Amid a tiny and unruly protest, Chairman Cook kicks off reelection campaign
Originally published on the Quorum Report.
CORSICANA – On a dark and stormy Friday night – yes, that’s how this story starts – Texas House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook kicked off his reelection campaign at a country dance where hundreds inside had a grand time.
Outside in the pouring rain, however, a small group of angry protesters was led by paid political operatives who sought not only to falsely inflate the size of their demonstration but also tried to turn their newfound legal problems into a fundraising opportunity. The small and at times unruly protest drew the ire of local police charged with keeping order outside the Corsicana Country Club on the outskirts of this small town.
The protesters, which appeared to be mostly staffers of groups funded in large part by Midland oilman Tim Dunn, got so out of hand at times that police officers who at first were quite lenient ended up issuing citations. At least two minor citations – legal equivalents of traffic tickets – were issued to Dunn spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan and an ally, Texas Right to Life President Jim Graham.
As the tickets were handed out, some in their small group shouted “Freedom!”
Sullivan, who manages Empower Texans for Dunn, and Graham moved quickly to use their brief and disrespectful clash with law enforcement as a chance to collect political cash. Graham sent out an email asking for “an emergency contribution of $100, $250, $500, $1,500 or $3,000 or more” so that he could “defend our right to free speech and our right to defend Life!”
"The Corsicana chief of police threatened me and Texas Right to Life’s president, Jim Graham, with jail!," Sullivan exclaimed in a similar over-the-top email. "In the end, the police issued citations to me and Graham. An obscure city ordinance says that if more than 25 people are gathered outside without a permit, it’s an illegal parade."
Sullivan also tweeted out a picture of the citation he was issued with his residence redacted. His residency is a point of contention in one of Sullivan’s more significant legal problems: The case of whether he has acted as an unregistered lobbyist at the Texas Capitol. The Texas Ethics Commission fined him $10,000. That case is now being appealed in the courts.
As the melodrama of the ginned up protest was unfolding out on the street, Rep. Cook looked as steady and cheerful as ever as he greeted guests inside his party. Cook, who has guided his key House committee through tumultuous sessions in recent years, was letting off some steam by cutting a rug on the dancefloor with his wife.
“It’s just a nice party in the country,” Cook said. “How are they going to turn that into some kind of scandal?”
Though the kickoff party was by any measure a success, it is clear Chairman Cook realizes Republican primaries have changed. Cook’s aggressive stance on dark money – he has pushed legislation to require disclosure of donations to politically active non-profits – has unsurprisingly made him the top target of such groups.
Earlier in the day, Cook’s campaign released a Halloween-themed political advertisement taking direct aim at Empower Texans for trying to exert outside influence on how people in his district will vote in the Republican primary. The group has endorsed Cook’s challenger, Thomas McNutt of the McNutt’s who own the Collin Street Bakery.
“Many have asked me recently who are these LIARS that call themselves Empower Texans?” Cook said in the campaign mailer. “These LIARS are attacking me because I stood up to them and proposed ethics legislation to make them disclose who funds their campaign activities,” Cook said. “I am humbled to serve you and will not be bullied by such cowardly LIARS.”
“This is the most aggressive thing I’ve ever seen from him,” said one of the partygoers holding up a copy of the mailer. “I’m glad to see him fighting back.”
"I suppose it's only appropriate and fitting that these out of town dark money funded groups are standing in the rain instead of in the light of day," said Cook's campaign manager Matthew Bentley. "90% of the voters in our district oppose dark money and favor full disclosure of all campaign contributions."
Though the vast majority of the crowd was people who live in the district, Texas Alliance for Life Executive Director Joe Pojman made the trip from Austin up to Navarro County. "I am here supporting Byron Cook because he is as pro-life as they come,” Pojman said. “The protesters outside, whoever they are, just look silly.”
Some of the people at the party were a little perplexed as to why anyone would be protesting the reelection kickoff event. Because the protesters led by Sullivan and Graham were chanting slogans that included Cook’s name, some of the people who had arrived to enjoy a nice evening were a little confused as to their intent.
"It sure is nice that there were some folks outside cheering for Byron," said one after making their way into the party to eat some snacks and listen to live music.
Copyright October 31, 2015, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission.