McNeely: Unforeseen events alter Texas political landscape

Looking for attention

Whether Texas was front burner in national politics for 2020 before, it is now.

National organizations have opened campaign offices aimed at making 2020 a crossover year for the Democrats, both in Texas and the nation. Republicans have opened some as well.

But two unanticipated events this summer added torque to the situation. The first involves the fight for control of the Texas House of Representatives.

First-term House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, in a June 12 meeting in the speaker’s office, apparently proposed a trade with right-wing policy group Empower Texans leader Michael Quinn Sullivan: House press credentials for your affiliated staff in exchange for your group helping defeat a list of 10 Republican House members.

As word of the meeting began to leak out, Democrats watched with interest. They’re hoping the undermined trust among Republicans in the Texas House will help Democrats turn over the nine more Republican seats needed to take control of that 150-member body.

Bonnen’s proposed barter was turned down by Sullivan in a June 19 letter. The speaker publicly denied some of the details. But then Sullivan disclosed on July 25 he had secretly recorded the original conversation.

He played parts of it for some House members, who largely confirmed Sullivan’s account.

For Bonnen, this was a double embarrassment. Not only had he a few weeks earlier said he would back any Republican House member seeking re-election, he would punish any incumbent member who campaigned against another.

Recently, the House General Investigating Committee asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the meeting and its aftermath, including possible recordings and written communications.

Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping to reap the benefits of the distracting power struggle among Republicans in next year’s elections.

The second unexpected event was the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, where a white supremacist from Allen, north of Dallas, drove 600-plus miles to kill 22 Mexicans to help stop “invasion” by immigrants.

El Paso’s former congressman is hometown boy Beto O’Rourke, who is among the two dozen candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

O’Rourke suspended his campaign and went home for two weeks after the shooting. He says he’s not following the advice of some backers to shift his sights to John Cornyn’s U.S. Senate seat.

But, as he returns to the presidential campaign, he is shifting his sights on where and how to campaign.

NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday interviewed O’Rourke about his different path.

He said he’s going to take his campaign to Trump — not just where the other candidates are, like Iowa and New Hampshire, but where the problems are — even if the early primary votes aren’t there.

That’s why in three days, he was in Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma, to demonstrate that “everyone has a seat at the table.”

“Coming from El Paso, Texas, a community that was rarely, if ever, visited, I know what that feels like to be left behind. But I also know what it feels like when someone finally shows up. And I’m going to be that candidate that shows up for everyone in America.”

Todd: “You’ve (said) you hadn’t been talking about the issue that you think you should be talking about more, and that’s President Trump ... “

O’Rourke: “Even before this campaign, I talked about how dangerous President Trump’s open racism is, the Mexicans as rapists and criminals, the Muslims, who should be banned from this country ... the mosque in Victoria, Texas, burned to the ground the day after he signs his executive order attempting to ban Muslim travel.

“But it wasn’t until someone, inspired by Donald Trump, drove more than 600 miles, to my hometown, and killed 22 people in my community with a weapon of war, an AK-47 ... I truly understood how critical this moment is and the real consequence and cost of Donald Trump.

“And I saw it again yesterday, in Mississippi, in Canton ... nearly 700 people working in chicken processing plants, one of the toughest jobs in America, were raided, detained, taken from their kids, humiliated, hogtied, for the crime of being in this country, doing a job that no one else will do.

“There is a concerted, organized attack against immigrants, against people of color, against those who do not look like or pray like or love like the majority in this country. And this moment will define us one way or another.

“And if we do not wake up to it, I am convinced that we’ll lose America, this country, in our sleep. And we cannot allow that to happen.”

Both the Bonnen-Sullivan outfall, and Beto’s campaign makeover, should be interesting to watch.

— Dave McNeely, an Austin-based columnist covering Texas politics, appears Thursday.

Today's Bible verse

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

2 Corinthians 3:6

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