Lisa Falkenberg writes the followup column on George Fleming and his repeat attempt to underwrite a campaign challenge to Steven Kirkland that I figured she’d write.
Fleming’s contributions to a political action committee called Moving Texas Forward – $75,000 from him and $10,000 from another of his PACs, according to records – have helped foot the bill for a new wave of attacks that have filled mailboxes, in-boxes and radio waves in recent days. All focus on Kirkland’s old record.
Gray, who according to records has taken $15,000 from Fleming and $35,000 from one of his PACs, hasn’t engaged in the attacks. She released a statement saying, in part: “If any independent groups are saying anything untrue about Steve Kirkland, they should stop immediately.”
But she hasn’t condemned the deceitful nature of the ads. And that’s a mistake, as was taking Fleming’s money with no questions asked.
Kirkland’s DWIs are shameful, no doubt. But the attack ads never mention the dates of the arrests. On the contrary, they make it seem like they happened yesterday.
Justin Jordan, who works as Gray’s campaign consultant, and has been paid thousands to do advertising by a Fleming PAC that’s supporting Gray, defended the ads.
Asked why a 30-year-old DWI is relevant in a judicial race, Jordan at first hesitated: “I’m not sure. Judge Kirkland made that an issue.”
“How?” I asked.
“He talked about it,” Jordan said. “I think his record is fair game.”
Jordan denied that the ads were misleading, including one mailer featuring scary drunken driving statistics and court documents detailing Kirkland’s conviction, jail sentence and license suspension. The only date provided is one featured prominently, in big type, near the top right: May 2012.
“Whether it was 30 years ago or 30 days, a DWI is a DWI,” Jordan said. “If you have a public record you should defend it. And the only thing we’ve heard from Judge Kirkland’s campaign is whining and crying.”
Jordan’s explanation for the May 2012 reference? It was the date a photo of Kirkland included in the ad was taken. Apparently, it’s more important we know when a random photo of Kirkland was taken in his chambers than when he actually committed the offenses at the heart of the attack ad.
See here and here for the background. Sure, a DWI is relevant in a campaign. So is lying. Kirkland has been honest about his past history with alcohol. Too bad Fleming and Jordan aren’t being honest about their characterization of it. Hope it was worth it to you if you win, Lori Gray.
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post picked up the story and added a little bit more to what we already knew, but didn’t provide a fully accurate picture.
In an email to The Huffington Post, Fleming noted that he is a lifelong Democrat who frequently contributes and supports judicial elections in Texas. Like other lawyers, he said, he is invested in ensuring that the most competent judges ended up on the bench.
“I don’t have a vendetta against anyone,” he said. “Our selection in Texas of judicial candidates is an elective system. Like so many others, I participate in that system and have for many years.”
But if Fleming’s donations are based on merits, there haven’t been many candidates he’s found meritorious. Campaign finance records show that both he and his PAC got involved in just two other races after [the 2012 primary between Kirkland and now-Judge Elaine Palmer]. The first was a state representative campaign.
The second was to support Lori Gray, a lawyer who is currently running against Kirkland in the Democratic primary for a seat on the 113th District Court.
I was a bit suspicious of that “after the 2012 primary” formulation, so I went and did a search by Contributor for both George Fleming and the Texans For Good Leaders PAC. It’s true that the latter has mostly been active since 2012, and has only contributed to one other candidate – State Rep. Richard Raymond – besides Palmer and Gray, though they did contribute $5,000 to the HCDP in 2009. However, Fleming himself does have an extensive history of contributions to mostly Democratic candidates. I searched from January 1, 2000 onward, and he gave quite a bit to the likes of Ellen Cohen, Kristi Thibaut, Susan Criss, and a few Democratic judicial candidates in 2008. He also gave $20K to Friends Of Carole Keeton Strayhorn in 2005, $1,000 to now-Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown, and ironically enough $250 to Steven Kirkland in 2011. So much for that. Be that as it may, Fleming’s defense of himself has some merit, but by the same token in a year like this there are far better causes to which to contribute. It also doesn’t mitigate the bad acts of his anti-Kirkland crusade. If you want to be known by the body of your work, it’s best not to have one example of your work stand in stark contrast to everything else you’ve done.