Wednesday, March 27, 2024

TIL: My Texas State Senator is a Puppet of a Billionaire Christian Nationalist


Look at that map. The red line is the outline of Texas Senate District 2. The yellow and orange and purple and bluish colored areas are the cities. You can see that Senate District 2 mostly excludes the cities. It is mostly rural, except for one spear point in the northwest of the district, stabbing Richardson, my home, in the heart. Richardson is trending Democratic in recent elections. With the latest gerrymander by the Republican state legislature, Richardson is the sacrificial victim to be absorbed by safely rural, conservative, Republican Senate District 2. And that's how I ended up with Bob Hall as my Senator, representing me despite the fact that he isn't, in any way, representative of Richardson, Texas. Today I learned something else about Bob Hall. I learned it from Bob Deuell, "a staunch conservative with an independent streak," according to Russell Gold of Texas Monthly. Gold tells the story.

Bob Hall is a "puppet" of a billionaire Christian Nationalist, or so says Bob Deuell. Bob Deuell had his political career destroyed by Hall's "bunch of lies" in an election in 2014. The key part of that description of Bob Deuell above as a "staunch conservative with an independent streak" is the word independent (i.e., not a puppet). The puppetmaster in this story is Tim Dunn, a billionaire west Texas oilman and Christian Nationalist. Dunn bankrolled Hall to victory in that 2014 election. Let's jump to the bottom line: Deuell told Russell Gold of Texas Monthly that he learned one lesson from that race: "As long as they get their puppet, they don't care what the qualifications are because they know Bob Hall's going to vote with them." And that's what I learned about my Texas State Senator today.

Now let's backup and let Russell Gold tell the whole story. I'm quoting at length from his Texas Monthly story, but it's worth the time to read the whole excerpt. And it's just an excerpt. I recommend you make time to read the whole article. There's lot more about the most powerful man in Texas politics that you really ought to know before your next trip to the polls. If you're in the habit of reliably punching the ballot for Bob Hall just because he's a Republican, maybe this will get you at least to question your habits. If you vote for Hall because you believe in Tim Dunn's mission as a Christian Nationalist, then there's nothing I can do. Dunn's political contributions bought himself a loyal one.

To achieve this mission, Dunn has supported some candidates who are morally repugnant. In 2018 he got involved in an East Texas statehouse race. The incumbent was Dan Flynn, an Army veteran who had served as a brigadier general in the Texas State Guard. He first came to office in 2003, at which point he was considered quite conservative. Yet as the lower chamber moved further to the right, he was increasingly viewed as a centrist. Empower Texans donated nearly half the money raised by his 2018 primary challenger, a former youth pastor named Bryan Slaton.

What did Flynn do to raise the hackles of Dunn and his allies? Mark Owens, an assistant professor of political science at the Citadel who formerly taught at the University of Texas at Tyler, where he studied Texas politics, described Flynn as a principled, independent conservative who believed in limited government spending. Empower Texans’ attempt to create a cohesive, hard-right voting bloc didn’t sit well with Flynn. “He wasn’t on board,” Owens said.

Flynn still won the 2018 primary and coasted to victory in the general election. Before those votes were cast, Dunn sent a letter on Empower Texans letterhead to Flynn’s constituents, urging them to “hold Flynn accountable” for his votes in the upcoming legislative session. “Why was I involved in Texas elections? What do I want,” Dunn wrote. He claimed he was fighting against corporate lobbyists, with nothing less than American democracy at stake. “If we lose this fight . . . representative government will die, and with it the American dream.”

The letter was notable for its omissions. He described Empower Texans as a “non-profit service organization” but didn’t mention that he had given $2.63 million to the Empower Texans PAC the previous year. Dunn described himself as a champion of the little guy, helping voters fight back against politicians co-opted by Austin lobbyists. He never mentioned that he’s a whale in the campaign-finance ocean, or that he uses his political clout to promote his own worldview.

Two years later Dunn and Slaton took another shot at Flynn. Dunn personally gave $225,000 to Slaton—nearly two thirds of Slaton’s entire war chest. This time Slaton prevailed. After the election Dunn continued supporting him, giving his campaign another $50,000 in 2021. At the end of the session, Slaton received the highest score, 98 out of 100, on the Texans for Fiscal Responsibility’s index. He was an obedient anti-LGBTQ rabble-rouser, and Texas Monthly gave him the “Cockroach” award, reviving an old legislative term for a lawmaker who annoys members of both parties, makes a lot of noise, and accomplishes little. Despite these dubious accomplishments, Slaton was reelected in 2022, with more than half of his contributions coming from Dunn and Defend Texas Liberty.

But his time as a lawmaker was cut short. The Texas Voice reported that last year Slaton was enlisted to speak at a networking meeting for “business leaders dedicated . . . to preserving our culture, protecting our children and promoting self-governance over tyranny.” According to the schedule, Slaton took the stage immediately after a talk by Dunn.

Later that night, at 10 p.m., he invited two nineteen-year-old capitol aides and two of their friends to his Austin apartment. He mixed rum and Coke in a large Yeti thermos cup and drank until the early hours of the morning, by which time all but one of the aides had left. The one who remained was intoxicated, and according to a subsequent investigation, they engaged in sex. The next morning, she went to a drugstore to obtain Plan B pills to avoid getting pregnant. Several weeks later, in May, Slaton was expelled for “inappropriate workplace conduct,” the first member of the Texas Legislature to be removed in nearly a century.

Texas Right to Life, an antiabortion group, withdrew its endorsement of Slaton, saying it held its endorsees to a high moral standard. Dunn, on the other hand, hasn’t made a public statement about Slaton’s behavior or his own role in electing him.

Why would Dunn ally himself with someone like Slaton? It’s a question that perplexed Bob Deuell a few years ago. He’s a family physician who served as a state senator from Greenville, northeast of Dallas, for more than a decade. A Republican, he was known as a staunch conservative with an independent streak. In 2014, after receiving a low score on a Dunn-backed scorecard, he drew a primary challenge from Bob Hall, a retired Air Force captain and recent transplant from Florida. During the campaign, Hall suggested that Satan controlled Deuell and bizarrely claimed that the incumbent intended to follow a United Nations imperative by adding bicycle lanes to Texas highways. Deuell shook off these outlandish statements but said he was deeply troubled by court documents in which Hall’s ex-wife claimed she was “physically, sexually and verbally abused for most of our marriage.” (Hall denied these allegations.)

Hall ran a relatively low-budget campaign, spending an average of $52 a day through the primary, mostly on signs, T-shirts, and door hangers. When he made it to a runoff with Deuell, Dunn-connected money rained down. Hall’s spending jumped to more than $2,100 a day, and he began using Facebook advertising and a direct-mail campaign generated by an out-of-state consultant. He attacked Deuell for voting like a “liberal Democrat” even though he had endorsements from the National Rifle Association and some right-to-life groups. “It was a bunch of lies,” Deuell told me. “His whole campaign was a bunch of lies.”

In the middle of the election, Deuell decided to write Dunn a letter. He told me that its message was simple: “Mr. Dunn, I’m not sure why you’re wanting to have me out of office. Certainly, you don’t want to put somebody like this in office,” referring to Hall. Deuell never got a response.

Hall eked out a victory by three hundred votes and has served in the Texas Senate since 2015. In the past three sessions, he has scored highest among senators in the Texans for Fiscal Responsibility’s index. Deuell told me he learned one lesson from this experience: “As long as they get their puppet, they don’t care what the qualifications are because they know Bob Hall’s going to vote with them.”

Source: Texas Monthly.

"In gerrymander,
Richardson is given to
Bob Hall...and Tim Dunn."
—h/t ChatGPT

No comments: