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McNeely: Texas politics weird this cycle

By Dave McNeely
Sept. 25, 2013 at 11 p.m.

It's dangerous to say the political dynamics in the Lone Star State are weirder this year than most, because in Texas they're often flamboyant.

But we're potentially going to have a spirited David vs. Goliath governor's race, with long-talking Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth probably announcing Oct. 3 that she'll run for governor instead of re-election, most likely against the GOP front-runner, Attorney General Greg Abbott. She probably wouldn't set an announcement that far off just to run for re-election.

But there are also knock-down drag-out Republican contests for lieutenant governor and almost every other statewide office.

We'll have the latest Bush on the Texas ballot. George P. will start with land commissioner, thank you. He'll borrow name ID from his famous family, and already is milking the Bushies' national fundraising network.

And we've apparently got not one but two statewide office-holders already gunning for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Gov. Rick Perry and new U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz seem to be in an elbowing match to appear more opposed to the Affordable Care Act Congress passed in 2010.

Called Obamacare so much by Republicans that even Democratic President Obama now calls it that, Cruz made good on his promise to resort to a filibuster to try to jerk federal financing for it.

If a talkathon in the Texas Senate brought the political spotlight to Wendy Davis, the fledgling senator may think one in the U.S. Senate could be an even bigger showcase for him. Hard for a political Hot Dog to pass up.

The idea that he'd try to keep the federal debt ceiling from being raised if Obama won't agree to being blackmailed into cutting off money to his biggest domestic accomplishment met with eye-rolling not just from Democrats, but even some Republicans.

More and more are thinking Cruz may not be wrapped too tight - that his ambitious zeal could hurt their party in the two elections before his own comes up again in 2018.

Cruz's idea is too much even for Texas' senior senator, John Cornyn, despite his desire to court the tea party.

Perry, apparently to keep Cruz from hogging all the Texas anti-Obamacare attention, instructed his new insurance commissioner to add additional training hoops to those already required by the feds to qualify so-called "navigators" to explain the new system to Texans.

That drew criticism from state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, the Democrat who carried the bill under which Perry supposedly was acting. Watson protested that his bill was to make it easier to help people understand and access the Affordable Care Act, not make it more difficult.

Perry's also continued his Blue-State tour, most recently to Maryland. He is supposedly trying to attract jobs to Texas, but it more likely is a thinly veiled play to get media attention in Democratic-leaning states that nonetheless have Republican presidential primaries.

We wondered what Cruz's next stunt might be if his effort to block funding for the health act, as he predicted, doesn't work.

Not sure why, but we can imagine him face-down on the Senate floor, pounding his fists and holding his breath until he turns blue.

Turning Blue is what Sen. Wendy Davis hopes to do to Texas next year.

She of the pink jogging shoes had her own filibuster in June, which temporarily stalled a bill making abortions and health care harder for Texas women to obtain.

Thanks to the overnight national political sensation that resulted, due to luck, timing, the issue, ham-handed efforts to stymie her, and the Internet's social media outlets, Davis' sudden fame became a potential potion for parched Democrats eager to overcome their 20-year statewide political drought.

An interesting dimension of a David-Goliath campaign - OK, Davis-Abbott - is that attempts to define her as a single-issue pro-choice candidate may not work.

There are several other issues on which Abbott, the state's attorney general, has never had to take much election-year political heat - voter ID, redistricting, education funding, opposition to Obamacare, and others. His stances may be great for a Republican primary, but more double-edged in a general election, where he could be accused of moving far enough to the right to leave the middle behind.

Grassroots excitement about Davis could also make her a magnet for candidates like fellow Democratic state Sen. Leticia van de Putte of San Antonio, who's considering a run for lieutenant governor.

And these women could create excitement, and attract more Democrats - and women - to run for legislative and other down-ballot offices, to send money, and to actually vote.

Might not happen. But it might. Either way, as a spectator sport, Texas politics over the next year should be interesting, important, and possibly exciting.

Stay tuned.

<em>- Dave McNeely is an Austin-based columnist who covers Texas politics.</em>



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