Toppling A Powerful GOP Chairman-- Not Part Of The DCCC Game Plan... But Thanks To Trump, It Could Happen
The DCCC never goes after powerful GOP chairmen and the DCCC never looks outside the box towards districts to expand the electoral map, unless, that is, its to promote a shill from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party (a New Dem or Blue Dog). But early in the cycle Blue America saw a shot for dedicated Berniecrat, Tom Wakely running against Lamar Smith in TX-21. Smith is a typical bozo science-denier but his position as the chairman of the House Science Committee makes that position dangerous for the whole country-- like when he told people in the Rio Grande Valley to keep their windows shut and stock up on Raid as he gave the thumbs down to President Obama's efforts to stave off a Zika epidemic. Smith is even worse when he feels that efforts to combat Climate Change threaten his campaign financiers at Big Oil.
TX-21, is an oddly gerrymandered district meant to dilute the influence of Travis County (Austin) Democrats with a misshapen district that winds down into the Hill Country and through Comal and Hays counties into the Republican suburbs of San Antonio (Bexar County). During the primary, Wakely ran an issues-oriented campaign on a Bernie-like platform against a conservative Democrat, Tejas Vakil. Wackily won convincingly, 29,592 (59%) to 20,566 (41%). And next Tuesday he faces Smith.
Smith has already spent $1,640,520-- $200,000 more than he raised-- to Tom's $62,313. Neither the DCCC nor the NRCC is spending any money in the district. Blue America helped contributed a phone banking system to Tom as an in-kind contribution and is running the truck (above) as an independent expenditure. Climate Hawks vote has spent $3,000 to help Wakely as well.
Lamar Smith was the first House committee chairman to endorse Trump and the only member of Congress to contribute his own money to Trump. He's as all-in for Trump as you can be. But his constituents aren't. Hillary may well win TX-21, a district Obama lost 60-38% to Romney. What happened? Suburban voters north of San Antonio and west of New Braunfels are turned off to Trump's racist, misogynist message. In 2012, Bexar County gave Obama a narrow 5 point margin over Romney (52-47%). This year, Hillary is winning by 7 points. Obama took Travis 60-36% (a 24 point margin) in 2012. This year Hillary is up a staggering 31 points. But the DCCC continues to evidence no interest in taking on Lamar Smith, let alone helping Tom Wakely.
Yesterday, KSTX, San Antonio's public radio station, put this crucial race in context: Climate Change On The Ballot In Race For TX-CD 21: Lamar Smith vs. Tom Wakely.
The 69-year old Smith was first elected to Congress in 1986. With his seniority Smith has become the influential chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology committee, which, among other things, oversees all government environmental research. That includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) which is seen as the government's authority on climate change data.Brad Johnson, the executive director of Climate Hawks Vote and one of the most respected voices on Climate policy told us that "Lamar Smith is attacking anyone seeking to hold ExxonMobil accountable for its decades-long cover-up of the the dangers of global warming pollution. Tom is an unabashed progressive, Bernie Sanders-endorsing, Air Force veteran with a strong background as a union organizer and deep roots within the Christian left. Most important, he’s running as a champion of climate science. He’s connecting the dots among Texas’ record floods, the religious imperative to care for what God created, and the need for urgent action."
"The science committee has held many hearing on NOAA's troubled weather satellite program over the years," Smith said at a congressional hearing.
Critics say Smith has targeted NOAA due to climate change politics. He says they are manipulating their findings.
Smith disputes the dire predictions of catastrophic climate change and is using his chairmanship to threaten the head of NOAA with criminal charges if she did not release emails from scientists concerning a climate change study.
Democratic challenger Wakely calls Smith the Climate Change-Denier-in-Chief and he’s made it a key issue in his campaign.
“Climate change is the issue of our times. And it is the major issue. All these other issues, affordable housing, health care-- those are all issues that need to be addressed but they become mute if the world goes to hell in a hand basket because of climate change,” he said.
Smith says his re-election is not about climate change and when he talks with voters the topic rarely comes up.
“This is an election in my district about whether my constituents and my voters want to return someone who’s been effective and is conservative versus somebody who is an acolyte of Nancy Pelosi,” said Smith.
Wakely says he’s no acolyte of former speaker Pelosi-- he’s an acolyte of Senator Bernie Sanders. Speaking at his home that he’s turned into a hospice for veterans, Wakely says he’s getting zero help from the Democratic Party-- probably because he is such a long shot.
“I think they take a look at the historic voting patterns in the district and they make a decision,” he said.
All of Smith's 14 re-election races have been walkaways. He’s never won by less than 25 percent of the vote. The last Democrat to challenge Smith in 2012 took just 35 percent of the ballots. But Wakely says times and the district are changing.
“That whole I-35 corridor is booming. Housing developments, new apartment complexes-- so the whole demographics is changing-- it’s now over 30 percent Hispanic,” he said.
And Wakely says he could ride the possible anti-Trump surge to victory. But Smith says Trump is winning big league and he’s a big Trump supporter.
“I think Trump helps and I’m certainly supporting him. I mean he really does represent the working men and women of America,” Smith said.
Nevertheless, those who care deeply about Climate Change are closely watching Congressional District 21.
“There’s no doubt a lot of responsibility is resting on the shoulders of the voters in the district," says Aseem Prakash, the director of the University of Washington Center for Environmental Politics. "And if they can cast a vote in a way that says the United States must take climate change seriously then I think they are going to send an important message."
Prakash says even if Wakely managed to unseat Smith it wouldn’t matter much in the political fight over climate change if the GOP maintains control of Congress.
Smith said he’s eager to get reelected for his 16th term and get back to work.
“I hope to be Chairman of the Science, Space and Technology committee for another two years,” he said.
Smith says he has investigations underway and there’s more work to be done to quote “hold this administration accountable.”
It isn't too late to contribute to Tom's campaign either. "Our campaign," he told me, "has always been about our field efforts and making contact with folks in the district. My job as the candidate has been heavily focused on retail politics. Every bit of support we've received has been directed to literature, signs, gasoline, and the occasional breakfast taco for the hardest working volunteers in Texas. It's about having as many voters to meet or talk to our amazing team. The clock stops at 7PM on November 8th. We won't be stopping anytime before then. We owe that much to our family, our friends, our volunteers, and our supporters. There's no sleep when our future is at stake."