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busloads of CLOUT protesters journeyed to the Capitol in Austin to rally for a cap on property tax appraisals. At the golf club breakfast, in a practiced and smooth delivery, Patrick inveighs against the “Robin Hood” plan that takes money from property-wealthy school districts and redistributes it to poorer ones. He promises to put an end to politics-as-usual in Austin, attacking the power of lobbyists as well as the clubby atmosphere of the Texas Senate. Taking a stand that sounds uncontroversial here but is jolting to Austin insiders, he calls for elimination of the Senate’s twothirds rule, which requires the consent of 19 of 31 senators before a bill can be considered on the Senate floor. The rule tends to encourage cooperation and collegiality between the GOP and the Democrats; to Patrick it requires the Republican majority to bargain needlessly with the enemy. But Patrick saves his most hard-edged oratory for illegal immigrants. He blames them for a rising crime rate, overcrowded schools, an overburdened health-care system, and runaway growth in the state budget. “The number one problem we are facing,” he tells audiences, “is the silent invasion of the border. We are being overrun. It is imperiling our safety.” “The crime rate is soaring,” he says, “and most of it can be tracked to illegal immigration. There are terrorists and drug runners coming into Texas and the sheriffs in 15 border counties are being asked to stop them with only a .45 on their hip and a shotgun in the trunk. They’ll tell you it’s the federal government’s responsibility,” he adds, “but the cavalry is not coming. It’s up to us to protect our borders.” Illegal immigrants, moreover, are walking pathogens. “They are bringing Third World diseases with them,” Patrick asserts, citing “tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy.” Patrick’s message goes down well at the golf club with this largely middle-aged, white-collar, mostly male crowd. They include: a car dealer, a commercial real-estate broker, a sales rep for an office-furniture concern, the owner of an autorepair shop, an insurance agent, a jeweler, and a banker. “I liked what I heard and agreed with Dan’s platform,” says Bob Steele, a retired ExxonMobil executive. Several snap up free copies of The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read, Patrick’s inspirational book on reading the Bible, some of which he autographs. \(A brief bio of Patrick on the back flap reports that his “number one goal in life is to serve the Lord in everything he does, spreading As audience members depart, many carry yard signs, bumper stickers, and campaign literature. One Patrick loyalist vouches for his good character. “Dan’s the kind of guy,” says Steve Drake, an investment counselor in Houston, “that you’d call at three in the morning when you’re stuck out on the highway with a flat tire.” Lying mostly outside Houston city limits in the northwest quadrant of Harris County and part of Waller County, Senate District 7 includes the communities of Spring, Katy, Cypress, Tomball, Jersey Village, and the Memorial Villages. Only about a quarter of the district is within Houston proper. The Almanac of American Politics describes this area as “a zone of rapid metropolitan expansion and growth, of commercial office space and upscale residential subdivisions rising on land that once held roadside stands and barbecues and unpainted farmhouses with water pooling on low swampy fields.” Amid tall stands of pine trees, many of the tony neighborhoods here could double for Wisteria Lane of “Desperate Housewives” fame. The district has roughly 700,000 residents and, according to Capitol Inside, a political newsletter, there were 409,653 registered voters as of the 2004 election. In recent presidential elections, it has divided 75 percent to 25 percent in favor of the GOP, placing it among the most Republican districts in a Red State. Patrick has high name recognition among likely voters, the result not just of his radio exposure but of national television appearances on Fox News, MSNBC, and other media outlets. His work on religious and charitable causes helped win the support of the actor Chuck Norris, known for his role as “Walker: Texas Ranger.” In a season with no significant contested statewide races on the Republican ballot, the race for the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Lindsay is emerging as a bellwether election. The. winner will help determine the direction of the Texas GOP and, since Republicans rule the roost in the Lone Star State, the trend of state politics and policy. If Patrick wins, moreover, it may position him for higher office. For his most ardent supporters, Patrick’s campaign is something of a crusade, generating excitement and passion. “Let me say from the bottom of my heart,” Guy Lewis, a cosmetic dentist, told guests as he played host to a reception for Patrick at his Spring home, “that I admire Dan and he is making this race for all the right reasons. When he goes to Austin, he won’t be influenced by the wrong people.” Patrick’s earnestness may give him an air of credibility when he’s at his best. But on the stump there’s also an inflammatory and even paranoid style at workand not much fact-checking. On the threat of immigrants bringing “Third World diseases” across the border, for example, Patrick’s information doesn’t check out. Tim Metz, a physician with a master’s degree in public health who serves as the top epidemiologist at the State Health Services Department, says there is not a known case of polio in the Western Hemisphere “and we haven’t seen it in decades.” Malaria is a tropical disease spread by the anopheline mosquito. It is easily treated and remains “a rare disease in Texas and not a huge problem.” Leprosy is known today as Hansen’s disease and “we have no more than 50 cases a year that are reported, but it’s not on the rise.” As for TB, “We’ll have 1,500 or so cases in Texas this year, which might be a slight increase, but we’ve got very effective TB-control programs in every local health department in the state.” Patrick is energizing a new group of primary voters. Many are from evangelical churches or are CLOUT members, or are avid listeners to his radio show. Even some disaffected FEBRUARY 24, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7