Abbott Turns Open Records into Campaign Stunt

Meanwhile Davis savages Republican over "Baby STAAR" pre-K tests

Wendy Davis: Apparently Greg Abbott has worked out what party she's in.
Wendy Davis: Apparently Greg Abbott has worked out what party she's in. (Photo by John Anderson)

"Are you or have you ever been in the company of President Obama?" That's the gist of the latest oddball step from gubernatorial hopeful Attorney General Greg Abbott as his campaign attempts to paint his Democratic opponent Sen. Wendy Davis as … a Democrat.

Years ago, Abbott was regarded by many (including activists on the left) as OK on one issue, and that was on open records. Now, in one of the oddest Hail Mary plays of the nascent campaign season, Abbott's staff has sent an Federal Freedom of Information Act request asking for photos of Davis and Obama together on his recent visit to Austin for the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ School.

After starting her campaign on the back foot, Davis is now on the offensive, pummeling Abbott for an education plan that she argues adds STAAR-like testing for four year olds. She'll be in Austin today, hammering that point home.

Davis started her legislative career as a public school advocate, filibustering the 2011 state budget cuts to education, and now she's back on the education track. She has been taking Abbott to particular task on the substantive issue of his recent pre-K plan. While the consensus among the majority of education advocates is that early education is invaluable, Abbott's most recent education platform argues against immediately introducing full day pre-K for all and just posits a pilot program. Most damagingly, in the document, Abbott cites "Direct Assessments" (along with "Observation Checklists" and "Child’s Work Portfolio") as one way of assessing students. The paper clarifies that direct assessments means "norm referenced standardized tests."

So Abbott's response? Demand any and all photos of the president's closed door meeting with the senator.

In a way, this is a battle of dog whistles. Davis is fully aware that the climate has turned hard against standardized testing, and that's one of the few policy areas on which teachers unions and home school advocates, PTAs and right wing think tanks, agree. Meanwhile Abbott is appealing to a base that sees Obama as a secretive, cabalistic dictator.

In a statement accompanying the request, Abbott's Communications Director Matt Hirsch wrote, "Despite stating unequivocally just last month that she would not avoid having her photo taken with President Obama, this week Sen. Davis did just that."

In the request, Abbott's campaign manager Wayne Hamilton says that "we believe these photographs should be made public due to the fact that no media was allowed to cover this event."

So is Abbott expecting to find pictures of Obama and Davis Skyping with the Illuminati while bathing in goats' blood? Probably not. The game play comes in two halves. One, Hamilton cites the Obama administration's commitment "to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government." Clearly, calling Obama on transparency is red meat for the paranoia right, and Abbott has tacked further and further right all campaign. Two, in the early months of the campaign, Davis took flack for poorly handled media relations: That's a talking point that had faded in the last few weeks, supplanted Abbott's friendship with accused white nationalists/committed misogynist Charles Murray and political liability Ted Nugent. Now Abbott seems set on resurrecting that phantom of a closed-off Davis campaign.

The transparency issue is a dangerous one for Abbott: Davis has taken pot shots at him for avoiding press exposure, especially after he cancelled an education conference: Now education advocates are wondering exactly where he stands on the Baby STAAR proposal.

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Wendy Davis, Barack Obama, Greg Abbott, Charles Murray, Education, November 2014 Election, Civil Rights Summit, LBJ Presidential Library, Open Records, Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, Pre-K, Standardized Testing

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