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April 7th, 2014:

Who’s afraid of the Republican slate?

I was reading this story about a kerfuffle in the Republican runoff for Railroad Commissioner when a thought struck me.

A Republican candidate seeking a post that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry said he won’t cut ties to his energy business if elected to the Texas Railroad Commission – a state board that historically has had a poor track record disentangling itself from industry interests.

Ryan Sitton is co-founder and chief executive officer of PinnacleAIS, which advises companies about maintenance of equipment used in oil and gas operations.

Sitton said he will maintain an ownership stake in Pinnacle­AIS if he becomes a commission board member – a declaration that raised questions by his GOP and Democratic opponent, ethics experts and tea party Republicans.

“That is a conflict of interest and it is very frightful,” said Wayne Christian, a former state representative also seeking the post.

I’m not terribly interested in the particulars of this fight because the overly cozy relationship between the energy industry and the elected officials that regulate them is a very old story, and typically neither candidate has clean hands. What occurred to me in reading this story is how undistinguished the two candidates are, and how that seems to be the case up and down the statewide ballot for the GOP this year. Consider this: Among the leading candidates in the primaries, including the two that won outright, Wayne Christian and Sid Miller are clowns, George P. Bush is a legacy whose advisers prefer to keep under wraps, Glenn Hegar and Ken Paxton are a couple of basically undistinguished legislators, and Dan Patrick is Dan Patrick. Murderer’s Row these guys ain’t. The fact that they’ve all spent the bulk of their campaigns talking about nothing – they all hate abortion, the Obama administration, illegal immigrants, and Sharia law, and they all love guns – adds to the overall picture of ridiculousness.

The Republicans did have some substantial candidates on their ballot. Malachi Boylus and J. Allen Carnes never had a chance to get out of their primaries. Jerry Patterson and Dan Branch, who is still alive but a big underdog, had to degrade themselves in their races in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to separate themselves from their mostly solid records of public service. Those past accomplishments, and their at least occasional willingness to talk about issues and – heaven forfend – what the office they’re running for actually does were anchors for them, not assets. I get that they’re running in a primary, and they have to address what the voters in that primary want to hear. Democratic primaries are often contests of personality as well, and the winner is often who loves what the base voters love the hardest, but the spectacle of these campaigns has been on another level.

And then there’s the top of the ticket. For all his status as the heir apparent to Rick Perry, Greg Abbott hasn’t exactly been setting the terms of the debate in the Governor’s race. I would argue that Wendy Davis has driven the story of this election from the beginning. That’s not always been good for her – indeed, for about two months running it was mostly bad news about her and her campaign – but good or bad, it’s been about her. Say what you want about Rick Perry, but all of his gubernatorial campaigns have been on his terms. Since February, Abbott’s tone-deafness and Davis’ attacks have been the main event. Oh, he tried to knock her back with his ethics proposal about bond lawyering that maybe ten people in the state understood, but it’s been a steady drumbeat Ted Nugent, Lilly Ledbetter, Charles Murray, and school finance. Neither Abbott’s own words nor those of his surrogates have done anything to help him or change the narrative, and there’s still more out there. At some point you have to wonder what else there is to him beyond a ginormous campaign warchest and a long history of being a Republican on statewide ballots.

Now in the end, of course, none of this may matter. We all know what Texas’ proclivities are, we know how historically weak the state Democratic Party has been and how far behind they are in building infrastructure and a GOTV machine. However you feel about the polls we’ve seen so far, none of them have shown a shift in the fundamentals. The next poll to give Wendy Davis 44% or more of the vote will be the first such poll since John Sharp roamed the earth. These guys may be clowns and empty suits, but they’re also the favorites to win. What I know is that I don’t fear them, at least not as opponents. If they beat us, it’s not because they can run faster or jump higher or lift heavier things. It’s because they have a head start. We may not be able to overcome that this time, but if this is what we’re up against, it’s all that we have to overcome. We will get there.

Look out for LVdP

Do not underestimate her.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

In the lavish Belo Mansion, tucked in the heart of this city’s downtown, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is locked in a back-and-forth with small-business owners from the region.

Van de Putte, the San Antonio Democrat running for lieutenant governor, is courting support — and cash — from the mix of lawyers, restaurateurs, real estate investors and nonprofit managers in the room.

And she brings a clear message: Erase any notion that her campaign exists solely to lend a Hispanic face on the Democratic ticket for Sen. Wendy Davis, the gubernatorial nominee, to court Latino voters. Van de Putte is in it to win it.

“I’ve never been good at being a martyr. I wish I was that noble, but I’m way too competitive,” she said. “I know I can do this.”

Donation envelopes, marked with ranges from $50 to $5,000, are laid at one end of a conference table where the small group is huddled.

“But I need your help.”

Currently trekking through the state on a giant campaign bus, Van de Putte is by all accounts the underdog in the race for the state’s No.2 office, likely to be outgunned and outspent by an entrenched Republican machine.

Yet political analysts think the San Antonio pharmacist, mother of six — and grandmother of six more — could be the strongest candidate on the Democratic ticket.

“Her prospects for victory are very unlikely,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “But they are probably the best odds of any Democrat this cycle.”

[…]

For Van de Putte to be competitive in the race, she’s also going to have to raise big bucks. Jones, the political scientist from Rice, estimates she’ll need in the range of $15 million to compete against Patrick or Dewhurst.

“Republicans just start off with a built in advantage when it comes to fundraising,” he said.

On the tour, Van de Putte has been hitting the fundraising circuit hard. On occasion, she puts in several hours of “call time” with potential donors from the back the campaign bus.

Private fundraisers were scheduled throughout the trip. And the donation envelopes are present at most of the stumps.

I had the opportunity, along with several of my blogging colleagues, to meet briefly with Sen. Van de Putte while she was in Houston on Saturday. The thing about Sen. Van de Putte is that she’s as personable as anyone you’re likely to meet. She’s funny, she’s direct, she’s very comfortable in her own skin. As Molly Ivins would have put it, she’s got a ton of Elvis in her. That’s an asset we’ve not had in abundance on the Democratic side of the statewide ballot in recent cycles, and it’s no small thing.

To know Sen. Van de Putte is to like her, but the challenge is ensuring enough people know her. As she was uncontested in her primary, the last finance report she filed was in January, so we don’t know how her campaign is doing on the fundraising front. I don’t know how much she really needs to raise, but it is in the millions. I get the impression she’s doing well on that front, but we won’t know for sure until July. By the same token, we keep hearing bits and pieces about support for her from Republicans that are not happy with the prospect of Dan Patrick as Lite Gov. I try to keep stuff like that in perspective because I really want it to be true. My hope is that we’ll hear more of this, and have more names attached to the stories, after Patrick (presumably) wins his runoff in May. It would be nice to see some of those same names show up in her finance report, and of course there’s the matter of groups like the Texas Farm Bureau putting their money where their mouths are. Sen. Van de Putte won’t have any trouble firing up Democrats for November. Stuff like this will let us know if it’s contagious outside of the base. Juanita and Stace have more.

Don’t forget about Kesha

From the HuffPo:

David Alameel

David Alameel

Texas Democrats are working hard in the U.S. Senate race — against a member of their own party.

Activists in the state want to make sure that Kesha Rogers doesn’t get their party’s Senate nomination because she is a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, who heads a fringe political movement that has been compared to a cult.

Rogers has already advanced further than most people expected; she came in second in the March 4 primary, meaning she and Dallas dentist David Alameel are facing off in a run-off election on May 27.

“Having her on the ballot would just be bad,” Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) told Fox4 in Dallas-Fort Worth.

“She’s a member of the LaRouche Movement, which has a history of violent exclusionary and discriminatory rhetoric,” added Taylor Holden, Dallas County Democratic Party executive director. “The Dallas County Democratic Party does not recognize members of the LaRouche Movement, including and especially Kesha Rogers.”

Dallas County Democrats also tweeted on Monday, “Friends don’t let friends vote Kesha Rogers in the Primary Runoff (May 27).”

Honestly, I haven’t heard that much about the Senate runoff so far. David Alameel isn’t on every webpage I visit these days, as he was leading up to the primary. With few runoffs in local races, this should be a low turnout affair – I’ll set the under/over at 200,000 votes, about what there was in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary runoff. Which is fine, since these should be the most plugged-in voters, thus the most likely to know not to vote for Kesha. As previously noted, returns from March in Harris County look promising for May. Kesha herself is doing what she can to stay in the news, which I believe works in favor of sanity. Still, talking up the need to vote for Alameel in the runoff is everone’s job, and I expect Alameel will spend a few bucks on mail and other forms of outreach as we enter May. Just remember to do your part by showing up and voting for Alameel, and it’ll be fine.

Pratt Mess gets messier

How much worse can it get?

Judge Denise Pratt

Hundreds of divorce, child support and custody cases dating back to 2012 will have to be revisited – and possibly sent back to trial – as a court administrator sorts out what he called the “random chaos” left behind by former District Family Court Judge Denise Pratt.

The freshman jurist, who abruptly resigned late last month, left nearly 300 court orders stacked on the floor and desk of her 311th District Court, according to Judge David Farr, the administrative judge for Harris County’s nine family courts.

Most of the orders, Farr said, are final agreements needing only a judge’s signature, meaning families are waiting to hear that their cases have been concluded or think they already are.

“Somebody may be out there thinking they’ve been divorced for a couple months; not the case,” said Farr, who is charged with finding judges to staff Pratt’s court until Gov. Rick Perry announces a replacement. Farr said cleaning the administrative mess after Pratt’s sudden departure likely will take months.

[…]

Farr said a majority of the orders he found in Pratt’s courtroom, some nearly a year and a half old, are topped with sticky notes – blue, yellow, green, pink – containing hand-written messages from Pratt giving directions, expressing concerns or posing questions about the terms of an agreement to which both parties had signed off.

He said there is no way to determine whether the issues raised on the sticky notes were addressed, or the correct status of the orders without them, meaning lawyers will have to be called in for status hearings, and many families will incur additional legal costs.

“It is random chaos that’s going to have to be dealt with case by case by case,” Farr said. “Every single thing I pick up makes my head hurt, it’s so problematic.”

Austin lawyer Lillian Hardwick, co-author of the “Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics,” said a Texas judge as high ranking as Pratt has not left a “mess of this size” behind in recent memory, citing a statewide list of resignations since 2001. Some judges have been sanctioned in the past for similar administrative failures, she said.

Asked about the stacks of orders, Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said “the staff of the 311th are adamant that the numbers cited are grossly exaggerated.”

“It is kind of pitiful that people continue to beat a dead horse,” Yates wrote in an e-mail.

See here for the background. So basically, either the lawyers and clients and Judge Farr are all lying, or Judge Pratt really is a lousy judge. Seems like an Occam’s Razor situation to me. And remember – she’s still on the ballot, and still could be the Republican nominee.