Before the State Senate District 26 Special started, Rep. José Menéndez and fellow Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer were both good elected officials and good Democrats. This morning they are still good elected officials and good Democrats. Somebody had to win.
I have to admit I was kind of surprised with last night’s results. I guess Sen.-Elect Menéndez ran a better and smarter campaign.
Then this was tweeted last night:
I really don’t like the media painting the Menendez win as a loss for Democrats. Maybe for hardcore liberals, but he’s still a Democrat, yo.
— Michael Hurta (@MichaelHurta) 8:32 PM – 17 Feb 2015
I don’t know if the media is saying it was a Dem loss. I think some Dem activists might be saying it was a Dem loss. You can’t deny that the Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) folks are feeling pretty good this morning. TLR racked up a decisive victory in Dem territory.
And then this tweet from Harold Cook:
The @Menendez4Texas #sd26 win is stunning. TLR and GOP allies played in the Democratic sandbox better than trials and labor on this race.
— Harold Cook (@HCookAustin) 6:30 PM – 17 Feb 2015
How about played better and smarter?
Who might be saying it was a Dem loss? Well, BOR for one.
Last night, State Rep. Jose Menendez scored what has largely been viewed as an upset over State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, winning 59% to 41% in a special election to replace Senator Leticia Van de Putte in SD-26.
While Menendez and Martinez Fischer have both held office as Democrats and ran for the Senate as the same, Menendez’s win has been credited in part to his support from GOP voters and groups that traditionally back Republicans.
Martinez Fischer led going into the runoff by 18%, after 19,019 votes were cast in the first round in January. Curiously, more votes were cast in the run-off for a total of 23,523, which saw Menendez go from 4,824 votes good for 25.36% to 13,888 votes amounting to 59% of the tally while Martinez Fischer increased his share from 8,232 votes to 9,635 in the run-off.
So how did Menendez do it? Apparently, with Republican support.
Christopher Hooks and Ross Ramsey also buy into this logic. I don’t know about that. Remember, SD26 wasn’t the only runoff in San Antonio on Tuesday. HD123 was also happening. That district is almost entirely within SD26. If there was an unusual influx of Republican turnout in SD26, you’d think it might have had an effect on the HD123 race as well. Except that while Sen. Menendez was clobbering TMF, Diego Bernal was outperforming President Obama by three points, in a district that’s actually a teeny bit less Democratic than SD26 overall and a special election runoff, which as both Hooks and Ramsey note had lousy turnout. If there were a disproportionate number of Republicans voting in the SD26 race, why doesn’t it show up in the HD123 race as well? Does it make sense that all these Republican voters would also support Diego Bernal, an unabashed liberal whose opponent had Greg Abbott campaigning for him? It doesn’t to me. Yet none of the writers advancing the “Menendez won with GOP support” theory even mentions HD123. Sorry, but you all get an “incomplete” on that assignment. Get back to me when you’ve addressed all the evidence.
As for Menendez being more “conservative” than average, according to Mark Jones’ magic formula, I have to ask: Can someone point me to a single consequential bill, on a subject Democratic voters care about, in which Menendez was an outlier? I’m sure something exists, but we all know who the troublemakers have been in the caucus, and Menendez’s name is not one that usually comes up. He voted against the sonogram bill in 2011. He scored a 92% on the 2013 TLCV scorecard, which was not only slightly above the Democratic average of 91%, it was also higher than TMF’s score of 86%. (The difference was a vote on SB 219, House Amendment #2: Resign to Run.) He got an A on the 2013 Equality Texas scorecard, same as TMF. He scored a nice, fat zero on the 2013 Texas Right to Life scorecard. He went to Ardmore in 2003. What am I missing here? Yes, TMF is loud and proud, and the Republicans justifiably hated him. But what are the substantive differences between them? That’s what I care about, and as far as I can tell no one can say what it is.
(OK, I can think of one difference: Labor. The Texas AFL-CIO supported TMF over Menendez in the race. I couldn’t find a scorecard for them, so I can’t quantify the difference. I can, however, quote from Ed Sills’ daily email from last night: “Menendez is no foe of labor – not by a long shot – and we don’t expect him to become one as a Senator. The Texas AFL-CIO raised no criticism of Menendez during the campaign; our materials were a positive promotion of the Martinez Fischer candidacy. We wish Sen.-elect Menendez well as he crosses over to the east side of the dome.” So again I ask: Where’s the beef?)
My point is that it’s not like the Dems just elected an Allan Ritter, or a pinche cabron like Aaron Pena. Honestly, the whole reason why this campaign – much like the one in SD06 in 2013 – was nasty and personal and not about actual issues is because there isn’t that much substantive difference between the two. I’m going to refer you to Jonathan Tilove for a good view on what happened in this race.
A lot of charges and counter charges were swapped between the old friends, but in the end, the terms of engagement, and what separated the two, was generally agreed upon and revolved around their opposite political temperaments, and the political posture Democrats – and particularly Hispanic Democrats – ought to strike in a state where they are now, but not likely forever, on the outs.
TMF is a talented politician. He has proved to be an important figure in the workings of the House, where he will remain. It would have been something beyond kabuki if he had landed in Dan Patrick’s Senate. This loss won’t kill him. All the greats – Nixon, Clinton, Obama – suffered devastating losses on their way to their destiny. He wants to play on the big stage. But the lesson of last night may be that, even on his home turf, his edges may be too rough, at least until the day that confrontational style demonstrably revs up Hispanic turnout.
That sounds right to me. And while TLR may have achieved their goal of making the Senate slightly more amenable to them, it will be a simple enough matter to keep track of Sen. Menendez’s actual votes, and challenge him in a Democratic primary if he loses his way. Which, to be clear, I don’t expect will be needed. My view is that Sen. Menendez did a better job turning out his voters, and won the argument about what style would better represent the district. And now we wait to see when the special election to fill his HD124 seat will be called and who will run for it.