I had the chance recently to sit down with Richard Morrison, who will be running against Tom DeLay in the 22nd Congressional District if the old map remains in place. I have a good feeling about him as a person and as a candidate, and I believe that if he can get sufficient funding, he can mount a decent challenge to DeLay. If after reading this interview you feel the same way and would like to help support such a challenge, you can click here to make a donation to Richard's campaign.
The full text of the interview is under the More link. Once the redistricting lawsuit is resolved, I hope to have another chance to talk to Richard about his campaign.
UPDATE: Of interest is this op-ed by Linda Curtis of Independent Texans, in which she indicates that two-time DeLay primary challenger Michael Fjetland might run against him as an independent in 2004.
UPDATE: Greg Wythe has some excellent thoughts on how to approach this campaign. Check it out.
Charles Kuffner: Tell me a little bit about yourself, your background.
Richard Morrison: Well, I’m a native Texan. I don’t know how far back you want me to go, but I was born in east Texas, Longview. I grew up in Liberty, Texas, which is not too far from there. I graduated from Liberty High School, attended Baylor University, got my major in philosophy. And after I graduated from Baylor, I went to South Texas Law School.
CK: That’s where my father-in-law went. What kind of law do you practice?
RM: Currently I’m practicing environmental law.
CK: What does that mean?
RM: Well, I spent the last seven years working with Blackburn & Carter. And Jim Blackburn’s office is probably one of the…not probably, it is the foremost plaintiffs’ environmental kind of a public interest law firm in the state if not in the country.
CK: All right. He’s the guy who’s suing on behalf of the Katy Corridor Coalition.
RM: Correct. And also on behalf of a bunch of different groups down at Bayport and Seabrook.
CK: Were you involved in that litigation at all?
RM: It’s a three-person office, so everybody is involved in everything.
CK: So you’ve just gone out on your own?
RM: Yeah, that’s right. Now I’m going out on my own. I have an office in Sugar Land. I wish I could give myself a free plug, but I can’t remember the phone number.
CK: Hah! That’s all right.
RM: But, I’d like to stick to doing environmental law. I don’t think there’s much environmental, there’s not too many environmental problems in Fort Bend County. So I’m probably going to broaden my practice and not limit myself other than things that come in I don’t know anything about. I don’t want to screw up someone’s case.
CK: And your personal background? You’re married?
RM: Yeah, married. I’m working on the tenth year. I have four kids. I have two daughters and two boys. My oldest daughter is eight years old; her name is Haley. My oldest son is Austin, and he’s six. My next son is four, and his name is John; and the youngest is Julia, and she’s two. We’ve lived out in Sugar Land for, gosh, almost nine years now.
CK: Where did you live before Sugar Land?
RM: Well, before Sugar Land, we lived—my wife and I—we lived in an apartment right over here inside the Loop off of Fournace.
CK: Why’d you decide to move to Sugar Land?
RM: Well, we had my daughter, and we were living in a one-bedroom apartment. So it’s me and my wife and my daughter all living in the same room. And we decided that we needed to move out to Sugar Land. Well, we decided we needed a house first, and we went and looked at homes, you know, inside the Loop, but they were small and expensive, and we knew we wanted to have a bigger family, so the type of house we needed was a lot cheaper in Sugar Land. And I moved out there, and after living out there a year, I realized I had really made a mistake from the traffic standpoint.
CK: Yeah, that’s a tough commute.
RM: And it’s gotten worse as the years have gone on, and so it’s just eating me up, really.
CK: That why you relocated your law office there?
RM: That is the main reason. Before, I spent three hours a day getting from Sugar Land to my office, to my old office, and now my office is right in front of my subdivision, so it takes me five minutes.
CK: What is your background in politics? Have you worked with any political campaigns or any office holders in the past?
RM: You know, my background in politics is kinda on the fringe. I’ll say that. My dad and my mom both went to school with Mark White and Price Daniel, Jr. My dad was Price Daniel’s roommate. My mom got introduced to my dad—she went out with Gov. White in college for the first year—and after that they double-dated and my dad was along, and after that, my dad took my mom out. So I’ve been involved in those two gentlemen’s campaigns to varying degrees, you know, kinda my whole life, not really directly involved but in the fringe, you know, fundraisers and that kind of stuff.
RM: So that’s my experience, I guess. It’s limited.
CK: OK. What candidates have you done fundraising for most recently or been involved in fundraising for most recently?
RM: Tony Sanchez was the last one.
RM: My dad and I had a fundraising party for him. We were the hosts out at Clear Lake, my momma and ten other people or so. And that was probably the last one I have done.
CK: OK. I guess the big question for me is, why are you running? Why do you think you can win?
RM: Well, I’m running for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is you hear the old saying that says, “If you don’t vote, then you can’t complain.” All right, so I’ve voted, and I’ve voted against DeLay, but it doesn’t seem to do any good. I was really happy the last time Tim Riley ran. My dad had known him. He’s a lawyer, and he had good things to say about him, and I was pleased, because I thought Tim would do a good job. And I think he did do a good job as a candidate, but he just didn’t raise enough money to get his message out. Voting’s not good enough for me, and I just figured I would have to take matters into my own hands to try to beat DeLay. At a time in the past I would say at least on the issue of fiscal responsibility and balancing the budget, Mr. DeLay and I were driving in the same car. You know, I might’ve been in the back seat to his car wreck. Having the budget balanced and spending only what you can afford is very important to me, and it used to be important to him. But now he’s telling us, “Oh, having a deficit is OK.”
Second, the traffic problem is terrible, and all the local elected politicians, because of their constituencies, want an alternative, such as rail, and DeLay is telling them to keep your mouth shut. And so he’s just kind of abandoned the district. We don’t…he and I don’t agree on anything else other than the deficit, and we don’t even agree on that now. But he is one of the most powerful men in Washington. The guy could do something about the traffic situation in this area. He could have a grand vision and say, “All right, Houston’s got their deal. Let’s be sure they get all the money they need. And Fort Bend County, you’re one of the fastest growing counties in the country. You’ve got to get on board this; we’ve got to get some alternatives out there. We’ve got to get something set up, or you’re going to be behind the eight ball like Houston is now, and it’s going to be too late.” He could do that; it would not be a problem. Instead he chooses to go the other way, which is “roads only,” and the situation with “roads only” is you look twenty-five years down the line and they’ve built every road that they could possibly build, all their dreams, all their plans done, and the only thing you’re going to have out there is cars in traffic, still. Everything’s going to be gridlocked.
CK: Do you get the sense, from talking to any local politicians in Sugar Land, like mayors or city council people, that what you said about DeLay, that he’s out of touch with the local community, do you get the sense that they agree with that?
RM: Yes. I get the sense that they probably would not say that he’s out of touch. He’s very…you think “in touch” of a guy who’s saying, “OK, let’s let the local people decide”, especially since that’s been one of his platforms. You know, that’s what he used to run on. That’s the big, conservative mantra, you know. Well, that would mean the mayor of Sugar Land or the county commissioners would call him up and say, “Congressman DeLay, we really need rail down here. People are screaming for it. We really need it.” “All right, let me get down there, and let’s see what we can do and work with it.” But that would mean to be in touch. His “in touch” is, “Yeah, I’m in touch, but I’m in touch like a prison guard.” Which is, “I know everything that’s going on, but I’m telling you how it’s going to be run. You don’t talk about rail; you don’t bring it up; we’re not going to do it until I say we’re going to do it.” So he’s in touch, but it’s a kind of negative “in touch.”
But again, I know the mayor of Stafford just is really frustrated with what’s going on ’cause he’s going to feel it worst soonest because he’s right in that buffer zone between the growing rural area, suburbs, and Houston. I know the county commissioners…there are a lot of Republican elected officials out there that are very frustrated with what’s going on.
CK: But do you believe that you can take their frustration and turn it into support for you?
RM: But the reason why they’re frustrated, the reason why they’re feeling the pinch is because their constituents are the ones that are telling them, “What the hell’s going on with this? How come don’t we get rail? What’s the problem? How come we’re always seeing roads?”
CK: So you believe you can get the support from the people?
RM: I believe I can, but it’s going to take…see, it’s going to take me getting my message out.
CK: That’s the next question. What is your strategy for getting your message out?
RM: Well, first let me tell you why I’ve got to get it out. If I just have the label, “Richard Morrison, Democrat,” all right, then everyone out there that kind of thinks the Rush Limbaugh way, which is “If this guy’s a Democrat, then we’re electing Ted Kennedy.” Ted Kennedy’s not going to get anything out of there, and so I have to be able to get the message out that, “Yeah, I’m a Democrat, but I’m really your neighbor, and I’m just like you.” Those people are Democrats; they just don’t know it.
I went to this deal the other day with the teachers, when they were protesting at DeLay. There were all these ladies coming up there, these three really nice ladies, the Fort Bend County Democratic Women, they’re like a hundred years old, three of them. They were, like, “Oh, we’d like for you to come and speak.” And I said, “I’d love to speak.” And these three or four soccer moms walked up, and they said, “We’re registered Republicans, but can we come to your meeting?” And so they all think they’re Republicans, because that’s the hip thing to be, you know, and that’s where all the rich guys are and all that, but really they’re just Democrats and they don’t know it, ’cause their rights are getting trampled on, they just don’t realize it. And they think, “Oh, the Republicans are going to take care of us.” Well, I’m not sure that’s true. But the way to get that message out is you have to be able to raise a lot of money and spend it. And Chris Bell, I talked to his campaign before I even started this process, and they told me that he raised 1.2 million and spent all that to get elected. Well, I realized that he had great name recognition from running for mayor the year before, two years before.
RM: Right. But I figured just to run a good, competitive campaign, I’m going to need to raise at least a million dollars and spend it all. You know: mailings. We haven’t had in the budget TV, but you know it’s almost not cost effective because you’re advertising to people over in Liberty County, and they can’t vote for you anyway even if they like you. But we may have to do that just to get the name out. But we’ve been talking to people. I bet I’ve got twenty phone calls from different people in Bill White’s campaign that really are excited about helping me. And so we’d like to try to use Bill White’s campaign as a model. Keep it real positive, talk about a new vision, just get some people out there to recognize it and realize, “Hey, this guy, I mean, he goes to church with me. He’s my next-door neighbor. He doesn’t believe anything different than what we believe in. He’s willing to go up there to Washington and say, ‘Look, this is what we need. Let’s do it.’” And I think if I can get that message out, then people will vote. But if not, you know, if you just go out there, and that’s why Tim—I mean, he’s a great guy—but he didn’t get the message out that he was a great guy, and they only saw…a lot of them just saw “Tim Riley, Democrat,” and that’s a death sentence.
CK: Have you gotten support from, like, the national party, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and any of the other statewide Democratic politicians in Texas?
RM: The answer to that question is yes and no. We have talked to all those people. I think I’ve called every elected Democrat in the state. I’ve called a lot of the national people. I’ve called the D Triple C; we’ve talked to everybody over there, and here’s the deal. You know how the things are going, with redistricting. Nick Lampson is, you know, his district is gone. What I’m hearing from these people is if the new districts go forward, he is going to move to District 22 and run against Tom DeLay. Heck yeah. So if the new map goes through, Congressman Lampson is, I don’t want to say—it’s not a dead cinch lock—but I would say he’s strongly considering it, moving into twenty-two and running against Tom DeLay.
Now all those people I talked to, all the guys that are kind of what I would call “professional givers” to the Democratic Party, all tell me, “Morrison, you guys are doing a great job. Everyone’s talking about you, but there’s this possibility that Lampson’s going to run; and if Lampson runs, we’re going to have to support him.” And I’ve actually told Congressman Lampson, “If you run, you call me first, and I will withdraw immediately.” And he said that he appreciated that. He said if he does not run, then we’re behind you. Well, I’ve got commitments for all these professional givers to, you know, work with me in that event.
CK: And on the presumption that the new boundaries are overturned?
RM: Overturned and/or there could be a preliminary injunction granted to keep the old boundaries all the way up until it’s decided out of the Supreme Court.
CK: In that case, then you believe you would have the support from the D Triple C and the state politicians.
RM: As far as from what everyone’s telling me, if that occurs then everyone is going to get behind me.
RM: Now they’re just hedging their bets because, you know…
CK: Yeah. Besides the deficit and transportation, what else would you plan on highlighting in your campaign?
RM: Well, the main issue I wanted to see highlighted—and this is kind of talking about all of them, it comes up in many of them—where has Mr. DeLay been, you know? He’s just abandoned the district for his own effort to raise up his own political prominence, I guess. Especially under that title, you know, I want to be able to talk about—besides the two you’ve mentioned—I want to be able to talk about education. A thing that’s concerning my neighbors out there is that this, “no child left behind” you have to take a test every five grades or four grades, or whatever it is, to pass, so they take away a lot of the curriculum, the normal curriculum is taken away. They teach less history, they teach less science, they teach less math, they teach less language, they teach less of the things that the parents want their kids to learn so they can teach them rotely how to pass this test. And they do that because the school districts that succeed on that test get the money from the federal government, and my neighbors hate that. They do not like their kids being taught that way because they think their kids aren’t really learning anything other than how to pass some stupid test. And they actually…I’ve actually seen the papers that they send home. It’s just a page out of the test that they send home, and they just do the test, and they spend, you know, weeks and weeks just doing pages out of the test. And that needs to be changed. I know everyone says, “Well, how can the federal government help education locally when clearly the federal government right now is hurting it locally, and that needs to stop.” DeLay wants to do away with the education agency totally, so I feel like I’m aiming for the middle.
Clearly clean air is an issue. Houston’s air is not getting any cleaner, and that’s just because the politicians are not wanting to do, I guess swallow the bitter pill and make all industry accountable to clean the air. And I would like to see that taken care of. That’s kind of my whole issues.
RM: There may be other ones as they come up, but I’d say those are good to start with. I don’t want to have six hundred issues.
CK: Right. That’s just going to confuse people.
RM: There’s probably six hundred out there, though (laughs).
CK: True. Do you have a strategy for using the Internet as part of your campaign and what is it?
RM: Well, you’re certainly a part of it (laughs). Yes, we have set up a Web site. You can contribute online at that Web site. We are encouraging people to give us emails. We are encouraging people to contact us through email. I am telling those people that if they do that, I would like to get in and Nathan [Wilcox, his campaign consultant] is trying to set this up for me very much like yours, like a blog where I can go back and respond to them—not all the time, but some of the time. At first, I can respond to all of them, so if you get on early, you can get some questions answered. We are encouraging people who have lists, you know, lists that may say, “Hey, we want to help your campaign, but we have a list of friends that you email to,” so that we could get those and send out emails and do that. That’s where we are. I know Nathan knows a little bit more about that than I do, but I’m very hopeful that the email campaign, or that the online presence will benefit, much like Howard Dean. I know he’s really good at it.
CK: OK. I think what has made Dean stand out in terms of Internet campaigning has been that he’s built a community, it’s not just another means for getting a message out, it’s enabling people to feel like they’re a part of something.
RM: Right, right. And that’s something that we very much want to do in this campaign. I know that some of the things that Dean’s done is, you know, saying, well, someone, they’re emailing or on the blog site or whatever and they’re saying, “Gosh, we’d like to see Gov. Dean do this.” And pretty soon he’ll say, “Yeah, OK, I’ll do that. That sounds good.” So it makes them feel like they’re contributing to what’s going on, and that’s something that I’d like to do. I mean, I want to get people involved any way I can, and I want to reach those people that are really kind of Internet-savvy. And I want to get…I want input so that I can give them output. I mean, I don’t want it to be one of these unapproachable type campaigns. I mean, that’s not what I’m about. I want to run this campaign…I’m not running this for me. I don’t want to be…you know, I said in a speech one time that I don’t want to be the most powerful man in Congress. I just want to go up there and represent the people of my district, and whatever they tell me to do is what I want to do. I don’t want to go up there and have all of these outsiders and all of these industry groups say, “Here. Here’s $2000. We want you to vote this way.” I don’t want to do that. I want to say, “Well, what is this about? Well, let me see constituents say about this. ’Cause I don’t want to do this just because you give me the money.” It’s just something where—and I hear this not just from my neighbors but from everybody—is that everybody in Washington is out of touch with their district. They just listen to lobbyists, and there’s no lobbyist that’s out there representing mom-and-dad suburbanites.
CK: Have you spoken to people who have run most recently against Tom DeLay? I mean, you mentioned Tim Riley, but DeLay has also had a Republican primary opponent, Michael Fjetland. You know, he hasn’t exactly, I would say, put the fear of God into DeLay, but he does draw twenty-five percent of the vote.
RM: Right. Well I haven’t spoken to him; I need to. I have talked to Tim many times. Tim and I speak frequently, so…
CK: What would Tim Riley say was the reason…his reason for not doing better than he did? Would it mostly be money?
RM: Yeah, I would think that Tim probably would say—you could call Tim and ask him—but I would think he would say probably there wasn’t enough turnout, not enough name recognition. Probably ran out of time is what Tim would say.
CK: You started your campaign kind of early. Is that one of the reasons why?
RM: Absolutely. I had spoken to—doing my calls when I was trying to decide what to do on this—I spoke to somebody who was a longtime political insider, and they said, “Look, the worst thing you can do is wait to the last second then decide. You need to start early.” And that’s why I started. Basically I started this whole deal in May . I hired Nathan in September, but I had already done a lot of calling before that trying to figure out what was going on, about the best way to go about it. So, I tried to get an early start, but this…see the way it’s working now this is hamstringing you. You know, you start early and do what you want, but then you have to end up waiting for people to make decisions on whether they’re going to run in District 22, and that kind of defeat the whole purpose. So on one level it’s very frustrating. You know, you do what they tell you to do, and then you end up you might as well not have done that. It’s really an insider’s game.
CK: Yes, it is. It very much is. I think that’s all the questions that I really had. Is there anything you would like to add?
RM: I guess there’s nothing really to add, other than, I guess, your blog, and kind of how that got started. Tell me that.
CK: OK. Turn the tables on me. The short answer is that I was reading Slate magazine online, and they had, back then, a section called “Me-zine Central.” It was, like, Mickey Kaus, Josh Marshall, Virginia Postrel. You could read those guys. And one day I was reading Virginia Postrel’s site, and she had a link to something written by a friend of mine, Ginger Stampley. So I followed that, and I saw that she had a Web log up, and I read through it all, and I spoke to her a couple of days later, and I said, “I want to do that. How do I do that?” So I got started from that. And, the funny thing is, when I started, I thought I was going to write more about sports. You just never know. It pretty quickly became apparent to me it was going to be about politics, which is funny because I really wasn’t all that political in college, somewhat but not that much.
RM: Right. How long have you been doing it?
CK: It’ll be two years on January first. Also wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep it up that long, but, there’s interesting stuff out there.
RM: A lot to talk about.
CK: A lot to talk about. I find myself sometimes, you know, following a story as it goes along, like the whole redistricting thing, and people come to expect to see updated from me on it, even when there’s not that much to say. But it’s been fun. I’ve met some interesting people this way, you know.
RM: Just be nice to me.
CK: I don’t think there’ll be any problem with that.
RM: All right. At least the first couple of posts. You can start being pissed later on.
CK: All right.Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 08, 2003 to Election 2004 | TrackBack