New Wendy Davis Attack Group Run By Political Cronies

Cari Christman, the director of a PAC trying to counter Dems' advantage with women, had a strange interview Sunday. Stranger still: who's running her group.
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RedState Women's logo
RedState Women's logo

RedState Women PAC, a new Texas Republican women’s group, has had a rocky coming-out party this week. The group’s executive director, Cari Christman, talked to Jason Whitely of Dallas’ WFAA on Sunday and offered an odd critique of equal pay legislation, which has become a central issue in the gubernatorial race between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott. Christman suggested—over and over and over and over again—that a state Lilly Ledbetter law was a bad idea because women are “too busy” to use the courts.

It was an odd moment, to say the least, but it also raises the question: Who the heck are RedState Women? So far, they appear to be a motley collection of politically-connected lobbyists, ex-lobbyists and staffers of legislators who haven’t exactly distinguished themselves on women’s issues.

This morning, the Dallas Morning News‘ Wayne Slater noted the connection between RedState Women, Mike Toomey and Dave Carney—the latter two being longtime GOP insiders. But the RedState Women’s staff and board feature an even more eclectic crew.

There’s Lara Laneri Keel, the president of the group’s board, who writes in her bio that she’s “regarded as one of the top female lobbyist (sic) in Austin.” One of her clients: the private prison industry. Keel is a partner at the Texas Lobby Group, whose most prominent member is Toomey, a former Perry chief of staff and one of the governor’s closest associates. Keel is the cousin of Terry Keel, a former state representative and House parliamentarian, and wife of John Keel, former head of the Legislative Budget Board and current state auditor. Both Terry and John Keel were close associates of former House Speaker Tom Craddick.

There’s Cristen Wohlgemuth, a former lobbyist who now serves as chief of staff to state Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth), a tea party rep who voted against last session’s equal pay bill and co-sponsored the sweeping abortion restrictions that passed the Lege last summer. Wohlgemuth, the daughter of former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, worked for famously fundamentalist former state Rep. Warren Chisum before Goldman. Both Chisum and Arlene Wohlgemuth were top Craddick lieutenants. Arlene Wohlgemuth is now executive director of the corporate-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation.

And there’s Mia McCord, a former fundraiser with the state GOP who’s the current chief of staff for state Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills).  As chairman of the Republican Policy Caucus in 2011, Hancock played an important role in decimating state funding for women’s health care programs.

Christman herself is the chief of staff to state Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who was a key supporter of the effort to “defund Planned Parenthood” that ended up capsizing the whole system of women’s health care in the state.

Then there’s Tony Hernandez, the group’s treasurer, according to the only financial report. Hernandez is another lobbyist (he works with Keel at the Texas Lobby Group) and the only XY chromosome in the bunch. Hernandez has an even more eclectic past—before he came to Texas, he worked for Andrew Laming, the bro-tastic Australian politician, most famous for calling out Aborigines and Pacific Islanders for an addiction to “welfare on tap” and chugging beers while doing handstands for Australia Day this year. (“This is the way I chose to celebrate Australia Day,” Laming said, Australian-ly. “I chose to drink my beer upside down.”)

It’s a strange group—not the dream team you might have assembled for a Texas women’s advocacy group. But they’ve been earning a lot of headlines. RedState Women launched its website on Wednesday after giving Politico a sneak peek, and earned a cameo in a recent Wall Street Journal story about women voters. As a PAC, the group will presumably be raising and spending money on candidates. But the most important role RedState Women will play this election cycle, it seems, will be in messaging.

To that end, the splashy new website—complete with an odd red-and-black logo that calls to mind Fantine from Les Miserables joining an anarchist collective—features the start of a video series, “Why I am a Red State Woman,” whose goal is to explore the many flavors of conservative women in Texas. The first video features Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, the daughter of 45-year incumbent and former House Speaker Tom Craddick, who offers a genial series of anecdotes about her family. As noted, several of the PAC’s members have direct or indirect ties to the old Craddick establishment.

The group hopes to emphasize the diversity of Texas Republicans. “RSW represents a variety of life experiences and reflects the Texas spirit of strength and independence,” Christman wrote at time of the PAC’s launch. But it’s unclear how much Red State Women’s staff and board reflect that “variety of life experiences.”

Who’s funding RedState Women PAC? Christman declined to provide any additional information to Politico, telling the publication that information wouldn’t be available before this summer’s round of financial reports, some four months away. Until they’re released, expect to see RedState Women’s contention that they represent a burgeoning swath of passionate women activists go mostly unchallenged, Christman’s slip-up aside.

Christopher Hooks joined the Observer in 2014. Previously, he was a freelance journalist in Austin, where he grew up. His work has appeared in Politico Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, among others. He graduated from The New School in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in history.

  • 1bimbo

    investigative hit piece on a conservative women’s group? i wonder if the embattled left-leaning texas media will wield their investigative prowess on wendy davis law firm corporate and government clients and their projects connected to taxpayer cash

    • Jed

      how would a left-leaning texas media stay in business?

    • Asher B. Garber

      It must be great being a Texas right wing whackjob with an anonymous Disqus moniker. So many liberals for you to harangue. So many fellow right wing nutjobs to give you the props you deserve. All day long. While on the internet. Because that’s working, folks.

      Yes, if you want to be as effectively idiotic and batshit nasty, vote for the Texas GOP. They believe in slander.

  • 1bimbo