Page Two

Bite the bullet and vote.

Page Two
What a shameful political season this is. Even Kirk Watson, whom I made note of last issue for sticking to issues, has stooped to mudslinging. If beings came from outer space to view the campaign ads of this election, they would wonder for which office the obviously evil "Enron" is running. Only Carole Keeton Rylander seems to have stuck to the high road, running on her record, personality, and ideas. It helps to have no opponent -- or, more accurately stated, it helps to have an opponent running on nothing more than his performance on the UT football team. Still, when was the last time this column singled out Rylander for praise?

We thought an all-time low had been hit by Ben Bentzin with his Barrientos DWI spot, but Governor Rick Perry outdid him with his implication that Tony Sanchez was somehow involved in the murder of a DEA agent. As the leader of the state, if Perry had any real information he would, of course, have an obligation to see that charges are brought. This isn't about truth or justice, much less honor; it is about getting elected. In a year of mud groveling, Perry has dug the deepest. Given his complete lack of political skills, this comes as no surprise.

The choice again is the lesser of two evils or, put slightly differently, the slightly better of two undesirables. I first became aware of Tony Sanchez during the Blanton Museum design fiasco. His behavior as a regent was disheartening at best (given the vulgarity of this season, one must carefully watch one's language, lest a phrase be taken out of context and used to trumpet or to bash in a political ad).

Any hesitations about Sanchez as governor disappear before Perry's pathetic performance in office. Vetoing 82 bills made it clear that, not only does he have no ability to govern, he has no real interest in doing so. Instead of politicking, talking, arm-twisting, and compromising his way through the session, he sat back and performed a wholesale slaughter. This illustrates not only what he didn't do during the session, but what he does do as well -- which is listen to others rather than govern. Bills it was assumed he was going to sign were dismissed. Obviously, this was the work of the lobbyists, political advisers, and special interests who have Perry's ear. These vetoes had nothing to do with the well-being of the people of Texas. One might argue that the very same forces were active in the crafting of the legislation, but at least the participatory process and democratic procedures were observed. Perry's has been an ineffective, incoherent administration by and for a very small, very empowered group.

I was surprised that Sanchez and his campaign did not make a bigger issue of these vetoes. They are such a clear example of Perry's failures as a political leader. I suspect this was because those career political consultants who discern the meanings of polls and focus groups figured voters liked vetoes, feeling that less government is always better than more government. The theory being that many voters never met a veto they didn't like (regardless of the real consequences of such an action on their lives).

Hesitations offered, we begin by accepting that gentle folks don't usually survive in politics. Going behind the scenes with the most folksy of candidates, you'll almost always find a calculating, driven, ambitious person whose respect and regard in dealing with other people is similarly brutal to that of the most overt political manipulator. There is simply a scale of theatricality that some participate in more than others. Sweetness and light should not be criteria for officeholders; those running who appear to have a greater quotient are usually just better actors.

The problem is that politicians have enormous impact on our lives. There is no way to get disgusted and walk away. We carry the political structure on our backs. Choosing not to be involved only means surrendering more control.

Sanchez will be a better governor than Perry; Kirk will be a better senator than Cornyn. Not only will they be more likely to support social programs over an aggressive special-interest agenda, but their very presence in office will slow the right-wing juggernaut that has determined that, rather than bravely venture forward into the 21st century, we should head back to the 19th.

Some choices are even easier. Regardless of opposition, John Sharp would make an outstanding lieutenant governor. Given that David Dewhurst is his opponent, there is no contest (ask any Republican of conscience). Choosing Kirk Watson over Greg Abbott (attorney general), John Courage over Lamar Smith (U.S. representative, District 21), Margaret Mirabal over Steven Wayne Smith (Supreme Court, Place 4), Ann Kitchen over Todd Baxter (Texas House, District 48), and Gonzalo Barrientos over Ben Bentzin (state Senate, District 14) are not simply votes against the greater evil, they are for the needed and functional good. The Commissioners Court, dysfunctional at best, will go straight to hell if Bob Honts or Gerald Daugherty is elected; these will be votes that citizens are paying for generations into the future. Neither Sherry Perry Gallo nor Mike Hanson is good news, but they don't represent the aggressive, destructive ignorance of the former two (the four together would equate to a direct nuclear hit on Travis County's infrastructure, however). Lloyd Doggett is safe, but he deserves the honor of your vote.

It is important to vote. This will be a close election. There is a huge and significant difference between Republican and Democratic candidates. Anyone who bought Nader's myopia last election only needs the past two years of the Bush administration as a sadly eloquent argument against it. We vote not just for the present and those running, but for the future. Too many good candidates, out of despair over the financial requirements and the intensity of personal attacks of current campaigns, won't run. Who can blame them? But perhaps a more significant turnout, indicating a more mobilized electorate, might encourage them. It is hard to imagine the choice of candidates getting worse. end story

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

mid-term elections, 2002 elections, Texas elections, Travis County elections, Kirk Watson, Enron, campaign advertising, Carole Keeton Rylander, Ben Bentzin, Barrientos DWI ad, Rick Perry, Tony Sanchez, Blanton Museum, Rick Perry vetoes, John Cornyn, Ron Kirk, John Sharp

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