Catching up, Part II

When it comes to state politics, if something feels different in the last couple of days, it is because things have — indeed — changed. A new crop of officeholders have taken office, namely Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton and a few new members of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. In the next week, Governor-elect Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick, respectively, will assume their offices at the top.

Despite not yet taking office, both men have already staked out positions both toward the far-right and toward the middle (leaning a little more to the former option). First, as the San Antonio Express-News reports, Abbott went on the offensive earlier this week on what he called the “Californization” (Californication?) of Texas. Specifically, he took issue with municipal bans on tree-cutting, plastic bags and fracking.

Evidently, Abbott finds municipal bans on cutting down large trees uniquely objectionable, and he openly compared the practice to “collectivism.” He similarly fumed over municipal bans on single-use plastic bags, enacted in cities such as Austin and Laredo. The bag bans have particularly drawn the ire of legislators and politicos since they must spend so much time in the state capital. Finally, Abbott took a firm stance against Denton’s recent referendum to ban fracking within its city limits. Since the enactment of the ban in November, numerous legislators have filed bills to prohibit such bans statewide, and Abbott now looks amenable to signing such a bill.

All this being said, perhaps there is something to be said for Abbott having at least one pragmatic side in office. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an editorial examining if Abbott is coming around on medicaid expansion. The statewide sentiment has recently turned against the opponents, but I’d still say true expansion is a longshot. Back in November, I opined in The Daily Texan that this was a possibility nonetheless, well before anyone else did.

Moving onto Dan Patrick, he recently outlined his legislative priorities in a series of interviews. The Texas Observer reports that Patrick would be fighting for an ambitious conservative agenda while in office. The topics outlined were garden variety right-wing ideas involving tax cuts, immigration and school privatization, but a few novel specifics stood out. Among them was a proposal to rescind state funding for the Public Integrity Unit within the Travis County District Attorney’s office. The PIU, always overseen by a Democratic DA hailing from Austin, is typically a thorn in the side of prominent Republican officeholder, be it former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, former Congressman Tom DeLay or Governor Rick Perry.

The Texas Tribune also looks at Patrick’s historically animosity toward the Senate’s 2/3rds rule. For those of you playing at home, the 2/3rds rule is an anachronism for the chamber stemming back to when it was comprised exclusively of Democrats. It requires the votes of 21/31 senators to advance any particular piece of legislation during the regular session. Patrick will likely get the needed votes to lower that threshold to 19 votes, conveniently just below the 20 Republican votes in the upper chamber.

However, as the Brownsville Herald reports, Patrick could have at least something of a mind toward bipartisanship. State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-Hidalgo County) has been selected as the President Pro Tempore of the chamber, meaning he would serve as the President of the Senate in the lieutenant governor’s absence.

Last but not least, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has dedicated his first official act in office to implementing so-called “cupcake amnesty.” About a decade ago, the Department of Agriculture (which has power over school lunches) opined against parents packing cupcakes and other sugary foods in their children’s lunches. The policy was quietly reversed last year, and now Miller is wishing to publicize the change. Miller also noted that he has set his sights on removing restrictions on sodas and fries.

“We’ve been raising big, strapping healthy young kids here in Texas for nearly 200 years and we don’t need Washington, D.C. telling us how to do it,” Miller said.

Glossing over the obvious problems with that statement, Miller made a lot of sense when he noted that local control should be trumpeted in these cases. Sadly, it seems that local control is not respected unless it is convenient for Republicans, as Abbott has clearly shown.

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Don’t vote straight ticket, don’t be stupid

Even though more than half of early voting has already gone by, newspapers are still fielding endorsements for statewide elections. Most of the big newspapers supported State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the El Paso Times. The major exceptions, those who supported Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, were the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News, as well as a plethora of small-town papers.

For some of the downballot contests, no such diversity existed. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal was the only paper, of any size, I could find that supported State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor. And I found not a single paper that supported either State Senators Ken Paxton (R-Collin County) or Glenn Hegar (R-Harris County), the Republican nominees for Attorney General and Comptroller, respectively. Not one.

Needless to say, there aren’t any good reasons to vote for these men. I suppose, if you truly believe in conservative principles, there is a legitimate point to be made in not wanting to support the Democrats, but it is just inexcusable to support these stains upon the GOP ticket. Patrick is a demagogue in the style of Huey Long, though he is considerably less intelligent and less opaque in his nefarious intentions. Paxton is a lousy attorney and likely could be convicted of a felony in the coming months. Hegar openly admits he has no idea what he would do in office as the State’s top financial watchdog.

Not to appear too eager in criticizing the Republicans, Democrats have an exceedingly terrible candidate on their statewide slate too. Actually, many of my compatriots tend to think that David Alameel, the nominee for the Senate, fits that description, but I’m talking about Jim Hogan, the Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner.

I’ve opined previously on my myriad objections with Hogan — he’s a no-name, no-campaigning political novice who is smug in his complacency and total ignorance of state issues. He has some experience as a farmer, which is great, but he knows nothing of school lunch programs, regulating gas pumps or the multitude of other issues that the commissioner must oversee. Here’s the entire article back from July about why I would never vote for Hogan.

Not a single organization I am aware of has endorsed Hogan. All the newspapers or other non-partisan organizations have supported former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican, while even the big Democrat groups have suggested undervoting. A few other blogs, namely Brains & Eggs, Jobsanger and Socratic Gadfly, have supported Kenneth Kendrick, the Green nominee, as did this publication.

If you are an otherwise reliable Democratic voter, I have previously made the argument in the past that Kendrick is the only reasonable choice. Unlike many within the Green Party, his political views aren’t to the left of Marx; rather, they are somewhere around the median of what I figure a Texas Democrat would be. But still, some Democrats loathe supporting the Green Party out of principle. For those of you who fit that description, just undervote, but please do not vote for the Democrat.

Unfortunately, my words will fall on deaf ears for most. Admittedly, the absurdly long ballot makes intelligent voting rather difficult. But at least for the statewide races, don’t be afraid to split your ticket. Texas elected some mix of statewide Democrats and Republicans for about 30 years between the 1960s and 1990s. The 1998 and 2002 elections, even though they were GOP sweeps, featured a serious range in how close the challengers got.

In 1998, for example, some Republicans won by 31 points while others won by only 2. In 2002, the range was anywhere from 32 point victory margins to 5 point ones. Fastforwarding to 2010, the range shrunk to only a few points between the high water mark and the low one. The direct cause is straight ticket voting, but the indirect cause is that Texans have gotten less politically astute in the preceding two decades.

At the beginning of this century, people all over the state could subscribe to any number of newspapers. Those in the rural areas had the ability to do so, and those in the suburbs had the will-power to do so. But then the newspapers cut back causing talk radio and Fox News to fill the void. More importantly, Barack Obama, the most divisive President in recent history, came to power and caused a fierce nativist backlash, fueled by racial animosity, known as the Tea Party. Democrats fired back in kind, and solidified themselves into their own camp as well.

Now, most Texans just get their news from the monitors at gas stations and Instagram. We think of ourselves as belonging to a political party in the same respect as rooting for a football team, and that is the extent of the rational discussion of the issues, if one is even among the 29% of Texans who aren’t too lazy to vote.

Newspapers, blogs, NPR and a couple of other serious sources promote serious debates on the policies, but this is drowned out in the cacophony of partisan chest-bumping. Think of the scenes from Animal Farm when Snowball and the other well-intentioned pigs attempt to make serious policy decisions, but are drowned out by the sheep bleating “FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD.” That is basically what straight ticket voting does. Don’t be a sheep, don’t be dumb. Actually scrutinize your ballot.

Reality Check, Part V

First and foremost, a poll was released by The Texas Tribune today that appears to place the final nail in the Democrats’ coffin. Now, as I have opined time and time again in the past, I’m not really a fan of the Tribune’s polling, so take this with a grain of salt. But with Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, leading State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, by a whopping 16 points, the margin of error is taken care of more than five times over. I’ve attached the polls for all of the statewide non-judicial contests.

TGov

TLtGov

TSenate

TAG

TCompt

TLandCom

LAgCom

LAgCom

Of note, because of rounding errors, the Land Commissioner poll should not equal 100. Excel insisted upon putting Bush’s total at 51% anyways, but the Tribune poll only put 50%.

These polls put the Democratic deficit anywhere from 15 points (Agriculture Commissioner) to 26 points (US Senate). The poll basically insinuates that there are people who are voting for Wendy Davis, yet are splitting their ballots for Dan Patrick. Or thinking that Jim Hogan is a sensible, qualified and tempered candidate for Agriculture Commissioner (he’s none of those things), and yet Ken Paxton is the superior choice for Attorney General. Do these people truly exist? Are Texans truly that inept? I say no, and think those absurdities prove that the poll is just a bunch of stuff, as the Vice President would put it.

The polls also show third parties getting huge percentages of the vote, sometimes nearly 20%. That’s a little bit silly, considering that they rarely surpass 5%. I tend to think the reason for their gross overperformance is that the poll is largely conducted via eager participants on the internet. You know, the people who have the extra zeal to come up with their own outlying political views.

Let’s get something clear, no statewide Democrat is going to win this year. That much I am certain of. But the Democrats don’t have to literally win in order to win, as counter-intuitive as that might sound. The slate needs to outdo Bill White’s performance in 2010, which was roughly 42%. Ideally, they should do well enough to lift the ticket in Bexar County (San Antonio), Harris County and Nueces County (Corpus Christi) enough to elect some local Democrats. But showing progress from the last election is the most important thing. Battleground Texas will keep registering voters, demographics will keep moving in a good direction and Texas will transition inch-by-inch into a purple state. Vox made a similar point today.

Bud Kennedy at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted today, though, that the Texas Democrats have a considerable chance on not outdoing their 2010 performance. If the slate is less than 42%, alarm bells will ring. If it ranges from the high to low 30s, as this poll might suggest, it will be Armageddon for Texas politics. Battleground Texas will likely disband. National Democrats will think of the short-lived project to turn Texas blue and shake their heads. In the bars of Manhattan and Capitol Hill, it will be thought of with the same naivete as the New Coke debacle. I really don’t want that to happen.

Through the first four days of early voting, the numbers are negligibly different from four years ago, with some minor differences I’ll note in tomorrow morning’s issue of The Daily Texan. That will be what determines how well Davis does. So please, please, vote.

Texpatriate endorses for Agriculture Commissioner

Four times, we have opined our selections to be the next Agriculture Commissioner of Texas. A Democratic primary, a Republican primary, a Democratic runoff and a Republican runoff. On each occasion, the voters regrettably repudiated our selections. The unfortunate result is that both major parties’ nominees for the office are bad fits for the post. The Agriculture Commissioner, despite its name, is actually responsible for quite a lot more. Between regulating gas pumps, overseeing school lunches and managing a de facto PR campaign for the State’s food, the position is among the more powerful in Austin.

Former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican candidate for this post, simply should not be in that position of power. His service as a legislator was, in a word, mediocre, and that time under the dome should sound alarms about his capacity to effectively exercise this office. While he did author a bill to force sonograms for women attempting to obtain abortions, Miller did almost nothing for his local district, and his constituents threw him out of office in the 2012 Republican primary. He was replaced by J.D. Sheffield, a more moderate Republican, in a year where the trend tended to be the other way around.

Since that time, we have been disappointed to see Miller only double down on his divisive, extreme rhetoric. He has selected admitted child-rapist Ted Nugent as his campaign treasurer and a chief political surrogate. He regularly talks up right-wing talking points on abortion, gay marriage, guns, foreign policy and the supposed general tomfoolery of the President, despite all of which having almost no connection to the Agriculture Commissioner’s office. Inconspicuously absent from the topics he regularly talks about, however, is any serious reference to agriculture or the office he is actually vying to win.

Then there is Jim Hogan, the Democratic candidate. No website, no platform, no public appearances and a generally hostile attitude toward politics in general. To put it bluntly, Hogan is a useless candidate. The few times that he has opened his mouth, it has spewed ambiguous platitudes or troubling comments regarding his ignorance on state issues.

So with a bad Democrat and a bad Republican, who should the intelligent voter support? We thought about skipping the race altogether, or perhaps giving a look at the Libertarian candidate, Rocky Palmquist. Ultimately, however, we decided on the Green candidate, Kenneth Kendrick, as the best choice.

Perhaps best known as a whistle-blower in a high profile scandal a few years back involving the Peanut Corporation of America, Kendrick has been a tireless advocate for the stringent enforcement of food safety regulations. While we have admittedly had some concerns in the past with him relying too heavily on this past notoriety, Kendrick has recently developed a fully platform online and in a campaign that hopes to transverse the State.

Kendrick hopes to increase the visibility of safety regulations on our food production, but he also has a complex plan to deal with waste, fraud and abuse. He also supports commonsense solutions to water conservation and hemp production. Most importantly, we believe that he would be qualified to be the Agriculture Commissioner, with precisely the right kind of temperament for the job.

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

Do I love or hate Jim Hogan?

Much ink has been spilled by this publication (Ok, so not really, since it’s all online) and many others on Jim Hogan,the enigmatic Democratic nominee for Agriculture Commissioner. As the astute will recall, Hogan rebuffed all campaigning ahead of the primary, lacking a website, a platform and –most importantly– the will to campaign. When asked about specifics, he would only offer broad platitudes that would mock the question-poser. Somehow, Hogan finished with a commanding plurality lead in the March primary, and advanced into a runoff with Kinky Friedman. The third candidate, Hugh Fitzsimons (inexplicably listed on the ballot as Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III) came in last place despite being the unanimous choice of the Democratic establishment. Goes to show how much their endorsement is worth. Hogan then creamed Friedman in the runoff.

Personally, I voted for Friedman twice, and Texpatriate endorsed him the second go-round. At that time, the editorial board lambasted Hogan as a wackadoodle not deserving of any support. “Because of an increasingly illogical hatred for Friedman, many in the aforementioned [Democratic] stablishment have taken to supporting Hogan as a type of sick joke,” we said. “They like to promulgate the oft-repeated cliche that, despite his history as a comedian, Friedman’s campaign is not funny. On the contrary, we think nominating an incompetent buffoon such as Hogan would be the worst joke of all.”

Yet, this sick joke has continued in serious fashion following Hogan’s victory in the runoff election. I saw it in full display at the State Democratic Convention last month, when many of my (regrettably younger) contemporaries talked up Hogan and lamented his absence therefrom. A couple of attempts at a cult following have been launched –a Tumblr and a Facebook page– but not have catered to anyone far enough out of the inside-baseball crowd to make a difference. The new stokes recently added to the ember are a Texas Observer piece that could generously be described as “ALL ABOUT HOGAN!”

The article itself is a fine piece of journalism; its author, Christopher Hooks, is undoubtedly a talented writer. But the piece of chock full of Hogan’s obnoxious one-liners and will surely cause “Hogan’s Heroes” to jump for joy at the prospect of their fabulous savior.

I suppose that the longwinded answer to the question posed in the headline is that I still dislike Hogan. Let’s be clear, he is a smug and sanctimonious man who gets off on receiving media attention for not wanting to receive media attention. Hogan is sort of like the girl from Junior High who is mean to you because she has a crush on you, to borrow a ridiculous metaphor.

My disgust with Hogan’s candidacy, then, presents me with a difficult quandary regarding the Agriculture Commissioner race. The Republican nominee is former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), a fiercely conservative politician whose biggest claim to fame was introducing the so-called “Sonograms-before-Abortions” bill in the Legislature. Supporting him is more-or-less out of question for me.

There is, to go down the line, a Libertarian candidate though, as well as a Green one. The Libertarian, Rocky Palmquist, has in Kinky-esque fashion endorsed the repeal of all laws against marijuana and hemp farming. Harkening back to Friedman, he even states on his Facebook page that “Hemp can and will be the new cotton for Texas!!” This appears to be his key distinguishing feature.

Kenneth Kendrick, meanwhile, is the Green nominee. Best known as the chief whistle-blower a few years ago when the Peanut Corporation of America was embroiled in a salmonella scandal, Kendrick appears to simply be cruising on that limited fame on the campaign trail instead of actually talking up real issues.

Ultimately, I think Hogan would be a decent Agriculture Commissioner if by some divine miracle he were elected. Hooks, who wrote the previously linked Observer article, quoted an old Louisianan adage that Miller will only lose this election if caught with “a dead girl or a live boy.” It might have to be worse than that. I could become a begrudging Hogan supporter, but for his smug attitude. If he were to acknowledge a need to play seriously, actually build a rudimentary website and accept other people’s help, much like Friedman did, I would gladly support him. But I cannot bring myself to support him otherwise. He makes a mockery out of the system, and further cheapens its value by proving –once again– that ANYONE can win an election and their uses are basically meaningless with an uneducated electorate.

Terrible, terrible poll

The Texas Tribune has released its newest poll, and the results continue to paint a bleak picture for the campaign of State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. The poll has her down 12 points to Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate. The poll also examined Statewide races up and down the ticket and found that Democrats were doing miserably bad in all of them. Most all of these polls included Libertarian and Green candidates, for what it is worth. Additionally, undecideds boasted pretty good showings in all of these races, and the number only got bigger the further down the ballot one traveled.

As many will remember, the Tribune commissioned an extensive poll in February that was not worth the non-existent paper that is was not printed upon. Among the many terrible predictions it made was that Kesha Rogers and Debra Medina led the plurality in their respective primaries. Rogers barely squeaked into a runoff and Medina came in a distant last place in a race where one candidate (Hegar) won outright. I went after the Tribune with a wrench in the Daily Texan a couple days after the preliminary primary completely discredited their polling, noting that we should not waste our breath analyzing something so unreliable anymore.  As my friend Charles Kuffner noted yesterday, the Tribune polls should be “in time-out,” meaning that we have to very look at what they have to say quite critically.

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