If you knew Paul Sadler, you’d probably think he was an experienced, well-qualified candidate for the US Senate. And you’d be right. Unfortunately, not enough people know Paul Sadler well enough to know this.
In 2002, state Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson, was one of the most powerful Democrats in the Texas Legislature when he announced he was not running for re-election.
At the time, he was the chairman of the House Public Education Committee and a force that even the state’s governor had learned to be mindful of when it came to anything involving schools.
Ten years later, Sadler, 57, is the unequivocal underdog in his bid for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz, a rising national star in the Republican Party. As he crisscrosses the state, Sadler is learning firsthand that before he can persuade voters to view him as a serious contender, he must first remind them of the power player whom he once was.
“We have the qualified candidate. They do not,” Sadler recently told a crowd of Democrats in Seguin. “I am the one that served in the Legislature. I am the one that chaired committees. I am the one that built a school system. I am the one that helped you build schools and educate your children.”
Sadler was chairing a committee hearing on teacher health insurance one evening in 2001 when he received word that his 10-year-old son, Sam, had been in a car accident. Sadler rushed to a Tyler hospital. Sam spent four days in a coma. A brain injury would necessitate years of physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Later that year, Sam expressed interest in playing baseball again. Sadler took his son to their backyard and ventured a game of catch. His son could catch a ball coming toward his left or right. When Sadler softly tossed a ball over his son’s head, Sam let it pass by.
“So I put a helmet on his head, and every night we would toss the ball,” Sadler said.
His son played baseball again and later took up golf, feats Sadler viewed as “an absolute miracle.” Sam Sadler is now a senior in the PGA golf management program at Mississippi State University.
Sadler was on the phone with Sam in 2010 as Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. Both father and son had long worried about whether Sam’s brain injury would prevent him from securing health insurance once he aged out of his parents’ plan. The new law bans health insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
“We watched the vote together and he said, ‘Dad, I’ve got tears in my eyes. This is probably the most important day of my life,’” Sadler said.
It’s interesting to speculate what might have happened if Sadler had not stepped down from the Lege after 2001. In 2000, he was unopposed for election in a district (HD08) that consisted of Henderson, Panola, and Rusk Counties. In the 2002 election, after redistricting, Henderson was in HD05, which was narrowly won by Republican Bob Glaze, and Panola and Rusk were in HD11, which was won by then-Democrat Chuck Hopson. It’s not hard to imagine that Sadler, like Hopson, could have held on to that seat through 2008; assuming so, if he had been opposed by any Republican in 2010, he would have lost that year. All three counties are also in CD01 and SD01, so it’s possible Sadler could have taken a shot at Crazy Louie Gohmert in 2006 or 2008, or could have done what he did anyway as a former Rep and run to succeed Bill Ratliff, with whom he collaborated on the education reform bill of 1995 that is his signature achievement in the Lege, in the 2004 special election after Ratliff resigned. If he remained in the Lege beyond 2001, perhaps he’d have an easier time raising money, or perhaps he’d have no interest in running again so soon after what surely would have been a wrenching loss in 2010. Who knows? Like I said, it’s interesting to speculate.
What we do know is that Sadler is knowledgeable and experienced and has skin in the game, but has barely raised enough money to be competitive in a State House race. What’s particularly unfortunate about that is that he polls pretty decently once people hear a bit about him and his opponent. The Chron reports on an internal poll released by the Sadler campaign, but they don’t go past the opening line, in which Sadler trails Cruz by a 49-32 margin. The same sample has Romney up on Obama by 52-40, so this is not an especially Democratic-friendly sample. They then go through a series of questions describing Sadler and Crux and various issues – it’s a basic push poll – and the surprise isn’t so much that in the end Sadler actually leads Cruz 42-41 but that the respondents were a lot less favorable to Republican ideology than you might think. For example, a candidate who supported replacing Medicare with vouchers was opposed 61-27, and a candidate who supported turning down federal money to expand Medicaid was opposed 59-31, even though a candidate who supported repealing “Obamacare” was supported 49-42, and the Medicaid question specifically mentioned that it was part of “Obamacare”. Particularly near and dear to my heart, a candidate who opposed abortion in all cases was opposed 63-27, and a candidate who opposed making contraceptive coverage available to all women was opposed 64-27. Not all of Sadler’s attack lines against Cruz had majority or plurality support, and of course that final “now that you’ve heard all this bad stuff about Ted Cruz” question just nudged him into a one-point lead with plenty of undecideds, but still. The needle can be moved, and the terrain ain’t as hostile as you might have been led to believe.
But again, people have to know who Paul Sadler is to want to vote for him, or at least to consider it. Sadler will now have at least two opportunities to debate Cruz, and hopefully earn himself a little media and exposure as a result. Beyond that, you can help him out next Monday at the Continental Club if you’re so inclined. We know he’s the best choice. We just need more people to know it.