Sadler Touts Record But Lacks Funds For Campaign
By ADAM RUSSELL
After more than a decade on the political sidelines, former state representative Paul Sadler is searching for relevance as a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.
Political observers say he has workhorse political credentials but so far, Sadler has not captured the imagination of those who matter in state-wide Texas politics -- campaign donors.
Sadler's political career was riding high in January 2001. He'd been Texas House District 8 representative (which represented Rusk, Panola, and Harrison counties) for a decade, had just been handed two committee chair-manships and was lauded by Republicans and Democrats for his past work on public education and willingness to cross political aisles.
On Feb. 7, less than a month into the 2001 session, politics took a back seat: Sadler's 10-year-old son was left in a coma after a car crash. That December, Sadler declined to seek re-election to focus on family as his son faced a "touch-and-go" recovery, as Sadler put it.
Sadler's son made a full recovery but his political career did not. In 2004, he lost to state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, by 3,334 votes in the heavily Republican 16-county East Texas district.
Now, less than three weeks before his first hurdle, a July 31 runoff for the Democratic nomination in which he is favored, and four months from the Nov. 6 general election, in which the Republican nominee is expected to cruise to victory, Sadler said he has the best record to end partisan gridlock in Washington but no spotlight or campaign funding to spread his message.
Sadler, 57, a Henderson attorney, wants to engage the eventual GOP nominee. In Texas' political landscape where big guns fire multimillion dollar bullets, Sadler feels as if he is holding a water pistol.
He feels ignored. The media dismisses statewide Democrats as an afterthought and his own party views his candidacy as a lost cause.
As the headline war wages between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Tea Party darling former solicitor general Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination, Sadler's runoff with retired educator Grady Yarbrough has yet to stir a ripple. Meanwhile Texas Democratic dollars continue to flow out of state at a much greater clip than amounts for in-state candidates.
A preprimary analysis of federal election records by the
showed Texas' Democratic donors sent more than four times the money to candidates outside the state, $21 million versus $4.8 million for Texas candidates.
Sadler said he has a message Texans would listen to if he had the money to reach them.
Campaign finance reports show Sadler has raised more than $90,000 and has about $21,000 on hand. Meanwhile Cruz and Dewhurst spent $20 million on big-market advertising barrages and have been raking in cash for the approaching July 31 runoff.
Yarbrough said he is running a self-financed, one-man campaign, and has not reported financing. He expects to spend about $80,000 on the statewide campaign.
Sadler said the Cruz-Dewhurst campaigns have offered little meat for voters. The campaign has featured back-and-forth attacks. Cruz has attacked Dewhurst as a timid, career politician while Dewhurst has disparaged Cruz for defending a Chinese corporation against American entrepreneurs.
"They've spent $20 million railing on each other for things that don't matter, and they haven't even approached the issues or proposed solutions," Sadler said. "I want to talk about Social Security, Medicaid, health insurance and education and can't raise a dime. Go figure that out."
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said the percentage of money going to out-of-state congressional and gubernatorial Democratic candidates and Barack Obama's re-election bid continues to grow.
Hinojosa said large donors say they are "tapped out" from supporting Democrats in battleground states. Unfortunately for candidates with credentials, Texas is viewed as a waste of national Democrats' time and money, he said.
"It's much higher than that now," he said. "Texas is fertile ground for fundraisers but Texas Democrats aren't benefitting."
Cruz doesn't have the political chops to legislate effectively, Sadler said. If elected, Sadler said Cruz will do little more than add to the partisan vitriol spewing from Washington.
Dewhurst, Sadler said, doesn't have the political judgment or character to do what is right. Cutting $5.2 billion from public education while leaving around $7 billion in the state's reserves was unconscionable, Sadler said.
"It shows lack of judgment or lack of character," he said. "He cowed to the pressure of the extreme right because he knew he was running for senator and it would hurt his election chances."
So far, substantive statements from the GOP candidates scare Sadler, who said they are "extreme" and not in line with everyday Texans' views. Sadler believes he could make headway with women and Independents who care about education, health care, immigration and national debt if he had enough money to run a statewide campaign that would force the Republican nominee to debate policy.
Harvey Kronberg, political analyst and publisher of The Quorum Report, said Sadler is the quintessential conservative East Texas Democrat. His credentials are dated but solid, Kronberg said.
Sadler spent eight of 12 years in the state House and eight years as chairman of the Public Education Committee. Sen. Bill Ratliff and Sadler re-wrote the state's approach to education. The effort ushered in then-Gov. George Bush's education improvement plans.
Kronberg said Sadler's bi-partisan appeal was evident when Bush publicly campaigned for him during a tough re-election campaign against a Republican challenger.
"Sadler was successful in cross-party coalitions," Kronberg said.
Cruz and Dewhurst are selling the opposite theme to Republican primary voters.
"They are promising to not get along," Kronberg said. "They're catering to those who value confrontation rather than consensus, and that is going to become more and more dangerous for this country as we approach the proverbial precipice."
Former state Rep. David Hudson, D-Tyler, said Sadler was one of the most serious and effective policy makers during his tenure in the House. His leadership on education was crucial and his commitment to the right policy for the state went before party or political expediency, he said.
"On Aug. 1, Texas voters need to think seriously about who they will vote to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison in November," he said. "It's the first time since 1993 for someone to have that position, and it's important."
Hudson said he hopes when the dust settles in both primaries, Sadler will emerge with more party support. Kronberg said Sadler's ability to raise money may increase with a Cruz victory but a Dewhurst success could prolong fundraising problems.
Hinojosa said the national Democratic Party needs to reverse the trend of siphoning campaign dollars. He said he believes Texas' demographics will make the party more competitive in the future but money is needed now to begin building a foundation.
"It's a product of the self-fulfilling prophecy among national party members that Texas voters won't vote blue," he said. "Because they believe that, they don't waste their time putting resources here and instead use Texas to raise money."
Hinojosa said the phenomenon drains resources that could be used to strengthen the state party and back credible Democratic candidates for statewide races.
Former Houston Mayor Bill White, who ran against Gov. Rick Perry in 2010, was the first viable fundraiser to emerge in years, Kronberg said. He had personal money, personally knew big donors and was viewed as pro-business problem solver by Main Street-Chamber of Commerce-types, Kronberg said.
White raised about $18 million and garnered 42 percent of the statewide vote.
Hinojosa said Sadler could win if he had the money to engage the GOP nominee. He said it would be tough for Cruz to "match up" with Sadler's East Texas roots and his track record of moving the state forward on basic issues and that Dewhurst has "serious vulnerabilities" after the last legislative session.
Most Texans consider themselves Independents, Kronberg said. But it's likely the Democratic nominee's inability to access resources will mean 1 million GOP primary voters will decide Sen. Hutchison's replacement.
"It's as if Independents didn't exist," he said.
The nation's debt should drive every policy conversation, Sadler said. Debt isn't a partisan problem but requires bipartisan solutions, he said. Both parties contributed to the hole, he said. Sadler referenced "Debt Bomb," a book by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who writes the nation's debt crisis is more of a threat to U.S. interests than any foreign nation or terrorist group. In the book, Coburn lambasts ineffective congressional colleagues as the culprits. Sadler said it will take both parties and a combination of spending cuts, revenue increases and economic growth to get out of the hole.
Sadler wants to see the Bush tax cuts end and the revenues generated upon their expiration go toward debt.
"We can't end the tax breaks and then just spend the money," he said. "To me, you have to dedicate that to debt because I think it helps the economy and stabilizes the market."
Investment loopholes should be closed as well, he said, and those monies should also go to debt. Sadler said the most difficult decision for lawmakers amid the partisan quagmire in Washington, will be timing major decisions so they don't harm economic recovery.
That is why a pragmatic approach to legislating should trump partisan politicizing, he said.
Yarbrough wants to see loopholes and tax breaks end. He said the money would go toward his "50/50" plan, which would have the Labor Department and employers split minimum wage earners' salaries.
Education was a top priority for Sadler as a state legislator. He still believes decisions should be local because parents and communities need to have the say in what is best for their children. The ability for parents and school boards to voice their concerns to local bodies, even Austin, is important for individual communities to maintain accountability and uphold its standards, he said.
Republican contempt for the new federal health care law shows a lack of consideration for women, children, poor and vulnerable, Sadler said. It's not perfect, he said, but instead of making political statements about repealing the law, legislators should focus on keeping the good and tweaking the bad. Repealing the law entirely would effectively trash any leverage legislators have with industries such as insurance, he said.
"The worst thing you could do is give away pre-existing conditions, give away health care for seniors, give away women's health care, give away the efficiencies in chronic care coordination," he said. "To repeal the act is the poorest strategy you could possibly deploy."
Sadler said state and federal immigration laws do not pave the way for many would-be citizens. The story Sadler points to is that of a 20-year-old college honors student who cannot explain away his immigration status as he searches for employment. As the son of illegal immigrants who was brought to America, then graduated a Texas high school and university, Sadler said, he has no road to citizenship because he is not recognized by Mexico or America.
"These kids are trapped without a country," Sadler said.
The student's parents are another situation entirely, Sadler said, because they did come to the country illegally.
The misconception is illegal immigrants don't pay taxes, he said. Texas revenues come from property taxes, sales tax and gasoline taxes, Sadler said, all of which residents pay one way or the other.
Yarbrough supports the DREAM Act, and legislation to put illegal immigrants and children raised in America on track for citizenship.
The problem with debating immigration or education and government spending is partisanship fosters disagreement before agreements can be found, Sadler said. It will be the bane of the nation, he said.
"What I found during my service is that if you had an open process where you respected the individuals and the ideas of each person despite party or philosophy and focused on defining the problem and solving the problem without regard for where the solution comes from, people will rise above partisanship," he said. "There's enough credit to go around. But it's a matter of electing people who can do that."
First Sadler must dispatch Yarbrough who ran two unsuccessful statewide campaigns as a Republican and one as a Democrat. Former Texas Democratic chairman Boyd Ritchie told The Associated Press in June that he believed Yarbrough's campaign capitalized on his name's similarity to popular Texas progressive Democratic U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough. Yarbrough garnered 26 percent of the vote compared to 35 percent for Sadler.
Yarbrough dismisses the name game. The candidate was born in Tyler and attended Texas College before becoming an educator. He now resides in San Antonio.
He said he expects the runoff to be competitive and will continue working the campaign trail to face the GOP nominee.
He said Texans have been "hoodwinked" by Cruz and Dewhurst if they think it should cost $20 million to campaign.
On Friday, Sadler circulated an email asking for $15,000, enough money to crisscross the state.