Point Austin: Primarily Texas
Musings on the day after a frozen vote
Congratulations to the winners.
Let that uncontroversial lead open the entirely premature discussion of Tuesday's Texas primary elections. It's still too early to tell – but pundits are already heaping dirt on the Democrats' and gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis' fall chances. They were never very good in the first place – barring a miracle not yet in evidence, this remains a Republican state – but the relatively lower statewide Dem turnout and Davis' failure to win some South Texas counties (over Corpus Christi political hobbyist Ray Madrigal) are being pointed to as more evidence that the state Democratic Party is still not ready for prime time. That, too, is probable – but the notion that the South Texas Hispanic vote is going to lurch GOP-ward in November is horse-race reporters' wishful thinking.
Certainly Davis' team is learning quickly that running statewide is very different from running in Fort Worth with a local political brand name. In some quarters, she might well be perceived as a single-issue candidate – which the GOP's unsubtle "Abortion Barbie" campaign will try to confirm – but she's got the better part of a year to undo that impression. She's already begun emphasizing education on the stump; my early guess is, by the fall, voters will have a much fuller notice of who she is and what she's about, and moreover, Dem voters won't stay at home presuming she's a shoo-in.
More alarming was the second-place finish of Lyndon LaRouche-ite Kesha Rogers in the Dem Senate race, meaning she'll have another couple of months of free media publicity to spread conspiracy-mania and related nonsense before being dispatched by David Alameel. With five candidates in the race, a run-off isn't surprising, but it calls attention once again to the party's inability, over the last couple of decades, to develop a trusted bench with electable candidates. Every new campaign, the search starts again from scratch.
No Bridge Too Far
Beyond that, Texas Republicans have their own problems. As expected, Attorney General Greg Abbott had no trouble dispatching his ragtag opponents, and the same is true of Sen. John Cornyn – although a 60% showing for a longtime incumbent is not exactly dazzling, he didn't get Cruz-ed after all. The real GOP mania showed in the Lite Guv race, where Sen. Dan Patrick handily trounced incumbent David Dewhurst, 41% to 28%, in what amounts to a replay of Dewhurst's hapless showing against Ted Cruz himself.
On actual policy questions, there's no significant difference between Dewhurst and Patrick, but every time we think the GOP can move no further to the right, they manage to do so. (Witness all four of the candidates declaring that the only possible medical exception for abortion should be the life of the mother – neither rape nor incest now make the ideological cut – laughably outside the mainstream, even in Texas, but now subject to Tea Party discipline.)
Where radio talk-show host Patrick stands out – in addition to the fact that he's simply "Not-Dewhurst" – is that in keeping with his latest chosen trade, he's a Gantry-type huckster. GOP primary voters don't mind that he's patently fake in mannerism and rhetoric, and carries a history of failed and even hypocritical (i.e., immigrant-staffed) businesses. On abortion, immigration, education, etc., he spouts the hysterical talk, and that's all that matters. For AG, they chose mad-right Ken Paxton (44%) over generally pragmatic Dan Branch (33%) for the same reasons (although it's at least dimly possible that Branch can garner enough of Barry Smitherman's 22% to catch Paxton in the run-off). Similarly, the ideologically purist Glenn Hegar (49%) is the de facto nominee for comptroller over the more realistic Harvey Hilderbran.
Right now, it's simply impossible to run too far to the right in a GOP primary. As the state demographics shift, that may spell long-term doom for the future of the GOP. But where most of us live, in the middle term, it means a continued reactionary system of state governance, with little sense of broader obligation to the common good.
All in This Together
Any hopeful signs? Well, there's at least an outside chance that this is finally the Year of the Woman, with Davis and Leticia Van de Putte heading the Democratic ticket, and, at the local level, the ascendance of Sarah Eckhardt and Brigid Shea in the Commissioners Court. I'm no fan of Manichean politics – the explicitly "Good vs. Evil" strategy inaugurated in the Nineties by Newt Gingrich, and henceforth installed as the permanent ideological position of the GOP. Eckhardt, perhaps feeling isolated by the institutional Democratic support for her opponent, increasingly adopted a scorched earth campaign, defining all opposition to her candidacy as illegitimate and secretly allied with sinister corporate interests.
It apparently worked, and she handily defeated a seemingly favored Andy Brown. But if we've learned anything from our national polarized politics, it's one thing to campaign as though politics is war; it's another to govern with that perspective. Eckhardt's a tough, smart, experienced attorney, politician, and county executive, and I believe she'll make a fine county judge. I hope her campaign hasn't made it that much harder for her to do so.
By and large, Travis County remains a blue island in a red Texas sea, with a few bright spots here and there, but it's still a sleeping giant of so many potential voters turning their backs on the entire process. An imposed culture of cynicism has steadily undermined our larger sense of community and common governance. Let's hope we get beyond that self-destructive indolence before it's too late.