A team of Harvard researchers recently released a deeply sobering study quantifying how many Americans stand to die needlessly in the unflinching states hellbent on denying Medicaid expansion, as provided by the Affordable Care Act. The study singles out Texas:

“In Texas, the largest state opting out of Medicaid expansion, 2,013,025 people who would otherwise have been insured will remain uninsured due to the opt-out decision. We estimate that Medicaid expansion in that state would have resulted in 184,192 fewer depression diagnoses, 62,610 fewer individuals suffering catastrophic medical expenditures, and between 1,840 and 3,035 fewer deaths.”

Crunching the numbers, the study suggests that Texas could bear almost 18 percent of a potential 17,104 unnecessary deaths nationwide. The figures are stark, damning, and presented with dispassionate and clinical precision—and yes, the study was quickly subjected to right-wing critics arguing the math.

But neither this thoroughly newsworthy study nor scrutiny of it have earned much attention in the Texas media. Perhaps it will come. More likely, reporters will remain transfixed by horserace coverage of the upcoming November election, as exemplified by Wayne Slater’s mid-January “gotcha” in The Dallas Morning News about how Wendy Davis “blurred” the truth, having lived “only a few months” in the mobile home her official biography describes. (The Huffington Post has a brilliant takedown of that tempest-in-a-teapot by Jim Moore, Slater’s former colleague in Texas.)

Slater’s current colleague at the Morning News, Bob Garrett, has at least written about the financial repercussions, if not the life-and-death ones, of Rick Perry’s abject refusal to bend on his anti-expansion stance, noting that the state stands to lose billions by refusing to expand Medicaid.

Just one or two mainstream Texas outlets have tried to put a human face on the issue. In late January, the San Antonio Express-News wrote about Irma Aguilar, a mother of four who earns $9 an hour at her no-health-insurance job at Pizza Hut. Because she makes a whopping $19,200 a year, by Texas rules she is unable to secure the Medicaid benefits that would help offset the $80,000 in emergency-room care costs she’s accumulated over the past two years, including an uncovered surgery to remove her gallbladder.

Meanwhile, Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Marsha Shuler had an interesting tidbit in her February story about former Louisiana State University System Vice President Fred Cerise being hired as CEO of Dallas’ massive Parkland Memorial Hospital:

“A former state health secretary, Cerise has been an outspoken supporter of Medicaid expansion, which would provide government health insurance to Louisiana’s working poor. Gov. Bobby Jindal has rejected the expansion.”

Makes you wonder how Rick Perry, who out-flanks Jindal from the right, might feel about Cerise’s imminent arrival.

A doctor of internal medicine who recently locked horns with Louisiana lawmakers over their disemboweling of that state’s charity hospital system has now been put in charge of the hospital where Dallas resident George W. Bush, if he were sick and couldn’t afford health insurance, would likely seek treatment—alongside the roughly 15,000 women who go to Parkland every year to give birth (more babies are born in Parkland each year than at any other hospital in America). Parkland’s new CEO adds to a near consensus among Texas hospital administrators—people who daily see the realities imposed by poverty and lack of health insurance—in favor of Medicaid expansion.

If the new opt-out study is to be believed, Texas’ infamous history of resisting federal directives promises more deadly consequences. It might be a good idea for the state’s media to do more stories about the thousands of folks like Irma Aguilar who fall between the coverage cracks, and to let readers know where knowledgeable players like Cerise stand on the issue.

Maybe Cerise, administering a heavyweight public hospital in Dallas, can help drum up the kind of political resistance among his administrative brethren that can persuade Perry to see the light of reason. Maybe that’s a story to poke at, prod, investigate and editorialize about.

Millions of Texas’ poor people remain uninsured, and their stories remain underreported. Maybe we’ll get to read about them when their families start placing the obituaries.

Where in the World is Rick Perry? CPAC Edition

Perry may be mostly done with governing, but his talk on sentencing reform is good news for everybody.
Rick Perry
Patrick Michels
Governor Rick Perry.

It’s funny how little you hear about Rick Perry anymore, even in Texas. His last legislative session is behind him, and in less than a year’s time he’ll be handing over the keys to the governor’s mansion after a fifteen-year lease. (Well, if you set aside the business with the molotov cocktail.) He’s gone from coyote-killer to lame duck, and all eyes are on his likely successors.

But he’s still here—still governing—and he’s still toying with the idea of running for president. Maybe he doesn’t have a chance, but maybe that’s not part of his calculus. Even a moderately competent presidential run would be a better nightcap on his career in public life than the—well, you know. The “Oops” business. If he does well enough, he might be a suitable VP candidate for a nominee who needs more deep-fried credentials with the base. And failed GOP presidential candidates who win renown with conservatives often cash in for lucrative paychecks: for their campaign assets, future media appearances, and speaking engagements.

Whatever his reason for running, he still seems to be setting it up. And he’s clearly trying to reinvent himself—starting with his Warby Parker-fied hipster glasses. His recent trip to Davos showed a new side to Perry, comfortable, he’d like to seem, among the world’s powerful and moneyed classes. Neo-Perry, if you will. And to that end he’s been making some noises that seem at odds with Perry the younger, the fellow who came to power in 2000. In Davos, he talked up criminal sentencing reform, adding that states should be allowed to experiment with marijuana decriminalization and legalization.

That brings us to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where Perry spoke Friday. The conference is a major event on the Republican calendar, and it attracts politicians and activists from all across the country. By all accounts, Perry got a rapturous reception. Politico attests that he “delivered one of the best-received speeches” at the conference so far, “bringing the audience to its feet and eliciting loud cheers.”

The speech was quintessential Perry, chock full of passion and red meat. “Let the sleeping giant of American prosperity create prosperity again,” he exorted. “You are the path to the future—a light on the distant shore. You represent a renewed hope that America can be great again,” he told the crowd, nearly shouting, to a din of rapturous applause.

But it was afterward, when Perry joined a panel on criminal sentencing reform that included Grover Norquist and former NYPD commissioner (and felon) Bernie Kerik that he really distinguished himself—bragging, unusually, not on Texas’ economic success but on steps the state had made to reform its prison system.

“We shut a prison down last year. You want to talk about a real conservative government? Shut prisons down,” Perry said. “Save money. That’s what can happen with drug courts.”

Perry, of course, has increasingly little ability to influence policy in the state. But as a trusted figure in the conservative movement who can advocate in support of sentencing reform, a movement that might be otherwise associated with the widely-loathed (among conservatives) U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, he could do a great deal of good for the country. It would be a fitting last act.

WTF Friday: Vote or Die

Jim Hogan
Jim Hogan, man of the people

Here at WTF Friday, we’re always on the hunt for fresh deposits of political oddities. So we love the Texas primary. This Tuesday’s primary provided our richest vein of bizarro-ore in many months, so let us begin with a special WTF Friday shout-out to: the Texas electorate.

There’s the Democratic side, where state Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte won their nominations. Apart from that, a whole lotta not-much. In the agriculture commissioner race, a pothead troubadour hawking his line of merchandise is set to face Jim Hogan in a runoff. Who’s Jim Hogan? “Most people don’t know who anyone is,” he told the Tribune. We can never truly know each other, it seems. But Jim Hogan knows who Jim Hogan is, and that’s something.

“When I called Democrats and told them I was gonna be on the ticket first thing they said was, ‘How long you been in politics?’ I said, ‘I’m not no politician.’ They said, ‘Let me tell you something: It takes a lot of money to win a state race and you can’t win.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you something, y’all haven’t won since 1994.’”

Hogan spent less than $5,000 on his race, and didn’t campaign. That’s why he won, he says. You can’t actually campaign and expect to win, in this day and age.

“My motto is: My phone and Internet can outrun any jet plane or car across the state of Texas. I don’t have to be there.”

“All you gotta do is Google my name—’jim hogan ag commissioner’—and there’s enough on there.”

Hogan cleaned the clock of both the guy with name recognition (Kinky) and the guy with resources (Fitzsimons.) So maybe he’s on to something. Hogan/Hogan 2016?

In the Senate, the dentist with deep pockets, David Alameel, seems like he’ll win his runoff. But for the next two months, Kesha Rogers, perennial candidate and Lyndon LaRouche cultist, will be nipping at his heels. Here’s what she had to say in her election night statement:

The global monetary system is still hopelessly bankrupt, and in a vain attempt to perpetuate the power structure of “Too Big To Fail/Jail”, is pushing its crony politicians directly into conflicts that pose thermonuclear Armageddon. [...] We must revive the Hamiltonian system of federal credit, to launch the next generation of great projects, in space exploration and defense, controlled thermonuclear fusion energy, and the North American Water and Power Alliance XXI.

Then, of course, there’s the Republican slate, where “moderates” once again received a relentless beat-down. Dan Patrick is catapulting over David Dewhurst to high office: He attributed his victory time and time again, in his speech, to God’s will—“I’m never surprised by the will of God, or the will of the people”—then accidentally quoted a Reagan speech talking about the greatness of immigration after running the most anti-immigrant political campaign in recent memory.

There’s the GOP ag commissioner runoff, where Sid Miller, whose campaign treasurer is noted moneyman Ted Nugent, won the plurality of the vote while the farmer placed fifth in an essentially four-way race. And Miller told the Houston Chronicle he’s keeping Nugent on board.

“Nobody seems to talk about the good the man does,” Miller said of the man who brags about statutory rape.

But there’s WTFery far and wide this week—not just in the primaries. Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Humble) tried to a move a bill that would facilitate U.S. natural gas exports to Europe amid the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. Whenever the idea comes up, Poe reaches into his deep reserve of experience in the region. (He was reported to say this yesterday, but this version comes from a September transcript of a similar hearing.)

“I was in the Ukraine when the Russians cut off the gas in the winter, and they cut it off for political reasons, and I can tell you it was cold.”

Then there’s tea partier Peter Morrison, treasurer of the Hardin County GOP. Morrison runs a newsletter called “The Peter Morrison Report,” and he can’t understand why any of you think this primary cycle was a good one for the tea party (It was.)

After last night’s election results, many of you in the Tea Party or associated movements may be somewhat discouraged.

The movement didn’t get everything it wanted, it seemed. Cornyn is still in office, for example. To an outsider, it may appear as if the tea party has been relentlessly, painstakingly efficient in purging the GOP of moderates and slowly appropriating the institutions of the state to further a political agenda that they would never be able to achieve in the full light of day, with the participation of all voters. Morrison is against that kind of stuff. Well, it’s more that he wishes his movement was better at it.

The Marxists have one thing we can admire: their long-term orientation. The Cultural Marxists who infiltrated the West did not delude themselves with the idea that they would achieve a bloody revolution overnight. They committed themselves to a “long march through the institutions” of our society, determined to undermine the Christian, Anglo-American bedrock of this country from within.

Fight fire with fire, Morrison says: “If we want to take our country back, we must have a 50 to 100 year orientation as well.”

The solution, when faced with mounting “demographic changes”—code for a younger, more Hispanic, and poorer electorate—is simple. Strip voting rights away from non-Republicans.

Structurally, we face an enormous challenge with the demographics that will determine our elections in the years to come, making it virtually impossible for Republicans to win the Presidency, and eventually Congress. There are relatively simple fixes for this problem. If we only allowed people who pay taxes to vote, for example, we would solve our problem.

Let alone the fact that everyone in America pays taxes—if you buy a shirt, you’ve paid taxes—expect to see the idea that fewer people should vote gain more currency with true believers as the Republican Party contends with long-term shifts that it can’t quite seem to come to grips with. That’s not fun or funny, but there it is. WTF.

The Last Two Rural Abortion Clinics in Texas Close

A third of Texas' abortion clinics have now closed due to HB 2, including remaining clinics in the Rio Grande Valley and East Texas.
Pro-choice protesters chant outside the Senate chamber
Patrick Michels
Pro-choice protesters chant outside the Senate chamber minutes before lawmakers sent House Bill 2 to Gov. Perry's desk.

Following the legalization of abortion in 1973, the first abortion clinic to open in Texas was in the small town of McAllen. Today, after serving women from the Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico for more than forty years, the McAllen clinic closed for good. Another clinic in Beaumont that had provided abortions to women from East Texas and Louisiana also closed its doors today. The two clinics were the last ones remaining in rural Texas.

Whole Woman’s Health, a network of abortion facilities that operates both the McAllen and Beaumont clinics, cited in a statement the “burdensome and medically unnecessary hurdles places by Texas legislators in House Bill 2” for the closures.

Specifically, Whole Woman’s Health points to a clause in HB 2 that requires all abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Doctors who were unable to gain admitting privileges from their local hospitals because of bureaucratic obstacles or local politics stopped providing abortions on October 31, when portions of the bill went into effect. Overnight, 14 of Texas’ 36 abortion clinics ceased serving patients.

Neither the McAllen nor the Beaumont clinics could gain privileges at local hospitals and so haven’t provided abortions since November. Instead, they have provided follow-up care to women who’d previously had abortions at the clinic, or who had induced abortions themselves.

With today’s closures, there are only 20 abortion clinics remaining in Texas, according to Whole Woman’s Health. (Update: Research from RH Reality Check’s Andrea Grimes estimates the current number of open clinics at 25).”Women seeking to terminate a pregnancy must now travel to Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, El Paso or Corpus Christi, a journey that could entail hundreds of miles for patients from the state’s far-flung corners. Whole Woman’s Health noted in a background brief that those most likely to struggle to obtain an abortion now will be low-income women, women of color and rural women. Indeed, more than 22 percent of Beaumont’s population is below the poverty line while McAllen has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States.

“A pre-Roe landscape is now emerging in Texas where your ability to receive abortion care is determined primarily by your socioeconomic class and zip code,” Whole Woman’s Health noted. The Beaumont abortion clinic treated 1,200 women annually while the McAllen facility provided abortions to roughly 1,700 women per year.

Proponents of abortion rights in Texas predict dire health consequences from the closures. “Valley residents who do not have the ability or the means to drive to San Antonio or Corpus Christi [may] take matters in their own hands,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas told the Observer. “Based on what we’ve been hearing from medical providers, women have already been attempting to induce by taking pills and herbs and other home remedies. These could be ineffective or dangerous.”

Amy Hagstrom Miller explained to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last night just how dangerous those practices might be. “People go over the border, they try to get medication to try to self-induce an abortion, and so sometimes they’ll come to us afterwards for an ultrasound to see if they’re still pregnant,” Hagstrom Miller said. “We have seen women putting things into their vagina, trying to dilate their cervix. We’ve seen women asking their partner to beat them, just the same stories we’ve heard pre-Roe. We’ve seen women douching with coke or douching with Lysol. We’ve seen people taking a lot of herbs.”

Meanwhile, the anti-abortion group Texas Alliance For Life, which argued that HB 2 was necessary to improve patient safety, was delighted by the closures. “We are pleased that women will never again receive substandard care from either of these abortion facilities,” said Joe Pojman, Texas Alliance for Life’s director in a press release.

Tonight in McAllen, abortion rights activists including NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, the ACLU of Texas, the Texas Freedom Network and Progress Texas, will rally outside the shuttered clinic to protest the law that brought about these closures.

Meet Jim Hogan, Democratic Mystery Man

Jim Hogan had no money, no campaign and no political experience. So how did he beat Kinky Friedman and Hugh Fitzsimons in the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner?
Jim Hogan
Cleburne Times-Review
Jim Hogan

Some candidates win by working their butts off, shaking hands, kissing babies and speaking to Rotary Clubs. Others prevail by raising and spending more cash. And some, like Jim Hogan, just sit back, relax and wait for God to work a miracle.

Hogan had a lot of folks asking “Who the hell is Jim Hogan?” last night, when the Cleburne insurance salesman placed first in a three-way Democratic primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. He bested Hugh Fitzsimons III and landed in a runoff with Kinky Friedman.

Hogan spent less than $5,000, maintains no campaign website, has never been involved in politics and ran his entire campaign, if you can call it that, from his home computer. Fitzsimons, on the other hand, appeared at events with Wendy Davis, hired professional consultants and produced slick campaign literature. Fitzsimons, a bison farmer from the San Antonio area, spent $40,000 and had more than $85,000 on hand when he lost. He got 23 percent of the vote while Hogan pulled in 39 percent. Kinky came in second with 38 percent.

So how did Hogan do it? Or was it just a fluke, a result of the near anonymity of candidates in the weak Democratic field for almost all statewide offices?

I talked to Hogan today, and he attributes his victory to the Almighty.

“It was a miracle and only God could’ve pulled it off,” he told me. “That doesn’t sell papers and you may think that’s corny but I truly believe it.”

I can understand why God wouldn’t want the atheistic Kinky Friedman representing God’s Party but what about Fitzsimons, who actually campaigned?

Hogan scoffs at the idea that “the Establishment” has anything to teach him.

“When I called Democrats and told them I was gonna be on the ticket first thing they said was, ‘How long you been in politics?’ I said, ‘I’m not no politician.’ They said, ‘Let me tell you something: It takes a lot of money to win a state race and you can’t win.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you something, y’all haven’t won since 1994.’”

And that’s true enough. Democrats have lost every single one of the last 100 or so statewide races since 1994. Hogan thought he’d try something a little different: He wouldn’t really campaign.

“Basically I run on the internet and a phone,” he said. “My motto is: My phone and Internet can outrun any jet plane or car across the state of Texas. I don’t have to be there.”

But how did voters know about him at all? Details about his candidacy only appear in a handful of small-town papers.

“All you gotta do is Google my name—’jim hogan ag commissioner’—and there’s enough on there.”

Hogan says he signed up for the Democratic ticket only because the field was weaker than the Republican slate, which featured five candidates.

“I can’t whup all five of ‘em but I might whup one of ‘em,” he said. “Sign me up!”

To be fair, Hogan has more experience than Kinky Friedman with farm and ranch affairs. He says he’s been involved in agriculture from childhood and ran a dairy farm from 1973 to 2005. Now in the insurance business, Hogan can speak at length about the economics of irrigated agriculture and the functions of the Texas Department of Agriculture. Still, he doesn’t have much of a platform.

“You’ve gotta get in and meet the people, see what’s been going on in the past. It’s just like running a business, you gotta get your hands around it.”\n\nThe reality is that Hogan is precisely the wrong person to be asking for answers to why he won. The Texas Democratic primaries produce all sorts of weird and unexpected results. Kesha Rogers, the LaRouche Democrat who wants to colonize Mars, has won two nominations for Congress and is in a runoff to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November. Wendy Davis lost the primary last night in a number of border counties to political unknown Ray Madrigal.

For years, Gene Kelly, a vanity candidate who refused to give interviews or campaign, would give mainstream Democratic candidates a run for their money. One could go on… Democrats face a Catch-22: Strong candidates typically don’t want to run statewide because they’ll almost certainly lose to a Republican, but weak candidates draw little interest and excitement from the Democratic base. Anecdotally, I asked half a dozen partisan Democrats today who they voted for in the ag race. Not one could remember.

In any case. the Kinky-Hogan runoff will present an interesting choice for Democrats:

Do you vote for the opportunistic joke candidate who appears to be more interested in hawking his merch than actually winning, or the good-natured country boy who hasn’t done any campaigning?

Hogan’s keeping a positive attitude regardless.

“If you don’t win, no big deal, go home.”

The Ascendancy of Dan Patrick

Dan Patrick's blowout victory last night was a surprise to just about everyone but himself and his supporters, who saw in it proof of God's great majesty.
Dan Patrick speaks at his primary election night party in Houston, with his wife, Jan Patrick, behind him. March 4, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Dan Patrick speaks at his primary election night party in Houston, with his wife, Jan Patrick, behind him. March 4, 2014.

There was almost nobody at state Sen. Dan Patrick’s election night party when the good word actually broke. The event, at one of those Houston mega-complexes of interconnected high-rise towers, lacked the warmth of what had been a campaign waged in small meeting rooms with earnest but die-hard activists. Press members lined the back of the room, a few drinking. A projection screen played an episode of “The Voice.” But the few supporters there knew the importance of the numbers that came down at the beginning of a long and strange primary election night: Early voting had split heavily in Patrick’s favor, and against the incumbent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

It was a shock to some election watchers. Many had speculated that Dewhurst would perform well—but not enough to avoid a runoff—with Patrick in second. But their positions were switched, and they stayed that way for the rest of the night. From early vote returns to the end of the night, Patrick’s numbers barely dipped at all, from 43.2 percent to 41.5 percent. But it wasn’t a shock for the gathered faithful. Nor did it surprise the candidate.

“I’m never surprised by the will of God, or the will of the people,” said Patrick, descending from his hotel room, dodging trays of shrimp appetizers and cameramen for a quick chat with the press. His refrain throughout the night: “The glory goes to God.” In fairness, he wasn’t the only one to put his electoral performance on the forces of the almighty—Dewhurst, in a pretty mopey speech, blamed his wonky results on the unseasonably cold weather. Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak tweeted he’d need to write himself a $10 million check to be competitive in the runoff.

Patrick struck a more upbeat tone in his speech, quoting Ronald Reagan as he accepted the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. “‘Can we doubt that only a divine providence placed this land, this island here as a refuge for all people to breathe freedom?’ Well, if Reagan were here tonight with us,” he said, as a woman near me closed her eyes as if in prayer, “he would say, ‘God gave us Texas.’ That’s why people from all over the country are coming to Texas.”

Dan Patrick talks to reporters at his primary election night party in Houston. March 4, 2014.
Dan Patrick talks to reporters at his primary election night party in Houston. March 4, 2014.

How did he secure such an amazing turnout from his conservative base? They came out “because we told them we were a Christian first, a conservative second, and a Republican third,” he said. His performance was evidence of a great truth: “The values found in the Old and the New Testament, the Judeo-Christian ethic that this country was based upon, is what people still yearn for.”

Patrick might have had a messianic certainty about his big night, but observers had been skeptical. That’s partly because the past couple weeks had been bumpy for Patrick. Sure, polls were confirming what many had speculated: that Patrick and Dewhurst, who’s been creaking his way through debates and tea party meetings like an aging battleship, were headed to a runoff. But that seemed to encourage attacks on Patrick from the race’s other contenders, who hoped for a spot in the runoff. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who had tried for years to establish his credentials as a Christian conservative and a no-nonsense tough-on-the-border politician, had seen those issues swept from under him as Patrick tacked far, far right.

And Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a libertarian-leaning Republican iconoclast, had become increasingly angry at what he saw as Patrick’s mealy-mouthed mendacity over immigration and other issues. Patterson helped produce evidence that Patrick—who had used consistently extreme language about Texas’ “illegal invasion” and the wave of violent crime (and “third-world diseases”) that migrants were bringing to the state—had hired undocumented immigrants himself to work at his chain of sports bars in the 1980s.

That led to, perhaps, as clear a distillation of Patrick’s heart and agenda as any this election cycle. When one of Patrick’s former undocumented workers remembered him as a kind, thoughtful employer, Patrick’s campaign fired off an unforgettable reply, as part of a rebuttal to Breitbart Texas: “The worker says I was personally very kind to him and goes on to allege other preposterous events that are not true and for which he offers no evidence.”

When Reagan first uttered the quote that Patrick used in his triumphant speech last night, it was part of an argument that America’s greatness came in part through its tolerance and acceptance of immigrants. In that speech, Reagan went on: “Jews and Christians enduring persecution behind the Iron Curtain; the boat people of Southeast Asia, Cuba, and of Haiti; the victims of drought and famine in Africa, the freedom fighters of Afghanistan.” The world’s troubled people could find opportunity in America’s great “refuge.” When Patrick quoted Reagan last night, he was standing near a giant projection screen emblazoned with the words “secure our border.”

Still, the message Patrick offers seems to resonate with his supporters. His rise in Texas politics has been stunning. As recently as 2006, when he won his first Senate election, Patrick was a vituperative and angry talk radio show host in Houston who didn’t seem likely to do well in the Texas Senate, with its emphasis on decorum and compromise. He was isolated and mocked that first session in the Senate. Now he’s on the cusp of leading it.

With Dan Patrick—a man who has promised to crack down on the border, opposes abortion in all circumstances and has tried several times to eliminate the Senate’s two-thirds rule that fosters bipartisanship—serving as lieutenant governor, all bets are off. In private, he’s a more thoughtful man than his public persona allows. But his penchant for bombast would have serious policy implications for the state.

Of course, he hasn’t won yet. He still faces a runoff with Dewhurst, and though Patrick finished first on primary night, victory isn’t assured—but Dewhurst, famously, lost his last runoff election even though he started from a much better position. In the 2012 U.S. Senate race, Dewhurst finished 10 points ahead of Ted Cruz in the primary and then got trounced in the runoff. Now, Patrick’s outdone Dewhurst by nearly 14 points. His voters seem more revved up about their candidate—whereas it’s questionable how many Texas conservatives can still get amped up about Dewhurst. Patterson and Staples won 30 percent of the vote between them, and Patrick only needs to pick off 8 percent to win, assuming Patrick’s and Dewhurst’s voting blocs remain the same. You have to like Patrick’s chances.

Last night, Jerry Patterson told reporters that he wasn’t sure if he would support Dewhurst, but that he “cannot campaign and vote for a liar.” A lot of moderate Republicans—not that there are many left in office after last night’s drubbing—are uncomfortable with Patrick. They think he goes too far. Patrick made sure to poke those people in the eyes last night, saying he wouldn’t back down or lower his profile. “I will be the greatest ally Greg Abbott has ever had on the campaign trail,” he said.

That might cheer some Democrats, who think that a Patrick victory would make the lieutenant governor race competitive for state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte—or even that his presence as a relentless ideologue in a statewide office will shift the terrain their way. But for those hoping for a Patrick victory, the best advice, after last night, is be careful what you wish for. A man who thinks he has God on his side is dangerous.

Joel Klein at SXSWedu
Patrick Michels
Amplify CEO and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, ready to rock at SXSWedu.

Austin has been a staging ground this week for two movements advocating very different visions for the future of America’s public schools.

On one side, better known and better outfitted, there are the tech and data evangelists who imagine a reinvented school experience with computer games, tablets and other innovative models, gathered for the fourth year of the SXSWedu conference.

On the other, teachers, parents and education researchers who have, over the last four years or so, built a community of advocates for less flashy solutions like better school funding and more freedom for teachers, and a resistance to privatization and “corporate” reformers. For a long time this group has been only informally organized around a handful of blogs and education historian Diane Ravitch.

This year Ravitch and a few top lieutenants organized their movement into the Network for Public Education, and the group held its first conference last weekend, on the UT-Austin campus.

UT researcher Julian Vasquez Heilig warmed up the crowd Saturday morning, by helping to articulate what the new group is about. “The powers that be have decided that poor kids … we want to do education for them on the cheap,” he said. Anthony Cody, one of the group’s co-founders, laid into “hedge fund managers who have recently discovered their passion for the poor.” He lamented “the cycle of corruption has invaded what should be sacred places for learning.”

Diane Ravitch speaks at SXSWedu on Monday, March 2, 2014.
Patrick Michels
Diane Ravitch speaks at SXSWedu on Monday, March 2, 2014.
The movement is most commonly described by its opposition to school choice reforms like charter school chains, online schools and private school vouchers. They’re often criticized for pooh-poohing reformers without offering better suggestions of their own.

“[Network for Public Education] has a very positive message,” Vasquez Heilig said. “I’m not ‘anti-reformer,’ I just disagree with your form of reform.” As Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis put it: ”What we have in common are the values that made this country great.”

John Kuhn and Karen Lewis speak at the Network for Public Education's conference in Austin.
Patrick Michels
John Kuhn and Karen Lewis speak at the Network for Public Education’s conference in Austin.
Presentations were full of epic language and battle imagery—politically popular education reforms were often described as a “scam” or a “hoax” perpetrated by the “corporate elite”; the reform debate as “war.” None amped up the drama more than John Kuhn, (Tyrant’s Foe, Feb. 2013) superintendent of North Texas’ Perrin-Whitt CISD, who lambasted the “new generation of robber barons” meddling in public schools. “The whole setup is a scam and it benefits people in power suits, not the children of America.”

Beyond the rhetoric—there are articulate evangelists on both sides of this debate—were academics who were frustrated by the outsize power wielded by players like Eli Broad and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, even for policies without a solid research base. Teach for America’s five-week teacher preparation program was a popular target, along with new ways to rate teachers based on test scores (and then pay them accordingly).

Kevin Welner, a researcher at the University of Colorado-Boulder, whose National Education Policy Center regularly turns out work skewering reform research from think tanks and foundations, urged academics to “advocate for social justice, not simply for something that improves test scores.”

The next day, Monday, marked the beginning of SXSWedu, a bigger education conference in downtown Austin that has, over the last three years, established itself as a playground for just the sort of private-sector reformers who’d been pilloried at NPE’s gathering. Festival programmers softened that contrast a little this year, including more talks on things like equity and community building, and a presentation by… Diane Ravitch.

On Monday afternoon, Ravitch took the stage in one of the festival’s many rooms, before a crowd almost as big as the one she addressed the day before at NPE. She lambasted “$1,500 conferences where you can cash in on education,” and warned about fetishizing games, apps and online learning. “[They] will harm children, they will destroy the teaching profession,” she said. The targets of her remarks were probably ensconced in another ballroom for a workshop on startup funding, but it was a significant statement with the big orange SXSWedu banner behind her.

A few minutes after Ravitch left the stage, it was occupied by a conversation on “Analytics and Student Success.”

“I am a little nervous,” joked John Wilson, a former Obama administration education official, “being up on the stage right after Diane Ravitch. … Gosh, everything was a hoax, I guess.”

It’s a simplification to sort every player into one side of this debate or the other. If there is a war over public schools, there’s plenty of back-and-forth between the rival camps. Plenty of people at NPE attended SXSWedu (the place and timing of NPE’s first conference was no accident), and SXSWedu—which continues through Thursday—is much more than a product pitch meeting.

But Monday night offered a perfect distillation of the gleeful product boosterism Ravitch decried. SXSWedu’s kickoff party, with drinks, snacks and a performance by Ben Kweller, doubled as a product launch for Amplify, the education tech brand owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The company made a big show of unveiling a tablet computer for students at last year’s SXSWedu, only to have school districts cancel multi-million-dollar contracts for the devices after they started melting.

This week, Amplify was back promising an even bigger announcement, which turned out to be a new tablet, an Intel processor, and a suite of educational software packaged together for $199 per student, per year. Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chief and Ravitch foil who now heads Amplify, looked the part of the ed-tech rock star, navigating the drum kit and guitar stands onstage in a sport coat and black jeans.

He recalled the “rave reviews” for last year’s Amplify tablet, and promised nothing short of a transformation in schools thanks to this new gadget. “We’re gonna change the way that teachers teach and kids learn,” he said. “I think we’re gonna change the world here.”

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The Mystery of the Trial Lawyer-Funded Group Backing Tea Party Candidates

Balance PAC claims to have provided costly media services to candidates who've never heard of the group.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht

As political action committees go, Balance PAC is a strange animal. In 2012, the group, which is funded primarily by Democratic trial lawyers, supported minor Democratic judicial candidates and progressive groups.

But for this primary season, Balance PAC is pouring money into GOP primaries for Texas Supreme Court seats. The goal is to replace three incumbents—Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Justice Jeff Brown and Justice Phil Johnson—with three other Republican challengers. Flush with trial lawyer cash, the PAC’s public face is “Texans 4 Justice,” which portrays itself as a conservative grassroots group. On its website Texans 4 Justice claims it works for people who stand for “common-sense conservatism” and “believe it’s time for true conservative change on the Texas Supreme Court.”

Balance PAC draws mostly from a base of traditional Democratic donors, including notable trial lawyers like John Eddie Williams and Lisa Blue Baron, who’ve each donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic causes over the years (full disclosure: Lisa Blue Baron was, until recently, an Observer board member). Houston personal injury law firm Arnold & Itkin LLP donated more than $100,000 this month.

The group’s social media accounts and website constitute a steady stream of appeals against the sitting Supreme Court justices: On Texans 4 Justice’s Facebook page, readers are urged to “elect 3 REAL conservative justices to the Texas Supreme Court: Robert Talton, Joe Pool Jr & Sharon McCally.” The group has set up attack sites and filmed surreal ads, particularly targeting Chief Justice Hecht.

So-called astroturf groups, which attempt to disguise their support and motivation, are commonplace in politics. Here’s the weird part: Balance PAC is reporting to the Texas Ethics Commission that the group donated some $64,000 of “in-kind” contributions to other, non-judicial Republican candidates—like hyper-conservative state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels). Seems strange for a Democratic-backed PAC that’s focused on judicial races to support a tea party state senator like Campbell.

But the story gets stranger: Campbell and other Republicans who supposedly received the “in-kind” contributions say they knew nothing about the donations and say Balance PAC has never contacted them to indicate they would be supporting their candidates, or listing them on their financial disclosures. The campaigns say they never received a dime’s worth of services and would’ve rejected the donation if it had been offered. None of the candidates claims a donation from Balance PAC on their own filings.

“The Campbell campaign would never accept a contribution of any kind from Balance PAC,” said Allan Blakemore, who manages Campbell’s campaign. “Sen. Campbell does not support the political goals of Balance PAC, nor the people behind the organization.”

Why would Balance PAC’s Democratic donors be directing resources to Campbell, one of the most conservative senators in the Legislature—and candidates who are unopposed in their primary election? And why wouldn’t Balance PAC let these candidates know that they intended to support them?

Balance PAC’s most recent campaign finance disclosure report, covering activity in February, shows that the PAC spent $150,000 on “media consulting” services for candidates as disparate as Campbell, state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), attorney general candidate Dan Branch—and even some candidates unopposed in their primary, like state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston).

That’s surprising given that Balance PAC’s overwhelming focus has been the three contested Texas Supreme Court races. “This is a broad coalition of Texans who believe the court has been taken over by multinational corporations,” Balance PAC spokesman Eric Axel told the Houston Chronicle‘s Patricia Kilday Hart.

One example: Balance PAC reports that in February, it received both a $12,500 contribution of media consulting services from Campbell, and, in the same time period, a $12,500 donation of media consulting services to Campbell.

“To be honest with you, I have no idea what’s going on. It doesn’t make any sense,” Blakemore said. “We’ve never talked to these guys. We didn’t engage with them, talk to them, participate in anything with them in any way.” Blakemore called the idea that Campbell received or gave any contributions to Balance PAC “an outright lie” and “just outrageous,” indicating Campbell would be filing charges with the Ethics Commission if the political action committee doesn’t quickly amend its report and apologize.

On Wednesday, the group amended its form to indicate Campbell didn’t donate resources to Balance PAC—but continues to list Campbell as a recipient of Balance PAC’s largess. Blakemore told me Monday afternoon that Campbell still intends to file a complaint with the Ethics Commission.

What did Balance PAC do for these candidates? The PAC reports spending $150,000 for consulting services through the Tallahassee, Florida–based Sachs Media Group. The PAC’s disclosure report divides that $150,000 into donated consulting services, assigning a dollar figure for each recipient. Of the total figure, $83,500 is spread among an array of Texas Republicans running for the Legislature and statewide office, and one Supreme Court justice, Jeff Boyd, who’s unopposed in his primary.

It’s not illegal for state campaigns to coordinate with political action committees—to pool media consulting expenditures, for example, as the filing seems to imply. But if an outside group plans to claim an in-kind donation of services to a candidate, without coordinating with the campaign, the candidate is customarily notified so that the candidate can duplicate the donation on his or her own financial disclosure. Not only were the candidates not notified, they dispute the Balance PAC contributions.

“That’s the big problem here,” Blakemore said. “They put their filing and ours into conflict.”

None of the candidates who supposedly received the $83,500 in in-kind donations reported one from Balance PAC—nor, for that matter, do any of the three judicial candidates who are the major focus of Balance PAC’s activities.

Annette Ratliff, who manages state Sen. John Carona’s campaign—which supposedly received $5,500 in in-kind donations from Balance PAC—said she wasn’t aware of the group either. “We have no knowledge of what they’re doing. If they’re doing something on behalf of us, they’re doing it without contacting us, without our knowledge and without our consent,” she said, adding that she had never seen a PAC do something quite like this.

Enrique Marquez, Dan Branch’s campaign manager, denied Branch’s campaign had ever worked with Balance PAC, and said they had received no notice Balance PAC would claim a donation. “We did not coordinate with Balance PAC. They didn’t alert the campaign, and we have no idea what that figure represents,” Marquez said, calling the filing “pretty wild.”

“I don’t know the motivation, and I wouldn’t venture a guess,” she said. “But you’re going to have a lot of campaigns asking for corrections.”

Texas’ election law places certain requirements on third-party donations to judicial candidates. Outside groups like Balance PAC are limited to spending $25,000 on statewide candidates in judicial elections. They can exceed that limit, but if they plan to do so, they have to notify the Texas Ethics Commission of that intent no less than 60 days before an election. Virtually all of Balance PAC’s activity has taken place past that point, in the last month of the election cycle.

Balance PAC spent $150,000 on last–minute media consulting, reporting that the $150,000 was intended for the benefit of 12 candidates. Balance PAC reported donating a little under $25,000 to four Supreme Court candidates—three contested elections, plus the unopposed Boyd. Then, the PAC reported that the remaining portion of the services was donated to other candidates, though it’s not clear what Balance PAC did on their behalf apart from naming them in an endorsement list and embedding their campaign ads on the PAC’s website.

Ben Sachs, the head of Sachs Media Group, said he couldn’t answer questions related to the financial filing—but did say that his consulting group had helped Balance PAC diversify its campaign spending to a “wider and more diverse slate” of GOP candidates around the state.

Balance PAC’s treasurer didn’t return a request for comment. The PAC’s spokesman, Eric Axel, told me that the group had diversified its donations out of a genuine desire to help “people who vote in the Republican Primary,” adding that the group would not be ”defined by the traditional left/right boundaries,” and that “when we see candidates we like, we will provide them with support based on them as candidates and their records [as] public servants.”

Anti-Gay Marriage Group: ‘This is the Beginning of an Epic Battle’

Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values says courts could legalize polygamy next.
Jonathan Saenz
Patrick Michels
Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values outside a federal courthouse in San Antonio where the issue of same-sex marriage is being litigated, February 12, 2014.

Just nine years ago, in 2005, Governor Rick Perry told the press that gay people in Texas (gay veterans, at that) should consider moving to other states if they wanted better treatment from their government. He was speaking at a ceremonial signing of legislation that put a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot in November 2005.

How quickly times change—though slower in Texas than elsewhere. Last week, that constitutional amendment was deemed unconstitutional by a federal court in San Antonio, following a number of similar rulings in states as red as Utah and Oklahoma. The matter will be appealed and could be taken up eventually by the U.S. Supreme Court.

To say the gay rights movement in the United States is experiencing a period of success is an understatement—even if the blowback to that success poses risks. Yet here in Texas, where you might expect more conflict about what remains a momentous social issue, you haven’t seen much yet beyond grandstanding. That’s partially a result of the fact that the Texas Legislature won’t meet again for another nine months. Texas groups agitated about the ruling haven’t had any space to float policy proposals or legislation.

But I was curious about what anti-gay marriage activists might have in store. So I called Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values, the group which says it stands “for biblical, Judeo-Christian values by ensuring Texas is a state in which religious liberty flourishes, families prosper, and every human life is valued.”

Saenz, who responded to activists trying to strip anti-sodomy provisions out of Texas law last week by arguing that gay people only want gay rights because they’re gay, flatly denies the “homosexuals” are making any progress at all, and says his movement and Christians in the state won’t give up without a fight. What’s more, he left the door open to pushing for a bill, like the one recently vetoed in Arizona, that makes it legal for businesses to discriminate against gay people if serving them conflicts with a “deeply held religious belief.”

“This is the beginning of an epic battle,” Saenz told me. “There’s a strong likelihood that the Fifth Circuit [Court of Appeals] is going to overturn this decision. If Texas’ gay marriage laws are not constitutional, there’s no guarantee that the court won’t open up marriage to polygamy and polyandry.”

There’s definitely a chance the traditionally conservative Fifth Circuit overturns the Texas decision, but gay rights lawyers in Texas and elsewhere know these cases will be appealed and are laying the groundwork for the Supreme Court to take up the issue. That’s the reason U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia stayed his own ruling, as has happened in many states. It puts the ruling on hold until a higher court can weigh in. But even in that, Saenz sees encouragement.

The fact that Garcia stayed his ruling, Saenz says, “shows some hesitation on his part. I think the homosexual advocates were ready to go on down to the clerk’s office” and get married, he says cheerily, “and he put a stop to that.”

Garcia happens to be the brother-in-law of state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who is running for lieutenant governor. I asked Saenz if he perceived judicial bias.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” he says. “What we have here is the homosexuals being used by the Democrats to gain more political power.” He added: “The homosexuals have more political power than ever before.”

But the most enlightening part of our conversation came when we talked about SB 1062, the recently-vetoed Arizona legislation that attracted national attention. Supporters said the bill protected religious liberty while critics, including a number of Republicans, said it amounted to legalizing anti-gay discrimination. “Religious liberty” has become an increasingly important issue for conservatives ever since a number of bakeries across the nation got in hot water for refusing to make cakes for gay wedding services.

A number of states have considered bills carving out an exemption in non-discrimination laws to allow businesses to deny service to LGBTQ people for religious reasons. Some proposed laws even go so far as to extend that right to venues like hotels and restaurants, and to government workers. Arizona has been the only state to pass such a law so far, but it backfired when, in a surprising reversal, arch-conservative governor Jan Brewer vetoed it after mounting pressure. Nevertheless, it stands to reason we’ll see an attempt to advance a similar measure in Texas in the 2015 session.

Saenz is firmly convinced of the need for such laws.

The veto of the Arizona bill, he says, provides incontrovertible proof that “homosexuals do want to force people of faith to be part of their gay marriage ceremonies. They want to use government power to force people of faith to be part of their homosexual lifestyle and ceremonies,” he said.

That’s something of a new tack for Saenz’s crowd. The rhetoric has always been there: Anti-gay marriage activists have long held out the prospect of a dark future in which Baptist ministers are frog-marched to Southern Decadence to preside over Village People-themed weddings. But new developments make that future seem, to some, like an immediate threat, to be confronted in the near future—and that’s been feeding blowback in red states.

“Arizona made it real clear to people of faith what homosexual advocates want,” Saenz says. “They seem to not be satisfied unless they can force people of faith to celebrate their lifestyle. I think you’re going to see a growing concern in Texas, as you are across the country.”

I ask him if Texas Values would support legislation for the 2015 session, or is working to lay the groundwork for it. “That’s all I’m going to say on that subject,” he says.

Texas Values has been active in mobilizing against the gay rights movement in Texas for some time. The group organized in opposition to San Antonio’s LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance last year, unsuccessfully. In the 2013 legislative session, Texas Values also supported bills that would punish school districts across the state, like the Austin and Pflugerville ISDs, which extend partner benefits to gay couples.

For much of the country, it might feel like the argument over gay marriage is reaching a tipping point. But the fight over the issue could easily become prolonged in Texas. After all, 2014 is an election cycle when Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has argued in court that the state has a need to discourage “prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation” is running for governor while defending the state’s marriage laws.

The possibility of same-sex marriage ceremonies in Beaumont and Lubbock is edging closer as a crop of even-more conservative candidates are primed to win state offices. As the issue continues to get litigated, expect to see an organized fightback from Texas conservatives.

Things I’ve Learned from Dying: A Book about Life
By David Dow
Grand Central Publishing
288 pages; $25.00
Things I’ve Learned from Dying: A Book about Life
By David Dow
Grand Central Publishing
288 pages; $25.00

There’s a certain amount of irony in appending the epigraph “I could write a book about what I don’t know” to one whose title foregrounds its intent to share the lessons gleaned over the course of a career, and one walks away from Things I’ve Learned from Dying: A Book about Life wondering if, in fact, there is anything David Dow has yet to learn. Perhaps the real question is: If there are things Dow still doesn’t know, what hope do the rest of us have?

Things I’ve Learned from Dying is an energetic three-part memoir delineated into sections titled “Beginnings,” “Middles,” and “Endings.” Dow, a professor of law at the University of Houston and of history at Rice University, as well as founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network, details his father-in-law’s death from a quickly metastasized melanoma, his family’s beloved Doberman’s death from acute liver failure, and one of his many clients’ final years on death row and eventual execution. True to its title, the book is peppered with sentences structured around the phrase, “One thing I’ve learned,” such as: “One thing I’ve learned is that there is a time to be silent and there’s a time to hold nothing back. What I might not have learned is which is when.”

Taking some liberties with its timeline and compressing legal cases that spanned the better parts of decades, Dow explains how to argue a death penalty case in Texas, along the way bringing to light some of the nuances of the appeals system—and some of the ways in which he longs for even more nuance. He outlines the four stages of a death penalty case: the trial and state court appeal come first, followed by the state court habeas proceeding; after that comes the federal habeas appeal; the final stage is what Dow describes as “all the last-minute freneticism when death penalty lawyers try to think of anything they can to save their client’s life.” In Things I’ve Learned from Dying, we enter death row inmate Eddie Waterman’s case at the third stage. Dow’s ruminations about representing Waterman before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals show him at his most entertaining and opinionated:

People who think bogus legal proceedings happen only in places like Iran or China apparently haven’t been to Texas.

It hasn’t always been this way. … But decent judges have been replaced by bureaucratic hacks who reach results that melt their political butter no matter how much violence they have to inflict on legal principles on the way to getting there.

In the section titled “Middles,” Dow recounts offering advice to a younger colleague who is distraught after the execution of his first client: “Work on developing a cold cold heart, pal,” he says, invoking Hank Williams. But while there is evidence here of professional numbness—occasional decisions based solely on detached experience and expertise—this is not the narrative of someone unaffected by a life spent with the dying. Throughout the memoir, using passages from a journal he kept during his father-in-law’s illness and recreating other scenes from memory, Dow meditates on the instant between life and death. “One thing I’ve learned,” he writes, “is that beginnings are unambiguous, but endings are not.”

His story’s overlap of human, canine, legal and familial loss ultimately leads Dow to acknowledge the difference between the individual and the universal: “The deepest knowledge, I’ve learned, can be awareness of the chasm separating you from someone else.” In convincing prose, Dow shows what such lessons cost.

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