A gen­tler side emerges in Cruz

Sen­a­tor rolls up sleeves, lends a shoul­der in home­town

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By TODD J. GILL­MAN Washington Bureau tgill­man@dal­las­news.com

DICK­IN­SON — Ted Cruz leaned into a re­frig­er­a­tor and, with an aide and three other vol­un­teers, wres­tled it the curb. They dumped a wa­ter­logged buf­fet, too, and a din­ing room ta­ble.

It was a bit sym­bolic. But the ges­ture was mean­ing­ful to Ti­mothy Moss, 61, as he cleared de­bris from his dad’s house. From a drive­way strewn with bro­ken glass and warped vinyl records, Moss picked up a photo of his grand­par­ents and showed it to the sen­a­tor.

“Texas took a hard, hard hit,” Cruz said, but “we’re go­ing to come back even stronger than we were be­fore.”

The flood­wa­ters that swept away lives and homes also ex­posed some un­ex­pected lay­ers of the state’s most po­lar­iz­ing po­lit­i­cal fig­ure.

Known in Washington for his am­bi­tion, for rankling his own party’s lead­ers and alien­at­ing lots of oth­ers, for cru­sad­ing against Oba­macare and big gov­ern­ment and bring­ing the fed­eral ma­chin­ery to a screech­ing

halt, Cruz is now chan­nel­ing his con­sid­er­able en­ergy into storm re­cov­ery — tend­ing to raw emo­tions and push­ing for fed­eral largesse on an un­prece­dented scale.

If you thought he was cold and aloof, you haven’t spent a day watch­ing him com­fort Tex­ans cop­ing with the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey. If you thought he hated gov­ern­ment, you haven’t heard him promis­ing home­own­ers that help is on the way and will be for years to come.

The fact that he’s up for re-elec­tion next year is co­in­ci­den­tal. But the vigor Cruz has trained on this cri­sis prob­a­bly won’t hurt when vot­ers de­cide whether to grant him a se­cond term.

“The peo­ple who are hurt­ing are the peo­ple I am fight­ing for ev­ery day,” he said in nearby League City af­ter un­load­ing ba­nanas and toi­let pa­per in a cav­ernous ware­house, an old Kroger re­pur­posed to pro­vide sup­plies to the area’s many storm vic­tims. “The grass­roots ac­tivists who elected me are the peo­ple work­ing in these re­lief cen­ters, are the peo­ple I fight for ev­ery day — the work­ing men and women of Texas.”

At­ten­tion turns home

There are lots of ways to be a sen­a­tor. There are grand­standers and work­horses, deal­mak­ers and wonks and fire­brands. Those in their first term usu­ally keep a low pro­file as they learn the ropes, build re­la­tion­ships and tend to the tan­gi­ble needs of con­stituents.

Cruz was al­ways a man in a hurry, with a pen­chant for big fights.

Eight months into the job, he staged a 21-hour overnight talkathon and en­gi­neered a gov­ern­ment shut­down in a bid to de­rail Oba­macare. It wasn’t long be­fore he was an­gling for a shot at the White House. That pur­suit con­sumed 15 months, and Iowans saw a lot more of him than Tex­ans for much of that time.

He’s of­ten packed his Au­gust re­cess with travel across Texas. But in four years and eight months as a sen­a­tor, he had not de­voted such di­rect, pro­longed at­ten­tion back home — un­til now.

In Dick­in­son, near the John­son Space Cen­ter south of Hous­ton, vol­un­teers from churches in Cal­i­for­nia and Louisiana were help­ing Jerry Collins rip out the soggy guts of his home of five decades when Cruz ar­rived.

“God brought all these peo­ple to me,” Collins, 66, told him.

Har­vey forced him to move his mom to a nurs­ing home for the first time in her 99 years. They’d been res­cued when a boat pulled up to their front door.

“She’s never been alone,”

Collins told the sen­a­tor, tear­ing up.

Cruz lis­tened in­tently and leaned in for quiet words.

The out-of-state vol­un­teers smiled broadly. He talked with them about their churches and obliged them with photos be­fore mov­ing to other houses along the street, each with its own pile of ru­ined fur­ni­ture and floor­ing.

Collins, who re­tired last year from the city at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Alvin, voted against Cruz in 2012. He’s a Demo­crat. Next year? “It’s a pos­si­bil­ity,” he said.

Not cam­paign­ing

Cruz is not cam­paign­ing. If any­thing, the storm de­layed a for­mal re-elec­tion launch.

But good gov­ern­ment is good pol­i­tics, and Cruz’s per­sonal in­ter­ests hap­pen to align neatly with the stag­ger­ing needs of his con­stituents.

And wit­ness­ing the dev­as­ta­tion gives him po­lit­i­cal cover to de­mand gen­er­ous out­lays from Washington, de­spite a long record of fis­cal con­ser­vatism and ad­vo­cacy for a shrunken role for the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

“A pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words, and him be­ing here is worth 10,000 words. He can go back and say, ‘I’ve seen this. I’ve seen this 6-foot pile of de­bris, street af­ter street af­ter street,’” said Mark Henry, the Galve­ston County judge, as Cruz worked his way from house to house. “He ap­pre­ci­ates the mag­ni­tude of the disas­ter. He un­der­stands the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can help.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is about the only per­son grum­bling at the sen­a­tor’s vis­i­bil­ity through the storm and its af­ter­math.

A ri­val for the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, Christie called it “dis­gust­ing” to see Cruz feed­ing evac­uees and ral­ly­ing sup­port for mas­sive fed­eral spend­ing af­ter vot­ing — along with all but one Texas Repub­li­can in Congress at the time — against a $50 bil­lion re­lief bill for vic­tims of Su­per­storm Sandy in 2013.

Cruz de­fends that vote, in­sist­ing that two-thirds of the Sandy mea­sure had noth­ing to do with im­me­di­ate storm re­cov­ery. Fact-check­ers have largely de­bunked such claims, which Christie called “rep­re­hen­si­ble lies.”

In any case, Cruz said, disas­ter re­sponse has al­ways been a le­git­i­mate fed­eral role.

“A per­son of good faith and good con­science can be­lieve that mas­sive gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions and taxes and debt are bad for our coun­try, and still be­lieve that there is a vi­tal role for gov­ern­ment, whether it is de­fend­ing our na­tion and re­build­ing our mil­i­tary or whether it is the long­stand­ing role of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to pro­vide as­sis­tance in the wake of mas­sive na­tional dis­as­ters,” he said.

Role of gov­ern­ment

Congress was on re­cess when the storm hit, and Cruz spent much of Au­gust hop­scotch­ing the state, hold­ing town halls, tour­ing the bor­der and meet­ing with lo­cal of­fi­cials. The storm cut a two-week “Ted works for Texas” tour by half, and with Congress back at work, Cruz can spend only week­ends along the Gulf Coast, meet­ing with emer­gency per­son­nel and storm vic­tims.

He as­signed a top aide full time to co­or­di­nate storm re­sponse and or­dered his en­tire staff to pitch in. “Ev­ery one of us is a Har­vey re­spon­der,” said chief of staff David Polyan­sky.

On Fri­day, Cruz toured parts of Hous­ton, and also trav­eled to Port Arthur and Rock­port.

It’s an es­pe­cially per­sonal disas­ter for Cruz. His own home in Hous­ton es­caped flood­ing, but 8 feet of wa­ter cov­ered his old neigh­bor­hood. He toured it by air­boat.

“Clay Road Bap­tist Church is where my dad be­came a Chris­tian. It’s where I be­came a Chris­tian. To see Clay Road un­der­wa­ter — that is pow­er­ful and real and per­sonal,” Cruz said. “Hous­ton’s my home. It’s where I grew up. … It’s where my kids go to school. It’s where we go to church.”

In north­east Hous­ton’s King­wood neigh­bor­hood, a tea party strong­hold, Cruz sup­port­ers have also grap­pled with the ten­sion be­tween an anti-gov­ern­ment phi­los­o­phy and the over­whelm­ing need for fed­eral aid.

Smaller gov­ern­ment would be prefer­able, said Robin Len­non, pres­i­dent and co-founder of the King­wood tea party, the first in the state to en­dorse Cruz’s bid for Senate in 2012. “But what we don’t want to do is leave a whole lot of peo­ple with­out a safety net.”

Len­non and her hus­band, wear­ing a tea party cap, were wait­ing as Cruz ar­rived at a com­mu­nity cen­ter. Vol­un­teers were hand­ing out cloth­ing, toi­letries, clean­ing sup­plies, wa­ter and huge bags of cat lit­ter — good for soak­ing up mois­ture.

“Peo­ple don’t give him enough credit,” Len­non said. “He’s in­tel­li­gent enough and nerdy enough that it is not al­ways ap­par­ent that he re­ally does have the heart.”

‘He’s here now’

Ma­jor parts of King­wood flooded a few days af­ter the storm. Res­i­dents blame a dam re­lease from Lake Con­roe, though the river author­ity re­jects that, not­ing how far they live down­stream.

“I haven’t cried. I’m not go­ing to,” a stoic Ce­cily Ryan told Cruz in the drive­way of her home, dry­wall piled high on the front lawn with other de­tri­tus.

She’s 66 and a home­maker. Her hus­band, Barney Ryan, is 72 and a re­tired project man­ager. They’ve been Tex­ans for two decades but re­tain the brogues of their na­tive Ire­land, and Cruz lit up as they spoke.

“I’m half Ir­ish,” he told them. “Are you re­ally? Re­ally?” she asked.

“I am,” Cruz in­sisted. “Cuban, Ir­ish and a lit­tle bit Ital­ian.”

“And a bit Canadian,” said Barney Ryan, re­fer­ring to the land of the sen­a­tor’s birth.

Cruz let it pass — “I was born there,” he said — and turned the con­ver­sa­tion to their or­deal. He quickly learned of their frus­tra­tions find­ing a ho­tel room that ac­cepted FEMA vouch­ers, and as­sured them he’d pressed the FEMA di­rec­tor on that topic al­ready.

They blame the flood on silt buildup in the nearby bay­ous and in­lets, along with the dam re­lease. There will be time to as­sess and learn the lessons of Har­vey, Cruz as­sured them be­fore he moved on.

“It’s very im­por­tant he came,” Ce­cily Ryan said. “He’s try­ing.”

Said her hus­band, “It makes the gov­ern­ment hu­man.”

A few houses away, Cruz greeted Denise and Pete Gar­cia.

“How you hold­ing up?” he asked.

They lost two cars in the flood. Their yard looked like a rum­mage sale, rows of shoes dry­ing in the sun, a mat­tress leaned against a tree. In­side, in­dus­trial fans ran loud and the walls were stripped to the fram­ing.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful home. Nice open space,” Cruz joked.

Out­side, he nudged them for their Har­vey story: go­ing to bed un­aware of an im­pend­ing flood, wa­ter top­ping the sofa within a few hours, a res­cue at dawn. An el­derly woman down the street died two hours af­ter Pete helped evac­u­ate her.

At least they have power, and in­sur­ance, and friends with a home where they can stay for a while.

Did you man­age to save the fam­ily photos? Cruz asked. Denise Gar­cia quickly choked up.

“Don’t go there,” she said. Cruz put a hand on her arm. “You know what, you still have fam­ily,” he said qui­etly, swal­low­ing his own emo­tion. “You’re be­ing lifted up in prayer by mil­lions of peo­ple in Texas and the coun­try.”

State Rep. Dan Hu­berty, a Repub­li­can from nearby Hum­ble, was among the lo­cal of­fi­cials lead­ing Cruz around the area. Had Cruz been this vis­i­ble be­fore the disas­ter?

“He’s here now,” Hu­berty said. “And I’m happy that he’s here.”

Louis DeLuca/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (left) com­forts long­time Dick­in­son res­i­dent Travis Moss, who be­came emo­tional af­ter find­ing some per­sonal pho­tos. Vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing the Texas Re­pub­li­can and his aides, helped re­move soggy de­bris left in Moss’ home from Har­vey...

Louis DeLuca/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (right) moved fur­ni­ture to the curb with Larry Tay­lor (left) as they helped the Moss fam­ily clear out their flooded home in Dick­in­son.

Smi­ley N. Pool/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Jen­nifer Nixon wiped away a tear as she talked with Cruz dur­ing his tour of the evac­u­a­tion cen­ter at NRG Cen­ter on Sept. 4 in Houston.

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