you get in the mail are worth far less. But if Westcott’s sending out the tickets, isn’t he the one offering amnesty? Kind of makes you think.

5) Speaking of NASA—and of taking responsibility—scientists from the former are holding out the possibility that the collapsing Antarctic ice sheet could guarantee a sea level rise of at least 10 feet, and that’s whether or not we put any more carbon into the atmosphere. (Spoiler: we will put much, much more up there.) That seems pretty—what’s the word I’m looking for here—bad! That seems really bad.

At a recent debate in the lieutenant governor. primary—approximately the 3,769th held—someone got bored of the usual questions and asked one about the climate. And so probable next Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick answered it.

When Galveston is underwater and scuba divers are taking fun offshore jaunts to explore the exciting, forbidden ruins of the Moody Gardens, let this be inscribed on an obelisk somewhere in The Woodlands:

Philip Eby, left, with state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, posing before the war.
Philip Eby, left, with state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, posing before the war.

Remember Philip Eby? No? He’s one of the many candidates this cycle plucked out of obscurity by the constellation of organizations around Midland millionaire Tim Dunn and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans For Fiscal Responsibility/Empower Texans to run in House Districts around the state. Dunn and Sullivan, in their continuing effort to push Texas rightward, want to elect more members of the Texas House who will act as their proxy to boot out current House Speaker Joe Straus. To that end, they’ll support just about anybody.

Eby is their man in House District 58, south of Fort Worth. He doesn’t have much a history of personal or political accomplishment. So perhaps it’s fitting that he’s approached his run for office with the zeal of a man about to lead a cavalry charge on behalf of the Khan:

The truth of the matter is that we’re in a war for conservative principles, and we’ve been losing that war. The question is: why are we losing? I’m tired of losing. I don’t know if y’all are tired of losing, but I’m tired of watching freedom lose every time and tyranny take control.

Sun Tzu said in his classic work, The Art of War, that if you know yourself, and you know your opponent, you will never lose. […] The question is, who is our opponent? Most people today say that the Democrats are our opponent. And they’re right, they are. But in some ways they’re wrong, also. Our opponent is not a person, or a group. Our opponent is an idea. And that idea is the idea of Collectivism.

In Texas, we’ve been winning for years, as Republicans, yet we’re still losing the battle of conservative values so often. It’s because we have Republicans who are infected by the idea of collectivism.

That’s from a speech Eby gave to a conservative gathering in Bosque County in mid-March. He had just won 40 percent of his primary vote, and was settling into a runoff race against DeWayne Burns, who had won 30 percent. Burns, you might be surprised to learn if you’ve listened to Eby’s speech, is not exactly a Maoist: he’s a rancher who’s worked in a variety of state and local government positions and who happens to be conservative in a slightly different way than Eby is. Nevertheless, the rhetoric, already heated in March, has grown increasingly fire-and-brimstone-like as we head toward next Tuesday’s runoff.

Then, earlier this week, a prominent Eby supporter, Maggie Wright, allegedly slapped Burns’ campaign manager, Joy Davis. And then Eby’s campaign, remarkably, blamed Davis.

Davis and Wright, a local tea party organizer who backs Eby, were outside the polls talking to voters during the first week of early runoff voting, and Eby’s supporters were agitated. The two women found themselves talking to the same unfortunate voter. Davis started talking up the fact that Eby’s received much of his support from statewide groups like Empower Texans. Davis told the Cleburne Times-Review what happened next:

“Maggie said, ‘That’s not true,’ and slapped me on my arm twice,” Davis said. “I backed up, pointed my finger and said, ‘Don’t touch me.’ At that point, she made a face at me, like saying I’m being a baby, and swung a [campaign] sign in my direction and at that point Philip [Eby] had to step in and restrain her.”

The police came, and charged Wright with a Class C misdemeanor. Not exactly a heavy charge, but not nothing, either. For her part, Wright says she “lightly touched Davis on her forearm.”

Then, strangely, Eby doubled down. He released a statement blasting… Davis.

“A Burns campaign staffer initiated an angry confrontation with one of my supporters. There was no assault to speak of,” he said. “The supporter DeWayne Burns is attempting to exploit is a 68-year-old woman and guilty of nothing but working hard for the candidates she supports. I hope DeWayne and his Austin consultants can leave District 58 voters alone, and allow them to decide this race for themselves.”

Eby’s rhetoric can seem unhinged, but this has been an exceptionally negative campaign—on both sides. Burns has been attacked in all the usual ways less-than-far-right candidates in the state are traditionally attacked: an Empower Texans post from March notes his “ties” to “notorious Straus lieutenant [state Rep.] Charlie Geren.” State Rep. Jonathan Stickland came out to the polls on Eby’s behalf Wednesday—a show of post-slapping support .

But somewhat unusually, Burns’ supporters have mounted a robust offensive by going after the proverbial men behind the curtain: Dunn and Sullivan. Here’s a site characterizing Eby’s out-of-district backers as “fringe libertarians and a West Texas billionaire” who want to “buy and control our Texas legislators.”

It’s almost a play out of Empower Texans’ handbook. We’ll see if it works next Tuesday. In the meantime, good people of District 58, keep your hands off each other. And to Philip Eby’s warrior spirit, let us all say: love. Love is all you need.

David Dewhurst and the Curious Case of the Mental Health Records

With early voting under way, David Dewhurst wants to capitalize on Dan Patrick’s mental health troubles while keeping his distance. That’ll be tricky.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst speaks to reports on the first day of early voting. May 19, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst speaks to reporters on the first day of early voting. May 19, 2014.

In the 1892 short story “Silver Blaze,” Sherlock Holmes spends much of his time on the question of what one dog didn’t do while a murder took place.

Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

In the GOP’s increasingly cutthroat lieutenant governor primary, recent events have focused attention on another dirty nighttime deed—and the question of whether Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst barked.

News broke last Friday night of a bit of remarkably dirty campaigning by the Dewhurst campaign—or at the very least by its allies—and it’s not clear yet whether Dewhurst will benefit or suffer from the incident. That may depend on the veracity of Dewhurst’s denials of involvement in the release of Sen. Dan Patrick’s mental health records.

Last Thursday, Land Commissioner—and defeated lite guv candidate—Jerry Patterson continued his frenzied campaign to destroy Patrick by sending the press documents that detailed Patrick’s treatment for depression in the 1980s. The documents were linked to a 1987 lawsuit in which Patrick sued a Houston Post gossip columnist for libel. As part of the lawsuit, Patrick gave a deposition about his past mental health treatment. The deposition is in the public record, but its mere emergence was enough to trouble some observers, who don’t see its relevance to a 2014 campaign.

But on Friday, Patterson doubled down in a pretty extreme way. Late in the day, he sent around a new raft of documents that detailed, in uncomfortable detail, a suicide attempt Patrick made in the 1980s—and included notes from his doctors during treatment. Some media outlets declined to report the new information, but Quorum Report summarized the new information and released it around 9 p.m. on Friday.

For many people, the release of 30-year-old medical records detailing a person’s suicide attempt is off-limits, even in the context of a campaign that has defied logic and decency in innumerable ways. Austin King, the president of the Texas Medical Association, called it a “moral issue” that should be “out of bounds.” So the question naturally became: Was Dewhurst involved?

Dewhurst says no. “Neither I nor my campaign had anything to do with the discovery of those documents,” Dewhurst said Monday at a press conference in South Austin, “nor did we have anything to do with the release.”

The basic elements of this may be true—Patterson may have found the documents, and may have released them of his own accord. But Dewhurst’s efforts to distance himself from the release are complicated by a couple of strange elements in his narrative. One is his steadfast insistence that he still doesn’t know what’s in them, and never did. Here’s a more complete version of Dewhurst’s account of his interactions with Patterson, given Monday at the same press conference:

About a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, Jerry Patterson called one day out of the blue, started talking about a lawsuit, files, I said, woah woah woah, what are you talking about. And he said, well, I’m not sure. I don’t know what’s there. And I said, I don’t want any part of it, Jerry, I’m staying away from it. You should stay away from it. I don’t want anything to do with this. And then, apparently, last Thursday, he started sending out the files.

Think about that: Patterson, who has become a top Dewhurst lieutenant—someone who’s cutting ads for Dew’s campaign—comes to Dewhurst. Patterson says, I have something that could really hurt Patrick. In the middle of one of the most negative campaigns in memory, Dewhurst is totally incurious about this find. Not only does he not find out what’s in the papers Patterson has in his possession, but Patterson doesn’t know either, apparently. Yet despite not knowing what’s in Patterson’s papers, Dewhurst cuts him off. He’s sure that it shouldn’t be used. He ends the conversation.

Dewhurst continues to insist he doesn’t know what’s in the papers. “I don’t know what’s in the files except for what reporters tell me,” Dewhurst said on Waco Tea Party Radio Sunday night. By Monday, he still hadn’t bothered to look into the issue: “All I’ve read is what’s been on the Quorum Report and what people have told me.”

Is it plausible that in the middle of a sprawling, year-long, multi-million dollar statewide campaign largely premised on issues of character, that Dewhurst’s campaign, which has surely studied every aspect of Patrick’s personal history, was unaware of this 1987 lawsuit, and the public depositions it contained? Patrick sued the press for more than a million dollars, and that fact was widely reported. It appeared in one of the earliest Patrick profiles, a 2007 Texas Monthly article. Did this not merit some further inquiry from Dewhurst opposition researchers?

What’s more, we know Dewhurst was, on some level, involved in discussions about Patterson’s leak. The Texas Tribune reported Friday that Patterson accidentally sent an email to much of the Texas political press corps—and a Dewhurst campaign aide—that acknowledged those discussions:

“David has a great idea, but we could’ve only done it if we had this stuff a week ago,” Patterson continued. “Don’t let Daivids [sic] indecision snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Patrick is playing the victim well. He says it was a minor bout of depression and he went in for a few days of rest. This will blow his story away.”

Strangely, Dewhurst continues to offer a partial defense of Patterson’s release of the documents. On Monday, he corrected reporters who called the documents “leaked” several times. They were in the public record, Dewhurst said. Actually, Patrick was to blame for the fact that they were public—by virtue of filing his 1987 lawsuit.

“At the end of the day, [making his mental treatment public] was Dan’s decision,” Dewhurst told Waco Tea Party Radio on Sunday. “He sued someone and claimed mental damage. He knew that was the law.” On Monday, he told reporters that “these were made public because of the actions of Dan Patrick,” who had been filing frivolous lawsuits and expecting a “windfall.”

But perhaps the strongest impediment to Dewhurst’s attempts to distance himself from Patterson’s release is his awkward attempts to capitalize on them. At his Monday press conference, reporters repeatedly asked Dewhurst to condemn Patterson’s release, as a number of Republican state senators have. He wouldn’t say that the revelations mattered, but he wouldn’t say that they didn’t, either.

“At the end of the day, if this speaks to the character and the capacity to govern and lead of Dan Patrick, then I think it should be on the voters minds,” Dewhurst said. “If it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t.”

For some time, Dewhurst has criticized Patrick’s “temperament” and “capacity to lead.” Those are old criticisms, but now it’s hard not to wonder if they’re being used as dog whistles. Especially when Dewhurst uses lines like this: “I made a point to reach out and share my prayers with the Patrick family. I don’t think what happened 20 years ago is relevant today. Unless, unless, it speaks to your continuing character, or your capacity to govern or lead.”

At Monday’s press conference, the questions from reporters got more and more pointed, as the press attempted to draw Dew out. Had Dewhurst ever seen evidence that Patrick was mentally unwell? A pause.

“The Dan Patrick I know, I wish him all the best in life,” Dewhurst replied, before continuing. “I’ve got the temperament, the integrity” to be lieutenant governor, he said.

As early voting begins, Dewhurst has settled on a new refrain. “At the end of the day there’s a responsibility for people to ask questions, ‘Who’s David Dewhurst, and who’s Dan Patrick?’” Both questions are becoming increasingly difficult to answer.

Robert Duncan
State Sen. Robert Duncan, (R-Lubbock)

The Texas Tribune’s Reeve Hamilton broke word this morning that state Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) is stepping down to become the next chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. A special election will be called to fill out Duncan’s term, which ends in 2016.

Duncan, a veteran of the Texas Senate, was no liberal. But he was more moderate than many of his colleagues in the Senate GOP caucus, and he was seen as a force for stability by Senate watchers. In 2013, Texas Monthly named him one of the session’s best legislators—the sixth time it had done so. The magazine raved about his “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” In 2009, it stipulated that “there was hardly an issue—the budget, eminent domain, health care reform, college tuition—that wasn’t improved by his intellectual rigor and deft touch as a mediator.”

Now he’s leaving—and if current trends hold, he may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.

The inevitable result of Mayor Annise Parker's totalitarian policies.
The inevitable result of Mayor Annise Parker's totalitarian policies.

Where to start? This was a week of WTF not as subtext, but as text. Some weeks, WTF Friday can be harder to put together than others. It can feel like sitting on the surface of a calm and tranquil ocean, casting a line out, and waiting for three-eyed fish. This was no such week. The sea is raging with WTF. Three-eyed fish are piling up on the floorboards, threatening to overturn the Observer‘s humble fishing skiff. This, dear readers, was a weird, weird week.

1) This was a week in which Houston City Council hearings over that city’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance (which would protect the LGBT community, and a whole lot of other folks, from workplace and other discrimination) devolved spectacularly, in exactly the way you’d assume, and bottomed out with the invocation of “Swastika cakes.” Forcing Christian bakers to make cakes for gay weddings, Pastor Steve Riggle told a Jewish council member, would be like forcing a Jewish cake baker to make a cake for Nazis. A Swastika cake.

You will be astonished to learn that the metaphor doesn’t quite hold. Nazis are not a protected class—this is still America, happily, and you are free to refuse to do business with Nazis, as happened in 2008 when one New Jersey supermarket refused to make a birthday cake for 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell. There is the additional fact that gay people, as of 2014, have not attempted to murder all Christians, nor do they seem likely to do so in the short- to medium-term. For the curious, though, here is how you can make a Swastika cake at home.

2) This was a week in which David Dewhurst, in the course of his (rapidly deteriorating OR increasingly successful) bid to best state Sen. Dan Patrick for the GOP lite guv nomination, imprisoned one unfortunate millennial in a David Lynch-inflected meta-hellscape, then filmed a moderately erotic short film about Jerry Patterson’s gun collection.

3) And it was a week that ended in an almost incomprehensible street brawl over the fact that Dan Patrick got brief psychiatric treatment back when the Norwegian band a-ha was still in the studio working on “Take On Me.” Followed by the detailed recounting of the tale of a former Houston Press reporter, Paul Harasim. He alleged Patrick once:

“grab[bed my wife’s] thumb and stomps her foot and then I proceed to beat the shit out of him, essentially. I think that is what any Texan should do in that situation. And he thought that this was great that he could make me do this after doing that to my wife.”

Serious charges—ones that the Austin American-Statesman’s Jonathan Tilove confirmed with Harasim’s wife, who added some charges of her own:

“He called me a ‘dirty Mexican,’ he stomped on my foot – he didn’t step on it, he stomped on it, and he pulled my hand back and hurt my finger. It wasn’t broken but it was seriously injured,” Maria Harasim, told me when I reached her last night in Houston, where she works the front desk of a hotel.

It was the 80s, man. People did a lot of crazy things.

4) There was Rob Henneke, a former Kerr County attorney, who finds himself in a runoff to replace state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran. Henneke is a man of action, a man who hopes to match his bold words with bold deeds:

“I’m very concerned about the infiltration of our society by Muslims right now in Texas,” Henneke told listeners. “I don’t think people are aware about how pervasive that has become in our society.”

5) And there was Amy Kushnir, who showed us one way to cope when people say things we don’t agree with. On a daytime talk show put on by a local station in Dallas, Kushnir found herself talking with her co-hosts about Michael Sam, the openly gay football player who was recently drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Kushnir became more and more agitated as her co-hosts discussed Sam, and his decision to kiss his boyfriend on-air after he learned that he’d be playing in the NFL.

In a video (now made private) that was widely circulated around the county, she characterized the kiss as not in keeping with the idea of “all-American sports,” before a heated argument caused her to take off her microphone and storm off the set, declaring loudly that she was “going to Midland.”

A day later, Kushnir had more to say about Midland than, you know, the other thing:

I felt like I had no choice but to get up, push myself out of the situation because we were going nowhere, as you probably saw, and we have a term around here that we say: we’re going to Midland. What that means is we’re going to excuse ourself from the conversation politely. And that’s what I did. I just decided it was time to go to Midland. And I went to Midland, and I’m back and I’m a happy camper, and I’m ready to move on. Next. Let’s talk about something else.

Midland, as all Texans know, is a tranquil, quiet, boring place devoid of controversy, external stimulae, or agita. Let us all find, this weekend, our own private Midland.

Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston)
Patrick Michels
Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) presides over a Senate Education Committee hearing.

How low can the lite guv race go? Pretty damn low. Last night, leaked papers linked to a 25-year-old lawsuit filed by state Sen. Dan Patrick revealed a new facet of Patrick’s biography: In the early 1980s, Patrick was diagnosed with depression, and took medicine to cope with it. And in “late 1984 or early 1985,” he was briefly hospitalized at a Houston psychiatric center called “Spring Shadows Glen.”

Why do we know this? In 1987, Patrick sued a Houston Post columnist for libel. In 1989, the defendant’s lawyer squeezed information from Patrick about his mental health issues at a deposition. A portion of that depo was recently leaked to a number of major state media outlets. The lawyer’s interest in Patrick’s depression—it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the case, which involved an altercation at one of Patrick’s sports bars—seems to be primarily to paint him as an unreliable nut who shouldn’t be trusted with anything. That seems like a somewhat archaic view of mental health issues, but it’s exactly what the leaker of these papers is suggesting a quarter-century later.

Who leaked the deposition? Patrick’s runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was the natural target for suspicion, of course, but the San Antonio Express-News revealed it—and everyone else—had gotten the documents from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Patterson ran in the first leg of the primary and has lately been waging his own quixotic jihad against Patrick. He’s ostensibly on his own, but lately, Patterson’s been collaborating with the Dewhurst campaign and cutting ads, making him a de facto Dewhurst campaign surrogate. And the Texas Tribune reported Friday that Dewhurst’s campaign may be more involved in the leak than they had previously admitted.

Patterson, a Vietnam-vet Marine who’s passionate about honor and truth-telling, has made waves in the runoff by alleging Patrick was a draft-dodger (Patrick says he had a medical deferment) and now leaking information he obtained about Patrick’s mental health treatment three decades ago (and trying to do it anonymously). Maybe he feels like he’s dishing out what he got from Patrick in the early part of the primary, but it’s not a good look.

Will it hurt Patrick, or will it backfire on Dewhurst? Too early to tell. Dewhurst partisans have been eagerly harping on the “Dan Patrick is nuts” line, but Dewhurst himself issued a statement in which he shed some of the most transparently fabricated crocodile tears of all time: “My heart goes out to Dan Patrick and his family for what they’ve endured while coping with his condition.” Even if Dewhurst didn’t leak the papers directly, he runs the risk of being penalized for a top ally’s use of the campaign equivalent of a nut-shot in boxing.

Meanwhile, the pushback from Patrick and his supporters has been robust. Patrick’s right-hand man, Allen Blakemore, released a statement with liberal use of exclamation points: “This is outrageous! Dewhurst had already hit bottom, and now he has found a new low! He has no honor, and knows no shame!” The statement went on to add that Patrick “has not required additional treatment or medication for nearly 30 years.”

And three Republican senators who are also medical practitioners—Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)—released a statement slamming the attack:

A personal attack of this kind sinks to an unprecedented low, shamelessly attempting to embarrass Dan Patrick for seeking the appropriate medical care to treat a minor bout with depression that occurred almost 30 years ago. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 10 American adults suffer from some form of depression in their lifetime…something which the perpetrators of this attack apparently believe should disqualify them from serving their communities or contributing to society.

“We sincerely hope David Dewhurst is not responsible for this sleazy attack.” the joint statement continues.

It’s good to see Patrick supporters—and Republican state senators—speaking out about the stigma of mental illness, and the unfairness of this as an attack line in a campaign. But for those of us with memories that reach back to November, it’s a bit odd, because of what many conservatives in the state were saying about state Sen. Wendy Davis.

In 1996, Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for defamation, after she lost an election. (It was ultimately dismissed.) As one frequently does when one seeks damages in the course of a civil lawsuit, she claimed to have suffered “emotional distress” and “continuing damages to her mental health.” That second phrase—the one that would get all the attention—was used once.

Compare this to Patrick’s situation: In 1987, Patrick sued a Houston Press gossip columnist for libel, after an altercation at a sports bar. (It was also ultimately dismissed, “with prejudice.”) In the course of this lawsuit it is revealed that Patrick has had to contend seriously with mental health issues for much of the decade, and was briefly, and voluntarily, committed to a psychiatric center.

So: both unsuccessfully sued the press, both endured revelations of mental anguish. The only real difference is that Patrick’s mental health troubles would seem, on the available evidence, to be much more substantial and long-lasting. Many conservatives in the state are rallying around Patrick: How did they treat Davis when her (very minor) admission was written up last November by noted slug pundit Eric Erickson?

Erickson wrote a sensationalist item on Davis’ lawsuit entitled: “”Abortion Barbie” Wendy Davis Claims in Court That She Has Mental Health Issues.” He said Davis’ lawsuit raised “worrisome [issues] regarding her mental stability,” and charecterized her as a “damaged” woman.

The post went viral. Predictably, the cackling horde descended on “Abortion Barbie,” the “self-proclaimed loon” who had “admitted” her “brain was damaged.”

What’s Sullivan saying now about Patrick, who also sued the press?

Dishonor indeed. May 27 can’t come fast enough.

Can you hear us in there, Dewhurst woman?
Can you hear us in there, Dewhurst woman?

When Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst first went negative against his opponent state Sen. Dan Patrick, he did so with a somewhat strange ad that featured a young woman staring glumly at the camera over an oddly-held cup of coffee.

“It’s a struggle, but I pay my bills,” said the woman, sunk in an aging green armchair. “So why can’t millionaire Dan Patrick?” Then a voiceover related salient details from Patrick’s background: He had changed his name, and he had declared bankruptcy to write off some substantial debts. “If we can’t trust him to run his own business honestly,” the nameless everywoman concluded, looking more irate every second, “how can we ever trust him to run the state honestly?”

The ad received a lot of negative attention, in part because Dewhurst’s contention that Patrick changed his name to escape debts wasn’t, you know, true, and because Dewhurst has had debt trouble of his own.

But this morning, the woman returned. And her appearance raises many more questions than it answers. Instead of a glum woman in a dark room with a coffee cup, she’s been transformed into a perky millennial in an IKEA-styled living room ready to dish out snark Dan’s way.

Even stranger—she thinks Dan’s anger over the ad was directed at her. As in, her personally.

“I’m literally shocked,” she intones, throwing her hands up in the air. “Dan Patrick or Dannie Goeb or whatever he’s calling himself today now is attacking me in his latest false ad. Unfortunately for him,” she continues, millennial-ly, “there’s something called the internet.”

Some campaign ads feature actors posing as real people, but the Dewhurst woman isn’t really pretending to be a real person—the ad doesn’t even offer her name. She’s clearly an actress playing a character. A character which is breaking the fourth wall and appears to have gained sentience and an awareness of life outside her attack ads. It’s incredibly odd—it’s unusual, to say the least, for a campaign to create characters that experience a continuity of existence from attack ad to attack ad.

Questions abound. Is she trapped in there? What is the internal life of this character like? Why does she hate Patrick so much? Why does she suffer from such dramatic mood swings? Why are the different rooms of her house decorated so differently? Why does she think Patrick is attacking her, and not the candidate she’s flacking for?

An enhanced image of the Dewhurst woman's picture frames.
An enhanced image of the Dewhurst woman’s picture frames. (Click for a larger version.)

Is she lonely? A careful analysis of the two picture frames on her shelf—the only evidence of life, other than the woman herself, in this nightmare universe of Dewhurst attack ads—shows what might be a cat or dog, licking itself, or sleeping. The other frame is too blurry to make out. Is that the grim visage of a skull in the top half, draped in red? Is it a clue to the Dewhurst woman’s origins?

Much like TV’s Lost, I have a feeling that the questions raised won’t be given satisfactory treatment by the series finale, the May 27 runoff. But I hope we see the Dewhurst woman again. Maybe she’ll get a spin-off. Maybe she can get work displaying the emotions of shock and disgust for Sid Miller’s campaign.

If the Kafkaesque plight of Dewhurst woman isn’t your thing, the Dew dropped another ad today—this one operating on the principles of the naturalist, slow-paced documentaries of, say, Werner Herzog. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who recently accused Patrick of being a draft dodger, sat to do a web ad for Dewhurst. The first half of the two-minute ad is just Patterson talking about his guns, at what seems to be his kitchen table, before he switches to tough talk on Patrick. It’s oddly hypnotic.

Meanwhile, remember that ad Dew’s team ran that used pictures of Patrick shirtless at what turned out to be a charity event for disabled children? Dewhurst got major blowback, and told people he’d pull the offending parts of the ad. But it’s still running, nearly two weeks later. Here’s a version of it on Dewhurst’s YouTube page.

Two weeks to go.

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