Texpatriate’s Person of the Year 2014

If one were to scour the bars of downtown Austin last year, 2014’s election would have sounded like the big one, the year when Texas Democrats would show they were truly a force to be reckoned with. At the very least, the year they continue what had been incremental progress toward competitiveness. Of course, that did not happen, as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee lost by more than any of her predecessors in this century.

But to characterize this year merely as one of Democratic failure would be a gross oversimplification, and would ignore the impressive independent successes of Republican campaigns this year. Long chastised as technologically backwater, Republicans closed the digital gaps all around the country, but especially so within Texas. Governor-elect Greg Abbott’s campaign in particular functioned as a well-oiled machine. Lamented by many as politically untested, Abbott was cautious and — for the most part — outwardly reasonable on the campaign trail (despite whatever far-right position he espoused away from television cameras).

However, caution did not permeate the entire ticket. Specifically, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick appeared content to continue the ultra-conservative, divisive rhetoric he used to win the Republican primary, reiterating it without shame throughout the general election. In the end, he only won by marginally less than Abbott, despite such a very different strategy. Patrick, more than anyone else, embodies the current realities of Texas politics; the state is controlled, with an iron fist, by the few percent that bother to vote in Republican primaries. And Patrick echoes their voice louder and with more certainty than any of his colleagues.

Historically, lieutenant governor has been the most powerful position in the state, even more than the governor. The roles have only been reversed for the best decade or so because of a uniquely audacious governor and a strangely milquetoast lieutenant governor. But Patrick, previously a State Senator with no adversity to controversy, does not have a single timid bone in his body.

Since being elected, Patrick has exhibited no signs of slowing down his charge to change the state. He has already begun holding hearings on education matters, and a radical restructuring of the system — likely involving the extensive use of charter schools and vouchers — looks slated for the next session. With Patrick holding almost despotic power over the upper chamber, his word will carry more weight than just about anyone else.

As an editorial board, we aren’t much for Patrick’s extreme political positions. Be it education reform, guns, immigration reform or environmental factors, we disagree with him quite strongly and repudiate many, if not most, of his tactics. Throughout both his lengthy primary campaign against incumbent David Dewhurst as well as Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson & Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and general election campaign, Patrick demonstrated a working unfamiliarity with telling the truth, which earned him the honorific of “pathological liar” from one such opponent (Patterson). We endorsed his Democratic rival for lieutenant governor earlier this year in about the strongest way we knew how civilly.

But one would have to be delusional to deny the huge impact that Patrick already has, and will continue to have, on Texas politics. His defeat of Dewhurst, simultaneous with similar primary battles for Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner, signaled a transition for control of the Texas Republican Party (and, in effect, the State of Texas). Make no mistake, the Tea Party is not a faction within the party, there are the party; and Patrick is their prince.

In the next session of the legislature, Abbott may very well play it safe and push a rather non-controversial agenda from a technocratic point of view. But no one expects Patrick to do the same. If/when the legislature passes big measures such as so-called “School Choice,” “Open Carry,” “Campus Carry,” and the end of concepts castigated as “Sanctuary Cities” or the “Texas DREAM Act,” we will have Patrick to thank/curse for it. He will quickly and hugely make his mark on Texas.

Accordingly, we denote Dan Patrick as our Texpatriate 2014 Person of the Year. Previous recipients include ANNISE PARKER (2013), LANE LEWIS (2012), ANDREW BURKS (2011), THE HOUSTON MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEE (2010) and ANNISE PARKER (2009). Criteria for recipients has changed over the years.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of George Bailey of Boston, Noah M. Horwitz of Austin and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials comprise a majority opinion of the board.

Texpatriate endorses for Land Commissioner

The Commissioner of the General Land Office, commonly known as the Land Commissioner, has broad powers over relatively random portions of state government. Public land (including beaches), education and veterans’ affairs round out their duties. It is a job that requires both political acumen and considerable policy knowledge. In these categories, the choice that is best for Texas is clear.

Republican candidate George P. Bush is about far, far more than a continuation of a political dynasty. The son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, he has a lot to live up to in arguably the most visible conservative political dynasty in the country. But unlike the partisan excesses pushed by his family members, Bush is pragmatic in his outlook. And standing in stark contrast to his uncle, the last member of his family in Texas politics, Bush has demonstrated considerable mastery of the issues at hand for the Land Commissioner office.

A former teacher, Bush has a special place to understand the plight of many within the public school system. Overseeing the moneys that would go to many schools, Bush has no power to change standards or increase funding, but he does have the capacity to ensure that funds are spent efficiently and responsibly. We have every reason to think he would capably do this.

On veterans, Bush pushes a plan that is both realistic considering the powers of his prospective office and has the capacity to greatly improve the lives of many veterans affected by debilitating conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder. It’s relatively simple; he would publicize and tout the myriad programs Texas already has in place to assist veterans, such as low-interest loans and subsidies involving healthcare. For all our reputation of being a no-frills state when it comes to social welfare programs, Texas already ostensibly does a great deal regarding veterans; we just do a lousy job advertising that fact. Bush would change that.

Most importantly, regarding public land, Bush would push for programs that respect the integrity of our parks and reserves while still allowing the responsible exploitation of the resources underneath the ground. It’s a win-win situation.

Contrary to many in his party, Bush is an environmentalist. One of the mantras of his campaign is that there is no “false choice between protecting the environment…and promoting job creation.” He acknowledges the reality of climate change, as well as the terrifying phenomenon of rising sea levels. Texas would do well to have such a pragmatic steward of both positions in office.

The former Mayor of El Paso, John Cook, is also running as a Democrat. He is a passionate candidate, but his criticisms are far more pointed at the incumbent Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, than they are directed toward Bush. To put it bluntly, Bush commands a mastery of the issues regarding the office that Cook simply does not possess. Despite an impressive resume, he has largely dropped the ball on a serious campaign ahead of the general election.

Educated by the best institutions of higher learning in the state, Rice University and UT Law, Bush is obviously smart. But he is also a passionate and comprising politician as well. Such qualities make him stand apart in Texas politics to most of his compatriots in the Republican Party, much less his family. Texas voters have an easy decision to make, so as long as they do not blame one candidate for the sins of his father.

Or his uncle.

Accordingly, this board endorses George P. Bush for Land Commissioner.


 

Noah M. Horwitz dissented from this editorial, and wrote his own addendum.

My colleague makes some good points in his editorial that urges support of George P. Bush for Land Commissioner. He is, indeed, a pragmatist compared to those within his party, believing in things such as climate change and the need to allocate resources protecting both schoolchildren and veterans from the perils of austerity. Such beliefs were also somewhat evident back in February, when I joined with my colleagues in unanimously selecting Bush as the best choice within the Republican primary. But the points just don’t hold water when Bush is challenged by the reasonableness of John Cook, a Democrat vying for the position.

While it is true, for example, that Bush recognizes the very real danger presented by climate change, he is still willfully ignorant regarding the source of these dangers. Bush still officially doubts the idea that people are the main source of climate change, despite the fact that 97% of pertinent climate scientists agree on that point. Why? The reason is that, like nearly all of the high profile figures within his political party, he has to mollify a zealous, extreme and anti-intellectual faction that dominates primary elections.

What good is a steward of public lands if he does not acknowledge the driving source behind the greatest danger to them? Recognizing that climate change exists merely means you are not delusional as to present realities, but if you think humans are not causing it, there is little you can do besides wring your hands and lament the conundrum while you refill the oversized gas tank in your hummer. He is without any type of actual strategy to deal with the rising sea levels that threaten to eviscerate our beaches.

Speaking of beaches, Bush supports an abominable ruling of the Texas Supreme Court that guts the state’s venerated Open Beaches Act. While the law mandates that all of Texas’ beaches are state parks, to be used by anyone, the high court has adulterated the state constitution to fit their bizarre interpretation that an exception may be carved out if a property owner’s previous non-beachfront land becomes the “first in line,” so to speak, as a result of erosion. With the state’s rapidly eroding coastline (which, not to keep beating the same point, is not a result of mysterious circumstances, but the obvious byproduct of the rising sea levels and increased tropical activity that come with man-made climate change), this terrible ruling will affect more and more parcels of land in the forthcoming decades.

Bush supports this misguided ruling. On his watch, Texas beaches could easily find themselves like the northeast, where the rich and powerful monopolize all the good locations, hogging these pristine landscapes from the public. Now, Bush can just go to his family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. But for most honest Texans, the state beaches are all we got.

John Cook opposes this silly ruling, and recognizes the very real threat that man-made climate change poses to the state’s beaches and other public land. With years of experience as both the Mayor of El Paso and a member on the El Paso City Council, Cook is not a political novice. Since my colleagues evidently values policy acumen so highly, it should be worth mentioning that Cook also knows the nitty-gritty intricacies that this office faces remarkably well. Cook doesn’t have Yankee family money underwriting his travels around the state, so he may not be quite so ubiquitous of a presence around our humongous state this general election. But that just should not be important.

Be it the editorial board of this publication, or those of just about any newspaper in the state, it appears everyone has lost sight of their priorities this election. Obsequious adulation is directed toward Bush for his passion, campaign skills and the size of his war-chest, as if those are things any articulate person would prioritize in an endorsement. We’re better than that, we’re better than the sophomoric illogic used in picking the student council candidate with the prettiest posters; at least, I think we are.

What far, far too few people have done is actually look at the policy disagreements between the two, albeit well-qualified, candidates. Bush ascribes to the fairy tale that climate change is not caused or affect by people, whereas Cook thinks we should be vigilant in trying to stop it. Bush thinks the One-Percent should be entitled to steal state parks along the ocean from the average Texan to ensure their million-dollar second homes are protected from eminent domain; Cook thinks this 55 year-old law is valid and should remain enforced. Most importantly, Bush simply will go through the motions of this office for four years while he plots his campaign for Governor, as everyone in this state fully expects him to do. Cook actually wants to get into the weeds and leave his mark on the General Land Office.

I don’t punish Bush for the sins of his father, or his uncle. I punish him for his own. Respectfully, but sternly, I urge you to disregard the majority’s opinion and vote for John Cook for Land Commissioner.
—Noah M. Horwitz

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Staples to resign, lead TXOGA

The Texas Tribune reports that Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who was slated to leave office in January at the conclusion of his second term, will resign his post early to become the President of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, the statewide trade association of the burgeoning energy industry. Staples, a Republican who has extensive ties to both ranching and the oil industry, reportedly will be in place before the commencement of the 84th Legislature, prompting an exit from his position before the end of his term, at the beginning of next year.

Staples, who has served in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, took office in 2007 and has served for the two terms since. Overall, I would say he was done an adequate job as Agriculture Commissioner, but his tenure still leaves plenty to be desired. A few years ago, he revealed his intention to run for Lieutenant Governor, back when incumbent David Dewhurst was considered a shoe-in to be Texas’ next Senator. Of course, Ted Cruz came out on top in the Senate election, so Dewhurst ended up running for re-election as Lieutenant Governor. Still, Staples (as well as Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson) soldiered on anyways with his candidacy. That primary ended up being one by none of them, but by State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), a late entrant into the campaign. All this is to say that Staples, who has held a six-figure government job for eight years, would be unemployed come January.

In remarks sent out to the press, Staples confirmed that he would be resigning within the next two months, but stayed away from any specific. He’ll likely call it quits in short order after the November election. He insinuated that the Deputy Commissioner, Drew DeBerry, will act as Commissioner in the interim between then and January, when a new Commissioner would have taken over anyways following a regularly scheduled election.

Former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican nominee, is almost beyond the shadow of a doubt assured victory. He only faces the ghost Jim Hogan as his Democratic opponent, as well as fringe party opposition. While many in the political intelligentsia (including myself) will end up voting for the latter, namely Green nominee Kenneth Kendrick, the general public will be unmoved and Miller will be the new Commissioner undoubtedly come January.

Accordingly, Rocky Palmquist –the Libertarian nominee for the post– opined that Governor Rick Perry would appoint Miller in the interim, a dubious claim that was quickly debunked.

For all my political troubles with Staples, he always struck me as an easygoing and nice guy, and I wish him luck in his future endeavors. Particularly, I always loved that ad of him riding around on a horse, explaining all the duties of the Agriculture Commissioner. All other things being equal, it’s a pretty detailed and accurate picture of what the Agriculture Commissioner does.

Patterson and Staples on the runoff

The Texas Tribune reports that the two losing candidates in the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, have some choice words about the fellow candidates who ascended into a runoff election. Both, of course, have previously stated that they are not fans of State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the Tea Party firebrand who finished with a clear advantage in the preliminary election.

Staples said that he would not be endorsing anyone in the runoff, though his previous statements have surely been much more critical of Patrick than incumbent Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who is in the runoff with Patrick. These comments come amid a shadow campaign that is in the works to compel Dewhurst to drop out ahead of a deadline tomorrow to remove one’s name from the runoff ballot. Similar efforts are afoot to get State Representative Dan Branch (R-Dallas County), the second place candidate in the Republican primary for Attorney General, to step aside. They have already been successful efforts dissuading State Representative Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerr County), the second place candidate in the Republican primary for Comptroller, from continuing in the runoff election.

Click here to read what Patterson said of his opponents!

In re David Dewhurst

The runoff was perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, with State Senator Dan Patrick outperforming incumbent Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst 2-to-1 in the preliminary Republican primary for the post. The two will advance to a May runoff election, eliminating both Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Most political prognosticators (including, unfortunately, myself) thought the roles would be largely reversed, with Dewhurst receiving 40%+ and Patrick holding about a twenty point deficit.

Further, the Texas Tribune reports on a developing story surrounding pressures placed on second-place candidates to drop out, thus eliminating the need for a runoff election. The effort has already been successful on one front, with State Representative Harvey Hilderbran dropping out in his bid for Comptroller, thus assuring victory to the huge frontrunner, State Senator Glenn Hegar. Similarly, on the Lieutenant Governor’s side, Dewhurst has some huge ground he must make up if he actually plans on remaining competitive. Finishing with barely over 20% of the vote in a race for re-election is a very pitiful end of a political career, but his possible fate in the runoff could spell even more misery.

Click here to view another map!

Civil Affairs: Patrick

CIVIL AFFAIRS

In the early 1980s, an undocumented immigrant named Mike Andrade began working at a Houston sports bar owned by local businessman Dan Patrick. Andrade said his new boss was kind and understanding regarding his legal status, and even offered to assist him in applying for permanent residency. After Andrade’s mother fell ill, Andrade said Patrick offered to smuggle him home and back for a visit.

Roughly three decades later, a lot has changed. The owner of that bar has become a member of the state Senate and is a leading candidate in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor. Arguably one of the most conservative politicians in the state, Patrick has employed viciously anti-immigrant tactics throughout his campaign. In both campaign commercials and the televised debate for the lieutenant governor candidates, he has not been shy about using the incendiary term “invasion” to describe migration from Latin America into this state.

However, Patrick is not the only individual whose last three decades should be scrutinized. What happened to Andrade, the undocumented immigrant working in Patrick’s bar? Andrade, who has now lived here for 34 years, became a naturalized citizen in the early 1990s. Shortly thereafter, he got married and had five children, the oldest of whom valiantly serves his country in the U.S. military. The rest of the Andrades live in a house in the suburbs of Houston. Perhaps it is just me, but that sounds a lot like the American dream, and it sounds like Andrade has become a model citizen.

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF THIS COLUMN IN THE DAILY TEXAN!

2014’s first big poll

The Texas Tribune reports on a very comprehensive poll they conducted over just about every competitive primary in the State. The poll has a fairly substantial margin of error (upwards of 6% in the Democratic primary, specifically), so that is something to bear in mind when analyzing the results.

Simply put, the results paint a bad picture for the Democrats. Back at that time, Greg Abbott lead Wendy Davis by only five points; today, Abbott’s lead has grown to Eleven points. Other polls paint a similarly bleak picture for the Democrats, especially considering that these Texas Tribune polls have historically been overly generous to the Democratic candidate. Just a few days after that original Tribune poll, Public Policy Polling (a historically very accurate pollster) estimated Abbott’s lead at a whopping fifteen points. Accordingly, I am eager to see just how bad off the Democrats are doing when PPP releases its triannual February poll any day now.

Also of note here is that these polls were largely conducted before the Ted Nugent scandal really blew over regarding Greg Abbott’s campaign. Therefore, one could plausibly assert that this poll overvalues Davis’ problems emanating from “Trailergate” while simultaneously not taking to account Abbott’s recent woes. Among other issues with this poll was a misleading discrepancy between “registered” and “likely” voters. Additionally, the polls completely disregarded the portion of the electorate still undecided. I have recreated these polls with the undecideds built into the poll, as well as only taking note of the “registered” voters.

Click here for full results and graph!