In the crowded race to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, there are really only three players: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. The rest of the field is simply filler, having no chance to win the race but perhaps having an opportunity to build name id for the future. Of the three, I’m most curious about Mr. Leppert, primarily because I know very little about him and know quite a lot about the other two. After watching him “win” the forum held at King Street Patriots (on strength of argument, not the straw poll), I asked to meet him to learn more about him, his vision for the job, and his potential path to victory.
The personal stuff
Mr. Leppert was raised by a single mother but he says that they weren’t poor because his mother always had a job and that her work ethic is behind his success in business and politics. After completing high school, he was accepted at Claremont McKenna College, one of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, almost on a lark. He filled out an application handed to him by a counselor and the next thing he knew he was going to college, coming out with a prestigious degree and a hefty student loan balance. He then applied and was accepted at Harvard, where he received a MBA.
He joined McKinsey Consulting, quickly making a name for himself. He was chosen by President Ronald Reagan as a White House fellow in 1984, serving in the Treasury and in the White House. His first date with his future wife Laura was to a White House dinner. Heck, my first date with Terri was to a church banquet, isn’t that about the same thing?
After marriage, the lure of Hawaii was strong and he moved his family, embarking on a career in real estate and banking. In 1999 he left Hawaii after he accepted the position of CEO at Turner Corporation, having joined their board a year earlier. During his 7 year tenure at Turner, the company’s revenues doubled, with profits following suit. In August of 2006, Turner announced that Mr. Leppert was resigning his position to pursue other interests. This piqued my curiosity: why would a relatively young man resign at the top of his game? Was there more to the story than indicated in the press release? So I asked him about it.
He basically repeated the quote in the press release but added depth to it so that I could fully understand his reasoning. In the quote, he notes that he wanted to “contribute to my faith and the community”. As many of you know, my father is a Southern Baptist preacher, so lines like this aren’t new to me and frankly, I’ve become so cynical over the years that I have developed a very good BS meter when it comes to topics of faith. Which is one of the reasons I asked to meet with Mr. Leppert rather than read his bio. Looking into his eyes and hearing the passion when he talked about it let me put my BS meter away and understand that when he says he retired from Turner to pursue his convictions, he means it.
He talked about seeing his mother struggle daily her entire life to provide for her family and then realizing that he was in a position to not have to do that. And more than that, he could help others by showing them the importance of education, and by providing them a way to achieve an education. After leaving Turner, he invested in the West Dallas Community School, providing a Bible-based education to students in impoverished communities. Here is a quick clip that I found of Mr. Leppert explaining the concept:
He remains on the Board of Directors of West Dallas Community School today.
His focus on education was also apparent when I found that he donated his entire salary as Mayor of Dallas to various educational activities, such as the Education is Freedom program and the Chesapeake Energy Scholarship. A lot of people talk about their faith, some walk it. Clearly, Mr. Leppert falls in the latter group.
As I mentioned, he is married to Laura – they are in their 26th year of marriage. They have three children, all in college. Yikes!
His term as Mayor
Not being familiar with the City of Dallas, their politics, or their budget, I first looked at the budgets he produced. Here is a table of the budget during his tenure (you can click on it to make it larger):
That table was taken from the budget information listed here if you want to double check it. The General Fund is what most people refer to as “the budget”. The Total Op Budget includes departments that have their own revenue streams plus debt service. The Total Budget includes capital projects funded with bonds.
The tax rate table shows two increases, one he supported and one he did not. I asked why he supported the first increase and he explained that the budgeting process was already underway when he took the oath of office in June of 2007. The fiscal year started October 1st and he felt it was best at that time not to start over, so he went along with the increase. He noted that he successfully fought an attempt to raise the rate in 2009 but lost the battle in 2010. There are many ways to look at those numbers but overall, for a big urban city, they look decent to me, the exception being that last HUGE tax hike. There is a lot of contemporaneous news reporting that shows Mr. Leppert did indeed oppose this hike vigorously. You’ll have to do your own homework.
The biggest thing that Mr. Leppert seemed to want to impress upon me regarding the Dallas budget was that he was successful in refocusing priorities. He said that his biggest accomplishment in that area was to increase the police force by 20%, which in turn increased public safety. I asked if he was talking real numbers, i.e., boots on the ground, and he said that he was. So, I checked that out, as I try to do. According to the budget from the year before he was Mayor, the Dallas Police Department was allocated funding for 1,878.4 FTE’s for Field Patrol, i.e., boots on the ground. The budget from 2010, his last, shows that the DPD was allocated funding for 2,421.3 FTE’s for Field Patrol, an increase of 29%. Okay, he’s right, if a little understated. Perhaps Houston’s own Mayor Annise Parker should take note.
Not all was rosy, of course. Two projects jump out when you are reviewing his term. One is a downtown convention center hotel, the other a project on the Trinity River. I’ll leave the Trinity project for others to discuss because it never came to fruition, even though Mr. Leppert supported it. The idea for a hotel, however, did pass, so I asked him about that. Obviously, my bias is that no taxpayer money should ever be spent for what should be a private business, so I made that clear to him as we discussed it.
I think what his argument boils down to is that having a convention hotel brings in larger conventions, which bring in more tourists, which brings in more revenue to local businesses, bringing in more tax revenue to the City of Dallas, which ultimately lowers the tax burden for local citizens. In other words, the standard argument that you hear on this issue. Mr. Leppert was adamant that the hotel was necessary, that no private investors would build it without public backing in the form of revenue bonds, that the risk to the city was very small and the reward was very high. As I noted, the hotel idea did get voter approval, bonds in the amount of $479.8 million were issued, and the hotel is currently under construction. You can view a live webcam of its progress here. First Southwest has put forth a case study on the bonds.
Does his support of this hotel project make him a “librul”? Hardly. Think of the most conservative politician you know and I guarantee you that they have supported spending tax money on something that you don’t think it should have been spent on. I remember reading one of Texas House Rep. Wayne Christian’s bills funneling money to a local college. I would say that type of funding is far more egregious than the type of revenue bond funding that backed this hotel. Conventions are a basic form of tourism for large cities, that is a fact. Mr. Leppert and the voters of Dallas determined that they wanted to compete with other cities at a higher level. If his support for the project disqualifies him in your mind, so be it. At least he didn’t back away from it, instead he vigorously reinforced his support for the project.
The great RINO hunt
By now, if you have read this far, it should be clear that Mr. Leppert is not some wild-eyed liberal trying to pick the pockets of the taxpayer. You wouldn’t know that if you listened to the self-appointed RINO hunters in the Texas Republican party. Gawd I hate that term. Amazing that grown men and women run around pointing fingers and yelling RINO but they surely do. Notwithstanding the fact that 99% of those yelling have never lifted a finger to help the party. They just know that “something” is wrong, so they attack anyone who has ever tried to do anything.
That said, some reasonable conservatives have pointed to some of Mr. Leppert’s activities and questioned his authenticity. Specifically, they bring up his “consorting with ACORN”, his walking in a gay pride parade, and his support of State Sen. Royce West’s bill in the 81st legislature that would have given the City of Dallas municipal workers the right to organize an association to “meet and confer” with city leaders. Unionize, as it were.
The first two I give no credence. So a conservative running for mayor went to a couple of community groups asking for their support. I think that If more conservatives did this, you would see more conservatives winning office. If you look at the picture of one of the pledges that Mr. Leppert signed, you will see that it says:
If elected, I will work with ACORN to increase resources for code compliance in low and moderate income neighborhoods.
Wow. Pretty radical isn’t it? Here’s a guy putting his money where his mouth is by funding a school in an impoverished area and people are going to get worked up because he signed a pledge to shift code compliance resources to areas that he knows needs them? Seriously?
But, but, he walked in a parade with a bunch of gay people!!!! Yes, as a matter of fact he did, here is a picture of him at the parade. Think what would happen if people of faith across the world talked to people they disagree with and formed relationships with them? Sat down and shared a meal? Radical, yes, but hey, you know me. This is a guy that attends First Baptist Church and is supported by plenty of Baptist preachers (heh, even one from “Green Acres Baptist”): does anyone in their right mind seriously think this is an issue?
But that third one, the bill by Sen. West…that is a tough one for me. One of the biggest challenges this country faces is directly tied to allowing municipal employees to unionize. It simply makes no sense to allow people to unionize that can vote for people that have the authority to increase their wages.
Sec. 149.009. RECOGNITION OF EMPLOYEE ASSOCIATION. (a) Requires a public employer in a municipality that chooses to meet and confer under this chapter to recognize an association that is recognized under Section 149.004 or 149.005 as the sole and exclusive bargaining agent for the covered employees.
That bothers me. A lot. So much so that we spent the better part of 15 minutes arguing about it. See, I’m not a reporter – reporters can’t argue with their subjects. I’m a voter and voters can argue all day long. Mr. Leppert insisted that he only supported the right of Dallas employees to meet and confer, not to unionize. He correctly points out that the bill does not include the right to strike, nor does it mandate that city leaders negotiate with the association. That said, I tend to err on the side of the Texas Conservative Coalition, which issued a talking point memo about “meet and confer” bills and the impact they are having on Texas municipalities.
Meet and confer undermines Texas position as a right to work state and creates additional cost burdens for local taxpayers.
Mr. Leppert also noted that he was successful in lowering wages for Dallas municipal employees and that Dallas police and fire fighters already have “meet and confer” rights. Fortunately, the bill did not pass and I’ll have to use the “agree to disagree” with Mr. Leppert on this one. Your mileage may vary.
The path to victory
Obviously, the bottom line is, can he win? What does he see as his path to victory? He basically told me the same strategy that he told Kevin Brennan in this piece on Hotline on Call. Use his North Texas base, along with a few other strategically located areas, to get into a runoff with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and then defeat him in that runoff. I asked him if he had staff on the ground in South Texas and he does not at this point, choosing to work in the higher density areas this far out.
The obvious question is, how does he get past Ted Cruz, who has racked up almost every endorsement there is to rack up? He didn’t seem disturbed at all by Mr. Cruz, as he said directly in this piece by David Cantanese on Politico. I asked him why he didn’t go negative on Mr. Cruz and he said he was content to point out his experience as a successful businessman and mayor and leave it at that. I remarked that in a Texas Republican primary, you have to go negative – it is just the way it is. Republican primary voters like sharp contrasts to be made and the only way to do that is to go negative. At this point, only Elizabeth Ames Jones, who doesn’t have a chance, has been willing to go negative against Mr. Cruz. There are certainly areas to attack: no experience, his wife’s employer, her support of the North American Union paper, his establishment Republican ties, etc. No dice, Mr. Leppert wouldn’t bite. BTW, I say those things about Ted as a huge Ted Cruz for Attorney General fan, so don’t take that wrong. And I have no doubt that he will go negative on Lt. Gov. Dewhurst but to me, that really isn't his opponent until the runoff, assuming that Mr. Dewhurst remains the favorite. And you know what assume means.
Will his plan work? Actually, it has a shot, especially if Sen. Dan Patrick enters the race. Not sure why he would, we already have “In God We Trust” on our money but hey, to each his own. If he does enter, he will take votes from Cruz, no question about that. If that happens, and if that North Texas base (the media market includes East Texas) comes through, it could happen, and if it does, a lot of prognosticators that have already written him off are going to be eating crow. If Patrick doesn’t enter, it makes Mr. Leppert’s path to victory much harder.
Heh, if you’ve gotten this far you are either a masochist or you skipped to the bottom. There is no question remaining in my mind that Mr. Leppert is a solid, conservative Republican that cares deeply about the future of this country, even if I disagree with him on a couple of his past actions. Of all of the current candidates, he has been the most vocal about issues that are actually in front of the Senate as we speak. He talks incessantly about the need to stop deficit spending, he was the first to endorse Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, he is outspoken about his support of the so-called “Cut, Cap, and Balance” bill that the House passed this week, he relentlessly attacks Obamacare and calls for its repeal, and he is a fierce advocate for education reform. In other words, he is intensely focused on fiscal issues but understands that there are other issues that matter.
So that’s it. There are a lot of good conservative Republicans in this race. Plenty to choose from and any one of them will be a far cry better than anything the Texas Democratic Party comes up with. Pick the one that you agree with the most, that you have studied and think can do the job, then get out and support that person.
A very big thank you to Mr. Leppert for sitting down with this voter from Shoreacres by way of Pasadena. This is what makes the American system special.