DMN: Dallas’ Misrepresentation of News

Sometimes reporters get it right, and sometimes they don’t. Such is the case with today’s Dallas Morning News, in which an e-mail interview conducted last week was taken far out of context and re-cast to fit the establishment’s political narrative about the House leadership. To demonstrate that, I’m publishing the full interview below so you can see what was left out of the story.

Disclaimer: DMN reporter Bob Garrett is a pleasant fellow, who at least bothered to ask questions before going to print with his story. Believe it or not, that’s increasingly rare – with some journalists in such a rush to be the first to push a story they don’t seek comments. That’s a different issue.

In this case, the interview wasn’t pitched as being concerned with the speakership.

The e-mail from Garrett had the subject-line “Questions for a Garrett weekender on Texas House.” He led with:

Michael,

If it’d be faster to talk by phone, you know how to reach me.

Here are my (as usual, poorly informed) questions:

That was followed by eight questions. He then added a couple or more after I sent my responses.

The article appeared today under the title “Despite tea party gains, Straus appears safe for another term as speaker“.

From his questions and my answers, Garrett decided to make the story about the horse-race for the speakership. In the article, he incorrectly reported that I “all but acknowledged …  critics may not topple Straus this cycle.” No such thing was ever said; not even close.

He implies that the race for the speakership is over. That’s quite odd. According to the same DMN story, Scott Turner has said he is taking the fight to the floor of the Texas House – where it constitutionally belongs. That will be the first vote of the 2015 legislative session.

Suggesting that Turner might as well give up the race was like telling Ted Cruz in 2011 he couldn’t win because he was at 2 percent in the polls, so why bother with an election? Funny how things changed at the ballot-box. Oh, and the DMN was wrong on that, too…

A floor vote for speaker means a public record. Let’s be honest among friends: election results aren’t on the side of people who go with the establishment crowd in Austin. Ask State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown about her legislative agenda for 2015… Oh, wait, she was defeated a couple weeks back. Same for Bennett Ratliff, Diane Patrick, Ralph Sheffield, Lance Gooden… All were closely aligned with Speaker Straus.

Texans are looking for conservative champions, not establishment appeasers.

So, here are the questions and my answers:

1) Were you encouraged by the results of the March 4 Republican primary in Texas House races?

Yes, absolutely. (See DMN, March 16, 2014)

2) Why? While six Republican House incumbents went down to defeat – most, aligned with Speaker Straus – weren’t there at least as many victories by the speaker and his allies? (Straus, Keffer, Cook, JD Sheffield, Kacal, Otto, Crownover, S. King, Button, S. Davis)

The primary results show the ball is moving in the right direction – pun intended! Voters are increasingly engaged and holding politician’s feet to the fire. I notice that you didn’t mention the three races where conservative incumbents were being challenged heavily by the establishment. Might that be because they won and won big? But if we take a closer look at your list, several of those “victories” are Pyrrhic at best. Crownover won with less than 55% percent against a grossly under-funded first-time challenger, compared to Matt Schaefer who earned better than 60% with a highly funded opponent. Jim Keffer spent close to $900,000 in his re-election bid, and lost the most populous county in the district. Remember Vicki Truitt? She “won” in 2010, but was soundly defeated in 2012. Long-view versus short-view.

3) In the May 27 runoffs in nine House districts, aren’t the seats currently held by Branch, Callegari, J Davis and Hilderbran very unlikely to produce an “aye” vote next January for a Speaker Scott Turner?

I haven’t asked. Have you?

4) So isn’t Scott Turner well short of what he needs to dethrone Straus? (I’m happy to do the math with you: Maximum of 15 frosh and sophomore hellraisers + only 6 of the 15 hard-core votes vs. Straus in 2011 are left — by your lights, Burkett, Flynn and Parker have probably been co-opted — + maximum of 10 or 11 new freshman Rs in 2015 who’ll vote vs. Straus = ceiling for Turner of 31-32 votes. Not even the 40 Mike Hailey wrote about last week!)

I’m not focused on that. It’s up to Scott Turner and whoever ends up running for Speaker to do the speaker-math. We’re focused on informing voters and engaging with them on issues important to them and the state.

5) On KUT this week, I heard you say Team Straus has thwarted the conservative cause on two specific matters: No hearing last session on a tighter state constitutional spending cap, and no House passage of anti-abortion bills until the special session. Do those two things make up your main beef? Is there more to your bill of particulars?

I’m not sure what is meant by us having a “beef,” since the issues you mention are items favored by large majorities of the state’s citizens. Why so dismissive of a reform championed repeatedly on the campaign trail but unaddressed legislative session after legislative session? Strict constitutional spending limits have been endorsed by 94 percent of GOP primary voters on the 2012 ballot and previous. There is a whole bevy of policy reforms and initiatives that have been left un-attempted by this legislative leadership team. Many Texans seem to be growing weary of legislators who campaign with conservative rhetoric but govern like Walter Mondale. Dallas County’s deposed State Sen. John Carona clearly fit that model.

6) Isn’t there a strong alignment of TFR’s and Empower Texans PAC’s electoral efforts in House races with those of the Accountability First PAC? (I saw on an 8 day report by Empower Texans dba Texans for Fiscal Responsibility that on Feb. 21, it spent $145K with Local Voice Solutions for phone banks to help 18 House candidates. All 18 were also supported by the Accountability First PAC. See pages 312 and 321 of this 333-page PDF: http://204.65.203.5/public/605506.pdf)

Take a look at the PACs and organizations who opposed the candidates we endorsed – like the House leadership fund, TAR, TMA and others – they had greater overlap spending a lot more money. Of course, I am sure there was great overlap in the endorsements of TFR and lots of different liberty-minded, conservative organizations. Frankly, we don’t keep regular tabs on who is endorsing whom, or what vendors are being utilized by which organizations. We use a wide number of vendors and are constantly looking for better value, and LVS provided us with services we saw as a great value.

7) I’m not saying there’s anything out of line. But can’t I say that you’re continuing to “facilitate” opposition to squishy House leaders, in part by helping to harness the collective financial firepower of Tim Dunn, the Jones brothers, Don Dyer’s PJS investors group and the higher ed reform boys, Jeff Sandefer and Wallace Hall?

That seems less like a question and more like some sort of accusation! You are welcome to say what you would like. Those fellows all take the actions they feel are most effective. I only wish I could take credit for what they are doing individually and collectively for the future of the Lone Star State.

8) Aren’t the latter two guys a little peeved at the speaker these days?

You’d have to ask them.

He then responded with this:

Will you be at the May 1-May 2 spring meeting of Texans First in Dallas?

If so, what will be your role — member of the audience? presenter?

Have you attended their twice a year forums before? (http://texansfirst.net/what-we-do/texans-first-forums/)

Just curious. Thanks for the responses.

My answer:

I’m not. I have attended in the past as speaker — as you know, I give about 200 speeches a year… They seem to be a great group of entrepreneurs.

His next follow-on:

They don’t get involved in campaigns. But they seem to be ramping up on getting those entrepreneurs to work on state and local government issues, don’t they? (See topics from last year below.)

I mean, don’t you talk to them about state and local fiscal stuff?

My answer:

Is this seriously a question? 😉 I certainly wasn’t talking about my ice cream recipe…

Typically, when groups ask me to speak, they ask me to speak on what I do.

So, can you explain for me what it is you are asking me here?

There were no more questions after that. Sometime between when he asked the questions on Thursday, and I answered them on Friday, the story became fixated on the speakership race.

Would have been nice to know what he was REALLY asking, so I could have answered those questions…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans, and its premier project, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capital Hill staffer, think tank vice president and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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