A Petty Turn in the AG Race
Wed March 19, 2014 1:54 pm

Yesterday the Dan Branch campaign for the Republican attorney-general nomination sent out a press release that I found somewhat troubling.

The missive is a response to a request for comment campaign spokesman Enrique Marquez received yesterday from Michael Quinn Sullivan. Sullivan is best known as the president of Empower Texans, but recently he’s been moonlighting as a columnist for Breitbart Texas, and it was in that capacity that he emailed Marquez, seeking comment from the Branch campaign. “Pro-lifers say Branch’s amendment in 2005 would have allowed third-trimester abortions of viable babies,” wrote Sullivan. “…They further note that only pro-abortion Democrats and a few moderates supported his amendment in 2005, as evidence that it was a bad amendment.” Did the campaign have any comment, he asked?

The issue, for the Branch campaign, was that in his capacity as the president of Empower Texans, Sullivan had endorsed Ken Paxton, Branch’s opponent, and the Empower Texans PAC has given a lot of money to Paxton. In other words, Sullivan is clearly not an unbiased reporter. That was the issue the Branch campaign emphasized in the headline of the press release: “Branch Campaign Responds to Michael Quinn Sullivan Acting As Reporter For Breitbart News.”

That’s not, however, what I found troubling.

It’s true that Sullivan is biased, and that his biases distort his reporting. In 2012, for example, he touted the fact that state representative Sid Miller would face a runoff as one of the reasons that that year’s primary was “a very good night for conservatives!”; earlier this year, his group endorsed Miller—who had left the House after losing the primary runoff in 2012, presumably to Sullivan’s satisfaction--for the Republican nomination for ag commissioner. That was odd. It’s a free country, though. The First Amendment protects Sullivan’s ability to say what he thinks, credible or otherwise, and all things considered I applaud him for offering his opinions in a public forum.

What I found troubling is as follows.

Sullivan is asking a question about an amendment to an amendment that Branch proposed in 2005. The original amendment—the amendment that Branch’s amendment sought to amend—banned abortions in the third trimester, except in cases where the fetus had been shown to have irreversible brain damage. Branch’s amendment would have also allowed exceptions in cases of irreversible vital organ damage. This has supposedly raised concern among pro-lifers, because it means that Branch was, at least at the time, in favor of allowing women to seek late-term abortions in certain cases.

However, Branch’s amendment wasn’t adopted. The original amendment—banning late-term abortions except in cases where the fetus had irreversible brain damage--was adopted, with support from Branch and Paxton and the rest of the House Republicans. And practically speaking, it doesn’t matter, because the law in question has since been superceded by more restrictive laws, including the one passed last year that bans all abortions after the 20th week of gestation, which was also supported by Branch and Paxton. If this is the strongest evidence against Branch’s pro-life credentials, pro-lifers don’t have much to worry about. It would be like worrying about the fact that Paxton didn’t call a point of order on Wendy Davis’s filibuster last summer.

More importantly: Texas has about 27 million people, roughly 5 million of whom are children enrolled in public school. We have six of the 20 biggest cities in the country, and a 1200-mile international land border. We have some of the highest property tax burdens in the country, and some of the worst wealth metrics. Our water supplies are ominously low, and our roads are not in good repair. I get that it’s campaign season, but a failed amendment to an amendment to a 2005 law which has since been made redundant is not, by any defensible criterion, an issue of critical importance to the state of Texas.

( AP Image / Will Weissert )

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