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God’s Man in the Texas Senate

by Published on
Four candidates for lt. gov.
Clockwise from top-left: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Sen. Dan Patrick.

You can be forgiven if you haven’t been following the nascent race for lieutenant governor. The only entrants so far are four Republicans—all white, all conservative, all male—and the only people sampling these different flavors of vanilla are political insiders with a taste for right-wing buffoonery.

But it’s time to tune in, dear reader. Come now, let us join Dan, David, Jerry and Todd as they give life to what Freud called the “narcissism of small differences.” Marvel as they claw at each other to decide who’s next in line in an unbroken succession of white men in the state’s most powerful elected office. Look a little closer, and you’ll detect some differences among the men that, while seemingly small, could mean big differences in governing styles.

I think the race will come down to a runoff between Houston state Sen. Dan Patrick and incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst—and that Dewhurst will learn, again, that GOP grassroots activists can spot a faker.

But first let’s meet the candidates, in ascending order of likelihood to win:

The long shot is Todd Staples, Texas Agriculture Commissioner. If Mitt Romney was the first clip-art candidate, Staples is surely the first bobblehead candidate. His chiseled but weirdly disproportionate visage would prove a challenge for sidewalk caricaturists. He’s already caricature. In 2006, the then state senator was easily elected ag commissioner. Since then, he’s been trying to get an increasingly urban and suburban state to notice him by hollering about narco-terrorists lurking among the Rio Grande Valley’s rutabagas.

Second, we have Jerry Patterson, Texas Land Commissioner. Patterson has assets the rest of the pack seem to lack: iconoclasm and a sense of humor. In a 2008 interview, he was asked whether wind turbines posed a threat to birds. Wind farms in the Gulf of Mexico, he allowed, “would be the first line of defense against avian flu.” I like Jerry Patterson, even if he makes a habit of referring to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression.” Jerry’s problem is that he’s a little too single-issue-focused (guns, guns, guns) and too open-minded on immigration. He goes his own way and that may be too much for the GOP base to handle.

Third, we have David Henry Dewhurst, self-described “Defender of the Preborn.” If Dewhurst weren’t super rich, is there a chance he’d be lite guv? He isn’t a skilled politician. Insincere, distant, bumbling, awkward with the hoi polloi. He spent $8 million to become land commissioner in 1998. Watching Dewhurst pander to the far right since his loss to Ted Cruz in the 2012 U.S. Senate race has been painful. Even in ramrodding a sweeping anti-abortion bill through the Legislature this summer, Dewhurst managed to bungle it. He dragged things almost literally to the last minute, affording Wendy Davis and a gallery of rowdy protesters the opportunity to filibuster the bill and launch a movement.

And so that’s how we come to Sen. Dan Patrick, perhaps the favorite to win the lieutenant governorship. Patrick, who was born Daniel Goeb in Baltimore, Maryland, is a familiar American type: the snake-oil salesman who’s come to believe his own sales job. Where Dewhurst is unsure, Patrick possesses the certainty of a zealot. He’s an amalgam of the drive-time pablum of right-wing talk radio, the radical but platitudinous theology of the exurban mega-church, and the blinkered orthodoxy of the tea party. He gives political speeches in church, religious sermons in the Legislature, and a medley of both on his Houston AM radio station.

“There is no such thing as separation of church and state,” he told a Baptist church in Conroe in late June, just a few days after Wendy Davis’ filibuster.
A year earlier, he’d told the same congregation, “When I vote—and I’ve cast 13,000 votes in three sessions—the lobbyist I listen to more than any is Jesus Christ.”

Jesus tells him to ban abortion. Jesus tells him that private school vouchers are the “new civil rights movement.” Jesus probably even gives him marching orders on redistricting, tort reform and the boundaries of that new municipal utility district in Cypress-Fairbanks.

Dan Patrick as lieutenant governor is a frightening thought. You could say goodbye to the two-thirds rule, which requires a two-thirds vote to debate a bill and encourages compromise and comity in the Senate. Imagine the anti-abortion bill but without all the drama—many times over. All that stands in the way is David, Jerry and Todd.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • SoberMoney

    Sorry, Forrest, but you left out the most insane white people of all, Texas voters.

    • Becklev

      Well said. It fills me with despair sometimes.

  • Rusty Osborne

    “His chiseled but weirdly disproportionate visage would prove a challenge for sidewalk caricaturists. He’s already caricature.”

    Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

    • newsmom4968

      what a great name for a rockabilly band!

    • April D. Korbel

      Hey, don’t be mean to a fun band.

  • newsmom4968

    until and unless everyone who gripes about these nematodes knuckles down and works to change votes — including throwing $5, $10 or $20 in the basket at every opportunity — we’re gonna continue to be stuck with a 21st-century stable of 19th-century candidates. reasonable people have the power and, believe it or not, if we play the grass roots card right, the cash to support better options. the thought of the current batch of candidates ruling the roost is truly frightening.

    • Stephen Williams

      I think you are being unfair to the 19th Century.

  • Scott West

    I get a kick out of all the hyperbole about social issues. The emotional set ignores the fiscal problems facing modern society and our state, focuses on “my birth control” or “rights of the unborn”. Your personal choice, etc. shouldn’t have any relevance to what our legislature is charged with doing.
    However, Patrick has been sterling on fiscal issues. The position that folks should be interested in his efficient state government leading to lower property taxes and a better quality of life for those who work, pay taxes. If you live off the system or government largess, then you won’t want to vote for Patrick regardless. My beef with state, county, and municipal spending is the waste, inefficiency, and tax incentives granted for new business construction. We have only to look at CA., NY., or IL finances for what happens when a state legislature spends their way to win reelection.
    On the other hand, if the voters ultimately decide that TX needs pols who think big gov is here to help and want more of it, that would surely cure our problem with constantly expanding infrastructure to support all the new job seekers.

    • Jeff Bohning

      I don’t know where you get your information but my property taxes have gone up, mainly from our own bonds to attempt to retain funding for public schools. CA recently posted a budget surplus after going further blue than they already were…

  • radsenior

    Right-winged buffoonery has corrupted the once proud Republican party. With the likes of Steve Stockman, Rafael Eduardo Cruz, running as “Ted Cruz,” Louie Gohmert and other fringe elements bastardizing Texas and Texans, it’s no wonder there hasn’t been an uprising within the state. It is profoundly important that Texans get informed and registered to vote. The gulf between the richest 1 percent and the rest of America is the widest it’s been since the Roaring ’20’s. There is a “concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people and the concentration of power in stricter, less compassionate hands!” The rich get richer and the poor suffer the consequences. The black population have worked tirelessly to bring this to light and now it is time for the Hispanic/Latino communities to effect the same strength locally, at the state level and nationally. Only then will progressive actions take effect. People should be interested in getting deputized to register people to vote, getting registration forms, camping out at gatherings, grocery stores, churches and fire stations to raise the level of participation in the political arena. The 2014 Mid-term is a-coming! As is 2016, and 2018! V.O.T.E.(Vote Out The Encumberance) Sweep the states and Congress clean in 2014! YOUR VOTE ONLY COUNTS WHEN YOU VOTE!