Thursday, June 12, 2014

Texas Talk--Part II

This is part II of a three-part piece, reporting what I observed at the Texas State Republican Convention last weekend. Part I covered Senator Ted Cruz’s speech, which was important because he was so clearly the Texas favorite for a 2016 presidential candidate—and it was a good speech, which we never hear from our current president. Today we’ll cover highlights of some other speakers. And in part III we’ll get to the part that’s been coming up in the news, concerning platform debate, which I found interesting but much less contentious than the media portrays it.

Greg Abbott speaks at Texas GOP Convention
Speeches aren’t really the business of a convention, but they are an opportunity for sharing views, and getting the hardcore grassroots of the party excited about candidates. More of that happens in a presidential election year. But this year includes a number of statewide Texas races: governor, lieutenant governor (that’s like vice-governor in Texas, a position with a lot of influence over the state senate), attorney general, railroad commissioner (a three-person commission over mainly the oil and gas industry and other natural resources), and agriculture commissioner.


Greg Abbott—Attorney General, Candidate for Governor
I want to cover Greg Abbott’s speech first. He is the current Texas Attorney General, and has used that position to sue the Obama administration numerous times. He has prevailed on allowing displays of the Ten Commandments. There are many cases still pending related to Obamacare, but he does understand the 10th Amendment and has been asserting those rights first through legal channels, which was his job. (Ted Cruz served under him as Solicitor General before running for senator.) I have liked him since the first time I heard him speak—at a state GOP convention ten years ago. He’s been one of my favorites every year. So I was pleased to know he was running for governor, and I’ve been behind him from the beginning.
He’s a lawyer, so you expect a cerebral approach to things, and you get that. His campaign theme is Bicentennial Blueprint. In 22 years from now—when babies born today will be about ready to graduate from college and get out into the world—Texas has its 200th birthday. That is, when it won independence from a tyrannical Mexican dictator and became an independent republic, before some years later becoming a state in the United States. So, he points out that Texans have been pioneers in oil, in ranching, and even space exploration. “Texas is truly exceptional.” So he’s asking what it will look like 22 years from now. Because he and his opponent, Wendy Davis, have very different visions of what Texas should look like.
“Her prescription is more government. My prescription is more freedom,” Abbott says. Texas is the best business climate in America now. How to you get it better?
·        Limit the size of government, to stimulate the private sector to create jobs—so you keep more of your hard-earned money.
·        Government must live within a budget. Don’t allow the Rainy Day Fund to be used like an ATM machine. Debt today becomes taxes tomorrow. All levels of taxing entities in Texas must post online how they’re spending their budgets.
·        Government answers to you—not the other way around.
·        Reduce property taxes.
·        Prioritize roads and water. Protect the water supply. And build roads without raising taxes, fees, or tolls.
He inserted some humor here. In case you don’t know, Greg Abbott is in a wheelchair. When he was in his 20s, a couple of years after getting married, he was out running and a tree fell on him, leaving him paralyzed. I’ve heard him tell that story before, adding, “People assume I must have been the world’s slowest runner, if I couldn’t outrun a tree.” This time, talking about roads, he said, “There are places where a guy in a wheelchair can go faster than a car in traffic. Elect me governor, and I’ll get Texas roads moving again.”
Confetti Storm after Greg Abbott's speech
He also said his main plan for crime is to secure the border. “Cartel activity has contaminated across the state,” he said. Priorities are messed up. “The government stops a valedictorian from mentioning God, but doesn’t stop drug cartels.”
And while he was on federal failures, he added Obamacare and VA care: “The federal government doesn’t have a clue how to run healthcare. Get government out of healthcare. Let doctors and patients make decisions.”
“Patients first; bureaucrats last.” Of veterans, he said, “Having served on the front lines, they should go to the front of the line to get healthcare.”
He said the cornerstone of his Bicentennial Blueprint is education. His wife has been a teacher and principal, so he has some contact with the front lines. Texas reigns in jobs, energy, exports, and business climate. “It’s time for Texas to become number one for education of our children.”
I tend to cringe when anyone in government talks about education, but I think he gets it. “The job of government is to set the vision,” he said. And added that we need genuine local control, including allowing opt-outs from hurdles put in the way from the capitol in Austin. “Teachers and parents know better how to educate than bureaucrats.” And he’s against so much standardized tests. He said, what will matter in preparation for tomorrow isn’t how a student does on some test, but how prepared they are for life. He emphasized, we’ll “drive a stake through the heart of C-SCOPE (Texas’s version of Common Core) and never allow it.”
One highlight of his speech was what you might call the outreach part. He said the blueprint is to live up to greater opportunity for all, “Regardless of race, religion, or zip code.” And he said his family mirrors the state of Texas. His wife is the daughter of an Irish father and Mexican mother, and he is the son of Anglo parents. “Juntos somos una familia.” (Together we are a family.) “This blending of culture works in the Lone Star State.” I think he’s right about that. You see that at our local tea party meetings, and at the convention.
If he is elected governor, which I am planning on, his wife will be Texas’s first Hispanic first lady. The democrats, meanwhile, are offering a divorced, gold-digging, self-centered blonde, whose claim to fame is a pointless filibuster of a bill to limit late-term abortions to the point where fetuses are known to experience pain. Sometime I’ll talk about the “abortion Barbie” candidate. But for now, let’s just say, Greg Abbott is going to make an excellent governor of the biggest, most conservative and therefore most thriving state in the union.

Dan Patrick—State Senator District 7, Candidate for Lieutenant Governor

Dan Patrick is my state senator. So I’ve talked with him in person, and heard him speak in person many times. Plus, he’s had a radio show I started listening to when I moved to Texas. So I feel like I know him well. And he’ll be an excellent Lieutenant Governor.
Senator Dan Patrick
His speech at the convention was on fire.
“There’s this thing called Battleground Texas—they’ve picked the wrong ground to battle on.” That was his beginning. In case you’re not familiar, Battleground Texas is a sub-ACORN organization with the purpose of turning Texas blue (democrat). Mathematically, if they could do that, Republicans would never again win a US presidential race. But it’s not going to happen—because we’re being vigilant, which those guys aren’t used to facing.
Dan Patrick said, “We are the high ground on liberty. They live in a valley where the desert never blooms freedom. We will win on the high ground of principles.”
Much of his speech was on how to get the message out of who we are and what we stand for: life, job opportunity, educational opportunity. This “Be bold,” and “Share the Message” was something of a theme through all of the speeches, and probably a good plan of action for all the grassroots going forward.
His opponent, Leticia Van de Putte, he said is an ideological copy of democrat candidate for governor Wendy Davis: “Nothing she stands for has anything in common with any American or Texan.” He listed a few: “They’re for abortion, and against school choice. They’re for Obamacare, and against border security.”
Immigration is a big issue with Dan Patrick. “We’re not against immigration—we’re against illegal immigration. Hispanics are with us on securing the border.” I didn’t get all the numbers written down, but I think these are what he shared. There are 100,000 gang members in Texas, here illegally. In four years there were 113,000 violent criminal aliens arrested, and then released; 79% went back mostly into San Antonio. There are 700,000 young adults that have come in in the last several months, causing a humanitarian crisis. Our service centers are almost full, so that, if we have a hurricane or other emergency (likely in any given year), we have no place to evacuate our own citizens.
His policy on immigration is pretty much equivalent to mine: Secure the border first. No pathway to citizenship for those here illegally. Once the border is secure and no special gimmes are offered, then deal with those that are still here. (Need I point out that this is what Romney said in 2012?) And when is the border secure? “It’s secured when Texas tells Washington it’s secured—not when Washington tells Texas it’s secure.”
He’s headed the Education committee in the state senate, and is clear on education issues. (I know he’s been educated along the way on homeschooling.) Like Abbott, his wife has also been a teacher.
He’s for lower property taxes—so we don’t forever “rent” our own property from the state of Texas.
Unlike his relatively good predecessor, Dan Patrick promises, “I’m not going to put democrats in leadership of committees.” Yay!
He points out how oil and gas is an example of free enterprise working. In Midland, he says McDonald’s pays a bonus to attract workers. That’s what happens when there’s full employment and opportunity.
He’s traveled the state in this campaign, with some 1000 meetings. With no entourage. He has had a chauffeur. And a bodyguard. “She’s the same person, my wife of 39 years.”
He has been effective in the state senate. At age 63 he has no aspirations beyond being Lieutenant Governor. I believe him when he says he wants to serve, because I’ve seen that’s what he’s done consistently. 


Rand Paul—Senator from Kentucky
Rand Paul isn’t a candidate for anything in Texas. However, he was born and raised in Texas (son of former US Representative Ron Paul). He grew up in Lake Jackson, south of Houston, and went to Baylor, where he met his wife, a Kentuckian, which is how he ended up there. There’s a possibility he might run for president in 2016. So he came home for the convention. 

Rand Paul has the talent of talking to a room of 8,000 people as if he’s in your back yard having a casual chat over barbecue. He’s fun to listen to. And on ideas I like him better than his father. Still, there are things I disagree with him on, as I do with many libertarians. But he’s fairly careful about how he says things, and I believe we could occasionally disagree without rancor. There are so many things to agree on.
Senator Rand Paul
He starts out, “I’m a little annoyed with Obama right now.” He refers to the illegal release of five Taliban higher-ups from Guantanamo. He referred to the marine who accidentally crossed the border into Mexico and is being imprisoned there, Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi. He suggested it would be a better idea to trade five democrats for the marine—“John Kerry, Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi….” Later, news media attacked him for this suggestion. He said to lighten up; it was a joke. “Except for Nancy Pelosi; I was serious about her.”
He talked about how difficult it is to cut even the rate of growth of government spending. During the shutdown, he said everyone in government was “asked to list who was essential and unessential on our staff. So I asked my staff to get together the list from the EPA, the IRS…” Those entities listed 90% of their staffs as unessential. Still, they manipulate things so that the unessential get paid while not working. “The government could be shut down completely, and it costs more than when it’s open.”
He’s good with examples. “One woman was paid for not working—over $100,000 a year—and hadn’t even clocked in in five years.” They didn’t fire her.
One government employee was discovered to be downloading port six hours a day. He wasn’t fired.
There was John Biele, a senior EPA official, who collected a salary for work he didn’t do—for 13 years, getting $150,000, whether he showed up or not, and the time he didn’t show up totaled 2 ½ years. He told the EPA that when he wasn’t in, it was because he was on secret assignment with the CIA. It took more than a decade before that TV script story was questioned, and someone called the CIA and found out he’d faked the story.
“But the democrats say there’s nowhere we can cut.” So he offers help. There’s $100 billion in the budget unaccounted for. A simple hiring freeze, allowing for attrition, would save $6 billion a year. We pay $20 billion a year keeping up unoccupied federal buildings. We pay $20 billion in aid to corporations—an average of $200 million a year to each company receiving corporate welfare.
He admits that the 2/3 of mandatory social spending, like social security, requires some difficult choices. But he suggests we raise the retirement age by 1-2 months a year for 30 years. He offered this solution, and asked the democrats to “work with us, do the right thing.” The response? They accused him of “pushing grandma off a cliff.”
A third of the budget goes to the military. During the shutdown, the president was afraid you might not notice—“so he had to make you notice.” He closed down private monuments. One great image was of WWII veterans cutting through the barrier tape.
He told of one ridiculous example: Twiggy the waterskiing squirrel. There’s $3 million in the budget for this. Now, compared to the whole budget, when they’re saying we can’t cut anything—we find Twiggy? It turns out, Twiggy the waterskiing squirrel is used to promote American walnuts in Spain. “I’ve got a suggestion,” Paul says; “If you’ve got a walnut farm, pay for your own d**n advertising.” When it came to a vote, Twiggy the Squirrel funding passed 320-90. It’s not just a democrat problem.
He took a moment to refer to the “Old McDonald’s Farm” of scandals, “here a scandal, there a scandal, everywhere a scandal.”
Benghazi means the death of four Americans. The ambassador had spent six months asking for reinforcements. Specific request: a DC-3, a 50-year-old plane, just in case they needed to evacuate. Hillary said no. They ended up begging Libyans to let them use a plane to evacuate.
Three days after turning down the Libyan ambassador’s request, she approved $100,000 for changing (I think he said) carpet in the Italian embassy. She approved $650,000 for Facebook ads. Later that season the Brussels embassy got $100,000 for landscaping, and $5 million went for crystalware.
In August 2012, Ambassador Stevens sent a cable to Hillary asking if she’d read his requests for help. She said no. “That is dereliction of duty.”
“To win nationally, we need to be a bigger, better, bolder pary. We need to keep on message and be bolder with our message.” There’s that “be bold” theme of so many speeches.
He reminded us Reagan was dramatically, boldly, for cutting taxes—to create jobs. We bring new people into the party when we speak that truth.
He said we’ll keep on emphasizing the Second Amendment—“Don’t give up on that. But also the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and First Amendments.”
There more examples—of abuses of freedom, and why we need the protections. And also ways to address those things in Congress. Here was one not likely to pass: “Cut congressional pay in half—have them there only half as much. And institute a work requirement.” He also said, “There’s no monopoly on knowledge in Washington.”
He ended with that bold theme again: “Bigger, bolder, better—with optimism.” He used a memorable image for this a quote historian David McCullough has used. It’s from painter Robert Henri, about the joyful, bold way he paints. Rand Paul changes it slightly for the political party: “Proclaim our message like a man coming over the hill singing.”
I believe a bold, clear, uncompromising message is many times better than defensive, compromising off-message talk. Let’s defend the Constitution, let people know why we believe in it, show why it makes better opportunities for everyone. Conserving the Constitution has so much more to offer humanity than any other political path. That bold talk is something I really like about Texas.

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