Interview with State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner is one of the senior members of the Houston-area delegation, having served HD139 since he was first elected in 1988. He doesn’t have a campaign webpage, so let me refer you to his Texas Tribune biography for a brief summary of his career. He was Speaker Pro Tempore under Tom Craddick for three regular and several special sessions from 2003 through 2007. As you know, that was a bone of contention with many of his fellow Democrats, and it was one of the topics we discussed.

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This is the first opportunity I’ve had to have an in depth conversation with Rep. Turner. I don’t agree with his evaluation of Speaker Craddick’s merits, but I appreciate his candor and his perspective. And I can’t say he’s wrong about Speaker Straus. See beneath the fold for corroboration of what he has to say on this matter.

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

The following was sent out by email from House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam:

Monday Memo – Wednesday Edition

Jim Dunnam

State Representative

“As far as politics goes, I’m focused on protecting our Republican incumbents and helping Republicans in the open seats…I’m focused on retaining and expanding the Republican majority in the House.” Speaker Joe Straus to the Texas Tribune, June 8, 2010

Those are the words of Speaker Straus, just two months ago.  But they are just words – let us consider the Speaker’s deeds.

Over the past few months, many Democratic incumbents have expressed quiet concern that they had asked Speaker Straus to make appearances with them at local district fundraisers only to be rejected. Some received commitments from Speaker’s staff that they would “direct some money their way” from the lobby.

Then this week, the Speaker’s passive refusal to help Democratic incumbents be re-elected took a turn for the worse, when he sent an email into incumbent Democratic Members’ districts addressed to their constituents, including important local elected officials.  One of these districts has been represented by a Democrat for over 50 years.

“[W]e can unite and build the Republican Party and the majority in the Texas House…” August 2 email from Speaker Straus

This independent centrist Democratic Member has been told by the folks on the 2nd floor that, “the Speaker will stay out of your race.”  Asking a Democratic Member’s local elected officials to “unite” in order to build the Republican majority hardly counts as staying out.

Again, the deeds speak even louder.

The most recent campaign finance report show that Speaker Straus, and the PAC he acknowledges controlling, gave over $100,000 to Republicans facing strong Democratic challengers in the fall.  Of course, no one should fault him for that.  But what is revealing is how Straus’ giving matches up with the donations of the Republican PACs Associated Republicans of Texas and GO PAC.

Straus Contributions   ART Contributions     GO PAC Contributions

Joe Driver                                $15,000                       -0-                                -0-

Dwayne Bohac                       $20,000                       -0-                                -0-

Ken Legler                              $20,000                       -0-                                -0-

Linda Harper Brown               $35,000                       -0-                                -0-

Tim Kleinschmidt                   $10,000                       -0-                                -0-

Straus Contributions   ART Contributions     GO PAC Contributions

Carol Kent Opponent             -0-                                $20,000                       $5,000

Robert Miklos Opponent        -0-                                $20,000                       $5,000

Joe Moody Opponent             -0-                                $20,000                       -0-

Joe Heflin Opponent               -0-                                $20,000                       $5,000

Kristi Thibaut Opponent         -0-                                $20,000                       $5,000

Mark Homer Opponent           -0-                                $20,000                       $5,000

Abel Herrero Opponent          -0-                                $20,000                       $5,000

Here’s a question:  Why do the leadership at ART and GO PAC have NO interest in re-electing incumbent Republicans?

Of course they do have an interest, but they knew in advance where Straus would spend his money, and arranged to support candidates he wouldn’t directly support for appearance’s sake.  The coordination is self-evident for anyone who doesn’t have their head in the sand.

Straus’ PAC is doubling down on Republican incumbents while giving no help to Democratic incumbents.  Meanwhile, GOPAC and ART are doubling down on Republican challengers with no help to Republican incumbents.  They are simply following a cooperative plan.

None of this would be objectionable except that Speaker Straus has repeatedly claimed that he is “not working against Democratic incumbents.”  By coordinating expenditures with GOPAC and ART, Straus is freeing up GOPAC and ART money that would normally be given to Republican incumbents, allowing GOPAC and ART to double down against Democratic incumbents.

No one can begrudge the Republican Speaker for wanting to add more Republicans to the House.  If his decision is to advance the cause of his political party over the elections of Democrats who have pledged to support him in 2011, then I’ll respect that choice.  But as the old saying goes, “don’t pi*s on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

The record proves that nothing has changed from the 2003 to 2008 era as far as how the Speaker directs his political dollars.  Just like Joe Straus, Tom Craddick never gave openly against Democratic incumbents.  His personal PAC supported Republican incumbents and some Democratic incumbents, and Speaker Craddick left it to other Republicans PACs to work against Democrats.  In fact, the only difference between Speakers Craddick and Straus in this regard is that Speaker Craddick actually gave money to Democratic incumbents who supported him and Tom Craddick appeared at fundraisers of Democratic incumbents who supported him.  Speaker Straus has done neither.

This memo is not meant to urge any particular action or reaction.  However, members are busy and need to know what’s going on.

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