On September 19, a Friday night, Texans had their first chance to hear the two major gubernatorial candidates face off in a debate. Or, as was more likely, they could turn their attention to the start of high school football season. By the end of the canned battle, the press was disappointed that there were no missteps, and the rigid parley between Democrat Wendy Davis and Republican Greg Abbott was as predictable, and probably one-tenth as interesting, as an episode of the Biggest Loser. The only revelatory moment didn’t even occur during the actual debate. It came, as most revelations do, during a commercial break.
“Don’t choose a crony from the red team or the blue team. This time, go for the gold,” quipped a woman in a 30-second ad. Had an easy-to-remember phone number flashed across the screen twenty times, it could have been mistaken for a spot advertising a personal injury lawyer.
The woman was Kathie Glass, a lawyer who is running as the state’s Libertarian party candidate for governor. Just as revelatory that voters could actually vote for someone not named “Davis” or “Abbott” was the fact that Libertarians had actually managed to agree on something. Two things, actually: a candidate and a thematic color scheme, one that represents their affinity for commodity money, no less.
Glass’s ad, with a potential viewership of five million, was a jab by a true underdog. Davis might be on the double-digit ropes in the polls, but the debate’s organizers wouldn’t even let Glass into the ring.
So what would a debate featuring every Texas gubernatorial candidate look like? In short, a riveting cage match. Davis would again throw that wheelchair at Abbott; Abbott would play rope-a-dope; Glass would drop-kick both for being cronies. There’d also be a candidate cut from the “Keep It Weird” hemp-cloth of Austin, pounding the mat, as well as an empty corner, its designated MMA fighter so MIA it makes Mark Sanford’s Appalachian hike seems like NBD.
Whether they’re viable or not, it’s worth learning about all the candidates on the ballot. Street brawls aren’t pretty, but at least they’re democratic.
Kathie Glass produced her ad because she wasn’t invited to the first gubernatorial debate. Nor was she invited to the second debate a week later in Dallas. PBS’ local station, KERA, which moderated the September 30 debate, had told Glass’s campaign that she was “not newsworthy.” Granted, that was before Glass protested outside the KERA station.
“Big Bird came—because you know, Big Bird is PBS,” Glass told me, codedly. “And that was covered by the news. Well, you know, that’s an indication I’m newsworthy.”
It’s hard to argue that point. How many other convention-approved candidates for a state’s highest office have exercised their First Amendment right alongside a giant yellow Alaudidae? Despite the newsworthiness of that moment, farm-league candidates were hardly considered for either gubernatorial showdown.
“Third party candidates were discussed, and we quickly decided we wanted to just go with the two Democratic-Republican nominees,” said Carlos Sanchez, the McAllen Monitor’s executive editor and an organizer of the first debate. Over the course of two-hour meeting with the Abbott and Davis teams, “I would say all of thirty seconds was directed at that discussion.”
KERA considered an appearance by every candidate on the ballot, but they follow a loose list of criteria when deciding who gets to grace the stage. They look at obvious indicators like poll numbers (more than ten percent), numbers in previous elections, fundraising, as well as whether the campaign has a staff and has made other public appearances. But “it’s not like we tally up the numbers,” said Rick Holter, KERA’s vice president of news. “We look at each of those categories and make an overall editorial decision based on those categories.”
These vague benchmarks make some slight sense, but there are other variables to consider. Glass hasn’t hit ten percent in the polls because she can’t. “A lot of the polls just ask Davis/Abbott,” said Holter. It’s a vicious cycle for Glass. She isn’t considered, in part, because she’s placing poorly—if at all—in polls whose own slant is based on the coverage each candidate has received. I asked Holter if news organizations might see this as problematic.
“I’m not going to go there,” he said, with a chuckle. “I know what you’re trying to get and I would try to get it, too.” It’s impossible not to respect the candor in the evasive answer.
Despite the lack of coverage, Glass remains undeterred. She is, after all, an old hand. Glass ran in the 2010 gubernatorial race and placed third, with 2.18 percent of the vote. This time, she’s upped her game and turned it into a real professional outfit. Her campaign manager husband, Tom, does logistics. She has a full-time staffer with more than a dozen steady volunteers statewide. They’ve conducted “internal polling.” She even produced an ad in Spanish. And then there’s her ambitious tour through all 254 counties in Texas in a Straight-Talk-Express-sized campaign bus.
“We go to places and events and things and go visit the TV stations and newspapers. And that’s what we do [in every county]. We try to get coverage and get connected to an event,” Glass said. “In smaller counties there’s just nothing that we can really make happen there. But every county has a county courthouse.”
The campaign also stops at nearly every single radio station they come by. “I’m not talking about the talk radio shows. I’m talking the tiny rock shop, country-western, Christian music, whatever they’ve got there.”
Can Davis or Abbott claim to have chatted with KSTA, ”the voice of Coleman County, AM100,” or visited with the lovely voters in Loving County, the country’s least-populous county?
Yes, Glass has only raised about $141,000 (Davis raised about $6.8 million in nine months and Abbott has about $30 million left to spend on this race). And, yes, the top contributor for the Kathie Glass campaign is Kathie Glass with $101,000. But her attention to detail is impressive. Her campaign is almost obsessive in what it perceives the average voter will care about come election day. That means making a good impression. All the time. Like earlier this month, when Glass traveled to Austin for a live-stream discussion with Texas Tribune president and CEO Evan Smith, she opted not to drive the campaign bus through the city. “We thought we wouldn’t win any votes” that way, she said. She may have a point there. A cruiseliner on wheels navigating an already congested city during morning rush-hour, before annexing several downtown parking spaces, would not have endeared her to even Ayn Rand.
The Trib interview was a big deal for the campaign. Like a UFO, reports of her appearances in the sparsely populated counties appeared in the local publications. But this was the first time a respected, statewide powerhouse had turned its lofty gaze her way. Unfortunately, of the about twenty people in attendance, it appeared two or three were not associated with the campaign or media. Glass, however, had some real pro moments—the habit of a politician to repeat stump-speech lines (“I’m not a crony from the red team or the blue team”) and take credit for coining slogans that are less clever once they’re said aloud (“Nix Prop 6 … Operation Photo-Op”). During the 45-minute-long conversation, Glass presented herself as a libertarian purist who would get the government out of everything. Some libertarian-minded folks task themselves with the Sisyphean effort of dismantling governmental overreach brick-by-brick; Glass wants to bulldoze, presumably with private contracts, the whole structure to the ground. As someone who is a libertarian sympathizer, even I cringed during an exchange in which she said that if the Supreme Court issued a decision she didn’t like, she would simply ignore it. “I’m going to be guided by my own conscience,” she explained.
Smith followed up with what seemed an appropriate query: ”Are you running for governor or to be queen? Because this sounds like a monarchical view of government.”
“I’m sorry it sounds that way,” Glass replied. “It only sounds like that because we haven’t followed [the Constitution] for so long that it can seem extreme.”
Smith said he was “trying to take this serious.” But this was particularly hard since Glass would politely say, “I don’t know” when asked a question for which she didn’t have an answer. Real politicians never do that.
THE GREEN PARTY GUY
The Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate may stand for radical environmentalism, tofu in schools (all funded by money previous earmarked for the military), Occupy Everything, and Rage Against the Machine’s “Take the Power Back” as the national anthem. Or not. We may never know.
In theory, Brandon Parmer is listed as the party’s candidate for Texas governor, but he has not made a single public appearance and his relationship to the media is nonexistent.
“I’m getting a lot of phone calls for this guy. I think he was politically active,” said Dallas resident Lisa Fair, the woman whose number is listed as Parmer’s in election documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State. Fair has had the phone since March, and she’s intercepted about seven Parmer-related calls in the past two weeks. “If, by some means, I find his number,” said Fair with genuine Lone Star hospitality, “I’ll keep it on file for y’all.”
Messages sent to the ParmerForGov Facebook page (last update: February 20) were a no-go, too. At least there were photos. The person in them certainly seemed amicable to the Green Party’s principles. In one, the man wears bright green shorts. In another, a bright green hoodie. Based on the snapshot evidence, this man is a long-haired pogonophile who enjoys hipster glasses, eating cantaloupe, sporting fine-art hats in fine art museums, and sitting next to the occasional snowman. He owns a cat. Or, is not allergic to them. Or, is allergic to cats but doesn’t mind holding one domestic shorthair in particular. KERA’s Holter said they tried to make contact but heard, through whom it wasn’t clear, that the candidate might be traveling in Australia.
This is closest we may ever get to knowing Brandon Parmer.
Parmer’s home address in Dallas is—again, according to official paperwork— the grassy knoll of a neighborhood park. That’s not Google Maps’s fault. It’s a lovely neighborhood park. With the little blue GPS dot directly on the little red pin, however, it appears Parmer’s front door is a stone marquee that reads: “Oak Cliff Founder’s Park.” If Google somehow made a mistake (“do no evil … most of the time”), perhaps Parmer’s apartment, #901, was behind the gated complex directly across the street. This was not the case. An employee of that complex confirmed Apt. #901 does not exist.
The Green Party of Texas has a curious answer when asked if there’s some way—any way—to reach Parmer.
“Some of us would like to know that, too,” said Don Cook, the party’s apparent public relations liaison. He provided a number to another Green Party member who might know Parmer’s whereabouts. No luck.
Disappointing as all this was, Texas’s other gubernatorial candidate had plenty to say.
At first, the chances of speaking with the state’s only write-in candidate for governor seemed as likely as Brandon Parmer joining Twitter. The campaign’s Blogspot domain was down. Messages left on the candidate’s automated voicemail were not returned. Emails bounced back because the inbox was full. At least there was an actual address—a cozy, double-wide-styled house on the outskirts of Austin overlooking a bit of Texas Hill Country.
A sign in front—“Voter Registration” spray-painted on a large piece of plywood—was a fortuitous one. So, too, was the crumpled flyer on the near-vertical lawn.
Vote for Sarah M. Pavitt
for Governor of Texas
Break on Through To the
At the corners, the flyer included a picture of a bald eagle on top of an American flag backdrop, with the word “Imagine” overlaid on a peace sign and two pot leafs. God Bless America was written at the bottom. Scattered on the lawn were Halloween decorations.
Two Spanish-speaking workers building a new deck and an extremely large rooster under the old deck were the only ones around. The front door was wide open. Inside Fox News shone past what looked like the scene of an in-house tornado. Sarah Pavitt pulled up in her truck, and stepped out wearing a black tank top and a smile. If she had been included in likability polls, Pavitt’s numbers would’ve been through the roof.
“I cuss like a sailor,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
Pavitt, 51, is a seventh-generation Texan. She spent eight years in the army (non-combat) before being honorably discharged. Four ex-husbands have taught her to never let a man tell her what to do with her own body, this includes Greg Abbott and the Republican-heavy (and male dominant) Legislature’s attempt to enforce the state’s recent abortion restrictions. She’s also a first cousin to incoming University of Texas chancellor, Admiral William H. McRaven, former head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, though she doesn’t sound like his biggest fan. “I’m on his ass for a reason. He knows why,” Pavitt said. A McRaven spokeswoman confirmed that the two are, indeed, cousins. She said McRaven hasn’t spoken to Pavitt in the past forty-odd years, after first responding with question of her own: “Do you know her?”
Becoming a write-in candidate for Texas governor requires 5,000 signatures or $3,750. Since Pavitt’s basic campaign strategy is “sitting back and [getting] into it in the fourth quarter, like a football game,” she paid the fee. “My friends think I’m crazy to run,” said Pavitt, “but I’m bipolar.”
Apart from putting $3,750 of her own money into a broken and corrupt system, Pavitt doesn’t seem all that nutty. She’s pushing for legalization of marijuana because, yes, like millions of Americans she enjoys getting high, but also because it provides medical relief. The VA doctors had her on medications, the antipsychotic Risperdal, which has a whole smorgasbord of side-effects (Parkinson-like symptoms, drooling, constipation, vomiting, etc.). “Risperdal is the one making men grow tits. And I said, ‘if it’s doing that to guys what do you think it’s going to do to me?’” (The answer, I discovered, is amenorrhea, which in English means no menstruation.)
She also supports physician-assisted suicide, a plank that’s rooted in a deeply personal experience. “My mom died a terrible death of Parkinson’s. We suffered a lot.”
Pavitt is practiced in hand-to-hand politics, too. She worked for Representative Lloyd Doggett three years ago and volunteered for Wendy Davis before “she pissed me off.” Apparently, Davis “bolted” when Pavitt once tried to talk to her about marijuana. Then came the limelight and greed.
“You can’t even email her, she’ll go gimme money, gimme money, gimme money,” said Pavitt. “And I thought, ‘you’re supposed to be representing the people. Some of us don’t have money.’ Like I say, she got off the mark. I don’t even know what she represents because all she does is bitch about Greg Abbott and that’s not helping.”
Pavitt’s fighting the VA. She’s fighting Davis. She even had a disagreement with the local chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which, she says, “ditched” her after she asked for their support.
Rather than be angry and become disillusioned, Pavitt stayed angry and got involved in a way that’s all-too-relatable. “I’m not planning on probably being governor. I just wanted to screw with them.” But even Pavitt follows the rules. Her campaign flyers, which she’ll pass out soon, are all stamped with “Political Ad Paid for by: Sarah M. Pavitt,” as is required by law. “If you don’t take care of it, they fine you $5,000. I’m trying to do everything legal.”
If she does get elected, Pavitt said she will “light that bong up and tell everybody they can smoke marijuana.” And if she doesn’t? “I’m going to lay up [on my new deck] naked and smoke marijuana.”
In other words, no matter the final tally, a campaign promise will be kept for once.
Like Pavitt, Glass knows she probably won’t win. When asked if she is prepared for an almost certain defeat, she relents. “I’ll say I’m a long shot. We’re going to do the best we can and hope for the best and then we’ll just keeping fighting the fight.”
At the very least, Glass expects to do better than 2010’s 2.18 percent. But doing better is still an almost assured loss. Why do it? Glass did not hesitate.
“I will not except failure. I can’t accept failure. You know people of the Alamo were a long shot and they didn’t make it but they set the ground for the Texas Revolution and changed the course of history,” she said, describing, too, with poetic flair, the Texas Army Rangers who scaled Pointe du Hoc on D-Day. “And so that’s another thing in our Texas history. We just don’t accept long odds as a reason not to try.”
Had that answer been uttered by a “real” candidate, it would almost certainly come off as cynical claptrap. Coming from a true underdog, however, it almost gives hope to the idea of democracy, that Great American Brawl.