Will outside agitators follow the law in their next protest of Rep. Byron Cook?

On Monday, some folks are once again planning to protest the reelection campaign of Texas House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook.

Cook, a Republican from Corsicana, is holding an event in Hillsboro to visit with constituents like he did at a campaign kickoff party in his hometown a few weeks ago. Some outside agitators, spurred by groups like Empower Texans which is led by Midland oilman Tim Dunn, are planning to gather outside the event on Monday and chant "Hey Hey Ho Ho Byron Cook has got to go.”

They may sound ridiculous but it is their right to chant and say whatever they wish about Rep. Cook, a conservative rural lawmaker who faces a young and inexperienced challenger in the upcoming GOP primary election.

When Empower Texans and other allied organizations previously protested at one of Cook's events, they failed to get a required permit to gather along a street in Corsicana. That’s why police citations were issued to Michael Quinn Sullivan, who runs the daily operations of Empower Texans, and Jim Graham, president of a group from Houston called Texas Right to Life.

Sullivan and Graham wasted no time trying to use the fact that they were accused of endangering public safety to try to raise campaign cash. Graham sent out an email that evening 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.

Ordinances that require demonstrators to obtain a permit are commonplace in cities across Texas and in no way chill anyone's freedom of speech. City government needs to know when and where a protest or a parade is going to occur so that public safety can be protected. For example, if a fire broke out nearby or there was a medical emergency requiring EMS, Corsicana PD would need to have enough officers already on site to guide the protesters out of the way while fire trucks and other emergency vehicles made their way to where they were needed.

That’s all. Nothing nefarious. The Constitution is intact.

Now that Sullivan and Graham have run afoul of the law in their dustup with Corsicana PD, a permit has been acquired for the protest planned for Monday in Hillsboro. "In accordance with our protest permit, stay on public property, sidewalks, and do not impede traffic in the street or drives or entry to businesses,” organizers said in an email last week.

Michael Sullivan and other paid dividers of the Republican Party claim that Rep. Cook is somehow in favor of “amnesty” for unauthorized immigrants and that he is not sufficiently pro-life. Those claims don’t stand up to serious scrutiny. Cook joined with most other Texas lawmakers this year in voting for $800 million in additional border security. He also leads the Texas House committee that approved the sweeping anti-abortion measure passed by the Legislature in 2013.

So, why are Sullivan and his boss Tim Dunn upset with Cook? The answer is simple: Cook has been at the center of the fight to require that groups like Empower Texans report their campaign finances in the same way politicians are forced to disclose their political donors and expenditures. No serious policymaker has suggested that such groups cannot say whatever they want. Public disclosure of donors would allow voters to know who is buying the megaphone for Sullivan and others.

Since Empower Texans is one of the groups that hides the identities of its donors, it is impossible to get a complete picture of who is paying them to stand outside Cook’s campaign events and chant “Hey hey, ho ho.” But, it seems the public has a right to know.


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