While political pundits say New York real estate developer and reality TV star Donald Trump’s success as the Republican presidential front-runner in most Super Tuesday states mandates major revisions in the American political playbook, McLennan Community College government professor Andria Ramon reminded students at a lively, on-campus Election Night pizza party that primary elections have been evolving and mutating since our republic’s birth, complete with party bosses, caucuses and national conventions. And Election 2016 has already confirmed some basic truisms, including primary election races that wrapped up Tuesday night in Texas. Among those truisms:
• Pick your allies very carefully: Judging from congressional challenger Ralph Patterson’s 90-minute Q&A with the Trib editorial board and his remarks at the McLennan County Republican Women’s candidate forum, the former McLennan County Republican Party chairman relied not on a political platform but on boisterous, stream-of-consciousness rambling in which he seemed to say anything that came into his head. That might work for some — it did wonders for Trump — but it didn’t carry Patterson far. He lost Tuesday.
For instance, while Patterson, 58, failed to directly answer questions on everything from Social Security reform to immigration during his meeting with our editorial board — he even failed to swing at softballs in discussing an Article V Convention of States, red meat for any conservative — he did cite as Texas Republican congressional models worthy of his unstinting support once in Congress Roger Williams, Brian Babin, Lamar Smith and Louie Gohmert.
A few weeks later, Williams, Babin and Smith all endorsed the re-election bid of Patterson’s chief Republican opponent, Congressman Bill Flores. Oops.
As for East Texas Republican Gohmert, he faced two opponents in Tuesday’s primary election, both of whom argued he had become an “embarrassment” to his constituency because of his bizarre policy stances and long-winded speeches on the House floor. One challenger’s quote: “I’m frustrated that Congress has become such a circus and that our representative Louie Gohmert is one of the main clowns.” However, early returns showed East Texans opting for clowns last night.
• Location, location, location: The old maxim touted by real estate veterans goes double for political candidates. In neighboring Bell County, a campaign manager for state Rep. Molly White — infamous for her radioactive comments informing American Muslims they could count on little hospitality from her office — got into an early morning scrap with White’s Republican challenger, retired Army Col. Hugh Shine. This erupted last week after Shine reportedly moved the White campaign tent from its location at the Bell County Annex while the campaign manager was away for coffee.
After the 22-year-old White campaign manager returned, a confrontation ensued in which Shine, 63, reportedly struck the campaign manager’s car with a tent pole. The campaign manager then vowed to file an assault charge. Police resolved the matter peacefully.
No charges are anticipated in a similar dust-up involving early-bird representatives of two of the three Republican campaigns for McLennan County sheriff that pivoted on staking out the best turf in an otherwise empty First Assembly of God parking lot, a favorite of both candidates and voters in recent years. Happily, violence was visited on neither man nor automobile.
Incidentally, McLennan County Commissioner Will Jones, who easily dispatched challenger Benny Ray Matus (whose campaign slogan, “Pinch that penny, Benny,” was the best thing about his campaign), tells me candidates like First Assembly of God as a campaign site because the church lets them use the church restrooms.
• Be wary of claiming to be something you’re not: This principle generally applies to ideology, but former College Station City Councilman Jess Fields, 27-year-old challenger of Republican state Rep. John Raney, 68, reportedly took this to another level, phoning Congressman Flores’ office back in 2011 and passing himself off as Brazos County Judge Duane Peters. According to Flores’ communications director, Fields made several calls to Flores’ Bryan office during which he was “abusive” to an office intern. All this erupted as an issue in the 2016 race.
The office intern told our sister paper, the Bryan-College Station Eagle: “Finally we figured out it wasn’t Judge Peters — that it was Jess. Of course, the caller ID didn’t help [Fields]. He was calling and impersonating the judge and throwing his voice.”
Fields, who also served as a consultant for the resolutely right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, dismissed the impersonations as a joke: “The attempt to fabricate this as a crime is disgusting and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that John Raney is one of the most liberal Republicans in Austin.” Fields lost Tuesday night.
Another candidate who ran afoul of such matters, also running for state representative as a Republican, suspended his campaign after the Tyler Morning Telegraph learned he didn’t earn the two college degrees from Southern Methodist University he had claimed. The really bad part about all this is the Telegraph had to retract its endorsement of candidate Philip Hayes, 25, after learning the truth. So it goes.
• It sure helps to be able to tell tales about the good old days: Voters love hearing stories that resonate with their past. On that account, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara probably had everyone beat, based on the wealth of tales he draws upon in his 69 years, mostly in McLennan County. On Tuesday, a voter reminded him of a mynah bird that spoke to customers at the old Ben Franklin Variety Store and later the Texaco filling station the McNamaras owned. The sheriff said it was actually a large crow named Joe.
“He was a big attraction,” the sheriff said hours before he won re-election. “People thought he was a mynah bird, but he was just a big crow and a real smart one. He’d say ‘Hal-lo’ when people came in, and sometimes he’d yell ‘Help! Help!’ and it’d sound like somebody was being attacked.”
During the time when Parnell and his brother Mike ran the Texaco station at 19th Street and Park Lake, they also had squirrels, raccoons and “defumed” skunks in the place, to the extent that the Rev. Joe Montgomery on his radio show “The Gospel Train” urged listeners to patronize the “McNamara Texaco & Zoo.” Joe the Crow remained a fixture among the McNamaras for the better part of two decades. After the bird’s death, Parnell McNamara had Joe respectfully mounted and kept at his daily post till the crow’s feathers began dropping off, signaling his departure at long last from the McNamara saga — at least till Primary Election Day 2016.
Bill Whitaker is opinion editor of the Tribune-Herald.