TPPF’s ads

They’re pushing people towards, a project of a consortium of center-right groups.

Finally, I went to CPPP’s site to look for where Scott McCown gave a frenzied, over-the-top response to these ads, but my anti-virus programs went crazy with warnings. Until they get unhacked, I wouldn’t recommend visiting.

Senior journos: Why oh why can’t Perry be heroic and raise taxes?

Earlier this month, R.G. Ratcliffe reflected almost wistfully on Gov. Bill Clements, and how he broke with principles and campaign promises to raise taxes by $5.7 billion:

I can’t help but recall the political flip of former governor Bill Clements, who won his 1986 election on a no-new-taxes pledge. During the 1987 Legislature, Clements went on a fifteen-city tour to oppose proposed tax increases to cover budget shortfalls caused by the collapse of oil prices and the savings and loan industry. It took Dallas businessmen Peter O’Donnell and Ross Perot to convince him that major budget cuts would harm the state’s future. A $5.7 billion tax increase was a bitter pill, but Clements swallowed it. “”Everybody had to do what was right, eventually,” Clements said at the time. “I think they have.”

The state is still waiting to find out what is right in 2011 (R.G. Ratcliffe, Businesses want the state spending, but how do they want to pay for it?, BurkaBlog).

Apparently, Wayne Slater took up the same theme in the Dallas Morning News this weekend. Because of the newspaper’s new paywall subscription model (which isn’t a great value proposition outside North Texas), the column isn’t freely available. But Slater offered nonsubscribers a condensed version on the Trail Blazers Blog:

Now, leading the cuts-at-all-cost approach to writing a state budget, Perry’s parted company with Bill Clements. Clements was the state’s first Republican governor in a century when he was elected in 1978. As we wrote in a weekend column , Clements was the beginning of the modern Republican Party that Perry – and the tea party – now call home. Said the state’s longest-serving Republican in the House, Tom Craddick : ” I love Bill Clements. I think he did a great job and really furthered the Republican Party of Texas. Without him taking the risk he did to run for governor and use his own dollars, we’d still be way back in a maze.”

Clements was a staunch fiscal conservative and championed lower taxes and more efficient government. In battling a huge budget shortfall 1987, Clements initially opposed new taxes but eventually compromised and signed a $5.7 billion bill to avoid damaging the state’s future. So would Clements, the father of Texas Republican conservatism, be welcome in today’s tea party. Probably not. — not in the tea party that Perry serves these days.

What is it with these senior political journos in Texas and their fascination with a former governor who broke with his principles and his campaign promises to raise taxes?

Yeah, yeah, we got it — it was “to avoid damaging the state’s future” — a variant of The Sky is Falling.

At least Slater got one part right: A pol who ran as a fiscal conservative in Texas and promised not to raise taxes — then decided to raise taxes by billions of dollars — almost certainly would not “be welcome in today’s tea party.” As much as this seems to confound Slater, we are equally confounded as to why senior political journos think abandoning principles and promises to citizens to raise taxes is somehow heroic?

The sky is falling

Texas, is toast.

Judging by the recent works of the state’s political media, we’re done, finished, kaput.

One conservative budget was all it took to push Texas across the tipping point to bankruptcy according to R.G. Ratcliffe, and toward a dystopian future according to (make sure you get this) sixth-generation Texan Lisa (l’il Red) Falkenberg. In today’s Houston Chronicle print edition (no web linky yet, part of ChronBlog’s “see, we’re adding value for print subscribers!” method of marketing) Patricia Kilday Hart suggests that our elected officials’ reticence to enact a soda tax is putting us on the fast track toward a future of Weeble children who wobble, and even fall down because they’re too uneducated to understand what a can of Coke is doing to them.

At the heart of all this gloom and doom is a thinly-veiled undercurrent of racism that flows like a swollen Trinity River beneath the narrative that only the wisdom of the Caucasian progressive can save the State’s uneducated from themselves. In L’il Red’s world, only the smartly educated “white folks” retreat to the safety of “gated communities” in a selfish, desperate ploy for survival as intelligent progressives such as herself live in apartments reliant on light rail and farmer’s markets for their daily existence. The refusal of said rich white patriarchs to bestow their knowledge on the great unwashed is the reason future Texas is destined to be more like Road Warrior, and less like the utopia that Falkenberg and her fellow travelers view as ideal.

The counterpoint to this thinking? Missing.

In Texas’ political media you won’t find the idea that excessive spending is more worrisome than making some cuts during lean times. You won’t find any worries about Standard and Poor’s recent threat to downgrade debt ratings, or that creating a generation of people dependent on Government services for their day to day needs is a bad thing. Charity is right out, so is business development and (gasp!) education reform. The idea that continually throwing money at an education system that hasn’t done the best of jobs when fully funded would be laughed out of the room in a thinking society. In Texas’ political media it’s viewed as Gospel. In today’s media landscape the very idea that schools should spend more time teaching children than pursuing social equity goals is met with scorn.

An alternative idea is that the sky is NOT falling, that Texas is currently taking steps to ensure that, when the money is back, there will still be a core set of services in place to develop. The MSM ideal is a state population that’s been taxed out of prosperity and a business climate that’s not hiring, not making investments, and not positioned to take advantage of the coming growth. If you believe there will be no coming growth, then you pen missives that depict future Texas as a bleak, unhappy place. That might forward a political goal but it’s not very productive in the general debate.

Texas Senate Republican candidates fundraising – Leppert wins, Cruz second, all others trail significantly

Raised Q1 Spent Cash On Hand
Tom Leppert $1,090,081* $97,861 $2,592,219
Ted Cruz $942,885** $47,820 $965,153
Roger Williams $593,470*** $162,092 $1,250,300
Michael Williams $414,119 $54,506 $369,369
Elizabeth Ames Jones $122,185 $304,371 $128,541

* Does not include $1.6M in Leppert self-funding
** Does not include $70k from Ted Cruz
*** Does not include $5k from Roger Williams
An unknown Democrat also raised $7k.

Leppert and Cruz obviously raised significantly more than the rest of the pack. Ted Cruz surpassed expectations with about a million raised and Roger Williams underwhelmed. Leppert’s victory was hardly surprising but ensures he’ll be in the fight, whereas others might have to drop out.

The biggest surprise is Elizabeth Ames Jones. She raised just $122k and spent over $300k. That’s obviously not sustainable. If she can’t raise more money, she’ll have to drop out.

It’s still early, obviously. Who can get traction in the next few months?

Is liberal 3rd party group lying about its ads?

UPDATE, 4/22 5pm: The overall ad buy is around $90k so far nationwide, per the FEC’s reports. $5937.50 was spent on radio against Farenthold and $3800 against Canseco. So House Majority PAC did put some money behind their buy, but so far it looks like the media buy was to get media coverage for their press release.

The Houston Chronicle reports that, “A new Democratic “Super PAC” began targeting [with attack ads] freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, on Thursday for supporting the House GOP budget. . .” The same group, House Majority PAC, is also “targeting” San Antonio Congressman Francisco Canseco.

Blake Farenthold pictured giving a speech.

Corpus Christi Congressman Blake Farenthold

But are they really? Or did the Chronicle get duped? It looks like they did, but we won’t know definitively for another day or two because of campaign finance law.

Just two days ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a very similar press release for a larger — but very similar — group of newly elected Republican members of Congress. It used the same false claims about Republicans and Medicare that Democrats trot out every election cycle to try to scare seniors. They even sent DCCC Chair Steve Israel to MSNBC to talk about their so-called “ad blitz.”

One little problem: it was a total sham — there was no ad blitz. In one Indiana district the entire ad buy against a particular congressman was…$40. Yes, $40. The DCCC’s entire nationwide “ad blitz” cost $6000. Considering that Barack Obama is expected to raise a billion dollars for his re-election campaign, the DCCC got caught just sending a press release with the hope that gullible journalists wouldn’t double-check.

It’s likely that the House Majority PAC is similarly trying to pull a fast one on Texas journalists. The targeted group is very similar and the message is just about the same. First, the House Majority PAC just filed its paperwork with the FEC and started less than two weeks ago. They haven’t had much time to fundraise and don’t even have a website yet. Second, a PAC of this kind is required to notify the FEC within 48 hours once it crosses $10,000 in spending (which it would immediately if this were real). So far, it has not. Third, the House Majority PAC’s Youtube page has just three ads (one of them has just 50 views), and neither are for Canseco or Farenthold. The most likely explanation for this is that they are actually airing those three ads with a very small amount of money, but not airing the others.

Finally, it would be fairly pointless to spend real money airing attack ads when we have no idea what Canseco or Farenthold’s districts will look like after redistricting. It wouldn’t be unheard of for politicos in Washington, DC, to make this mistake, but it’s not terribly likely.

Journalists beware. Anyone printing the House Majority PAC attacks should do some factchecking. I’ll be checking the independent expenditure filings to see if the House Majority PAC actually made a real buy, but I’d be quite surprised.

Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka thinks Perry is akin to Birthers?

Burka writes:

[Burka quotes TNR article about how Trump is making dumb comments about protectionism, xenophobia, jingoism and Birtherism]

As I see it, Trump is borrowing from Rick Perry’s Texas playbook. Perry was the first extremist to emerge in this political cycle, the first to understand how virulent the right’s anger had become

As a writer and editor, Burka should know better. He’s likening Governor Perry to Donald Trump, which is simply mindboggling. That’s really the way Burka sees Perry — as someone akin to xenophobes, jingoists and Birthers?

That’s incredible. Just incredible. I’m sure Burka would say that he doesn’t really think that Perry is the same as Trump, but the fact that he would even think to make the comparision is unbelievable.

Beyond that, Burka misinterprets the poll result. Donald Trump will sink like lead if he ever becomes a candidate, because then all his craziness and liberal positions (wealth tax, universal health care, etc.) will become known. He’s essentially just an easy way for poll respondents to choose “none of the above.” Yet one single misinterpreted poll result leads Burka to conclude that Trump is using “Reagan’s strategy” and “a real threat.”

Republicans are in big trouble this election cycle–not here, because we have precisely the Republican constituency that will consume all the radicalism that’s fit for consumption–but in the rest of America. Unless something changes in the Republican field for 2012, or in the country,

Is this any different than 2003/2004, when a huge portion of the Democratic base blamed Bush for anything and everything and frequently likened him to Hitler? As far as I can tell, the biggest difference is that the media briefly took Rathergate seriously (until it was so thoroughly debunked that no one could believe it), whereas the media doesn’t take Birtherism seriously.

The (Texas higher ed) empire strikes back; O’Donnell out

As noted in today’s Daily Reading, the Texas higher education establishment finally managed to claim a scalp.

Here is advisor Rick O’Donnell’s parting letter (well worth a read).

As a consultant without much real power (the Austin American Statesman‘s overblown and silly “shadow chancellor” rhetoric notwithstanding), O’Donnell was always going to be in a tenuous position once administrators perceived him as raising questions about two sacred cows in the higher education establishment: Research and Academic Governance.

The higher education establishment was quick to frame O’Donnell’s questions about the value of research vis-à-vis other priorities as merely an attack on research — and those charges stuck for whatever reason (more on this below). The charges themselves are easy enough to explain. It’s hardly surprising that the higher education establishment really wanted to deflect scrutiny from its research practices, about which the general (taxpaying and tuition-paying) public knows very little. As someone who put in the time to get a Ph.D. from a research university and who maintains some interest in academia (while working in private industry), I can certainly understand that many university administrators at major research universities would prefer that the taxpaying and tuition-paying public not come to understand that undergrads at those institutions aren’t, in most cases, being taught by highly celebrated research professors, but instead (at the lower levels) by graduate students not much older than the undergrads themselves, sometimes in cavernous lecture halls.

As someone who might question whether the higher-education research-first status quo serves undergraduates, their parents (who have seen tuition bills skyrocket; academia and government are about the only two institutions that don’t respond to economic downturns), or taxpayers all that well, O’Donnell was going to be on shaky ground from the start. The fact that O’Donnell DID seem inclined to question that status quo — and that the mere governor of the state thought the questions worthy of consideration — also had to rankle the higher education establishment, which is not accustomed to scrutiny from public officials, or taxpayers, or even tuition-paying parents for the most part. Said administrators always cling to the notion of Academic Governance, which they present as necessary to preserve academic freedom so that institutions of higher learning can do their jobs (and which really is code for, “you elected officials and parents and taxpayers can just butt out, because we have Ph.Ds and know best how to spend your money and educate your children”).

The remaining question for me is why the state’s political media carried so much water for the higher education establishment, with so much one-sided reporting on the matter. So many stories were consistently framed poorly (Perry higher ed appointee hates research! Perry higher ed apppointee is shadow chancellor! Perry higher ed consultant screwed up a footnote once!) and without much balance (Are research and undergrad education in good balance? Is there too much emphasis on research for too little payoff? Who is teaching undergrads at the state’s larger research universities? Is there too much administrative overhead? These questions didn’t generally make it into the O’Donnell hit pieces). Why?

The best explanation I can come up with is some combination of the following:

  • O’Donnell arrived on the scene with some thoughts on higher education very different from those of the media’s normal sources inside higher education (who pushed back, effectively).
  • O’Donnell was perceived as a close associate of both Gov. Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, neither of whom can be called “favs” of the Texas political media.
  • Most nonacademics — including the state’s political media — simply don’t have a great understanding of undergraduate life at a major research university, and thus never grasped that raising questions about competing priorities (research versus undergraduate education, for example, or trying to measure the return on investment of research) is not merely an “attack” on research.

Still, that combination of factors isn’t a particularly satisfying explanation of how the Texas political media approached this story. So maybe it’s worth outsourcing to our smart readers — Is there some explanation for the media’s behavior that I’ve missed above? Please leave a comment.

Ricardo Sanchez for Senate?

I had three main thoughts to the news that Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is the choice of Democrats in Washington, DC to run for Senate in Texas:

1. Gen. Sanchez is probably about as strong a potential pick as Texas Democrats can make
2. Texas Democrats continue to think candidate recruiting is about checking boxes.
3. Can he survive a primary?

Over the past decade, Texas Democrats have had a tendency to recruit candidates by checking off demographic boxes. That led to the 2002 “Dream Team” disaster. Frankly, until Sanchez, Texas Democrats really had no one who looked to be even near a strong enough nominee to beat any generic Republican even in a good Democratic year (which 2012 may or may not be). The alternative to Sanchez is probably John Sharp, who has lost a few races in a row now and thus whose current name ID is probably neither particularly high nor favorable.

In this case, Sanchez checks off the “military,” “stature,” and “Latino” boxes. Let’s not underplay those in a state which is increasingly Latino and more pro-military than average. Rising to be the commander in Iraq gives a certain stature as well that previous Democratic Senate candidate and military officer Rick Noriega didn’t have.

And yet one has to wonder whether Gen. Sanchez will be a strong candidate. He was commander in Iraq while the insurgency took root and military casualties began to spike upward, culminating in one of the 2 most deadly months of the war at the height of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Gen. Sanchez also got the surge completely wrong, saying about the surge in October 2007 that “the best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat.” Not exactly good judgment in what should have been his area of expertise.

But beyond that, let’s go to more technical issues. I’d guess that most high-ranking military officers are not the type of people willing to do the dialing for dollars necessary to be a successful Senate candidate. He also may not have firm stands on some domestic issues. And while he’s had some experience appearing on cable news shows, he’s perhaps not the most polished candidate.

Or watch here, where he implicitly accepts that he let torture happen on his watch:

Questioner: How did [torture] happen? How did it happen on your watch?
Sanchez: Well, I think it’s fairly simple. You had the torture memorandums as we now clearly understand them, how they came about, what they authorized and those were transmitted to the different entities that were operating in these wartime environments . . .

My point is not to impugn General Sanchez’s integrity, but to point out that being a candidate is much harder than it seems. He authorized things that he now calls torture — that’s something that will make people pause and go hrm?.

Many national Democrats — including those who recruited him — were quite vocal of Sanchez when he was the commander in Iraq. Almost all of them called for Secretary Rumsfeld’s dismissal — and yet they now want Rumsfeld’s commander in the field in the Senate? Perhaps not surprisingly, there are already liberal Texas blogs crying out against Sanchez.

Finally, Sanchez will have to explain his candidacy. Why now? What’s his motive for running? He can’t run against the Bush administration — which has been the point of most of his media appearances since retiring from office. He can’t run on the Iraq war. He will have to talk about the Obama administration’s wars — which will probably put him either at odds with the president or with the liberal base. What does he know about economics, solving America’s debt crisis or creating jobs?

For all those reasons, I remain somewhat skeptical that Sanchez will “do better than any other Democrat could,” as Paul Burka wrote yesterday. I think that he probably has the potential to do better than any other Democrat could, if he is decent at being a political candidate. But I’m not sanguine about that. Sanchez probably has just as equal potential to run behind Obama in Texas, even if he is able to survive what might be a probable primary.

So will Sanchez decide to run? He sounded a bit noncommital, and I think most retired generals would probably think it’s not worth it to invest a year and a half into a race that will very likely end in defeat. But only time will tell.

Hochberg to move — again?

Paul Burka writes about Houston Rep. Scott Hochberg who is in the same district as current HD149 Rep. Hubert Vo under the proposed Texas House redistricting map:

I haven’t discussed Hochberg’s plans with him, but I did hear from sources close to Sarah Davis that she expects Hochberg to move into her district and run against her.

Until the post-2000 redistricting, Hochberg represented most of Sarah Davis’s current HD134 district. When he was drawn together with Debra Danburg for the 2002 cycle, he moved across town to run in the vacant HD137 open seat that he has occupied for the last decade.

The above was my first thought when I saw that Hochberg and Vo had been drawn together, but I haven’t had the chance to sit down and figure out exactly how much of the district is the same. My intuition would be somewhere around 2/3, but I could be significantly off.

“Spirit of Clay” lives on at Hearst Austin news bureau

Back in the early days of both Chronically Biased and then blogHOUSTON, one of our recurring topics was the Houston Chronicle Austin bureau, which allowed its bureau chief Clay Robison to preside over the news “objectively” six days per week as bureau chief and provide a reliably lefty editorial screed one day per week.

In private conversation, a Chronicle reader representative (not the current person who holds the title; the Chron seems no longer to have a use for the position) told me that we were absolutely right to question the arrangement.

At some point, Clay Robison left the newspaper, and that was that (for quite a while, anyway).

The Hearst Austin Bureau (the combined effort of Hearst newspapers based in San Antonio and Houston) seems determined to bring back the Spirit of Clay.

In the last week alone, Hearst Austin has run with “commentary” pieces from both Peggy Fikac (seemingly “overrepresenting” opposition to a Perry appointee since only one critic, a Dem, was named) and new addition Patricia Kilday Hart (who formerly broke some news and opined for Texas Monthly). Even before, Fikac’s commentary column had shown signs of disproportionately covering the issues and personalities of the Left. And even the Hearst Austin blog too often seems to be a vehicle for injecting the author’s opinion rather than covering news (contrast items three and four in Top Stories).

This isn’t to say we don’t like a good opinion columnist, or that a good opinion columnist can’t break news (the great example of the genre was the old Evans and Novak column). But for some reason, Hearst Austin seems to think its journos ought just to switch back and forth between reporter and editorial mode (apparently never getting the two confused because they’re superhuman *wink*), whereas most news organizations at least pretend to prefer a cleaner “division between the opinion pages and the news pages” (ironically, that last is from a Chronicle editor). While Hearst Austin’s “Spirit of Clay” approach is, at times, revealing, we’re not so sure it’s the best way to cover statehouse politics.