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Purple Texas

Stumper of the Week: Perry Too Powerful for Presidency

The nuttiest things said this week in Texas politics

With the elections over, Gov. Rick Perry is back out in public again. Perry is touting his new anti-Washington book, Fed Up!—and, along the way, touting himself to see if anybody besides Bob Perry and Grover Norquist wants him to run for president.

So there’s plenty of Perry in this week’s edition of the most unhinged, irrational things said on this unhinged, irrational election week. And God knows, in a week when right-wing Republicans led a charge toward a fourth straight sweep of statewide offices and a stunning 99-51 edge in the state House, a few people could use a chuckle. So here are this week’s Honorable Mention Stumpers:

…but will not be sworn in till January

“Fiscal discipline was certainly strongly elected yesterday.”

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, interpreting the results of Tuesday’s elections

A surprisingly astute analysis

“George W. Bush did a incredible job in the presidency, defending us from freedom.”

Gov. Rick Perry, on The Today Show, Nov. 4, praising(?) former President Bush

Which leaves just four letters?

“If anything starts with a ‘T’ for tax or ‘F’ for fee, forget it. They’re struck from the legislative alphabet.”

Republican consultant Bill Miller, exulting in victory

Like 52 House seats?

“We certainly shouldn’t think that we didn’t achieve all of our goals. We just didn’t achieve all of our principal, very ambitious electoral goals.”

—Consultant Matt Angle of the Texas Democratic Trust, which will close shop after five expensive years of working to elect Texas Democrats

Please, just one more pinch of salt, please?

“We are fed up with being overtaxed and overregulated. We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food.”

Rick Perry, from Fed Up!

Thanks for clarifying

“This is not your normal Sunday school class. This is the Legislature.”

—Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who’s challenging Republican state House Speaker Joe Straus.

Invented not by Ponzi, as it turns out, but by FDR

“Ponzi schemes … are fraudulent systems designed to take in a lot of money at the front and pay none in the end. This unsustainable fiscal insanity is the true legacy of Social Security and the New Deal.” 

—Gov. Rick Perry, in his new book Fed Up! 

Stumper of the Week

The White House can’t contain me

“Anyone running for the presidency is not going to go take on these issues with the power that I do.”

Gov. Rick Perry, on The Today Show, explaining how his campaign book—timed for a 2012 run—is actually a sign that he’s not running for president.


Texas Democrats: After the Deluge

From the ashes of election night, can Texas Democrats build a new party from the bottom up?

A few years back, when Southern Democrats everywhere were suffering much the same way Texas Democrats are today, I asked an organizer friend in North Carolina: What’s the remedy for the Democrats’ inability to beat the Republicans down South?

“Well, shit,” he said. “They could try being Democrats.” I knew what he meant: They’d tried acting like Republicans. They’d tried cozying up to Big Money and out-fundraising the opposition. They’d listened to the consultants. What they hadn’t tried is standing up strong for what Democrats believe and organizing around it.

In Texas this year, the party’s marquee candidate was a throwback to the Lloyd Bentsen days of conservative, business-friendly, “non-threatening” Democrats promising only to run things smarter. The Democratic Party was largely run by a gaggle of consultants, the most powerful being Matt Angle of the Texas Democratic Trust. Good consultants are aces at the politics of the past—emphasizing big media buys, expensive direct mail and “messaging” that targets white, middle-class, suburban voters who were formerly a swing demographic. The politics of the present and future sometimes elude them.

Texas Democrats had high hopes for 2010, and they weren’t half crazy. The state’s evolving demographics continue to move, at least on paper, in their favor. They picked the most viable candidate they had to lead the ticket. Bill White made mistakes, but he impressed with both his smarts and his doggedness. (Also with his accessbility to the media and willingness, therefore, his willingness to be accountable to the public. It was quite a contrast to Perry.) White ran a vigorous better-government campaign, straight into a ferocious anti-Washington headwind.

But both White’s message and, to some extent, his tactics came from an earlier era’s playbook. In the 1970s and ’80s, when Democrats couldn’t win without pulling back some of their more conservative white voters who’d strayed to the GOP, there were Democrats like Lloyd Bentsen who succeeded by running as “Lite Republicans.” They were business-friendly, smart and prepared, low-key and reasonable and completely unobjectionable. It wasn’t a particularly exciting breed of politician, but the style sometimes worked.

It doesn’t work now. That’s partly because the voters that Democrats need to win states like Texas have changed dramatically. Compared to the small slice of Anglo “swing” voters—independents, mostly—whom White’s campaign heavily targeted (and visited), the potential for growth among Hispanic Texans is enormous. If you want to “hunt where the ducks are,” as the consultants like to say, you need to be hunting in the cities, in South Texas, and in the “rainbow suburbs” of Dallas and Houston and San Antonio, to name a few.

Texas Democrats made gestures toward Hispanic voters—the proper emphasis being on the word “gestures.” They recruited Linda Chavez-Thompson and Hector Uribe to run for statewide offices, but they didn’t give them enough backing to become competitive candidates who’d have been more persuasive in wooing Hispanic voters. White, while visiting South Texas and San Antonio often, concentrated on “flipping” white Anglos mostly inclined to vote Republican. There simply aren’t very many to flip, even if you have the kind of magnetic, Bill Clintonesque campaigning personality that can convince folks to give a Democrat a chance.

Bill White ran hard, and ran into a Republican buzzsaw along with the 22 Democratic state House members who went down. (For our complete election-night coverage, read here.) 

I can’t help wondering: Could a candidate from what Howard Dean called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” have fared a whole lot worse on Tuesday? Might a more full-throated progressive have been able to bring new Democrats into the fold, and at least build for the future?

Texas remains a state where Democrats should be competitive. Should be, but aren’t. The reason is as plain and obvious as the solution is elusive: Hispanic voters, who lean Democratic by a wide margin, don’t turn out here the way they do in other states like California. The Democrats can’t blame that on anybody but themselves. And they have to learn from it. Symbolic gestures don’t work. Only organizing will do the trick. Year-’round, relentless, creative ground organizing.

A crushing defeat like Democrats suffered on Tuesday in Texas is also an opportunity. With nothing to lose, damn near literally, the Texas Democrats have a chance to build a new party from the bottom-up. If they can emphasize organizing over “strategy,” if they can rethink their whole idea of what makes a good candidate and a good campaign, if they can convey a hearty belief in what their party stands for (aside from a different brand of fiscal conservatism), this state might yet have a two-party system. But it ain’t going to happen tomorrow. Old habits die hard.

Perry’s Presidential Rage

Next stop: the unofficial national exploratory campaign

For more election coverage, see the Observer’s election-night page

In terms of pure comedy, the single best line in the online excerpts that appeared yesterday from Rick Perry’s forthcoming book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, comes when he’s fuming over that strangest of Tea Party issues, the 17th Amendment—which democratized the election of U.S. senators. Along with the hated 16th Amendment, which permitted the federal government to levy income taxes, Perry says the 17th was passed “during a fit of populist rage.” 

Sounds dreadful! And also sounds a lot like the political atmosphere that’s expected to lift Perry to re-election today. Perry, who denounces the products of supposed “populist rage” in 1913, is all for it in 2010—and surely hopes it’ll flame on into 2012. Despite his ritual disavowals, the governor’s campaign for a record third full term as governor has been about almost nothing but Washington, his speeches all sounding like warm-ups for a national bid.

Likely next stop, if Perry wins as expected tonight: the unofficial presidential exploratory campaign. It will be a smooth transition, with Perry’s campaign-launch book officially being published on Nov. 15—and with the governor headed shortly out on a national promotional tour. The book tour will give Perry a perfect chance to meet with potential donors and party leaders as he wings around the country, and to gauge his potential appeal with voters by sales and turnout.

And what will be his message? Judging by the book excerpts released—and then taken down quickly—yesterday on his publisher’s site, more of the same. Since Perry hitched himself to the Tea Party wagon on April 15, 2009, with his famous “states’ rights!” speech in Austin, he’s been saying what he writes in the book:

Empowered by the brazen abandonment of limited government under the New Deal and subsequent regimes, from the Great Society to the current administration, Washington is steering America down a path to destruction …

Sounding a lot like George Wallace in 1968 (“pointy-headed liberal elites”), Perry catalogs the evils—and we do mean evils—of the federal government and the liberal elite, who’ve assaulted Americans with the “prohibition of school prayer, the redefinition of marriage, the nationalization of health care, the proliferation of federal criminal laws, interference with local education, the increased regulation of food — (Washington) even telling us what kind of lightbulb we can use.”

Good old round lightbulbs! A message we can all rally around.  

Perry is broadening his national pitch, though, by taking aim at Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, the judiciary and Congress—”arguably one of the most incompetent regimes with one of the worst track records of mismanagement in the history of mankind.”

Of course, Perry still denies he wants to run for president. Why he’s bothering in spite of that to write a national campaign book, and bring it out at the perfect time to launch an early campaign-that’s-not-quite-a-campaign, is not clear. But in the preface to Fed Up!, he claims: “Now, cynics will say that I decided to write this book because I seek higher office. They are wrong. I already have the best job in America. I wrote this book because I believe that America is great but also that America is in trouble—and heading for a cliff if we don’t take immediate steps to change course.”

Oh, we see: The new book is merely another form of selfless public service. Perry only wants to suggest how America might correct its course; he has no desire to shape it. The man never had a politically ambitious bone in his body. And if you’re gullible enough to believe that, it’s time for you to hop off the Internet and tune back into Fox.

God’s Voters

Back in the late ’70s, as a teenager desperate to wash off my gayness in the blood of the Lamb, I abandoned my family’s mild Methodism and sought salvation at a Southern Baptist megachurch. I learned a great deal about the Book of Leviticus, honed my manliness in the state-of-the-art gym, and went forward to dedicate my life to Christ no fewer than three times. But it was all for naught; “the gay” had me firmly in its clutches (as did a certain fetching boy with a nice big station wagon, ideal for parking). Even so, I still feel at home in a megachurch, though my praise-singing and hand-waving skills have grown a tad rusty. Whenever I’m feeling professionally curious about the state of Christian Right preachments and politics, I like to go straight to the source—especially come election time.

And so it was that I blended into the massive multiracial flock at San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church on Sunday, Oct. 17. This was “God and Country” day at the charismatic megachurch presided over by Pastor John Hagee, one of the most powerful and hateful voices of the Christian Right. It’s an election-year tradition, where Hagee invites candidates to worship with him and electioneer afterward, outside in the prayer garden.

On the surface, it looked like a vintage display of the power and glory of evangelical politics. As the ushers came around with their tithing plates, Hagee introduced no fewer than 71 office-seekers who’d turned out (nearly half of them Democrats). But it soon became clear that almost all were locals. The only two statewide candidates were the Libertarian running for attorney general, Jon Roland, and the “go anywhere, talk to anybody” Democrat Jeff Weems, making a spirited run for Railroad Commissioner. Not a single State Board of Education candidate had materialized, even though the sermon was to be delivered by David Barton, the evangelical entrepreneur and former vice chairman of the Texas GOP who served as an official “expert” when right-wing board members attempted to Christianize the state’s social-studies curriculum.

The absences seemed as significant as the turnout. After all, just six years ago—when the Tea Party was still an 18th-century artifact—right-wing Christians were the most fearsome demographic in American politics, lifting George W. Bush to re-election and sending a sizable contingent of “pro-life” Republicans to Congress. But the movement has lost steam ever since. The reasons run deeper than the Terry Schiavo debacle, or Bush’s reneging on his pandering promise to outlaw gay marriage. A new generation of evangelicals has begun to question their churches’ umbilical ties to the Republican Party and embrace a broader notion of “Christian values”—you know, stuff Jesus actually talked about, like alleviating poverty. Forty-five percent of evangelicals voting in 2008 said their top issue was “the economy”—just like everybody else.

All of which is heresy—literally—to the likes of Hagee and Barton. Barton’s message on God and Country day was a stern rebuke to the straying sheep who base their votes on anything but the Ten Commandments. Wielding the miracle of PowerPoint, Barton flashed them on Cornerstone’s massive video screens, then superimposed the correct political translations—”abortion” over “you shall not kill,” for instance, and “private property rights” over “you shall not steal.” Voting on the basis of anything else, he insisted, is not merely a sin—it’s a recipe for destroying America’s economy. Up flashed a list of the members of Congress with 100-percent ratings from Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform—Republicans, all. Then, superimposed over that list, legislators with perfect “pro-life” voting records—mostly the very same Republicans. “If you’re good on life,” Barton proclaimed, “you’re good on economic issues. … Righteousness produces prosperity.” 

Afterward, in the sunny prayer garden, the candidates chatted with the faithful who’d stuck around, plying them with cookies and yard signs. I made a beeline for Weems, who was busy batting away questions about his stance on “life”: “I have a personal view,” he was saying, “and I keep it that way. It’s not relevant to the Railroad Commission.”

Taking a break from his interrogators, Weems—who attends the First Congregational Church of Houston, a denominational world away—gave me a no-holds-barred critique of Barton’s “incredible stretches of logic.” And then he said the truest thing I’d heard all day: “But you know what it tells me? It tells me he’s struggling to remain relevant.”

Hallelujah and amen to that.

Stumper of the Week: Rick’s Fat Tick

The most ridiculous things said this week in Texas politics

So this is it, people. Here at last, election week. A final chance for Texas politicians to compete for the honor of Stumper of the Week. A final chance, that is, until after the election. After all, it’s not just campaigns that inspire lunacy and illogic in our politicians. It’s a year-round thing in Texas. 

This week, since Gov. Rick Perry has finally bestirred himself to campaign—and, thus, to say things in public—he dominates the proceedings.

Here are this week’s Honorable Mention Stumpers:

And the children are surely very grateful

“From 2000 to 2009, the state’s share of public education spending increased from $11 billion per year to $20 billion—an 82 percent increase. At the same time, we’ve beefed up accountability in our schools and focused on the basics like math, science, English and social studies. Those efforts are paying off in the lives of our young people.”

Gov. Rick Perry, bragging on his educational achievements in Brazos County. By at least one accounting, Texas ranks last in the country in graduation rates.

The wonder years

“Para los hispanos han sido buenas noticias.”

Spanish-language ad touting Gov. Rick Perry’s time in office. Translation: “For Hispanics it’s been nothing but good news.”

Flattery would get you nowhere?

“A lot of the young people don’t even know what it means to be a Democrat, what it means to be a Republican, they just get caught up with what comes out on Fox.”

Congressman Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio, complaining about young Hispanics who support his Republican challenger, Francisco Canseco.

Stoner logic

“Californians are going to make a decision about whether they’re more interested in a good economy or smoking weed.”

Gov. Rick Perry, campaigning in Lubbock. By one official estimate, California would bring in $1.3 billion in taxes if citizens approve marijuana legalization on Nov. 2.

Well, then, we agree on one thing

“It’s about time.”

Tom DeLay, jauntily greeting reporters as he walked into a Travis County Courtroom Oct. 26 for his trial on charges of money laundering and conspiracy.

Queer facts

“The facts are so distorted. I’ve never heard one discussion of a social issue. This is all about fiscal sanity.”

—Robert Rowling, owner of the Irving-based Gold’s Gym chain, defending himself against gay protests on Fox News. The gym has become controversial because of Rowling’s $2 million support of Karl Rove’s American Crossroads—which backs candidates including Nevada politician Sharron Angle, who has said homosexuality may lead to the downfall of the United States, and Missouri’s Roy Blunt, who favors an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.

With friends like these…

“He managed to straddle the political gaps in Houston and he was well respected on both sides. He got along well with his (city) council … I can’t tell you any great monuments that he created or big projects that have his stamp on them, but all in all, he was a good yeoman mayor, well respected by everybody.”

Former Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz, on former Mayor Bill White.

Stumper of the Week

Maybe it takes one to know one

“It’s just expanded like a fat tick. It’s become engorged with our tax dollars.”

—Gov. Rick Perry, complaining one more time about the federal government.

Stumper of the Week: A Brand-New Golden Rule

The nuttiest things said this week in Texas politics

Lord Almighty: Only 10 days till we know just how disastrous it’s going to be for Democrats—and what kind of, er, leadership Texas will have as it deals with a massive budget deficit, among other challenges, in 2011. With the rhetoric flying hot and heavy, the competition for the most outlandish, befuddling, illogical or just flat-out clueless statements of the week in Texas politics was unusually heated—and the winners unusually nutty.

Here are this week’s Honorable Mention Stumpers:

Especially if I lose

“Our nation was founded on violence; the option is on the table. I don’t think that we should ever remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms.”

Stephen Broden, Republican challenger for state House District 30, asked by WFAA-TV’s Brad Watson about past comments calling for a violent revolution against the federal government

Seriously: My new chicken-plant job is hell on wheels

“I miss being pampered.”

Former President UT-Tyler on Oct. 19

The miracle of democracy

“If you voted yes you were voting no, if you voted no you were voting yes.”

El Paso early voter Arnold Montiel, who accidentally voted against domestic-partner benefits on the city’s confusingly worded proposition seeking to overturn those benefits

If you love a child, set him free

“Maybe they know something about what’s good for them and their lives. Let him go his own way if he’s of that mind, because he’s not getting anything out of his experience.”

Kathie Glass, Libertarian candidate for governor, calling for Texas dropouts to be allowed to leave quit school if they want to during the Oct. 19 gubernatorial debate

And that’s why I wanted to run against him

“Gov. Perry has not only been true to the values that matter most to the people of Texas, he is also a conservative leader that has led our state in job creation and renewable energy.”

—Former Democratic candidate for governor Farouk Shami, endorsing the Republican he sought to face in November

Just not a Democratic someone

“The ideal scenario is Perry will announce the day after election night that this is his last term. And then mean it. Texas needs a change in the governor’s mansion after 2014, but it needs to be someone who will have the best interests of Texas voters in mind.”

The Midland Reporter-Telegraph, “reluctantly” endorsing Gov. Rick Perry for re-election after saying nice things about Democrat Bill White

Informed voter department

“Why mess a good thing up?”

Sheri Kennedy of Montgomery, explaining her support for Gov. Rick Perry after his Oct. 21 appearance in Conroe

Stumper of the Week

The Bible says: Treat your Democratic neighbors the way Republicans would want them treated

“Above all, practice the Golden Rule.”

—Williamson County Democratic Party chair Gregory Windham, who endorsed Republican state House candidate Larry Gonzales over Democrat Rep. Diana Maldonado and abruptly resigned his post two weeks before Election Day, citing ” divisive, rigid leadership” in the Democratic Party and accusing Democrats of “engaging in personal name calling” against him.

Rick Perry: The New Nixon

From his first statewide run for Agriculture Commissioner in 1990, when a soft-focus ad showed him posing on horseback in the sunset like a Harlequin Romance coverboy, Rick Perry has itched to fashion himself the next Ronald Reagan—a Hollywood-handsome, Old West conservative locked and loaded for a showdown with big-government liberals. Last year, the dream began to come true: When Perry shamelessly exploited the burgeoning Tea Party movement, the national media finally discovered him. A year later, Perry landed on the cover of Newsweek in his more mature business-cowboy garb—suit and “Come and Take It” boots—and got the mythic-hero treatment. “Could Perry be the second coming of Ronald Reagan?” the magazine asked in a rhapsodic profile.

Perry was riding high at the time, fresh off his landslide primary victory over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina. But then a bumper crop of Tea Party nincompoops—Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, et al.—began to steal his thunder, as did his pal Sarah Palin. Despite his denials, Perry continues to walk and talk like a presidential candidate—complete with the obligatory campaign-launch book, Fed Up, due out in November. But something else has happened since last spring: Perry’s carefully constructed image as a principled conservative in the Goldwater/Reagan mold has started to come unglued. On Election Day, the “R” at the top of the ballot will be a character who more closely resembles another timeless GOP model: Richard M. Nixon.

The similarities start—but do not end—with the campaign Perry has run against Democrat Bill White. It’s an uncanny reproduction of Nixon’s “Rose Garden” re-election strategy in 1972, when the Trickster set a new standard for evading press and public scrutiny. It was more than a front-runner’s strategy against an overmatched opponent; it was the vindictive president’s blowback against reporters who’d been dogging him since his Communist witch-hunt days. “I must have heard Richard Nixon say ‘the press is the enemy’ a dozen times,” his former speechwriter William Safire later wrote. Displaying a similar contempt, Perry has maintained a Nixonesque silence in 2010, refusing to debate while deflecting and consistently rejecting interview requests from all but the most compliant (read: right-wing) of national journalists.

Refusing to be accountable to the people of Texas is sorry enough. But as with Nixon, there’s a growing list of reasons why Perry avoids scrutiny. Since the spring, a dark pattern of paranoid secrecy, old-style political patronage and corrupt financial dealings has been unearthed by the The Dallas Morning News, the Observer, The Texas Tribune and the non-profit Texans for Public Justice (TPJ).

We’ve only begun to learn what-all the governor is hiding. But it’s already enough to make Tricky Dick grin in his grave. We’ve learned how Perry’s public service has made him wealthy, thanks to the Morning News’ exposé of the estimated $500,000 profit he made on a shady land deal at Horseshoe Bay. We’ve discovered, from the Observer and the Morning News, that Perry has used the Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund to dole out hundreds of millions in taxpayer money to big campaign donors. A TPJ investigation found that the governor’s appointees to state boards and commissions have thanked him to the tune of $17 million in campaign contributions—more than one-fifth of his total funds raised—in his three races for governor.

When Perry deviated from the Rose Garden script to answer questions on Inside Texas Politics in late September, he was grilled about another revelation: that he’d averaged only eight hours a week on state business during the first half of 2010. Asked what he does on an average day, Perry ultimately replied: “I consider everything I’m doing state business.”

This, folks, is the classic Nixon (and Cheney) mindset: L’état, c’est moi. “If a president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” as the disgraced Nixon told David Frost. Perry’s possible illegalities haven’t yet been sorted out, but one thing’s clear: He’s come to believe that if the governor of Texas does something, it’s not unethical.

Less than two years after his Rose Garden re-election, President Nixon was riding Air Force One back to San Clemente, unmasked as one of the most corrupt, cynical and unethical creatures ever to infest the White House. Gov. Perry’s political trajectory is headed in the same grim direction. Whether or not he wins on Nov. 2, it won’t be long before Texans find themselves sifting through the wreckage left behind by the governor who christened himself king.

Stumper of the Week: Kinky Friedman, Political Historian

The nuttiest things said this week in Texas politics

Every Friday from here till the end of this year’s campaign stumping season, we’re honoring the most outlandish, befuddling, illogical or just flat-out nutty quotes of the week in Texas politics. With just three weeks till Nov. 2 (deities be praised!), the competition is only growing fiercer—and funnier. So (with appropriate drum rolls and fanfare) let’s get right to this week’s Honorable Mention Stumpers:

Gays and abortionists still up for grabs, then?

“Women, potheads, the Latino Caucus, the Black Caucus, convicts, dead people and the atheists.”

—Talk-show host Laura Ingraham, enumerating “the people who Obama has reached out to” at the Oct. 8 Woodlands Tea Party

Freudian Slip Department

“That’s what’s on people’s minds, not three moderators sitting there with a couple of presidential, excuse me, gubernatorial candidates talking…”

—Gov. Rick Perry, downplaying the importance of debates at the Texas Conservative Coalition 10th Amendment Town Hall meeting at the Humble Civic Center on Oct. 13

Also, we hear that Gen. McChrystal has been promoted

“I don’t sense any negative consequences from that at all.”

—Congressman Joe Barton, telling Politico that his infamous apology to BP hasn’t hurt his chances of chairing the powerful Energy and Commerce committee if Republicans win back the U.S. House. “Henry Ford once said, ‘There is no such thing as no chance,’ but ol’ Henry never met Joe Barton,” a Texas Congressional aide commented.

Mr. Kaine, tear down those facts!

“It’s not surprising that President’s Obama’s political mouthpiece would tear down Texas.”

—Perry spokesperson Mark Miner, responding to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine’s assertion that the governor’s re-election is uncertain because “Rick Perry has been governor for 9 1/2 years and what does Texas have to show for it? “Education test scores are down and more Texans are uninsured.” 

Otherwise, though, a real likable fellow

“Hank Gilbert is a pathological liar who continues to make false, libelous and slanderous statements in order to deceive voters and hide his criminal conviction of theft, unpaid taxes, current tax liens, and his 2009 arrest for 5 outstanding warrants.”

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, responding to Democratic challenger Hank Gilbert’s accusation that a 2-year-old girl in Lubbock died as the “direct result” of lax regulation under Staples

Watch out for them in 2052

“Each year the Democrats get more organized.”

—Quorum Report editor Harvey Kronberg, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News

But only after a thorough mental assessment

“People that support me because they believe in good government, I think, should continue to be able to do that.”

Gov. Perry, explaining his opposition to Democrat Bill White’s proposal for campaign-donation limits to Associated Press reporter Jay Root

Stumper of the Week

I was still pretty young in the 1890s, but I clearly recall…

“When I look at the Tea Party, I really think almost that’s what the Democrats used to be.”

—Kinky Friedman, telling The Observer‘s Abby Rapoport why he supports Sharron Angle for Senate in Nevada and Libertarian Kathie Glass for governor of Texas

Worst. Endorsement. Ever.

...and a pleasantly surprising one

When Rick Perry flipped his middle finger at every newspaper editorial board in Texas, refusing to submit to the process of answering questions and asking for endorsements, the rationale was clear and—in a coldly calculated, screw-the-public sort of fashion—logical. Does anybody actually base their vote on what The Dallas Morning News or the Houston Chronicle recommends? Since practically nobody under 50 reads a newspaper anymore, the impact is marginal at best. And in the case of marquee races like Perry vs. White or Edwards vs. Flores, most people who are inclined to vote already have ample alternate sources of information—and misinformation—upon which to base their choice.

With less-hyped races, though, endorsements can still have a little oopmh. When it comes to voting for the (sadly) obscure offices of attorney general or lieutenant governor or Railroad Commissioner (um, remind me—what the heck is a Railroad Commission?), most folks are looking for some informed guidance. Which makes it a damn shame when they get an endorsement that misinforms and misleads.

David Dewhurst, running for his third term as lieutenant governor, has been one of the most ineffectual men (yep, all men so far) to occupy what is supposed to be the state’s most powerful office. Moderately conservative in his politics (so far as anybody can tell), the elusive Dewhurst has pandered shamelessly to right-wing extremists. Remember how he shut down a drama class’s performance of the play Corpus Christi (which he’d never seen nor read) at Tarleton State University? In the 2009 Legislative session, Dewhurst was most notable for his absence; Senate business was conducted without him for long stretches, as Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, ran the show and Dewhurst reportedly immersed himself in the far more important matter of planning his impending wedding. But while he was there, both in 2007 and 2009, he made it count in the worst possible way, grandstanding on the pet right-wing (non)issue of Voter ID and bringing partisan rancor into a chamber that is usually far more collegial and purposeful than the state House. Dewhurst does damage even when the Senate is out of session; four months before this election, he took the unusual step of shifting a bunch of Senate appointments around to empower right-wingers—and exclude the chamber’s Republican redictricting expert, Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, from the redistricting committee.

If Dewhurst was going to become an effective lieutenant governor, you have to think he’d have figured it out over eight years. But not if you’re the editorial boards of most Texas dailies, which have recommended that voters choose him over his Democratic challenger, retired AFL-CIO vice president and progressive populist Linda Chavez-Thompson.

The standout, in terms of pure nonsense, was The Austin American-Statesman, whose editorial board slapped together what is surely one of the goofiest endorsements ever inked onto newsprint. It’s one thing to support Dewhurst because of his considerable experience and knowledge (often unapplied, but still there) of how things work in Austin—and that’s been the rationale for most of his endorsements. It’s another to claim, as the Statesman does, that Dewhurst “avoids cheap political theatrics.” His cheap Voter ID theatrics have seriously crippled the Senate’s ability to do its job for Texans. And Dewhurst has signed onto the frivilous and expensive ideological lawsuits of Attorney General Greg Abbott, supporting Arizona’s unconstitutional immigration law and opposing the EPA’s efforts to make Texas regulate the environment.

The other basis for the Statesman‘s endorsement? Dewhurst told the paper, in his editorial-board interview, that he would “like to be remembered as a statesman.” And from here, it gets weirder:

Cynics might scoff, but we think that kind of thing is easy to say but hard to accomplish. Dewhurst is far from perfect, and there are plenty of issues on which we disagree … Nonetheless, we don’t doubt the sincerity of his wish to be regarded as a statesman. Dewhurst is a work in progress, but he is dilligently trying to get there. Dewhurst deserves another term.

So: Because the Statesman intuits that he’s “sincere” about wanting to become a completely different lieutenant governor, he has earned a third shot at it?

The Statesman‘s argument against Chavez-Thompson was no better: “[W]e doubt that she could manage the 31-member Senate dominated by Republicans who might be tempted—or emboldened—to buck a leader from the other party when a series of challenges facing the state demands as much cooperation and collaboration as that body can muster.” So first we have a cheap insult: This little lady is out of her league. (No matter that Chavez-Thompson was justly known for both her organizing skills and her toughness as a labor leader.) And to make matters worse, the Statesman appears to be saying that only Republicans need apply for the job.

All in all, it’s the single best argument I’ve seen for abolishing endorsements altogether. (In case you’re wondering, the Observer is not allowed to endorse, if we want to keep our non-profit status, which we darn sure do.)

But then came a surprising endorsement that almost redeemed the form (almost). The once-predictable Dallas Morning News pried its readers’ eyes open by giving the nod for attorney general to Democrat Barbara Radnofsky, the dogged and whip-smart attorney from Houston, over two-term incumbent Republican Greg Abbott. Here—not least because of the surprise factor—was an endorsement that just might carry a little weight. Probably not enough to help Radnofsky win, but that’s partly why it was such an admirable endorsement: Abbott is almost certain to be re-elected, but the Morning News wasn’t swayed by the prospect of burning its bridges to a powerful politician. In this case, at least, it played the role that a free press is supposed to play in a democracy. Even more than Dewhurst, Abbott has made his office a step-ladder for his political ambitions, wasting taxpayer money on those frivilous lawsuits against the federal government—and the DMN called him out on it.

The Morning News has become an indispensible source of political reporting in the state—a welcome departure from the paper’s reflexively conservative past. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the one daily in Texas that’s actually improved the quality of its statewide reporting—read its fine investigations into Perry’s misdeeds here and here  and here —is also showing at least a dollop of independent thinking when it comes to endorsements. When you give a hoot about facts, and commit yourself to watchdogging elected officials on behalf of the people they’re supposed to be serving, you’re surely less likely to fall back on Statesman-like cliches and purely partisan arguments. 

Kudos, then, to one editorial board at one Texas newspaper—not because the DMN gave Radnofsky the nod, but because it made a tough call for legitimate reasons and explained them cogently.

Stumper of the Week: Give Dewhurst a Chance

The nuttiest things said this week in Texas politics

Every Friday from here till the end of this year’s campaign stumping season, we’re honoring the most outlandish, befuddling, illogical or just flat-out clueless statements of the week in Texas politics. Here are this week’s Honorable Mention Stumpers:

…And I can give ’em $18 billion reasons why

“My job as governor is to go remind people how lucky they are to be living in a state doing as well as Texas is doing.”

—Gov. Rick Perry, interviewed by Austin’s KXAN-TV

Hey, where can I get my vote of no confidence?

“It’s a vote of no confidence.”

—former Texas GOP spokesperson Bryan Preston, blogging about why the Democratic Governors Association is spending some $2 million to support Bill White. “The DGA is spending the money directly,” Preston elaborated. “They don’t want White to manage it so they’re buying the ads themselves.”  

Vote for us, dumbasses

“The worst aspect of these uninformed voters is their contribution to the decline of our conservative values. Many of these voters I am sure would never knowingly or willingly vote for abortion or same sex marriage. After all why would you have a life size display of Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the unborn and then slide into the voting booth and vote for Bill White who is endorsed by Planned Parenthood? Because of their lack of knowledge and inability to connect the dots they continue to vote Democrat. We can not give up as these are the voters that may one day vote Republican.”

—Sonja Harris, founder of the group Conservatives in Action, blogging on Texas GOP Vote about a yard with an Our Lady of Guadalupe statue and a Bill White for Texas sign

Beware the Bent Tree mujahideen

sharron angle image

“We’re talking about a militant terrorist situation … Dearborn, Michigan, and Frankford, Texas are on American soil, and under Constitutional law. Not Sharia law. And I don’t know how that happened in the United States. It seems to me there is something fundamentally wrong with allowing a foreign system of law to even take hold in any municipality or government situation in our United States.”

—Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle of Nevada, suggesting that a town in Texas operates under Sharia Law. Frankford, Texas, has not existed since 1975, when Dallas annexed it. It’s now known as the Bent Tree neighborhood, one of the wealthiest in Big D.

Travel tip! 

“Have you ever tried to check into a hotel the night before opposed to doing it well in advance? You get a better value, if you spend in advance.”

—Bill White, Democratic candidate for governor, explaining why he already spent nearly $11 million and trails Gov. Perry significantly in cash-on-hand for the remainder of the campaign.


Right: Who needs all those students cluttering up our campuses?

“I don’t think the federal government’s involvement in education has benefited the students of America. The education of our young people oughta be under the jurisdication and auspices of the state governments. The state of Texas has a great university system that has not been made any better by federal money involvement.”

—former Texas Congressman Dick Armey of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks, asked on CNN whether he’d like to cut all federal money for education. (Yes, he would.) In 2006-2007, 83 percent of Texas college students had federal student loans.  



A Statesman‘s Statesman

“We don’t doubt the sincerity of his wish to be regarded as a statesman. Dewhurst is a work in progress, but he is diligently trying to get there.”

—The Austin American-Statesman, explaining its endorsement of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for a third term