Point Austin: Scenes From an Election Day

A snapshot of one primary day's political doings

Point Austin
Texas Independence Day began early, at a breakfast forum hosted by Leadership Austin out at Balcones Drive's Chez Zee (which could strengthen its coffee), where GOP consultant Matthew Dowd and the Texas Tribune's Evan Smith held forth on the state of the electorate and the likely outcomes of the day. Both were convinced that the only potential surprise in the gubernatorial race would be if Gov. Rick Perry might actually need to endure a run-off against Kay Bailey Hutchison. While Hutchison undoubtedly ran an astonishingly incompetent campaign, Smith pointed out that the Tribune's review of the poll history reflected that, despite media hype, the race was never in fact competitive – with only a couple of exceptions, polls stretching back to September showed Perry with significant leads, most in the double digits.

Both men also talked about anti-incumbency, anti-Washington fervor, although with the odd consequence that folks defined as "anti-Washington" in one election cycle can readily become the opposite in the next cycle, Hutchison being only an extreme example of the same. Perry, go figure, has spent his entire professional life as a Texas political insider – Democrat and Republican – and has become the longest-serving Texas governor by, once again, running as a rebellious outsider. And except for the awkward fact that the last Texan who managed the leap made "Texan president" a nationwide oxymoron, Perry would already be an inevitable frontrunner for 2012.

Gentle Chronicle readers, get a grip, but he may be still.

Dowd, since his belated apostasy from the Bush administration, has become a walking, ambivalent example of loss of faith, and he now sees the same thing everywhere. He described the increasingly volatile electorate as a consequence of rapid economic and technological change, polarized media politics ("confirmation bias") and polarized neighborhoods, and a generalized loss of faith in public institutions of all kinds: health care, media, financial institutions, political parties, and, of course, government in general. That makes for rapid swings in voting patterns, especially when the immediate results anticipated by folks accustomed to instant online consumption can't order "change" at their keyboards.

It's also worth noting that when a major media star, to rapturous applause, denounces the very idea of "community" before a nominally "conservative" political convention – as Glenn Beck did at CPAC last month – both public language and productive public engagement have been thoroughly and intentionally debased.

No news there.

Disco Inferno

On the Democratic side, Smith credited Houston hair mogul and Mansion hopeful Farouk Shami as, for reporters, the latest incarnation of Anna Nicole Smith – "the gift that just keeps on giving." The day before voting, Shami had released a rap song composed in his honor – "Farouk, Farouk, Farouk is on fire!" goes the infectious refrain – with presumably no sense of irony. On KLBJ-AM election evening, Texas Monthly's Paul Burka noted that Shami is that obscenely wealthy candidate who appears in Texas races from time to time, seemingly eager to have his green feathers plucked by expensive political consultants. Who knows – as an advertising campaign, the bump for CHI hair products might well have been cheap at the price.

Later in the day, I talked to state Sen. Kirk Watson, among the celebrants (and no small enabler) at the victory party for Amy Clark Meachum, and he was already eager for Bill White's fall campaign. "I'm not surprised at Perry's victory, and a longtime incumbent governor is simply very difficult to beat." But he noted White's quick and overwhelming victory in the Democratic primary and insisted that White's shot at a November upset against Perry is very real. "This state is looking toward the future, and the voters are looking toward the future," he said. "Perry is focused on the past. He's going to be running against a very successful candidate in Bill White, someone who has a record of getting things done, making government work, and making Texans proud. That's a winning combination."

Family Gathering

Speaking of winning combinations, the Meachum party attracted a goodly number of local Dem politicos who had shifted en masse to her campaign in the wake of the Jan Patterson controversy, which saw her attempt to shift, via a Perry appointment, from the 3rd Court of Appeals to a lower court – in what she hoped would be a shortcut to election. Watson had been a central player (as local senator, he rejected the appointment), and he declined to comment on Patterson's motives or her apparent political self-immolation.

Others were not so circumspect. Former state Rep. Glen Maxey, who filed an ethics complaint against Patterson (for apparently lying about her interactions with Perry), said that the reaction of the local attorneys to the Patterson story also reflected wider problems with her tenure as judge and her temperament. "She was basically attempting to give away the Court of Appeals to the Republicans," Maxey said, referring to the 4-2 split on the 3rd Court that would have followed a Perry appointment. "But it's also true that a lot of people had problems with her for other reasons, and this episode just brought all that out."

Maxey said Patterson had told an early Democratic endorsement meeting that there was nothing to the arguments against her, that it was all just the machinations of "Glen Maxey and the liberal mafia." On this night, it looked like most of the unacknowledged Family membership had indeed turned up in Meachum's camp – Watson, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, mayoral aide Matt Curtis, AFL-CIO city Rep. Jack Kirfman, and a long list of others. Meachum told the crowd: "I hope to earn the faith and respect as a judge that you have placed in me. Nobody's gonna work harder."

In the back, Maxey was beaming and proudly wearing a newly printed badge, sure to become the latest Travis County political collector's item: "Liberal Mafia."

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elections, Democratic primaries, Republican primaries, Evan Smith, Matthew Dowd, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Rick Perry, Bill White, Farouk Shami, Paul Burka, Kirk Watson, Glen Maxey, Amy Clark Meachum

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