Fri November 21, 2014 2:18 pm By Erica Grieder

Lots of news since I last checked in, from Texas and DC. We’ll have more posts next week, but in the interim, feel free to discuss the following, or anything else of interest, amongst yourselves.

1) On Tuesday Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, and Joe Straus announced a deal to extend funding to the border surge that began this summer. Brian Rosenthal has a summary of the deal at the Express-News: $86.1 million in funding will be redirected from various state accounts to support an expanded law enforcement presence (DPS rather than National Guard) until early summer.

Of particular note, I thought, were the comments offered by Perry and Dewhurst. “Texas has proven beyond any doubt that this border can be secured,” said Perry, in his statement announcing the extension. Dewhurst concurred: “In the absence of sufficient action from the federal government, the state of Texas has proven it is possible to secure the border, reduce crime, and combat the impacts of illegal immigration.” In other words, both Perry and Dewhurst are saying that as a result of the expanded operations and additional resources provided by the surge, the border is secure, at least in Texas. This is striking because of the longstanding conservative argument that immigration reform should wait until the border is secure–a valid goal, but a nebulous one, since there had previously been little agreement about the threshhold for “secure.” 

2) Separately–very separately–on Thursday Barack Obama announced executive orders which will protect some five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation, at least for the next few years, and allow many of them to work legally in the interim. The move was a response to what the president characterized as Republican intransigence; he is reportedly frustrated after having asked Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform since 2013, after his 2012 re-election campaign. 

Polls suggest that a majority of Americans are sympathetic to Obama’s policy goals, but skeptical of his approach here: just 38% approve of his decision to skip the legislative process. Republican leaders, of course, are more than skeptical, and the fact that national progressives are casually dismissing critics as crypto-racists does not bode well for expanded comity in Washington. 

3) Meanwhile, to the extent that Obama’s motive here is political–to win Hispanic voters to the Democratic party–I’m skeptical that it will work as intended for a number of reasons, including that in Texas, election results suggest that Hispanic voters do not necessarily respond to Hispanic-themed issues in the way that the national parties might predict–I’ll take a closer look at this next week. 

4) Meanwhile, Ken Paxton returned a pen

Wed November 12, 2014 4:17 pm By Erica Grieder

I’ll admit that I didn’t pay much (i.e., any) attention to David Alameel’s campaign for the United States Senate this year. Frankly, after the Democratic primary led to a runoff between Alameel (a multimillionaire dentist who had supported Cornyn in previous cycles) and Kesha Rogers (a Lyndon LaRouche activist who wanted to impeach Obama and industrialize the moon) it was hard to take that side of the ticket seriously. But I would like to call readers’ attention to the speech Alameel gave on election night, after losing to John Cornyn by a 27 point margin, in which he called for “an uprising” in the Democratic party. (The issue came up during the Q&A section of the Texas Observer’s post-election panel last night; audio is available here, for those who are interested.)

He devoted the first half of his speech to settling scores with the state Democratic party, arguing that they had actively undermined his campaign, first by supporting another candidate in the primary (presumably El Paso attorney Maxey Scherr rather than Rogers, as Kevin Diaz notes at the Houston Chronicle), and later by ignoring him altogether. Those accusations are hard to substantiate. It is true that he lost by a bigger margin than the other statewide Democratic candidates, even those whose campaigns were similarly low-profile. As Jim Hogan observed, his campaign for agriculture commissioner did about as well as Wendy Davis’s, even though he only spent $4,000 and didn’t hold any events. On the other hand Alameel was the only Democrat running in a top-tier race against an incumbent, and as mentioned, there were plenty of reasons to ignore the Senate race this year. 

While skeptical of Alameel’s arguments that the Democratic Party (and Battleground Texas, which he seems to treat as the same organization) hurt his candidacy specifically, though, he did make a provocative argument later in the speech:

These self-serving elites have failed us for over 20 years and they have the arrogance to assume that they can tell us what to think and what to do? Well, from here on, we’re going to tell them what to do.

The endless poverty in the Black and Latino communities, which are desperate for help, have been ignored by our party.

And I assure you that talking to them about abortion & gay marriage, or paying a short visit during election time, is not the answer for their struggle, and they remain totally uninspired.

With regard to social issues, Alameel may be overstating the case. Exit polls found that 66% of white women voted for Greg Abbott, compared to 39% of Hispanic women; that jars with the Republican argument that Hispanic voters, being disproportionately Catholic, are predisposed to be pro-life voters. As for gay marriage, as Eva Longoria recently observed, Hispanics in Texas tend to be young, and young people, regardless of ethnicity, widely support marriage equality. And Democrats will probably bristle at Alameel’s sweeping assertion that they don’t care about poverty. Many of them do; it’s probably fair to say that Democrats are more concerned about poverty than Republicans are.

However, Alameel’s gesturing at something that his party should take seriously, even if they don’t consider him part of their party. After years of one-party rule Texas Democrats are well-established as the people who aren’t Republicans–not necessarily a bad look, in light of certain Republicans. What the Democrats themselves are for, and what they would do if in power, is much murkier. Alameel’s specific point, that Democrats haven’t shown enough concern over economic issues is valid. That was certainly the case this year. Wendy Davis spent a day–one day–focused on raising the minimum wage, before turning her attention back to her upcoming book tour. Meanwhile, on election day, voters in Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Arkansas voted to raise the minimum wage in their states. There are so many factors behind this year’s Democratic clobbering that it would be silly to point to any one thing as the cause. But if the Democrat at the top of the ticket had run a more substantive campaign, perhaps she would have narrowed the gap a bit–it’s hard to see how it could have made things worse–and left the party in a stronger position for election cycles to come.   

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this, Jay Root over at the Texas Tribune reported about a January 6th memo warning Davis’s campaign manager that the candidate’s failure to set out a message meant that she was being portrayed as a generic national (aka liberal) Democrat, which risked damaging both the candidate and the party. 

Wed November 12, 2014 1:05 pm By Paul Burka

Alternative headline: Why there is not, never was, and will not be, a race for speaker in the upcoming legislative session.

The answer is that Joe Straus ran a classic big-tent speakership. He put House members to work long before the legislative session was even a gleam in his eye. He gave them assignments and the satisfaction of being on the inside and getting involved in major issues in the upcoming session, which is something every member wants to do. In doing so, he enabled the House to get the jump on the Senate by the time the session comes around in January. It was irrelevant whether the member was a Democrat or a Republican. Anyone who wanted to be involved in the work of the House had a chance to do so. And the members engaged in important issues, including a potential impeachment of Regent Wallace Hall and a restructuring of the Texas Enterprise Fund. Scott Turner’s challenge to Straus never got off the ground.

Tue November 11, 2014 8:08 pm By Paul Burka

After every major election, it seems I find myself writing an obituary for the Texas Democratic party. It’s not a true obituary, I suppose, since the Democrats are not exactly dead, just comatose. This year brought a rare combination of considerable early optimism by Democrats, followed by the worst pasting yet by Republicans.

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Tue November 11, 2014 2:30 pm By Erica Grieder

I spent much of the past few months trying to make sense of Dan Patrick, the state senator from Houston who will become Texas’s next lieutenant governor in January. The full profile, which will appear in our December issue, is online now. Here’s a representative excerpt:

“Right,” said Patrick. “But, Erica, I didn’t bring this up. In 2006 I was quoting a Centers for Disease Control report. And in this race, I’ve never brought it up—except when I was asked.” He continued, sounding indignant. “And the media would report it as ‘Well, Dan Patrick’s talking about diseases!’ They were really talking about something I said in 2006. And they never said, ‘Well, Dan said that eight years ago, and he was quoting the CDC, which is a nonpartisan group in Atlanta,’ as you know.”

Things had changed, Patrick added, since the Ellis Island days. Back then, any immigrant who was sick on arrival was summarily sent back—and yet now his opponents and the media were giving him a hard time for even suggesting that global immigration might present some public health considerations. “So tell me,” he said. “I think you owe it to me in this interview to tell me—you say I’ve changed my tone. Tell me where I have not been consistent on this issue.”

Read/discuss/don’t miss Jerry Patterson’s appearance in the comments thread!