Observations

Into the Breach

Two special circumstances make this an uncertain but important historical moment in Texas politics. The majority vote for President in a state determines that all its electoral votes go to the candidate who wins that majority. Since George W. Bush is a cinch to carry Texas, independents and Democrats can, if they wish, vote for Ralph Nader without risking helping Bush or hurting Gore. From columnist Molly Ivins’ perspective, for example, “There’s every reason to do it, and no reason not to.” Secondly, the Texas Democratic Party has ceded the leadership contest at the statewide level (not making an exception to take account of a political nonentity running as the Democrat in the United States Senate race) in this election to the Republicans, failing to run anyone at all for the two seats that are open on the Texas Railroad Commission or for the open position on the Texas Supreme Court. The Democrats went belly up statewide on the supine theory that if the election was totally boring (that is, if they ran nobody seriously for the United States Senate and gave Republicans a free pass at the regulatory agency and on the court) they could slip as many Democrats back into the legislature as they could get by with.

This is as close to killing yourself as you can get without blowing your brains out, and in consequence this year it’s Greens versus Republicans with no Democrat running for three powerful statewide offices. Gary Dugger, a union steward and UPS worker in Austin, who two years ago (although receiving only $11,000 in contributions) won 37 percent of the statewide vote as a “populist Democrat,” and Charles Mauch (pronounced “mock”), a refinery-process engineer who has been senior environmental engineer for the city of Houston, are the Green Party’s candidates against the Republican incumbents on the Railroad Commission. Meanwhile, Ben Levy, the founder of the ACLU in Houston and formerly a judge on the First Court of Appeals, is the Green running for the state’s high court, with nary a Democrat in sight in these races. ACORN, the Sierra Club in Texas, and the Texas League of Conservation Voters have endorsed Mauch and Dugger, and Dugger is also endorsed by his union, Teamsters Local 657, the Houston and Austin gay political caucuses, the Progressive Populist newspaper, and Jim Hightower, the former Democratic Agriculture Commissioner. Sissy Farenthold, who ran for governor as a Democrat, endorses all three of the Greens who have no Democratic opponents, adding sardonically, “Thank you very much, Democratic Party of Texas!” She says some Latin-Americans reminded her that in the past she had advocated pulling “the big lever,” and she replied to them, “Not this time. That just plays into the hands of the Republicans.”

Certainly the Texas Democrats’ signature sellout of the past decade occurred when then-Governor Ann Richards, weighing her opportunity to appoint an electable and progressive Democrat such as Lloyd Doggett or Hightower to an empty United States Senate seat, nominated instead a former Congressman, Robert Krueger of New Braunfels, who had the most reactionary voting record of any recent Democratic Congressman from Texas. Naturally the right-wing Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, beat Krueger. This year, when Houston attorney Doug Sandage approached the Democrats for support to run against Senator Hutchison, he was told that unless he had $2 million and could raise another $2 million he should not run. Sandage says that to help “recapture our power as a people from the transnational corporations,” he chose to run as a Green.

Nationally, as of this writing on October 23, Nader’s support in polls exceeds the margins separating Bush from Gore in six states (Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, and Florida) and his effect could be similarly pivotal in Michigan. But in such states as Texas, Massachusetts, and New York, where either Bush or Gore is an all-but-certain winner, the voters get a moral pass – what Ivins calls a free vote, which they can cast for Nader without affecting who wins. With Nader running at about 4 percent in national polls two weeks before the election, theoretically these “free votes” in the sewed-up states could put Nader over 5 percent and make the national Green Party, which would thereby be assured federal funding in 2004, a watchdog over the two major parties for the next four years. The Texas Green Party also must get 5 percent of the vote for one of its candidates statewide in order to stay on the Texas ballot for 2002 without the onerous requirement of petition drives.

Universally, Nader is acknowledged as our Public Citizen No. 1. He has done more good out of office than most United States presidents do in. All his life he has worked full-time to live up to his mother’s definition of true patriotism – to work to make your country more lovable – and to embody something else she taught him, that “determination is what gives dreams wheels.” Nader, speaking to big-city rallies of 10,000 to 15,000 people in the northwest and east and to thousands at rallies in Texas (for example, in Houston and Austin last spring and in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston this month), advocates national health insurance now; price controls on pharmaceuticals developed in part by publicly-funded research; an end to hundreds of billions of dollars worth of corporate welfare; a minimum wage of $10 an hour; the repeal of the Taft-Hartley law; opposition to the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; public funding for public elections; an end to the corporate concentration of the ownership of the major media; a Marshall plan to end poverty in the United States; solar power; tightening fuel-efficiency standards; vigorous prosecution of corporate crimes and abuse; an end to the war on drugs, transforming it into a public-health matter; the legalization of marijuana; the abolition of capital punishment; citizen control of what we own, such as pension funds and the airways and a third of the land in the country; sharp military spending reductions; proportional representation; same-day voter registration; re-escalation upward of the corporate tax rates and the retention of the inheritance tax; and ending the governing power of the large corporations and their allied billionaires.

Not a single one of these proposals in Nader’s platform is supported by either Bush or Gore or by the political platforms of either party. (In charity, quickly I record a necessary caveat concerning Gore’s absurd proposal last spring, which he hasn’t mentioned since, that people voluntarily contribute $7 billion, with no earmarking for candidates, to pay for our elections, starting eight years from now.) Yet, Nader contends, his proposals are “majoritarian” – that is, majorities of the people favor them. The profundity of the disconnect between the people and the two major parties could hardly be clearer. Hightower, who stayed with the Democrats until this year, has gone Green, arguing that the two-party trap never ends, it goes on forever. Consider the historical irony. Had Richards appointed Hightower to the Senate from Texas he would probably be seeking re-election this year. Instead the Democrats are not seriously opposing Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and have given a pass to three other statewide Republican candidates, and Hightower is on the stump for Ralph Nader.

Gary Dugger, speaking to the roughly 10,000 people who turned out for Nader’s four rallies in Texas, October 18—19, said, among other things, “I’m running against Bush lackeys in Texas. The Democrats haven’t got the cojones to do it, and the Green Party is doing it.” The way for the major parties to free themselves of worry about the votes third parties get, he argued, is for the legislature to pass instant-runoff voting, which allows voters to rank candidates according to their preference. Under that system, for example, if you voted for Nader as your first choice and Gore as your second choice, but Nader lost in the first vote-count (and Bush did not yet have a majority), your vote would count for Gore. He said he would fight, if elected Railroad Commissioner for the six-year term, to raise the severance tax on oil and gas instead of abolishing it, and to make polluters pay to clean up their messes. Corporations “are running roughshod over our environment and polluting our aquifers. And the Railroad Commission is not fining them because they’re getting campaign contributions from these large companies.”

The vitality of the Green campaign in Texas may surprise you, for the lack of attention it has attracted in the press has been remarkable even for Texas. “I’m doing all I can, I realize it may not be enough,” Gary Dugger says. When he ran as a Democrat in 1998 the Austin American-Statesman endorsed him, saying he “would be a refreshing voice on the commission, emphasizing sustainable energy, cleaning up and preventing pollution, pushing for more reliance on wind and solar power, and strengthening regulation of the railroad industry. Sometimes it takes a maverick to shake out the cobwebs and let in a little fresh air to a musty, hidebound agency.” But that was then. Perhaps the ferocity of the Green rebellion this year, or sheer embarrassment among traditional Texas Democrats over the default of their party, accounts for the blackout this time. In any case, it is the truth of this historical moment that the Texas Democratic Party has laid down in front of the Bush steamroller, and the Texas Green Party is fighting in the Democrats’ stead.

Ronnie Dugger, founding editor of the Observer, is also a founder of the Alliance for Democracy. As a member of the Green Party and an unsuccessful Green candidate in New York State this year, he personally favors Nader for President. He is the father of Gary Dugger. Nader’s website is http://www.votenader.org; Gary Dugger’s, linked with that of the Texas Green Party, is http://www.Greens2000.org. The Observer, being a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, does not endorse or oppose candidates for office.

Ronnie Dugger was the founding editor of the Observer in 1954 and was its publisher until 1994. He has written biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, books about Hiroshima and universities, and countless articles in The Nation, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Atlantic, The New York Times, The Progressive, The Washington Post and other publications. Home again, living and writing in Austin, he received the George Polk career award in journalism in 2012.

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