In 1994, Steve Mansfield ran for a seat on Texas’ highest criminal court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He operated his campaign mostly from his car and motels, but won with 4.5 million votes. Why? Because Mansfield had an R by his name and ran on the Republican ticket with George W. Bush, who swept Texas. Only then did voters learn Mansfield had paid a fine in Florida for practicing law without a license, earned a reputation of conning women through personal ads, married, divorced, and neglected to pay for child support. He claimed to be born and raised in Texas when in fact he was born and raised in Massachusetts, and actually was not a criminal lawyer at all. Mansfield passed the Texas bar exam only two years earlier and almost all of his legal experience was serving as in-house counsel to insurance companies. He served on the court until 2000, during which time he was arrested for scalping tickets to the Texas-Texas A&M game on university property, and later worked as a security guard at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.
Score another victory for straight-ticket voting. Yes, it’s almost election time again, so here is Voting Made Easy. I have an early look at the choices in the elections on Nov. 4 for all sorts of taxpayer–paid jobs from governor on down – or up. Texans will make choices determining who will lead us, how our state and local tax dollars will be spent, who will be on our state school board so parents can opt for home schooling. After going over the list and considering their backgrounds, quotes and positions on pond scum, I needed a drink. Maybe two. But if you are like most Texans, you won’t vote, then you’ll gripe about those whom other people elected.
There are 25.6 million people in Texas, some are citizens and thus can cast a ballot. Take away those who just got here from Tegucigalpa, those under 18, those in jail, old folks who can’t understand the 50-page ballot (in major counties) and then scratch out those who could vote but don’t. Subtract the fact Texas is such a red state most candidates who won the GOP primary are a shoo-in, and many run unopposed. Ross Ramsey wrote in The Texas Tribune that of the state’s eligible voters, 32.1 percent of adults voted in the 2010 general election. Only the District of Columbia was worse with 28.9 percent. The national rate was 41 percent. When the dust settles, our state-wide officials are actually chosen by about 7 to 10 percent of the people.
Now about the straight-ticket voter, or STV, and this has nothing to do with being straight. Do you walk into the voting booth – today it’s more like a bank counter – look for the place on the ballot that allows you to push only a button or two and vote for every candidate from that party? Most Texans do exactly that – monkey see, monkey do. Yet straight-ticket voting, has been declining in popularity in other states. At least three states have done away with it in the last decade, and a fourth nearly did. Texas has permitted straight-ticket voting since 1911, and is one of only 13 states still using it. Last election, a record 64 percent of Texas voters cast straight-ticket ballots.
The results vary in various elections. In Travis County in 2008, straight-ticket voting went 64 percent for Democrats, 34 percent for Republicans. Almost two-thirds of Harris County’s voters joined the STV party in 2008. In 2010, 67 percent pulled a straight-ticket. A majority of Harris County voters, in fact, have voted straight-ticket in each of the last five general elections except 2006, when 48 percent of the votes were cast that way.
I have interviewed and reported on politicians for decades, and can truthfully say that most of them in all parties are corrupt, drunks and/or inefficient – except mine, of course. We always re-elect our own lawmakers. But this year Texas is having a fire sale (sorry, Governor’s Mansion — sorry, Rick) in statewide jobs. Openings are everywhere. So I look for candidates at least I have heard of. For years Jim Bowie and Gene Kelly ran for office. Sam Houston is on the ballot this November. And you thought Quanah Parker was dead, Pale Face? He’s running for Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 4. Nathan Hecht is running for Supreme Court chief justice. This is the same Nathan Hecht who voted with the majority that private beach-front owners could close our public beaches.
Libertarians or Greens, new names, old names. Keep looking for a Jesus, Houston, Austin, Dallas, Antonio and Willie Nelson. Some running for state-wide office have nicknames like Emily “Spicybrown” Sanchez and David “Rocky” Palmquist. I’ll bet Chandrakantha Courtney would never win as a write-in candidate. Where is that Bush name? There has been a Bush on a Texas ballot at least 10 times. Make that 11. Now George P. Bush, that well-known rural surveyor and realtor, is running for land commissioner.
Another key: look for whichever name you’ve seen the most during the campaign, particularly those whose names are nailed illegally to city sign posts and stuck in street medians. TV ads are also a good judge of character. Watch for spots that don’t just disparage that slimy, no-count opponent who hates women, children, puppies and football. Note TV ads by candidates who tout their own record and explain how they will solve our problems. If you find such a candidate’s ad, you’re watching the Comedy Channel. We also have a constitutional amendment to vote on: “…providing for the use and dedication of certain money transferred to the state highway fund.” Well, that’s certainly specific enough for me. I mean, if we can’t trust our legislators in Austin, who can we trust? Finally, remember that just when you think nothing can get worse, there’s an election, as Steve Mansfield was telling me.
Ashby is running at email@example.com