On last week’s “Capital Tonight” show on YNN Austin, the subject of the criminal investigations of CPRIT, the Texas cancer agency, was front and center. Here’s my take.
On last week’s “Capital Tonight” show on YNN Austin, the subject of the criminal investigations of CPRIT, the Texas cancer agency, was front and center. Here’s my take.
As there always is after an electoral loss which the heavy bettors were on the wrong side, there has been, and continues to be, endless backroom blather on what happened. The (usually) unspoken axiom in the Texas Capitol after all such events is “blame must be placed, and we simply cannot move on until it is.”
“Why Dewhurst lost” is always a question to which the askers are usually seeking one simple answer, mainly so they can repeat it to their clients in efforts to weasel out of being wrong (me among them – and I currently owe one client $100 on a lost bet because of the race…which she is not allowing me to pay off until she gathers the maximum number of witnesses). The truth to it, and most political outcomes, is almost always a combination of many things, some of which the accuracy of which would require a telling so detailed that it would far exceed the length of any interesting bar story.
Several factors seem to be repeated more often than others. The first is that Ted Cruz was the beneficiary of a way-way-way-extended primary election schedule (because of redistricting litigation) allowing him to chip away at Dewhurst’s seemingly-insurmountable early lead. This theory strikes me as the one closest to the truth. I repeatedly said back in the Spring (in general, not specific to this race) that all underdogs want more time, and all incumbents and frontrunners want less of it, for that very reason.
The other pervasive Monday morning quarterbacking I keep hearing is that Dewhurst’s handlers handled things exactly wrong. His campaign’s “rose garden strategy,” the story goes, backfired on The Dew. Ted Cruz, they say, was racking up brownie points by going to every Tea Party event under the sun, pointing to the empty chair Dewhurst would have occupied, defining Dewhurst’s record un-challenged. It’s a tempting conclusion to draw, but I don’t buy it.
Here’s why: let’s imagine if Dewhurst’s campaign had executed the opposite strategy. What if Dewhurst had attended all those Tea Party rallies, and all those debates, and all those editorial board meetings. What if the Lt. Governor had stayed on the road and had met with every Republican Party activist he could get his hands on? Would they have walked away from those experiences thinking Dewhurst is a great guy, and the Senate candidate of their dreams? I doubt it. Dewhurst is stiff. He is not a man who oozes warmth and personality. And he was, in effect, the incumbent in the race, faced with defending a record in public office. If incumbent-ish candidates explaining their public records to Tea Party activists haven’t fared well anywhere else in the country, why would we think Mr. Dewhurst would have fared better? And as for ed board endorsements, do they really motivate or persuade Republican primary run-off voters? Certainly not.
Another pervasive theoretical factor is that the half-ton of cash Dewhurst’s campaign put on TV attacking Cruz early and often served only to increase Cruz’ name ID, without substantially increasing Cruz’ negatives. This has some truth to it, but really only in hindsight. Many of the political professionals parroting this theory (some of them undoubtedly in efforts to increase their political market share, at the expense of the Dewhurst consultants) probably would have done the same thing. I don’t remember any of those consultants saying at the time that the Dewhurst camp was making a big mistake. It’s just something the campaign did that didn’t work very well, which is just the way it goes sometimes. Again, would the opposite strategy change the ultimate result? It would not have.
Was the Dewhurst campaign as terrible as people are now saying? Well yes, in a way, because in a campaign, the outcome means everything. But let’s face it, folks: sometimes, the better candidate really does win, and Cruz was the better candidate. And the only reason anybody ever called David Dewhurst the formidable frontrunner in every campaign he has ever waged is because he was, by far, the richest guy in the room.
Following yesterday’s primary run-off elections, it seems as good a time as any to review some of the reasons why your current state government might suck. Last night’s election results serve to amplify that suckage factor, and help focus in on why Texas is last or near-last in every people-oriented measure of importance.
To be blunt: your state government at the moment is really grumpy.
Here’s the run-down:
You have a Governor who made it very clear that he’d rather be in the White House than doing his current job. Yet, he’ll be expected to do it for another two years, for at least three reasons, one of which he usually can’t recall. Oops.
You have a Lt. Governor who made it very clear that he’d rather be in the U.S. Senate than doing his current job. Following his loss last night, he too will be expected to do a bit of Lt. Governing for another couple of years.
You have a state Attorney General who would rather be Governor, and a Comptroller, Agriculture Commissioner, and Land Commissioner who would each rather be Lt. Governor.
With the exception of House Speaker Joe Strauss, listed above is the entirety of the elected leadership of Texas government, and not one of them has much reason to be particularly focused on the job they were elected to do – they’re all focused on a job they don’t have, and in most cases, can’t get. They’re saying and doing the things they imagine might score them points for their future electoral goals, and if it’s not costing in the quality of their current jobs, that may just be coincidence or dumb luck. So far.
Meanwhile, you’re also stuck with a Texas Senate in which a third of the membership had conned themselves into believing that their colleagues might elevate them to the vacancy in the Lt. Governor’s office that now doesn’t exist, and a clear majority is clinically depressed this morning at the mere thought of another two years of Dewhurst occupying their principal’s office. And this dispirited bunch is supposed to be the serious deliberative body.
Thanks to one-Party rule and the war against the Republican Party waged by Republican tea party activists, they just had themselves a little primary election yesterday in which an incumbent who forces women to have invasive transvaginal sonograms against their will, and another incumbent who wanted to allow people to carry guns onto alcohol and hormone-infested college campuses, were turned out of office because they’re the liberal ones.
Republican legislators were challenged in high numbers from within their own political Party this year, and those who were still on a ballot last night probably lost, most resoundingly. How, in that atmosphere, are the surviving incumbent Republican legislators to be expected to make the tough decisions and take the tough votes that keep this state’s trains running on time, when their primary electorate is so utterly terrifying?
Whatever happened to state leadership which is focused on the jobs they were hired to do? Whatever happened to public officials who went about their daily jobs, without being terrified of the lunatic fringe primary election voters who have already deducted two strikes against any candidate who won the previous election, assuming that incumbency is a disease worthy of eradication?
Whatever happened to just doing your job?
On this week’s Capital Tonight, I was asked to handicap the challenges facing the surviving candidates as they compete over the next two months in their respective political parties’ primary runoff elections.
Also featured this week: we hear from the money men in the Republican race for U.S. Senate: spokesmen for the SuperPACS supporting both Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst. We have a wrap-up on the scoundrel that is John Edwards. And as always, Harvey Kronberg utilizes interpretive dance to share his insights.*
You can see this week’s entire one-hour episode of the show this Sunday morning at 11 am on YNN Austin, or watch it any time on the interwebz.
*that part is a lie. But watch anyway.
Texas politicos waited so long to have a primary election that it seems completely anti-climatic now that it’s over. But at least for the truly-addicted like me (wipe that smug look off your face – like you too), we now begin the 9-week primary run-off period.
Some interesting doings from last night:
– while I’m not yet convinced that House Speaker Joe Straus is in trouble, last night’s results at the least put some air under the wings of those who hope to cause him trouble. Several of his House BFFs were defeated, and several more got the bejesus scared out of ‘em.
– it will never be enough for the right-wing conservatives. Do you see the pattern emerging? Here it is: conservative Republican defeats incumbent Democrat. In the following election, second way-conservative Republican beats first conservative Republican, since the first conservative now has an actual voting record. Will it soon be that the new-and-improved definition of “conservative” is “non-incumbent nobody”?
– wow, what a bad night for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Yep, they won some. But they themselves staked out the marque race they wanted as the latest proxy war with their enemies, the challenge to Senate district 25 incumbent Jeff Wentworth, they picked their candidate, and they gave her bajillions. She didn’t make the run-off.
– Party switching is SO 2008. Four formerly-Democratic state House members had switched parties over the last couple of years. As of today, only one is sure to survive. Aaron Pena wasn’t even on the ballot. Chuck Hopson, who looked like a goner most of the night, is on life support in a run-off election. Same situation with J.M. Lozano. Only Allan Ritter seems to have survived quite nicely from his ordeal. In the case of Hopson and Ritter, had they not switched parties, they almost surely would have been defeated as Democrats anyway. But in future elections, I’m guessing incumbents will think longer and harder when the other Party comes knocking, because the switcharoo has proven to be a tough deal as well.
– Good news: the AFL-CIO endorsement is still powerful medicine around these parts, as witnessed by the Democratic primary for US Senate. Bad news: so it mistaken identity. There were four candidates in the Senate race, and none of them raised any money to speak of. That means virtually no meaningful communications with voters happened. Thus, in the run-up to last night, there were only two things that happened in that race in which any of them had any hope of getting voters’ attention: the televised debate in which all the credible candidates of both parties were invited to participate, and the AFL-CIO endorsement. Of the four Democrats, only Sean Hubbard and Paul Sadler were invited to debate. When the smoke cleared last night, it was clear that not only did the debate mean nothing, it meant less-than-nothing, and Sean Hubbard (who had impressed me so much in the debate that I voted for him)
came up a little short was dead last. In the good news department, Paul Sadler, the one with the AFL-CIO endorsement, led voting, and it wasn’t even close. In the bad news department, Democrats have apparently now traded in their long-standing habit of voting for a guy mistaken for dead dancer Gene Kelly, in favor of voting for a guy mistaken for legendary dead Senator Ralph Yarborough – Sadler will face Grady Yarbrough in the run-off. Meanwhile, when was the last time a candidate whom media didn’t even invite to a debate end up placing in the money? Congratulations to Paul Sadler, and congratulations to the AFL-CIO, in a clear demonstration that the good guys’ support still means a lot.
– Speaking of celebrity mistaken identities, things must not be that bad, since a guy named Daniel Boone running in a Democratic Congressional primary lost handily.
– God help the guy who told David Dewhurst that if he just pulled that extra few million out of his pocket, he’d win without a runoff. Similarly, God help Dewhurst if, after his peeps telling him that a few more million would be necessary, he replied that he thought he already had it in the bag. I bet the U.S. Senate run-off between The Dew and Ted Cruz ends up being a $15 million investment for Dewhurst, at least. Also, since neither one of these guys has uttered a true word about the other one in at least two weeks, how bad will the lies get over the next nine? I’m sure both were on the phone with Tom Leppert late last night, trying to get Leppert’s endorsement, and presumably his 13-ish percent of the vote. Also, big congrats to Craig James for becoming the Republican Sean Hubbard – lots of motion, ultimately little progress.
– Go look at the current membership of the House Public Education Committee. Between retirements and defeats last night, things sure are getting lonesome.
What tidbits did I miss?
On last week’s Capital Tonight on YNN Austin, which was a pre-game show of sorts for the U.S. Senate race debate last Thursday, I was asked to war game out what was at stake for the candidates. I said it was Ted Cruz’ “last best chance” to break through and force an error by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst. If post-debate polling is to be believed, Cruz failed to do so. That said, the pollster has close ties to – you guessed it – Dewhurst.
Spoiler alert: when – not if but when – you watch this week’s Capital Tonight, you’ll be doing so in our brand new time slot: Thursday nights at 7 pm. We have magnanimously done this, of course, to give you enough time after work to avoid being completely sober by the time you tune in. We’re much better-looking that way.
The fun starts at 7 pm Thursday night, on YNN Austin, and on the Texas Channel in other Texas media markets, channel 888 on Time-Warner systems.
Yesterday, Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka wrote a provocative piece in which he mulled over whether Rick Perry wants Mitt Romney to lose. The crux of the piece is, if Perry is now attempting to set himself up for another Presidential run in 2016, then Obama would need to win re-election, since otherwise Romney (presumably) would be an incumbent Republican seeking re-election in 2016.
I have no idea if Burka’s theory holds water and neither does he – it’s just one possibility. But if if he’s on the right track, let’s add to the palace intrigue.
If Governor Perry wants to run in 2016, he’ll need to do something different than he’s been doing between now and then. Something which keeps him in the public eye, but also adds to his experience and credibility, so that Republican primary voters will see him in a different light down the road, and take a second serious look at Perry when the time comes.
It’s pretty obvious that Perry’s candidacy is over after South Carolina, which is 8 days from now. It’s difficult to imagine him coming home, returning to his job as Governor, and continuing the status quo as if nothing had ever happened.
But if 2016 is really on his mind? Guess what – go read the court order on filing deadlines from the San Antonio Federal Court. It apparently means that when and if the Congressional and legislative maps are ever cleared up, filing will re-open for all offices, not just the ones for which the maps may change.
Perry could unexpectedly file for the U.S. Senate when filing re-opens, and, arguably, would immediately be the frontrunner in the race. The current frontrunner, David Dewhurst, could merely withdraw as a Senate candidate, wait for Perry to win in the Senate race, then Dewhurst would automatically move into the Governor’s office. And, if for some reason that big plan doesn’t work out for Perry, it’s a free ride and he’s still governor for 2 more years.
The advantage for Perry is that he’d be pressing the reset button, and the U.S. Senate could be the national stage from which he gains foreign policy experience, proves he can fight against bloated budgets, show the extent to which he can out-Republican other Senate Republicans in fighting the President’s health care policy, and anything else Perry dreams up to upset D.C. apple carts.
I don’t pretend to know anything about Rick Perry’s plans, but if there’s any truth to Burka’s musings on 2016, the scenario is one which might work as well for Perry as any other.
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