Friday, September 17, 2004
Two (congress)men enter, one (congress)man leaves
Thanks to the redistricting melodrama that the rest of the country was forced to endure, Texas has become a hotbed of House campaign activity. New district lines usually mean chaos and mischief, especially when that rarest of all campaign birds comes to roost: The "Sitting Legislator v. Sitting Legislator" Battle Royale w/ Cheese.
In Dallas we have been the fortunate witness of one of these contests. Redistricting has placed Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX), the longest serving Southern Democrat and a "cham-peen" campaigner, in a head-to-head battle with Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), son of former FBI Director William Sessions and the beneficiary of good numbers in this right-leaning district. Although the candidates themselves have been surprisingly congenial to one another, one major issue has become so contentious it is getting all the airplay. That issue, of course, is "yard signs" -- that waster of volunteer time, that blight on the environment, that piece of poster board stapled on a stick. This whole affair allegedly began last month when Sessions took his son to his first day of elementary school and found Frost campaign signs covering the school grounds from bow to stern. Of course, Sessions did what you and I would do -- he issued a press release blaming Frost for the "dirty trick." In retaliation, Frost's campaign released a police report from 2002 showing that, during his last election, Sessions and one of his campaign workers were busted by Dallas's Finest for stealing his then-opponent's yard signs (although no citation was issued). Sessions's defense was simple: the signs were illegally placed in the right-of-way and he was just doing his civic duty by upholding the law (cue stirring music).
I attended a "Meet the Candidate" Luncheon with Sessions a couple of months ago. He's an amiable guy, if not overly inspiring. I can't say I remember any of his platitudes, because his whole case for reelection seemed to center around staying the course and supporting the President. Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a "private" luncheon with Frost here at the firm, and I found his comments to be fascinating. Frost, as can be expected, is not a flaming liberal. In fact, he is running to the right of Sessions and is generally using Bush's legislative record to bash his opponent. Here is the gist of Frost's answers to issue questions:
1. Frost supports security; Sessions doesn't. It seems that Sessions voted against the bill authorizing air marshals and reinforced cockpit doors. Of course, Frost does not mention that Sessions is a member of the Homeland Security Committee, has recently authored legislation cracking down on immigrants overstaying their visas, or that Sessions had co-sponsored tougher security measures than were ultimately enacted.
2. Frost is a deficit hawk; Sessions believes you can spend with impunity. Frost backhanded Sessions for "irresponsible" deficits, and even threw out the "China and other Asian countries own a good portion of our debt" scare (remember when it was Japan?). Ironically, he slammed Bush and Sessions over the Medicare Prescription Drug Act. Frost committed himself to cutting the budget -- and "minor" tax increases -- just like he and Clinton did when they "fixed" everything back in 1993.
3. Although both voted for the war, Frost is for running it differently. Frost played off questions about his vote for the war resolution by stating that it was counterproductive to play Monday-morning quarterback. He accused Bush and Sessions with not initially pumping enough money and troops into the war effort. It should come as no surprise that no one in the partisan crowd called him on screaming "lower deficit" one minute and then complaining that too little money was spent the next.
4. Frost is good on education; Sessions is very bad. Frost pointed out that he supported President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation, while Sessions did not.
5. When quizzed on his environmental stance, Frost gave the stock "good environment = good for business" conservation answer.
All in all, it was a nice piece of tap dancing to a moderate-to-liberal crowd. It gave independents the feeling that Frost is the more conservative and reasonable than Sessions on many of these issues, while boxing in the liberals who have nowhere else to go.
I will cover the numbers on this race sometime in the next few days.