It’s another election season in Texas. Another year that we’re on track to maintain the nation’s most dismal voter turnout.
One difference this year is that voters are now required to present photo ID at the polls, the result of Republican-authored legislation ostensibly to deal with the diminishingly small number of voter fraud cases. It’s difficult to say what effect the voter ID requirement is having, though even some Republican state officials apparently knew that more than half a million registered Texas voters—disproportionately Hispanic and African American—lacked the credentials to cast ballots but didn’t bother to tell lawmakers.
One thing is certain: Very, very few Texans have gotten election identification certificates (EIC), the new state-issued form of photo ID for those who don’t have it—340 Texans, to be precise.
That’s less than two thousandths of a percent of Texas’ voting age population. That’s only a little more than one EIC for each of Texas’ 254 counties. And many counties haven’t had a single citizen obtain an EIC. Another way to slice the numbers: There are more licensed auctioneers (2,454) in Texas than there are people with EICs—more than seven times as many in fact. In Harris County, with more than 4.3 million people, a poverty rate of 18 percent and 70 percent people of color, there are 186 licensed auctioneers but just 21 EICs. There are more licenses for boxing judges in Lubbock County (4) than there are voters with EICs (3). There are more licensed elevator inspectors in Dallas County (35) than voters with EICs (28). And so on….
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Myrna Perez, deputy director of the voting rights project at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The information about the EIC has been dreadful. Nobody knows about it.”
There’s also the issue of cost and convenience. An estimated 400,000 eligible voters face round trips of three hours or more to get a photo ID from a Texas Department of Public Safety office, a fact noted by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her stern dissent from a recent ruling leaving Texas’ ID requirement in place for this election. Most people will need a birth certificate to get an EIC, which can be costly and time-consuming to obtain. And an EIC really comes into use a few times a year at most.
“You can’t use the EIC for anything other than voting,” Perez said. “It’s a pain in the neck to get and then you can’t use it for anything else.”
It’s possible that folks were able to obtain another of the seven approved forms of photo ID. DPS reports that it has received 1,850 inquiries about voter ID and “many of the individuals” already had the photo ID they needed to vote. But it seems much more likely that the paltry number of EICs so far means that significant numbers of people who would otherwise be voting, simply aren’t.
With so few EICs issued it’s hard to see any particular patterns in this geographic breakdown. Hidalgo County, one of the poorest and most Hispanic-heavy parts of the state, leads with a whopping 41 EICs. The other big urban counties share double-digit numbers of EICs, whereas rural counties show just a handful apiece—or none. According to DPS’ data, three quarters of all Texas counties—190—didn’t report a single EIC.
This is how we live now. This is our true-true, for another 4.5 days. Help us. Anybody. Help us?
1) After the election, we’ll be faced with a difficult task: We must rebuild. Fortunately, a friendly Japanese conglomerate has come up with a plan to connect Dallas and Houston with a high-speed train.
Now, Texas conservatives hate trains. Goddamn, do they hate trains. You wouldn’t believe how much they hate trains. But most of that hatred of trains is premised on the fact that governments usually have to spend money to build and maintain them, unlike highways, which are conjured by a paste made from pixie dust and black tar. But the Japanese rail proposal involves no public funds, so they’ll love it, right?
In steps Thelma Taormina, past-life Viking and current leader of the We The People Are The 9-12 Association, Inc./We Surround Them in Houston (real name). Taormina once gained fame for pulling a gun on a guy who tried to install an electrical “smart meter” at her home. But now she’s heard about the Far-Easterners and their train. She’s mobilizing. She knows what this is about: It’s the UN.
Everyone who has been on our mailing list for a while now knows that the plan for high-speed rail from Houston to Dallas is a part of a much bigger plan entailing Agenda 21, and a total deception to box us all in to the areas that the elite wish us to live.
Yes, the elite are coming to box us in—to… Houston and Dallas. Nothing says “New World Order” like Houston, a city which can’t even figure out how to use zoning laws. When fascism comes to America, it will swathed in Astros gear and carrying a rail pass.
2) Your humble correspondent has tried to record some of the weirder moments of this year’s nauseating electoral carnival ride, but I don’t think I’ve written or read a single thing stranger than Jonathan Tilove’s hallucinatory chronicle of his time at Greg Abbott rallies in Frisco and Abilene. (That might just be sleep deprivation talking, but I doubt it.) Abbott has come to travel the campaign trail and meet that great mass called “the people,” and Tilove, of the Austin American-Statesman, has tagged along. He meets some friendly fellows:
I arrived early for his appearance at Mattito’s Tex-Mex and was standing by myself amid the milling crowd, when a nattily attired man in sport jacket and tie approached me, looked me up and down, and with a look of disgust said something to the effect of “nice outfit.”
Unsure of where this was going, I mumbled some kind of apologetic, nondescript reply.
“It looks like you slept in it,” he said. And then, after another look at me, “How many nights?”
“Typical wacko,” my critic said to me, at me. He turned, walked a few steps away and posted himself. When I turned to look at him he trained a contemptuous glare at me.
Here’s the thing. Journalists—actually, I’m just going to single out male journalists here, though our XX-chromosomed companions are by no means universally excluded—are, as a rule, terrible slobs. Even when we look nice, we don’t look great. But Tilove, given his membership of a generally sad-sack cohort, is, I believe, an above-average sartorialist. I would testify to this belief in court.
I walked over to him and asked, “Did I do something to offend you?”
“Yes,” he said. “Breathe.”
My look betrayed my shock, and so he elaborated, just so I would know my shock was not misplaced.
“You are breathing my oxygen.”
Shaken, I walked away. I went into the men’s room and looked in the mirror. I looked pretty much like I always look, my attire no worse than usual.
From such simple encounters do existential crises emerge.
Solidarity to you, Mr. Tilove.
But that’s not even the weirdest thing that happened to Tilove as he tagged along with the Abbott campaign. In Abilene, Tilove meets a woman named Renee Higgins and her two friends. Comes the question: Fellas, what do you think about things?
“I didn’t have a problem with the liberals until this past six years and I’m sick and tired of everybody saying this is racism and this is not politically correct and I want to tell you, in my opinion, until we put God back in our schools, our homes and our government and our country, we are going to be under judgment,” Hayes said.
Sounds good. Renee, what did you ask General Abbott? A query about West Texas’ water infrastructure needs, perhaps? A critique of his higher education plan? An appeal against high-stakes testing?
Higgins also asked Abbott a second question, about reports she heard of the convicted pedophile murderer in a local prison “who wanted an eight-year-old little boy as his last meal.” “I said to him, ‘Is this a for-real deal, surely they wouldn’t do it,’” and he’s like, ‘No way that’s going to happen.’”
And she said it on camera:
We may not know much about the kind of governor Greg Abbott is going to be, but thanks to the diligent citizen journalism of Madam Higgins, we can say this much: He has taken a strong and decisive stand against cannibal pedophiles.
3) Elsewhere in Frisco news, here’s state Rep. Pat Fallon, whose most notable achievement in public life is a law which allows teachers to say “Merry Christmas,” telling a joke about how Wendy Davis is going to hell:
4) Up in Senate District 10, Democrat Libby Willis, in a tough fight with tea party organizer Konnie Burton for Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former Senate seat, has a new mailer out. It’s a great one. Here it is:
This, Willis boldy declares, is her vision for Texas’ future. In these hale and hearty fellows, we see the full flowering of the Democratic project here in Texas, in a way few candidates have been able to effectively communicate.
These obviously healthy guys have benefited enormously from improved access to health care across the state—they’re in tip-top shape. Policies that enable Texans to reap the rewards of our economic boom while building a social safety net have given these fine folks more disposable income, which they’ve spent on accessories and decorations, which in turn feeds the economy. The shirtlessness conveys a carefree and easy-going feeling. And yet at the heart of it, they embrace nominally conservative concepts and language so central to the state’s DNA, like “freedom,” and “marriage.”
The result: A happy, friendly, fun-loving state. Very well done, Willis campaign. Let’s flip it over:
Oh. Wait—I don’t understand. Willis didn’t do it? What do Homosexual-Americans have to do with this?
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announces his run for governor in San Antonio, July 14, 2013.
Of all the ways politicians can abuse their power, none is as serious as messing with voting rights. Corruption is troubling and can become endemic if left unchecked. Lying, especially under oath, weakens the bonds of trust in a democracy. Cronyism violates basic rules of fairness and leads to inefficiency in core government services. But tampering with the franchise is an offense against democracy itself. That’s why Greg Abbott’s successful efforts to shut down a voter registration campaign in Harris County are so troubling. Although the saga started unfolding four years ago, it only came to light in August, when The Dallas Morning News reported details of the criminal investigation and raid. I recently spoke with Fred Lewis, the man who headed up the voter registration drive and who is now accusing Abbott of a serious abuse of power. The effect, he said, has been to “criminalize” voter registration in order to “rally up the base.”
To briefly recap: In the run-up to the 2010 election, the tea party poll-watching group King Street Patriots began complaining about a voter-fraud conspiracy in Houston, linking ACORN, the New Black Panther Party and a new voter registration drive by Houston Votes, an offshoot of Lewis’ community organizing group Texans Together. In more innocent times, registering people to vote was seen as a dull but laudatory civic activity. But King Street Patriots saw a conspiracy, a threat. And, more importantly, so did Leo Vasquez, the Republican elected official in Harris County who oversaw the voter rolls at the time.
At a very unusual press conference in August 2010, Vasquez announced—alongside representatives from the King Street Patriots—that Houston Votes was behind an “organized and systematic attack” on the integrity of the voter rolls. Vasquez complained that many of the voter applications submitted by Houston Votes were duplicates or for people who had already registered—an almost universal feature of paid registration drives that rarely results in voter fraud. In any case, it turned out that Vasquez’s claim of 5,000 bogus applications was fancifully high. Nonetheless, Vasquez referred the case to the Texas attorney general’s office for an investigation.
Three months later, armed law enforcement officers dispatched by the AG’s office raided the Houston Votes office in Houston, and, two weeks later, hit Fred Lewis’ office at the Baptist Christian Life Commission headquarters in Austin, seizing computers and records. The raids were overseen by a 27-year-old investigator who developed a novel legal theory that Houston Votes had possibly committed felony identity theft by storing information collected from individuals in the course of registering them to vote. In October 2011, the investigation fizzled when the Harris County DA rejected the AG’s case for lack of evidence. Two years later, the AG’s office destroyed Texans Together’s computers and records, using a statute that deals with contraband. Lewis said he was never even notified. Though no charges were ever filed, Houston Votes’ database of new voters, its financial records, including a donor list, and Lewis’ personal files were destroyed.
Lewis, a veteran campaign finance attorney in Texas who founded Texans Together in 2006, said he didn’t even know the AG’s investigation had ended until he was contacted this past August by The Dallas Morning News—two years after the case had collapsed.
Though the case stalled, the armed raid and criminal investigation had an impact: Houston Votes lost its paid organizers, saw its funding crippled and its voter-registration efforts dwindle. Houston Votes had been on track to register 70,000 new voters in 2010, Lewis says. Because of the raid, it registered only about 25,000. Instead of bringing disenfranchised people into the system, the group was lawyering up.
Lewis, who worked as a lawyer at the attorney general’s office from 1989 to 1995, said he has warned colleagues to not even think about trying paid voter registration in Harris County. “They’ve criminalized voter registration in my view,” Lewis said.
Abbott has defended the investigation but also said he “didn’t know about it at the time it was going on.” The attorney general also strongly insinuated—despite the dead-end investigation—that Houston Votes had engaged in “some wrongdoing that was akin to ACORN-type political operations.”
Lewis said the episode suggests that either people at the top of the AG’s office wanted to shut down a voter registration drive or that the people running the investigation were zealots operating without supervision. “The problem was nobody was a professional, nobody was supervised, nobody said, ‘This is ridiculous, this is overkill, this is abuse, this is a bad precedent, this is not what we want to do in a democracy.’”
Texas has the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Is it any wonder why?
Democratic nominee for comptroller at a campaign event with Tejano legend Little Joe, October 24, 2014.
Update: Last week, the Observer sat down with Democrat Mike Collier to talk about his candidacy for state comptroller. Collier, a veteran accountant, is in a race with state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) for control of an office that plays a crucial role in the state’s budgeting process. The Observer asked both candidates to sit for a Q&A, but Hegar’s campaign didn’t reply to our request.
In the interview, Collier spoke about the poor performance of the state’s current comptroller, Susan Combs, and the importance of producing reliable revenue forecasts for the Legislature to use while creating budgets. “We’re a very large, very prosperous state,” Collier said. “But for some reason we can’t seem to find the money for roads, schools, and water.”
Collier has proposed producing quarterly revenue forecasts, which would make it easier for the comptroller’s office and Legislature to adjust to changing economic conditions. More accurate revenue forecasting, he says, would provide the Legislature with more money to invest in the state without raising taxes.
He also spoke about the need to correct dysfunction in the state’s property tax system, where owners of commercial and industrial properties pay artificially low property taxes, shifting the state’s tax burden to homeowners.
“It’s patently unfair to homeowners and owners of small businesses,” Collier said. But attempts to fix the system have always met a quick death in the lege, where monied interests hold sway. If he’s elected, Collier says he’ll “be fiercely independent and call to people’s attention where these bills stand.” In the past, Hegar has helped kill tax reform bills.
Collier also said that the comptroller should act more assertively as a watchdog over public funds. “We have a pattern in Texas where the leaders at the very top can dole out this money and act like they’re above the law,” he said. “A big part of that problem lands at the feet of the comptroller.”
The comptroller’s office, he said, should be shorn of ownership of the Major Events Trust Fund and other marginal responsibilities so that the comptroller can maintain his or her narrow focus on sound financial policy.
Previous story: The comptroller’s debate last night was a pretty rare thing in the crazy tilt-a-whirl of this election cycle—it was substantive, contained serious but civil disagreements between two generally well-informed and earnest candidates, and illuminated real policy distinctions that are both important and little-discussed in the state’s public sphere. Compared to the rest of the debates and candidate forums we’ve seen over the last year, it might as well have been a unicorn convention.
In part, that’s because almost no one in the state is paying attention to the comptroller’s race. That’s unfortunate, because it is a hugely influential and important position. The comptroller provides the Legislature with an estimate of how much money the state can spend over each two-year cycle. If the comptroller bungles the estimate, legislators will either spend too much money or, as has happened under the tenure of incumbent Susan Combs, will make sweeping cuts to state government they didn’t have to make. (Combs is partially responsible for the gargantuan cuts in 2011 to the state’s public education system, which proved to be essentially unnecessary.)
And that lack of attention is unfortunate for Democrat Mike Collier, because it’s hard to see how many people could watch his debate with state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) and come away with the impression that Hegar deserves the state’s purse strings more than he. Collier, a former partner at the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, is an ideal technocrat: He’s passionate about good government and good accounting, and he lacks political ambition. Hegar was a so-so senator who doesn’t have much of a plan for the office.
The moderator of last night’s debate asked how Collier and Hegar would avoid the kind of foul-ups Combs has had. How would they come up with better revenue estimates? Collier said he’d provide quarterly revenue forecasts, which would help the office more nimbly adjust to economic conditions and give observers a better sense of whether he was doing a good job. He had decades of experience with revenue forecasts, he said.
Combs’ failure was so massive and so inexplicable, he said, that he “personally believes it’s a possibility” that she screwed up the revenue forecasts on purpose to squeeze state government. The office needed an apolitical hand on the till. “We need somebody in the office who knows what they’re doing,” he said, which in Texas is a virtually revolutionary statement. He’d be a “watchdog” that would use the office’s authority to beat back corruption in different crannies of state government.
How would Hegar make sure he wasn’t botching revenue forecasts? Well, he would travel around the state and talk to businessmen, to “get the pulse” of the state, in order to better understand Texas’ “economic vibe.” He’d use “21st century communication technologies,” including YouTube, to spread the word about the comptroller’s office. Well, OK.
Collier called for closing “loopholes” relating to the tax assessment of large industrial and commercial properties, which shifts the state’s tax burden to homeowners. Hegar said a broader fix was necessary, but couldn’t say much about what that fix would be.
Collier brought up Hegar’s proposal to abolish property taxes, and replace them with sales taxes—an idea that few policy analysts take seriously but has nonetheless won favor with state GOPers, including lt. governor nominee Dan Patrick. Collier characterized Hegar’s proposal as “tripling sales taxes.” Hegar angrily denied wanting to do so, but then told his TV audience that “consumption taxes are the best method of collection,” seeming to indicate he’d be fine with a shift toward them.
Collier, like his Democratic ticket-mates Sam Houston, running for attorney general, and Leticia Van de Putte, nominee for lt. governor, have won every major newspaper endorsement in the state. Collier projects competence and practicality—Hegar projects ideology and ambition. In a more civically engaged state, Collier would at least have a shot at comptroller. But this is Texas, and the odds are stacked significantly against him.
Still, Collier has been putting in a performance he can be proud of as one of the punchiest members of the Democrats’ good-government ticket. “It’s almost comical that a career politician would lecture a 30-year businessman about job creation,” Collier said of Hegar in his closing statement. Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up one day next year and know the man keeping the state’s books knew what he was doing? “We’re all tired of politics and we’re all tired of politicians,” he added.
Wendy Davis speaks at her gubernatorial campaign announcement October 3 in Haltom City.
If Wendy Davis and the rest of the Democratic slate of statewide candidates have any chance of defying the polls, or even doing better than the disastrous (for Dems) year of 2010, they’ll probably need a large number of voters to turn out to the polls. We’ve written this story many, manytimes: The Achilles’ heel for Texas Democrats is that their voters don’t show up. Texas has some of the worst voter turnout numbers in the nation and that abounds perpetually to the Republicans’ advantage. This election cycle was supposed to start changing that. A year and a half ago, Battleground Texas—the hyped Obama-style grassroots machine—came here promising to launch a multi-year effort at rebuilding the Democratic apparatus largely by expanding the electorate and deepening engagement with neglected communities and constituencies, especially with Latinos.
Well, we’re more than a week into early voting. How are Davis and Battleground Texas doing? It’s probably still too early to reach any definitive conclusions but the tentative answer so far is that turnout does not look all that different from 2010, the last mid-term election and a horrible year for Texas Democrats, when Bill White lost by 13 points to Rick Perry and Republicans won so many seats that they secured a super-majority in the Texas House.
The total number of people voting early barely tops 2010. Despite a bump in registered voters and significant population growth, only about 16,000 more people have voted in the first nine days of early voting this year compared to the last mid-term in 2010.
The conventional wisdom is that’s bad for Democrats, though the Davis campaign says there’s reason for “cautious optimism.”
“Of course higher turnout is generally better,” said Jeff Rotkoff, a Democratic operative who advises Steve and Amber Mostyn, the Houston couple who are among the biggest donors to Texas Democrats. “But counties don’t vote. People do. In Harris County we’re not focused on the overall percentage turnout, but rather on who is voting. And that while it looks like Republicans carried the first week of early voting in person, that we carried the weekend and Monday.”
Battleground Texas says its volunteers knocked on the doors of 300,000 people over the weekend alone. “We’re encouraged by the support we’ve seen to date, and we expect our voters to increasingly make their voices heard at the ballot box as they continue to hear from our 33,000 grassroots supporters on the phones and at the doors,” said Jenn Brown, executive director for Battleground.
In Texas’ 15 most populous counties, voter turnout (the percentage of registered voters making it to the polls) so far is actually down by almost 6 percent, compared to 2010. And that gap has been growing with every day. A number of big urban counties are posting anemic numbers: Dallas, Bexar, Travis and El Paso all have lower voter turnout than four years ago. Perhaps most ominously, 5,000 to 8,000 fewer voters are showing up to the polls every day in Harris County, the state’s biggest county and a natural target for progressives looking to establish an anchor for statewide candidates.
In 2010, 13.5 percent of registered voters had cast a vote at this point; this year, it’s about 12.7 percent. Democrats are quick to point out that the number of registered voters has increased, but even by raw vote totals Harris County, which is now 70 percent minority, is in a sad way. In 2010, a little under 295,000 people had voted in the first eight days of early voting; in 2014, it’s dropped 15 percent, to 252,000.
Democrats say just focusing on turnout is simplistic. “In Harris County we’re not focused on the overall percentage turnout, but rather on who is voting,” Rotkoff said.
Battleground Texas says its internal analysis shows that the electorate consists of more Democratic-leaning voters. Through Monday, African-Americans made up .8 percent more of the early vote electorate compared to 2010. Hispanics made up 2.2 percent more.
Meanwhile, there are major parts of the state where voter turnout is looking good: Tarrant (Fort Worth), Collin, Denton and Hidalgo (Rio Grande Valley) are all posting double-digit gains, which may have a lot to do with local dynamics. In Fort Worth, the only truly competitive state Senate seat—Wendy Davis’ district—is up for grabs. Denton voters are deciding whether to ban fracking. And Hidalgo County voters are considering a hospital district. Collin County, which has seen a 22 percent increase in the number of voters, is one of the most hardcore suburban GOP counties in the state. On the other hand, turnout is down in the heavily GOP suburban counties of Williamson and Montgomery.
“The data isn’t 100 percent clear, but it is clear that turnout seems to be lagging,” said Karl-Thomas Musselman, an Austin-based Democratic political consultant, “and I think it’s helping Rs more than Ds.”
There are three more days of early voting left, including today, as well as Election Day. Perhaps turnout could surge. Perhaps the GOTV efforts we’ve heard so much about are paying dividends that are hard to discern in the public data. But at this point, statewide Democrats will probably need a turnout miracle to keep the dream alive.
Wendy Davis speaks to students at the University of Texas at Austin, October 27, 2014.
On the campus of the University of Texas at Austin today, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis urged a packed room of students to vote and to help her campaign turn out voters. The rally comes as spotty turnout numbers during the first week of early voting have called into question Democrats’ ability to turn out enough voters to make an impact on Election Day, only a week away.
At the rally, Davis told students that her opponent, Greg Abbott, would “shortchange the future of the state.” Davis ran through her campaign’s core arguments—Abbott only cared about his “insider buddies,” and hadn’t used his office to protect the state’s citizens. She highlighted Abbott’s defense of school funding cuts, and told the crowd she would try to win an increase in the minimum wage, increased access to health care, and equal pay laws for women.
“I know very much who I am. I know very much where I come from. It is deeply embedded in me,” she told the crowd. “I am a fighter for people.”
With Davis’ campaign behind in most polls, Democrats have to turn out a large number of unlikely voters to make an impact this cycle. But turnout in the first week of early voting has been low. Davis and other Democrats are traveling the state, hoping to excite their core constituencies.
At Monday’s rally, Davis predicted that young voters would “lift us across the finish line.” She told the young crowd that her campaign “need[s] your help in this next eight days. I need you to make sure that no one stays home. I need you to talk to your friends about the fact that not voting is voting to keep the status quo.”
Afterward, Davis told members of the press that her campaign was in a “place of momentum,” and boasted of her campaign’s “32,000 volunteers.” She blasted recent polls, including one from the Texas Tribune that gave Abbott a 16 point lead, as “internet polls” that were “wildly inaccurate” and didn’t reflect the true state of the race. “The real poll is taking place right now,” she said. “The momentum is going to continue through this week of early voting.”
When a reporter pointed out that turnout has been flat so far—the state’s major population centers have seen fewer voters take advantage of the first week of early voting than in 2010—Davis said the campaign had evidence that “our voters are increasing. And they’re a greater percentage of the overall vote.”
When another reporter pressed her for the source of that belief, Davis said the campaign’s models and data operation showed a more Democratic-favorable electorate coming to the polls. “We’re very encouraged by what we’re seeing in those numbers,” she said. “More people who are inclined to vote for me are showing up and voting.”
She continued to hit Abbott hard on ethics, as she has for much of the campaign. On Abbott’s mishandling of materials relating to the Texas Enterprise Fund, she told a reporter that Abbott “has shown himself to be a dishonest person,” she said, adding that she would fight for “accountability” in office.
I don’t know about you but I’m already terrified of the next crisis. I don’t know what it is, but it’s probably going to be really, really scary—like, scarier than the current crisis. Which is Ebola, right? Or is it ISIS coming across the border bearing Urdu dictionaries, prayer rugs/soccer jerseys and, let’s say, also Ebola? Or is it:
O B A M A C A R E
N O T N I C E
Or are we still terrified of those leprous illegals from Central America who came here to steal jobs/spread disease? I haven’t heard much about those kids (who aren’t really kids) lately so that probably means they’re up to no good and Obama is covering it up. The point is: Be scared. Be afraid. See you at the polls.
1) First of all: communists. We all know they’re out there… biding their time till they can get into the Texas House of Representatives and join forces with Speaker Joe Straus. Democrat, Republican, doesn’t matter. Communism is on the march, no more so than in House District 149, an ethnically diverse slice of suburban Houston currently represented by Democrat Hubert Vo, whose communist leanings include owning dilapidated apartment complexes with “leaky ceiling, rats and high energy bills.”
His opponent, Republican businessman Al Hoang, according to Vo supporters, might also be a communist. And communists do what communists do: Grab the nearest boxcutter.
The rough-and-tumble campaign for state representative in District 149 escalated as police arrested a campaign supporter for Republican candidate Al Hoang for allegedly threatening his opponent’s supporter with a boxcutter.
On Monday afternoon, a Hoang campaign volunteer, Peter Vo, reportedly brandished a boxcutter at an early voting location and cut through a banner that called Hoang a Communist. That’s quite the insult in this southwest Houston district, which is slightly under 20 percent Vietnamese. The campaigns have accused each other of not being sufficiently anti-Communist.
2) Also scaring the tar out of us this week every week: What else? Muslims. Jeffrey Swindoll is a young man who attends Baylor University and covers sports for the Baylor Lariat. He doesn’t like “politically correct” because it isn’t “always right.” It’s not right, he writes, for everyone to go around “defending Islam” by pointing out that the vast majority of Muslims are not violent jihadists. Swindoll is taking the fight to political correctness with an arsenal of mixed metaphors:
There are a lot of problems with the national discussion about the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (also referred to as ISIS or ISIL), terrorism, and Islam as a whole. The majority of those problems come from non-Muslims that are bending over backwards to defend Islam without a leg to stand on.
Which sounds like one hell of a yoga move.
Unfortunately, Obama isn’t interested in addressing the reality of Islam. He’s more interested in making the American worldview a liberal pipe dream. Liberals are using one hand to throw Christianity out of the window while using the other hand to pull out the chair for Islam to sit at the head of the table. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Guess who’s coming to dinner? Islam, that’s who. Liberals, they’ve only got good manners when terrorists are guests. It doesn’t make sense.
Swindoll cites several verses from the Quran to prove, definitively, that Muslims are violent extremists and complains that followers of Islam have a “literal” interpretation of their holy book. Meanwhile, at Baylor, professors must be Christian (or Jewish!) and students are expected to share the “conviction that truth has its ultimate source in God and by a Baptist heritage…” But, hey, God picked a hell of a football team.
3) This week, we also quivered (in a non-sexual kind of way) at the thought of Gays in the Military, led by (shocker!) Louie Gohmert. The East Texas statesman was on the radio this week glitter-bombing us with his wisdom:
“I’ve had people say, ‘Hey, you know, there’s nothing wrong with gays in the military. Look at the Greeks,'” he said. “Well, you know, they did have people come along who they loved that was the same sex and would give them massages before they went into battle. But you know what, it’s a different kind of fighting, it’s a different kind of war and if you’re sitting around getting massages all day ready to go into a big, planned battle, then you’re not going to last very long.”
You’re not going to last very long when you’re getting a gay back massage. OK, Louie. Time to set the “Days Since Louie Has Said Something Hilarious” sign back to zero.
4) We were also frightened by juries of our peers this week. Here’s proof that there’s merit to the old tough-guy boast “I’d rather be carried by six than judged by 12”: The jury in the re-trial of Ed Graf, a Waco man who spent the last 25 years in prison based on faulty arson science, had a little trouble with the notion of “unanimous”:
The first question from the jury Graf case: How many jurors does it take to reach a unanimous verdict?
5) Most apocalyptic of all though was the revelation of the true face of evil this week. Few people probably remember it, but one of the weirdest and distressingly stupidest moments of the lieutenant governor primary was the sudden emergence of cat GIFs and BuzzFeed-style political ads.
Well, now we have an extensive profile in Bloomberg about the man who introduced Dan Patrick to the Internet Culture. His name is Vincent Harris and he’s a 20-something Austin millennial religious fundamentalist who listens to Lana Del Rey in his BMW while doing 95 on the toll road, man, and is totally on a Paleo diet. #YOLO. He’s getting rich making Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell cool for the Yo set. He’s explaining BuzzFeed to Dan Patrick.
In August 2013, trying to build support for Texas State Senator Dan Patrick as Patrick aimed to knock off David Dewhurst, still the lieutenant governor, in the GOP primary, Harris conjured up the idea of a BuzzFeed spoof that used the Internet’s most popular animal diversions to castigate Dewhurst for not stopping State Senator Wendy Davis’ legendary filibuster against an anti-abortion measure. Patrick, who was initially nervous about whether such an approach would diminish him, was persuaded by Harris to take a gamble that ended up drawing copious press coverage and more than doubled his social media following.
“When he laid that out last August, I didn’t know what BuzzFeed was, I didn’t know what a gif was,” says Patrick, 64. “DewFeed was one of many things we did over the last 14 months. It wasn’t a game changer. It didn’t decide the election. Did it help? I think so. It’s hard to know.”
Dan Patrick, talk-radio show guy who once had a vasectomy performed on the air and was filmed shirtless while Houston Oilers cheerleaders painted him in blue, thought maybe it was maybe going too far. LOL. OMG. What’s next? Patrick’s plan to hike the sales tax explained with a Buzzfeed quiz? Patrick’s latest tete-a-tete with God over legislation disseminated via Snapchat?
And Harris isn’t done. He’s got a whole generation of bright minds working at his downtown office using their talents to turn complex geopolitical machinations and weighty electoral choices into trivial memes:
In one corner, a young woman ponders how to turn a remark over the weekend by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in support of Hamas and Hezbollah into a gif that will help drive traffic to an advocacy group’s Facebook page. Nearby, a co-worker puts the finishing touches on a classic Concentration-style game in which each matching pair of cards offers a way Alison Lundergan Grimes agrees with President Obama.
When fascism comes to America it will be wearing a .
Leticia Van de Putte addresses a crowd of students at the University of Texas-Pan American, October 23, 2014.
At a campaign event in Edinburg on Thursday, Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Leticia Van de Putte—with a little help from actress Eva Longoria—made a strong and pointed pitch to a cohort that will be an important factor in whether Democrats put up a strong showing on Nov. 4: young voters of the Rio Grande Valley.
For decades, predominantly Hispanic communities in South Texas have had some of the lowest voter participation rates in the country, and hopes for a Democratic revival in the state are premised partially on raising those rates. On the campus of the University of Texas–Pan American, Van de Putte, along with a number of other speakers, made a multi-pronged argument for the Democratic ticket.
There was the positive case: More civic engagement would help the Valley—the area needed good government to keep growing, and Van de Putte told the crowd of mostly students that she would convince the Legislature to spend more on education and infrastructure.
But Van de Putte also hit her opponent Dan Patrick directly. At a rally the night before in San Antonio, Van de Putte’s mother had been in attendance. “My mom always told me, ‘Leticia, if you can’t say anything nice about somebody, then don’t say anything at all,’” Van de Putte told the Edinburg crowd. “But my mom’s not here.”
Patrick, Van de Putte said, stood for the “past.” He had voted for and supported cuts to education funding, and his rhetoric on the border represented policy preferences that were a threat to the future and stability of South Texas. When Van de Putte told the crowd that one of Patrick’s first acts in office would be to end in-state tuition for undocumented migrants, there was a round of boos from the students. UTPA has a significant number of undocumented students.
Afterwards, Van de Putte spoke to local media and again criticized Patrick’s attitude toward the region. Patrick had ”only been here one or two times,” she said, to “take a picture of him in a gunboat. He understands that to get votes in his primary, he has to insult our families, our culture.”
Earlier this year, Democrats were excited about the prospect of running against Dan Patrick, whose extraordinarily strange and alienating rhetoric during his GOP primary run seemed to present the possibility of being too far-right even for Texas. So far, that hope hasn’t seemed to materialize—most recent polls have Patrick considerably ahead of Van de Putte, doing even better, relatively, than Greg Abbott in his race. But Democrats still hope Patrick excites Hispanic turnout and alienates some number of moderate Republicans.
There was another warning for the students on Thursday. Eva Longoria and Henry R. Muñoz III, co-founders of the Texas-focused Latino Victory, both told students at the rally that “’they’ don’t want you to vote.” Republicans like Patrick were counting on young and Hispanic voters to stay home. “They” might talk about inclusion, and in the importance of voter participation, but they didn’t really care. It served as an implicit criticism of Patrick as well as Abbott, who has been campaigning in the Rio Grande Valley in an effort to bolster the GOP’s Hispanic vote share.
Afterwards, Van de Putte and Longoria worked a ropeline together, and the campaign headed for Corpus Christi, where Abbott had been campaigning with Chuck Norris just the day before. If you needed yet another way to distinguish between the Democratic and Republican tickets this November, there you have it: It’s the Chuck Norris slate vs. the Eva Longoria slate.