The Great Spectacle Returns


A version of this story ran in the May 2012 issue.

It’s that time again, folks: the great primary clown show—delayed by the redistricting kerfuffle—in which a tiny slice of the populace selects our political leaders. Thanks to computerized gerrymandering and the lack of a formidable opposition party—tea party excluded—the May 29 primary is the general election in most districts. Here’s a selection of state and federal primary races to keep an eye on—or at least shake your head at.

Ralph Hall vs. Lou Gigliotti

You can pry his congressional seat from Ralph Hall’s cold, dead hands. And you may have to. At 89, Rep. Hall, a Republican from Rockwall, is the oldest member of Congress. He’s served 16 terms and is running (well, maybe not running) for still another.

Hall was alive during Tennessee’s Scopes Monkey Trial but Clarence Darrow’s stirring defense of science didn’t have much evident effect on him. Of climate change, Hall says, “I’m really more fearful of freezing. And I don’t have any science to prove that.”

Naturally, Hall is chairman of the House Science Committee.

For his relatively youthful opponent, Hall is the poster octogenarian for term limits. His GOP primary challenger, Lou Gigliotti, 62, a businessman from Wylie, has promised to voluntarily retire after three terms.

Gigliotti’s platform? Repeal the 16th Amendment (establishing the federal income tax), abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, and, according to his campaign site, “… eliminate the bacon and pork. … I will Fight to leave the pig in Texas and we can make our own bacon!!!”

David Simpson vs. Tommy Merritt

Freshman state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, is the uncontrollable id of the Texas GOP, so pure and sincere in his tea party politics and religious fundamentalism that he strikes fear even in the hearts of many Republicans.

His first session in the Legislature was one for the books. It opened with his organizing a semi-official “Election Sermon” by a fundamentalist preacher from Arkansas who told the assembled conservative legislators that they were on a “divine assignment.” Then he launched a failed crusade against the Transportation Security Administration’s “groping” policy at airports that came to an end when the Department of Justice threatened to shut down air travel in Texas. Simpson followed that by trying to kill an uncontroversial bill reining in “puppy mills” because he thought Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the Democratic chair of the powerful local and consent calendars committee, was acting like a bully. That prompted Thompson to don a T-shirt that read: “I Miss Tommy Merritt.”

Merritt was the hearty East Texas good ol’ boy who served in the House from 1996 until Simpson toppled him in the 2010 Republican primary. One of Merritt’s finer moments came in 2009, during his last session in the Lege, when he slipped a $4.3 million earmark for a Longview-based DPS helicopter into the appropriations bill.

Now Merritt is back to paint Simpson as a guy whose buggy is stuck in the 19th century, a loopy libertarian out of joint with time and reality. But Simpson has attracted the endorsement of such GOP bigwigs as Comptroller Susan Combs. And he’s a top priority for Michael Quinn Sullivan, an Austin-based far-right kneecapper who’s engaged in more ideological purges than a Marxist sectarian.

Al Edwards vs. Borris Miles

This perennial grudge match is back for another round. Edwards and Miles, both Democrats, have now gone mano a mano four times in this Houston-area state House district, trading places every two years since 2006, when Miles first broke Edwards’ 27-year legislative streak. Edwards beat Miles in 2008. Miles retook the seat from Edwards in 2010, and holds it now.

Quorum Report likened the matchup to Ali vs. Frazier, but it more closely resembles the Rocky series, with each iteration more absurd than the last.

Edwards is infamous for two things: chairing a committee that commissioned a Juneteenth memorial that includes a statue of a lawmaker with an eerie resemblance to Rep. Al Edwards, and introducing a 2005 bill that banned “sexy cheerleading,” an achievement that landed him on The Daily Show, where he explained the correlation between “droppin’ low” and “the herpes.”

Miles’ career, meanwhile, has hardly been dull. In 2007 he was accused of brandishing a gun and kissing the wife of a business rival at a party. A jury later acquitted him of two deadly conduct charges.

In a recent interview, Miles told Houston blogger Charles Kuffner, “Don’t try to dick us in the back room,” in reference to Democrats short-changing African-Americans in redistricting.. “They just did it as if we were just supposed to lay down and take the fucking.”

Miles and Edwards, these guys deserve each other.