Mon August 11, 2014 2:52 pm By Erica Grieder

On Friday, Wendy Davis released a 60 second TV ad--her first TV ad in this year's gubernatorial campaign, and the first campaign ad I can think of that's caused me to ask myself if this is the kind of situation where an outbound link should be accompanied by a "trigger warning." Trigger warning, just in case: the ad, which you can watch on YouTube, relates to a 1993 rape case, and includes a few moments of dramatic re-enactment. 

At issue is how Greg Abbott responded to the case in 1998, as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court. The rapist was a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman working for an independent contractor that distributed Kirby vacuum cleaners. The victim had sued Kirby for damages, arguing that Kirby had a responsibility to screen its salesman, but Kirby disavowed any liability, because the rapist was employed by the distributor, not by Kirby. Six of the justices agreed that the victim should have the right to sue Kirby itself. Abbott was among the three who dissented. (See Christy Hoppe at the Dallas Morning News and Gardner Selby at PolitiFact Texas for more details on the case itself.) 

I had a mixed reaction to this. As a moral question, of course Kirby had some responsibility in this situation. The fact that the company had shunted the business of actually selling the vacuum cleaners to independent contractors, and sought to wash its hands of any problems that might result from that model, makes them more culpable in that sense, not less. Legally, too, the Court's decision strikes me as the correct one. Abbott notes in his dissent that Kirby's contract with the distributor explicitly stated that Kirby wouldn't control the hiring. The majority opinion sticks closer to common sense: insofar as Kirby's business model was based on in-home sales of Kirby vacuum cleaners, Kirby had a "duty of reasonable care" to take some precautions against dispatching violent sexual predators into sedate suburban homes.

All of that being the case, I can see why Davis would cite Abbott's dissent as evidence supporting an argument that her opponent has, throughout his career, been systematically cavalier about consumer protections and public safety and overly lenient to monied interests. She's touched on that argument at previous points in the campaign, as in July, when the campaign cheerfully made hay over Abbott's inexplicable suggestion that Texans worried about where explosive chemicals are stored can "just drive around" their town and ask people. 

But that's not exactly what Davis is doing here, is it? The ad--its title, bizarrely, is "A Texas Story"--refers to that line of argument in its final frames, with a few words float up: "Another insider. Not working for you." But nothing in the ad establishes, or even suggests, that Abbott had any cronies or donors at Kirby. The implication of the ad, with its somber gray palette and stalker-cam angles, is that the attorney-general is some kind of rape apologist. "Thank God this time Greg Abbott lost," the narrator intones at the end, as the camera pans over a yard littered with symbols of shattered innocence (capsized tricycles). Yikes. I'm glad the woman was allowed to sue Kirby in the end, but "Thank God" makes it sound like Abbott wanted to give the rapist a pardon and a reference letter for a job as a high school volleyball coach. 

I can't shake the feeling, then, that this ad is sort of a seance intended to summon the ghost of Claytie Williams. It's not a foolproof strategy, for several reasons. Abbott is not Williams; the election is less than three months away; most polls show Abbott leading by double digits; Williams, come to think of it, is not dead. Still, at least it's a strategy, and whether Davis's ad is in good taste is a different question from whether the ad will be effective. On the latter front it may be more successful. Certainly it's received more attention than Abbott's first TV ad, which features a testimonial from his mother-in-law. 

Read More
Wed August 6, 2014 11:43 am By Paul Burka

With three months to go until the general election, there isn't much reason to talk about the governor's race. It's over. In fact, there was no governor's race. The only good day Wendy Davis had was the contretemps with Abbott over his keeping the location of dangerous chemicals secret, an exchange that Davis clearly won. Otherwise she has little to show for her efforts.

Read More
Tue August 5, 2014 11:36 am By Paul Burka

To close this discussion, I simply want to say one thing: This was completely predictable. There was no reason to send the National Guard to the Border. There was no mission. There was no objective. It was just political theatre to make Rick Perry look like he was doing something, which of course he was not, because there was nothing useful the National Guard could do.

Read More
Mon August 4, 2014 11:32 am By Paul Burka

Wouldn't it be nice if Texas were to catch up to the modern world, for once? I'm addressing the issue of same-sex marriage here. What's the use of fighting for a policy that without question violates the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws? In fairness to Greg Abbott, he knows he's licked, but he has to try to justify the unjustifiable to satisfy parts of his constituency.

Read More
Mon July 28, 2014 10:54 am By Paul Burka

Rick Perry likes to say that the reason the Texas economy performs so well is because of the quality of the state’s work force, the reasonableness of regulations pertaining to business, and the passage of tort reform in 2003. I’ll grant him his evaluation of the work force and the importance of tort reform. But when it comes to the reasonableness of regulations pertaining to business, that’s a different story. For instance, consider this story from the July 24 edition of the Dallas Morning News:

Two families are calling out the Texas Department of Insurance for not protecting ratepayers hit with a 75% increase in their premiums for long-term care insurance. They raise a valid question. Is the Texas Department of Insurance an ally of the insurance industry or an ally of consumers. Is the agency so limited in its powers granted by lawmakers that it can’t stop rising costs. Texas granted a 75% increase, compared with other states that approved a 20 or 25% increase when requested by Allianze Life Insurance Co. of North America.

Read More