Point Austin: What's Next?
A day or two for cheering, and then back to work
Until Tuesday, my favorite moment of the campaign was our esteemed governor announcing that yes, indeed, he believes that non-Christians are bound for eternal damnation. That was following Perry's prayerful appearance Sunday beside fanatical millionaire evangelist the Rev. John Hagee at San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, where Hagee declared cheerfully, "If you live your life and don't confess your sins to God almighty through the authority of Christ and his blood, I'm going to say this very plainly, you're going straight to hell with a nonstop ticket." Asked by The Dallas Morning News if he agrees with Hagee, Perry said, "In my faith, that's what it says, and I'm a believer of that."
Perry would later qualify his enthusiasm for damning the infidels with: "[The] caveat there is ... an all-knowing God certainly transcends my personal ability to make that judgment black and white." Nice of the Gov to acknowledge at least one higher power (apparently a Presbyterian). I do wish the reporters had asked him if he also subscribes to Hagee's well-known, bloodthirsty advocacy of pre-emptive war with Iran, putatively in support of Israel not because Hagee gives a damn about Iranians or Israelis (all hell-bound anyway), but because he considers such a war the necessary preamble to Armageddon and the triumphant return of the Messiah. In a sane country, Hagee would frankly be certifiable, but in this one, his burgeoning suburban congregation of Taliban Christians is a required pilgrimage for GOP candidates.
While I was pondering that grotesque comedy, up popped our old state House friend Rick "Focus Factor" Green, returned to well-deserved obscurity since 2002 but so angry at the current House District 45 campaign of Dem incumbent Patrick Rose that he tried to start a fistfight with Rose right in front of the Baptist church polling place. Apparently, the Rose campaign distributed a flyer pointing out that GOP candidate Jim Neuhaus was recruited and supported by the "corrupt" Green and poor Ricky was so pissed he took a poke at Rose, shouting, "Stop the lying!"
I feel a little sorry for ol' Ricky Rose would still have won easily without sticking new pins in him but on the other hand, I sort of hope they bring him back again in 2008. He's always good for a laugh.
Not so amusing was Kinky Friedman's ignominious exit from "politics" a word that always appeared in his campaign as if between sneer quotes, like reflexive Republican contempt for "government." Tuesday night, Friedman angrily refused to concede, declaring instead he might form a "shadow government" (see "Kinky Says Farewell," p.26). Although he was always an extreme long shot, Friedman seems to have convinced himself that he was actually going to win and was thereupon shocked and insulted that nearly 90% of his fellow Texans were so ungrateful as to reject his gift of Himself, the Good Shepherd. One fully expects his next public statement will conclude, Nixon-like, "You're not going to have Kinky Friedman to kick around anymore."
A few observers, Chronicle readers among them, have instead described Friedman as the Ralph Nader of this campaign because his 12% of the overall vote presumably could have made the difference for Democrat Chris Bell, who ended with a respectable 30% to Perry's 39%. Alas, that presumes that a solid three-fourths of Friedman's voters were disaffected Dems, a real stretch when you consider that beyond biodiesel and casinos, Kinky effectively ran a budget-slashing, border-militarizing, Republican-lite campaign.
The numbers would indeed have been tighter without Kinky, but Perry still very much held the upper hand. The real miracle was that Bell ran as well as he did despite being largely abandoned by traditional Democratic kingmakers, many of whom bolted early for Strayhorn, until it was far too late to undo the damage. It's frankly disheartening that in a year when a national Democratic wave reached as far as Dallas County, the state party was too preoccupied with unseating the governor to mount a serious statewide campaign.
Four more years.
Time Enough to Cheer
But there remains plenty to celebrate, if only for a few days, even down the street at the Capitol. The Dem pickup of five or six House seats (at this writing) is a harbinger, but even better is that all of the candidates supported by the bipartisan Texas Parent PAC won their races. That means, at bottom, that GOP-leadership discipline on public education votes can no longer be enforced by House Speaker Tom Craddick (who may himself be in trouble). It also means Rick Perry can officially say farewell to public-school vouchers, as can his voucher moneybags James Leininger. Note to Lege: It's long past time to start fully funding the public schools, as required by the state constitution.
The local cherry on that sundae was Valinda Bolton's victory in House District 47, where she defeated not only Bill Welch but the late money of Leininger, Bob Perry, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and Craddick himself. Nothing like forcing the landed gentry to wager half a million bucks in laundered late money only to lose it all on a desperate throw of the dice. They're rich, they're pissed, and they never get tired but for the moment, all they can do is lick their expensive wounds.
We can soon enough start cussing the Democrats, here and nationally, for their inability to make the most of their victories and for lacking sufficient stomach to live up to the real needs and passions of their grassroots supporters. For the moment, we can echo Bolton's victory moment: "I'm excited, I'm enthusiastic, and I'm just beginning to realize that a whole new phase of my life is about to begin."
For a few days, at least, it's possible to believe it.