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Dan Patrick sightings

I doubt that the Chron’s calling out of Dan Patrick had anything to do with him appearing in public, in the daylight, where there might be people that don’t vote Republican, but it was good timing anyway.

“Oozing charm from every pore I oiled my way around the floor”

Now that Patrick is a heavy favorite in his first statewide race, for the powerful position of lieutenant governor, his handlers have hit upon a new strategy for the typically outspoken candidate: Keep the man corraled until after the election.

“At this time the senator does not plan to meet with editorial boards,” his communications director wrote the Chronicle last week. And in a news story, (“Where’s Patrick? Hiding in plain sight on the trail? Page A1, Sept. 12), the Chronicle’s Austin bureau detailed how the 64-year-old Republican candidate has gone MIA. He does not release a schedule of his appearances and limits meetings to sympathetic audiences.

Patrick’s strategy, as his handlers see it, is akin to the mighty Texas Aggies running out the clock against the boys from North Louisiana Barber College (go Clippers!) They refuse to acknowledge two distinct differences: Politics ain’t beanbag (as the saying goes) or football, and the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, is a worthy opponent.

Even though Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, Van de Putte has something to say, and that makes Patrick and his handlers skittish.

“Democrats are not a dying breed in Texas,” a candidate told us a few weeks ago. “But Democratic voters are.” That means that if you’re a Republican, the strategy is: Keep your head down (and your mouth shut, in Patrick’s case) and you’ll win. The Texas GOP views the general election as a road bump, knowing that the bulk of voters continue to be older, whiter suburbanites who lean red.

Patrick’s refusal to meet with editorial boards around the state isn’t an insult to newspapers. It’s an insult to the people of Texas. They deserve to know where both candidates stand on the issues. They deserve to see both candidates in action, in whatever forum available. That’s what a campaign is all about.

Some 27 million people are proud to call themselves Texans. Patrick and every person who pays a filing fee owes them the dignity of talking about their capacity to lead – in campaign appearances before general audiences, in editorial boards, debates, town-hall meetings.

So lo and behold, he shows up for a fifteen minute press conference – not clear if any questions were allowed to be asked of him, but whatever – surrounded by his buddies in the business lobby.

The 15-minute event in a downtown Austin office building was Patrick’s first news conference since winning the runoff primary against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in late May, and the general-election frontrunner clearly was sensitive to the recent criticism over his low-profile campaign.

Patrick boasted of 1,300 individual meetings with Texans during the campaign. “Over the last several months, I’ve been the hardest working guy on the campaign trail,” he said.

The focus on business in the rare public appearance is unsurprising as it is an important constituency for Republicans that Van de Putte has made a point to court.

The Democrat released a jobs and economic development proposal early in the campaign and repeatedly has highlighted support from business owners in news releases.

Earlier this week, San Antonio construction magnate Henry Bartell Zachry Jr. and Ed Whitacre, a former CEO at AT&T and GM, hosted a fundraiser for her at a downtown San Antonio business club.

On Friday, Van de Putte was headed to an Austin fundraiser hosted by the co-founder of an advertising agency.

Patrick also has found himself disagreeing with the business community on some key issues.

He voted against final passage of the state budget last session and has been the most vocal hard-liner on the campaign trail when it comes to immigration and border security.

The Texas Association of Business supported the budget and has been pushing for a guest worker program, but still is endorsing Patrick.

Yes, and the Farm Bureau endorsed him, too. So the next time you hear either of them complain about anti-immigrant Republicans, you’ll know they don’t mean it. You cannot support comprehensive immigration reform and Dan Patrick at the same time. It’s like claiming to support peace while selling arms to all comers.

Patrick then put in an appearance at TribFest, and reminded us why he’d be so horrible if given a position of real power.

Patrick, who took the stage first with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith, said the state should transition from depending solely on property taxes for funding public schools and instead rely more on a sales tax.

“It’s not increasing, it’s a swap,” Patrick said, when asked whether this would affect his standing within the business community.

While the Texas Legislature in 2013 restored some of the billions of dollars in public education spending it cut in 2011, Patrick said he would be apprehensive about allocating additional dollars to failed schools, adding that the state should rework the way it funds its schools.

Van de Putte said that if she were lieutenant governor, she would prioritize school funding during the budget battle that develops during the legislative session by tapping the surplus in the state’s coffers as it heads into the next session.

“I know that Texans value investment,” Van de Putte said.

Yes, the old property-taxes-for-sales-taxes swap. Patrick tried to peddle it as no big thing.

Patrick said property taxes have become excessive for too many Texans and he believes the public would support a tax swap that spreads out the burden of paying for schools and state programs.Texas schools are primarily funded with local property taxes and state revenue – including sales taxes.

“What I have always believed is we need to transition from depending (so much) on property taxes to more of a sales tax base that requires more people paying,” Patrick said at a political forum in Austin.

“This is something we need to have a serious discussion about. I am talking about bringing senators and hopefully House members together and being honest about tax policy,” he said, pointing out that many Texans cannot afford to keep paying higher and higher property taxes. School property taxes make up about 60 percent of the average property tax bill.

Texas Tribune Editor in Chief Evan Smith, who separately questioned both Sens. Patrick, R-Houston, and Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, asked Patrick about complaints that a higher sales tax would be regressive and increase the tax burden of lower income families.

“If you take an extra penny or two, would a person stop buying something because it costs $1.10 instead of $1.08?” he asked, referring to the current sales tax of 8.25 percent in most areas of the state. The tax swap should be set up so that people below the poverty level are exempted from sales taxes. “It would not be a tax on the poor. If you want to do something about a tax on the poor, let’s get rid of the lottery,” he said.

When Dan Patrick talks about this, you need to keep in mind two things:

1. Any property-tax-for-sales-tax swap will have winners and losers, and you can guess which one Patrick would be. I guarantee you, this would be a huge windfall for people like Dan Patrick.

2. If you believe that the kind of property tax cut Dan Patrick would want to propose could be fully funded by a two-cent increase in the sales tax, I’ve got a business margins tax I’d like to sell you.

So keep talking, Dan. Our best bet is that people pay attention to what you’re saying. In the meantime, the Corpus Christi Caller became the first, but surely not the last, newspaper to endorse Sen. Leticia Van de Putte.

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One Comment

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Skyrocketing property taxes don’t just hurt the usual suspects, businesses, middle and upper income homeowners, they also directly impact property owners of more modest means, in gentrifying neighborhoods. How many folks have been, and will be, displaced by property taxes they can’t pay, from Midtown, the Heights, Freedmen’s Town, etc.? What a great way to get rid of the unwashed masses from “hot” areas of town. Just let the tax man do his magic and make the taxes on a lot valued as a teardown more than the owner of that property can afford to pay. Poof. Unseemly poor folks banished from their neighborhoods, as the affluent take over.

    Of course, my worry with Patrick’s plan is, that increasing a tax here to offset a tax over there will devolve into, “hey, we increased this tax, but after the hoopla has subsided, we bring the offset tax back to its former level of hurt.” This worry is why Texans, by and large will not even consider an income tax.