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 Lieutenant Governor

 

The post of Lieutenant Governor, serving as the President of the Texas Senate, holds remarkable power over the state. Long thought to be the most powerful post in state government, even more than the Governor, its power has waned in the past dozen years as a result of both Governor Rick Perry centralizing power and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst’s milquetoast leadership. Dewhurst, long a steward of bipartisan statesmanship, has tacked far to the right in recent years because of pressure from the Tea Party wing of his party. State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), who defeated Dewhurst to become the Republican candidate for this post, embodies this extreme wing frighteningly effectively. Divisive, grandstanding, rabble-rousing and without any core principles, Patrick embodies all the terrifying aspects of James “Pa” Ferguson, Huey Long and George Wallace rolled up into one.

He would make a poor Lieutenant Governor, not only because of his political ideology, but because of the very way he operates. Mean-spirited and a pathological liar, Patrick has a poor working relationship with many of even his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Observers opine that there is a possibility that the Senate may revolt against Patrick’s leadership, and strip away most of the Office of Lieutenant Governor’s duties. To do so would be a mistake; a statewide elected position to reign over the Senate is an effective guarantor that regional squabbles will not dominate the agenda. But that might just be what happens if Patrick is elected.

His big priority appears to be what he calls “border security;” in actuality, a dog-whistle for xenophobic rhetoric directed toward the Hispanic community. He wants to put up a big wall and, in the style of Mitt Romney, make life a living hell for the undocumented immigrants already here. To accomplish this goal, Patrick just makes stuff up. The allegation that immigrants carry “third-world diseases” such as leprosy cross our borders? Completely fabricated. Those commercials of his that contend ISIS terrorists are plotting to swim the Rio Grande? An outright lie. We think he might blame them for the Kennedy assassination soon too.

Patrick believes that abortions in all case should be disallowed, equates homosexuality with a mental disorder and supports the teaching of creationism in public schools. Most importantly, Patrick supports the abolition of the 2/3rds rule in the Texas Senate, which mandates that consensus must be reached before bringing a bill to the floor. Patrick, in a desperate attempt to mollify his Tea Party brethren, would seek to turn the chamber into a more dysfunctional mock-up of Washington DC.

No matter your politics, this board strongly urges you, as a matter of principle, to not vote for Dan Patrick. If you are otherwise conservative, please consider the Libertarian candidate, Robert Butler, or just undervote. But we think that the Democratic candidate, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), is the exact type of pro-business and centrist Democrat who could attract support from across the aisle.

Van de Putte placates all the liberal causes by being supportive of gay marriage and opposed to onerous and unnecessary restrictions on abortion. But, more significantly, she is big on pro-business policies, be it simplifying the tax code, promoting a strong public school system or keeping Texas friendly for immigrant labor. Van de Putte is obviously the pragmatic and sensible choice in this year’s election.

Some of Van de Putte’s policy proposals have been lacking in specifics, and she has taken actions — particularly when it came to aligning with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee — that we have disagreed therewith. But nobody is perfect and Van de Putte, at her core, is a very good politician who appears to legitimately care about her constituents.

Van de Putte wants to calmly, and with great restraint, address many of the problems facing Texans in coming years. Patrick wants to burn down the barn to deal with the roaches, so to speak, and he would be willing to do it five times over to appease his extremist base. We have talked time and time again about clear choices in this year’s general election (indeed, there are a plethora of lousy candidates), but this one might just be the most clear. It’s definitely the most important.

Accordingly, this board endorses Leticia Van de Putte for Lieutenant Governor. If, for whatever reason, you can’t bring yourself to support a Democrat, please consider voting third party or just undervote.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwtiz & 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.

Supreme Court blocks HB2

The US Supreme Court has ruled in emergency fashion that invaluable components of HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that Wendy Davis famously filibustered, may be stayed until appeal. Specifically, a provision that required all clinics to adhere to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers was put on hold, as was another in part. The provision that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was set aside specifically for clinics in McAllen and El Paso, though not the rest of the State.

The ruling was 6-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the four liberals. The three arch-conservatives, meanwhile, dissented from the order. As most will remember, a Federal Judge struck down these provisions a couple months back, but a Federal Appeals Court lifted the stay while it considered the appeal. The Supreme Court today merely reapplied the stay of the Federal District Judge in Austin who originally ruled the law unconstitutional, Lee Yeakel. Last year, Yeakel also ruled other provisions of the law unconstitutional, in a suit that similarly was reversed by the Appeals Court, although the Supreme Court pointedly chose not to reapply the stay in that case.

The implications here are, in a word, huge. As noted above, the Court has decidedly not stayed previous decisions, often 5-4 and along party lines. The two moderate conservatives on the Court, Roberts and Kennedy, have for some reason decided to shift views on the topic. Perhaps it is because the full effect of the case would reduce the number of clinics in Texas to just 5 or 6, a horrifying lower number per capita than other states included Mississippi, which has only one. Whatever the rationale, the implications of this decision are rather significant. For the first time, I am even cautiously optimistic that the law could be struck down by the Supreme Court upon final appeal (which is still likely years off).

Additionally, this development will likely take everyone’s mind off of that silly Wendy Davis ad, which has been eating up a significant portion of the 24/7 news cycle recently. As unfavorable to Davis as talking about abortion might be, I would still reckon it is leaps and bounds above the fallout over her wheelchair ad. Anyways, that’s my two-cents.

As for the clinics closed by this law, they can now re-open. Sagacious followers of the press will be familiar with stories of clinics closing overnight and cancelling dozens of appointments along with it. Those clinics can now re-open and, hopefully, women can continue receiving the healthcare options they need.

The wheelchair ad

State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, has released the television ad we have all been waiting for: dinging her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, on perceived hypocrisy related to the settlement he received as a result of his disability.

In 1984, when Abbott was 26 and studying for the bar exam, a tree fell on him in a freak accident. He was running around his neighborhood following a storm. The accident left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down; it also prompted him to sue both the homeowner and the landscaping company responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of the tree in question. He won about $10 Million off of that lawsuit. Later, Abbott heralded tort reform that capped punitive damages in lawsuits and brought about big changes that made suits harder for victims. Longtime readers of my opinions will be familiar with my skepticism of so-called tort reform, but that’s not really at issue here.

Accordingly, this narrative, that Abbott rightly received justice after he was wronged but then pulled up the ladder behind him to prevent others from doing the same, is somewhat compelling. It is edgy but it makes a valid point. Considering how Abbott has used his wheelchair to benefit himself in his ads, it appears it is fair game to bring it up in a respectful manner on a relevant point.

All that being said, the ad does not talk about tort reform. Instead, the 30-second spot — filled with ominous narration and music — broadly connects the accident/lawsuit with some of Abbott’s actions in the past, none of which related to tort reform.

The first reference, reported on by The Dallas Morning News this past February, involved Abbott arguing that the State of Texas has sovereign immunity against disabled people who file suit over perceived violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The News literally summarized the article by stating that Abbott “tenaciously battled to block the courthouse door to disabled Texans who sue the state.” This is a fair point to bring up, but it is important to note that Abbott did not try to sue the government. There is far more direct hypocrisy with the tort reform point.

The second and third references, respectively, involved the Kirby vacuum case and the case of Dr Christopher Dunstch, both of which have been subjects of other Davis ads. These are more of stretches, as it is difficult to so plainly connect them with any hypocrisy on Abbott’s part.

Abbott, for his part, responded to the ad with shock and indignation. In an exclusive with the San Antonio Express-News, he offered to paint a parallel between himself and Davis (one, for what it’s worth, that is not completely accurate), characterizing Davis as a dirty politician and himself as a far more honest alternative.

It’s her choice if she wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair. I don’t think it’s going to sell too well,” Abbott told the Express-News. “[The ad] is offensive. It shows the tenor of the campaign. If you look at my ads, I focused on what I’m going to be doing as governor, and my opponent spends all her time in ads attacking me, as I’m attacking the challenges that fellow Texans deal with.”

Abbott, of course, has published his own dirty attack ads, one of which takes some excessive liberties with the truth. Still, the whole “throwing rocks at a wheelchair” argument will indeed not do Davis any favors. Aaron Blake at The Washington Post called the ad “one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see.” A correspondent at New York Magazine called the ad “at best, in poor taste.” The Week called it “brutal.” Even Mother Jones, no one’s idea of an outlet sympathetic to Republicans, pulled no punches on the Davis campaign. Among the tidbits in their writeup on the ad (penned not by an intern, but by their de facto Online Editor) was assertions that the ad was “nasty,” “offensive” and “bull***t.”

I don’t necessarily agree with much of the sentiment espoused in those national publications, mostly written by snobby Yankees who have never visited our fine state, but — contrary to what some of my compatriots might think — their contributions are important nonetheless. The national media has decidedly figured out that the ad was offensive. My gut tells me that the general public will likely think the same.

I understand the point of the ad. I’ve been advocating for some (albeit, clearer) variation of the point for a while now. But the connection evidently was not clear enough, and the public is outraged at what appears, at cursory glance, to be a mean-spirited attack on a disabled man. For better or for worse, that’s what Davis is dealing with.

Impropriety in another Perry fund

Photo: Gage Skidmore

The Dallas Morning News reports that, following an independent audit of the Texas Enterprise Fund, it has been revealed that $222 Million was given from the Governor-managed fund to entities that had not even submitted an application. The State Auditor, John Keel, released a tough report to legislators today that alleges the TEF has an inconsistent criteria they use to dole out the coveted money.

Most of these handouts occurred in the inaugural years of the fund, which was created in 2003 (for those of y’all playing at home, Perry has been the Governor since 2000). Perry’s office has defended the apparently capricious picks as kinks in the system that were quickly worked out as the fund got its start. Other revelations, however, were also released. Many of the reports on how money was spent and used provided incomplete summaries and details.  Other money fell through the cracks when the State evidently did not recoup all the money owed to it when contracts were terminated. Some reports just outright lied. Within the News story is a bombshell that one such report alleged that 66,000 jobs had been created by one beneficiary rather than 48,000. That’s a fairly significant number to fudge.

The audit reveals a culture of impropriety. One in which the desired conclusions influence data, not the other way around. The whole smell of it all is probably the most damaging portion of this report, rather than any of the individual details.

Obviously, the total lies in some of the reports present a problem. But staff can always be blamed for that, in ways that can not necessarily be pinned back on the Governor. In my opinion, the greatest issues that occur deal with the entities that received the money without applying for it. Now, when one looks at the specific entities that got the murky money, they are reputable firms such as the University of Texas at Dallas and MD Anderson. None of them appear to have any financial link to Perry or any of his lemmings. That being said, things could change in an instant.

The most important thing here is the appearance of impropriety. I suppose this could be a campaign tool for State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. She did, in fact, first author the bill in the State Legislature that led to this office. And while Abbott supports many changes from the system described here, it could be a valuable campaign tool to continue the talking point that Republicans are too interested in picking winners and losers. Especially in light of the ongoing controversy involving CPRIT, this could very well end up being another piece of the puzzle, that inextricably ties Perry and other Republicans to possible impropriety/corruption.

Crocodile tears

The Houston Chronicle reports that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, has unveiled yet another television ad. Going back to the style of his first, very positive and self narrated, Abbott lamented the troubles facing Texas roads and outlined his proposal to help.

“A guy in a wheelchair can move faster than traffic on some roads in Texas,” Abbott says. He proposes prohibiting moneys in the State Highway Fund from going to non-highway sources. From what the ad says, Abbott appears to insinuate that these so-called diversions are pork barrel spending used by legislators as de facto earmarks. According to Abbott’s website, this could save $400,000,000.00 a year, or $800 Million a biennium!

This is all good and well, but the Houston Chronicle noted earlier this year that House Speaker Joe Straus will instruct members to compile a budget next session that does exactly this. Accordingly, if one were to agree with this proposal, Straus should get the accolades, not Abbott. However, this assumes that the proposal is a good idea. The Chronicle article suggests that the bulk of this non-transportation money spent out the highway fund goes to law enforcement agencies. Abbott’s website also admits that, “In the 2014-15 biennial budget , more than $800 million was appropriated to non-transportation related agencies, including the Office of Comptroller, the Veteran’s Commission, and the Department of Insurance.” Not pork-barrel spending, but veterans. Obviously, these important government expenditures will have to be made up for elsewhere in the budget, so the actual “savings” will be kept to a minimum.

As Dug Begley, the Chronicle’s awesome transportation columnist, has opined, roads are quite high priority but low on the totem pole for folks willing to spend money. People like Abbott, all too often, appear to think that they just magically appear one day. Those in the know in transportation land have said many billions of dollars are needed per annum just to maintain the quality of our roads with the exponentially increasing population. $4 Billion to $8 Billion, by some estimates. Abbott’s plan does not do this, and State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County) does not have a good plan for it either.

Both candidates are afraid of uttering the true solution to this problem: raising the gas tax. Unchanged for nearly 25 years, the gas tax is the main mechanism that the State of Texas uses to fund its expansive highway system. Republicans and Democrats alike, trembling in fear before vehemently anti-tax voters, dare not to speak of raising it. But, because of this reluctance, the Texas Department of Transportation has only dug itself deeper and deeper into debt. State Senator Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County) is one of the few politicians willing to frankly discuss this problem, and the need to do something drastic (like hike the gas tax). The New York Times reported on this development last year in some detail.

But Eltife is not running for Governor, Abbott is. And Abbott’s grand plans for roads are completely worthless. It does not even put a band-aid over the problem like the Legislature did last session. He may shed crocodile tears over our crumbling roads, but he and his Tea Party friends’ extreme ideology are partly why we are in this situation. Roads are expensive.