Straus lieutenant did side with Democrat over fellow republican
All wasn’t back slaps and hugs at last month’s Republican Party of Texas convention.
The party’s former vice chairman let loose with a four-page, multicount indictment of the GOP speaker of the Texas House, Rep. Joe Straus of San Antonio, claiming his coziness with Democrats is undermining conservative Republicans. The open letter from David Barton of Aledo lists 20 “objective facts” that he said show the “greatest threat to conservative Republican gains in the State House this election cycle probably is not from Democrats but instead may be from Speaker Straus and his ‘Repub-
Talk about Truth-O-Meter juice. If every politico issued such a missive, we’d postpone vacations, double up staff, plot a movie. But we digress — and limit ourselves to reviewing four Barton jabs about Republicans and Democrats incongruously locking arms in election years.
Our starter: Barton says state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, did mail pieces for Democratic Rep. Mark Strama of Austin “to help him defeat his Republican opponent.”
Barton forwarded two leaflets, which Strama later told us date to his 2006 campaign. In them, Keffer is quoted saying Strama “serves his district, not any one political party” and, in one, that “we don’t always agree on every issue, but we agree on the need to put the interests of Texas ahead of partisan politics.”
Keffer told us: “I know the person and know what he does and what he means to the Legislature. Whether you’ve got an R or a D behind your name doesn’t mean you are most qualified.”
Strama told us Keffer “didn’t ‘do’ mail pieces in the sense of paying for them.” Fair point, but Keffer still touted Strama over a GOP opponent. That Barton statement is Mostly True.
Next, Barton shared the audio behind this statement: “Straus Republican lieutenants Charlie Geren, Jim Keffer and Byron Cook aired radio ads supporting Democrat Mark Homer over conservative Republican Kirby Hollingsworth, helping the Democrat to a nar- row win.”
In 2008, the three GOP House members endorsed Rep. Homer, of Paris, who then took 52 percent of the vote.
The radio spot was narrated by then-Rep. Brian McCall. “During campaigns, you hear a lot of talk about breaking gridlock,” McCall says. “Candidates all talk about it. Some even mean it. Mark Homer has done it. Mark works with everybody, Republicans, Democrats, doesn’t matter. He works for you. I know this because I see it on the House floor.”
McCall identifies himself as a Republican legislator and says he’s joined by Keffer, Cook, Geren and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, “urging you to re-elect” Homer.
Homer, McCall and Keffer confirmed that the Republicans pitched in after Homer asked them for help, but each took issue with Barton’s description. McCall said that since Straus wasn’t yet speaker when the spot ran, he had no “lieutenants,” as Barton terms them. Homer said his 1,899-vote win was no squeaker, as Barton suggests. Also, he said, the Republicans didn’t “air” the ad; instead, his campaign wrote the script and bought air time.
Minor beefs, we conclude. As for Barton’s claim that the ad helped put Homer over the top, the Democrat said: “I feel strongly I could have won. But it was nice to have it.”
Barton’s statement is Mostly True.
A third Barton sally: “Straus lieutenants Dan Branch and Jim Pitts are helping Ellen Cohen against her Republican challenger, doing events with her in her district.”
Barton later told us, “It is not (standard operating procedure) to do such events in settings in which Republicans help make a single Democrat look favorable to her constituents — especially when it is in the midst of the campaign cycle rather than the policy/ legislative cycle.”
We confirmed that Cohen, a member of the House Higher Education Committee, invited Branch, who leads the panel, to speak at a Feb. 25 forum in Cohen’s Houston district. Branch accepted. But he told us that he hasn’t endorsed Cohen and that they took pains to keep the forum nonpolitical.
“I told her I didn’t think it would be helpful to do it once the general election process was in place,” he said.
Cohen’s Republican opponent, Sarah Davis, was nominated in the March 2 primary.
“Most Republicans who un- derstand the facts will realize I did the right thing,” Branch said.
Pitts, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, on which Cohen sits, spoke at a May 6 forum hosted by Cohen. Pitts, of Waxahachie, told us he might have erred by agreeing to do so in an election year.
“I didn’t go there to help Ellen; that wasn’t the purpose. But I learned my lesson. I am going to be very careful. My timing probably should be before a primary, or even before people file” their candidacies in December and early January before primaries, he said.
After he spoke, Pitts said, Davis’ husband questioned him about his remark that “Ellen and I have our hands full next session” — implying Cohen would win re-election.
“I did say that — I guess I’m guilty,” Pitts said.
Cohen’s chief of staff, Tammi Wallace, confirmed the presence of campaign signs outside both events, which she said were there to help people find the gatherings. She disputed a claim by Kent Adams, Davis’ husband and campaign manager, that Cohen campaign literature was available at the forums. Regardless, Adams said, neither forum seemed likely to give Cohen a lift at the polls.
Barton’s statement accurately refers to the GOP members appearing at events with Cohen at her invitation. Still, the forums weren’t rah-rah political rallies. We rate Barton’s statement Half True.
The last Barton jab we weighed: “Powerful Houston Democrats Sylvia Garcia (Democrat county commissioner in Harris County) and Elyse Lanie(r) (wife of the former liberal Democrat mayor Bob Lanier) sponsored a Democrat fundraiser for Speaker Straus with numerous Democrat officials and high-ranking union officials.”
Barton told us, “I knew several of the key Democrats who put it together (including the head of the union based in Houston who was a principal in the event), and I also heard about it from influential business leaders who were invited to the event by Garcia and Lanier.” He said guests were summoned by phone or e-mail.
Straus spokeswoman Tracy Young said Straus raised money for his campaign at a May 4 party at the Laniers’ Houston home. But, Young said, the event was hosted by Harris County’s entire House delegation — not just Democrats. She said Garcia, the county com- missioner, was invited but didn’t attend. Garcia later told us she didn’t invite anyone.
Young forwarded a document inviting recipients to the “Bayou Tribute to Speaker Joe Straus.” Under “Honorary Host Committee,” it lists 29 Houston-area House members, 17 Republicans and 12 Democrats. She also shared a document titled “Host Committee” listing more than 30 event sponsors including Bob Perry and Dick Weekley, Houston homebuilders and major GOP donors; super-lobbyist Mike Toomey of Austin; beer distributor and donor John Nau of Houston; and political action committees for law firms, pilots and oil and energy-related firms. The listed sponsors include a PAC for the United Transportation Union.
The Laniers are listed among eight underwriters of the party. While mayor of Houston, Bob Lanier was viewed as a Democrat, though the office is filled via nonpartisan elections. The event at the Laniers’ home, Young said, “wasn’t a Democrat(ic) fundraiser — it was a bipartisan fundraiser.”
Summing up: We can’t determine whether Garcia invited others to the fundraiser, though it appears she did not attend. And lacking a guest list, we can’t assess the partisan mix at the affair.
The rest of Barton’s statement cherry-picks facts. For instance: The Laniers sponsored the party, but so did more than two dozen others, including prominent GOP players. At the least, the event wasn’t planned as the Democratic fundraiser Barton claims. This statement is Barely True.
Statement: ‘Powerful Houston Democrats Sylvia Garcia (Democrat county commissioner in Harris County) and Elyse Lanie(r) (wife of the former liberal Democrat mayor Bob Lanier) sponsored a Democrat fundraiser for Speaker Straus with numerous Democrat officials and high ranking union officials.’
Statement: ‘Straus Republican lieutenants Charlie Geren, Jim Keffer and Byron Cook aired radio ads supporting Democrat Mark Homer over conservative Republican Kirby Hollingsworth, helping the Democrat to a narrow win.’
Statement: ‘Straus lieutenants Dan Branch and Jim Pitts are helping Democrat Ellen Cohen against her Republican challenger, doing events with her in her district.’