Down and Dirty

The Cornyn Culture

Cornyn began slinging the mud early and often. In one of the most curious attack ads in recent memory, he attacked Mattox for his verbal salvo at a fellow Democrat eight years ago. "Remember his opponent, liberal Jim Mattox?" says the ad. "Known as the junkyard dog of Texas politics, Mattox called Ann Richards a cocaine addict. Now you remember Mattox."

The ad brought howls of indignation from Richards, who asked the Cornyn camp to stop running them. (They refused.) In response to Cornyn's ads, the Mattox camp put out an ad of its own that brought howls of indignation from the Cornyn camp. The ad, which began running two weeks ago, charges that while Cornyn was on the Supreme Court he took half a million dollars in campaign contributions from lawyers with cases before the court. Cornyn doesn't deny that in some cases he took money from those lawyers. "I never intentionally took money from people with cases before the court," says Cornyn, who has been working hard to discredit a report released earlier this year by Texans for Public Justice called "Payola Justice: How Texas Supreme Court Justices Raise Money From Court Litigants."

The controversial report found that 40% ($3.7 million) of the money raised by the seven justices on the Texas Supreme Court between 1994 and 1997 came from lawyers or law firms that had business before the court. In a press conference last week, Cornyn claimed the credibility of the "Payola Justice" report "has been demolished." For that opinion, Cornyn is relying on a voluminous report called "Texas Justice Restored: A Response to Payola Justice."

The "Texas Justice" report, released this summer, rebuts many of the points raised in "Payola Justice." But what is intriguing about the rebuttal is that it was written by Andy Taylor, a Republican partisan who is a partner at the Houston office of the law firm Liddell Sapp Zivley Hill & LaBoon. Taylor also happens to be Cornyn's campaign treasurer. Cornyn's spokesperson, Michelle Kay, a former reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, says Cornyn didn't have anything to do with Taylor's report. "We didn't order it, organize it, or anything else. That was Andy wearing a completely separate hat."

Different hat or not, Cornyn has aligned himself with Big Business' efforts to limit the ability of citizens to file lawsuits in Texas against corporations. Last month, Cornyn took up the tort reform battle when he appeared before the Texas Supreme Court on behalf of asbestos manufacturer Pittsburgh Corning. Asked why he would appear before his former co-workers so close to election time, Cornyn said, "I have a family and I have to keep working." While that may be the case, Cornyn's platform appears to have come straight out of the Republican play book. His plans are to get tough on crime by "collecting child support, coordinating anti-crime efforts," and "protecting crime victims." Environmental protection is not mentioned anywhere on his Web site. Given Cornyn's stance on the issues, it's not surprising that his political strategist and direct mail consultant is Karl Rove, one of the most powerful Republican strategists in the state. Rove, who has worked for Gov. George W. Bush for many years, is an expert at raising money through direct mail. And that expertise will help Cornyn raise more cash than his Democratic opponent. The Cornyn camp has raised $5.3 million during the campaign while Mattox has raised $2.8 million.

Cornyn is spending heavily on TV, and his ads attack Mattox for associating with individuals who have gotten in trouble with the law. For instance, he skewers Mattox for being friends with Dallas businessman Danny Faulkner, a man who Cornyn's ad says is "now serving 20 years for fraud." With the attack ads, Cornyn hopes to close the huge lead that Mattox has over him. Last week, the Texas Poll reported that Mattox was leading Cornyn by 16 percentage points, 47 to 31. Kay disputes the poll numbers, saying that their internal poll numbers show Cornyn with "a slight edge over Mattox." She then cited a Mason-Dixon poll that showed Cornyn trailing Mattox by nine percentage points.

Mattox's lead is probably due to his wide name recognition. But some political pundits believe Mattox has been helped by Cornyn's ads. They point out that by calling Mattox "the junkyard dog of Texas politics," Cornyn may be convincing voters to support Mattox for his toughness. In some respects, after all, Mattox's platform is similar to Cornyn's. He, too, wants to address crime issues, collect child support, and police nursing homes. But he also includes phrases like "shutting down scams and rip-off artists, stopping abuses by HMOs and insurance companies" and "protecting the environment."

The Mattox Matrix

In 1961, Mattox was selling Bibles. Today, this Southern Baptist continues to view himself as a crusader. He told the Dallas Morning News, "I worship the Jesus Christ who took a whip and chased out the money changers. I'm still chasing them. There's a lot of money changers in the halls of government -- and they're not supporting me."

Neither are the state's big newspapers. The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman have all endorsed Cornyn. But Mattox's camp has been expecting that. Mattox's spokesperson, Audrey Duff (former politics editor at this paper), said that when Mattox hired her, he told her to expect opposition from the state's big papers. But then, Mattox has never been a favorite of the media. Instead, he has always run on a populist, take-no-shit-from-anybody kind of platform.

It's the kind of attitude you'd expect from a guy whose campaign office lies on the wrong side of the tracks. Whether Mattox can take that attitude from East Austin to more impressive state-supplied digs near the Capitol remains to be seen.

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