Gizzi on Politics

Cruz’s Star Rises in Lone Star State

It is rare that a candidate for a statewide office lower than governor attracts press attention outside his own state. But that is precisely what is happening these days with onetime Associate Deputy U.S. Atty. Gen. Ted Cruz, who is seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general of Texas. Profiled in such national publications as the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor, Cruz is widely perceived as a fresh face as well as a future leader in a Republican Party that is increasingly chastised in the media for lacking new leaders.  

Admittedly, much of the focus on Cruz, who served until recently as solicitor general of Texas, is a result of his ethnic background. The Princeton and Harvard Law School graduate is the son of a Cuban immigrant who, after suffering torture and imprisonment, fled his homeland in the 1950s to raise money for the overthrow of then-Cuban strongman Fulgencio Battista. (“My father later apologized to people who had donated money after Castro was in power,” Cruz told me. “He still thinks Battista was a creep, but Castro is a bigger creep.”)

With the recently announced resignation of Florida GOP Sen. Mel Martinez, also a Cuban immigrant, Republicans are left with no senators and only four House members of Hispanic heritage. “[Martinez] symbolized trying to reach out to Latinos and being more moderate,” Marisa A. Abrajano, a University of California at San Diego professor and co-author of an upcoming book on Hispanic political behavior in the U.S, told the Associated Press.  

Electing a Republican of Hispanic heritage such as Cruz to a high-profile state office would go a long way toward filling the void left by Martinez’s exit. But the suggestion of linking outreach to Latino to “being more moderate” is something that makes Cruz and his supporters bristle. Outreach is critical, he agrees, “but it is also important that we rediscover the leadership principles of President Ronald Reagan, who understood that Hispanics, like most Americans, are fundamentally conservative, with a deep commitment to faith, family, patriotism, and the American dream.”  

Cruz’s “Three R’s:” Reagan, Rehnquist, and Roberts

At a time when an increasing number of Republican pols say that present candidates look too longingly at the past by talking about Reagan, Cruz often proudly invokes the name and principles of the 40th President, his political hero. But a look at some of the people he has worked for also offers a strong hint about Cruz’s philosophy.

He was a law clerk for onetime U.S. Court of Appeals Judge J. Michael Luttig, who conservatives very much hoped would get one of the two Supreme Court appointments George W. Bush made. Cruz also clerked for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, whom he described to me as “a unique man” and “mentor.” It was during the time of this clerkship that Cruz began a close friendship with a fellow clerk named John Roberts, the present chief justice.  

“And I’m happy to tell you that Chief Justice Roberts has kept up the annual reunion of Rehnquist clerks,” said Cruz, referring to the exclusive dinners with the late chief justice’s onetime clerks that are known for their sparkling legal talk and hilarious skits.  

In attempting to succeed his former boss Greg Abbott as Texas’ top legal official (Abbott appears likely to run for lieutenant governor next year), Cruz freely acknowledges that he will almost surely face a contested primary. A number of state legislators are seriously exploring the race. “The basis of my campaign is a proven record — a decade-long record of standing up for conservative principles and winning at the national level,” said Cruz. As the lawyer who represents his state in court, Cruz has argued cases involving such issues as posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, identifying sexual predators, and protecting the right to keep and bear arms.  

Although Cruz worked on George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign and in his administration pointed out that “our state was not afraid to stand up to the [Bush Administration] when it felt its position was wrong, such as in the Medellin case, where Texas stood up to the World Court, winning 6-to-3 before the U.S. Supreme Court.”  

As much as the national media have looked at Ted Cruz because he is a high-profile Republican of Hispanic descent, it is also important that conservative activists also look at him because he is clearly one of their own.  

Badger State Bulletins

As the first Democratic governor in the nation to announce he is retiring in 2010, Wisconsin’s James Doyle recently became the poster child for the reasons it is so difficult to be a governor these days. Faced with the high cost of Medicaid and mounting deficits, Doyle turned to what was clearly the least popular avenue for balancing the state’s books: raising taxes. Indeed, the Democratic-run legislature passed and Doyle signed increases in state taxes on telephone calls, cigarettes and hospitals, and, yes, incomes. The reasons for his announced exodus are thus obvious.  

Most Democratic eyes in the Badger State are now on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who recently made headlines by intervening in a domestic dispute involving a woman, her one-year-old grandchild, and the child’s father. Barrett took some punches and had a scab on his face, but emerged a hero. Other Democratic prospects include Lt.Gov. Barbara Lawton (who just officially announced for the race), state House Speaker Michael Sheridan, businessman Dick Leinenkugel (of the Wisconsin beer family), and seven-term Rep. Ron Kind (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 15%).  

Until now, the Republican contest has been a showdown between Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former Rep. (1994-98) and 1998 U.S. Senate candidate Mark Neumann. Both are considered solid conservatives with a strong emphasis on cutting spending. So far, Walker leads in fund-raising with $1.1 million and Neumann has the support of many associates of still-popular former four-term Gov. (1986-2000) Tommy Thompson. Former Secretary of Administration Jim Klauser, the “Rahm Emmanuel” of Thompson’s government, is an active Neumann booster.  

But the departure of Doyle is sure to attract other Republicans. Among those mentioned are construction magnate Tim Michaels, the ’04 GOP U.S. Senate nominee, and former state Commerce Secretary Bill McCoshen.  

‘Emperor Mondello’ Calls it Quits in Empire State

To no one’s surprise, embattled State Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello last week announced he was giving up the party helm. For months, the former Nassau County GOP leader has been under fire from the party’s grassroots for everything from what they considered his high-handed way of running the party without input from local leaders to the growing record of GOP losses under his watch. While Mondello was chairman, Empire State Republicans lost control of the state senate for the first time since 1964 and most recently lost a special election in the 20th U.S. House district that became vacant when Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate (and which, in terms of registration, is the most Republican district with a Democratic House member in the state).  

Under party rules, the new chairman is to be elected by the GOP state committee within 15 days after the September 15 state primaries. Although this is an “inside job” (committee members have weighted votes and usually take orders from county leaders), the yearning for doing something different after Mondello may lead to change. Manhattan lawyer Ed Cox has reportedly lined up support for the chairmanship from 25 counties. Best known as the son-in-law of Richard Nixon, Cox is a strong conservative and has vowed reform and transparency as chairman. His leading opponent is Niagara County Chairman Henry Wojtaczek, a longtime ally of Rudy Giuliani (whose political allies are helping Wojtaczek). Recently, Wojtaczek raised eyebrows on the right with a letter he sent to New York Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long that was highly critical of the party for running a candidate against liberal GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava in the special election to fill the open House seat in New York’s 23rd District.