Lt Gov campaign update

First things first, I’m sorry for the lack of activity. I’ve had a remarkably busy week, and have been driving all around the State for the past 36 hours (fun fact: there are cities in Texas named “Nixon,” “Pawnee” and “Three Rivers”). Now, I’m back in Houston for the weekend in observance of a religious holiday and some personal odds-and-ends.

Back on Monday night, the only debate in the Lieutenant Governor’s campaign was held in Austin. State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the Republican candidate, and State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate, squared off against one another in a battle of words that was exceedingly civil when it comes to the rough and tumble world of Texas politics. Without getting into too much of the minutia of the debate, it was characterized by Patrick’s total extremism, despite coming off as an ostensibly formidable foe. The two argued over education, abortion, gay marriages and taxes…oh my goodness, lots of taxes.

Patrick began his comments by claiming, completely falsely, that Van de Putte has recently voted for a State Income Tax. Those who do not believe that the sky is red, of course, are aware that the Texas Constitution has effectively precluded the Legislate from considering a State  Income Tax for many years now. He just made it up. Van de Putte, meanwhile, alleged that her opponent supported hiking the sales tax. To that allegation, Patrick admitted it was true, but insisted that it was not a tax increase. Rather, he said, it was a “swap.”

On other issues, Patrick tacked heavily to the right. He reiterated opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. He confidently defended his opposition to gay marriage and continued drugging up so-called tort reform. He equated the expansion of Medcaid, the brainchild of Lyndon Baines Johnson, with the other boondoggles of Obamacare. Needless to say, the big headline here is that Patrick has not mellowed his rhetoric one bit whatsoever in advance of the general election.

Paul Burka at Texas Monthly had some harsh words for Patrick, calling him “most formidable radical politician the state has produced in my career of covering the Legislature,” which, by the way, is nearly 50 years. He said that the true Patrick is a “conservative radical,” but I beg to differ. The true Patrick is a facade; he is merely puts on an ideology that works best for him. Perhaps in the past that type of populism would be pragmatic, but not today. This is an era of pitchforks, and Patrick would not be the type of leader who would stand up against the lynch mob…he would be the one leading the charge and giving the speech upon the soapbox.

Recently, the Houston Chronicle‘s Editorial Board even went of its way to write a thoughtful endorsement of Van de Putte. It is a touching piece, and covers all the key features while taking a few pot-shots at Patrick. This, on a year when they are endorsing Republicans in a spirit of “going along to get along” even more than usual.

Back to the debate itself, I think Van de Putte won, but I don’t think it will get her any traction. People in Texas don’t watch things like debates, it’s not her fault. The format, though, was still pretty bad. Candidate-to-candidate interaction was minimal and many of the questions were just low-hanging fruit for the sake of fireworks.

Brains & Eggs, Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist have more.

16 unforgettable debate tweets!

A few minutes ago, the Wendy Davis campaign posted a link to a corny buzzfeed article on the first gubernatorial debate between her and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican opponent. Naturally, I thought it presented itself as a unique opportunity to do my own countdown, about the best tweets from that evening!

Debate7

Debate6

Debate1

Debate5

Debate2

Debate8

Debate3

Debate14

Debate16

Debate11

Debate4

Debate12

Debate9

Debate10

Debate15Debate13

 

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad debate

RGV Debate

On Friday evening, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Governor, and State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee, squared off in the first of two general election debates in the gubernatorial campaign. The debate was minimally televised but livestreamed from McAllen. In a word, it was a disaster. In two words, it was an unmitigated disaster. The format of the debate was so terrible that it is literally incapable of being described in an artful manner.

Basically, the entire debate consisted of what would be referred to by those familiar with debates as a “lightning round.” One of the three moderators would come up with a fairly specific question, typically with some background, addressed to a specific candidate. No followup, no rebuttals and no clarification were made. Just a softball (given in advanced) lobbed right over the plate, and the same trite sound bites coming up again and again. The one exception to this rule was what they called the “Candidate-to-candidate questioning,” which consisted of a grand total of two questions. Davis took the opportunity to pontificate about one of her pet issues, with a thoroughly unremarkable question buried somewhere amid the rambling. Abbott asked Davis point-blank, “Do you regret voting for President Obama?” Davis, unsurprisingly, fumbled…Derek Carr style.

Longtime readers of my words will definitely know that I am no obsequious loyalist to Obama. I wouldn’t have been personally offended if Davis would have said “yes,” and then proceeded to list the multitude of reasons she supposedly would have an ax to grind against the President. It’s a reasonable strategy for a Democrat in a red state; it might end up working out well for Alison Grimes in Kentucky. Likewise, she could have stood her ground and defended the President against an increasingly out-of-touch Republican Party. Either option has some strengths, but her chicken way of equivocating was just pitiful.

Those questioners were out of place for Davis compared to the rest of the debate. Otherwise, she was knowledgeable, on-message and with no shortage of good zingers against Abbott. She wiped the floor with him on the merits, but –especially in a poorly formatted debate like this– that just doesn’t mean much anymore.

Abbott was totally dominant on style. He was sleek, polished and articulate. Davis was none of those. Most pundits have taken to the word “robotic” in describing Davis’ performance. Her monotone voice and general absence of delivery skills was quite apparent throughout the evening. As I have said many times over the past few months, Davis’ strength is not her innate political acumen. She has tremendous perseverance, courage and bravery, that’s what led her to the filibuster. Everyone obviously remembers that, but no one remembers any sound bites from her. And that’s what wins debates, not superior policy prescriptions.

Of course, I wasn’t surprised with Davis’ performance. And, please not forget, the worst part of the debate was its format. The moderators were some of the worst “journalists” I have ever seen. When one is an underdog like Davis, and the rules simply do not allow you to rebut the baldfaced lies lodged by your opponent, the odds are just stacked against you. That should be the takeaway lesson.

Nevertheless, both Abbott and Davis claimed victory in the debate. The Houston Chronicle noted this morning that they both a renewed sense of optimism on the campaign trail. In reality, however, this isn’t especially good news for the Davis camp. Even if, for the sake of argument, we say that the debate was a push, it’s bad news for Davis. With the polls putting her behind anywhere from 8 to 18 points, she needed a decisive victory on Friday night. Only the truly deranged would actually believe she actually achieved it.

Brains & Eggs and Texas Leftist have more.

An AG race update

The gubernatorial election has obviously received a great deal of publicity this year, as has (to a lesser extent) the lieutenant gubernatorial election. Little ink has been spilled, though, covering the contentious race for Attorney General. The race is between State Senator Ken Paxton (R-Collin County), the Republican, and the fortuitously-named Sam Houston, the Democrat. Houston is an attorney from a City that bears his name, who has previously run for the Texas Supreme Court. Paxton, who has been in the Senate since last year and previously served in the State House for a decade, is one of the most extreme conservatives in the legislature.

Paxton, for his part, is a pretty shoddy lawyer who himself is vying for top lawyer job in Texas. As The Dallas Morning News refreshes us on, he is facing possible felony indictment for improperly steering clients in his law firm toward an investment firm that he had a stake in –without properly disclosing as much. The Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office (sound familiar?) is currently investigating this. Now, the general public certainly does not know this, so Paxton is hoping to keep this race rather low profile, so that he may simply cruise to victory on straight-ticket voting. Houston, for his part, is fighting back to try to ensure that does not happen.

At the start of the week, Houston challenged Paxton to a televised debate, in a high-profile speech where he lambasted his opponent for hiding out of sight from the public. Paxton’s campaign has responded by calling the debate-request a “ploy.” Just think about that, we’ve gotten to a point where a request to compare political positions is somehow a ploy.

Anyways, Paxton himself thinks he is sitting pretty before November. The Houston Chronicle reports that his campaign’s internal poll has shown that Paxton leads Houston by 24 points, 52% to 28%. The logistics of the poll and its methodology make the results somewhat suspect, but one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who does not stipulate Paxton’s huge lead in this race in some capacity.

I’ll admit it, I had some serious doubts about Houston’s candidacy when it was first announced last year. He has no political experience whatsoever, and a good name can only take you so far. But Houston has positively surprised me in many ways. His campaign team is impeccable, and they have been running a very effective ground game thus far in the year. Of course, it does help immeasurably that his opponent is equal parts extreme and inept, both of which are qualities making him enormously unfit for high executive office.

I honestly don’t know if Paxton’s alleged transgressions would be a result of incompetence or just him being a crook, and, frankly, I don’t really care. Either way, he shouldn’t be the Attorney General.

Abbott’s bad weekend

Perhaps this is old news by now, but on Friday the Houston Chronicle reported that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, would be pulling out of one of two scheduled debates for the gubernatorial election, and the only televised one. Immediately, he was castigated by the usual suspects, prime among them State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. He also received some derision from Libertarians as well.

The debate was scheduled for September 30th at WFAA, the ABC affiliate in Dallas. However, after criticism from around the State, Abbott reversed course. In a somewhat cringeworthy about-face, Abbott announced he had accepted a nearly identical offer to participate in a televised debate on the same date at KERA, the NBC PBS affiliate in Dallas. A separate debate, schedule for September 19th in Edinburg, has always remained on the table.

Ostensibly, the excuse given by the Abbott campaign was that he had some anonymous concern with formatting. A weak excuse, by any stretch. Rightly so, as I just mentioned, he was bombarded by criticism from both the left and the right (granted, with more cacophonous critiques coming from the former). The 2010 gubernatorial campaign between Rick Perry and Bill White was arguably best defined by Perry setting the terms of the entire process. Perry came up with some exceedingly lame excuse to not debate White (and now, of course, the entire country knows why), and the entire State’s political intelligentsia (not to mention its at times obsequious-to-Perry press corps) did not bat an eye. Granted, there is something worse about chickening out after making a commitment, but at its core, Abbott committed the very same transgression. Except –and rightly so– he was almost universally chastised for this action.

This leads me to the bombshell that was opened up this morning on the front page of The Dallas Morning News. The report sheds light on a perilous raid that Abbott’s office ordered about four years ago for a group called “Houston Votes.” Accused of “voter fraud,” which the astute will recall just does not exist in meaningful numbers in Texas, Abbott’s office directed a SWAT team to burst into the offices of the group, heavily armed with guns drawn, for a raid to uncover any evidence of voter fraud. They didn’t find any, but they did succeed in destroying the organization. Abbott himself, for his part, claims total ignorance of the entire action. I suppose you could call that “Pulling a Reagan.”

The Morning News article then goes out of its way for a long discussion on the background of the issue. They discuss how immense pressure was first put on Abbott’s office to investigate by a Tea Party group called the “King Street Patriots.” They have, sadly to say, historically been a hothead of racial animus, and this controversy has proved to be no exception. The article notes reports from the KSP meetings that attempted to improperly tie Houston Votes with both ACORN and the New Black Panther Party, despite absolutely no evidence that any of the three were interconnected. Specifically in Houston, right-wing bashing of the New Black Panther Party is typically used as a catch-all dog whistle for blatant racism.

The full account provides some really fantastic background, and I cannot recommend enough reading the entire article; at this point, it’s all free online. But, in my opinion, this tidbit is particularly more troubling than the debate reversal. The connotation revealed is not necessarily anything that the well-read political class did not already know, but it is a good thing that the media can state once more unequivocally that Abbott is wholly beholden to Tea Party interests, many of whom are not –shall we say– “kosher” in their intentions.

At its core, in my humble opinion, groups such as the KSP are uncomfortable with Black people voting and becoming part of the civic process. This is the same group that sent “poll watchers” to minority neighborhoods, ostensibly in an effort to maintain the “integrity of the process,” but realistically as a way to intimidate prospective participants using Klan-era tactics.

The two options here are that either Abbott knowingly spearheaded this cluster of epic proportions (and then lied about it), or that he was asleep at the wheel. In both instances, be it negligence or malice, grave doubts should be installed in any voter of this man’s capability to be a lawful and effective Governor.

Brains & Eggs has more.

Castro vs. Patrick

This evening, the Texas Tribune streamed a Univision debate between State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the likely Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor, and Mayor Julian Castro (D-San Antonio), seen as a future Democratic candidate for high office. The debate, moderated by the Tribune’s Evan Smith, centered around immigration policy. It was sparked a few weeks ago, after a series of confrontational tweets on the parts of Patrick and Castro.

As some have already commented, the debate quickly focused upon political disputes and not too many issues of substance. Much to Castro’s chagrin, Patrick was also successful in infusing his favorite subject –abortion– into the mix. However, overall, the debate saw Castro figuratively wiping the floor with Patrick. Frankly, it was a beautiful sight, considering how long it has been since I have seen a Democrat do well in a debate. I attribute this success in equal parts to Castro, Patrick and the organizers of this debate. Most notably, the format allowed for the candidates to swiftly respond to each others’ points. All too often, the simple and elegant grace of the Lincoln-Douglas debate has been replaced by an ugly abhorrence consisting of sound bite after sound bite. Fortunately, the format of tonight’s debate allowed for Castro to call out Patrick on his –admittedly copious– taradiddles.

Please click here to read my full analysis!

Mayoral debate recap

A couples of months ago, Annise Parker demanded that there be only one Mayoral debate, and it be open to all candidates. Because you can’t have a debate without the incumbent, she ultimately got her way. That debate, hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Public Television station, was held last night. In a word, it was a disaster. But that is exactly what Annise Parker wanted, so she was truly the big winner last night, whether the viewers knew it or not.

The debate was two hours long, divided amongst the six candidates who showed up: Parker, Ben Hall, Eric Dick, Keryl Douglas, Don Cook and Michael Fitzsimmons. Yes, THAT Fitzsimmons, the de Blassio style communist. The result was that, factoring in the time it takes for questions and other formalities, each candidate only received a little more than 15 minutes of speaking time. I reckon that none of the candidates, including the Mayor, used the time efficiently or effectively. But again, perhaps that was the Mayor’s strategy.

One by one, I will examine how the candidates performed in reverse-order of their performance. First, Fitzsimmons surprised me by actually showing up. I had a recurring joke with my friends about how many times he would say something like “solidarity” or “revolution,” and, needless to say, we were not disappointed. As an open member of the Socialist Workers Party, Fitzsimmons is about as left wing as they get in Houston. It is clear that his campaign is symbolic in nature, as he dodged direct answers of most of the policy questions, instead focusing on broad themes about “working people” or “capitalism.”

Continue reading

More on Mayoral debates

The Houston Chronicle reports on the epic mess that came about yesterday as the Mayoral campaigns once again showed the public they are both ignorant of the differences between both a “debate” and a “forum,” but also an “event” and a “non-event.”

The local paper, for as long as I have been alive, has always gathered all the candidates for public office and asked them questions in private. Because the Chronicle, like any other news outlet, strives to make money from the scoops it may print, it has absolutely no incentive to share the on-the-record comments made by the candidates until pertinent segments are published in the relevant editorial.

Accordingly, when Ben Hall suggested making the editorial board meeting “be opened to all media and streamed live on television and radio,” I’m sure all the journalists at the Chronicle had a good laugh. Jeff Cohen, representing the Chronicle, summarily rejected the request with the following statement:

“The Chronicle’s editorial board is a traditional forum where members convene to ask questions of the candidates and debate the issues. It is not something we share with other news outlets. However, if the candidates can agree on another day to come together, we will happily host and moderate a public debate.”

Cohen did leave the possibility of a Houston Chronicle hosted debate still open, which is a position the [Texpatriate] Editorial Board has previously advocated therefor. For what it is worth, I like the idea that Ben Hall’s campaign proposed, but absolutely understand why the Chronicle would reject such an idea.

I will most definitely use this idea at some idea for the future, as it increases visibility while decreasing revenue, perfect for blogs that do not make any money to begin with!

In other news, in response to this whole issue, Annise Parker has publicly accepted an invitation by the League of Women Voters to participate in a televised debate on October 8th. Hall has confirmed his participation as well. It will be aired on PBS/Channel 8/KUHF and be moderated by Linda Lorelle, the former evening anchor for KPRC.

The astute readers of Perry Dorrell‘s blog, or this one, would have known this information for close to a month. However, at the time, we did not hear anything about hosting from the League of Women Voters. Unless these details have changed, the debate will be open to mostly all of the candidates (Cook, Dick, Douglas, Fitzsimmons, Hall, Lane and Parker) and be held at Willowridge High School (16301 Chimney Rock).

So, at press time, there is still only one Mayoral debate. Status quo antebellum.

Debating the debating of debates

The Houston Chronicle reports on this issue, and asks a worthwhile question: is there a meaningful difference between a forum and a debate?

To run through a quick summary of the issue, Ben Hall recently challenged Parker to six debates, Parker responded with a counteroffer of just one debate including all candidates and then ultimately got her way. However, the nature of the issue recently changed when the two front runners began arguing about formalities like word choice.

Evidently, the issue at hand was an event held by the Baptist Ministers’ Association of Houston, to be held tomorrow at 6PM. Parker’s campaign, in conversations with Morris’ article in the Chronicle, insinuated that this was in fact a debate, providing their own definition. Sue Davis, Parker’s communications director, provided this statement:

“When you’re standing there and you’re all on stage at the same time and you’re each taking questions and you’re all answering them and then you make a closing statement, if that’s not a debate, I don’t know what is. That’s just silly.”

Hall’s campaign, represented by his press secretary, Julia Smekalina, released a short & sweet counterstatement:

“A debate is a televised, moderated, formal event on neutral turf.”

To be fair, I do not completely agree with either of these definitions. Since nobody uses dictionaries anymore, we’ll consult Google for our definition: “A formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.”

Hall’s campaign was pretty much right about everything except the televised part. What Davis described was not a debate, it was a forum, of which there is a difference. Google defines that word as “A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.”

A forum, simply put, sounds like what this Baptist Ministers’ event is. In a forum, the candidates may answer questions and exchange opening/closing statements, but they most certainly do not debate. In these types of events, the candidates simply give stump speeches one after another, they do not have the opportunity to critique each others positions (or lack thereof). As far as I can tell, the October 8th event is the only debate we are having this election.

Needless to say, Texpatriate (or at least, myself) will be at this event, however you would name it, to see what is going on. It will be my penultimate weekend in Houston until Christmas, so I will attempt to make the most of it.

Mayoral Debate set

Brains & Eggs reports, via a confidential source, that all the Mayoral candidates met in a smoke-filled room and hammered out a tentative deal on Mayoral debates: Just one, including all candidates. In other words, exactly what Mayor Parker wanted. B&E continues, enumerating the conditions of the debate and such:

This past week a meeting was held to negotiate a mayoral candidates’ debate among the seven declared candidates running for Mayor of the City of Houston.  This debate will take place on October 8, 2013, at 7:00 pm.  It is to be sponsored by the Bethel Family Church Empowerment Center.  The debate will take place at Willowridge High School, 16301 Chimney Rock, and Houston media will be invited to cover it.
Candidates and/or campaign staff from seven campaigns were invited to the meeting: Don Cook, Eric Dick, Keryl Douglas, Michael Fitzsimmons, Ben Hall, Victoria Lane, and Annise Parker.  Two candidates (Douglas and Fitzsimmons) were not present and were not represented by any of their staff at the meeting.
Judging from the intensity of the negotiations, it seems unlikely that there will be more than one scheduled debate, at least one that includes all of the candidates.
It was proposed that any subsequent candidates other than the seven already identified should be excluded from debating. In the discussion that followed, most participants seemed to feel that the elimination of any later candidates who were “not viable” or “not serious” because they had not declared early enough or not raised enough money was appropriate.
It was agreed that a drawing would take place ten minutes prior to the event with all candidates present to determine the order of candidates’ initial statements, and opening remarks would be 90 seconds each (in a fifteen-minute window).  Thirty minutes was allotted for the debate itself and a total of ten minutes for candidate closing statements.
I find this a little bit ridiculous. Only 90 minutes of actual debating between seven candidates? That is utterly preposterous and an insult to the intelligence and attention span of the average Houstonian. As I discussed in great detail in my previous writings on the Mayor’s debate position, more than one debate is simply a necessity for a competitive Mayoral election in the nation’s fourth largest city.
It is no secret that Ben Hall is a big proponent of the multiple-debates position, but Eric Dick is as well. The other candidates are too insignificant to make a difference one way or another on the issue. Accordingly, it is obviously the Mayor who is pushing back and forcing a single debate.
The list of multi-debate supporters in the press/blogosphere is somewhat long, though. I’ve long taken that view, and have been joined by the Texpatriate Editorial Board, Texas Leftist, Brains & Eggs, Off the Kuff and the Houston Chronicle (although everyone disagrees about how many candidates to include).
Mayor Parker is obviously not an opulent, aloof, elitist politician laughing at the peasants while riding around in a fancy limo, no matter what Eric Dick would have you believe. But the defamatory comment is still in the back of everyone’s minds, and when the Mayor does something even slightly reminiscent of it, like refuse to debate with her opponents. As Texas Leftist reminded us all, it reeks of a page out of Rick Perry’s playbook.
I’ll have more on this story when the Chronicle picks it up and we can learn more details about it.