Straus lieu­tenant did side with Demo­crat over fel­low repub­li­can

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By W. Gardner selby

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-

li­can’ lieu­tenants.”

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.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.