Point Austin: Outside Looking in

Not much comfort – or leadership – on the GOP ballot

Point Austin

Yours truly drew the short straw this week and found himself anchoring the News staff commentary on the Republican primary ballot (see "A GOP Sampler: Primary Highlights"), always a sobering exercise. We Austinites tend to congratulate ourselves on our progressive political sentiments, partly by contrast to the rest of Texas, which is an endless source of incoming political refugees who matriculate at UT, gradually lose their taste for provincial suburban life, and never leave.

Where is their Flaubert?

Not hiding at the Austin Amer­i­can-Statesman editorial board's Bat Cave, where they threw a snit this week at Lite Guv David Dewhurst, who declined to talk to them: "We ... cannot recommend [for U.S. Senator] a candidate who plays hide-and-seek with the public by limiting his contact with voters to controlled events and media buys." Instead, they endorsed former state solicitor Ted Cruz (a "consistent, compelling conservative"), thus climbing onto the Sarah Palin/Ron Paul/tea party/Cruz bandwagon. Cruz's father (they report credulously) has a "compelling" immigrant story.

So why didn't they endorse Cruz's father over his careerist son?

The Statesman's "genuine article" has legally and ideologically defended every crack-brain GOP anti-democratic crusade, from racial gerrymandering to voter ID, as well as (the editors recount admiringly) defying international law on the legal rights of noncitizens. Of course, on Sunday, the daily's senior political commentator, Ken Herman, was dismissing voter turnout as a contemptible issue ("I don't care how many people vote. I don't care how many people don't vote. I don't care who votes.") and making a helpful technological case for voter ID, as well: "I bet some kid with a computer could figure out how to merge those [driver's license photos] onto voter registration cards."

Sort of makes you wonder how the state capital daily came to promote a smugly ignorant, condescending cynic to its first chair in political commentary. Also makes you wonder why the paper's online trolls keep denouncing it as a "lamestream liberal rag." Maybe embracing Palin's current favorite Texas Republican will buy the editors a little more conservative street cred, but I doubt it.

Lots of Dark Shadows

But I was considering the state of Texas politics as reflected in the Travis County GOP primary ballot, almost entirely a vast wasteland, from Rick Santorum at its zenith to the five reactionary referenda at its nadir, promoting "school choice," untrammeled public prayer, freedom from health care, and so on. Considering this ballot, you can somewhat comprehend the Statesman's predicament: Commercially bound to address as wide a demographic as possible, they have to find somebody to endorse among a senatorial list that begins with football crank Craig James and ends with Magnolia undertaker Glenn Addison. Stiffed by Dewhurst, one supposes the editors settled on Cruz as a known quantity and local boy made good – settling upon a "no-frills, no-apologies conservative" should only help get you media access in the next session.

That's not to say the Democratic ballot doesn't have its share of cranks and hobbyists. But at least above constable level, the Dem cranks aren't generally frontrunners, while on the GOP side, you can pretty well presume that those polling most strongly either understand their need to appeal to a base firmly convinced that the incumbent president is a Muslim – or else they already believe it themselves. On the cynical end of the spectrum, you get public officials like Dewhurst, who hasn't expressed a real conviction beyond self-promotion in decades and, now that Kay Bailey Hutchison has finally stepped aside, is indeed ready to buy that next promotion. And on the passionate end, you get folks like former Precinct 3 county commissioner Gerald Daugherty, champing at the bit to return Southwest priorities to poured concrete: real estate and highways. Somewhere in the middle is none other than longtime state Rep. Warren Chisum, ready to move on from symbolic ideological battles over gay sex and contraception to his real work, directly representing the oil and gas industry on the Railroad Commission.

Education and Health Care

Where does that leave the rest of us – or more specifically, those of us Austinites living in internal exile from the red-state tidal wave down at the Capitol? Well, the public schools remain under political and financial siege, such that the most rational people on the GOP ballot are two candidates running for the State Board of Edu­ca­tion, hoping to find enough suburban voters who understand that their local school districts (not to mention already destitute rural ones) are being starved, and that "intelligent design" won't pay the bills. At the same time, Texas women have been targeted in the name of both "fiscal responsibility" and "the unborn," when the real aim is to undermine the very notion of the common public good (which must be paid for) in favor of a winner-take-all ethic that values imaginary "job creators" above the people actually doing the work.

Perhaps there's a political coalition yet to be formed, to be led by angry women and alienated independents, anchored among politically abandoned minority voters whose numbers continue to grow. It's certain that until we get those folks voting in sufficient numbers, when it comes to state politics, Austin voters will be looking in from the outside.

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GOP ballot, election, Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Austin American-Statesman

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