Sunday, July 22, 2012

Regarding that HouChron endorsement last week

I mentioned here that I was going to write about last week's endorsement by the Houston Chronicle in the race for the Seventh Congressional District's Democratic run-off, with early voting beginning tomorrow morning at 7 a.m at polling places around the county, and concluding Tuesday July 31st. Here that is.

The two men representing the Chron's editorial board were managing editor John Wilburn and Evan Mintz.

Wilburn is one of the paper's higher-ups, editorially speaking. 'Managing editor" is the #2 ranking person on the news side, usually only answering to the Editor and the Publisher in Hearst's hierarchy (though this is based on my aged past experience with Hearst community newspapers, and the Chronicle, as an urban market daily, may have a different reporting structure). He's been in this position since 2008. He is also the husband of Texas Monthly writer Mimi Schwartz. Here's a photo of them at a recent benefit sponsored by the paper.

Wilburn is, in short, of fairly high stature professionally, socially, and probably financially. Comfortable, I suspect, but maybe not wealthy. He travels in wealthy circles, though, and his professional and social status is representative of Houston's elite.

Nothing wrong with that.

Mintz is slightly more out in the open. He describes himself at his Twitter profile as someone who "sometimes writes for the Houston Chronicle". His Twitter feed consists mostly of the usual inane chat and semi-witty repartee that infests the medium generally. Mintz does have several examples of quality writing around the Web; I have been aware of his blog for almost as long as I have been writing at my own. It's not very active but seems to draw a share of fans. Here's an article he wrote for the Rice University Thresher about Dan Patrick; here's another from his law school newspaper advertising himself for hire. Here's another article written about him at the Chron that spotlights his internship at the ACLU. Mintz might be a fairly significant contributor to the e-board endorsement process; here he Tweeted the Chron's judicial endorsements back in May.

With just a few clicks, then, it becomes fairly easy to discern Mintz' political leanings: he's a good liberal. He supports good Democrats like Jamaal Smith in the statehouse race for HD137 (whom I support as well; scroll back up that page and look to the right). The endorsement of Smith from the Chron was also a Mintz Tweet. (Here I should write that Gene Wu, the other candidate in that run-off, would make a fine representative and, like Charles, I would be delighted to see either man serving the district in the Texas House next January.)

What's fairly unusual for Chronicle reporters, specifically Mintz's name on Smith's endorsement page, is to reveal their political connections this obviously. *Update, Monday 7/23: Evan Mintz's name has been removed from the list of supporters of Smith. C'mon people; screenshots, for Chrissakes. 

One Chronicle writer was terminated for making a campaign contribution a few years ago (maybe that's where the line is drawn). If I were Mr. Wu I might be a little upset upon learning this information about Mintz. Being an attorney I'm sure Mintz ought to know where the line is drawn, and so -- I am certain --  does the newspaper.

This appearance of bias is not what I am looking for in my newspaper endorsements, however, and I frankly believe that  Mintz crossed it, both in this endorsement of Smith and in the one for Cargas. That's subject to individual interpretation, naturally.

According to reports from the scene, Cargas and Mintz demonstrated a relaxed affability at the endorsement hearing, even discussing shared law school acquaintances at the conclusion of the meeting.

Nothing wrong with that either, I suppose. Two young attorneys just having a chat, after all.

Where this goes off the rails is with the verbiage Cargas used throughout the interview, and how closely it matches the words written in the editorial. Occasionally it veers off into embarrassment for the paper of record. For example, Cargas -- whose wife is a physician for a hospital in the Texas Medical Center -- said that he would work to bring federal grant money to the Texas Medical Center.

It's a little puzzling that the man who wants to represent the 7th would advocate for issues and organizations outside the district, in this case mostly the 9th. Ted Poe's 2nd and Sheila Jackson Lee's 18th are in fact closer in most respects than is the 7th.

That's not the best screenshot at first glance, but click on it and you can see the district lines for the area. If you prefer to go to the Texas Legislative Council's District Viewer website and select Plan C235 ("Court-ordered interim Congressional map") and scroll and zoom for yourself, go right ahead.

In defense of Cargas, the TMC was drawn into and out of CD07 in the various redistricting gyrations performed by both the Texas Legislature and the federal court a handful of times last spring. It's almost excusable -- not quite, but almost -- that Cargas has his lines crossed. Almost as plausible as he might have a conflict of interest. Irrespective of that, Congress members just don't cross boundaries to take up or oppose causes and concerns in another member's district. That would be like Ted Poe taking on a Jefferson County refinery project, or Ron Paul pushing for Dow Chemical in Brazoria County.

"Hey it's in my district now..."

Maybe Cargas thinks -- or has some inside information -- that the TMC will be drawn back into the 7th in the next year's legislative session. That would be a pretty neat trick for him if it were true, wouldn't it?

It's not. Nobody can say with any certainty whatsoever how the Lege is going to draw the maps in 2013. So Cargas just has his map wrong.

That's incredibly stupid, but it's not lethal.

There is, however, no excuse except laziness or corruption for the newspaper not to know what the district looks like, even if the prospective representative doesn't. Given what has already been revealed here, we can't be certain that journalistic sloth is the only excuse for the Cargas endorsement. There's reasonable doubt, in lawyer parlance. When you have the appearance of Houston's close-to-elites anointing one of their own, it just looks a little skeezy. Especially when it isn't a Republican -- allegedly -- they're endorsing.

Of course I see lots of Republican support for Cargas, camoflaged though it may be. I have certainly seen first-hand Republican smear tactics vigorously exercised by the Cargas campaign.

So if the Democratic members of the establishment want to line up in support of Cargas despite all that... well, now you know what people who do not vote mean when they say "both parties are the same".

Let's go ahead and give Wilburn and Mintz the benefit of the doubt: Cargas' resume', connections, and "experience" probably DO make him look, to them, more qualified to be a Congressional candidate than Ms. Squiers. Like Michael Skelly before him, Cargas is already running to the right in anticipation of attracting the mythological crossover Republicans in November with his "moderate/energy policy/fracking is good" talk.

As I have said a time or two, if that's the kind of Democrat that Democrats think can win against Republicans, in spite of decades of evidence to the contrary, then maybe it is me and not them who is wrong. Maybe it is me who finds himself in increasing disagreement with the philosophy of the majority of candidates the Democratic Party in Texas nominates.

I'm OK with being wrong, in that case.

As for the Chronicle's endorsement, as well as the rest of the Democratic establishment's... hey, take it or leave it. I've already gotten feedback that the newspaper's approval  makes precisely the case I argue: that Cargas is the Corporate Democrat. The representative of, by, and for the 1%. That's simply not the right thing to be in this Occupy-influenced cycle.

But hey, you already know I'm biased. Maybe as much as the Chronicle's editorial board.

My mind is certainly made up. Is yours?

Voting begins Monday morning at these locations. Note the 7-7 and M-F hours, which means you can go before or after work but not next weekend. Finding your precinct's voting place will be confusing on Election Day due to various and unpredictably combined polling places.

So get your runoff vote out of the way early, and kindly consider casting a ballot for the Community Democrat for the 99%, who is opposed by nearly one hundred percent of the 1%.

She knows how to beat a Republican.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interesting... I knew Evan through the Houston Press comments section - I think he was one of about 2 people last year who commented on their Hair Balls sections more than me.

I wondered where he'd gone...

I need to go over and see whether he has purged his old comments on the Press's site. His comments were, you know, no more careful or balanced as anyone else's on that forum.