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Hugh Fitzsimons

Probably the last thing I’ll write about Jim Hogan

At least, I hope it’s the last thing, because there ain’t much to say.

Jim Hogan

Texas Democrats are not holding their breaths for a win for the office held by Republicans since Perry ousted Jim Hightower in 1992.

Democratic consultant Jason Stanford went so far Wednesday as to say [Jim] Hogan’s candidacy [for Ag Commissioner] is “as good as a forfeit.”

“Sid Miller could probably move to Oklahoma and win this race,” Stanford said. “No one would notice.”

The best thing the Democrats can hope for in the race is for Hogan to continue his strategy without publicly embarrassing the party, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

Jones said Hogan’s nomination reflects poorly on party leadership.

“It’s really a sad state of affairs for the Texas Democratic Party when someone is able to be a statewide candidate without actively campaigning at all,” he said.

Yes, it’s embarrassing, but let’s keep some perspective here. Republicans didn’t exactly nominate their best candidates for Ag Commissioner or Attorney General or Railroad Commissioner, either. Let’s also not forget that all the way back in 2010, some dude named David Porter, who campaigned about as much as Jim Hogan did, knocked off two-term incumbent Railroad Commissioner Victor Carillo despite Carillo having huge advantages in campaign finances and name recognition. Hogan’s win is a forehead-slapper, but it’s hardly unprecedented.

The good news is that there’s a fairly simple fix for this. The problem in a nutshell is that when voters are faced with unfamiliar choices, you get random results. We’ve seen this in elections at every level. Your best bet to avoid a random result is for the viable candidates to have the resources to properly introduce themselves to the voters, and by “resources” I of course mean money. Roll the clock back six months or so, have a few big Democratic donors seed the Hugh Fitzsimons campaign with $500K or so for some targeted mail, and I’m willing to bet he makes it to the runoff. For all the crap I’ve given that Trib poll, the one useful thing about it was that it highlighted at the time how unknown all of the Democratic candidates for Senate were. I’m sure that changed dramatically over the next few weeks as David Alameel was plastering his image over the entire Internet. You wouldn’t have needed Fitzsimons to win outright, you just need to ensure he makes it to the runoff. He needed 70,000 votes to pass Kinky, 75,000 to pass Hogan. Surely that was within reach for that kind of money. I’ve said before that if we want to be able to recruit quality candidates for these downballot races in 2018 and however many elections after that until the bench is deep enough to take care of this by itself, we need to be able to reassure them that they’ll have the resources they’ll need to fend off whatever quacks and wannabes file for the same race. Someone in a better position than me to make this happen needs to start thinking about this ASAP.

Chron overview of Dem Ag Commissioner runoff

It’s the same story we’ve known all along.

Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman

Texas Democrats’ dreams of taking over statewide offices surely never envisioned the kind of race they have in the primary runoff for agriculture commissioner where musician and writer Kinky Friedman faces off against a Cleburne farmer who has chosen not to campaign or even raise money.

While Friedman travels the state touting a message of marijuana legalization, cattle farmer and insurance agent Jim Hogan is sticking close to home, relying on news outlets and the Internet to boost his name recognition.

As a result, the race is more likely to leave the Democratic Party with a headache than a realistic opportunity to break a 20-year Republican stranglehold on statewide office.

“One of them’s a dangerous commodity, the other’s a guaranteed dud,” Democratic strategist Jason Stanford said.

The race puts Democrats in the position of having to choose between a quasi-celebrity who some believe sapped votes from the party in the 2006 gubernatorial race and a candidate with minimal name recognition who refuses to campaign or help the party, despite winning the most votes in the March 4 primary.

[…]

Despite two decades of Republican dominance, a February letter from Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa urged voters not to overlook the race.

It included an attached letter from state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, who touted Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III, of San Antonio, who, at the time, was the best-funded party favorite for the post.

Van de Putte also made robocalls asking voters to support Fitzsimons over Friedman.

Fitzsimons, however, was eliminated in the primary.

Since then, Democratic Party spokesman Emmanuel Garcia pointed out, Friedman, unlike Hogan, at least has been touring the state and engaging voters.

“It’s encouraging to see somebody taking the campaign seriously and wanting to talk to folks,” Garcia said.

We’ve been over this before. Fitzsimons was my first choice, and he was clearly the best-qualified candidate. Unfortunately, the only thing he’ll do for Texas Democrats this year is serve as yet another lesson that unknown candidates plus few resources equals random results. Be that as it may, at least Friedman is making an effort, and at least he’s articulating some positions that make sense. I don’t blame anyone that might still be carrying a grudge from 2006 and 2010 – it should be noted that Chris Bell has endorsed Kinky, and if there’s anyone with a legitimate grudge to carry, it’s Chris Bell, so if he can bury the hatchet, anyone can – but I’ll be voting for him in the runoff, and hopefully again in November. It’s not the choice I was hoping for at the beginning of the race, but it’s an acceptable choice to me and the best one available. I don’t see any reason to make a big deal out of it.

Precinct analysis: Democratic primary elections

I finally got around to asking for the canvass reports for the primaries in Harris County. I didn’t have any specific agenda in looking at the data from each, I just wanted to see what I could learn. Let’s start on the Democratic side with a look at the vote totals in each State Rep district for the Senate race.

Dist Kim Kesha Alameel Fjet Scherr ============================================= 126 119 276 513 40 165 127 128 346 531 25 234 128 128 163 603 43 145 129 175 318 991 133 275 130 121 201 431 35 146 131 412 1,200 1,827 72 361 132 131 319 384 41 139 133 131 169 1,040 82 297 134 277 246 2,773 176 613 135 134 280 483 29 135 137 97 193 447 27 107 138 117 224 635 45 203 139 353 1,140 1,735 97 366 140 152 227 455 37 95 141 283 721 1,307 54 273 142 310 864 1,243 72 264 143 232 436 814 50 193 144 123 117 514 24 113 145 232 285 995 80 265 146 391 1,068 2,391 106 374 147 422 1,018 2,738 134 411 148 260 300 1,521 76 376 149 224 326 539 45 145 150 121 273 500 50 129

The main conclusion I’d draw from this is that people seem to have gotten the message about Kesha Rogers. None of the districts had any surprises. Even in the African-American districts, where one might be concerned that Roger’s name could earn her some votes in a low-information race, she scored only 27%, not much higher than her 20% overall. Straight up against David Alameel, she got about 35% in the African-American districts. I was already feeling pretty good about the runoff, and the data here reinforce that.

Here’s what the Governor’s race looked like:

Dist Davis Madrigal ======================= 126 1,093 71 127 1,228 91 128 1,010 107 129 1,849 111 130 911 61 131 3,788 288 132 968 74 133 1,783 68 134 4,310 104 135 1,031 85 137 833 73 138 1,204 83 139 3,678 273 140 803 208 141 2,612 162 142 2,778 216 143 1,465 359 144 794 145 145 1,560 447 146 4,302 240 147 4,719 282 148 2,464 275 149 1,184 132 150 1,045 77

For all the tsuris around Davis’ performance in South Texas, she did just fine in the Latino districts here, scoring over 83% of the vote. More is always better, but hey, she didn’t campaign. There’s nothing to see here.

The headscratcher race was of course the Ag Commissioner race.

Dist Hogan Kinky Hugh ============================ 126 445 342 301 127 468 403 363 128 466 350 251 129 617 582 640 130 361 322 248 131 1,822 1,049 796 132 429 335 237 133 439 591 687 134 981 1,445 1,571 135 437 344 273 137 308 282 234 138 413 437 358 139 1,691 1,041 781 140 508 290 155 141 1,415 642 436 142 1,397 787 539 143 856 560 273 144 422 331 143 145 730 707 404 146 1,905 1,263 936 147 1,904 1,487 1,083 148 843 1,063 610 149 540 424 271 150 419 342 285

The voters in HD134 got the message about Hugh Fitzsimons, but that’s about it. Maybe if he’d had Alameel money, it would have been different. As for Hogan, I’m going with the theory that he did well by being the first name on the ballot. Doesn’t explain how he did in other counties, but it’s the best I can do.

And finally, the Railroad Commissioner race, which in its own was is also a mystery.

Dist Henry Brown ==================== 126 352 687 127 413 775 128 408 622 129 644 1,063 130 319 566 131 1,034 2,654 132 361 599 133 450 1,078 134 942 2,508 135 402 598 137 275 510 138 362 779 139 1,079 2,396 140 362 574 141 717 1,784 142 913 1,787 143 622 1,042 144 334 498 145 602 1,125 146 1,206 2,821 147 1,268 3,012 148 824 1,424 149 414 796 150 378 627

Like Jim Hogan, Dale Henry was first on the ballot, but unlike Hogan it did him no good. It’s reasonable to think that Steve Brown would do well in his backyard, and he is an active campaigner and social media presence. But let’s be honest, anything can happen in a downballot no-money race. I’m just glad the better outcome is what happened here.

Endorsement watch: DMN goes Kinky

Since pretty much every newspaper endorsed Hugh Fiztsimons for the Democratic nomination for Ag Commissioner in the primary, they now have the choice of picking a new candidate for the runoff or ignoring it and hoping it goes away. The Dallas Morning News chose the former by endorsing Kinky Friedman.

Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman

Richard “Kinky” Friedman’s run for agriculture commissioner revolves around one issue, or more precisely, one crop. The comedian and author was carrying the flag for marijuana long before Colorado legalized it and Gov. Rick Perry softened his stance on the wacky weed. In politics, he’s mostly a one-song act.

But at least we know what Friedman, 69, stands for. And, when pressed, he is able to discuss the importance of water conservation and the need for immigration reform.

Jim Hogan, his opponent in the May 27 runoff, is basically a mystery. The Johnson County insurance salesman surprised everyone by finishing first in the March primary without really running any campaign at all. He spent a few thousand dollars and did some social networking from the Cleburne library.

In the handful of interviews he’s granted, he revels more in the fact that he managed to win without running than focusing on what he would do if elected. His message seems to be that he’ll figure it out when he gets there. That’s not good enough. The agriculture commissioner has to be a strong voice for policy that will help the state face important challenges. Hogan, 63, doesn’t offer that.

Even though Friedman is mostly about smoke, at least his positions are clear. That makes him the better choice for the nomination.

That’s pretty much how I see it, and kudos to the DMN for getting Kinky to talk about more than just pot. Lord knows, I tried when I interviewed him, but I was no match for his message discipline. I totally get it if you find this choice distasteful, but it works for me.

On a related note, in the Republican runoff, the DMN went for Tommy Merritt on the grounds that his opponent is much worse.

[Sid] Miller, on the other hand, lacks the disposition or even the willingness to work with those who don’t see eye to eye with him. The Stephenville rancher has aligned himself with flame-throwing rocker Ted Nugent and insists on calling the Civil War “the War of Northern Aggression.” We gave Miller, 58, the opportunity to explain, revise or downplay his position on both matters. He declined.

Miller either doesn’t understand the divisiveness of those relationships and words, or, even more disconcerting, doesn’t care.

“Both” is always an option with choices like this. I suspect it’s mostly the latter in this case. I’ll say this much, a Kinky versus Miller matchup would not be boring.

How I’ll be voting in the runoffs

David Alameel

David Alameel

This is pretty straightforward, as there are only two races in the runoff for me to consider.

Senate – This is the definition of a no-brainer. David Alameel wasn’t my first choice. I voted for Maxey Scherr, and didn’t recommend a vote for Alameel in March because of questions about his past (and possibly present) political activities that I didn’t have the chance to ask and didn’t see get answered elsewhere. None of that matters now. Alameel’s ubiquitous web ads have put him firmly on the right side of issues I care about, and while there are still questions I’d like to ask Alameel – and I plan to try again to set up an interview with him – I’m satisfied with that. Just as I didn’t believe Mark Jones when he tried to convince me there were stealth moderates in the GOP primaries, I will take Alameel at his word on these issues. And not to belabor the obvious, but the alternative is unthinkable. I speculated before that perhaps the reason the establishment all lined up with Alameel early on is because someone foresaw the Kesha Rogers problem and reasonably concluded that Alameel and his bankroll were a solution to it. Whether that was by accident or design, it seems to be working pretty well and almost closed things out in the first round. I’ll be voting for David Alameel in the runoff.

Ag Commissioner – I feel terrible for Hugh Fitzsimons, who was clearly the best and most qualified candidate running in either party. I wish I had an answer to that; I do have a couple of thoughts that I’ll get back to later. I think I’ve been pretty clear about my view of Kinky Friedman and the pros and cons of his candidacy. I ultimately voted for Fitzsimons because I wasn’t fully sold on Kinky and his one-note crusade, but at least Kinky can articulate a reason why he’s running and is actually trying to win. That’s more that can be said for Jim Hogan. Here’s Hogan in his own words in the Trib:

Hogan said he did not spend money during the campaign because “it’d be silly to raise money.” He added that there was no need for a campaign website, which he doesn’t have, because “somebody’s going to Google you anyway.”

And in the Observer:

I talked to Hogan today, and he attributes his victory to the Almighty.

“It was a miracle and only God could’ve pulled it off,” he told me. “That doesn’t sell papers and you may think that’s corny but I truly believe it.”

I can understand why God wouldn’t want the atheistic Kinky Friedman representing God’s Party but what about Fitzsimons, who actually campaigned?

Hogan scoffs at the idea that “the Establishment” has anything to teach him.

“When I called Democrats and told them I was gonna be on the ticket first thing they said was, ‘How long you been in politics?’ I said, ‘I’m not no politician.’ They said, ‘Let me tell you something: It takes a lot of money to win a state race and you can’t win.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you something, y’all haven’t won since 1994.’”

And that’s true enough. Democrats have lost every single one of the last 100 or so statewide races since 1994. Hogan thought he’d try something a little different: He wouldn’t really campaign.

“Basically I run on the internet and a phone,” he said. “My motto is: My phone and Internet can outrun any jet plane or car across the state of Texas. I don’t have to be there.”

But how did voters know about him at all? Details about his candidacy only appear in a handful of small-town papers.

“All you gotta do is Google my name—’jim hogan ag commissioner’—and there’s enough on there.”

Sorry, but I refuse to vote for someone who doesn’t campaign. If Hogan wants to be the next coming of Gene Kelly, he can do it without my help. If the result of the Ag Commissioner primaries has you looking elsewhere or sitting it out, I understand. But you can’t beat something with nothing, and Hogan is nothing. I’ll be voting for Kinky.

As I said, I’m sad this happened to Hugh Fitzsimons. Frankly, we’re lucky it didn’t also happen to Steve Brown, but one random result is enough. Someone needs to be thinking how to deal with this in 2018, because unless everyone is running for re-election, Dems are going to have to try to fill out another slate with quality candidates. Getting such people for the top of the ticket shouldn’t be too hard (we hope), but we still need those Commissioners and Supreme Court/CCA justices, and raising statewide money for those offices is a huge challenge. It shouldn’t be that expensive in a primary to establish enough name ID for someone to avoid this scenario. Some targeted mail, some online ads, maybe a spot of cable TV – I saw plenty of ads for Nathan Hecht and Glenn Hegar on ESPN and CSN-Houston during early voting. Maybe if some people would quit screwing around with Republican primaries and questionable PACs they might realize such a thing wouldn’t be all that expensive and it might just help the next Hugh Fitzsimons make it through to November. Our bench isn’t nearly deep enough to burn candidates like that, and it won’t be deep enough in four years’ time. If we can’t figure out a way to invest in these guys, we’ll face the same problem then. BOR has more.

Chron overview of Ag Commissioner race

It’s mostly about Kinky and pot, because what else is there to talk about?

Democrat Kinky Friedman is attempting to add a little spice to the crowded agriculture commissioner race by being the lone candidate to advocate legalizing marijuana and tapping it as a new state cash crop.

Of the eight candidates jostling to replace Republican Todd Staples as agriculture commissioner, only Friedman of Kerrville supports legalizing marijuana and taxing it for state revenue. He wants Texas to move quickly before other states follow Washington and Colorado’s lead and legalize the drug for recreational use, which could deprive the Lone Star State of potential revenue, like the $578 million in tax revenue that Colorado expects from first-year sales.

“Texas will be the dinosaur dragged in by the tail,” Friedman said. “We will be the caboose on the train.”

Friedman’s comments on legalizing marijuana follow those voiced by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who called for legalizing the drug for medical use and possibly decriminalizing it.

And Republican Gov. Rick Perry who told the World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he signed laws putting the state on the path to decriminalization, and suggested that all states, under the 10th Amendment, have the right to decide how to handle the herb.

But other agricultural commissioner candidates from both major political parties were reluctant to voice those types of sentiments, preferring to focus on top priorities like illegal immigration and improved water infrastructure.

“Pot doesn’t really matter,” said Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III, another Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner. “What matters is if you have any water.”

Cleburne farmer Jim Hogan, also seeking the Democratic primary nod, said he understands the arguments for legalization, and he said he could favor a shift in emphasis from punishment to rehabilitation for Texas drug users.

“If I was a judge and a woman (charged with possession of marijuana) had three kids, I couldn’t send her to prison,” Hogan said. “I could have her rehabilitated, maybe.”

None of the five Republicans in the race gave support to Perry’s comments or bucked their party’s hard line stance against drug possession or legalization.

I ran interviews last week with Friedman and Fitzsimons. Pot is a worthwhile issue to discuss, and I support Friedman’s position on it, but as Fitzsimons says it’s all secondary to water. Sure would have been nice to have seen what some of the Republican candidates have to say about that in a story like this. It also might have been worthwhile to mention the Republican candidates’ self-interested hypocrisy on receiving federal agriculture subsidies. But hey, no one’s really paying attention to a race like this anyway, am I right?

Interview with Hugh Fitzsimons

Hugh Fitzsimons

Hugh Fitzsimons

In my previous interview, I mentioned that the two Democratic candidates for Ag Commissioner that I had spoken to were very different from each other. (There is a third candidate in the race, but I have not seen any evidence of campaign activity from him.) Where Kinky Friedman is his iconoclastic self, Hugh Fitzsimons is exactly the sort of person you think of when you hear the words “Texas Agriculture Commissioner”. A native of San Antonio, Fitsimons is a rancher on land that has been in his family for four generations, raising bisons and cultivating wild honey. A former history teacher, Fitzsimons has based his campaign on meeting Texas’ water needs and coping with climate change. His knowledge of the issues gained him the Chronicle endorsement for the primary. We covered a lot of ground in our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.

What’s at stake in the Democratic primaries

I’ve had my fun poking holes in Mark Jones’ ridiculous argument that we should all just vote in the Republican primary, but now it’s time to talk about the Democratic primary and why these races matter.

US Senate

David Alameel

David Alameel

On Monday and Tuesday I published interviews with Mike Fjetland and Maxey Scherr. I wish I could present an interview with David Alameel today, but as you can see I don’t have one. I made contact with his campaign manager, but after some initial back and forth I heard nothing for a couple of weeks, then got an email out of the blue late last week from another campaign staffer; after replying to him I heard nothing further. Team Alameel is welcome to contact me any time between now and Primary Day and I’ll do my best to accommodate his schedule, and run the interview the next weekday. Y’all have my email address and my cell number. I’m not going anywhere.

There are twenty-one candidates running for the Senate, including the incumbent, and five of them are Democrats. Two of them, Fjetland and Scherr, are clearly worthy of your consideration. I personally lean towards Scherr because I have a preference for younger candidates and I think there would be value in having three women at the top of the ticket, but both of them are honorable and will run respectable campaigns. One candidate, Harry Kim, is largely unknown to me and I daresay to most people reading this. He has a website now, though the content is generic to the point of being formless, his campaign Facebook page was last updated on January 7 when he uploaded a cover photo, and his campaign Twitter account has yet to tweet anything. I don’t think I’m asking too much of first time candidates operating on a shoestring to at least take advantage of the free tools that are available to them so those of us that will not otherwise get to interact with them can learn a little something about them.

One candidate should come with glaring spotlights and screaming klaxons, to warn everyone in her path to stay the hell away. I speak of course of the LaRouche nutball Kesha Rogers, who for the last two elections managed to get herself and her message of impeaching President Obama nominated in CD22. That’s mortifying to say the least, but in the end neither nomination had any effect on anything. Nominating her for the Senate – even allowing her to slip into the runoff – would make all of us a laughingstock on a national scale with the force to knock Chris Christie out of the news cycle and with the potential to administer real damage to Wendy Davis’ campaign. This is what we get with Kesha Rogers. She has thrived in the past on obscurity in low profile, low turnout elections. The only antidote to this is a sufficiently informed electorate. Make sure everyone you know knows about Kesha Rogers.

And then there’s Alameel, who despite plastering the entire Internet with his ads, remains an enigma. Forget my own inability to get an interview with him, I’ve yet to see a profile of him in some other news source. We all know that he made a lot of contributions to Republicans in years past but has been Democratic-only since 2008. We know there are questions about his commitment to reproductive rights, given past and possibly ongoing connections to a Catholic pro-life group. We know that despite these things, both Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte saw fit to endorse him. But we don’t know the answers to these questions, and until someone with a microphone or notebook gets to pose those questions to him, we won’t know any more than we do right now. The Davis and LVdP endorsements carry some weight, but without knowing more about him I can’t recommend even considering a vote for him at this time. If I get the opportunity to interview him, even if I just get the opportunity to read something written by someone who has had the opportunity to speak to him, I may change my mind about that. I’ll let you know if that happens.

Governor

We’re all voting for Wendy in the primary, right? I mean, whatever misgivings you may have about her campaign at this time aside, Ray Madrigal has done no campaigning that I can see, he has no online presence, and he offers zero odds of competing against Greg Abbott, let alone winning. The only real item of interest here is Davis’ vote share. If she fails to get above some arbitrary number – I don’t know what that arbitrary number is, but I do know that it will be decided after her vote total is in – there will be some number of stories written about Democratic “discontent” with her, or maybe just “trepidation” about her. The number of such stories is inversely proportional to her actual vote share, as it the number of “unnamed Democratic insiders/strategists” quoted in those stories. To paraphrase those DirecTV ads, don’t let there be lots of stories written about Democratic “discontent” – or “disenchantment”, there’s another good word – with Wendy Davis, with multiple quotes from “unnamed Democratic insiders/strategists”. Vote for her in the primary and do your part to head that off.

By the way, I do presume there is an arbitrary number for Greg Abbott as well. Partly because he has a gaggle of opponents, and partly because he’s not Wendy Davis, I presume his arbitrary number is lower than her arbitrary number. I also presume the tone of those stories, if they get to be written, will be more of surprise than an opportunity to pile on and air grievances. This is of course an untestable hypothesis – like I said, we don’t know what each candidate’s arbitrary numbers are – but however you want to slice it, I’d bet Abbott would get more slack for a lower-than-you-might-have-expected vote share than Davis would get. Assuming either of them gets less than one might expect, whatever that is.

Ag Commissioner

The stakes here are pretty basic: A well-known candidate that can generate his own press and who is running on a sexy issue but whom basically no one trusts to be a good Democrat, versus a highly qualified and much more acceptable to the base candidate who will be utterly ignored by the press. Dumb ideas aside, Mark Jones did at least characterize this race correctly. Kinky is clearly higher risk, but at least potentially higher upside. Hugh Fitzsimons is solid and trustworthy, but again will get absolutely no attention from the press save for a cursory campaign overview story some time in October. Which do you prefer? Again, I’m ignoring the third candidate, Jim Hogan, who does not appear to be doing much of anything. Maybe that’s foolish after Mark Thompson came out of nowhere to win the Railroad Commissioner nomination in 2008 over two more experienced candidates, but it’s what I’m doing.

Railroad Commissioner

No one is going to claim that this race will be on anyone’s radar, but there’s still a choice, and in my consideration it’s a clear choice. Dale Henry is by all accounts a well-qualified candidate, having been the Democratic nominee for RRC in 2006 and 2012. He’s also, to put it gently, old school in his campaign style and methods. Steve Brown is young, dynamic, an outsider for an agency that could use a fresh perspective, a modern campaigner who will work hard for himself and the top of the ticket, and has a future even if all he gets out of this election is the experience of running statewide. I think he’s the obvious call to make, but in a low profile campaign anything can happen. But if you’re paying attention and you want a better slate overall, you’ll be sure to vote for Steve Brown.

Local races

Here’s where Mark Jones’ idea really makes no sense. Pretty much every county where Democrats are strong features important primaries. We already know about Harris County, where the need to nominate Kim Ogg outweighs Jones’ suggestion all by itself. Travis County is electing a County Judge, as is El Paso County, which also features three hot legislative races. Bexar County has races for County Judge, County Clerk, District Attorney, District Clerk, and a slew of District Court judges. Dallas County has a power struggle between current DA Craig Watkins and Party Chair Darlene Ewing, with the former running his own slate of candidates, including one against Ewing. Tarrant County will be key to Rep. Mark Veasey’s re-election. And those are just the big counties.

Bottom line: We have some important, consequential decisions to make beginning on February 18. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Endorsement watch: Fitzsimons for Ag Commissioner

The Chron recommends Hugh Fitzsimons as the best choice for Ag Commissioner in the Democratic primary.

Hugh Fitzsimons

Hugh Fitzsimons

A 59-year-old San Antonio native and third-generation rancher, Fitzsimons produces honey and raises grass-fed organic bison on his ranch in Dimmit County. One of the top reasons he’s running for office, though, is water.

Before running for agriculture commissioner’s four-year term, Fitzsimons served on the Wintergarden Water Conservation District. That experience becomes apparent when he discusses ways for Texans to conserve water, balancing the needs of cities, farmers and fracking.

As part of a solution, he says he’ll work to promote water recycling in the fracking process and irrigation systems that prevent evaporation.

He is also the only Democrat to receive the endorsement of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, a national organization dedicated to supporting independent family farmers.

And while many other candidates speak only in hyperbole about immigration, Fitzsimons speaks with compassion. Instead of horror stories about death along the border, he talks about the time he kayaked down the Rio Grande.

If you care about the future of the Texas Democratic Party, vote for Fitzsimons. If you’re tempted to vote for Kinky, make a donation to the Drug Policy Alliance instead.

The Chron also endorsed Eric Opiela on the Republican side, with a kudo for J. Allen Carnes and a brickbat for former Rep. Sid Miller. They wrote about twice as much for the Dem primary endorsement, beginning with two paragraphs of potshots at Kinky Friedman and his pro-pot campaign. Their objection was more about Kinky and his past history of being more showman than statesman in his campaigns, which I can certainly understand, than it was about marijuana policy. I’ve got interviews with Kinky and Fitzsimons set to run next week, and I’ll have more to say about this primary in a future post. On the merits, this is an unassailable recommendation, and if you aren’t acquainted with Hugh Fitzsimons yet, you really should get to know him.

January finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates

BagOfMoney

With the exception of a stray missing report here and there, all of the January campaign finance reports for state office holders and seekers are up on the Texas Ethics Commission webpage. Here’s a brief look at the reports filed by Democratic candidates for statewide offices. I already have reports for the candidates in contested primaries on my 2014 Election page, so this is a chance to look at the uncontested candidates as well.

Governor

Wendy Davis
Wendy Davis SPAC
Wendy Davis GPAC

Ray Madrigal – No report

As you’ve probably read by now, Wendy Davis filed three campaign reports – basically, the first one is her previously existing Senate account, to which people were contributing before her official announcement that she was running for Governor; the second is her special purpose PAC account for her gubernatorial campaign, similar to the “Friends Of” or “Texans For” PACs that Republicans often use; and the joint Battleground Texas PAC that has gotten every Republican’s panties in a wad. I’m not going to rehash any of that, I’m just going to note with amusement that her total must have really freaked them out to have reacted so strongly instead of just pointing to Greg Abbott’s bottom line, which is enough to make Switzerland salivate. Davis certainly answered the question about her ability to raise the funds she’ll need, but once won’t be enough. She’ll need to post similar, if not better, numbers for July. But we’ll worry about that another day.

Lt. Governor

Leticia Van de Putte
Leticia Van de Putte SPAC

As with Wendy Davis, the first account is the pre-existing Senate account, and the second is for the Lite Guv race. Here are the details from each:

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Senate $154,087 $177,799 $235,084 LG SPAC $290,514 $ 21 $251,756 Total $445,601 $177,820 $486,840

I presume all of the expenditures came out of the Senate account, which makes sense. The SPAC was created on November 23, so basically it represents five weeks’ worth of fundraising, which isn’t too shabby. I didn’t go through its contributions, but I did go through the expenses for the Senate account, and I did not see any transfers from the one to the other, so that $290K figure is accurate and as far as I know doesn’t include redundant funds. For five weeks during the Thanksgiving/Christmas period, that’s a decent total, which would project to $1.5 million to $2 million at that pace for the July report. Not bad as I say, but not really enough, either. LVdP doesn’t need to be in Wendy’s league, but she does need to have enough to do some real statewide outreach. If she doesn’t raise at least $5 million for July, I’d be concerned she won’t be able to do that. On the plus side, she can hit up Wendy’s supporters, including and especially the big-dollar ones. I feel confident that she is more than up to this challenge, but if you’ve donated to Wendy and not to Leticia, you need to rectify that.

Attorney General
Comptroller

Sam Houston
Mike Collier

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Houston $184,595 $ 41,216 $153,678 Collier $213,518 $170,791 $439,015

I put these two together, because they’re the only other candidates to report significant fundraising totals. Houston’s report begins in October, whereas Collier had the whole six month period in which to raise money. Both did pretty well, with Collier’s totals being boosted by $400K in loans ($250K from himself, $150K from his company; Houston reported $10K in loans as well). Collier spent $30K on video production, and $50K on “website design and video advertising”; he also spent many thousands on consultant fees, which I didn’t add up. As Van de Putte needs to kick it up by an order of magnitude this period, so do these two. I’d be happy with $2 million raised from each. We know the base is big enough to support Wendy’s campaign, and I’m confident that support will extend to LVdP. Will it reach this far? I hope so.

Ag Commissioner
Land Commissioner
Railroad Commissioner

Kinky Friedman
Hugh Fitzsimons
Jim Hogan

John Cook

Steve Brown
Dale Henry

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kinky $26,416 $ 4,256 $22,159 Fitz $27,200 $ 6,549 $74,401 Hogan $ 0 $ 3,750 $ 0 Cook $13,153 $17,010 $ 0 Brown $ 4,455 $ 5,661 $ 0 Henry $ 0 $ 0 $ 0

Not a whole lot to say here. Fitzsimons had $50K in loans, and Cook, the former Mayor of El Paso, had a bit more than $19K in loans. I’m not exactly sure why neither Cook nor Brown reported any cash on hand, but it’s not that important. With the exception of Kinky, none of these folks will have much in the way of name recognition in November, but then neither will any of their opponents other than Baby Bush. From this point on, it’s all about the top of the ticket.

Supreme Court
Court of Criminal Appeals

William Moody
Larry Meyers
Gina Benavides

John Granberg

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Moody $ 7,500 $ 9,358 $ 4,037 Meyers $ 1,000 $ 3,750 $ 441 Benavides $ 2,500 $ 3,750 $ 0 Granburg $ 780 $ 5,296 $ 780

Again, not much to say here. I thought Larry Meyers might have a few bucks stashed away just due to his longevity, but apparently not. He does have about $94K in outstanding loans, presumably money he has already spent. In case you’re wondering, that $3,750 figure you see is the filing fee. Again, these races are determined by the top of the ticket more than anything else. Maybe the state party will raise some money to campaign for the slate as a whole.

That’s it for these reports. I’ll look at others as we go along.

Kinky and pot

The Trib talks to Kinky Friedman, making another run for Ag Commissioner as a Democrat, and his new signature issue.

Bi-polar and tri-partisan

Friedman, 69 — a singer, humorist, novelist and hawker of tequila — has tried, frequently, to add “elected official” to his résumé. But his celebrity status and unique charm have not translated into success at the ballot box, and that seems to be an itch he cannot help but scratch. He has tossed his iconic black cowboy hat into the ring for the race for agriculture commissioner with what he calls a clearer focus.

The campaign is his third run for statewide office in three cycles. A 1986 bid for justice of the peace in Kerrville is his fourth overall. In 2006, running as an independent, he placed fourth in a six-way race for governor. Four years later, he came up short in his first bid for the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner.

This time, he said, his campaign has a sense of mission that he lacked in 2010. Its central issue will be the legalization of marijuana, which he predicted could be the state’s biggest cash crop, financing solutions to a variety of the state’s problems.

“It’s a nonbinding referendum,” he said of his candidacy. “It’s bigger than just another conniving politician trying to worm his way into office. That’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening is, if I actually win this thing, the heat on this issue on the Legislature and whoever the governor is will be enormous.”

His two primary opponents are not taking the bait.

“I’m interested in grass, but it’s not that kind,” said Hugh Fitzsimons, a Democratic contender who raises grass-fed bison in Carrizo Springs. “To me, we have some serious, serious problems, and it’s primarily centered around water.”

Jim Hogan, a Cleburne farmer, responded similarly. “I don’t smoke it,” he said. “I don’t have anything to do with it. That’s the last I want to talk about it. I want to talk about raising cattle, trees, goats, tomatoes and peppers.”

No Democrat has won a statewide race in two decades, so whoever emerges from the primary will be considered an underdog against the winner of the Republican primary, which has five candidates. Two Libertarians are currently locked in a primary of their own.

Friedman speculated that having two primary opponents might aid his prospects by splitting the anti-Kinky vote — the existence of which he is aware.

“Politicians like the word gadfly,” he said. “They use it as a negative. They use it with me sometimes — usually Democrats who don’t take me seriously. But if you had a gadfly buzzing around some of this, it wouldn’t hurt a thing. It might help.”

As you know, I have been a member of the anti-Kinky caucus. This year, as you also know, I’m somewhat more willing to hear what he has to say. Back in November, the Houston Press had a cover story on Friedman and his pot-centered candidacy for Ag Commissioner. Reading it at the time, I had to admit that so far at least he’s saying the right things.

Of course, Friedman’s sincerity was immediately questioned. The day of his official announcement, Republican candidate Eric Opiela quickly issued a press release that characterized Friedman’s candidacy as a joke, saying, “The issues facing Texas are serious. Our Agriculture Commissioner should be too.”

“We need an agriculture commissioner,” added Opiela, “who will focus on jobs, not jokes; drought, not drama and water lines, not punch lines.”

Yes, it was that scripted and wooden.

Eye roll from Friedman, who says he expected GOP candidates would take a dismissive tack in responding to his candidacy.

“But if they really weren’t worried about me, I don’t think they’d have started attacking me immediately.”

“Look, I’m 69, I don’t have time for stunts,” the musician, novelist, cigar and salsa salesman, tequila distiller, former Peace Corps volunteer and maverick politician explains as he walks up the Drag in Austin puffing his trademark cigar. “I’m dead serious about this run and about pushing for legalization. Marijuana is at the heart of a crucial matrix that, if we can get it straightened out and in motion, will become a great economic engine we can use to solve some of the biggest problems we face as a state.

“It’s time Texans asked themselves: Are we going to secede or are we going to lead?”

As long as he’s using his one-liner power for good and not for self-aggrandizement, it’s a win. I would also point out that marijuana has more to do with the office of Ag Commissioner than abortion has to do with the office of Railroad Commissioner. And if there’s anyone on the statewide ticket that I’d be okay with talking about pot, it would be Kinky. Again, he’s saying the right things.

“The governor and his cronies want to talk about reducing the size of government?” says Friedman. “Well, why are they all for these for-profit prison operations? How does putting 70,000 people in those private jails help us? Keeping pot illegal and jailing users for profit, this doesn’t help the people of Texas; this helps the outlaws who operate the illegal drug business and don’t pay taxes. How smart is that?”

“Look at history, look at what happened when Prohibition was lifted,” he continues. “The turf wars were over because the criminals lost their source of revenue. The legitimate liquor companies got stronger, and that’s a vigorous, profitable industry today that results in significant tax revenues. I think the same thing will happen when we legalize marijuana.”

As for how it plays out if he actually wins the election, Friedman sees a fairly quick move by the legislature to legalize the drug.

“Politicians move with the voters,” he observes. “If I win this running on legalizing marijuana, I think you’ll see a lot of position-shifting on the issue and a scramble to see who gets a bill onto the Governor’s desk first.”

I’m not sure about that, but I am sure that a larger push to at least decriminalize pot is coming, and it’s just a matter of time before the politicians realize they need to get on board with it. That could be a long time from now, of course. If you listened to my interview with Sen. John Whitmire, he thinks legalization won’t happen during his lifetime, and he’s a few years younger than Friedman. I personally think Sen. Whitmire is a bit too pessimistic – I mean, back in 2005 when we were enshrining a ban on same sex marriage in the state constitution, who thought we’d be where we are on that issue now? – and Friedman is a bit too optimistic. Where the truth is between those two, I don’t know. And again, credit where it is due, Kinky is saying the right things.

The rest of Friedman’s economic engine involves farming hemp (a non-potent form of marijuana) for industrial use and export while realizing significant water conservation gains due to hemp’s low water requirement vis-à-vis cotton; reducing insecticide use — hemp is essentially a weed and insects aren’t interested; and opening casinos so Texas money stays in Texas.

“I’ve never understood why we give all this money to other states,” Friedman shakes his head. “We’re just waving good-bye to the money for school improvements and roads, for mass transit, money we can put into drought remediation, into water-conservation projects, stuff this state is crying out for. What are we thinking?”

Friedman says the last couple of years, all the governor and attorney general have done “is rant about Obama” and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in state money challenging federal laws to appeal to their right-wing voting base.

“They can call my campaign a joke, but if the Republicans have any answers to the great problems this state faces, why haven’t they implemented them instead of obsessing about women’s reproductive systems or gay marriage?” he notes. “They’ve had total control of this state almost 20 years now, but nothing is getting fixed.”

I’m a realist. I haven’t forgotten 2006, and I haven’t forgotten the many instances of Kinky Friedman saying ugly things. He’s a risk to go off at any time, and if he does so as a Democratic nominee, you can be sure the Republicans will use that against the rest of the ticket. Given the racial nature of some of his past comments, I’d be very concerned about Friedman turning off voters of color, who Dems need to turn out in droves this fall. If he sticks his foot in his mouth the Republicans will be all over it, and will force Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte to renounce him in a way that Greg Abbott will never do with his more controversial supporters. It’s a risk putting him on the same ballot with Davis and LVdP. By the same token, Friedman will have vastly more name ID and potentially more crossover appeal than whichever low-wattage Republican wins that primary. He’ll generate news like that Trib story by virtue of who he is and the under-rated support for the issue he’s flogging. If Davis were a solid favorite to win in November, I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole. But underdogs need to take risks, and Kinky has enough upside to at least be worth considering. Hugh Fitzsimons is clearly a serious candidate that’s worth a good look, but as of today I am leaning towards a vote for Kinky Friedman, which is not something I would have said four years ago or eight years ago. That could change tomorrow, so check with me again before early voting begins.