Low pro­file doesn’t make can­di­date into a wood­chuck

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

Hous­ton lawyer Jeff Weems, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for a seat on the Texas Rail­road Com­mis­sion, says his Novem­ber op­po­nent is so low, he’s be­low ground.

“I’m run­ning against a ground­hog,” Weems said June 26 at the Texas Demo­cratic Party’s con­ven­tion in Cor­pus Christi. “He saw his shadow on the pri­mary day, and no one has seen him since.” Say what? Weems had al­ready flashed a flair for ap­pel­la­tions; he called his op­po­nent a “pot­ted plant” in June 25 re­marks to the con­ven­tion’s United Auto Work­ers cau­cus. Later, he told us in an e-mail that he’s crossed paths with GOP nom­i­nee David Porter only once since the March 2 pri­maries; the two spoke sep­a­rately at an April event in Wi­chita Falls.

Weems said Porter’s cam­paign web­site and Face­book page re­flect “a sim­i­lar lack of ac­tiv­ity.” He said the on­line Texas Tribune “has been try­ing to sched­ule a de­bate or meet­ing or panel dis­cus­sion with the two of us, but his cam­paign will not re­turn their phone calls.”

Michael Blunk, Weems’ cam­paign as­sis­tant, fol­lowed up in an e-mail, say­ing, “We call David a ground­hog be­cause he’s not show­ing his face any more, he went back into hid­ing.”

Porter, a cer­ti­fied pub­lic ac­coun­tant who lives in Gid­dings but has long prac­ticed in Mid­land, hasn’t proved a me­dia hound be­fore or af­ter up­set­ting the bet­ter-funded GOP in­cum­bent, Vic­tor Car­rillo, in their pri­mary.

Us­ing the Nexis search tool, we found 17 news ar­ti­cles about Porter and the Rail­road Com­mis­sion pub­lished from Jan­uary un­til the March pri­mary. From then through June, there were 41 ar­ti­cles or blogs men­tion­ing Porter and the com­mis­sion, most of them re­flect­ing on Car­rillo’s loss. Our search yielded one men­tion of a Porter cam­paign stop — ap­pear­ances by Weems and Porter at the April 21 Al­liance of En­ergy Pro­duc­ers meet­ing in Wi­chita Falls.

Of course, min­i­mal news cov­er­age doesn’t prove a can­di­date is de­lib­er­ately ly­ing low. A sim­i­lar Nexis search for ar­ti­cles on Weems from Jan­uary through June de­liv­ered 34 re­sults. Down-bal­lot can­di­dates nearly al­ways draw less at­ten­tion than, say, as­pi­rants for gover­nor.

To get a feel for Porter’s on­line out­reach, we read his Twit­ter posts. Snip­pets: On March 3, Porter an­nounced Barry Wil­liamson, a for­mer rail­road com­mis­sioner, as his cam­paign chair­man; on May 20, the can­di­date said he was head­ing to a GOP meet­ing in Lee County; on June 17, he hailed the back­ing of Michael Wil­liams, cur­rent com­mis­sioner. On June 28, Porter wrote, “Last week was busy with sev­eral meet­ings in Hous­ton, and Austin and end­ing up Satur­day night at the Bas­trop Tea Party with about 250 peo­ple.”

Seek­ing other signs of cam­paign ac­tiv­ity, we looked at Porter’s cam­paign site, which didn’t list events. So, stealth can­di­date? Not so, said Corbin Casteel of Austin, Porter’s gen­eral con­sul­tant. Casteel said that in May and June, the can­di­date made 33 cam­paign stops in nine coun­ties, in­clud­ing Bas­trop, Travis and Har­ris. “It’s all en­ergy (group) meet­ings and GOP leader meet­ings,” Casteel said.

Casteel did not share de­tails of the stops, say­ing that would play into Weems’ hands. “We’re not go­ing to let him bait you into us re­leas­ing (Porter’s) po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity,” Casteel said.

Ahead, Casteel said, Porter plans to at­tend events hosted by the Texas In­de­pen­dent Pro­duc­ers and Roy­alty Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and nat­u­ral gas com­pa­nies, and he’ll tour more than 40 coun­ties.

One event Porter prob­a­bly won’t join: a de­bate. “Jeff Weems is a lit­i­ga­tor,” Casteel said. “David Porter is an ac­coun­tant. Why would we put our can­di­date in that po­si­tion, to stand in front of a podium?”

Casteel called Weems’ claim Porter has not re­turned the Tribune’s calls “a lie.” Ross Ram­sey, the Tribune’s man­ag­ing edi­tor, said it hasn’t had com­mu­ni­ca­tion dif­fi­cul­ties with ei­ther cam­paign.

We asked about Porter’s in­fre­quent Twit­ter posts. Casteel said: “David is be­ing true to him­self and who he is as a per­son and can­di­date. He’s not go­ing to use so­cial me­dia in a way to pro­duce faux ac­tiv­ity.”

Try­ing an­other tack, we con­tacted of­fi­cials with groups that watch the com­mis­sion closely.

Bill Stevens, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the en­ergy al­liance, said that since the pri­mary, Porter has par­tic­i­pated in a 30-minute con­fer­ence call with the al­liance plus the Wi­chita Falls meet­ing.

Wayne Hughes, of the Pan­han­dle Pro­duc­ers & Roy­alty Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, said Porter an­swered a ques­tion­naire in the group’s May news­let­ter. Asked whether Porter has oth­er­wise seemed out of sight, Hughes replied: “We don’t have any guide­lines for judg­ing Mr. Porter’s ap­pro­pri­ate­ness as a can­di­date. We feel like we have a clear pic­ture of what Mr. Weems is all about and his ap­pro­pri­ate­ness as a can­di­date. Can I stop there?”

We in­formed Weems of the ac­tiv­i­ties sum­ma­rized by Porter’s cam­paign. He stood by his con­ven­tion cri­tique.

Our suss: Porter has kept a low pro­file, but that does not a Punx­sutawney can­di­date make. The Demo­crat’s state­ment is Barely True.

Jeff Weems The state­ment: ‘I’m run­ning against a ground­hog. He saw his shadow on the pri­mary day, and no one has seen him since.’

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