Sunday, August 05, 2012
Ted Cruz on today's Fox News Sunday
I just watched Chris Wallace's interview of Ted Cruz from this morning's Fox News Sunday. It got me revved up. It certainly made me feel proud of my endorsement of, and campaigning for, this likely next U.S. Senator from Texas:
As I sometimes heard said on the prairies of west Texas whence I sprang: "Stronger'n train smoke!"
The contrast between Ted Cruz and Wallace's preceding interviewee, Obama flack David "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" Axelrod, was stark and very bracing indeed.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Cruz' big win foreshadows watershed election in November
My prediction had the right result, but the final totals were not nearly as close as the five-point difference I'd predicted: As of this moment, with 100 percent of precincts reported, it's Cruz 56.8% versus Dewhurst 43.19% in a blow-out.
David Dewhurst may want to reconsider even running for reelection to his current spot as lieutenant governor. He and Rick Perry both look like yesterday's news.
This gives me all kinds of warm-and-fuzzies for the November presidential election, friends and neighbors. Texas isn't in play, nor is it a mirror for all of America. And the total GOP turnout was quite high for a primary runoff, but still represented only 8.6% of the state's total population of 13 million registered voters.
But for perspective on that: The Dem run-off for this U.S. Senate seat drew a truly pathetic 1.8% of the registered voter total, a mere 235,708 voters compared to 1,106,224 voters in the GOP runoff. The Dems' run-off winner, in other words, should simply be listed as "Who Cares?"
And here's the genuinely amazing statistic: Ted Cruz drew only 480,558 votes out of 1,406,648 total voters (34.16%) in the May 29th initial GOP primary. In this run-off, he drew 628,336 votes out of 1,106,224 total voters (56.8%). Almost as many Texas Republicans voted in the run-off as in the primary, but Cruz' relative performance among them simply skyrocketed. Cruz' net improvement (147,778 votes) was nearly two-thirds of the total Democratic runoff turnout!
This result bespeaks a well-informed populace among whom highly motivated constitutional/movement conservatives are getting incredible traction. This result sings one word to me: "Watershed." It makes me, again, wish that the national GOP had Paul Ryan at the top of its ticket, because he and Ted Cruz are both emblematic of the party's new generation, the "Young Guns" who, ironically, will return America to sustainable principles and limited government. And I think the hunger for that extends far beyond Texas' borders.
Perhaps Gov. Romney will take the hint.
Monday, July 30, 2012
Cruz vs. Dewhurst: Beldar handicaps the runoff
William A. Jacobson at the Legal Insurrection blog reports: Upset brewing in Texas runoff? PPP says Cruz up big. (Hattip: Instapundit.) This post is adapted from a comment I left there earlier tonight.
I put almost no faith in political polls as a general rule. But I am cautiously optimistic about Ted Cruz' chances in his primary-election runoff against David Dewhurst. I'm going out on a limb to predict that Ted Cruz will win by five or more points.
(1) By merely forcing a runoff, Cruz instantly gained the strategic advantage. He’s been exploiting it adeptly. Dewhurst started with a VAST name recognition advantage among Texas Republicans. But he has never had a serious primary or general election challenge in his previous state-wide races, and his actual performance in office as lieutenant governor was obscure except among those who closely follow state-house politics. So Dewhurst’s support was the proverbial mile wide but only an inch deep.
Dewhurst therefore should have pulled out all the stops against Cruz for the primary. Dewhurst was counting on the third and fourth candidates in the race (former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former SMU running back/sportscaster Craig James) to draw most of their support away from Cruz. Instead they drew most of their support from Dewhurst — depriving Dewhurst of the primary-election simple majority that would have prevented a run-off.
(2) When Dewhurst has asserted that most or all of Cruz’ support comes from out-of-state generally — or from Washington, D.C., in particular — that accusation has rung false in the ears of every Texan who’s been paying attention. Cruz lacked Dewhurst’s broad name recognition, but long before the Tea Party movement, Cruz had deep and passionate support among Texas' politically aware movement conservatives. Based on Cruz’ superb performances before the U.S. Supreme Court as Texas’ solicitor general, we were already talking, writing, and blogging about Ted Cruz as a potential U.S. Senator back during Dubya’s first term.
Cruz has built on that support very steadily, and the Tea Party connections and the endorsements from folks like Gov. Palin and Drs. Ron & Rand Paul have indeed brought him visibility. But conservative Texans aren't xenophobic, and nobody here confuses Sarah Palin with Olympia Snowe, nor Rand Paul with Arlen Specter; we're reasonably picky about which out-of-staters we mock as RINOs.
(3) On a net basis, I think it's quite likely that Dewhurst's negative ads will end up costing him runoff votes, not winning them. Dewhurst and Cruz were both already doing some hard-hitting negative advertising even before the initial primary election. But with the additional time (and advertising) permitted by the runoff, many Texans who’d previously been generally aware and generally approving of David Dewhurst as lieutenant governor have found cause for second thoughts. They've learned, to the disappointment of many, that Dewhurst has actually made quite a few legislative compromises that undercut his claim to be a thorough-going conservative.
Worse, they've seen that Dewhurst has a real and very ugly mean streak. That mean streak is no surprise, however, to anyone who's followed Dewhurst's wielding of power as Texas' lieutenant governor: The man has always had sharp elbows and a sharp tongue when he close to employ them. Imagine a rough cross between J.R. Ewing, Bob Dole, and John McCain — each on a bad day.
Fortunately for both Cruz and Dewhurst, though, whatever damage either has done to the other's reputation during this primary election is unlikely to matter in the general election: Obama was never competitive in Texas in 2008, and he's even less competitive here today; he will have negative coattails in this state come November. Neither candidate in the Dems' primary runoff has a fraction of the appeal that Bill White had as the Dem gubernatorial candidate in 2010, and he lost decisively; the Dems haven't won a major statewide election since 1994, and this year's election will extend that losing streak. This runoff will effectively determine Texas' next junior U.S. Senator.
(4) Runoff-election voters are exactly the kind of people most likely to be turned off by negative campaigning that insults their intelligence — but that's exactly the kind of negative campaigning that Dewhurst has chosen to wage. A lot of negative campaign tactics are geared to the politically illiterate. But the Texas Republicans who are likely to turn up in a low-turnout run-off election are relatively better-educated, at least politically, than either their initial primary-election or general-election counterparts. Only the committed bother to show up for primary election runoffs; movement conservatives punch above their weight in runoffs.
Those who understand the Rule of Law and the ethical responsibilities of lawyers acting within its adversary system, for example, are inherently less likely to fall for character assassination attempts which depend upon misattributing to a lawyer who's running for public office the most unsavory characteristics and views of his (or his firm's) most unpopular clients. There will be a higher proportion of primary voters who know, for example, that the second President of the United States, John Adams, had ethically and honorably represented the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre even while he was among the most ardent of American revolutionaries. Those voters can look at Cruz' legal career in context; they can appreciate the conservative causes he championed so ably as Texas' solicitor general; and they can draw the appropriate inferences from the genuine respect that Cruz has earned from judges and appellate lawyers of all political persuasions.
As a result of Dewhurst overplaying his hand by going so negative, a lot of Texans who would happily have voted for Dewhurst in November if he’d won the primary outright have now decided that they don’t want to vote for Dewhurst at all — ever again — for anything. If Cruz wins this runoff, expect Dewhurst to draw a serious primary challenge if he runs for lieutenant governor again in 2014. It's not hard to imagine Dewhurst running for governor instead, even against the incumbent. Speaking of whom:
(5) The diminution in Rick Perry’s luster means he’s had less that could rub off onto David Dewhurst. A considerable portion of Dewhurst’s starting advantage and name recognition was closely bound up with the governor with whom he’s run so frequently, and so successfully, in state-wide elections.
That’s somewhat ironic, because until Perry endorsed Dewhurst against Cruz, Perry and Dewhurst had not been particularly close; they could have been most charitably described as natural rivals for power in Austin who sometimes cooperated with, and just as often opposed, one another.
Perry’s disastrous presidential campaign didn’t hurt him as badly in Texas as it did outside the state, but it still remains to be seen just how badly Perry’s self-immolation will hurt his own long-term standing with the Texas conservatives who’ve kept returning him to the governor’s mansion. My own sense is that Perry is himself now vulnerable to a primary challenge in any future statewide race he runs. By endorsing Dewhurst and campaigning against Cruz, Perry has further dismayed a lot of movement conservatives and Tea Partiers who might have forgiven or forgotten Perry’s debate performances last fall. He’s certainly in no position, for example, to challenge in 2014 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by John Cornyn.
I will support the GOP's nominee whether it's Dewhurst or Cruz. But I fear that Dewhurst would be a "Peter Principle" senator. And even if the Senate doesn't represent Dewhurst's personal level of incompetence, at best he would be a thoroughly conventional senator who's unlikely to ever break out of that crowd of fifty pairs of presidential wanna-bes.
Cruz could stand out among them, and he may well be destined for even bigger responsibilities. Conservative Texans should view their vote for Ted Cruz in this runoff as an inspired long-term strategic investment in Texas' and America's future.
UPDATE (Mon Jul 30 @ 4pm): See also National Review's editors' latest runoff election endorsement, Yes, Ted Cruz for Texas. Key paragraph:
Given the intensity with which conservatives prefer Mr. Cruz to Texas’s popular lieutenant governor, some Republicans have asked, not unfairly, “What’s so bad about David Dewhurst?” Six months ago, our answer might have been: “Nothing, really, if there weren’t a much better choice available. Ted Cruz is far and away a preferable candidate for conservatives seeking an effective and articulate champion of their ideals.” But much has happened since the early days of this race, and Mr. Dewhurst’s vulgar and dishonest campaign of scorched-earth ad hominem against Mr. Cruz raises serious questions about his judgment and his commitment to conservative values.
Yeppers, that's about right.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Beldar endorses Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate from Texas
I meant to post something along these lines many weeks ago, but — better late than never — this will confirm my enthusiastic endorsement of Ted Cruz in the upcoming Texas GOP primary race for United States Senator, to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Ted is someone who first came to my attention during the Texas redistricting litigation in 2003-2004, and he did a genuinely remarkable job as Solicitor General for the State of Texas from 2003-2008. In that capacity, he was the chief appellate lawyer for the State of Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court and all the state and federal appellate courts. And he has been simply superb in every aspect of that job, including briefing and oral argument on several blockbuster SCOTUS cases. He's already been a genuine hero as a public servant; his conservative instincts and principles are thorough-going and deeply rooted in a compelling personal history; and I have no doubt that he can bring that same level of excellence, that same earnest public servant's heart, on behalf of the people of Texas when he's in the U.S. Senate.
I have no ax to grind with two of Ted's three primary opponents. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has been an effective leader in an important job, and former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert has earned his fans. (I have a hard time taking the fourth candidate, former SMU running back, ESPN sportscaster, and political rookie Craig James, very seriously as a candidate for this important an office.) I expect there will end up being a run-off between Cruz and Dewhurst, and that's fine.
But I commend to you Brian Bolduc's cover-story on Ted in a recent issue of National Review to help you understand why Ted Cruz is among the up-and-comers of the GOP on the national stage. This is a strategic vote, one that Texas conservatives should make not just for now but for the future.
Ted Cruz simply scares the hell out of the far-sighted strategists of the national Democratic Party, for the very best of reasons. The Angry Left website Think Progress, for example, labels Cruz a "radical" candidate with "fringe constitutional theories" — hysteria they reserve for conservatives who genuinely threaten them the most, whether in the halls of the SCOTUS or on the campaign trail.
I've contributed to Ted's campaign and encourage others to consider doing so. Indeed, I'll be running an unpaid side-bar link to his campaign website throughout the primary season and, I hope, through the general election. Good luck, Ted! I know you'll do us proud.
Friday, January 20, 2012
In 9/0 ruling, SCOTUS smacks down 3-judge federal court that redrew Texas' Congressional districts; stresses state government's superior role over federal courts in determining the interests of Texas citizens
I've just read today's unanimous, per curiam (unsigned) opinion by the United States Supreme Court in Perry v. Perez. The media reports I've read so far are, unsurprisingly, either clueless or filled with Democratic Party spin (but I repeat myself), and they're working hard to paint this as some kind of "split" or "mixed" result in which the SCOTUS produced something for both sides to like and both sides to hate.
That's wrong. This is an amazing decision that, fairly interpreted, was a brutal smack-down of a special three-judge federal district court. And the smack-down was delivered because that court had thoroughly ignored the wishes of the voters of Texas — as expressed by their duly elected representatives in the Texas House, the Texas Senate, and the Governor's Mansion — about how to redraw Texas' electoral maps to accommodate the 2010 Census results, in which four additional seats in Congress were apportioned to Texas.
This whole area of the law is highly technical, with a complicated and sometimes internally inconsistent set of judicial, legislative, and historic precedents involved. So even though this opinion is comparatively short and clearly written, it's rough sledding for most non-lawyers to follow, especially when one starts getting into the tall grass of mandatory direct SCOTUS jurisdiction, Section 5 preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and relative standards of proof in preliminary injunction hearings. But here's how the opinion tees up the stakes and the big-picture issues:
[H]ere the scale of Texas’ population growth appears to require sweeping changes to the State’s current districts. In areas where population shifts are so large that no semblance of the existing plan’s district lines can be used, that plan offers little guidance to a court drawing an interim map. The problem is perhaps most obvious in adding new congressional districts: The old plan gives no suggestion as to where those new districts should be placed. In addition, experience has shown the difficulty of defining neutral legal principles in this area, for redistricting ordinarily involves criteria and standards that have been weighed and evaluated by the elected branches in the exercise of their political judgment....
(Even casual students of voting rights cases like me can appreciate the ironic understatement of that last sentence. Indeed, it's been so hard to find "neutral legal principles" that even the Supreme Court has frequently fragmented into multiple small voting blocs in these cases, quite commonly failing to produce any single written opinion that speaks for a majority of the Court. This is the kind of droll observation that John Roberts, as Chief Justice, can put in without it bugging any of the left-leaning Justices enough that they ask him to take it out, and one or two of them aren't completely humorless anyway.)
The Supreme Court continues:
... Thus, if the old state districts were the only source to which a district court could look, it would be forced to make the sort of policy judgments for which courts are, at best, ill suited.
To avoid being compelled to make such otherwise standardless decisions, a district court should take guidance from the State’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan. That plan reflects the State’s policy judgments on where to place new districts and how to shift existing ones in response to massive population growth. This Court has observed before that “faced with the necessity of drawing district lines by judicial order, a court, as a general rule, should be guided by the legislative policies underlying” a state plan — even one that was itself unenforceable — “to the extent those policies do not lead to violations of the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.”
So you don't throw out democracy and mount a judicial coup d'état just because some small part of a redistricting map is, or might be, problematic. Instead, to paraphrase today's opinion, what the Legislature passes and the Governor signs — what Texas' own duly elected government does for itself in the exercise of its solemn duties under both the state and federal constitutions — should, as much as possible, trump federal judges who think it's their job to just dive in and fix whatever they think they can improve upon.
After more analysis along these same lines, we get to the meat of the decision, which also conveys the smack-down (citations omitted, boldface, highlighting & first bracketed portion mine):
In this case, the District Court [that comprehensively redrew the Texas Legislature's map] stated that it had “giv[en] effect to as much of the policy judgments in the Legislature’s enacted map as possible.” At the same time, however, the court said that it was required to draw an “independent map” following “neutral principles that advance the interest of the collective public good.” In the court’s view, it “was not required to give any deference to the Legislature’s enacted plan,” and it instead applied principles that it determined “place the interests of the citizens of Texas first.” To the extent the District Court exceeded its mission to draw interim maps that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and substituted its own concept of “the collective public good” for the Texas Legislature’s determination of which policies serve “the interests of the citizens of Texas,” the court erred.
Wait, wait ... You don't think that's a smack-down? You expected maybe something snarky, maybe something like Justice Beldar would have written?
Actually, the dry and unemotional language used here again makes me think that Chief Justice Roberts is the likely unacknowledged author. Regardless, here's my translation, in plain English and without the restraint with which judges talk about each others' screw-ups in print:
Whoa! Just WHOA now! Just who do you three judges on the special district court think you are? Who made you the boss of the Texas state government and Texas voters? You're not!
And you may think that you have some judicial Magic 8-Ball which tells you what's best for the citizens of Texas, but we have these Constitutions — one federal, one state — which actually limit your whole role in this fight to way, way, way less than you guys think you're supposed to be doing. So cut it out, right now!"
The rest of the opinion mostly comprises specific examples of things the three-judge special district court got absolutely wrong because they thought, at least in this particular case, that they were philosopher-princes who rule the cosmos instead of federal judges. (Umm, again, that's Justice Beldar's characterization, not from the per curiam opinion itself.)
So this case is already going back, in a big hurry ("judgment shall issue forthwith," sez the SCOTUS, so no motions for rehearing or such), to the special three-judge district court. Their job — now that their attitudes (and legal standards) have been appropriately readjusted — will be to take the map passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor, and to then make the absolute minimum number of changes that are absolutely necessary to fix, temporarily (for 2012 only), only those specific things that the plaintiffs in the case actually demonstrate to be pretty darned likely to be found illegal or unconstitutional.
That's likely to end up looking an awful lot, then, like what the Legislature passed. And that means the Democrats have lost this round in Texas for all practical purposes.
But do you want to know what actually got my motor racing the most when I read through this per curiam opinion? It was this (bracketed portions mine):
This Court recently noted [in the Northwest Austin MUD No. 1 v. Holder case, a 2009 Roberts opinion,] the “serious constitutional questions” raised by [Voting Rights Act] §5’s intrusion on state sovereignty. Those concerns would only be exacerbated if §5 required a district court to wholly ignore the State’s policies in drawing maps that will govern a State’s elections, without any reason to believe those state policies are unlawful.
Friends and neighbors, that's what my tenth grade English teacher at Lamesa High School, Mrs. Koger, trained me to recognize as "dramatic foreshadowing." And since I would very much like to see the SCOTUS agree that it's now time to quit presuming, as a matter of federal law, that today's Texans are racists just because 1965's Texans were racist, I'm very eager to see this play out.
The four liberal Justices likely read that same paragraph, though, and thought (to themselves; they wouldn't quibble about this with the Chief, or decline to concur over it): "Yeah, we'll just see about that when the time comes." But the Beldar SCOTUS Tea-Leaf-o-Matic™ says Chief Justice Roberts is signaling that he has the votes for what will be a monumental decision in American constitutional law and, indeed, American history.
UPDATE (Fri Jan 20 @ 10:30pm): The PBS NewsHour actually does a pretty good job reporting this story, in large part because they interviewed and relied upon election law expert Rick Hasen. Prof. Hasen has been very gracious in some previous blog discussions with me about Texas redistricting. He's a reliable leftie, but he's wicked smart, and he tries to be (and mostly succeeds in being) intellectually honest (even when he's wrong). Prof. Hasen also picked up on the broader Voting Rights Act implications. The NewsHour headline (which Prof. Hasen links and republishes without demurrer on his own blog): "Supreme Court Ruling on Texas Electoral Maps 'Huge Setback' for Democrats." And yes, that's exactly right.
UPDATE (Sat Jan 21 @ 3:10pm): The Wall Street Journal's editorial page also mostly gets this story right, including the implications for future litigation on the continuing constitutionality of Section 5, in "Holder's Texas Defeat: The Supremes deliver a unanimous drubbing on redistricting." (But you won't learn anything there I didn't already say here; and the Journal's admirably concise telling leaves out some details I tend to savor.)
A lot of the other commentary I'm reading about this decision completely misses the parts of the opinion in which the SCOTUS stressed that there can't be any map re-drawing without the required evidentiary showing of a legal violation to justify it. Even some conservative bloggers I've read seem to be assuming that the three-judge court can still produce, if it's so inclined, another map that suits the Democrats better than what the Legislature passed and the Governor signed.
That is emphatically wrong. For that to happen, at least two of the judges of the three-judge special court would have to publicly defy the SCOTUS. The last time something like that happened on a really important case was in 2000, when the Florida Supreme Court pointedly ignored the SCOTUS after the SCOTUS had already said, "Hey, you can't do that, so cut that out, and don't make us come down there and smack you!" The Florida court's institutional reputation has still not recovered, and the reputations of the individual judges who'd led the defiance simply vaporized because they were exposed as lawless partisan hacks.
No, sir or ma'am, these three judges will indeed now understand that every single alteration they make from the Texas Legislature's map is going to be scrutinized under a SCOTUS microscope. Indeed, they've been given a list of specific (and otherwise likely) screw-ups that they have been publicly warned not to repeat. And the whole point of this unanimous, per curiam opinion was to send an unambiguous set of directives: There are no concurrences or dissents to muddy the water, and these three judges now know that what they did the first time couldn't find a single supporter on the SCOTUS. Repeat: these judges couldn't get so much as a kind word even from Justice Ginsburg, the long-time general counsel of the ACLU, on this one. That's such a harsh reality that it can't escape notice.
So these three judges would have to be utter fools to defy the Supreme Court. As I wrote in a comment below, there's no shame in being reversed, nor even in being reversed by a unanimous SCOTUS. There is, though, shame in being reversed twice in the same case on the same issues; and these three judges are going to take lots of care to see that doesn't happen.
UPDATE (Sat Jan 21 @ ~5:00pm): This post is a fine example of why I complimented Prof. Rick Hasen for trying to maintain his intellectual honesty despite his partisanship. He admits to having "gotten a fair bit of pushback that the outcome after remand is far less certain" after his description of yesterday's decision as a "big win for Republicans." But he gives three reasons for why he "think[s] it is unlikely that whatever maps come out of the Texas court (and face a possible second emergency appeal to SCOTUS) are not likely to be nearly as good as the maps which came out now." (By "good," Prof. Hasen means, "pro-Democrat.")
His first and third points, I've already made here. He's correct that it's the Texas Legislature's maps, "(rather than starting from scratch maps) which will govern what the final maps look like." He's also correct that "The three-judge court is likely to be chastened by the unanimous Supreme Court decision."
His second point amplifies on something I've noted in a way that I think is also probably correct (emphasis mine):
In drawing those maps, the Supreme Court went out of its way not only to say that the three-judge court should not deviate from Texas’s plan any more than necessary to solve any constitutional/voting rights violation. The Court specifically pointed out that the court should not draw any minority coalition districts to achieve voting rights results. This makes it more likely that the majority-minority districts will have more minority voters in them and will not lead to the creation of extra Democratic seats.
I'm sure Prof. Hasen would protest and disagree, but I respectfully submit that that paragraph contains an inescapable but implicit acknowledgement that what this is all about is partisan politics, not remedying of racial discrimination. And its premise is that only Democrats can reflect the views of minority voters — an offensive and, indeed, a racist premise. (Again, he would protest and disagree.) But as always, the Dems want to win in federal court what they can't win at the electoral polls. They haven't won a state-wide race in Texas since 1994, and they've lost their majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, because Texas voters have rejected them — repeatedly, comprehensively, at every level and despite all their class- and race-warfare. The likely composition of the Texas Congressional delegation in January 2013 will now, correctly and fairly and legally, reflect that rejection.
UPDATE (Sun Jan 22 @ ~5:40pm): I thank Prof. Hasen for this gracious cross-link to this post. (I'd sent him an email "ping" as a courtesy since I don't think his blog uses trackbacks and his comments are disabled.) In it, he writes (briefly, and not tendentiously but, I hope, with good humor):
For the record, I hardly think it racist to note that minorities, especially African Americans (but aside from Cuban-Americans in Florida) tend to vote for Democrats by very lopsided margins.
To which I'd respond, not quite as concisely:
Of course it's not racist to merely note it, especially as history. But it's a racist judgment (i.e., an act; I'm not indicting people but rather conduct and decisions) to assume or presume that so it must always remain. And partisan race-based politics is an illegitimate basis to strip state legislatures (and, ultimately, their constituents) of their constitutional rights and obligations to redistrict. In Chief Justice Roberts' inarguable formulation: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."
UPDATE (Sun Jan 22 @ 8:10pm): Concision is definitely something I lack, but I haven't vented about this for a few years. So, expressed slightly differently:
1. Democrats believe as a matter of political faith that, by definition, their party includes no racists and can commit no racist acts; rather, Democrats are merely people who insist that government, and especially the federal courts, trample democracy to reorder society (including Texas' Congressional districts) in order to dictate winners and losers on the basis of skin color. Nuance: I learnt it from that "Animal Farm" book ("four legs good!").
2. (a) Partisan gerrymandering is one of democracy's most unappealing, raw aspects. Democracy itself is a terrible system of government with many historically demonstrable failings, redeemed only by the fact that it's nevertheless the least worst form of government ever yet invented and implemented.
(b) The Democrats are complaining bitterly that in the Texas redistricting, Republicans discriminated against Democrats and in favor of Republicans. Well, duh. That's not disputed; that is the essence of gerrymandering, which is about sorting voters into districts based on how those voters are likely to vote. Every alternative to gerrymandering comes at a cost to small-d democracy; I haven't yet seen one which was worth that, and I don't believe any such alternative exists. The Founders' decision to put the responsibility for redistricting at the most organic, grass-roots level of government, the state legislatures, was indeed a choice of the least-worst alternative.
(c) However, proof that Republicans simply discriminated against Democrats also wins them no relief in federal court. So Democrats have to engage in this fiction that by discriminating against Democrats, the Republican majorities in both chambers of the Texas Legislature and the Texas Governor were all actually discriminating against racial minorities.
(d) That's counter-factual; the Democrats claimed that in 2003-2004 too, and were ultimately laughed out of court because all they had to support those claims was wild speculation and innuendo.
(e) In fact, neither Republicans nor Democrats have any need to discriminate anymore on the basis of so crude and statistically inaccurate metric as race. They can draw more useful, better-gerrymandered maps using other, much more precise data on who's likely to vote Democratic and who's likely to vote GOP.
(f) Nevertheless, absent actual evidence of discrimination on the basis of race (which doesn't exist, because that's not what's been happening), the Democrats' proof of an alleged voting rights violation depends entirely on their ability to win a purely legal argument (unmoored from evidence) that conflates "Democrat" with "racial minority." Without that presumption and assumption, their legal position falls to pieces, and is exposed as an accusation that Republicans are (gasp!) political.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Beldar disputes pollster Jan van Lohuizen's bizarre assertion that Gov. Rick Perry "never really has done all that well in Texas"
I neither know, nor know of, political pollster Jan van Lohuizen, but in this Q&A with Business Insider (hat-tip Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard), the editors point out that Dr. van Louhizen's PhD in political science came from Rice University in 1978, and they assert that he "know[s] Texas as well as anyone." And they point out that he's served as "George W. Bush's pollster in both of his presidential election campaigns," and that Dr. van Louhizen "is highly regarded by political professionals in both parties." I have no reason to doubt any of that.
But they then quote Dr. van Lohuizen as saying this about the potential presidential prospects of Texas Gov. Rick Perry:
... I don’t know if [Perry] will run but my sense of it is that he will — quite a few of the issues he pushed in the legislative session and in the follow-up special session were clearly designed to seed a run for President.
His assets are that he is a good communicator, appeals to tea party types, and he can point to the strength of the Texas economy. On the liabilities side, however, he did not get the things he introduced for that purpose, and the criticism of the balanced budget he passed is getting rougher and rougher: it is basically as flimsy as Gerry [sic ] Brown’s balanced budget. Add to that that he never really has done all that well in Texas. He got a 2nd full term with less than 40% of the vote in a 4 way race, and barely avoided a runoff in his own primary against a weakened Senator and an unknown.
Add as well that some of the issues he is associated with are deeply problematic to conservatives, including his record on property rights, increasing taxes, ‘pay to play’ fundraising and any amount of other raw material for opposition researchers that 10 years as Governor generates.
I agree in part with the first paragraph, and I won't quibble with parts of the second; but I think the end of the second paragraph and the entire third paragraph are both badly misleading — indeed, contrary to objective reality.
I don't have a strong sense of whether Gov. Perry will or won't run, and I have utterly no inside information either way. As my sidebar suggests, I've got another current non-candidate I'd like to see drafted for the GOP nomination; and I'm not one of those trying to drum up support for a Perry candidacy, at least not right now. But I've voted for Gov. Perry many times for many different offices over the last twenty years, and I can easily imagine myself doing so if he were part of a ticket running against Obama.
Nevertheless, the hot-button issues from the last Texas legislature (including special session(s)) to which Dr. van Lohuizen refers — voter ID, sanctuary cities, border security — are controversial at both the state and federal levels anyway. It would be a very dim Republican governor anywhere, but especially along the Mexican border, who wasn't keenly focused on those issues, regardless of whether he or she has aspirations for higher office.
So where Dr. van Lohuizen sees smoke signals, I see smoke puffs, frankly. I don't think Perry's interaction with the last Legislature furnishes very persuasive evidence that Perry was, or is, planning to run for POTUS. But that's a matter of interpretation, not observation; if Dr. van Lohuizen reaches the opposite conclusion from mine, that doesn't trouble me at all.
As for matters fiscal: Although we're comparatively better off than most other states,Texas still needs to squeeze value out of every penny, and like every other state government, ours has been trying to find creative ways to avoid raising taxes. There are reasonable arguments to be made that our proposed solutions here in Texas include some one-offs and some gimmicks; there's room for debate about our budget, and there's been quite a bit of it.
But there's not a rational soul in the universe who'd trade Texas' economic and fiscal situation for California's. Whatever details may underlie Dr. van Lohuizen's conclusion, to the extent he's trying to make a comparison between California and Texas, or between Jerry Brown and Rick Perry, he's simply full of bull. I have a hard time imagining two more vividly contrasting politicians, in fact, than Brown and Perry, both on matters of style and of substance.
Much, much more perplexing and troubling to me is Dr. van Lohuizen's assertion that Perry "never really has done all that well in Texas."
Rick Perry first won office as a Texas state representative (as a Democrat). After making a splash as a legislator and changing to the GOP, he won election over a popular incumbent Democrat, Jim Hightower, to become Texas Commissioner of Agriculture in 1990. He was reelected with 61% of the vote in 1994. Perry followed the legendary Bob Bullock to become Texas Lieutenant Governor in 1998 in a hard-fought race against Dem John Sharp, who'd previously won state-wide election as Texas Comptroller. By 1998, of course, it was already widely expected that then-Gov. George W. Bush would run for president in 2000, so those who elected Perry to the Lieutenant Governorship in 1998 certainly weren't surprised when Perry succeeded Dubya as Governor at year-end 2000.
Dr. van Lohuizen's assertion simply ignores the fact that Perry then won reelection in his own right in 2002 with 58% of the vote — a blowout.
Dr. van Lohuizen is correct that Perry's re-election margin in 2006, in a four-way general election field, wasn't nearly so impressive. It was a very odd election for a number of reasons besides the size of the field.
But I simply have no clue what Dr. van Lohuizen was talking about when he described Texas' senior sitting U.S. Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, as "a weakened senator" before or during the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. What are we supposed to think from that — that she was like Idaho's Larry Craig, barely hanging onto any office anywhere? That's utter nonsense that's insulting to Sen. Hutchison and to the 450,000+ Texans who voted for her in the 2010 primary, but it also undervalues the opinions of the 759,000+ Texans (51%) who voted for Perry.
To the contrary, Sen. Hutchison wasn't "weakened," but had instead long telegraphed her intention to leave the Senate to run for the Texas governorship. She had powerful, deep, and long-standing connections in the Texas GOP's old guard (going back to the John Tower/G.H.W. Bush days of the 1960s and 1970s Texas GOP). She had (and has) a talented staff and an experienced and successful campaign team. And she had tons of campaign money and volunteers. In sum, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was a formidable candidate whom Rick Perry nevertheless beat convincingly and without a runoff.
And yes, Sen. Hutchison's campaign had years of raw material about Perry from which to do opposition research, and she had all the resources and incentives anyone could want in order to exploit to the hilt any Perry missteps from days past. The exact same stuff that Dr. van Lohuizen cryptically references in the third of the paragraphs I've quoted — the supposed "issues [Perry] is associated with [which] are deeply problematic to conservatives" — absolutely failed to catch on in Sen. Hutchison's bare-knuckled attacks on Perry during the 2010 GOP primary. I'm unaware of any reason to think that those same attacks would catch on when made by, say, Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty or Michelle Bachman — and Dr. van Lohuizen doesn't give us any such reason.
Indeed, Dr. van Lohuizen notes, accurately, that Perry "appeals to tea party types," but he fails to mention that the third candidate who ran against both Perry and Hutchison in the 2010 GOP primary — Debra Medina, whom Dr. van Lohuizen fairly describes as an "unknown" — was a self-proclaimed Tea Partier who briefly surged based on pure pro-Tea Party movement/anti-incumbency sentiment. Both Perry and Hutchison had strong potential vulnerabilities to such a candidacy; sitting GOP politicians in many other states lost their primaries to just such candidates.
But Perry adeptly seized the Tea Party movement's themes, parried (no pun intended) the anti-incumbency attacks, and then rode a Tea Party/constitutional conservative/anti-Obama surge of 2.7 million votes into a crushing 55% to 42% general election victory over popular Houston ex-mayor (and former Clinton Deputy Secretary of Energy and Texas Democratic Chairman) Bill White — easily the strongest and best financed Democratic gubernatorial candidate since Dubya whipped incumbent Ann Richards in 1994.
Running and winning overwhelmingly on an anti-incumbency, anti-government theme — when you've been part of government for almost three decades yourself — is a fairly deft piece of political footwork, in my humble opinion.
I'm pretty sure, in fact, that Rick Perry has won every election he's ever run in. He's definitely won every state-wide race for public office he's ever run in Texas. And he's now served as Texas' chief executive longer than anyone else in a history that dates back to 1836.
How a PhD in political science can interpret that as "never really [doing] all that well in Texas," I simply cannot fathom, and I therefore respectfully dissent. Now, it's true that Gov. Perry hasn't yet been quite as successful as his immediate predecessor was at parlaying the Texas governorship into higher national officer. And to win higher office, Perry would once again have to overcome his deservedly lingering shame from having been Texas manager for Al Gore's aborted 1988 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. But we've mostly forgiven him for that here already, and Ronald Reagan was a converted Dem who saw the light. So: short of running and winning the presidency, just how much more Texas history would Rick Perry have to write to satisfy Dr. van Lohuizen that Perry's managed to make something of himself on the Texas political scene?
UPDATE (Sat Jul 16 @ 2am): Hilary Hylton has a nicely detailed and perceptive examination of Perry's history with Gore. The Perry campaign should be absolutely thrilled with this essay, since it ends up not only "pulling the tooth" before it could be used to bite Perry, but indeed it presents a compelling tale of Perry's conversion to the GOP as part of a contemporaneous and much larger shift to the GOP throughout Texas.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
"Shut UP, you Texans!" explained Sen. Boxer in a demonstration of the "new civility"
As a general rule, California Democratic politicians aren't fond of Texas or Texans. But this bit of hyper-partisan hyper-rude behavior from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) — denying Texas senator John Cornyn an opportunity to participate in a Senate committee hearing on proposed EPA power-plant regulations that directly (and massively) affect Texas — may set a new low in Congressional pettiness, at least since the caning of Sen. Charles Sumner in 1856. (Hat-tip Instapundit).
I'm well acquainted with many people in California who are wracked with frustration over their state's fundamentally unserious and self-destructive politicians, so I'm certainly not imputing Sen. Boxer's pettiness to everyone who lives there. But stunts like this only make the political leaders of once-proud California seem even more pathetic and out-of-touch. In the same way that the Ottoman Empire was once considered the "sick man of Europe," or that sunny Greece has become the modern poster-child for European fiscal fecklessness, California is going to embarrass us all over the next decade — and their situation is sure to get a whole lot worse before it even starts to get better, because they're still ignoring the First Rule of Holes.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Beldar quibbles with Krauthammer over Perry and the Texas economy
Dr. Charles Krauthammer said tonight on Fox News, at the tail-end of his comments about the possibility that Texas governor Rick Perry might enter the GOP presidential race for 2012:
I would just add, there's one factor in the Texas story which can't be overlooked: It's got a lot of oil, it's an oil state. And oil has done rather well. Other states don't have that much.
We all occasionally make trite remarks, and Dr. Krauthammer's tendancy to do so is far, far lower than my own. Certainly anyone who's trying to evaluate Texas' relative success compared to some other states, both currently or historically, ought to factor in natural resources.
But the price of oil has varied fairly dramatically over the past three years. Texas is far behind Alaska in crude oil production, and failed-state California is close behind Texas in the number three position.
While there have been new and exciting energy discoveries in Texas in the last few years that have contributed to the statewide economy and have led to local booms in exploration and drilling, most of the value of the energy business to the Texas economy is based now on what's above the ground — people, expertise, and technology — rather than below it.
With due respect to Dr. Krauthammer, then, oil is a factor in Texas' economy and in particular its creation of new jobs — but it's not the most important factor, and it's much less of a factor now than it was 30 years ago.
When he is at his best, Gov. Perry — who is not a humble man by nature — is appropriately humble about his personal role in Texas' relative economic success during these hard times. Rick Perry didn't create that prosperity. No state governor has such power, and certainly not Texas' governor. No American president has such power over the country, either.
Rather, Perry has continued a long tradition that goes back to the days of Stephen F. Austin, when Texas was still part of Mexico. Texans expect government to perform some core functions competently, and then otherwise to get the hell out of their way.
By and large, Gov. Perry has stayed the hell out of the way, just as have his predecessors going back a long, long way. Texas has been a right-to-work state, for example, as long as that term has had meaning. Texas has never had a state income tax, and proposing one has been the political equivalent here of swallowing a dose of cyanide the size of a football. And people still come to Texas because it doesn't matter much who their daddies and mommies were; rather, what matters is what they will accomplish for themselves when they get here and are given a chance.
Holding fast to first principles is easier when you don't have to swim upstream, and in context, it's no knock on Gov. Perry to point out that he hasn't ever had to. And whether he remains a speculative candidate or a more active one, he'd be truthful, and smart in the long run, to point that out himself — aggressively, and indeed reflexively every time someone gives him more credit than due for the Texas economy. Rick Perry is due some considerable credit, mind you, for not screwing up — but he'll earn much more by placing the lion's share of the credit where it's due, which is not on himself or any government official, but on the free market and its Texas participants whom he has had the privilege of representing as a public servant.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Beldar on Preston on "Perry 2012"
My fellow Texan Bryan Preston has a provocative and well-argued post up at The PJ Tatler entitled "Why Rick Perry should run for president." I've left a few comments, as have a few other conservative Texans, and I think it's a fairly interesting thread overall.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Beldar on Fund on Perry's success in "nationalizing" a state race
With a sub-head reading "Texas governor Rick Perry's victory last night shows that nationalizing local races can work," John Fund of the Wall Street Journal yet another analyst whose work and opinions I respect greatly wrote this yesterday afternoon about Tuesday's Texas primary results:
The late House Speaker Tip O'Neill once said "all politics is local." Texas Governor Rick Perry won last night's GOP primary by standing that adage on its head and nationalizing the race. He pounded his main rival, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, as a Washington insider and tagged her as "Kay Bailout" for her support of the 2008 rescue of major financial institutions.
Mr. Perry said the results were a triumph for conservative principles: "Texas voters said 'no." They said 'no' to Washington bureaucrats making decisions that state leaders and citizens should be making for themselves." He won 51% of the vote, with Tea Party activist Debra Medina pulling in another 18% of the vote. By avoiding a runoff, Mr. Perry put himself in a good position to take on former Houston Mayor Bill White in the fall.
I agree with that as far as it goes, but perhaps aided by the sub-headline, which Mr. Fund probably didn't write there may be an implication that the same tactic of "nationalizing" a statewide race can work for Perry against Bill White in the general election, too. I'm not convinced of that, although I think it's certain that Perry will indeed try to make that happen.
As I've written repeatedly recently, I'm quite sure that Perry is going to do his very best to try to keep the focus not on Bill White's performance as Houston's (nominally nonpartisan) mayor, but on his service as Bill Clinton's Undersecretary of Energy. I've known Bill since the late 1970s when we were at Texas Law School together, and he's always been a mainstream Democrat, and he had a long-standing professional interest (even passion) on the topic of energy (and particularly natural gas) regulation even before he went to law school. Given that, I was utterly unsurprised to see him show up in that post. But I don't claim to know much about what he did in it much less any specific things he did that would be particularly sensitive or objectionable if reconsidered now in the context of a Texas gubernatorial race. Nevertheless, for me, the mere fact that he was "one of them" a "Clintonista," a committed Democrat, a volunteer and not a draftee would be ample all by itself to prompt me to withhold my vote for him in any state-wide or federal election.
I'd guess that not many of the Houstonians who voted to elect or re-elect White as mayor knew about his service in the Clinton Administration. I'd further guess that for that purpose, i.e., the mayoral race most of them didn't care, and for that purpose, I didn't either. But being governor is different than being mayor. There are quite a few conservative Texans who, like me, consider themselves Republicans and believe in the two-party political system instead of believing in empty, ridiculously insincere promises about "crossing the aisle" and "being bipartisan" like that's actually going to happen when it comes time for the 2011 redistricting, hah! White isn't going to get our votes for governor, regardless of how good a mayor he was, as long as he's a Democrat. (And yes, he is one.)
White is, however, objectively the best qualified and most attractive candidate the Dems have run in a state-wide race in more than a decade. He's going to get pretty much all of the Dem votes that are out there. White's going to benefit, oddly enough, from the fact that Barack Obama isn't on the ballot in 2010, because if Obama were, that fact alone would drive a huge surge of Texas conservatives to the polls for the sole purpose of voting against Obama. (I frankly suspect this was a factor in White's decision to switch to the 2010 governor's race instead of following his original post-mayoral plan to run for U.S. Senate in 2012.) White will easily pick up, then, most of the "reliable" Democrat votes, and he has enormous incentives to invest in targeted "get out the vote" activities from now until November.
Texas still being a red state, however, that won't be enough. White can't win unless he can persuade, and then motivate to vote, a sizable contingent from the "middle" and yes, there is a vague and large (albeit not as "vast" as sometimes assumed) "middle" in Texas who don't regularly turn out to vote for Republicans and who might possibly be persuaded to vote for what they perceived to be an exceptional Democrat. By "exceptional," I mean exceptionally well qualified in terms of his credentials and experience, a standard that White can legitimately claim to meet, and "exceptional" in the sense of standing somewhat apart from conventional Democrats (especially as now typified by Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and the national Democratic Party).
And here, friends and neighbors, is where I think we must consider again the lesson of Debra Medina. I mean no offense to the good folks of Wharton County, whose local GOP Ms. Medina apparently was once the head of, but it's not exaggerating much to say that Ms. Medina's candidacy came out of nowhere. There was essentially nothing in her background or history to distinguish her from anyone picked at random from within the entire State of Texas. But by tapping into the same mostly inchoate rage and dissatisfaction that has found some expression in the Tea Party movement, she even though she wasn't an "official Tea Party nominee" and was in fact opposed by some Austin Tea Partiers went from zero to 18.5% of the GOP primary vote in the political blink of an eye. That's precisely why I've referred to her here as the "Neither of the Above" Candidate.
While Perry will rigorously and consistently attempt to frame the November general election in the same manner as he did the GOP primary that is, as a battle between an untrustworthy Washington insider (White instead of Hutchison) against a down-home anti-Washington conservative (himself) White's frankly a lot harder to put in that box than Hutchison was. During almost the whole of this decade, White's been attending Houston City Council meetings, not going to Capitol Hill or the White House. He's been quite literally handing out MREs to Hurricane Ike refugees and working on bayou drainage projects, not passing TARP or plotting the nationalization of American healthcare.
Some of my commenters have expressed grave skepticism over my assertion that White's service as Houston mayor will help him in other parts of the state. They argue that other parts of the state haven't watched the local TV news feeds during the hurricanes or seen the local headlines, and they're right about that. But White has between now and November to educate non-Houstonians about his performance as mayor, and I'm here to tell you, folks, he got enough accomplished that it's going to take a while for him to run out of things to talk about. It was not an accident that White won re-election with more than 80% of the vote in an extremely conservative city, and if you think he won't get any traction in the rest of the state from his record here, I respectfully suggest that (a) you have no real basis for that assumption, and (b) you've failed to account for the efforts the liberal media will make to assist White on this score between now and November.
Indeed, the obvious jiu-jitsu move for White to pull off will be to resist Perry's attempt to "nationalize" the Texas governor's race by turning it instead into a referendum on incumbency: By virtue of his ascension to the governorship when Dubya resigned in December 2000 plus his elections in 2002 and 2006 to two four-year terms in his own right, Perry is already the longest-serving Texas governor in history. Now, there's nowhere close to as much general dissatisfaction among Texans with what's been going on in Austin as there is with what's been going on in Washington. But that's not to say that Texans necessarily give much credit for that to Rick Perry in particular, either.
Perry, in short, had a perfect opportunity in this year's primary to exploit the Tea Partiers' anti-Washington rage in particular, and Hutchison's own efforts to make Perry's long incumbency never stuck (in part because of her own long incumbency as a U.S. senator). "Nationalizing" the primary race against Hutchison was easy, and Perry was successful in sidestepping the Tea Partiers' potential rage against himself. But White's not as vulnerable to that ploy as Hutchison was, and White may be far better positioned to use Perry's long incumbency against him.
When it comes to that one-in-five or so Texans whose votes are up for grabs, and whose votes could result in a GOP loss if all or most of them broke decisively for White, this is a new ball game, gentle readers. The November general election is not going to be like the 2002 or 2006 election indeed, the 2006 election was so weird and exceptional that it's not much use as a predictor of anything and it's not going to be like the 2010 primary elections were, either.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Beldar on Barone on how Perry's Harris County showing bodes for White
Michael Barone is one of my favorite and most trusted political analysts, and he has a facility with polling data and places that I utterly lack. That makes me reluctant to second-guess this preliminary conclusion of his regarding yesterday's Texas primaries:
Perry won this not in rural and small town Texas but in metro Houston. This bodes well for him in the general election, since it indicates strength in the home base of the well regarded Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White, who was nominated by an overwhelming margin.
I'm just not sure the "bodes well" conclusion connects to the premise. Perry did well in Houston, sure, and the GOP turn-out both here and state-wide was much, much stronger than the Democratic turn-out because of the contested GOP senatorial race. It's also fair to presume that a huge percentage of those who voted for Perry in this primary will vote for him again in the general election, and indeed, that some still very large majority of Texas Republicans who either didn't choose or bother to vote for Perry in the primary will nevertheless vote for him in the general election.
But you are still talking about a primary. Even the 12 percent or so of total registered Texas voters who voted, state-wide, in the GOP primary collectively represent only a small fraction of likely voters in the November election.
And as I'm sure Barone knows, the mayoral races in which White's won election and reelection by huge super-majorities were nominally — and to an amazing extent, genuinely — nonpartisan. It would be silly to assume that in a partisan race for statewide office this November, White would ever have gotten all, or mostly all, of the same individual voters who've voted for him for mayor in the past.
I don't think the main significance of White's history as Houston's mayor, in fact, is directly connected to how Houston/Harris County voters in particular will vote. I think that based on the reputation he's earned among Houstonians, he will indeed do at least somewhat better here than the hypothetical "average" Democratic candidate for governor; and since Houston is the state's largest city, even "somewhat better" will translate into some tens of thousands of votes. But it's not a big enough swing to win the state-wide race for him.
Put another way, there are too many Houston voters (like me) who were perfectly happy to vote twice for a fellow like White for mayor (where the damage a wild-eyed liberal could do, even if he tried, is institutionally minimized), but who wouldn't vote for him for a state-wide or federal office (where a wild-eyed liberal could do vastly more damage). That White has been sympathetic to, or even fully on board with, pretty all of the values and positions of the national Democratic Party just hasn't been relevant in Houston's mayoral campaigns, but it's obviously much more relevant now that he's running for governor. For all those voters who apply different criteria to local races than they do to state or federal ones, White could never count on us as "a lock" anyway, even though we did vote for him as mayor. And that's true regardless of whether we voted for Perry or Hutchison or Medina yesterday in the GOP primary.
Instead, White's generally well-respected performance during two terms as mayor of Houston is important in the overall race (and not just in Houston/Harris County) for two reasons:
First, having been the mayor of the nation's fourth-largest city for eight years with generally conspicuous success — despite a direct hit by Hurricane Ike and a lot of collateral impact from Hurricane Katrina — is an attractive, conventional, and entirely legitimate credential for becoming governor. You can appreciate that whether you live in Houston or Waco or Dumas or Laredo. Without some comparable credential — and frankly, there aren't very many of those to go around, certainly not among Texas Democrats (who haven't won a state-wide election this Millennium) — Perry would have an enormous relative campaign edge, simply because he's been governor for the past decade and the state's still in decent shape (and compared to the rest of the U.S., incredible shape).
Second, keeping the focus on his record in Houston gives White his best opportunity to distance himself from Obama and from the national Democratic Party. You can guaran-damn-tee that between now and November, White will spend a whole lot more time reminding folks of his local service in Houston than of his time as Bill Clinton's Undersecretary of Energy. (He's also not going to spend a lot of time talking about his early 1980s law practice.)
White surely has always known he's an underdog. He's surely never imagined that Houston could be a "vote stronghold" for him as a Democrat in any state-wide race. Someone had to win on the GOP side, and by definition that candidate is going to have made a relatively strong showing among primary voters. I just don't see that Perry's relative success over Hutchison in the GOP primary here yesterday says much one way or another about the still-considerable (but never determinative) extent that White will be helped locally and statewide by his record as a two-term mayor here.
DGA's Daschle draws wrong lessons from Texas primaries: White has a chance in November, but it's despite (not due to) Obama and the national Dems
“Tonight’s results are a stark reminder that Republicans’ giddiness about 2010 is premature,” Daschle said. “Rick Perry is our nation’s longest serving Republican governor and yet he barely won 50 percent of the vote in his own primary. We need no more evidence to know that this is not a pro-Republican electorate; it’s an electorate that wants results over rhetoric, optimism over pessimism, and success over secession. I can only assume that tonight’s results send chills down the spine of Rick Perry’s campaign manager.”
So reads a congratulatory press release celebrating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White's overwhelming victory with 76% of the votes in the Texas Democratic Primary issued tonight by the Democratic Governor's Association. The "Daschle" being quoted is not long-time U.S. Senator Tom Daschle (D-ND), whom John Thune beat in 2004, and who was last seen in early 2009 under the rear wheels of the Obama Administration's bus (when a tax scandal obliged him to withdraw from further consideration as Obama's nominee for H&HS Secretary). Rather, it's Tom's son Nathan, a 2002 Harvard Law grad who worked briefly as a litigation associate for Covington & Burling before joining the DGA in 2005. Now the DGA's Executive Director, we're told by its website that "Nathan previously served as the DGA’s Counsel and Director of Policy, a position in which he coordinated DGA’s legal efforts and advised governors and candidates on a wide range of policy matters," and that he "has also served in the legislative affairs office of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the Natural Resources Defense Council [and] also worked on the [unsuccessful] 1996 U.S. Senate campaign of Tom Strickland (CO)."
So do these credentials qualify Daschle the Younger as an expert on Texas politics? Could he be right in insisting that Bill White actually has a chance against Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, whose 51% tally in Tuesday's primary won him renomination without a run-off in a three-way race against sitting U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and the vaguely Tea Party-affiliated newcomer Debra Medina?
I think the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race will indeed be interesting, and it may be closer than a lot of people are predicting but if so, I'm very, very certain that won't be for the reasons spewed out by the likes of Nathan Daschle or other Washington Democratic machine politicians. And indeed, the message of this primary for the Democrats, if they're smart enough to heed it, was that so long as they keep quietly sending lots of money, career politicos like Daschle probably ought to stay the hell away from Texas in general and from Bill White's campaign in particular.
Perhaps only a Harvard Law-trained Democratic spin-meister could mock Perry for "barely [winning] 50 percent of the vote in his own primary." If confronted with that claim, I'm quite sure that Perry's first reaction echoing Scott Brown's devastating point in the Massachusetts special election last month would be to insist that this wasn't his primary, but rather the Texas GOP's primary. Only an idiot or, perhaps, a Harvard Law-trained Democratic spin-meister could trivialize a primary-election clash between a state's sitting governor (since December 2000) and its senior U.S. senator (since 1993). And indeed, this time last year, Perry trailed Hutchison by double digits in early polling for this race.
From Perry's 51% showing, Daschle argues that "[w]e need no more evidence to know that this is not a pro-Republican electorate." But surely even a Harvard Law-trained Democratic spin-meister wouldn't dispute that a GOP primary is indeed, by definition (even outside of Texas), a "pro-Republican electorate," so Daschle must have been talking about the combination of the two primaries held on Tuesday. So how does that work out for his argument? As of this moment, with 99.63% of the vote reported, the Texas SecState's tallies show that for the seven candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, a total of 676,795 have been cast, amounting to 5.19% of just over 13 million registered voters in Texas. In the GOP primary, by contrast, the corresponding numbers are 1,471,429 votes totaled for the three Republican candidates, amounting to 11.29% of the state's 13 million voters. Well over twice as many Texans came out to vote as part of the "pro-Republican electorate," in other words, as did in the "pro-Democratic electorate." ("Registered voters" here means all who are registered to vote in the general election, regardless of party; Texas has open primaries that aren't limited to "registered Democrats" or "registered Republicans," there being no such party-based registration here.)
Those figures compare to the March 2006 turn-out figures of 5 and 4 percent, respectively, for the GOP and Democratic primaries so a bare one percent more of registered voters turned out for this year's Democratic primary, compared to a more than doubling of the percentage for registered voters who turned out for this year's GOP primary. The Dems actually had much more excitement in their 2002 primary, when they got over 8% of registered voters to vote in a slug-out between Dan Morales, Tony Sanchez, and two lesser-known candidates. (Yes, there actually were lesser known candidates.) Sanchez won the Dem primary with 62%, but then was crushed by Perry in the general election by a 58% to 40% margin.
No, Nathan, if there are "chills running down the spine" of Perry's campaign manager tonight, they're the good kind of chills the very well-satisfied ones. Perry not only came from behind against a formidable, universally known, and well-financed opponent, but he managed what was probably, in context and overall, a substantially greater challenge as well: Perry effectively co-opted enough of the Texas Tea Partiers or those generally sympathetic to the Tea Party's protests, which I think amounts to a vastly larger number of people than those who've actually attended a rally or protest to prevent a "None of the Above"-candidate like Debra Medina from forcing a run-off.
And with due, which is to say, not very much, respect to her that's all Ms. Medina's candidacy ever was. She had no political track record. She had a laughable absence of credentials to demonstrate a basic capacity to serve adequately as the state's chief executive. When she was asked, in effect, "Whatcha think about them Truthers and them Birthers?" she couldn't even maintain enough discipline in her talking points to pass what's become, for better or worse, a political litmus test now used to identify the farthest fringes of the political fray. She confessed, in other words, to a fondness for fruitcakes, and if she's not a fruitcake herself, she offered no convincing proof to that effect.
(NB: I do very emphatically respect those who are thoroughly fed up with politics as usual, and especially Washington politics as usual, and whose rage opens them to careful consideration of non-incumbents. But she was a poor choice, a wholly inadequate vessel, for their hopes and beliefs. If new political voices are to inject new leadership into state and national politics, they can't just skip the "basic competency" category of qualifications.)
That Ms. Medina, despite her utter lack of credible credentials or experience, ended up polling 18.5% (to Hutchison's 30% and Perry's 51%) is still an incredibly important result from Tuesday's vote something that should indeed grab the attention of incumbent politicians of both parties whether in blue, red, or purple states. But by calibrating his campaign rhetoric to run mostly congruent to the Tea Partiers' protests and entirely congruent with the Tea Partiers' anti-Washington, anti-federal government themes Perry was able not only to keep "None of the Above" from forcing a run-off, he was able to win the nomination outright with a majority vote in the first primary round.
And by doing that, Perry not only shored up his standing with a voting populace that will indeed be naturally skeptical of a former Clinton Administration cabinet undersecretary in November's general election, he eliminated the substantial risks of a runoff that he almost certainly was destined to win anyway. The risks were that he'd have to spend more time and money fighting Hutchison and being tarred, perhaps indelibly, by Hutchison's negative advertising. (Some of Hutchison's ads were pretty effective, much moreso, I thought, than Perry's Democratic opponents have managed to put together in past races.)
It's not that Hutchison wanted to run against the Tea Partiers! Heavens, no, she would have loved to cuddle up with them, and she tried to remind them that she was preaching "limited government" and "fiscal responsibility" back in the 1960s, when John Tower and George H.W. Bush were about the only Texas Republicans who'd gathered any national prominence from a state still dominated by LBJ and what was then a very conservative Democratic Party. But she was indeed vulnerable to charges of being a pork-grabber, and Perry lashed her mercilessly (if, in my judgment, not entirely fairly) with her pro-TARP vote from the fall of 2008.
Can Republicans from less deeply red states win in November with the same model Perry has just used one in which he never quite sought, and certainly never became, the "nominee" or "official candidate" of a movement that isn't quite yet an actual political party, but with whose sentiments he very diligently and aggressively and unashamedly identified himself? Obviously, Perry would have had a much harder time of this strategy if he himself had been an incumbent in a federal office rather than a state one. Thank goodness none of the scoundrels who make their livings in the legislative and administrative back alleys of Austin have figured out yet what a "trillion" means; as a result, most of the Tea Partiers' ire is still being directed, quite appropriately, at Washington. But in other states can you say "Kah-lee-VORN-ee-ya"? without the budget surpluses or economic prosperity that Texas continues to enjoy, the Tea Partiers' anti-incumbency mood may well blanket both state and federal politicians. And indeed, it should.
So why, then after roundly mocking Daschle the Younger for being thoroughly out of touch with, at least, Texas voters would I agree with Daschle's main point, i.e., that a Bill White win in November is at least imaginable?
Well, friends and neighbors, it's this: I happen to know that unlike Barack Obama and Nathan Daschle, Bill White didn't go to Harvard Law School. Instead, he went to good ol' Texas Law School where he was editor in chief of the Texas Law Review, he actually did write and publish a fine student note for the Review, and he was the Grand Chancellor in Spring 1978 (meaning academically first in his class as of the end of their second year). He's a San Antonio native who's never lost his drawl or had to fake one. He will draw heavily, and with considerable appeal, on his record as a multi-term (and multi-hurricane) nonpartisan mayor of Houston. And he will fight tooth and nail against Perry's attempts to keep the focus on Washington and its single most prominent symbol, who's also quite probably the single most unpopular person among conservative and moderate Texas voters Barack Obama. Tonight's exchanges from the two campaigns, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, are already sounding the themes we'll be hearing and reading for the next eight months:
White told supporters in Houston he expects Perry to try to “perpetuate” himself with politics of division and distraction to avoid talking about Texas issues, such as high unemployment, state government growth and unfunded mandates for local governments.
“Texans deserve a new governor,” a leader who is “more interested in the jobs of Texans than in preserving his own job,” White said.
White said he believes Perry will continue trying to put voters’ attention on political debates in Washington.
“They’ll point fingers at Washington and talk about the alarming growth in government in Washington so you won’t notice the alarming growth in government in Austin,” the Democratic nominee said.
Perry, speaking to supporters at the Salt Lick barbecue restaurant in Driftwood, signaled that he fully intends to continue the anti-Washington rhetoric.
“From Driftwood, Texas, to Washington, D.C., we are sending you a message tonight: Stop messing with Texas!” Perry said.
Perry said his challenges are to tell the story of a successful Texas, “defend the conservative values that made them possible” and “remain attuned to the threat of a federal government that continues to overreach,” as well as increasing its spending. “It is clear the Obama administration and their allies already have Texas in their cross hairs,” Perry said, referring to his expectations that national Democrats will support White.
In short, White will run away from Obama. He'll have all the money he could possibly want in order to fine-tune that image. He's objectively better qualified, with a more substantial record of public service, than anyone the Dems have run for state-wide office in years. And Perry does have some high negatives (some of which he's earned), even though he's now been spared the ordeal of further sniping from Hutchison in a run-off.
Do I think a White victory is likely? No and I think that by dodging the run-off, Perry has indeed made a giant stride toward reelection in November. But could a White win in November happen, even in Texas, even without some sort of miracle in Washington that makes Barack Obama suddenly beloved of all Texans? Yeah, it could happen. White will have to avoid drawing the wrath of those who voted "None of the Above" (i.e., for Medina) yesterday, which he can mostly do by not looking or sounding like Obama, by staying well clear of the national Democratic Party, and by continuing to at least mouth platitudes that are pro-business, anti-taxation, and fiscally responsible. And Perry will need to shoot off a few of his own toes or perhaps get caught in bed with the proverbial dead girl or live boy.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Debra Medina and Farouk Shami have done Texans a favor by proving themselves unqualified
From an AP report printed in today's Houston Chronicle:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, reeling from her remarks that questioned whether the U.S. government was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, on Friday blamed the ensuing firestorm on a "coordinated attack" that she speculated came from the campaigns of her better-known GOP rivals.
Medina also predicted "more of this" in her race against Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. She said there are no "high-profile kinds of scandals in my life that really are going to get people something to chew on. So they're going to have to make some things up."
"The political games we saw beginning to be played yesterday serve nothing but a diversion," she said, denying that her news conference in Houston — during which some questions were posed by Medina campaign staff seated among reporters — was an effort at damage control. "No. This is continuing doing what we've been doing, campaigning hard for months."
In response to a question Thursday from nationally syndicated radio talk show host Glenn Beck, Medina said there were "some very good arguments" that the U.S. was involved in the 2001 attacks that took down the World Trade Center and killed some 3,000 people. "I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that," she said.
Medina also has told a Dallas TV station that besides her questions about 9/11, she similarly has questions about Barack Obama's birth certificate (meaning his constitutional eligibility to be President).
According to the same AP report, the candidate who trails Bill White in the polls for the Democratic Party's nomination (but could also make a run-off if White pulls less than 50%) has also jumped aboard the grand conspiracies bandwagon:
On the Democratic side, gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami said Friday he also had questions about the involvement of the federal government in the terrorist attacks, saying "maybe there is no smoke without fire."
"We still don't know who killed John F. Kennedy, who's behind it," Shami said during an interview with Dallas television station WFAA. "Will we ever find the truth about 9/11?
"It's hard to make judgments. I'm not saying yes or no, because I don't know the truth."
Those aren't just wrong answers, they're disqualifying answers. Public servants, to be effective at all, must be able to make good judgments. Indeed, they must be able to make good judgments even with less than perfect and complete information. And that's especially true of those in the executive branches of government.
As a mere blogger, I've tried hard to avoid making a snap judgment about Debra Medina, in part because I think GOP politics have gotten sclerotic, and because I believe we desperately need new talent that's genuinely committed to old values.
Debra Medina wasn't ever likely to get my vote, though: I was too troubled at the complete absence of any record of prior public service from which we might conclude that she is qualified to do the job required of the governor of Texas. It didn't matter to me how good a game she talked, because there's a complete absence of any proof that she's competent at the most basic level to undertake the task of governing.
But Medina's political self-immolation over the last few days now leads me to affirmatively recommend, for whatever that might be worth and to whoever's reading, that conservative Texans vote against her. I don't much care whether you vote for Hutchison or Perry. Just don't waste your vote on this kook.
It's not just a distraction, but a willful and malicious waste of political energy to fight over Barack Obama's birth certificate at this point, folks. It's water that's not only already flowed under the bridge, it's evaporated out of the river, floated across the continent, turned back into rainfall, and been soaked up into growing crops that have already been harvested, eaten, and excreted. When there are so very many legitimate and genuinely urgent concerns about Barack Obama and what he's doing as President, I'd rather not hear another freaking word about his birth certificate not from anyone, not for any purpose, and most especially not from someone who is seeking my vote for service as a public official.
But the Truther stuff is far worse, at least as I judge things. For a public figure who wishes to be taken seriously, it's not enough to merely admit that radical Islamic terrorists flew the planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon; it is offensive and a mark of derangement to pretend that it's an open question whether the U.S. government was in any way complicit, either actively or through deliberate and knowing inaction, in the 9/11 attacks. State governors have serious public safety responsibilities. We can't afford to have in charge of the Texas National Guard, the Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Rangers someone who, as Texas state senator (and conservative radio host) Dan Patrick has reported (h/t Ace), thinks there's something suspicious about how policeman but not firemen were able to escape from the Twin Towers before they came down.
Medina's attempt to cast blame on her opponents for this kerfuffle is pathetic. Of course her opponents will make the most use they can of her screw-up Hutchison because Medina had become perceived as a threat to knock her out of second place, Perry because he hopes he might squeak in with a majority and avoid a run-off. With this Obama-like refusal to accept responsibility, Medina has compounded her original offenses and further demonstrated her lack of political stature.
Similarly, insisting that she's just vindicating the public's right "to ask questions" is entirely disingenuous. "I support free speech, including the right to espouse crackpot positions," one can say. But this sort of wink and nudge and phrasing of ridiculous accusations as "mere questions" can fool no one.
I don't blame anyone who's been taken in by either Medina or Shami. But I can't excuse or understand anyone who still sticks with them. It's time to re-think, and to realize that you've been looking at your candidate through the political equivalent of beer goggles.
No, one can't play footsie with the Truthers and the Birthers and expect to be a serious candidate. Anyone who can't see that lacks the minimal basic judgment necessary to hold a public office. Debra Medina and Farouk Shami have done Texans a favor by confirming that they're not serious candidates, not even for purposes of casting a "protest vote." It's time for these two to return to the political obscurity whence they came.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Is it Medina or "Neither of the Other Two" who's "coming on strong" for the Texas GOP gubernatorial nomination?
After a long blogging hiatus, I wrote last Friday about the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race. I was dismissive of the chances of GOP candidate Debra Medina, who's identified with both the Tea Party movement and, perhaps less closely, with the 2008 enthusiasts over Ron Paul's presidential candidacy.
Today InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds links a David Fredosso post in the Washington Examiner which, in turn, touts a Public Policy Polling report that "Medina is coming on strong," asserting that she's "now at 24%, just four points behind Kay Bailey Hutchison's 28%." Claiming to be a poll of "likely GOP primary voters," PPP's poll was apparently one of those telephone robo-polls.
Now, as I've written here before many times over many years: I hate polls and pollsters in general; I think they're pernicious and evil, that they've come to distort the American political process in ways that are usually bad, and that they're given undue weight by the media and pundits and (worst of all) by politicians. One of the things I liked best about George W. Bush throughout his presidency was that he absolutely refused to be driven by polls, in very dramatic contrast to his immediate predecessor in office. Agree with them and him or not, Dubya has principles, and he governed by them for the most part (albeit with some conspicuous exceptions, and he was most consistent with regard to his most passionately held principles, e.g., on matters of post-9/11 national security). I don't know or much care whether PPP is one of the "better and more honest" pollsters; as far as I'm concerned, that's like discussing "better and more honest" timeshare condo salesmen.
Accordingly, I'm especially skeptical of any poll that's automated and that relies on what is essentially offensively-oriented voicemail — using the word "offensive" there in both the sense of being unpleasant, and in the sense of being non-passive and intrusive.
But when you drill down into the actual polling questions and results, you'll find this question and answer that I think is hugely significant, but that PPP, Fredosso, and Prof. Reynolds all ignore:
Q5 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Debra Medina? If favorable, press 1. If unfavorable, press 2. If you’re not sure, press 3.
Unfavorable .................................................... 9%
Not Sure.......................................................... 51%
If there's a figure that's significantly understated in this entire poll, I suspect it's that last one. I would wager a Whataburger Patty Melt Meal, even a Whata-sized one with a milkshake and a hot apple pie, that nowhere close to 49% of likely Texas GOP primary voters could tell us one significant fact about Debra Medina other than, perhaps, at most, that she's not an incumbent state or federal politician.
I think that the appropriate interpretation of this poll, in the current political climate, is that most of the votes purportedly for Medina are actually for "Neither of the other two" — at least when the only other choices are Perry and Hutchison. Perry and Hutchison have been on the ballot over and over and over again; their names are extremely familiar to Texas voters in a year in which that's as much a curse as a benefit. Indeed, the poll shows that both Perry and Hutchison have roughly 50% job approval ratings, which I think is probably not too far off. But Perry has some high negatives — not all the voters who snicker at references to "Gov. Goodhair" are Democrats, and even some who like him are very uncomfortable with the ideal of a 10-year governor running for re-election — and Hutchison is widely perceived in some parts of the state as being part of the elite Bush-41-style RINOs who've been thoroughly corrupted by spending too long in Washington. (That's not exactly my own view of either of them, for what it's worth, but it's also fair to say that I'm not doing backflips over either's candidacy.)
It's very easy to blow off some steam in an automated telephonic robo-poll where pressing the button for an unknown or little known candidate costs you nothing. Taking the trouble to go to the primaries to cast a vote to match that phone button stab — whether as a protest or as a substantive endorsement of Ms. Medina's candidacy — is a whole 'nuther deal.
I can't rule out entirely the possibility, suggested by Freddoso and others, that Medina now threatens to beat out Hutchison for a spot in a GOP run-off, although I still think that's pretty unlikely. I wouldn't much mind seeing that happen, actually, if it served to help re-enforce the Tea Partiers' message to both major political parties that they can't just continue to give lip service to fiscal conservatism while spending like promiscuous frat boys at a strip club with Daddy's Amex Platinum Card.
But will a majority of Texas GOP primary voters actually cast their ballots, at the only poll which counts, for a political unknown with no prior experience in any public office — knowing that candidate will be running against a formidable and extremely well-financed Democratic candidate like Bill White? Nuh-uh, compadre. That's just not going to happen. Not in a state-wide race in Texas, anyway — not this year.
UPDATE (Fri Feb 12 @ 1:25am): As reader "Paul in Houston" commented below, Ms. Medina has, at a minimum, hit a speed bump when, in response to questioning on Glenn Beck's radio show as to whether the government was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, she answered: “I think some very good questions raised have been raised in that regard.” (DRJ has posted a transcript over at Patterico's.)
I'm inclined to agree with Ed Morrissey that her later written statement trying to walk this answer back is not very convincing, and Ed may also be right that the recent polling before this statement may have constituted "the apex of her political career."
If Ms. Medina had a track record of solid performance as a principled conservative in any public office, one might be inclined to say, "Oh, well, Glenn Beck he's a big-mouthed rabble-rouser who's just out for ratings," which is unquestionably true, and to assume that this was just an unfortunate misstatement by Ms. Medina, a "gotcha moment" in which we ought to credit her written retraction over her spontaneous answer in the Beck interview. But if we take politicians at face value, then we'd all have to believe that Barack Obama is absolutely committed to fiscal conservatism and to reigning in government spending. Deeds trump statements; absent deeds, spontaneous words trump carefully rewritten words.
Although I think Beck's usually a clown, he stumbles upon or makes real news from time to time, and there's no doubt that he's high-profile enough now that this incident will dramatically increase Medina's name recognition among Texas GOP primary voters. But I think it probably will diminish the odds of her making a run-off to nearly nothing.
Friday, February 05, 2010
Beldar handicaps Perry vs. Hutchison vs. White
Regarding Glenn Reynolds’ item, linking a Los Angeles Times blog post, about a new Rasmussen Reports Poll suggesting that in the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race, either incumbent Rick Perry, retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, or self-identified Tea Party supporter Debra Medina would defeat the likely Democratic challenger, Bill White:
It’s way, way too early to handicap the final Texas gubernatorial race with any confidence. But for now, as I see it, the two big questions are:
- Will the Hutchison/Perry mud-slinging during the GOP primary seriously damage either of them in a way that affects the general election?
— and —
- Will Bill White’s success as Houston’s mayor permit him to dodge his eventual GOP opponent’s efforts to tar him as just another tax-and-spend liberal Democrat who would be a close ally to President Obama and the national Democratic Party leadership?
(I mean no offense whatsoever to Ms. Medina, and I am, in general, very sympathetic to the concerns raised in the various Tea Party protests around the country. But both Hutchison and Perry will work very hard, during the primary and, for the winner, after, to lure those voters. Perry in particular is already emphasizing his non-Washington status. I expect either of them will adequately co-opt those voters, such that a newcomer like Ms. Medina is not likely to have much more than a symbolic and incidental effect on the Texas GOP primary or the general election in November.)
Although he's unconventional in many respects, Bill White is the most viable and attractive candidate the Dems have run for any state-wide Texas office in quite some time. I know Bill reasonably well: He was the editor in chief of the Texas Law Review in 1978-1979, one year ahead of the editorial board on which I served. A few years later when I was at Baker Botts, I was heavily recruited by him and his then-law partners at Susman Godfrey. I like him and I respect him. Bill is industrious and just wicked smart — as smart as anyone I’ve ever met, period.
Had he not been term-limited, and had he wanted another term, there is no doubt at all that Bill could have been re-elected as Houston’s mayor again by another overwhelming margin. I’m not one of the local politics mavens who bird-dog every City Council meeting, and Bill’s performance as mayor generated serious critics whose opinions I also respect. But I’ve never known him to be, nor seen any credible accusation that he is, anything less than basically ethical. I think he’s used carrots more than sticks as mayor, but with no more larceny in the carrot-distribution than what's probably the necessary minimum. Compared to, say, Chicago, Houston’s local politics are still amazingly nonpartisan and usually even non-controversial; there’s a positive passion for “business as usual” here in a city of amazing opportunity, and a mayor who can preside as a reasonably good steward over that process, without screwing up too obviously, will end up looking pretty good in hindsight. Bill certainly at least met that low hurdle. But in particular, Bill ended up looking both competent and compassionate in the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes — both as the leader of an involved civic neighbor during Katrina and, even more dramatically in contrast to New Orleans’ awful leaders, as the guy on the hot seat during Ike.
White is not a natural politician by any means — he’s utterly lacking in the slick charisma that Bill Clinton sweats and breathes, and his wonky professorial streak isn’t mixed with the same arrogance that Obama exudes. He still has a boyish directness that’s quite disarming — and it’s helped him translate his lack of political slickness into a net-positive feature for his successful mayoral campaigns.
Thus, I’m one of many conservative and Republican Houstonians who happily voted for Bill for mayor twice. I wish him well in life. I’m grateful for the good he’s done. Yet I will not vote for him for any state-wide or national office — precisely because he is indeed a devoted member of the Democratic Party.
White was a cabinet undersecretary (Energy) in the Clinton Administration, and he’s now running for a place on the political ticket (Dems) that hasn’t won a contested race in a Texas state-wide election since the early 1990s. I believe he’d govern as a progressive Democrat at either a state or national level, in a way that Houston’s local politics simply wouldn’t have permitted him, or anyone, to do as mayor. And I just have no confidence that he would — or would even want to — stand up against the leaders of the national Democratic Party; I just can’t see him defying the national party line on anything important.
Perry and Hutchison both have had extremely broad support — translating to easy victories — in their past races, but I don’t think either of them has a fraction of the depth of support that Dubya had when he was in the Texas Governor’s Mansion (or the White House, for that matter). And both Perry and Hutchison have done a good job at identifying the other’s most likely Achilles heel — Hutchison claiming that Perry’s too close to lobbyists and particular business interests, Perry claiming that Hutchison has become too much a Washingtonian and one of those GOP incumbents who were fiscally irresponsible to the point of recklessness. Both positions are caricatures, but the point of caricatures is that they rely on (and simply exaggerate) definitive, if superficial, features. The problem for Hutchison is that right now, most Texans probably hate the idea of federal spending more than just about anything, and certainly more than they hate mere lobbyists.
The Perry/Hutchison brawl, while enthusiastic and probably sincere from both sides, strikes me as something akin to a brouhaha over whether the S.M.U. Pony Band unduly insulted the Fightin’ Texas Aggies or their mascot during a college football halftime performance. If you're not heavily invested in either camp, the fight's entertainment value begins to fall off pretty sharply pretty soon. If conservatives are looking for targets to demonize, there are lots better ones around than either of these two — both of whom can legitimately claim to have reliably served most of their constituents quite satisfactorily in most respects, as reflected by the fact that they've both had easy re-elections. I suspect that most Texas Republicans wish they’d both shut up and just flip a coin tomorrow to decide which one will pull out of the primary. At least, that’s pretty much the way I feel. But some of the mud will probably stick, certainly enough to cost the eventual GOP nominee a few points in the general election — and that’s damned unfortunate, but I doubt it will be determinative.
Texas wasn’t totally immune to The One’s hopey-changitudinosity in 2008 — Obama didn’t do badly at all in Harris and Dallas Counties, for example, and had enough coat-tails to help Dems win a surprising number of local offices in both. But the bloom and its fragrance, real or imagined, is decidedly off that flower now. I don’t think even Karl Rove — whom Dubya reportedly nicknamed “Turd Blossum” for his ability to make political miracles from a stinky, messy situation — could turn an Obama connection into a political plus in Texas today.
I don’t mistake White’s lack of conventional political charisma as being political naïveté, and indeed, I suspect he can be adequately ruthless. But I doubt that ultimately he will be able to overcome the label of his party and the implied associations with Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Dean, Dodd, Frank, etc. — not in a big-money campaign against either Perry or Hutchison. Even with a positive record as Houston’s mayor to capitalize on, I just don’t see him generating the image of independence and strength that he’d need to run convincingly away from Obama. And on substance, even if he runs as what Dems would consider a “Blue Dog,” with a “conservative-light” platform that pretends allegiance to fiscal discipline and entrepreneurial values, there will still be plenty of issues on which he’s compelled to keep to the Left — among them social issues like abortion and gay marriage — that are still hot-buttons for some Texas conservatives and even some independents. (And yes, there are at least some of the latter; they're the ones who put Ann Richards into the Governor's Mansion after her ill-starred GOP opponent, Clayton Williams, fed her the ammo to paint him as a sexist good-ole-boy in 1990.)
So if forced to guess today — that’s what Professor Reynolds did with his post, he’s practically forced me to blog again with this early February guess about a November election! — my best guess is that the general election will come down to a somewhat weakened Perry, who will still overcome a White who can’t quite disassociate himself adequately from Obama and the national Dems.