Dead Squirrels, Kids with Guns and Chuck Norris: The 2016 Texas Primary Field, in Photos
Plano state Representative Jeff Leach dragged a couch into the forest. Tom Oliverson, the aspiring District 130 rep, fired up his ice cream truck. And Democrat and District 144 hopeful Bernie Aldape outgunned the entirety of the Texas GOP field with a single tank.
No, not in their wildest political dreams, but in their campaign photos — those carefully crafted (except when they aren’t) little aesthetic missiles meant to strike voters straight in their malleable little hearts.
In a remarkable feat of data-driven masochism, I, along with a team of cheerfully powerless interns, aggregated every campaign photo of every candidate actively running for the Texas Legislature this year into a single unwieldy Google Doc that keeps crashing my computer. We pulled an image, or in many cases, images, from every challenged incumbent, every challenger and every retiree-replacement hopeful in the House and the Senate.
It was a mistake. It took forever. We’re honestly sorry we even tried. But we persevered, and now we know, for example, that aspiring reps and senators in this year’s Texas primary are twice as likely to have their photograph made outdoors than in. I know, I know. With that kind of tantalizing tidbit, I’ll be turning down cocktail invitations until one of Michael Quinn Sullivan’s minions — who photograph pretty well, by the way — finally ousts Joe Straus from the House speakership.
The basics: we analyzed 464 photos from 198 candidates. We didn’t pull photos from incumbents who aren’t being challenged. We only pulled relatively recent (or, recently used) and prominently featured photos — stuff like Facebook profile and header photos, images from “About Me” pages, posed personality shots, centerpiece photography for flyers and websites, that kind of thing.
That meant some candidates, such as the undeniably photogenic Dawn Buckingham, ended up contributing more to our little cache than others — like, for example, Dr. Osbert Rodriguez Haro III, whose campaign aesthetic consists of a what appears to be a passport photo and a single rendering of Jesus Christ, or Al Zolli, who is going for that YouTube-and-Dr. Evil vibe.
Rick Perry, that dude who used to live in the governor’s mansion before he developed expertise in dropping out of presidential races, figures prominently in the visual landscape of just three candidates, and — perhaps surprisingly, once you think about it — Chuck Norris only turns up once, on Gary VanDeaver’s Facebook page.
Even though we all of us are former fetuses, Jason Villalba’s the only guy gaming for votes with the help of a fetus-focused action shot, and no one even came close to out-kidding Terry Canales, whose official campaign site slideshow opens with a photograph of the South Texas rep and probably 150 or so schoolchildren sporting Cat in the Hat hats. On the gastronomical side of things, only one candidate, long-time Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., has visually proclaimed his perhaps controversial support for sheet cake — twice. Not to be outdone, Jose Menendez secured the endorsement of this box of bananas.
But what you really wanna know is, How many guns are these here aspiring politicians packing, so’s we know we’re not about to elect a bunch of freedom-hatin’ weenies? How many of their kids are packing heat, and how many are freedom-hatin’ weenies? Fewer than you might think, really, but apparently the children of District 18 know their way around a weapon.
Which of these liberty-loving public servants looks the best in a Lone Star flag shirt? And for Gerg’s sake, how many cows got roped into a campaign photo shoot? (Six. Six cows. Mostly in Kyle Kacal’s district.)
- Campaign photos prominently featuring the Texas Capitol: 25.
- Children, not including that photo of Terry Canales with all the kids in Cat in the Hat hats: 226.
- Children, including that photo of Terry Canales with all the kids in Cat in the Hat hats: approximately 376.
- Kids and firearms, together: four.
- Total firearms: 29.
- Most firearms in one photograph: 14. (We think.)
- Dead squirrels: six. (All courtesy of the Ernest Bailes family.)
- Churches, pairs of cowboy boots and bales of hay: four apiece.
- Number of candidates who, for an undetermined length of time, used a photo of another candidate as their primary Facebook photo: one. (Brent Graves, who on January 18 appeared to be Mike Lang.)
- Cowboy hats: 23.
- Crossed-arm candidates-with-attitude shots: 23. (Best look goes to Chris Henderson for District 27.)
- Tractors: two.
- Horses: five.
- Dogs: 13.
- Posed photos of candidates discussing non-specific construction plans with men in hard hats: two.
- Gonzales battle flags: one.
- Unidentified constituents: 64.
- American flags: 10.
- Texas flags: 16.
- Texas flags not in flag form, such as on items of clothing worn by Debbie Riddle and her husband: two.
Below, a gallery of some of the staff-favorite campaign shots: