Texas politics

Villalba Urges GOP to Woo Hispanics

by Eli Okun

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, urged the GOP to focus on appealing to Hispanic voters, emphasizing that the “ultimate survivability of the Republican Party” is at stake, in an Austin speech to young Republicans Thursday evening.

With the battle over the expanding Hispanic electorate increasingly taking center stage in the Texas political scene, Villalba has pushed his message to expand the tent in a series of recent speeches across the state. Speaking at the Dave and Busters in North Austin, he was hosted Thursday by the Austin Young Republicans and Heart of Texas Young Republicans, with about 25 attendees.

With the majority of Texas Hispanics voting Democratic in recent elections — and with Hispanics set to become a plurality in the state in a few years — shifting demographics pose potentially devastating risks to the GOP, Villalba said: “If Texas goes blue, then we will lose the White House.”

But there is a way to maintain Republican political primacy, Villalba said, because “demographics is not destiny.” Most Hispanics are pro-life, many own small businesses, and many believe strongly in supporting the family unit — all tenets that align with GOP platforms, Villalba said.

But fiery anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Texas GOP, like that seen during the lieutenant gubernatorial primary campaign or at the party’s June convention, threatens to unravel those advantages in the long term, Villalba warned. The potential for alienating Hispanic voters prompted him to take his message on the road, he said, encouraging Republicans to focus on outreach, engagement and moderating their tone.

And Republicans can woo Hispanics if they “change the way we talk about these issues” and address Hispanics as people, Villalba said, urging the GOP to stop using phrases like “those illegals” and “those anchor babies.”

Villalba is perhaps one of the best-equipped Texas Republicans to deliver this message to his own party: He is one of only three Hispanic Republicans in the Legislature, along with fellow Reps. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville and Larry Gonzales of Round Rock.

After first winning election in a majority-white Dallas district in 2012 — including a primary upset in which he garnered endorsements from presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — Villalba has quickly become a rising star among Texas Republicans.

Villalba began his remarks Thursday by focusing on the recent humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, voicing support for Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to send the National Guard there and saying the influx of immigrants from Central America is “singularly because the president of the United States has abdicated his responsibility to Texas, to us.”

He then transitioned to appealing to Hispanics in general, saying he has faith in some of the top candidates for statewide office to take the lead, including the party’s nominees for land commissioner (George P. Bush, who is Hispanic) and for governor (Attorney General Greg Abbott). “George P. and General Abbott are going to shift the paradigm in this state,” he said.

“Join me, en cuerpo y alma” — body and soul, Villalba said.


Continue reading here.


Mighty Jim Hogan and the Art of the Anti-Campaign

by Christopher Hooks

Just down the road from the Johnson County Courthouse in Cleburne, Texas, past the theater where a local company is staging a version of “Steel Magnolias,” sits the Cleburne Public Library. In the back, a few rows down from the display with the Louis L’Amour short story collection, Jim Hogan, Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, shows off his seat of power. It’s late June, the day before the Democratic Party’s state convention kicks off in Dallas. Hogan could be there, celebrating his unlikely victory. But he doesn’t want to be anywhere near it. Instead, he’s giving a tour of his unofficial campaign headquarters.

From a line of pressed-wood desk cubbies with internet-equipped Dell computers, Hogan, a former dairy farmer with a small cattle operation, ran what must be the most unlikely primary campaign of any Texas Democrat in the modern era. Earlier this year, Hogan found himself in a three-way standoff in the Democratic primary race for agriculture commissioner. His opponents: the party establishment’s favorite candidate, Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III, and a pot-loving troubadour with populist appeal, Kinky Friedman. Hogan bested both. When the unlucky Friedman found himself in a runoff, Hogan smashed him by more than 7 points.

Yet Hogan raised and expended zero dollars in the course of the campaign, and spent the entire race at home, or on the computers at the library, where he monitored the results that appeared when he Googled his name, and researched the job. If you include the $3,750 filing fee he was required to pay to get on the ballot, he spent 1.2 cents a vote. In terms of money and time, he ran an election effort of record-setting efficiency.

While Wendy Davis’ resource-intensive war machine, virtually unopposed and with millions of dollars in hand, lost much of the Rio Grande Valley to an unknown opponent, Hogan cruised to victory with the steady hand of a zen master. On runoff night, reporters found him at a neighbors’ house, cooking “country boy stew,” which features hamburger meat, carrots, tomatoes and green beans.

Like a warrior-monk who has taken a vow of poverty, he not only let his own campaign lie fallow, he refused campaigning from others. When political consultants from Austin came to a summit with Hogan at Cleburne’s Blue Star Grill and offered their services pro bono, Hogan refused. When a neighbor offered to make a pro-Hogan sign and put it in his yard, he declined.

“Take that money and give it your grandkids,” he says he told the neighbors. “What is that sign gonna do? Nothing. People are gonna vote for me cause a sign said ‘Jim Hogan’? I don’t want people to be that shallow.”

Candidates running for statewide office are normally quite appreciative of shallow voters, so this is an unusual declaration. We’re more than halfway through an election season that, even if no more shallow than the last, will be the most expensive in the state’s history. Unimaginable sums of money are being raised and spent. Pricey out-of-state consultants and nomadic campaign hands with big paychecks abound. We’ve moved from a Republican primary for lt. governor, where one of the critical issues was David Dewhurst’s dinner at an Austin steakhouse, to a general election where earnest discussion of the state’s pressing issues is infrequent at best.

Elsewhere this cycle, races have been mostly fluff.  Continue reading here.


Davis ‘confident’ she’ll win despite big cash-on-hand disadvantage

State Sen. Wendy Davis said Saturday she believes her gubernatorial campaign is headed for victory in November, even following finance reports that show Attorney General Greg Abbott with a 3-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage.

“I feel confident that, continuing the pace that we’re on now, we will have the resources that we need to run a very strong race and to win,” Davis told the Chronicle after opening her third campaign field office in Houston.

Abbott’s campaign has been hammering Davis, the Democratic nominee, for using “fuzzy math and Enron-style accounting to artificially inflate” the amount of money she has available to spend, including counting the $250,000 value of a Willie Nelson concert as an in-kind contribution in her latest report. The Davis campaign has countered that Abbott has also reported in-kind donations. (Both campaigns are required by state law to do so.)

What is largely unusual about Davis’ fundraising calculations is that some of the total figures advertised by her campaign come from a number of sources, not just her campaign account.

Davis shrugged off the accusations from her Republican opponent’s campaign as she left the event, telling the Chronicle: “Oh, you know, I’ll leave them to defend what they say. I’m just really thrilled with the fact that three out of the four fundraising cycles, we’ve done something that no one would have ever predicted we could do, and that is we’ve shown stronger numbers on those reports than they have for those periods.”

Abbott and Davis last week reported raising $11.1 million and $11.2 million, respectively, for the period covering Feb. 23 to June 30. Davis’ haul represents money raised by her campaign and a joint committee with Battleground Texas.

Although Davis raised more money during the latest period than Abbott did, she still faces a serious disadvantage in cash on hand. She has $13.1 million to Abbott’s nearly $36 million, according to their campaigns. (It is still important to note Abbott has been actively fundraising longer than Davis has.)


GOP Strategist Matt Mackowiak Says Ken Paxton’s Legal Troubles Would Not Affect Texas Attorney General Race [AUDIO]

On the Monday edition of The Chad Hasty Show, Matt Mackowiak, GOP strategist and co-founder of MustReadTexas.com, spoke with Chad Hasty about the latest state and national news.

Attorney General candidate Ken Paxton has been under a bit of fire after being fined for violating a state securities law. But Mackowiak said that the fine would not give Paxton a disadvantage in the AG race. He added that, despite Democratic threats, the authorities probably would not complete an investigate of Paxton within the next 4 months. He went on to add that the Democratic candidate San Houston would still have to raise upwards of 5 to 10 million in order to make the AG race in Texas competitive.

“Sam Houston has a good name, but that’s about it. He’s a lawyer in Houston, he’s not well known, he has run statewide once before for a judicial position, I think it was 2008. As I said, and I think I told Texas Tribune in their first story about this race, you’d need to raise probably 5 to 10 million dollars…for the Democrats to even kind make this thing competitive. And I just don’t see any evidence of them being on track to do anything like that.”

Mackowiak added that the big question for Democrats now is whether they should focus all their efforts on one Texas race, or spread their efforts out to other smaller races.

Mackowiak also spoke about the ongoing situation with University of Texas president Bill Powers. Powers was told over the weekend to resign from his presidency before Thursday, or he would be fired during the university’s Board of Regents meeting. Mackowiak said that so far, Powers has refused to resign, but is trying to negotiate a timetable for his exit from the university.

Matt Mackowiak appears every Monday at 9:35 during The Chad Hasty Show. You can also follow Mackowiak on Twitter: @MattMackowiak.

Listen to interview here.





Wendy Davis supporters struggle to name ONE of her legislative achievements

by Ashe Schow

“The filibuster so fills my mind bubble,” a Wendy Davis supporter responded when asked to name the top legislative achievement of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I can’t name one,” said another.

Supporters of Attorney General Greg Abbott — Davis’ Republican opponent — visited the Democratic state convention in Texas last week and claim to have asked self-identified Davis supporters to name one of her legislative achievements. Many couldn’t.

“Well, in terms of that, I have not gotten a chance to really study all of her legislations,” one woman said. “I do need to do a little more research on that but I would imagine that I’m going to have some pleasant surprises.”

The election is four months away. Davis announced she was running for governor nine months ago.

A similar video could most likely be made of Abbott supporters, but this video of Davis supporters shows once again that the thing she’s most known for is her filibuster of a late-term abortion bill — which she’s pretending wasn’t about abortion.

See video here.


National Journal: Democrats Will Struggle to Flip States

by Melanie Batley

Democratic strategists have identified a number of states they hope to flip from red to blue in the coming decades, but recent electoral outcomes and changing demographics suggest the goal may be increasingly unrealistic, according to the National Journal.

David Plouffe, President Barack Obama’s former campaign manager, said in an article in The Wall Street Journal Monday that Arizona, Georgia, and Texas, which are currently Republican strongholds, offer the best possibilities for becoming swing states and up for grabs for Democrats in the years to come.

“His projection shouldn’t be too surprising: When looking at the booming minority growth across the country, it’s easy to see how the political composition of certain states can change dramatically, even in once-partisan strongholds,” wrote the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar.

“But it’s also worth taking a closer look at what’s currently happening in those three states, through the prism of the races taking place there this year. If anything, recent elections suggest that the states aren’t turning more favorable for Democrats, but instead are becoming more racially polarized.”

Kraushaar notes that since Obama’s election in 2008, Republicans have won every gubernatorial and Senate race and each of the three states Plouffe identified. And while Southern states are becoming more racially diverse and minorities traditionally vote Democrat, the highest growth has been in the Hispanic population where electoral turnout continues to lag well behind other minorities.

In Texas’ gubernatorial race, national Democrats thought victory could be in reach due to the high profile of state Sen. Wendy Davis. But she has gained little traction among Hispanics who make up 38 percent of the population, and is trailing significantly behind GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott.

In Arizona, Hispanic support for Republican presidential candidates increased in the last two campaigns despite immigration playing a central role in the state’s politics.

Georgia may offer the best long-term opportunity for Democrats, according to the National Journal.

“Obama won 98 percent of the African-American vote and only 23 percent of the white vote. With a just a little more support from white voters and continued minority growth, winning a statewide election is seemingly within reach,” Kraushaar wrote.

Nevertheless, this year’s Georgia Senate race will offer a critical test of Democratic competitiveness, the National Journal says.

If Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, daughter of former long-time Sen. Sam Nunn, loses to the GOP nominee in November, “it could be a worrisome signal that the Southern white vote is trending in a conservative direction, regardless of the Democratic nominee,” the Journal said.

“After 2008 and 2012, Democrats have come close to hitting the upper limits of their electoral-vote potential, so strategists are understandably looking for ways to expand the map further. But what’s more realistic is that Republicans will be able to contest traditionally Democratic Rust Belt battlegrounds, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, before additional GOP strongholds flip,” the National Journal said.

“Democrats may be wise simply to consolidate their gains from the past two presidential elections.”




The Other Castro and the Jews

As the Democratic and Republican parties battle for who will control the growing Latino-American vote, one young Hispanic politician is being eyed by Democrats as their party’s future.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro was thrust into the national spotlight last month when President Barack Obama nominated the 39-year-old Democrat to be the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In his third term as mayor, Castro has charmed many in the San Antonio Jewish community, who are grateful for his close relationship with and admiration of their community—sometimes more than they would expect from a non-Jewish politician.

Before becoming mayor in 2009, Castro served on the city council and at the age of 26 was the youngest councilman in the city’s history when elected. He first gained national attention when he was invited to be the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Yet, according to those who know him, national fame has not affected his personal relationships with friends and associates.

Rabbi Chaim Block, director of Chabad of San Antonio, has known Castro since the mayor was a city councilman and remembers being impressed when Castro came to speak to about 800 guests at the Chabad’s Hanukkah on the River celebration.

“I remember back then how impressed I was with what he said and how knowledgeable he seemed to be about the holiday and was able to really connect with the audience,” said Block.

According to Block, Castro was an integral member of a group of Latinos and Jews organized by the San Antonio Bar Association who met monthly to discuss issues of interest to both groups.

“He was one of those people who was on the forefront of interfacing with the Jewish community,” Block said.

On the Jewish side of the dialogue was Robbie Greenblum, San Antonio’s city attorney and one of Block’s congregants. When Castro ran for mayor, he asked Greenblum to be his chief of staff. Greenblum’s close connection to the Jewish community was instrumental in fostering Castro’s awareness of Judaism, Jewish holidays, and Jewish issues, and as mayor, he began attending more Jewish events throughout the year, said Block.  Continue reading here.


Perfect Timing: How Malcontent Wiseasses Tried to Prove a Point About Politics and Ended up Charged as Felons

White conservatives who tweaked an election in The Woodlands were just what Greg Abbott needed to prove he doesn’t prosecute only minorities for voter fraud.

by Steve Miller

Adrian Heath heard the jury on that October morning loud but not clear.

The foreman exhaled the word “guilty,” and Heath felt its jarring weight in his head and his stomach as he stood in a Montgomery County ­courtroom.

Heath was now a felon, convicted by the state of Texas for voter fraud, a charge pushed by the voting enforcement unit of state Attorney General Greg Abbott‘s office.

What he couldn’t quite figure out was just how he had become a convicted criminal. At 56 years old, the Australian immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen had never been in a criminal court in his life. Now he faced two years in prison, with a judge scheduled to hand down his sentence on January 30.

In May 2010, Heath, along with nine of his fellow suburban neighbors from in and around The Woodlands, gathered at a Residence Inn hotel inside the confines of the Woodlands Road Utility District, a 2,475-acre taxing body that is connected to The Woodlands by a coalition of developers, lawyers and well-to-do local insiders. The group included a retiree, a homemaker, a tile contractor, a salesman and an oil-equipment technician.

Heath and his friends claimed residency inside the district despite staying only two nights at the hotel. They did so to elect three of their colleagues in order to usurp the incumbent balance of power in the district. They believed the district was running up public debt and wanted to stop that.

Heath and his colleagues figured they were standing up for their rights, hoping to be part of a system that was imposing taxes indirectly on them in a commercial area in which they did much of their shopping and dining. And they were certain that their group was working within the very blurry lines of state law regarding residency and voting.

The law they followed says that the voter residency requirement can be determined “by the voter,” as Randall Dillard, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, stated in February 2010.

Dillard’s statement was repeated like a mantra among Heath and his pals in the weeks leading up to the election. They succeeded in getting their own candidates in office by changing their voting registration residences in April 2010.

But as in a scene gone wrong in a caper movie, in June 2010, a district judge ruled the election and the group’s part in it invalid and tossed the results.

That might have been the end of it, with a few malcontented wiseasses fruitlessly trying to prove a point.

Instead, as it turned out, the troublemakers had picked a very bad time to make their stand.

One of the first things Abbott did when he was elected attorney general in 2002 was to enhance the office’s voter fraud division, saying that for too long, Texas had turned a blind eye to the white-collar crime. In the years since, his troops had focused on South Texas, admittedly a historic hotbed of election abuse, but the result was that while prison sentences were rare, they almost always involved minorities, Democrats and those in lower economic groups.

The Woodlands group was composed of white self-described conservatives, middle-class and above. How much better for Abbott, now running for governor, to prove that he was not biased. Heath became convinced that Abbott thought convicting the Woodlands voters would give his candidacy a boost. In fact, Heath says, that’s what state Rep. Steve Toth, a Republican lawmaker from Montgomery County, essentially told him one day.

“Toth said words to the effect, ‘I called up there (Abbott’s office), and they said, ‘We have 150 Democrats and six Republicans; we are not going to let the Republicans go,'” Heath said. (Toth told the Houston Press he didn’t recall anyone from Abbott’s office telling him that.)

So now the troublemakers, none of whom had ever faced a criminal charge, were being prosecuted by the state on the third-degree felony charge of illegal voting . The Attorney General’s Office contends that they intentionally changed their addresses and claimed false residency for political gain, with no intention of living in a hotel. They all had homes elsewhere, some with mortgages, where they had their possessions and spouses.

“It seems strange that we could go to prison and no one would care,” said Heath, a salesman by trade who came to the United States in 1983.

“We’ve been abandoned by the people who go out and say they want more transparent government that is responsible to the people. I thought people from both sides of the political aisle would see this corporatist government using the system to enrich themselves and see us as people who stood up to it.”


Pete Sessions: Blimp King. House Speaker?

Texas’ congressional delegation could soon control two of the top leadership positions in the House and Senate—and what a kingdom of leadership riches we have to offer

Last night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning primary loss to an Ayn Rand-loving college professor named Dave Brat sent the political world into full freak-out mode. A failure to win re-nomination by a sitting House Majority Leader is unprecedented in the history of Congress. And if you could describe his loss as a tea party victory—there’s some debate about what last night really means—Cantor’s is the biggest scalp the movement has ever claimed.

Last night will remain in the minds of “moderate” or “establishment” Republicans for a generation, even though, in truth, Cantor was an exemplar of neither. And his resignation from the House leadership team has ramifications for this Congress, where conventional wisdom now assesses the chances for immigration reform as even deader than they were previously.

But: onward and upward. Before the smarmy corpse of Cantor’s political career was even cold, the struggle to seize his leadership position was underway. For some in the House GOP—who must now feel that no amount of money or prestige or recognition from Beltway ThoughtLeaders can protect them from an increasingly agitated base—it might have the feel of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But in fairness, the House Republican Caucus isn’t so much like the Titanic as the iceberg that hit the Titanic, inasmuch as the House GOP is an aimless, rudderless mass that sinks everything it touches.

The leadership struggle brings excitement for Texas Republicans. Two Texan congressman have slipped themselves into the race to become the second most powerful Republican in the House—Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas) is widely considered to be vying for a leadership position, and Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), might have been the first to declare his intent to run for the job.

For some time, Sen. John Cornyn has held the number two spot among Senate Republicans. In the unlikely event Sen. Mitch McConnell fails to win re-election, Cornyn is the favorite to replace him. If Hensarling or Sessions become majority leader, they would become frontrunners to replace House Speaker John Boehner if (or really, when) Boehner steps down, or is kneecapped by his conservative members.

Hensarling appears to be virtually incapable of passing legislation, as Politico reported in March. Though he chairs a powerful House committee, he’s watched his bills sink into the swamp through his inability or unwillingness to compromise or count votes. So he’s a natural fit for House GOP leadership.

But if we’re going to put a Texan in line to become speaker of the House, someday, I vote for Sessions—not just because of his ties to felon ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and legendary conman Allen Stanford. Not just because he jokingly compared the House GOP to the Taliban. Not just because he got special loans from subprime lenders before the housing bubble collapsed. (Though a House panel later ruled that he didn’t financially benefit.)

Sessions deserves our support for this—a tale of Washington pork-barrel corruption so weird, so outlandish, that it feels like it could have come from a particularly whacked-out Simpsons episode. I give you: Blimpgate. From a 2010 Politico article:

Rep. Pete Sessions — the chief of the Republicans’ campaign arm in the House — says on his website that earmarks have become “a symbol of a broken Washington to the American people.”

Yet in 2008, Sessions himself steered a $1.6 million earmark for dirigible research to an Illinois company whose president acknowledges having no experience in government contracting, let alone in building blimps.

What the company did have: the help of Adrian Plesha, a former Sessions aide with a criminal record who has made more than $446,000 lobbying on its behalf.

When asked about the earmark, Sessions’ staff said the money would help create jobs in his district in Dallas.

But the company that received the earmarked funds, Jim G. Ferguson & Associates, is based in the suburbs of Chicago, with another office in San Antonio — nearly 300 miles from Dallas. And while Sessions used a Dallas address for the company when he submitted his earmark request to the House Appropriations Committee last year, one of the two men who control the company says that address is merely the home of one of his close friends.

Speaker Sessions—now that’s change we can believe in.


In Israel, Ted Cruz blasts Palestinians and Obama administration

By Todd J. Gillman

Visiting Israel, Sen. Ted Cruz placed blame Monday for the recent failure of peace talks squarely on Palestinians, and their refusal to renounce terror and to affirm Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

That, he said, is the “principal impediment to peace,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

He also was deeply critical of President Obama and his administration, asserting that his main approach in the region is “to criticize and harangue and pressure the Israeli government,” the Post reported.

He criticized the U.S. administration for pressuring Israel on the issue of settlements in the Palestinian territory. Those, Cruz said, are “a question for the government of Israel,” adding that it’s not America’s role “to try to impose a policy about where Israeli settlements are located and where they’re not.”

Cruz arrived in Israel Monday for a two-day visit. He’ll travel later this week to Poland, Ukraine and Estonia.

So far, he reportedly has met with Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and the opposition Labor Party’s Knesset leader Isaac Herzog.

He also reiterated a recent call for the resignation of Secretary of State John Kerry over Kerry’s suggested that Israel was at risk of becoming an “apartheid” state for its treatment of Palestinians.

On Tuesday Crzu plans to tour a medical center in the city of Tzfat.

In Ukraine later this week, Cruz intends to visit Maidan Square, and meet with leaders of the country’s protest movement and Jewish and Catholic communities.

The trip is Cruz’s third to Israel since his election in 2012, and is generally seen as an effort to shore up his foreign policy credentials ahead of a likely 2016 presidential bid.

Ahead of the visit, Cruz sat down for an extended interview Gil Tamary, a Washington correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10. The interview took place on Thursday, before Cruz left for Israel.