Here Comes Trouble

If you think dan patrick has made a lot of noise as a radio talk show host, wait until he gets to the Texas senate—and starts his campaign for governor against his new boss, David Dewhurst.

I want to begin by telling you a story that may make me look small, but which, I believe, is instructive. In 2003 I was asked to sit on a panel to interview the three men running for mayor of Houston: Bill White, Orlando Sanchez, and Sylvester Turner. The other two members of the panel were a former political reporter for the defunct Houston Post and Dan Patrick, then as now a drive-time radio talk show host. Patrick, in his early fifties, was a very tall man with a reddish, open face, a pinched nose, and a thatch of brownish hair going white at the temples. He could not have been more polite or solicitous. Just as the program started, he turned to me and casually suggested the following: “Let me see your questions to make sure we don’t duplicate each other.” That sounded like a reasonable idea, so I handed over my list, which he scanned, nodding approvingly, and handed back with dispatch.

But when the program started, Patrick’s question to the first candidate was remarkably similar to the one I had shown him just minutes before. So was his second, to the next candidate. So was his third. In fact, Patrick, who went ahead of me each time in the rotation, replicated my questions each time, leaving me to scramble, dumbfounded, in search of new ones as I simultaneously tried to figure out what kind of person was sitting next to me.

Was it a coincidence, or had Patrick purloined my work? Was I naive or paranoid? Was this guy for real or a self-serving phony? More than four years later, I’m still not sure, but I have never forgotten that day, and I have resurrected this incident here because I think the same is-he-for-real-or-is-he-a-phony question about Dan Patrick is about to be asked by members of the Texas Senate, to which he has just been elected and as a member of which his political future will be determined. The stakes, for him, are high: If, as a freshman senator with no previous experience in public office, he can really deliver on his promises—to curtail legalized abortion, to lower property taxes, to close the border to illegal immigrants, and, most precarious, to work with his fellow senators and the Republican leadership—he has a chance to position himself to reach his presumed, if implausible, goal: to be elected governor of Texas in 2010. But if he becomes a victim of his own darker impulses—self-aggrandizement, self-immolation, a bristling hostility toward those who disagree with him—Patrick will be forever remembered as just another rookie who went to Austin with dreams of playing in the big leagues but couldn’t make the cut.

In other words, if there were a program guide to Texas’s

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