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“Log Cabin Republicans didn’t choose to be gay. But they did choose to be Republicans”

I know, I know – it’s been a while since I posted. I started to get complaints. I haven’t updated Letters From Texas in way too long, and for that I am deeply sorry. By “deeply sorry” I mean “I’m not very sorry at all – things came up.”

But your cries have been heard. No, not your cries about Dan Patrick winning the GOP run-off for Lt. Governor – your other cries about no new stuff on LFT.

So let’s get this ball rolling again, shall we?

Here’s a good place to start – how’s that big Republican outreach plan they announced after they got whupped in the 2012 election? Glad you asked – apparently it’s not going so well.

Yet another case in point – the Texas GOP just snubbed the Log Cabin Republicans from having a booth at their convention in Fort Worth in a few days. Here’s what I said about it last night on Time Warner Cable News-Austin’s “Capital Tonight” show:

And speaking of the Capital Tonight show, you can catch us weeknights at 7 on TWCNews in Austin and San Antonio. We have as much fun as the law allows, give us a shot! You can also watch the entirety of last night’s episode here.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Share your comments below. Or I’ll stop posting again. Don’t think I won’t.

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Obituary of the week so far

Don’t you wish you’d known this guy?


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Wendy Davis’ loot

As it always to be expected when the news is good, the fundraising previews for both Democrat Wendy Davis and Republican Greg Abbott were out last night, which is a day early. The news on both sides was, indeed, good.

Abbott’s no slouch in the fundraising department. No doubt he has a lot of cash – significantly more in the bank than Davis does, in fact.

But the real news is on Wendy Davis’ side: Not only did she slightly out-fundraise Abbott during the reporting period ($12.2 million for Davis vs. $11.5 for Abbott), but she raised it from almost 72,000 individual donors. That donor number is at a level I cannot even comprehend, and is very good news for the Davis effort. She’ll be able to return time after time to those small dollar donors and they’ll keep giving – which is something one cannot often say about the mega-donors.

But the proverbial ink hadn’t dried on the announcement tweets about all this, before the Republicans began howling about Davis’ “fuzzy math.” Their claim is that since $3.5 million of Davis’ fundraising went into something called the “Texas Victory Committee, Inc.,” that she shouldn’t have counted it toward her fundraising.

The Texas Victory Committee is an account set up by the Davis Campaign to raise money into, the expenditures of which will eventually be shared between the Davis campaign itself, and a coordinated effort for Democrats, presumably led by Battleground Texas. (Battleground Texas, incidentally, reported raising an additional $1.8 million in contributions on their own, which the Davis Campaign did not count toward their own fundraising totals)

Here’s why the Republican claims of “fuzzy math” are dead wrong:

Wendy Davis’ campaign raised the entirety of the money going into the Victory Committee. That’s a financial structure they chose from the start, in part to track the funding of coordinated efforts. She was the draw at the events raising the money – people put money in the till to see Davis. To get an idea of how this works, and to demonstrate the extent to which Davis’ efforts are absolutely central to Victory Committee fundraising, take a look at a typical invitation — from Wendy Davis — to a Victory Fund event:

11.19 Beaumont Invite

The typical way campaigns have historically funded coordinated efforts is to raise the money into their own campaign, then write a check out of their campaign down the road to the coordinated campaign.  The Davis campaign is instead raising money for these and other purposes into a separate entity from the start.

Republicans would have you believe that it’s disingenuous for Wendy Davis to count money from a coordinated campaign as her own fundraising. But they’re the ones being disingenuous, because Victory Fund money isn’t going from a coordinated campaign to Wendy Davis – rather it’s money from Wendy Davis to a coordinated campaign.

So to review the Republicans’ claim: it’s dishonest for Wendy Davis to claim money Wendy Davis raised, and which will ultimately go toward electing Wendy Davis, as part of Wendy Davis’ fundraising totals. Tell me again who’s using the fuzzy math? It makes me dizzy.

If Greg Abbott’s team doesn’t want Wendy Davis to claim as part of her fundraising totals that money which she is contributing to a coordinated effort, then Greg Abbott should subtract from his totals whatever amount he anticipates he will eventually contribute to the Republican coordinated effort. If, in the alternative, he is raising money directly into his coordinated effort, as Davis has done, he should have counted it as part of his total – assuming he hasn’t co-mingled that money with that of other Republican candidates who are also contributing to the Republican effort.

The punchline to all this is that the Republicans didn’t need to obscure reality on this – the fact remains that Abbott still has a hefty financial advantage on Davis – the man has more than $20 million in the bank. They should have been crowing about that, instead of confusing people, based solely on the financial structure the Davis’ campaign chose to raise money into.

And no matter what the Republicans complain about, Davis’ fundraising totals erase the one remaining doubt that the race for Governor will, indeed, be a real one.

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Texas news briefs

Republican primary for Lt. Governor heating up

The four Republican candidates for Lt. Governor have recently been raising the stakes, each in his own bid to attract an increasingly-conservative base of Republican primary voters.

After State Senator Dan Patrick last week accused his three opponents of being soft on not wanting to throw Latinos out of Texas fast enough to suit him, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, tastefully dressed entirely in Confederate flags, responded by explaining that the U.S. should expel several other states from the union for having the nerve to not tend to vote for candidates like Jerry Patterson.

Unwilling to be left behind, yesterday at a Fort Worth-area Tea Party meeting, incumbent Lt. Governor David Dewhurst called for the impeachment of President Obama, explaining that Obama had disregarded Federal law, apparently referring to a little-known provision making it illegal to be elected President if you’re not a white guy.

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples quickly countered, however, when he accused his opponents of being soft on family values and traditional marriage, after pulling a mayonnaise jar out of his brief case containing what he claimed was an actual severed penis of a gay guy.

To the delight of the crowd, all four candidates then went into the parking lot to kill people who vaguely reminded them of terrorists and/or can spell the word “terrorist.”

The next meeting of the four candidates is scheduled for this Thursday at a Houston Tea Party meeting, where attendance is expected to be high because of the raffle drawing for used Ted Cruz sniffable boxer shorts, followed by a highly-anticipated scientist torturing contest.

Austin’s premiere music festival drowns

After a foot of rain fell on Central Texas Saturday night forced the cancelation of the last day of the Austin City Limits music fest, local curmudgeons were left scrambling Sunday for something to complain about.

“This has created scheduling difficulties,” one Zilker Park neighborhood resident said. “I had set aside time on my schedule Sunday morning to complain on Facebook about complete strangers parking in front of my house, and I’d planned to devote my entire evening to repeatedly calling 9-11 to complain about the noise. As it turned out, I was reduced to watching reruns of ‘Law & Order: SVU’ with my wife, who I detest” he added.

Local cranks are, however, finding a silver lining in the news. Weather forecasts calling for more rain this week have many optimistic that they’ll be able to complain about the rain, which they previously complained Austin wasn’t getting enough of.

Central Texans signing up for affordable health care, while opposing Obamacare

Demand is high in Central Texas to sign up for affordable health care, after new exchanges went live this month.

“Man, this Affordable Health Care Act is bad-ass,” said one man shopping for health insurance. “It’s a damn sight better than that horrible Obamacare I keep hearing about!”

One woman explained that she has previously been unable to get health insurance at any cost, due to a pre-existing condition. “Now that the health care law is in effect, I can stay healthy without going broke, which is important because if I’m not healthy, I can’t continue to actively support Ted Cruz’ efforts to defund Obamacare,” she explained.

Recent polling indicates that Republicans in particular support the Affordable Health Care Act in much higher percentages than they do Obamacare.

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Wendy Davis needs your cash

In my almost-25 years in politics and government, I’ve never seen anything in Texas like the excitement for Wendy Davis.

If this were shaping up to be a typical election, and Wendy Davis was shaping up to be typical Democratic nominee for Governor, I’d be ready to throw in the towel – Democrats would suffer the same typical result.

But this isn’t the typical election. And Wendy Davis damn sure isn’t the typical candidate; she’s extraordinary. I worked with the Ann Richards campaign back in the day. Governor Richards finished with a ton of enthusiasm, but she didn’t have it from the starting gate like Wendy does. Indeed, she started out her race for Governor 27 percentage points down in the polls.

Let me throw cold water on things: Wendy can’t do this. If you stand still and wait for her to win this election, you’ll be disappointed.

The good news: we – together – can do this. Not just Wendy alone, but all of us.

Texas Democrats have had candidates for Governor who were solid on policy. We’ve had candidates who were flush with campaign money. And we’ve had candidates who were charismatic.

Wendy Davis is the first candidate since Ann Richards who has all three. That’s why she can win.

But we all have to help her with that pesky middle thing – raising the funds necessary for her to tell voters what she stands for. Texas has more expensive media markets than any other state, so it’s impossible to compete without a ton of money.

Today, the leading progressive blogs in Texas have teamed up to help raise money for Wendy. I have no idea how I got on the “leading” list, but I’m happy to play along. There have been Democratic statewide candidates who couldn’t raise money if you gave ‘em a gun, a ski mask, and a list of convenience stores, but Wendy Davis will put in the hard work. Meanwhile, we – you and I – have to put in some cash.

I’ll do my share. Thousands of Texans already have. Will you do yours? Please click on the below gizmo to pitch in right now.

Goal Thermometer


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Geographically-impaired Tea Party member’s brain explodes

If the birthers’ old, tired narrative had been accurate – that Obama was born in Kenya to a mother from Kansas – that would have put Obama’s eligibility to be President exactly where it currently stands with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada to a mother from the U.S.

Because of the birther narrative, Tea Party members howled during the Presidential election that Obama wasn’t eligible to be President, but there’s no evidence that the Cruz situation is so much as raising their eyebrows.

But never fear: a Tea Party member has an explanation for why they’re not upset about the Cruz situation:

Canada is not really foreign soil.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

The Tea Party member was unavailable for further comment, as she quickly mounted her dinosaur and rushed off to a meeting of the “Global Warming Is A Lie” lecture, which she was just briefing stopping by, to avoid being late to that night’s book burning.

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BREAKING: Random dude in Hilderbran campaign video won’t be voting for Hilderbran

As if Texans needed further evidence that these are strange political times, State Representative Harvey Hilderbran, who is running in the Republican primary for state Comptroller, has released his first campaign video, and it features…of all people…me.

Yes, me.

Hilderbran’s message in his intro video is that if Texans elect him as Comptroller, he’ll stop the IRS from picking on Texans.

Setting aside the fact that it’s utterly laughable that a state Comptroller of any state could alter whatever the IRS’ course happens to be, it’s even more laughable to use video of a Democrat out of context to show Republican primary voters that he’s the best Republican, especially when the video of me they used had nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Hilderbran. Mr. Hilderbran’s name never came up in the interview. Honestly, Mr. Hilderbran never comes up in my mind at all.

Sorry Harvey, I’m just not that into you. And, just to be clear, in the event you become the Republican nominee for Comptroller, the guy in your own campaign video – me – won’t be voting for you.

Here’s the video his campaign used, which includes a small snippet of what I said in an extended interview.

Here’s the full extended video interview his campaign took it from.

You be the judge: did the Hilderbran campaign take my words out of context, or did the campaign fairly convey what I said?

Leave your comment…ready, set, GO!

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Wendy Davis for Lieutenant Governor? No.

I really wish Wendy Davis would decide on her political plans, so that everybody can stop being an expert on the decision that I trust she’s more-than-smart enough to make for herself. And frankly, when she gets done mulling over her future, I hope she ultimately decides to run for Governor. I’ll certainly support whatever decision she ultimately makes; almost all Democrats, and more than her fair share of independent voters ultimately will.

But what I wish more than anything is for progressive activists to stop believing that her running for Lieutenant Governor is somehow a neato keeno option. It’s not.

For one thing, the first Democrat to win a statewide race since before today’s college freshmen were born is probably going to do so by completely changing the dynamic of the election. That’s more difficult to do down-ballot, for several reasons. But while I feel strongly about that factor, it’s arguable, as evidenced by all the people who constantly argue about it.

Here’s a structural factor which really isn’t arguable: the real powers of the Lt. Governor are not vested in the state Constitution; they’re given to the office by the members of the Texas Senate themselves when they pass the Senate rules. So, all those times that journalists have written that the Lt. Governor is arguably the most powerful office in State Government? That’s just the Senators handing over that power. Absent the rules that a simple majority of the Senators pass at the beginning of a legislative session, Lt. Governors would essentially be reduced to breaking tie votes in the Senate (which seldom happens) and waiting for Governors to die, be indicted, or be elected President, so the Lite Guv can move into the mansion. Other than that, they’d be coloring, cutting, and pasting in a really nice office.

We have all watched for several years as the Republicans in charge in the Senate have consistently changed the rules to win. When they couldn’t pass a 2003 mid-decade Congressional redistricting bill when Tom DeLay ordered them to do it, they just changed the rules which would have required a two-thirds vote to debate legislation, and they bypassed the Senate Democrats who opposed it. After the associated Democratic quorum break petered out, they passed the redistricting bill. They said at the time they’d never do this for anything else other than redistricting bills. But several years later when they couldn’t pass voter photo I.D. legislation over the objections of the Senate Democrats, they made a special rule just for that bill, and passed it too. Most recently, this summer when they couldn’t pass their anti-abortion legislation, they did away with the two-thirds rule to pass that as well. Then when Wendy Davis began her filibuster, the Republicans immediately made it clear that they’d ignore generations of Senate precedent regarding filibuster traditions and germaneness rules to silence her.

Is there any doubt in your mind that this bunch would change the rules again if Davis was elected Lt. Governor, to ensure that her leadership was minimized? Of course they would. The Senate would simply move to a majority leader system, in which the Republican Caucus chair would run the business of the Senate, leaving a Lt. Governor Davis in a largely-symbolic job, with little power and few staff. She would not determine which bills are called up for debate. She would not appoint committee chairs. They certainly wouldn’t let her control parliamentary rulings, like the ones which silenced her during her filibuster. They’d probably do away with the two-thirds rule altogether, although frankly I think they might as well do that anyway, since the Republicans have made it clear that their definition of the two-thirds rule amounts to “you can have your two-thirds rule, as long as I have my two-thirds.”

Incidentally, I also believe the Senate may well change the rules in the event Dan Patrick wins his race for Lt. Governor. One can count on one hand the number of Senators who trust Patrick. So this isn’t entirely partisan – you can’t blame the Senate majority for an unwillingness to hand over their power to somebody they don’t trust.

None of the above breaks new ground. I’ve been talking to any reporter who would listen about this, and so have others, including Matt Angle, who is one of Senator Davis’ close confidants. But the chatter continues.

I get it – there’s a certain “the shoe’s on the other foot now” symmetry to the notion of Davis’ election to the very office most responsible for silencing her during her filibuster. It’s the office most responsible for the fact that the Texas Senate, once a proud and honorable institution, is nothing special anymore. But the idea just doesn’t work.

Wendy Davis could be the first candidate for statewide office Democrats have seen in a very long time who ultimately proves to be viable, or she could opt to run for re-election to her state Senate seat. But no matter where she lands, the structure of the office almost certainly means that it won’t be as a candidate for Lt. Governor.

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On Medicaid expansion, Republican leadership blames what they screwed up

On last night’s edition of YNN Austin’s Capital Tonight, I was asked about the dueling press conferences earlier this week on Medicaid expansion. Here’s what I said:

Here’s Senator Cornyn’s original opinion piece to which I was reacting.

You can watch the entire show online here, and you can watch Capital Tonight live, 5 nights a week on YNN in Austin, at 7 pm.

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Texas’ cancer agency – what did YOU think you were supporting? [with video]

Governor Rick Perry has been talking a lot about CPRIT – the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas – this week. Already under criminal investigation, the agency is under fire for alleged improprieties regarding its process for granting money to entities for cancer research.

Except now, most of Governor Perry’s emphasis on this agency seems to surround commercialization of cancer treatments. Not funding research to cure or prevent cancer, mind you, but instead how to create wealth from this disease.

I have not recently been shy about what I think about this agency’s performance so far, and the Governor’s focus on making money off cancer research only makes a bad situation worse.

Here’s what I said about it last night on YNN’s Capital Tonight:

If the emphasis of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is suddenly going to be commercialization, and not curing and preventing this disease, then I would gently suggest that they need to change the name of the agency.

I would further suggest that you – the voters of Texas – were sold a bill of goods, because here’s the language on your ballot you were asked to vote on:

The constitutional amendment requiring the creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and authorizing the issuance of up to $3 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for research in Texas to find the causes of and cures for cancer. [emphasis added]

Nowhere in the ballot language, or in the legislative debate prior to legislators voting to put this before voters, was there mention of “…so that private companies can get their stuff funded with taxpayer money, and get richer than God off the scourge of cancer.”

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 11.05.04 AMIf CPRIT is to be continued, it should do everything it can to facilitate prevention and cures. If instead the emphasis will be on how best to get rich using taxpayer-funded sweetheart deals, the State of Texas should get out of the cancer business. I would also suggest that the emphasis doesn’t even need to be on commercialization, because if any of CPRIT’s grants actually does result in research which finds a cure for cancer, trust me: everybody involved will make a ton of money.

You can watch the entire episode of Capital Tonight here, which includes an interview with Rick Perry, and comments by others on the CPRIT funding issue.

Update: here’s Eileen Smith’s take and here’s Juanita Jean’s take

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Shameless plug: YNN’s Capital Tonight 2.0

I’ve always been proud of my participation in YNN’s Capital Tonight show, and happy that I’ve been a part of it since the very first episode two years ago. The weekly show has been Austin TV’s biggest commitment to political and public policy coverage since its inception.

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 8.53.48 AMNow I’m even more proud that I’m part of it, because starting this week with the beginning of the legislative session, Capital Tonight airs 5 nights a week – YNN’s already-big commitment is now even bigger. I’m guessing my schedule will be flexible, but I expect to be on two or three episodes per week.

Capital Tonight has aways been available to Time-Warner Cable subscribers in Austin and across Texas, but here’s the deal: for now, the pay wall for the show on YNN’s website has been lifted, and you can watch to your heart’s content.

Click on the YNN icon in the menu bar at the top of this page to watch segments from last night’s show. Try us out! If you, like me, have lamented the reduction in political and policy news coverage among Texas media, please reward YNN for their commitment by giving us a try.

If you’re already on Time-Warner cable, please check us out on TV.  I’ll be on tonight’s episode, and the show airs live from 7-7:30 on YNN in Austin, and airs at 10 pm every weeknight on the Texas Channel elsewhere in the state.

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When the Texas Legislature approved hunting a certain animal from helicopters…

we suspected there would be consequences.

[h/t: fully half of my twitter feed]

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The legendary Tyrus Fain

My friend Tyrus Fain passed away today. He leaves behind the lovely Kate Fain, some grown up kids, and about thirty bazillion friends.

When I first met Ty he was a political consultant. Later when he moved to the Big Bend, he was the President of the Rio Grande Institute, doing his part to protect that great river. I first met him through then-Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro in 1991. Some of his other friends go back years further than that, perhaps all the way back to one of several Kennedy campaigns for President and/or US Senate, or even before.

I wouldn’t even know how or where to begin to describe Ty in a way that would do him justice. That’s why this is going to be a different kind of tribute, because Ty Fain was a different kind of man. So here’s the deal: there are so many stories about Ty Fain’s never-ending efforts to have fun, screw with Republicans, save the Rio Grande River, or otherwise be notable in some way, that no one person could know them all, much less begin to tell them. So I want to tell a couple of stories about Ty, but I want this tribute to be audience participation; those of you who knew Ty, please please PLEASE share your stories with the rest of the class, in the comments section. While it might not be particularly challenging to tell a great story about Ty, you might find it more challenging to think of one which can be told in mixed company. I know you’ll do your best.

Here are mine:

Ty loved to mess with Republicans. For some reason, he particularly loved screwing with Bush 41. George H.W. Bush was able to claim Texas residency in the 80’s only because he’d registered to vote using the address of a hotel room in Houston. So in 1988, in efforts to demonstrate to Ty’s fellow Texans the extent to which Bush wasn’t much of one, Ty and some friends rented that very hotel room in Houston, put out a bunch of bologna sandwiches, added a cardboard cut-out of Bush, invited the media, and had themselves a party. It got national news.

Ty was also completely absent-minded. He often told the story of how, when he was an advance man for Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign, he was advancing the next scheduled campaign stop after the one at which Kennedy was tragically killed. Ty was at that next event site preparing when they called to tell him the news. Ty was shell-shocked when he heard, and he jumped in his rental car, drove back to his hotel, packed his bag, took a cab to the airport, and returned to Washington.

Ty said it was a full six months later when one night, he bolted up out of a dead sleep in bed, suddenly remembering that he’d left that rental car, keys still in the ignition and the engine running, in front of his hotel somewhere in California. He called the rental car company, who upon hearing from him responded, “oh yes, Mr. Fain – we know all about you.” He claims to have been banned for life from renting from that company again.

Ty always offered a chilled shot of Patron tequila and great political war stories to anybody who came to visit he and Kate at their house in Marathon, Texas. Over the years I drank a lot of his liquor and listened to a lot of his stories. And I grew to love him and Kate (and also the tequila, come to think of it) more and more as time went by. I’m very sad that there will be no more visits with Ty.

The professional river guides on the Rio Grande always said that Ty Fain had a death wish. They said they often saw him do things in his kayak on that river that even they would never do. But he always emerged from the rapids on the other end of the run without a scratch. I imagine that Ty’s back floating on the river now, doing what he loved to do, where he loved to do it, pretty smugly happy with himself for leaving it all out on the field. He should be – he did.

Add your Ty Fain stories in the comments section so we can all enjoy ‘em, and so we can continue enjoying him. Meanwhile, I think it’s high time I had a chilled Patron while I fondly remember my old friend. Rest in peace, old scoundrel. You’ll never be forgotten.

 Update: apparently, settings in the comments section automatically correct “Ty” to “Thank you.” Despite the fact that is seems entirely appropriate, I hope I have changed the settings to disable this temporarily. I fear that the correction is distracting to the central message. Carry on.

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Rotkoff: Texas Democrats know how to win – we already are

Editor’s Note: I happily – even giddily – stand by what I wrote the other day about Texas Democrats needing to do better. After all, a political party barely scraping past 40% in statewide results must either do better, or admit the votes aren’t there. Since I refuse to concede the latter, I focus on the former. At the same time, there have been flashes of brilliance in district races all over Texas for years, several of them this year. That’s why I asked Jeff Rotkoff, who seems never to be far away from those flashes when they happen, to go through the specifics of how Pete Gallego walloped an incumbent member of Congress – a fresh case study in turning things around. Jeff was key to the team that turned it around for Gallego in the primary, and the team that won the election Tuesday night. His is only the second guest piece I’ve ever solicited for these pages, for good reason – this stuff is important. If you want Texas Democrats to do better than 40-something-percent moving forward, Jeff’s take-aways are important.

by Jeff Rotkoff

Speak for yourself, Cook!

It would be one thing if electoral results like these had been engineered by a Democratic Party so brilliant that they successfully attracted the coalition of women, minorities, working families, and disaffected Anglos with whom they won nationally last night. – Harold Cook, Letters From Texas

There I was, minding my own business, trying to figure out why @GovernorPerry took so long to block me on Twitter, when a tweet from San Antonio Express-News writer Nolan Hicks had to harsh my vibe:

Never mind the pesky fact that California Republicans suffered net losses, and Texas Democrats gained ground on election night! Let’s pretend getting your ass handed to you up and down the ballot compares to coming up short in like four races! They’re practically the same thing, right?

And now there’s this. Famed Texas letter writer Harold Cook published a piece on his blog making the argument that Democrats didn’t so much earn voters’ support in 2012, as the Republicans repelled them like a DEA agent at Phish concert in Denver.

Listen, y’all. I just can’t take it any more. So, I think I’ll do what I do best: I’ll pick a fight.

First, let me start with a caveat. The 2010 general election sucked. Two years ago was my third election cycle at the Texas HDCC, and on one night, we saw 4 years of gains totally wiped out, and more. Virtually every single race I worked on in 2010 was a loss, and it hurt. But, dear readers, it was only one cycle. Past may be prologue, but history goes back to before 2010.

Jeff Rotkoff: obvious fight-picker

I got my start as a campaign staffer working for then-Congressman Chet Edwards. It was a win mostly driven by the fact that Chet was a helluva incumbent and his opponent was a doofus who wanted to abolish the Department of Education. And in 2004, we kicked the crap out of Arlene Wholgemuth. I’d like to say our great field program drove the win, but the reality is that Arlene’s record of making it harder for sick kids to get health insurance, and her support of outlawing abortion – even in cases of rape and incest – probably had more to do with our win in a district drawn by Tom DeLay and Karl Rove.

In 2006 and 2008 I was proud to be a part of some really outstanding campaigns for the state House, helping to elect legislators like Chris Turner, Joe Moody, Carol Kent, Robert Miklos and plenty more. And Texas Democrats won a bunch of other impressive races before 2010. Wendy Davis was elected to the Senate. We defeated Henry Bonilla and Tom De-frickin-Lay for goodness sake.

Folks, it is time to get over our 2010 PTSD and admit it: Texas Democrats know how to win. We don’t always do so. Sometimes it’s the money that holds us back. Sometimes it’s the candidate. And sometimes it’s a race-fueled rage sweeping the country. But sometimes, hell, lots of times, we’ve figured out just what the heck it is we’re doing.

In 2012, I’m proud to have been involved in a couple of big projects that did exactly what Harold Cook says we probably didn’t: engineer a strategy to attract a coalition of women, minorities and working families. One key win – Pete Gallego’s race for Congress – wasn’t the state’s only big Democratic victory (for example, I take 0.0% of the credit for Wendy Davis’s outstanding reelection effort). But here’s a little about what Pete Gallego accomplished:

The formula was simple: the right message + innovative targeting + good old-fashioned field operation = a Gallego win.

The truth of the matter is that a lot of people never really gave ol’ Pete much of a chance. Confession time: I expressed serious reservations when he first asked me my opinion on running for CD 23. But I was wrong. Pete ran a campaign that was modern and innovative, but simultaneously refreshingly simple and traditional.

Pete damn near lost the primary runoff to Ciro Rodriguez. We came into it trailing 55-45, lost the endorsement of the 3rd candidate, and our own IDs reflected that 55-45 split. But then we did a few key things, and reinvented the race.

First, we ditched the message recommended by a now out-of-business pollster, that Pete should focus on his background as a prosecutor and run as Mr. Law and Order. Instead, we started talking about the issues that Latino Democrats in Bexar County, South Texas, and El Paso really care about: protecting Social Security and Medicare for our seniors, and providing educational opportunities for our kids.

Second – it wasn’t quite Project Narwhal – but working with the teams at AMM Political, GQR Research, and the Pivot Group we implemented a truly innovate candidate support model, and worked off the best field and mail targeting I’ve ever seen.

And you know what? It turns out that when you to talk to the right voters with the right message, you can win an election nobody thinks you will.

That same mantra served Pete well in the general election: find the right voters and talk to them about the issues that make a difference in their lives.

In the general election, that meant introducing Pete to the electorate by telling his family’s story of middle class struggle, and connecting to the economic concerns of voters in 2012. Research showed that Latino voters in Bexar County particularly – who did not start off with strongly held opinions on Gallego – were concerned not just about making it to the middle class, but staying there once they arrived. Sharing Pete’s personal story – in English and in Spanish – showed voters he shared their priorities and their values.

Pete Gallego: he’s going to Congress, and you’re not

Next, the campaign did something our opponent never saw coming: we hit him from the right, highlighting his votes against combat pay raises for American soldiers. In a district with four military bases nearby, the ads struck a powerful chord.

Gallego closed out the campaign with another ad that didn’t play to type. It was a one-two punch that hit the Republican for opposing the DREAM Act , but voting to weaken border security. And it worked because voters in South Texas get that safe communities and a pathway to citizenship aren’t mutually exclusive.

On top of it all was a kick-ass field effort, run by hard working staffers who will never get enough credit (Michael! Crystal! Eli! Jenn!), and an outstanding manager, finance staff, and press team. Using models to predict voters’ willingness to listen to what we had to say, the campaign kept it simple: the right message to the right voters led to a pretty damn good election night.

Seems like a pretty good formula. And the great thing is, I’m not convinced it takes 3 million dollars in Super PAC money to execute (although that sure helped Pete). If I were running for County Commissioner in a 46% Democratic district somewhere in Texas, I think I’d have a decent shot to win using these same principles. I’d get on the Texas VAN – one of the best statewide Democratic voter files in the country – and use model scores to figure out which voters will never give a crap about what I had to say. Then I’d never ever talk to them. But I’d also ditch the money down-ballot candidates usually waste on nail files and balloons for the kids, and instead invest wisely in a little door-to-door program, and maybe a couple pieces of mail, talking to voters about the things they actually care about. Protecting the middle class…economic security…our children’s educations. That’s how Texas Democrats can turn 46% losses into 51% wins.

There is hope. We know how to win. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.

[Here’s more about Jeff Rotkoff]

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How to watch the Presidential election returns: a drunk viewer’s guide

As a service to you, the crap-reading public, I herein present the official 2012 Letters From Texas Guide to Watching Presidential Returns Come In, AKA the election night drinking game.

So without further adieu, here’s the deal: there are only a few battleground states left: Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, and arguably, North Carolina. So they’re the states to watch.

They’ll be drinking too.

Assuming you’ve already voted by the time you get off work, congratulate yourself: have a drink. And when you get comfy in front of your TV, if you’re in Austin tune into YNN, where our Capital Tonight ongoing election night coverage will begin at 7 pm. The regular crowd – Paul Brown, Ted Delisi, Harvey Kronberg, and me – will be joined by the lovely and talented Scott Braddock.  Pour a bonus drink for that too.

By 6:30 pm central time (ALL times are central herein)  the polls will have closed in 9 states. Virginia closes at 6, and if the nets call it for Obama, consider it very good news: the state is tied in polling. Have a drink. If it goes for Romney, don’t sweat it. Ain’t no big thang.

North Carolina’s polls close at 6:30, and if they call it for Obama, have two drinks because it’s going to be an early night and Obama will win – the state leans heavily for Romney, and if Obama takes it – big trouble for Republican moose and squirrel.

Ohio also closes at 6:30, but I suspect returns won’t start coming in for a while (like, maybe December), nor do I think the exit polling will be very clear. But If Obama wins Ohio, then all he lacks is Florida, or Virginia plus Wisconsin, to win the election. Have a drink.

By 7:00 pm the polls in another 16 states will close, among them the aforementioned Florida, plus New Hampshire. Also closing at 7 is Massachusetts, so it’ll be time to start looking to see how Elizabeth Warren is faring in early returns. If she jumps out ahead, you know what to do: have a drink.

If the nets call Florida (which is tied/leaning Romney) for Obama, drink heavily, because Florida plus Ohio, or North Carolina, or Virginia,  and Obama wins the election. It’s almost impossible for Romney to win without Florida, or Ohio. Drink up.

By 8:00 pm the polls in another 14 states close, most notably Wisconsin, Colorado, and oh yeah Texas (this is actually a dirty trick – only El Paso closes at 8, but they get grumpy when we forget). Colorado is tied up, so if Obama takes it, drink. If Obama wins Wisconsin, and has already won Florida, drink heavily – he just won the election. If Obama loses Florida, but wins Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin, drink heavily – he just won the election that way instead.

By now, the only way you’re still playing this game is if Obama has lost Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. If that happens, start drinking heavily in the other “oh crap” direction, and instead look for election results in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Colorado. If he wins all of those, plus one of  Iowa, Nevada, or New Hampshire – he wins the election anyway, without winning Florida, Ohio, or North Carolina. DRINK.

Now the obvvi[ous prob;lem here is that by now yourreee really ddrunk. But that’s nooot reallly my probren, iz itt?

Let’s back up and look at this another way: If you make the assumption that Romney will win North Carolina, and that Obama will win Ohio (which are two assumptions I am fairly comfortable making), here are the clearest paths to victory for each candidate:

Obama to win: must only win Florida. If he doesn’t win Florida, he can win Virginia and Wisconsin. Or he can win Wisconsin and Colorado. Or he can win Colorado and Iowa. Each is a winning combination.

Romney to win: must also win Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Iowa. There are other winning combinations for him, but they are completely tortured.

See how difficult the electoral map is looking for the Mittster? Drink heavily.

Is this helpful? Good – Buy me a drink.

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