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David Dewhurst’s distraction

The David Dewhurst phone call heard ’round the world is mostly, bluntly, hysterically funny. Blazingly stunning in the level of his awkwardness, he was stumbling over his own words in an obvious attempt to convey that he would say nothing to step over the line, with the clear subtext being, “but you know what I’m sayin’, right pal? It’d be a shame if anything happened to your nice little police department….”

Step over the line he did, simply by being, as he repeated over and over, “The Lieutenant Governor Of The State Of Texas” who was willing to make such a phone call, the sole purpose of which was to get a relative sprung from the hoosegow.

Voters need no further evidence that Dewhurst was using his public office for the personal benefit of his family than when he said he would have the guy in charge of the entire Department of Public Safety – the state police – call behind him “in ten minutes.” Unless you somehow believe that you – a rank-and-file citizen – could also get the commander in charge of your state’s police to call a local police department on behalf of your jailed relative, you have to conclude that the Lt. Governor stepped over the line.

Let’s be honest – a lot of people, elected or not, would have done exactly what Dewhurst did. When you have a family member or close friend in jail, you’ll use everything at your disposal to spring ’em. I’m confident that legendary Democratic Lt. Governor Bob Bullock would have done everything he could to get a family member out of jail. It’s just that if Bullock had tried it:

1. It would have worked.

2. He wouldn’t have gotten caught.

3. He probably would have gotten somebody else to do it for him.

4. He might well have himself been the family member in jail.

Dewhurst apologists are on social media trying to convince us that this is nothing more than a distraction, and they’re probably right. It’s just that they underestimate the extent to which we Texans absolutely love being distracted. The story has gone national, and it has legs which his opponents will be all-too-happy to exploit. There’s simply no way that this can somehow be considered great news for the campaign of a Lt. Governor already in political peril.

Situations such as these are why Texas politics is the greatest contact sport on earth.

Update: From the Dallas Morning News, Tod Robberson’s take on this is priceless.

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The greatest deliberative body in the world?

“The Texas Senate is the greatest deliberative body in the world.”

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Texas state Senators of both parties love to say it.

I wonder if they even noticed, before last night, that it’s not true anymore?

Yeah, about last night.

Last night made it clear that these days, The Greatest Deliberative Body In The World may not even be the greatest deliberative body in the building.

Perhaps it was the first point of order sustained against filibustering Democratic Senator Wendy Davis, in which this great deliberative body, where virtually all things are usually ruled germane to debates, suddenly ruled that Davis’ discussion of past legislative family planning budget cuts wasn’t germane to a bill on abortion restrictions.

Or perhaps it was the second point of order sustained against Davis, in which she was ruled out of order because another Senator decided to help her with her back brace. Yes – a point of order was sustained against a Senator based on an entirely different Senator’s action.

Or maybe it was Davis’ third strike – which called her out and ended her filibuster – the Republican point of order sustained against her in which Davis’ discussion, on how other legislation on the topic of abortion restrictions could affect this bill,was ruled not germane.

Let that sink in: debate on the topic of abortion restrictions is unrelated to legislation on abortion restrictions. That was the Republican claim, and that was the Republican ruling. Everybody watching in the building and around the world knew that Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, was the referee who threw the game. It was intended to end Wendy Davis’ filibuster. It may have instead ended some Republicans’ careers.

Dewhurst shouldn’t have been surprised when it also ended the last shred of patience with the hundreds of pro-choice Texans watching upstairs from the Senate gallery. Ignited by Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s angry pronouncement that a female Senator’s motion wasn’t being recognized over a man’s, the upstairs crowd exploded, and their deafening noise took over the building for more than ten minutes and ran out the clock.

It’s terrible precedent for a Senate gallery to take over the Senate floor. It’s worse precedent for the majority party to cheat in order to win. Thousands of people swarmed into their Capitol building last night to see how their government works, but once they got there they found out that, these days, it doesn’t work at all. Republicans shouldn’t have been surprised at their reaction, which was essentially to rise up with one voice and declare “up with this shit we will not put!”

I’ve been watching the Texas Senate for almost 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve also never seen anything like this level of clock mismanagement by  legislative leadership, which is why this anti-abortion bill ended up in the red zone in the first place, vulnerable to Wendy Davis’ ultimately-successful filibuster.

Ironically, despite Dewhurst bumbling just about everything he touched last night, he’s also the lone Republican in state leadership who first raised the alarm bell mid-last week, and turned out to be exactly right in urging the House leadership to hurry up and return the legislation to the Senate, lest the bill get into Democratic filibuster range. The House scoffed at him, declined to meet Saturday, and put off final debate until a day later. Dewhurst’s warning turned out to be an accurate premonition.

This morning, the special session is over. The anti-abortion bill, currently dead, faces an uncertain future at the hands of Governor Perry’s decision of whether to call another session. People like Democratic Senators Wendy Davis, Senate Democratic leader Kirk Watson, and Senator Leticia Van de Putte are suddenly progressive heroes, the former propelled into international political stardom. Tens of thousands of Texas progressives and Democrats are suddenly feeling more empowered than they’ve felt in a generation.

And it’s entirely possible that none of it would have happened, if the Republicans in charge had managed the clock and run a fair fight.

Greatest deliberative body in the world indeed.

I’ll leave you with my own point of personal privilege, which not only demonstrates how proud I am of Wendy Davis and the Senate Democrats, but also proves that this woman can filibuster for 13 hours late into the night, and still be up and awake by 9 am the next morning:



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The six percent

Today’s a big day for Democrats in the state legislature. And at the end of the day, they’ll probably think they won a big one.

Thankfully, they’re working hard to kill a bill which, if it passed, would be among the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. In fact it’s probably unconstitutional.

The bill outlaws most abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy (that’s most of the “probably unconstitutional” part – the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade is generally agreed to protect abortion rights until about the 24th week), requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic, requires clinics to meet standards so strict that it would close all but a few clinics in Texas, and requires that abortion-inducing medications be taken in the presence of a doctor. Proponents of the bill claim it’s about improving women’s health, but can neither point to a current related problem nor identify how their bill solves it.

The fact that doctors’ professional organizations oppose the legislation would normally be enough for most Texans to conclude that the Texas Legislature is practicing medicine without a license.

But there’s nothing normal about this “special” legislative session, and there isn’t anything about this issue aimed at “most Texans.” There’s also nothing normal about the way the Republican leadership has handled it – which brings me back to the top: at the end of the day, Democrats will probably think they won a big one.

But are Democrats winning, or is it more that Republicans are losing?

In light of a million trillion pronouncements from all manner of Republican leadership that this is magically The Most Important Issue In The World, consider the following:

— Governor Rick Perry (who exclusively controls the agenda of a special session of the legislature) didn’t add abortion legislation to the agenda until they were well-into the special session.

— The presiding officer of the Senate, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who aggressively pushed Perry to add the issue to the agenda, spent at least a week of the 30-day legislative session in Europe. (Perry didn’t add it until after Dewhurst returned)

— The presiding officer of the House, Joe Straus, adjourned the House of Representatives for a two-week period of the 30 day session.

All of the above contributed to where we are today – the last day of the special session – during which it is likely that Senate Democrats led by Wendy Davis of Fort Worth will kill the legislation via filibuster, following heroic efforts by House Democrats over the weekend to slow down the process and put the bill in range of Davis’ efforts.

I hope this legislation is dead by the end of today. The whole situation would be laughably wacky, except that if the bill passes, it will kill women. It wouldn’t make abortions less necessary for the women who need them, it would just make them less accessible. It would make illegal and dangerous back-alley abortions more likely, and make life-threatening outcomes inevitable. To the extent it prevents any abortions, it doesn’t make affordable prenatal care any more accessible by the women forced to continue their pregnancies. It does nothing to make day care for these children more affordable, and nothing to improve the quality of the public education these children deserve.

But I’m not going to change any minds with this piece. What I can do is point out the truth behind this shady process.

The fact is, the Republican leadership has done just about everything they could do to mishandle the legislative session, leading to the Democratic minority being in range of killing the bill. And I’m glad they are, since advocates of the policy aren’t representing mainstream Texans in their efforts – they’re playing to a very limited crowd: Republican primary voters.

Republican officeholders are terrified of their own primary voters. Aside from the stray post-redistricting election here and there, the vast majority of Republican incumbents who lose their re-election efforts do so in the Republican primary – in most district elections and statewide, Democrats have been little threat to them. The pro-life stance in the abortion debate is the big motivating issue for only one voting segment: Republican primary voters.

So who are these voters? Of the 25 million people who live in Texas, it amounts to fewer than 1.5 million people. That’s about six percent of Texans.

Six percent. That’s the entire audience Republican officeholders are playing to, while the other 94 percent of Texans look on as spectators to this sham. That six percent are also the folks who have been electing all the statewide officeholders around here for almost 20 years, since the only two things a candidate has to do to get elected statewide in Texas are to win in the Republican primary, and to not get hit by a bus until after the general election.

Both the safety and liberty of Texas women are being sold down the river for the sake of that six percent. The legitimately important issues of concern to mainstream Texas families stay on the back burner for the sake of the six percent. And virtually all the public utterances of the Republican leadership in Texas are aimed squarely at attracting the six percent.

And that’s exactly how things will continue around here until Democrats win a statewide election, and Republicans suddenly remember the other 94 percent. There are 23.5 million Texans Republicans haven’t had a conversation with in 20 years.

But the longer Republicans pander to their precious six percent, the more likely it is that Democrats will be back in the game sooner rather than later. The lack of leadership around here isn’t indicated by Republicans mishandling the clock. It’s best indicated by them ignoring the 94 percent.

Thank the House Democrats for their amazing round-the-clock efforts in the last few days in slowing down this legislation. Be grateful for the Senate Democrats standing strong and united yesterday in blocking the rule suspension which would have greased this bill through. Cheer on Senator Wendy Davis today as she hopefully carries the ball over the finish line and kills this bill.

But then, after all that, don’t be surprised when the Republicans immediately call a do-over, and legislators are back in Austin for a second special session.

Because, dear 94 percenters, the other six percent must be catered to.

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Scandal-ridden Texas cancer agency is offensive

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.

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David Dewhurst, please call your office

On second thought, after seeing this screen shot from the Statesman website, maybe you shouldn’t.


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About that Dewhurst-Cruz thing

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.

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Texas political leadership needs a Prozac prescription

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?

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Buzz from the TV show: the US Senate runoff elections

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.

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Notes on the Texas primary elections

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?

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Buzz from the TV show

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.

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Political palace intrigue – Perry’s next steps

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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