Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston)
Patrick Michels

Dan Patrick’s Depression and GOP Mental Health Hypocrisy


Above: Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) presides over a Senate Education Committee hearing.

How low can the lite guv race go? Pretty damn low. Last night, leaked papers linked to a 25-year-old lawsuit filed by state Sen. Dan Patrick revealed a new facet of Patrick’s biography: In the early 1980s, Patrick was diagnosed with depression, and took medicine to cope with it. And in “late 1984 or early 1985,” he was briefly hospitalized at a Houston psychiatric center called “Spring Shadows Glen.”

Why do we know this? In 1987, Patrick sued a Houston Post columnist for libel. In 1989, the defendant’s lawyer squeezed information from Patrick about his mental health issues at a deposition. A portion of that depo was recently leaked to a number of major state media outlets. The lawyer’s interest in Patrick’s depression—it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the case, which involved an altercation at one of Patrick’s sports bars—seems to be primarily to paint him as an unreliable nut who shouldn’t be trusted with anything. That seems like a somewhat archaic view of mental health issues, but it’s exactly what the leaker of these papers is suggesting a quarter-century later.

Who leaked the deposition? Patrick’s runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was the natural target for suspicion, of course, but the San Antonio Express-News revealed it—and everyone else—had gotten the documents from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Patterson ran in the first leg of the primary and has lately been waging his own quixotic jihad against Patrick. He’s ostensibly on his own, but lately, Patterson’s been collaborating with the Dewhurst campaign and cutting ads, making him a de facto Dewhurst campaign surrogate. And the Texas Tribune reported Friday that Dewhurst’s campaign may be more involved in the leak than they had previously admitted.

Patterson, a Vietnam-vet Marine who’s passionate about honor and truth-telling, has made waves in the runoff by alleging Patrick was a draft-dodger (Patrick says he had a medical deferment) and now leaking information he obtained about Patrick’s mental health treatment three decades ago (and trying to do it anonymously). Maybe he feels like he’s dishing out what he got from Patrick in the early part of the primary, but it’s not a good look.

Will it hurt Patrick, or will it backfire on Dewhurst? Too early to tell. Dewhurst partisans have been eagerly harping on the “Dan Patrick is nuts” line, but Dewhurst himself issued a statement in which he shed some of the most transparently fabricated crocodile tears of all time: “My heart goes out to Dan Patrick and his family for what they’ve endured while coping with his condition.” Even if Dewhurst didn’t leak the papers directly, he runs the risk of being penalized for a top ally’s use of the campaign equivalent of a nut-shot in boxing.

Meanwhile, the pushback from Patrick and his supporters has been robust. Patrick’s right-hand man, Allen Blakemore, released a statement with liberal use of exclamation points: “This is outrageous! Dewhurst had already hit bottom, and now he has found a new low! He has no honor, and knows no shame!” The statement went on to add that Patrick “has not required additional treatment or medication for nearly 30 years.”

And three Republican senators who are also medical practitioners—Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)—released a statement slamming the attack:

A personal attack of this kind sinks to an unprecedented low, shamelessly attempting to embarrass Dan Patrick for seeking the appropriate medical care to treat a minor bout with depression that occurred almost 30 years ago. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 10 American adults suffer from some form of depression in their lifetime…something which the perpetrators of this attack apparently believe should disqualify them from serving their communities or contributing to society.

“We sincerely hope David Dewhurst is not responsible for this sleazy attack.” the joint statement continues.

It’s good to see Patrick supporters—and Republican state senators—speaking out about the stigma of mental illness, and the unfairness of this as an attack line in a campaign. But for those of us with memories that reach back to November, it’s a bit odd, because of what many conservatives in the state were saying about state Sen. Wendy Davis.

In 1996, Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for defamation, after she lost an election. (It was ultimately dismissed.) As one frequently does when one seeks damages in the course of a civil lawsuit, she claimed to have suffered “emotional distress” and “continuing damages to her mental health.” That second phrase—the one that would get all the attention—was used once.

Compare this to Patrick’s situation: In 1987, Patrick sued a Houston Press gossip columnist for libel, after an altercation at a sports bar. (It was also ultimately dismissed, “with prejudice.”) In the course of this lawsuit it is revealed that Patrick has had to contend seriously with mental health issues for much of the decade, and was briefly, and voluntarily, committed to a psychiatric center.

So: both unsuccessfully sued the press, both endured revelations of mental anguish. The only real difference is that Patrick’s mental health troubles would seem, on the available evidence, to be much more substantial and long-lasting. Many conservatives in the state are rallying around Patrick: How did they treat Davis when her (very minor) admission was written up last November by noted slug pundit Eric Erickson?

Erickson wrote a sensationalist item on Davis’ lawsuit entitled: “”Abortion Barbie” Wendy Davis Claims in Court That She Has Mental Health Issues.” He said Davis’ lawsuit raised “worrisome [issues] regarding her mental stability,” and charecterized her as a “damaged” woman.

The post went viral. Predictably, the cackling horde descended on “Abortion Barbie,” the “self-proclaimed loon” who had “admitted” her “brain was damaged.”

What’s Sullivan saying now about Patrick, who also sued the press?

Dishonor indeed. May 27 can’t come fast enough.