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Election 1994

Rep. Mac Thornberry to retire

Six down.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2020, making him the sixth GOP congressman from Texas to say he’s retiring in recent weeks.

“It has been a great honor for me to represent the people of the 13th District of Texas for the last 25 years,” he said in a statement.

“We are reminded, however, that ‘for everything there is a season,’ and I believe that the time has come for a change. Therefore, I will not be a candidate for reelection in the 2020 election.”

Thornberry joins five other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd and Bill Flores. But Thornberry’s exit is somewhat different from other Republicans’ shocking retirements over the summer. The last remaining Texas Republican from the class of 1994 and the dean of the GOP delegation, Thornberry was expected by many to retire soon. He will turn over his post leading the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee in January 2021, thanks to Republican term limits for committee chairmanships.

We did hear about this possibility before, with the end of his term on the House Armed Services Committee as the likely reason. CD13 is one of the reddest districts in the country – I mean, Trump got 79.5% in 2016, Ted Cruz got 79.2% in 2018 – so this has nothing to do with re-election fears, as is the case with some of his soon-to-be-ex-colleagues. I don’t know how he felt about Trump – Thornberry was among the quieter members of the GOP Congressional caucus – but I wouldn’t expect him to have to deal with that much on the trail, and being in the minority plus losing his plum committee assignment sure seems like good reasons to hit the road to me.

By the way, looking back at the 1994 election results sure is a trip down memory lane. There are now three members of Congress from that year who will (barring anything wildly unexpected) be there in 2021: Lloyd Doggett, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Eddie Berniece Johnson. Doggett and SJL were also members of the class of 1994, with Doggett succeeding Jake Pickle, who retired, and SJL ousting Craig Washington in the primary. EBJ is the sole member who was there before 1994, having arrived in the 1992 election. Four other members – Sam Johnson, Joe Barton, Lamar Smith, and Gene Green – stepped down in 2018. Of the incumbents who are expected to be on the 2020 ballot, only eleven – Doggett, SJL, EBJ plus eight more – were there prior to the 2011 redistricting: Louie Gohmert, Kevin Brady, Al Green, Mike McCaul, Kay Granger, Michael Burgess, Henry Cuellar, and John Carter. Of them, McCaul and Carter had close shaves in 2018, with McCaul already facing strong competition for 2020, while Cuellar does and Granger may face strong primary challenges. Change can be slow in Texas, but it does happen.

Trying again to primary Cuellar

Good luck. It’s not going to be easy.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

A grass-roots Democratic group that helped power the upset victory of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has identified a Texas Democrat as its first target ahead of the 2020 congressional primaries — but as of now, Ocasio-Cortez herself is staying neutral.

Justice Democrats, a political committee founded after the 2016 election to reshape the Democratic Party through primary challenges, is working to recruit a challenger to Rep. Henry Cuellar, a seven-term congressman from a strongly Democratic district who’s one of the few anti-abortion-rights voices in the party’s House conference.

In a statement, the group compared Texas’s 28th Congressional District, which gave the president just 38.5 percent of the vote in 2016, to other districts where left-leaning candidates have unseated incumbents. It is launching a “primary Cuellar fund” to encourage any potential candidate that there will be resources if he or she jumps into the race.

“There’s an Ocasio-Cortez and [Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna] Pressley in blue districts across America, tired of seeing long-standing incumbents serve corporate interests, work with Trump’s agenda, and work against the progressive movement,” said Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats. “These grass-roots leaders just need a little bit of encouragement and support.”

[…]

The Justice Democrats’ campaign to oust “corporate Democrats” was restarted after the 2018 elections, with Ocasio-Cortez, one of her party’s biggest stars, as its de facto spokeswoman. In a mid-November call with activists, Ocasio-Cortez said that they could “save this country” by either shaming incumbents out of accepting “money from oil and gas companies” or by ousting them at the polls.

“We’ve got to primary folks,” said Saikat Chakrabarti, who would become the congresswoman’s chief of staff.

But Ocasio-Cortez is not intervening in the “primary Cuellar” campaign right now. In her first days in office, the congresswoman has publicly criticized a House rule that required offsets for any spending increases, while privately working to get appointed to at least one committee with jurisdiction over taxes or health care.

While she was not appointed to the Ways and Means Committee after a left-wing campaign on her behalf, Ocasio-Cortez is expected to get a seat on the Financial Services Committee. She is not part of Justice Democrats’ primary recruitment push.

As the story notes, Cuellar gave Democrats in Texas another reason to be annoyed with him when he contributed to Republican Rep. John Carter’s re-election campaign. Let’s state up front that it’s hard to defeat an incumbent in a Congressional primary in Texas. Since 1992, by my count it has happened four times in a Democratic race:

1994 – Sheila Jackson Lee defeats Rep. Craig Washington
2004 – Al Green defeats Rep. Chris Bell
2004 – Henry Cuellar defeats Rep. Ciro Rodriguez
2012 – Beto O’Rourke defeats Rep. Silvestre Reyes

The two from 2004 have an asterisk next to them, as they came after the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, which made each of those incumbents’ districts less hospitable to them. Most years most incumbents face no or token opposition. It’s no easier on the Republican side, as only two incumbents have been ousted during this time. Ron Paul knocked off Greg Laughlin in 1996 after Laughlin had switched parties following the 1994 election, and John Ratcliffe beat the 91-year-old Ralph Hall in 2014.

Anyway. Washington had some ethical issues and a high rate of missing votes at the time SJL took him out. Bell’s CD25 was taken out of Harris County and replaced with CD09, which was drawn to elect an African-American Democrat. CD28 was redrawn to include Webb County, which heavily favored the Laredo-based Cuellar. The 2012 race was the closest thing on this list to an ideological race, but Reyes also had some ethical issues that O’Rourke hit on.

The two ideology-based primary races I can think of are Ciro Rodriguez’s rematch against Cuellar in 2006 (he lost 53-40 in a three-candidate contest) and Adrian Garcia against Gene Green in 2016 (Green prevailed, 57-39, in another three-candidate race). There’s not a viable model in the state for the Justice Dems to follow, is what I’m saying. If they want my advice, I’d say find a candidate with deep ties to the Laredo area, and make your main issue Cuellar’s too-close ties to Republicans. Try to pin him to Donald Trump, if only by association. Downplay as much as you can any and all support your candidate will receive from outside the district and outside the state. And good luck. I wouldn’t advise anyone to get their hopes up, but one never knows.

Stockman trial update

From Tuesday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

“This case is the story of how the defendant over the course of four years exploited the trust and charity of others to pull off a massive scam,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Heberle, of the Justice Department’s public integrity division, told jurors during opening statements in the federal corruption trial.

“It is the story of a man who thinks that the rules are for other people,” Heberle said. “And it is the story of how, dollar by dollar, investigators followed the money and unraveled the defendant’s fraud scheme.”

Heberle said Stockman pulled off the scheme by cheating federal election law, lying to donors and blaming mistakes on his staff.

Heberle outlined several major donations Stockman, a trained accountant, solicited on behalf of charitable groups he was involved in, and said the evidence would show that with the help of two aides, Stockman quickly moved that money from one account to another and spent it to cover personal and campaign expenses.

Defense attorney Sean Buckley, however, had a drastically different take on the same series of financial transactions.

“The core is question of whether Mr. Stockman lied with the intent to steal money” from two major donors, Buckley said.

Buckley described his client as a scrappy, naive and idealistic outsider who lost track of his finances.

See here for the previous update. Just as a reminder, that “scrappy, naive outsider” was first elected to Congress in 1994, and the crimes he is accused of stem from his 2012 House campaign and his unsuccessful 2014 primary bid against Sen. John Cornyn. That’s an awfully long time to remain naive.

From Wednesday:

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman and two aides used a major charitable donation to a cover credit card debt, two spots at a Christian summer camp, a friend’s stint in rehab and a funeral for employee’s wife, according to testimony Wednesday from an FBI agent at Stockman’s federal fraud trial in Houston.

But they didn’t spend any of the $350,000 gift — as Stockman had promised he would at a pitch meeting with a conservative Midwestern mega-donor — on the renovation of a house near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to be used as living quarters and a training facility for young conservatives.

A series of witnesses called by federal prosecutors in the second day of Stockman’s corruption trial traced the path of that $350,000 donation, testifying that Stockman and his associates spent it on an extensive array of expenses, which the donor said he never meant to cover.

[…]

[Conservative megadonor Richard] Uihlein said after spending less than an hour meeting with Stockman at his corporate offices in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. on Jan. 24, 2013, he wrote a check from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation to the newly elected representative’s charitable foundation for $350,000.

One month prior, at the urging of Larry Pratt, CEO and founder of Gun Owners of America, Uihlein had donated $5,000 to help pay for a group of home-schooled children to be in Washington for Stockman’s swearing in ceremony.

And a year after he made the Freedom House donation, Uihlein would write a $450,000 check to cover a mailing in Stockman’s unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican Primary, court records in the case show.

And now the GOP legislator and an aide, Thomas Dodd, had arrived with an impressive brochure about Freedom House and asked for money to create their training center for young congressional interns. Uihlein, the CEO of a moving supplies empire, said he liked the idea of helping cover the house’s renovation.

“I felt they were trustworthy,” Uihlein told the jury, under questioning from a federal prosecutor. “And I trusted that they would spend the money the way they said.”

He said he understood from the brochure that Stockman was soliciting the money for a charitable cause through a 501c3 organization, and stressed he would not have given it if he knew it would be spent on the former lawmaker’s personal and campaign costs.

This post has more about the Stockman/Uihlein relationship. Uihlein may have been duped, but he’s far from innocent, or sympathetic. As for Stockman, his defense is to blame everything on the two former aides that have since taken plea deals for their actions in this saga. One of those aides, Jason Posey, has been an associate of Stockman’s since his first Congressional term in the 90’s. Like I said, that’s an awfully long time to remain naive. The prosecution still has more to present, and then we get to the defense, which ought to be amazing. Stay tuned.

A look at past primaries

I think we can all agree that the 2018 Democratic primary season is already unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory. And since I like putting expressions like that into numbers, I thought I’d try to do it here. First, let’s compare the number of contested Democratic primaries across non-Presidential years:


Year   State  Congress  Lege
============================
1994      10        11    33
1998       3         6    19
2002       6         8    26
2006       4         5    20
2010       4         5    11
2014       4         6    13
2018       3        20    37

“Lege” includes both the Senate and the House. We only have three contested statewide primaries, but we do have an eight-candidate race for Governor, so that’s something different. The number of contested primaries for Congress and the Lege are higher than we’ve ever seen, and there’s still a day left to file. Remember also that there were a lot more Democrats in the Lege in 1994 than now. We have a lot of multi-candidate races this year for the right to face a Republican opponent or fill a Republican open seat.

The number of contested races is one thing, but the most visible measure of interest in an election is how many people vote in it. Here are the turnout levels for Democratic primaries going back to 1994:


Year      Total    Pct RV
=========================
1994  1,036,907    11.47%
1998    664,532     5.95%
2002  1,003,388     8.21%
2006    508,602     3.99%
2010    680,548     5.23%
2014    560,033     4.12%

“Pct RV” is the percentage of Democratic primary voters to all registered voters. There were more RVs in 2002 than there were in 1994, so even though the total number of voters was about the same, the share of RVs is lower. We don’t know what the turnout total will be for 2018 yet, but this should give us a goal, which I’d peg at one million votes at a minimum. There were just over 15 million registered voters as of this November – that number will like increase for March – so a goal of ten percent participation would set the target at 1.5 million. This is something I’ll be keeping an eye on. A new high water mark here would further the narrative of Democratic excitement. The same old thing will not.

A closer look at the Stockman saga

Chron reporter Lise Olson takes a deep dive into the charges against former Congressman and fulltime hot mess Steve Stockman.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Steve Stockman was soon to board a plane for the United Arab Emirates this month when his unorthodox life took a sudden detour. The outspoken two-time former congressman from Houston was met at the airport by federal agents holding an arrest warrant.

In his own colorful campaign literature, Stockman, 60, has portrayed himself as a gun-loving, abortion-hating activist and philanthropist who has used frequent travels abroad to deliver Christian charity and medical supplies to developing nations.

But a 28-count federal indictment handed down Wednesday describes Stockman as the head of a complex criminal conspiracy. It alleges that he and two aides collected $1.2 million from three U.S.-based foundations and individuals, laundered and misspent most of that money, spied on an unnamed opponent, accepted illegal campaign contributions, funneled money through bogus bank accounts and businesses, and failed to pay taxes on his ill-gotten gains.

Some of that money went for trips to try to “secure millions of dollars from African countries and companies operating” in Africa, the indictment says.

[…]

Jason Posey, 46, has been described as Stockman’s primary accomplice in the scheme to divert donations through companies linked by federal investigators to suburban Houston post office boxes and an array of bank accounts. He has not been arrested. Thomas Dodd, the other former staffer, pleaded guilty earlier this month to two charges related to the same conspiracy and agreed to testify as part of his plea deal.

The purpose of their conspiracy was “to unlawfully enrich themselves and to fund their political activities by fraudulently soliciting and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the indictment says.

Prosecutors say Stockman used hundreds of thousands of pilfered funds to pay campaign and credit card debts, to cover personal expenses – and to politically attack Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Stockman’s long-shot Republican primary against Cornyn was the subject of one the scams outlined in the indictment.

In February 2014, Posey solicited and received a $450,000 charitable contribution from an Illinois-based donor that was supposed to finance 800,000 mailings to Texas voters of a campaign publication resembling a “newspaper.” The mass mailings for the Senate primary were part of what Posey later swore in an affidavit was an entirely “independent election expenditure” that was handled entirely by Posey and not by Stockman, one of the candidates.

Those mailings, made to look like real newspapers, championed Stockman’s candidacy and opposed Cornyn.

Posey received the donation through a company he controlled called the Center for the American Future, but he coordinated the mass mailings directly with Stockman in violation of federal campaign finance laws, the indictment says. Stockman and Posey also sought a partial refund of the mailing costs – $214,718.51 – without the donor’s knowledge and split the money, the indictment says.

Prosecutors allege Posey used the money to pay Stockman’s Senate campaign debts and his own personal expenses, including “airfare on a flight departing the United States.”

See here for the most recent update, and here for a large sample of my Stockman archives. A lot of people have been motivated to get involved in politics this year after the Trump debacle of 2016. It was Steve Stockman who provided my motivation to get more involved in politics, after his upset (and upsetting) Congressional victory in 1994. I’ve noted before that former Congressman Nick Lampson was the first candidate I ever donated to, and the first candidate whose fundraiser I attended, back in 1996. That was at least as much about Stockman as it was about Lampson.

The thing about Stockman is that, all politics aside, he has long acted in a shady manner. Do a search of the Houston Press’ archives for Stockman stories and peruse what they were writing about him during that 1995-96 Congressional term of office (Google on “steve stockman site:houstonpress.com”, for example) to see what I mean. In doing that myself, I came across this little nugget, which shows that the past is never truly past:

The squirrelly adventures of Congressman Steve Stockman’s frat-house band of consultants who call themselves Political Won Stop seem to know no limits. The Hill, a Congress-covering weekly in the nation’s capital, first revealed that Stockman’s re-election campaign had paid more than $126,000 to the consultancy, which is owned by 26-year-old Chris Cupit and 25-year-old Jason Posey and is listed on the congressman’s campaign disclosures as having the same Whitman Way address as Stockman’s combination home and election headquarters just outside Friendswood.

Emphasis mine. The fact that Stockman has had a long association with Jason Posey is not suggestive of anything. The fact that Stockman has been involved in at least two questionable-if-not-actually-illegal ventures with Posey is. Whatever we know now, I feel confident there’s more to be uncovered.

Texas tobacco litigation, 20 years later

Interesting look at something I don’t think about very much.

Twenty years ago, then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a federal lawsuit accusing the tobacco industry of racketeering and fraud. He said the case would make Big Tobacco change how it did business, force the cigarette companies to make less dangerous products and stop the industry from marketing to teenagers.

The lawsuit, he contended, would require the tobacco companies to fork over billions and billions of dollars, which would be used to reimburse the state of Texas for smoking-related Medicaid costs and fund anti-smoking programs.

“This was the most important health-related litigation in history,” says former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore. “Cigarette smoking was the No. 1 cause of death in the entire world.” He adds, “There will never be a case this big or this important ever again.”

Two decades later, legal experts remain divided over whether to label the Texas litigation a success.

The Texas state treasury pocketed billions of dollars from the litigation, though only pennies on the dollars won in the case went to smoking-cessation efforts. Teen smoking plummeted, but cigarettes are just as addictive and dangerous. The tobacco companies are more profitable than ever. The trial lawyers representing Morales got filthy rich.

As for Morales, he married a former exotic dancer, lost his bid for governor and eventually went to federal prison following a scandal involving misused campaign funds.

“The litigation exposed the tobacco industry’s lies, dramatically reduced teen smoking and resulted in limits in cigarette advertising,” says Matt Myers, general counsel for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “But it is far short of meeting the objectives. We didn’t change the industry’s conduct at all. The product is no safer.”

[…]

In January 1998, the Texas lawsuit settled on the eve of trial for a record $15.3 billion. It’s the largest settlement of a single case in U.S. history.

“The tobacco companies were looking for peace and it was absolutely the right time for the state to push for a settlement,” says Houston trial lawyer Richard Mithoff.

Mithoff represented Harris County in demanding that the cigarette makers also make payments to counties in the state for their smoking-related health care costs.

Mithoff’s efforts, combined with a clever “most favored nation’s” clause that Potter and the state’s outside lawyers included in the Texas settlement agreement, led Big Tobacco to fork over an additional $2.3 billion in July 1998, which increased the overall Texas settlement to $17.6 billion.

The cigarette makers have paid Texas $10.2 billion so far and make annual payments of about $490 million to the state, according to court records.

To pay for the settlement and lawyers’ fees, tobacco companies increased the price of cigarettes by $1.40 per pack, which impacted cash-strapped teenagers the most. As a result, teen smoking plummeted. Surveys showed that nearly 36 percent of teens smoked in 1996, but only 12 percent of them do today.

Myers and others point out that Texas budgeted only $10.2 million, or 2 percent of the $490 million payment to be used for anti-smoking efforts in 2016. At the same time, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says that the tobacco companies will spend an estimated $630 million on marketing their products in Texas.

The public health group says the annual health care costs for treating sick smokers in Texas will be $8.8 billion this year.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. To me, the single most important thing about this is captured in that sentence about teen smoking rates dropping from 36% to 12% over the past 20 years. The overall impact on public health from that is enormous, well more than enough to outweigh any concerns about what this litigation did or didn’t do. We also now know that increasing the price of a pack of smokes is the single bets way to deter kids from buying them, which has informed our public policy since then; you may recall that a $1-a-pack increase on the cigarette tax was a part of the 2006 property tax reduction deal that resulted from the previous school finance lawsuit. Bottom line, this did a lot of good even if it never did (or, in the case of making “safer” cigarettes, never could have) done all that we were told it would do. I do wonder if we would have even attempted to do something like this if it had happened later in Texas’ political history. John Cornyn became AG in 1998, then Greg Abbott in 2002. Would either of them have pursued this litigation? Maybe Cornyn would have, at least at that time, but I can’t see Greg Abbott giving a damn about it. So count me as being glad that Texas Democrats were still able to win statewide in 1994. Who knows how many more people would be smoking today if Dan Morales hadn’t driven this litigation back then?

Endorsement watch: Latino electeds for Gene Green

Not a big surprise.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Houston Democrat, will pick up support from several Houston political players Tuesday.

The 12-term congressman faces what could be a formidable primary challenge in the form of former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. According to a Green campaign press release, seven Houston Democrats are ready to back his re-election: state Sens. Sylvia R. Garcia and John Whitmire, state Reps. Ana Hernandez, Garnet F. Coleman, Armando Walle and Carol Alvarado, and Harris County Constable Chris Diaz.

The endorsements’ apparent aim is to give Green cover against Garcia’s argument that the mostly-Hispanic district would be better served with Hispanic congressional representation. With residual name identification from his unsuccessful run for Houston mayor, Garcia could pose a viable threat to Green’s re-election.

I received a copy of the press release as well as the pre-release on Friday that didn’t contain the officials’ names. The event will take place at 11 AM at the Vecino Health Center (Denver Harbor Family Clinic), 424 Hahlo St., in case anyone wants to attend. As I said before, I was looking to see who might be endorsing whom in this race. Whatever the effect is on the final result, this does affect the narrative of the race. Reps. Walle, Hernandez, and Alvarado all once worked for Green, so their solidarity with their former boss is to be expected, but Sylvia Garcia was one of the candidates for the seat back in 1992; she finished third, behind Green and Ben Reyes, whom Green then defeated in the runoff and again in the 1994 primary. She had previously been talked about as a potential opponent for Green in more recent years, before her election to the State Senate. Make of that what you will.

Going back through my archives, I came across this post from 2014 about Green representing a Latino district and when that might change. Here’s what Campos, who is now working on the Garcia campaign, said at the time:

Having a Dem Latino or Latina in Congress from the H-Town area would be empowering to the community. What is missing is an articulate voice for us in Congress like on a day when the immigration issue is front and center. Who is going to argue with that?

I don’t buy into the notion that just because the local Latino leaders aren’t for something, it won’t happen. I can still recall the spontaneous immigration marches a few years ago that local Latino leaders were scrambling to lead.

I can picture a scenario where an articulate bilingual Latino or Latina leader steps up, grabs an issue and captures the attention of the community. That is certainly not racist, that’s politics. This discussion isn’t going away.

And my comment on that:

Sure, that could happen, and I agree that if it were to happen it would likely be a talented newcomer who can inspire people to pose a serious threat to Rep. Green. The problem is that that’s not sufficient. Look at the recent history of Democratic primary challenges in Texas legislative races, and you’ll see that there are generally two paths to knocking off an incumbent that don’t rely on them getting hosed in redistricting. One is via the self-inflicted wounds of an incumbent with some kind of ethics problems – think Gabi Canales or Naomi Gonzales, for example – or an incumbent that has genuinely lost touch with the base. In the past decade in Texas that has mostly meant Craddick Democrats, though one could argue that Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s win over Silvestre Reyes had elements of that.

What I’m saying is simply that there has to be a reason to dump the current officeholder. Look no further than the other Anglo Texas Democrat in Congress for that. The GOP has marked Rep. Lloyd Doggett for extinction twice, each time drawing him into a heavily Latino district in the hope of seeing him get knocked off in a primary. He survived the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, then he faced the same kind of challenge again in 2012. His opponent, Sylvia Romo, was an experienced officeholder running in a district that was drawn to elect a Hispanic candidate from Bexar County. Having interviewed her, I can attest that she’d have made a perfectly fine member of Congress. But she never identified a policy item on which she disagreed with Doggett, and she never could give an answer to the question why the voters should replace their existing perfectly good member of Congress and his boatload of seniority with a rookie, however promising.

That’s the question any theoretical opponent to Gene Green will have to answer as well.

I think both my statement and Marc’s would stand up today. I’d say we’re likely to hear some form of these arguments over the next two months. In the meantime, I wonder if Garcia will roll out his own list of supporters soon. Better still if that list is accompanied by reasons why Garcia is the superior choice, and where he differs in matters of policy. I know that’s what I’d want to hear about if I lived in that district.

Don’t expect the Kathie Glass effect to be much

Seems like every four years we talk about the possible effect of third party candidates on various races. Usually, it’s in the context of legislative races, where some candidates have won with less than 50% in recent years and one could make a case that the presence of a (usually) Libertarian candidate might have had an effect on the outcome. The subject came up for the Governor’s race a little while back, and I’m here to tamp down on any irrational exuberance.

Hop on the bus, Gus. Or don’t. Your call.

Don’t forget 1990.

That was the year a third-party candidate made a potentially game-changing difference in the Texas governor’s race, drawing slightly more than the number of votes separating Democratic winner Ann Richards from Republican Clayton Williams.

And while third-party gubernatorial candidates did not participate in Friday’s debate between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, they could help decide who will be the next governor of Texas.

“Third-party candidates can mean a big difference in close elections,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Third parties can rarely win. Generally, [they] play a spoiler role.”

[…]

Observers say this year’s Nov. 4 general election could provide a number of close races where a third-party candidate might change the entire dynamics of a race.

“In these contests there exists the possibility that were one or more third-party candidates not on the ballot … the outcome of the election would [be] different,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

Political analysts say third-party candidates could make a difference in the governor’s race.

Abbott, the state’s attorney general and GOP nominee, squares off against Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth and Democratic nominee. Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer are in the race as well.

If the race tightens up, Glass and Parmer combined could draw as little as 4 percent of the vote and impact the result.

“That could mean the difference in a very close election,” Saxe said.

After all, in 1990, Richards won by claiming 99,239 more votes than Williams, and Libertarian Jeff Daiell earned 129,128 votes.

“Overall, the principal impact of the Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates this fall will be to provide voters with a different perspective on how to address many of the key challenges facing the state today,” Jones said.

A key example, he said, is Glass, “who is far and away running the most visible and vibrant campaign of any third-party candidate in Texas.”

I will admit, I saw the Kathie Glass Bus on the side of the road as we were heading back from Austin on 290 a couple of weeks ago. I was tempted to take a picture of it, but I was driving at the time, and I didn’t think Tiffany would have appreciated me hauling out my cellphone at that moment. Maybe some other time. In any event, I will admit that as far as that goes, Glass’ campaign has been more visible than some other Libertarian campaigns of recent years.

Nonetheless, I’m going to play spoiler as well. Here’s a compilation of all third-party candidate performances in Texas gubernatorial races since 1990. See if you can spot the problem.

Year Lib Green Other Total Win % ======================================== 1990 3.32 0 0.30 3.62 48.19 1994 0.64 0 0 0.64 49.68 1998 0.55 0 0.02 0.57 49.72 2002 1.46 0.70 0.05 2.21 48.90 2006 0.60 0 0.01 0.61 49.69 2010 2.19 0.39 0.14 2.72 48.64

Notice how in none of these six elections how the combined Lib and Green (and write-in, which is what the Other above represents) total has reached four percent? In fact, outside of 1990, it’s never reached three percent? This could be the year that it happens – the Kathie Glass Bus is quite impressive, after all – but if you’re going to write this story, you ought to acknowledge the history. Don’t get our hopes up without justification.

It’s my opinion from looking at as many election results as I’ve seen over the years that the higher the profile the race, the lower the ceiling for third party candidates, our wacky 2006 Governor’s race excepted. Honestly, outside of the hardest of the hardcore political junkies and members of the third parties themselves, I doubt more than a handful of people even know who the L and G nominees are. With all due respect to Kathie Glass and her bus, the people that will be voting for her are basically the people that always vote Libertarian and the people that for whatever the reason didn’t like the nominee from the party that they tend to vote for no matter how much they protest their “independence”. Frankly, if the base party vote is reasonably close to even overall – which at this point I don’t think is likely, but I could be wrong – the place where an L and/or G candidate could affect the outcome is down ballot. I went through this exercise before, to show that one doesn’t need to get 50% of the vote to win most statewide races in Texas due to the presence of other candidates, and as you can see the higher totals for third party candidates tend to be in the lower profile races. I’m not saying that Kathie Glass and Brandon Parmer can’t have an effect on the outcome of the Governor’s race. I am saying that if I had to pick one race where there might be an effect, I’d probably pick Railroad Commissioner or Supreme Court justice. I promise to look at this again after the election.

On defining success

It depends on what your goals are.

Suppose you were a Texas Democrat and a realist.

You want your candidates to win in November and to break the spirit-killing string of losses that started after the statewide elections in 1994.

But you have been scratching for reasons that this year will be different, from the two women at the top of the Democratic ticket to the Battleground Texas organizing efforts to the current Republican tilt to the right that — to Democrats, anyway — seems out of step with mainstream voters.

But the realist within is thinking about Nov. 5, and how to keep the embers going on the day after an election that — unless there is an upset — will mark another set of Republican victories.

Short of winning a statewide election, what would constitute good news for Texas Democrats in November?

Jeremy Bird, a founder of the Battleground Texas effort to build a Democratic grassroots organization in the state, has his eyes on volunteers, energized activists and the sorts of activity that could expand through 2016 and 2018. His group started a little over a year ago with talk of a six-year plan to make Democrats competitive in Texas. The somewhat unexpected rise of state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte as political candidates could accelerate that effort, even if neither takes office. His measure of a win, short of a victory: “Better than Bill White.”

White, a former Houston mayor, was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. He received 42.3 percent of the vote — better than any Democratic candidate for governor since Ann Richards’ loss in 1994, when she received 45.9 percent.

“Closing the margin is important; getting back to the Ann Richards numbers in 1994,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “There’s not much opportunity for pickups in the Legislature, but closing the margin would help set the table for 2016.”

Glenn Smith, who managed part of Richards’ first campaign for governor in 1990, is not a fan of this kind of thinking.

“It’s my extremely strong opinion that you play every contest to win,” said Smith, who now runs the Progress Texas PAC, which supports Democratic candidates and causes. “You set everything on winning. There is nothing else. If you start even mentally thinking that we’re okay at 46, then you might end up at 42. You can’t get in that mind-set. It’s true in sports, in every competitive walk of life — you have to set a course to win. You can’t begin cutting the goal to something short of winning, or your plans will suck.”

I’ll settle this: They’re all right.

Look, there’s no question that winning is always the goal and that losing is failure. There are no consolation prizes, no moral victories, and no partial credit. Greg Abbott will govern the same way whether he wins by one vote or one million votes, just as Rick Perry did when we were all calling him “Governor 39%”. So will Dan Patrick, and so will the rest of them. Another shutout means another four years of the same old shit we’ve had since George Bush was first elected.

That doesn’t mean all losses are created equal, however. Democrats haven’t just lost every statewide election since 1996, we’ve lost them badly. Here are the top five statewide Democrats by percentage of the vote in the Rick Perry era:

Year Candidate Office Pct ===================================== 2002 Sharp Lt Gov 46.03 2002 Mirabal Sup Ct 45.90 2008 Houston Sup Ct 45.88 2008 Strawn CCA 45.53 2006 Moody Sup Ct 44.88

It’s about changing the perception almost as much as it is about winning. Winning obviously does that splendidly, and it comes with a heaping helping of other benefits, but after all this losing, coming close will mean something, too. Going from “Democrats last won a statewide election in 1994” to “Democrats came closer to winning statewide than they had in any election since 1998” matters. It will make recruiting and fundraising a lot easier, and not just for the star candidate or two at the top but for candidates up and down the ballot. It virtually guarantees that Hillary Clinton contests the state in 2016. It puts Ted Cruz squarely in the crosshairs for 2018.

As such, I respectfully disagree with Jeremy Bird. Doing better than Bill White isn’t progress. We need to do better than John Sharp. I’ve been reluctant to say stuff like this out loud – it’s not my place to set expectations – but the question was going to come up sooner or later. It’s not just about vote percentage, either, but also about turnout, since that’s what Battleground Texas’ mission is. I’ve talked at length about turnout and how Democratic levels of turnout have been flat in the last three off-year elections. I can’t say offhand what a minimally-acceptable level of improvement in that looks like to me, but I feel confident saying that if we’re achieving Sharp levels of vote percent, we’re doing fine on turnout.

Let’s also acknowledge that the original mission of Battleground Texas was to make Texas competitive in future Presidential elections, and that when they first showed up Wendy Davis was just another State Senator and we were all (okay, I was all) doing fantasy candidate recruitment for Governor. Davis’ arrival on the scene and BGTx’s integration with her campaign changed their focus, but they were never supposed to be about 2014. The whole point was that unlike traditional campaign machines, BGTx would stick around and keep working for the next election and the one after that. Obviously, having serious candidates that have generated real excitement at the top of the ticket has jumpstarted BGTx’s efforts, but it’s reasonable to expect that BGTx has their own metrics and their own timeline.

So yeah, they’re all right. And just because I’ve drawn a line somewhere doesn’t obligate anyone to recognize or respect it. We all agree that winning >>> losing, but beyond that it’s all open to interpretation.

Of course some people will split their votes

It’s just a matter of how many of them do so, and if the races in question are close enough for it to matter.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Democrats are hoping the Republicans will eventually make some of the mistakes Democrats themselves made back when they were on top and the GOP was trying to break down the doors of power. They ran candidates — particularly at the national level — who were too liberal for conservative Texas Democrats to stomach. They developed a split between conservatives and liberals that made it possible for Republicans to peel away the conservatives and form the beginnings of what is now a solid Republican majority.

The notion behind the current Van de Putte proposition is that — to Democrats — Patrick is so extreme that even some Republicans will rebel and vote for the Democrat. In a debate with Patrick this year, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said the Houston Republican would be the Democrats’ “meal ticket” in November.

The differences between the two top candidates (there are also a Libertarian, a Green and an independent in the race) are stark: gender, ethnicity, party, ideology, roots. She is likely to attack his positions on immigration, health care, abortion, equal pay and education. He is likely to attack her positions on some of those same things, characterizing her as a liberal who wants to expand government and poisoning his darts with the unpopularity of the Democratic president.

To be the only Democratic statewide winner in November, Van de Putte would need to make sure Patrick doesn’t perform as well as Greg Abbott. And that requires one to imagine the voter who will vote for Abbott and then turn and vote for Van de Putte — who will vote against Wendy Davis for governor and against Patrick for lieutenant governor. Republicans are betting there won’t be many of those. Democrats are hoping that women and minorities will have an allergic reaction to his rhetoric and positions, creating an opportunity for their candidate.

It happened before, but this was a different state when voters elected George W. Bush, a Republican, and Bob Bullock, a Democrat, to the top two positions on the ballot. It nearly happened again four years later, when Bush won re-election against Garry Mauro by 37 percentage points and Republican Rick Perry beat Democrat John Sharp by less than 2 points in the race for lieutenant governor.

It’s true you have to go back to 1994 to find an example of a party split at the top of state government, but you don’t have to go back nearly that far to find a significant split in how people voted for those two offices. Just in 2010, more than 300,000 people voted for Bill White and David Dewhurst. That always gets overlooked because the races were not close in 2010, making White’s effort little more than a footnote, but the point is simply that people – many people – can and will split their vote in the right set of circumstances.

We also saw plenty of examples of this in 2012, though not at the statewide level. Congressman Pete Gallego, State Rep. Craig Eiland, and *ahem* State Sen. Wendy Davis all won races in districts that voted majority Republican otherwise. In Harris County, some 40,000 people voted for Mitt Romney and Adrian Garcia, while in the other direction another fifteen or twenty thousand voted for Barack Obama and Mike Anderson. In all of these cases, those ticket splitters very much did matter – the first three could not have won without them, while the latter two could have gone either way, as Harris County was basically 50-50 that year. This is why the efforts of Battleground Texas mean so much. Democrats have to get their base vote up, or else it won’t matter how much crossover appeal Leticia Van de Putte – or Wendy Davis, or Sam Houston, or Mike Collier – may have. It’s not either-or, it’s both or nothing.

Lampson saddles up

It’s good to have him back.

Nick Lampson

On Monday, former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson told a crowd of about 40 supporters gathered at Texas City’s city hall that he was running in the newly drawn 14th District “because Congress is too polarized to find solutions to our serious problems, and I was there when we could.”

The district has been represented for the past 24 years by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson. Paul is retiring from Congress.

Lampson, 66, a former tax assessor for Jefferson County, served in the House for four terms before being defeated in 2005 in a redrawn House district that favored the GOP. He ran for office again and won a fifth term in 2006 before being defeated two years later by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

Under the redrawn congressional maps, the 14th District will shift eastward into Jefferson County and has a minority population of about 35 percent.

Although the state’s new congressional redistricting plan still is being contested in the courts, the proposed lines for the 14th District are not expected to change. As drawn, it begins at the Louisiana border and follows the coastline past Freeport. It takes in Jefferson and Galveston counties, both areas Lampson has represented in the past, and part of Brazoria County.

Ron Paul may have represented CD14 for 24 years, but they’re not consecutive; he ousted party-switcher Greg Laughlin in the 1994 GOP primary after having been the 1988 Libertarian candidate for President. That story was printed before the new maps were handed down, but as expected CD14 didn’t change.

You know what you’re going to get with Lampson. He’s competent, hard-working, and does great constituent service. He’s also going to run a campaign – and if elected, have a voting record – that will frustrate progressives. That’s partly who he is, and partly what the district is, which is to say competitive but Republican-favored. The gap between President Obama and downballot Democrats in CD14 in 2008 was as much as eight points, so a campaign of measured disagreement with the President is on the menu. You can look at that and see whatever you want, but I see a man who’s been an ally of Planned Parenthood, labor, and education, to name a few. He’s also a heck of a nice guy, and I am very happy to see Nick Lampson out on the trail again.

Three things about Sanchez

If you judge the announcement of a possible candidacy by the amount of attention it receives, then the story of the recruitment of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has been a smash success. Here are a few things being written that I thought were worth taking note of.

First Reading: GOP starts trying to build case against Sanchez

The ink is still drying on the first reports that Democrats are trying to recruit Ricardo Sanchez, a retired Army lieutenant general and former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to run next year for the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. But Republicans aren’t wasting any time preparing their opposition files.

Numerous Democrats on Capitol Hill were critical of Sanchez’s role in Iraq, particularly over the Abu Ghraib scandal. According to the Los Angeles Times, he wrote in his 2008 book that one reason he did not get a fourth star was that “Senate Democrats were intentionally putting pressure” on the Bush administration “not to send my nomination forward.”

So if Sanchez runs, it seems Republicans will use Democrats’ past criticisms against him. In fact, on Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (headed by our own John Cornyn) sent a six-page Freedom of Information Act request to the Pentagon asking for “any and all correspondence” between Democratic senators and the Pentagon that referenced Sanchez between May 2003 and the end of November 2006.

The first senator from that time period on their list? Yep, that would be Barack Obama.

If that’s the worst they’ve got, I’m not particularly worried. Politically, this is equivalent to a party-switching situation. What was said before by each side is taken in partisan context when everybody changes rhetoric. I’m not saying it can never be effective – ask Arlen Specter about that – but it’s generally discounted. It also goes both ways – I’m sure if anyone bothers to look, one can find Sen. Cornyn saying something nice about Gen. Sanchez. What will be interesting will be to see how they attack him for Abu Ghraib, since that isn’t exactly something Republicans have a track record of being upset about. If they can try to kill Medicare six months after cleaning up in an election where they killed the Democrats over cuts to Medicare, I’m sure they can pull it off.

The Fix: Can Democrats win in Texas in 2012?

The last time Democrats in Texas won a major statewide race — president, Senate or governor — was back in 1990 when Ann Richards was elected governor.

Since that time, the party has struggled mightily to even be competitive. The best showing for a Democratic presidential candidate in Texas since 1990 was 43.8 percent for Bill Clinton in 1996.

Obama won 43. 7 percent in 2008, coming up 11 points short of Sen. John McCain.

[…]

Given all of that history, what makes Democrats think that 2012 will be any different?

The answer is the continued — and massive — growth of the state’s Hispanic community coupled with Republicans’ inability nationwide to win over that critical voting bloc.

Two thirds of all the population growth in Texas over the past decade came among Latinos and nearly four in every ten residents of the Lonestar State are now Hispanic.

That’s good news for Democrats as Hispanics — even in Texas where they were far more of a swing group than in other states thanks to Bush’s outreach to them — are moving more and more to the Democratic side in recent elections.

In 2010, Bill White carried Hispanics 61 percent to 38 percent over Perry. And in 2008, President Obama won the group by an even wider 63 percent to 35 percent margin.

Those numbers make clear why Democrats are so keen on the idea of Ricardo Sanchez as their nominee. (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Patty Murray included Texas as one of the six targeted races for the committee in 2012.)

[…]

Sanchez is the latest in a series of impressive candidates on paper that Democrats have fielded in hopes of taking advantage of the shifting political dynamic in Texas.

But recent history suggests he will need to overperform most statewide Democrats by seven points in order to win — a tough task for anyone particularly a first time candidate.

Actually, Democrats won seven of fifteen statewide races in 1994, including a couple of judicial races in which they were unopposed. Not that it really affects Cilizza’s point, I just get peeved when supposed experts flub easily checked facts like that.

The question about whether Sanchez, or any Democratic statewide nominee, can win in 2012 largely boils down to the question of what you think the base level of Democratic support will be. As I’ve shown before, Republican statewide vote totals in 2008 were at best equivalent to those from 2004 even though statewide turnout improved by 650,000 votes. If 2012 is to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, Texas will be close to tossup status before anyone runs an ad. Republican turnout in 2004 was juiced a bit by the presence of George Bush, and Democratic turnout was juiced a bit in 2008 by Barack Obama, though he didn’t spend any money here after the primary. It’s more likely the case that 2012 will not be to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, but if the Obama campaign and the DSCC actually do put some resources into Texas, who knows? I would expect the baseline to be two or three points better for the Dems, all things being equal. From there, it’s up to the candidates and their campaigns. Speaking to Cilizza’s point about demography, there’s not much driving an increase in the Republican voting pool for 2012. The type of person who votes Republican is already highly likely to vote, and was highly likely to have voted in 2008. There are a lot more potential Democratic voters out there, and their likelihood of voting is more volatile and sensitive to specific conditions. That can be a very bad thing in off years, but it means the ceiling is higher, too. Democratic turnout was the key in 2008, and it will be the key in 2012.

BOR: The Texas Democratic Strategy: Winnability vs. Values

Lots of good stuff here from KT. Go read it, but let me highlight this bit first:

Maybe it’s time to for Texas Democrats to stop searching for nominees based upon this model of “winnability” and instead, search for a nominee based upon our Party’s “values”.

How many more times are we going to ask the Democratic base of this state to trudge out to the polls and “get excited” by our winnable candidates? Seeing as our “winnable” strategy never wins, is there any harm in nominating someone with a strong Democratic identity who runs a campaign centered on our Democratic values? What if we sought out someone who’s more interested in running a multi-million dollar campaign focused on calling out Republicans for their failure of leadership and bankrupting of this state’s treasury and future rather than calling up Republicans to plead for their checks and votes?

Rather then get bogged down in a debate about the merits or demerits of a particular candidate, we should be putting some energy into finding and supporting candidates who seek to energize the Democratic base as a starting point. It’s true that our base isn’t quite as big as theirs, but it’s also true that the strategy of studied distance from the Democratic base as a way of appealing to crossovers hasn’t exactly been a success. Sooner or later there’s going to be a change election in Texas, and it would help to have our high-profile candidates be more forceful advocates of that change. Now, talking about such things is the easy part. Figuring out how to do it, including a way to provide for it financially, then actually doing it, that’s where it gets hard. But first things first.

Once again, I’ll take the under

There’s a bizarre new UT/Texas Trib poll that’s so odd I can’t even come up with a good introduction for it, so I’m just going to jump straight to the weirdness:

Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads his Democratic challenger, Bill White by 10 points — 50 percent to 40 percent — in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, which was conducted in the days leading up to early voting. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 8 percent of respondents; Deb Shafto of the Green Party gets 2 percent.

[…]

• In the race for lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst is leading Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson 51 percent to 38 percent. Libertarian Scott Jameson has 9 percent, while the Green Party’s Herb Gonzales Jr. has 2 percent.

• Attorney General Greg Abbott leads Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky 55 percent to 35 percent. Libertarian Jon Roland has 11 percent (when the total here and elsewhere doesn’t add up to 100 percent, rounding is the culprit).

• Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, the only major-party candidate in her race, has the support of 51 percent, while Libertarian Mary Ruwart pulls 11 percent and Ed Lindsay of the Green Party has 9 percent. This is the only contest in the poll in which undecided voters were not pushed to make a choice; as such, 29 percent of respondents identified themselves as undecided.

• Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is leading Democrat Hector Uribe 50 percent to 37 percent in his bid for re-election, with Libertarian James Holdar garnering 12 percent.

• Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples leads Democrat Hank Gilbert by the same margin: 50 percent to 37 percent. Libertarian Rick Donaldson has 12 percent.

• In the race for a slot on the Railroad Commission that is the only open seat on the statewide ballot, Republican David Porter leads Democrat Jeff Weems 50 percent to 34 percent, with Libertarian Roger Gary at 10 percent and Art Browning of the Green Party at 5 percent.

I’m not sure what is more surprising, the numbers received by the Libertarian candidates in these polls, or (as one commenter said) the fact that Ross Ramsey could write this story without once making note of them. How out of the ordinary are the Libertarian numbers? I went through every statewide election result on the Secretary of State webpage going back to 1992. Here are the best performances by year of a Libertarian candidate in contested statewide races:

Year Race Candidate Pct ========================================= 2008 RRC David Lloyd 3.51 2006 Lt Gov Judy Baker 4.35 2004 RRC Anthony Garcia 3.59 2002 Land Comm Barbara Hernandez 4.12 2000 Senate Mary Ruwart 1.15 1998 Land Comm Monte Montez 2.72 1996 Sup Ct Eileen Flume 3.64 1994 RRC Buster Crabb 3.15 1992 RRC Richard Draheim 6.98

A couple of notes: The Senate race in 2000 was the only non-Presidential contest that had an R and a D in it at the state level. 1996 featured the only appearance of the Natural Law Party; they were in three state races, including the Presidential race, and topped out at 0.75%, though they did break 1% in some Congressional contests.

And then there’s 1992, which features the number that most likely jumps out at you, Richard Draheim’s 6.98%. That race featured Democratic incumbent Lena Guerrero, who had been appointed to the Railroad Commission by then-Governor Ann Richards. During the election campaign it was revealed that she had lied about getting a degree from UT, which turned into a huge scandal that sent her campaign into a ditch. I’ve no doubt that this was the main contributor to Draheim’s unparalleled performance. Yet even under those circumstances, it’s not in the 8 to 12 percent range that UT/TT is crediting this year’s crop of Ls with.

You can, I trust, see why I’m skeptical. If that’s not enough, note that in the past four Governor’s races, the best any Libertarian candidate has done is 1.46%, considerably less than what UT/TT claims Glass to be polling at. I’d set the over/under in all of these races at 4%, and I’d take the under on all of them. No other poll has shown anything like this, including the two previous results from UT/TT. How they could fail to remark on these highly remarkable numbers is a mystery to me. BOR has more.

Interview with Council Member Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Running to unseat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18 is Houston City Council Member Jarvis Johnson, who was recently elected to a third and final term in District B. (My interview with him from that race is here.) As he observes, District B is almost entirely within CD18, so he is familiar to many of the voters there. CM Johnson is the first serious opponent Rep. Jackson Lee has faced since her victory over then-Rep. Craig Washington in 1994. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Interview with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

We turn our attention now to CD18, where Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is running for re-election. I’ve lived in the 18th since 1989, and have had Congresswoman Lee as my Representative since she defeated Craig Washington in 1994. I don’t think she really needs an introduction, so let’s just go straight to the interview.

Download the MP3 file

A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Strange parallels

This Chron story about the primary challenges to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee goes out of its way to try to find parallels to Jackson Lee’s own successful primary election of 1994. A little too far, I think.

The district looks different: Its 228 square miles, mostly in the center of Houston, were reshaped in 2003 at the behest of Texas Republicans.

Its voters are different: African-Americans account for 40 percent of the eight-term Democrat’s estimated 652,000 constituents now, compared with 51 percent 16 years ago. Hispanics have doubled their share of the population to 36 percent. And the political power centers have shifted from the inner city churches to the neighborhoods like Windsor Village that ring Houston’s central core.

What’s more, the way candidates reach voters is different: When Jackson Lee first ran for Congress, she appeared with African-American ministers. On the day Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson declared his intent to replace Jackson Lee, his first interview was a roundtable with liberal Houston bloggers.

Then there’s the volatile political climate of 2010, similar in many ways to the 1994 wave that swept away three dozen incumbents, including Jackson Lee’s predecessor, Craig Washington. Just last week, two senior Democrats, Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, abandoned their re-election plans after finding themselves trailing in early polls.

Okay, as someone who has lived in CD18 since Mickey Leland was its representative, this is quite the stretch. It’s true that Rep. Jackson Lee has gotten some bad press recently. One can argue, as I’m sure Johnson and Roberts will, that she’s lost touch with the district. But Craig Washington spent the better part of 1993 dealing with stories about how he was paying his ex-wife’s rent with campaign funds, which were also allegedly being used to help him out of personal bankruptcy; and about how he missed a committee hearing that he himself had called for to attend a charity golf event; and how his attendance record was the fourth worst in all of Congress. To put it mildly, there’s nothing remotely like that in Jackson Lee’s record.

The Dodd and Dorgan comparison is equally flimsy. The reason for Dodd dropping out (lousy poll numbers that stem from his abortive 2008 Presidential run and a sweetheart deal from Countrywide Financial) and Dorgan dropping out (popular Governor John Hoeven decided to enter the race) are very different. Other than a general narrative of “2010 is likely going to be a rough year for Democrats” – which doesn’t have much relevance in a Democratic primary – it’s hard to see what that has to do with Jackson Lee’s situation. I at least am not aware of any polls that suggest Jackson Lee is in any danger. This doesn’t mean that she isn’t, but it would be nice to have some objective data before we start comparing her to incumbents that actually are on their way out.

Finally, while it’s true that CD18 looks different now than it did in 1994, Jackson Lee has won re-election three times since the 2003 re-redistricting. It’s not like she has to re-introduce herself to the voters, who showed her plenty of love in 2008. Again, I’m certainly not saying she can’t lose – Jarvis Johnson represents the strongest challenge she’s faced since 1994, and with two opponents, it’s that much harder to get a majority. What I am saying is that if she does lose, it won’t have anything to do with the reasons why Craig Washington lost to her all those years ago, and it won’t have anything to do with the politics of Connecticut or North Dakota. As is often the case in a primary, it’ll be a referendum on her, and she’ll win or lose on who she is and what she has or has not done while in office. That’s the story that we should be focusing on.

Hector Uribe files for Land Commish

We have one more contested statewide primary on the Democratic side as former State Sen. Hector Uribe has filed for Land Commissioner. (Bill Burton of Athens is already in.) Here’s Uribe’s press release:

Former state Senator Hector Uribe filed to be a Democratic candidate for Texas Land Commissioner today. Uribe returns to state politics after a 14 year hiatus, when he was the Democratic nominee for Texas Railroad Commissioner.

“The current Republican leadership is short-sighted. Texans want our state leaders to help address the real threats to our environment, but many of our current state leaders continue to minimize the importance of having clean water to drink and clean air to breathe,” Uribe said.

“National and international environmental policies on global warming have serious impacts on long-term state education funding. The Republican leadership should be concerned about any negative impact on education funding. Instead, they deny the existence of global warming, deny the science that CO2 emissions contribute to global warming, and instead they fan the fires of secession. That’s not responsible leadership, that’s failed leadership. They claim that pro-environment policies will negatively impact our economy and education funding. That’s not an answer, that’s a cop out,” he added.

“We don’t have to choose between a clean environment, and maximizing the return on state lands to fund our neighborhood schools. We can do both, and as Land Commissioner, I intend to do both,” Uribe said. “Our campaign will focus on how best to serve both objectives.”

Uribe served as a Texas state Senator from Brownsville from 1981 until 1990, and represented the counties of Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo and Jim Wells. Prior to serving in the Senate Uribe served in the Texas House of representatives for about three years.

As a state Senator he wrote the Texas Enterprise Zone Act, designed to create new businesses and jobs in economically distressed areas. He also wrote the Protective Services for the Elderly Act to guard against elder neglect and abuse as well as legislation establishing the University of Texas at Pan American in Edinburg and Brownsville.

During his final session in the Texas Senate he served as Chair of the Natural Resources Standing Subcommittee on Water that wrote the first colonias legislation and created a bond package to assure clean water and sewer facilities for colonia residents. As a member of the Natural Resources Committee he voted to create a super fund to clean up contamination left by leaking underground gasoline storage tanks. As Vice-Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, he authored legislation to regulate and require indoor air quality in public buildings and to regulate asbestos removers.

The release also contained a bio of Uribe, which you can see in this Google doc. It all sounds pretty good, and I look forward to hearing more about him, but Texas was quite a different place when he last ran for office, in 1996 for Railroad Commissioner against Carole Keeton then-Rylander, who defeated him by a 58-39 margin for her first full term in office; she had ousted Mary Scott Nabers, who was appointed in 1993 as a replacement for Bob Krueger when he was tapped as Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s successor, in 1994. I hope that after all this time he has a good feel for what the lay of the land is like now, and that he has the ability to raise the funds he’ll need to run a competitive race. PDiddie, BOR, Trail Blazers, and The Trib, which notes that Uribe is also a movie actor, have more. I’ll have a full roundup of filings later once all the info is available.

Time to throw out the first attack mailer of the season

So we got a weird little piece of mail Saturday. Addressed to both of us, in a plain envelope with no return address was a one-page letter that attacked Carl Whitmarsh, best know for his prodigious Democratic email list, and consultant Marc Campos. Using questionable grammar and a lot of underlining, it basically accused Carl and Marc of being in cahoots, specifically that Marc bankrolls Carl’s email operations, while Carl plugs Marc’s clients to his list. I don’t have a scanner, so I can’t show you the letter just yet, but I can tell you it contained the following closing, reprinted exactly as it appears:

Paid political news brought to you by Don Carpenter & M. Rodriguez – Owners Investigations Inc. Houston, Texas — Marc & Carl your gig is up, the truth is out now.

If this really was a paid piece, I have a feeling it didn’t exactly fulfill state disclosure requirements, but never mind that for now. It was also as plain as can be – nothing but black type, all one font, on ordinary white paper. Printing an email looks fancier than this. If someone was paid to produce this, he or she didn’t waste any effort on production values, that’s for sure. Whatever the case, the letter promises more to come, for which I can hardly wait. Crankery is usually entertaining, and that’s what this looks like. I seriously doubt they can back up their claims.

I don’t know who these guys are – Google searches on “Investigations Inc Houston” and on “Don Carpenter investigations Houston” yielded nothing useful – and I don’t know what their beef is or what interest they may have in the District H race. I assume this has something to do with that since the one clue as to their motivation comes from the following paragraph, again reprinted exactly as it appears:

Marc bashes good Democrats (via Carl’s list) like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee & Senator Mario Gallegos just to name a couple of recent ones via Carl’s list. Why? Marc did this cause the Senator kicked Marc’s & Carl’s client Yolanda’s arse before. They want a client candidate to run at Sheila & Mario in order for them to make some $.

You know about the Jackson Lee kerfuffle. The other reference is to this Daily Commentary entry from March 12.

The proponents of bi-annual Lone Star State legislative sessions usually don’t have to go far for ammo. Check out what an astute legislative observer sent Commentary yesterday:

“Wanted you to know, because someone may ask, Mario (Gallegos) filed legislation (SB 1895) today that would require any member of HISD or HCC board to resign if they were to become a candidate for a municipal, state or federal office.

He did it last session, and it’s clearly a personal attack bill, but of course it’s not going anywhere. Just a heads up should someone get a hold of it.”

This bill is clearly aimed at HCC Trustee Yolanda Navarro Flores who is running in the H-Town City Council District H Special Election that is scheduled for May 9. I don’t know why anyone up in the legislature would want to weigh in on a local council race. This isn’t exactly a major public policy crisis that needs addressing. If Gallegos was to ever have a hearing on the bill, I sure would love to see the witness list and their talking points. There are quite a few of Gallegos’ constituents that are supporting Yolanda. I wonder what they think. All this bill does is energize Yolanda’s family, friends, and supporters. It sounds like Gallegos has a case of the insecurities if you ask me. Commentary would have a little respect for this if Gallegos had included H-Town city officials. Of course, that would have meant calling out the Mayor. This is clearly one of the silliest bills of this session.

He doesn’t mention it here (though I believe he has done so in previous Commentaries), but Campos is Yolanda Navarro Flores’ campaign consultant for the District H race. That entry drew a long response, which Carl duly forwarded to his list, from Lillian Villarreal, who is Sen. Gallegos’ sister and who said Campos took advantage of the fact that Carl forwards his commentaries to distribute a “political piece” that touted his paid client. Campos responded to that here.

Anyway. I can only presume this has something to do with that. Assuming there is a coherent motive behind all that, that is – as I said, this looks like the work of a crank who is just trying to stir up trouble. Whether there will be more than this, or whether the identity and motivations of the senders comes out, I don’t know either. Heck, I don’t even know how widespread this was – the last time there was this kind of mail related to a District H race, back in the 2003 election, other people who’d gotten the mail emailed me to inquire about it. So far, I’ve heard from one other recipient, so at least I know they didn’t just send it to me. I’ll try to find a scanner this week so I can post the whole thing for your perusal. In the meantime, if anyone else got this, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.

One last thing: The reason I’m blogging about this is that I dislike anonymous attack pieces, and I think it’s best to shine light on them. This one had names attached to it, but so far those names don’t tell me anything, so it may as well have been anonymous. I also don’t care for the way this piece went about making its charges but merely teasing about proof. If you’re going to accuse someone of something, show me the evidence. Don’t just claim you’ve got it then say you’ll get back to me. Put up or shut up, and give the people you’re accusing a chance to respond. In the meantime, I say it’s the senders who look bad. If and when I get more on this, I’ll let you know and we’ll go from there.

Candidate interview: Yolanda Navarro Flores

Next up in the District H special election interview series is Yolanda Navarro Flores. As far as I know, she is the only candidate to have been elected to public office before – she served one term in the Lege in HD148 from 1993-95 (she then ran for the open SD06 seat in the Democratic primary in 1994 and lost in a runoff to Sen. Mario Gallegos); she is also the HCC Trustee from District I and Vice Chair of the Board, a position to which she was first elected in 2001. Flores is a resident of Lindale. My interview with her is here. As always, please let me know what you think.

On a side note, please be aware that the location for tomorrow night’s candidate forum has been changed to the HCDP headquarters, 1445 North Loop West, Suite 110, which is just east of Ella. Hope you can make it to this event.

PREVIOUSLY:

Rick Rodriguez

Schieffer jumps in

We have a candidate, one not named Kinky.

Former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth has just announced he is taking his first formal step toward seeking the Democratic nomination for governor during a Texas Independence Day press conference in the State Capitol.

“At the very time when Texas desperately needs leadership, people worry that we are experiencing a crisis of leadership,” said Schieffer, the younger brother of CBS newsman Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer, who was still overcoming a bout with laryngitis, said he and his wife, Susanne Silber Schieffer, made a final decision about the race on Sunday.

Schieffer, 61, has been moving toward becoming a candidate since returning to Texas at the end of the Bush Administration in January after serving as Bush’s ambassador to Australia and Japan. The Schieffers traveled more than 4,000 miles around the perimeter of Texas in a homecoming road trip that reacquainted them with potential voters.

[…]

Before becoming a diplomat in the Bush administration, Schieffer was an investor in the partnership that bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1989, with Bush and Edward W. “Rusty” Rose. Schieffer served as team president for eight years, running the club’s day-to-day operations and overseeing the building of the Rangers’ ballpark in Arlington.

Politically, Schieffer, a Fort Worth attorney, was identified with the conservative-moderate wing of the Texas Democratic Party during the 1970s and 1980s and was active in the campaigns of such high-profile Democrats as U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Gov. Mark White and Fort Worth Congressman Pete Geren. He was elected to the State Legtislature in 1972, at the age of 25, and served three terms.

OK, technically, Schieffer is still exploring, and won’t officially make up his mind for another two or three months. My guess is that unless someone who can lure away much of his financial support comes along, he’s in for real. You can read Schieffer’s prepared remarks here (PDF). Glenn Smith reacts favorably. McBlogger was already on board – he sees Sen. Van de Putte as a better fit at Lt. Guv. I can certainly see the merit in that, though if she decides to go for the top spot it certainly won’t break my heart. EoW is still skeptical, but willing to hear what Schieffer has to say. Vince is more skeptical.

I think LizeB summarizes the issue with Schieffer as succinctly as possible:

I’m having a tough time getting my mind around not regretting voting for Bush 4 times and wanting to be Dem candidate for guv.

I suspect we’ll hear the name “Tony Sanchez” a lot in the coming weeks. I can deal with Schieffer’s Bush associations – as McB says, there’s a lot of Dems out there who have them, and we need to come to terms with it. I’m pretty open-minded on this – I’ve advocated welcoming exiles (self-imposed and otherwise) from the Republican Party to our ranks, including as candidates. Schieffer’s much less of a concern on that score. What does concern me is that Schieffer is a man from a different era, coming home at a time when the state and the Democratic Party don’t look anything like his heyday. I want to know what Schieffer has to say about today’s issues, today’s direction of each party, and today’s solutions. I once said that I couldn’t “shake the feeling that [John] Sharp is a 1990 candidate wanting to run in 2010”, but at least he’s run for office in this century. I need to know Schieffer isn’t an oldies act, because that just isn’t going to do the job. He’s got the Lone Star Project on his side, and that will help address some of these issues, but that’s just a start. I look forward to hearing more, and the sooner the better.

UPDATE: BOR has video.

If you’re going to reform it, reform it right

I agree with State Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson that the way we elect judges in Texas needs reform. I just don’t think he’s proposing a real fix for the problem he’s identified.

Texas remains one of only seven states with partisan judicial elections. It requires judicial candidates to raise vast amounts of money, which leaves a skeptical public assuming that money influences the outcome, Jefferson said.

“The status quo is broken,” he warned.

He has issued the same warning to previous Legislatures. Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, has tried several times to convert the state’s partisan judicial elections to merit-based judicial appointments followed by retention elections. But that plan has never passed.

“Sadly, we have now become accustomed to judicial races in which the primary determinants of victory are not the flaws of the incumbent or qualities of the challenger, but political affiliation and money,” Jefferson said. “In 1994, 2006 and again in 2008, district judges lost elections due to partisan sweeps in the urban counties.”

Jefferson acknowledged that his own re-election in November might just as well have been tied to Republican John McCain’s success in Texas as to any stellar credentials that his candidacy offered.

“And this is the point. Justice must be blind – it must be as blind to party affiliation as to the litigant’s social or financial status,” he said. “The rule of law resonates across party lines.”

Jefferson endorses a merit system as “the best remedy.” A merit system would allow the governor to appoint judges, who later would face voters in a keep-or-remove election.

“The state of our judiciary will be made stronger if we appoint our judges based on merit and hold them accountable in retention elections,” he said.

The Observer also reported on this; the Chron has more here and here. First and foremost, I’m sorry, but I can’t help but be suspicious at the motives of a Republican to propose such a scheme right after the Democrats began winning judicial elections in the two biggest counties. Yeah, he mentioned the sweep of 1994, too, but I don’t remember anyone calling for this reform then, or any other time in the 90s when the Republicans were taking over the state judiciary. Forgive my cynicism, but this sounds far too much like the newfound alarm over the evils of straight-ticket voting, which somehow managed to not corrupt the body politic when it favored the other team.

The main objection to what Justice Jefferson proposes is that it doesn’t seem to fit the problem. If we’re concerned about the effects, real and perceived, of big donors to judges and judicial candidates, how exactly does removing party labels help? Are you telling me that Texans for Lawsuit Reform would sit on the sidelines in those nice little non-partisan retention elections? Cause if you are, I’m not buying it. If the problem is too much money coming from too few donors, most of whom have business before the court, why not impose stricter limits on who can give to judicial candidates, and how much they can give? You can balance that out by creating a public campaign funding system for these races, available to candidates matching funds with some multiplier effect for small-dollar donations. That actually addresses the issue, in a way that Justice Jefferson’s proposal does not.

Finally, I guess I just don’t see the allure of gubernatorial appointments instead of elections. I mean, does anyone think Rick Perry is going to make these decisions based on merit, and not politics? Not me. I say if finances are the problem, then reforming the finances has to be the solution. Anything else strikes me as missing the point. Let’s start with Sen. Kirk Watson’s bill, which would require that “in an order granting, refusing, dismissing, or denying a petition for review, the supreme court shall state how each member voted on the petition or application”, and go from there.

UPDATE: What Burka said. I couldn’t agree with him more.