Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Strama Takes the Road Most Traveled

I had the unusual experience this past Saturday and Sunday of hanging out with family members of Mark Strama and, for a while, with the man himself. No, it was not a social call. Rather, it was a campaign call—for my part, a campaign for Strama’s opponent, my candidate for HD 50, Patrick McGuinness. You see, the Stramas (Mark, father Tom, wife Crystal Cotti, and cousin Julie) were occupying the same area under and around a big tree outside the early voting location at Randalls on Braker Lane near Jollyville Rd where I also was hanging out (Tom was there first).

A funny thing happened on the way to the 100-ft line. As I walked toward that point beyond which electioneering is illegal I saw a familiar looking blond girl pushing a grocery cart toward her car and Tom Strama reaching out to her with a pushcard in his hand asking her to vote for his son. When the girl saw my Patrick McGuinness T-shirt she said, “I am your opponent” to both of us. She was Emily Cowan, the Libertarian candidate for HD 50. To jog her memory I mentioned that I was the guy at the PfCONA Candidate Forum who had asked about her position on the legalization of marijuana as is being considered in California. She said “there was not a person [at the Forum] under 30.” Interesting response.

I conversed with Tom in between sightings of approaching “customers” and found him pleasant and very dedicated to keeping his son in office. He was quite competitive (my 11 year old son, Zacahry said “aggressive”) in getting to the potential voters first to ask them to vote for his son and to point out his son’s endorsement by the Austin American Statesman newspaper. I would follow-up, when I could, by handing them a McGuinness tri-fold brochure and telling them that Patrick was the conservative/Republican running against Mark. Tom and I got some odd looks at the juxtaposition of our competing candidates. A while later I finally read the push card and realized why Tom was pushing the AAS endorsement so hard (more about that down below).

Soon Mark’s cousin, Julie arrived to help Tom, and then his wife Crystal and finally Mark, himself. I talked to each of them about various things, including my concern about the TLR’s endorsement of Mark and the connection with Uncle T. At one point I had the opportunity to mention to Julie and Crystal the problem I have with Mark’s support of Planned Parenthood and about Planned Parenthood’s racist origins. I got the usual response about how awful abortion is but how much people (especially the poor and minorities) needed to have access to contraceptives and be educated on the proper use of the same. That is the part of Planned Parenthood they said Mark (and they) support. I told them about the documentary, Maafa 21 but I don’t think they wanted to hear that side of the story (i.e. the truth).

At some point I asked for one of Strama’s push cards and after reading it I realized that he and his relatives were taking full advantage of his endorsement by the Austin American Statesman, which he quoted from on his card to attack his opponent. Here is the full AAS statement on the HD 50 race and their endorsement of Strama with the part Strama had on his push card shown in red:

Another hotly contested race pits Republican challenger Patrick McGuinness against two-term incumbent Mark Strama in District 50. We liked McGuinness in the Republican primary, but Strama, 43, offers the best package of experience and skill to represent the North Travis County middle- and lower-income district that needs a strong representative.

Strama is a moderate Democrat who attracts crossover support, whereas McGuinness is more hard-core partisan. As in the Bolton-Workman race, [E]xperience and knowing how to use it makes Strama the best choice in this race.

He championed green energy job creation and other energy-related bills. We've expected a lot from Strama since he was first elected in 2003. So far, he's delivered.

Notice the parts left out. On the one hand, left out is one of the strongest statements about Strama perceived value as a candidate as measured by AAS. On the other hand, Strama did not draw any attention to the only part of his legislative agenda mentioned, the greening of the energy sector. Could it be because Patrick has been effective at hammering him on it? What is left is relevant to Strama’s purpose here. He is trying to paint McGuinness as a partisan extremist (which to a moderate politician is anathema, in spite of the fact that the political pendulum swings widely and is now swinging right). The pushcard listed five phrases taken from Patrick McGuinness’ Travis Monitor blog post (under the pseudonym Freedom’s Truth) between January 5, 2007 and December 13, 2009 that Strama hoped would paint Patrick as an extreme partisan. Click here to read Patrick's explanation of his "extreme" words.

It was a calculated and perhaps desperate shot. But what happened next showed even more calculation by Strama’s team. By this time both Mark Strama and Patrick were present, though Patrick was not in the close proximity to the Stramas that I was. I walked over to Patrick and handed him the push card and asked him to read it. I’m pretty sure it was the first time he had read it. Later he approached Mark and began to ask him about the quotes and not remembering every thing he ever wrote he naturally wondered if they were really his words. Mark then asked him if he was Freedom’s Truth. Patrick hesitated in response and then said that he was Freedom’s Truth but not everything posted under Freedom’s Truth is something he wrote. Mark got visibly angry and accused Patrick of not owning up to his written words. It seemed to me that this was exactly what Strama was trying to do, to catch Patrick in a seemingly evading stance. But, it was a set-up. The next day Tom, who was not there when Mark and Patrick butted heads, mentioned that he heard that Patrick was not willing to admit that the words on the card were his. When I asked Tom if Mark had told him about the incident, he said no, the campaign manager had. They perhaps created and certainly planned to use the incident against Patrick. Within 24 hrs Strama had aired a negative ad against Patrick.

Strama told me that there was one particularly extreme quote that his team had found which he was hoping to attribute to Patrick. But, the quote “There’s a special place in Hell for AARP” was from a blogger with the alias Freedom Ain’t Free. Yes, that would be me. The actual quote was even more “extreme”, as I called out actual persons and not just an organization. Here it is: “There is a special place in Hell for people like those who run the AARP” which I wrote in an email to the AARP last year during the healthcare debate in Congress. Strama told me that he understood why I had written those words in the context of the healthcare/Obamacare debate on Capitol Hill. He no doubt similarly understood the quotes from Patrick’s posts, in their contexts, but he still used them to paint his opponent in a negative light, as an extremist. It was a desperate ploy, perhaps a distraction from Strama’s extreme legislative record and association with the most left of center President that has ever occupied the White House.

I have been working to replace Mark Strama with someone who represents my values, and I believe the values of HD 50, ever since he defeated Jack Stick in 1994. This is my third attempt. This time we have a favorable political environment and a candidate, in Patrick McGuinness, who can do it. I think that Mark Strama knows this and so like almost always happens with entrenched incumbents who feel threatened, he's gone negative, the road most traveled. I for one am delighted.

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