Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Three years ago, when Susan Narvaiz was near the end of her last term as mayor of San Marcos, I asked her in a public meeting for some information about the number of jobs created through the use of publicly-funded development incentives provided by the city council. She said she had that information at her office and would get it to me. Even after a later reminder, I’m still waiting for that information. That promise and her failure to fulfill it about sums up what I expect from her in any political office.
Narvaiz is a political chameleon who says what she needs to say and does what she needs to do to protect herself from political accountability. She is also an opportunist, which may be behind her reported return to San Marcos to run again against U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett for Congress in District 35. In her first run against Doggett in 2012, she garnered only 32 percent of the vote. One oft-followed piece of political lore, which Narvaiz may have in mind, is keep running to increase your name recognition and eventually you will be elected.
The district includes parts of the San Antonio metropolitan area, including portions of Bexar County, the tiny westernmost corner of Guadalupe County, thin strips of Comal and Hays and portions of Caldwell counties, along with portions of southeastern Austin in Travis County. The largest contiguous land mass combines southeastern Travis, northeastern Hays, and southwest Caldwell counties.
The strange shape of the district reminds me a bit of the outline of Vietnam. It was ranked by the National Journal as one of the ten most contorted congressional districts in the nation, as a result of redistricting by a Republican-controlled Texas Legislature hoping to drive Doggett out of Congress.
The population of the district is about 62 percent Hispanic, almost 11 percent Black, and 25 percent White. Over one-fourth of the district’s residents are below the poverty line based on income.
If Narvaiz’s history is any indication, she will cobble together supporters from the evangelical community, the Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party (very active in parts of District 35), members of the business community, and Hispanics, even though it is her husband, Mike, who is Hispanic, not Narvaiz. Mike Narvaiz, an electrician, used his political contacts among Hispanic groups to get his wife several endorsements in her past political races.
When Narvaiz filed to run for Congress against Doggett about twenty months ago, she developed few positions that could be contrasted with what Doggett had fought for during his many years in pubic life. She stuck with the glittering generalities of limited government, individual rights, personal responsibility, compassion, accountability, keeping our nation strong, and maintaining our resolve. Of course, no candidate would oppose such platitudes. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree with these nostrums. Only when we get to specifics do we learn what a candidate may mean.
Last year, we never heard enough specifics to know whether Narvaiz had any positions worth supporting. This time around will likely be similar, though I’m sure she will run against the Affordable Care Act and refer to it as Obamacare. I don’t know if this will help, since Obama drew over 63 percent of the vote in District 35 in 2012, with Doggett drawing 64 percent against Narvaiz. The 2012 Democratic Party nominee for governor received 60 percent of the vote in District 35 and few people even remember his name.
Early this past August, Narvaiz announced that she and her husband were moving to Carlsbad, New Mexico. The announcement followed her usual evangelical style, assuring voters that this decision came directly from God. I’m sure Narvaiz is serious about her faith, but she also seriously uses that faith to promote her political ambition, a practice that diminishes her and her professed religion in the eyes of many, whether religious or non-religious.
She first visited Carlsbad to be the keynote speaker at the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in October 2012, a forum similar to those she promoted to great political advantage in San Marcos during most of her tenure as mayor. For several years, Narvaiz used funds appropriated for City Council expenses to host breakfasts for local clergy, about every other month, in city facilities. Each “Breakfast with Mayor & Clergy” began with an invocation and ended with a “closing prayer.” Unless you were a religious leader on her list, you were not invited.
The events enabled the Mayor to reach out to religious leaders for her own political purposes at public expense. The breakfasts were not sponsored by the City Council and were not official City functions authorized by any action of the City Council. Yet Narvaiz used city meeting rooms, city staff, and city resources to carry on her outreach to the religious community, especially to evangelicals, during her time as Mayor.
Narvaiz continued her outreach to the religious community through her last campaign for re-election, the slogan for which was “Forward Progress, Higher Purpose.” Her campaign website explained the meaning and significance of her slogan:
“I believe that each of us exists to fulfill a specific purpose in a bigger plan, God’s plan. Each of us is called to use our gifts and talents to serve others. … And when we do, we will change the lives of those around us for the better. We will be people of character. We will be servant leaders and we will be what God has called each of us to be. There is no higher purpose.”
While many of us may share these views, we should remember that Narvaiz was not running for an ecclesiastical office; she was campaigning for a secular public office. Her personal religious views should not have been bankrolled with the taxpayers’ money, as they were during her tenure as Mayor. She spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to support her religious outreach program, including an August 15, 2007, “Breakfast and tour with Mayor and Clergy” bus trip that included both breakfast and lunch. This was not an official city event, but was paid for with public funds. On June 20, 2006, the Mayor called an “Emergency Clergy Meeting,” paid for with public funds to discuss parking and litter problems in the Rio Vista Dam area with clergy and religious leaders.
And during Narvaiz’s first term as Mayor of San Marcos, she started the practice of opening meetings with prayer – mostly by Christian evangelical pastors. In a community as diverse as San Marcos, this action was an affront to the consciences of the religious and non-religious alike. But zealots like Narvaiz can see only their own truth. Everyone else is condemned to hell, and their feelings and beliefs are unimportant.
Narvaiz is returning to San Marcos to run against Doggett after losing her bid in October to become County Manager of Eddy County, New Mexico, where Carlsbad is located. Whether the loss of that job opportunity caused her return to San Marcos has not been made public, but the timing is curious. She may have been mistaken about God’s plan for her just four months ago. But she was at least as sure of the righteousness of our last president’s decision to invade Iraq, as she was of her decision to move to Carlsbad.
On March 24, 2003, when Narvaiz was a San Marcos city council member, she voted in favor of a council resolution that was intended to show that pre-emptive war is patriotic. The resolution was really a thinly-veiled show of support for President George W. Bush as he violated the Nuremberg principles in more than one respect, particularly Principle VI: “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances.”
In March 2003, so strong was the war-induced patriotism that a Gallup poll showed that 79 percent of Americans supported going to war in Iraq; now, a majority believe that decision was wrong. But not one of those pro-war members of the city council, including Narvaiz, has issued a public apology for their unconscionable support of this war, about which they had no doubts at the time. Apparently no doubts have crossed their minds since. In fairness to Narvaiz, she is probably too busy moving, running for office, and seeking new employment opportunities to apologize for that mistake made over ten years ago.
Although we know very little about Narvaiz’s positions on national issues, other than pre-emptive war, we have hundreds of votes by Doggett that indicate his fitness for public office. In addition, Doggett has clear positions on national issues at his website, covering the budget, higher education, federal aid to public schools, tax fairness, bank practices reform, veteran support, and consumer protection.
In the 2012 race, Narvaiz spent about $182,000 and had a debt of almost $78,000 when the race was over. Doggett spent almost $2 million in the newly-created district in over half of which he had never been a candidate for Congress. Doggett has nearly $3 million on hand for the 2014 race. There are no figures available publicly for the amount Narvaiz has available to spend for 2014.
In 2012, Doggett received support from lawyers/law firms, retired people, health professionals, building trade unions, industrial unions, the real estate sector, transportation unions, the finance sector, and hospitals/nursing homes. Narvaiz’s main financial support came from the real estate sector, construction services, retired people, building materials & equipment suppliers, the general business community, general contractors, the sea transport sector, Republican & conservative organizations, the business services sector, and the food & beverage industry. [Source: Project Vote Smart].
These political contributions for both candidates represent support from individuals, groups, and organizations that like some or most of the political decisions each candidate has made while holding public office and the positions they have taken during their campaigns. Narvaiz’s contributions are weighted toward the interests she supported while mayor. For instance, her support for a conference center and hotel was viewed favorably by the food & beverage industry, which has now rewarding her for that support.
In the race last year, 62 percent of Narvaiz’s contributions came from identifiable industries, most located in the central Texas area and Houston. Only 3 percent of her contributions were from out of state. For Doggett, 85 percent of his contributions came from identifiable industries, with 5 percent of total contributions from out of state.
Of the more than 167,000 votes cast in the 2012 election in District 35, Doggett carried the district’s portions of four of the six counties included in the district. He was weakest in the Comal and Guadalupe county portions of the district, and strongest in the Travis and Bexar county portions.
Unless Narvaiz can figure a way to find more votes in these Travis and Bexar county areas, she has little hope of defeating Doggett. What Narvaiz could do to enhance her chances against Doggett is move toward moderation of her views in several areas. She could start by down-playing her public religiosity. A more modest personal religious stance that keeps her religious views private would show the electorate that she is not claiming that she is God’s chosen emissary to the US Congress.
Her indecisiveness about which state to live in doesn’t make for a convincing narrative that will change the minds of many voters. She should explain that she was enticed to move to New Mexico because she thought she would have a better political future in that smaller state. If her Carlsbad benefactor turned out to have less to offer than she was led to believe, she could tell that story in a way that shows she was a victim of deceit.
When it comes to dealing with her nearly complete embrace of the corporate world, she could explain that the experiences of the past decade or more, in retrospect, and after much serious analysis, have led her to conclude that banks and large corporations must be kept at arm’s length from government. Otherwise, they will rob the public treasuries at every opportunity.
After some thought and from her perspective running an employment agency, she may have learned that the jobs paid for with public taxes and other financial incentives given to developers have not resulted often in the livable wages regularly promised (or at least hinted at). She may have discovered that the studies and reports done by even the business community have shown that putting developers and their corporations on the public dole is a no-win proposition for governments at all levels. If so, running as a “I’ve learned my lesson” politician who wants to repent may be the best way to win over some moderate voters.
It might help for Narvaiz to have her husband work the voters door-to-door in the District 35 portions of Travis and Bexar counties. He can put a Hispanic face on her campaign that may draw some of those voters away from Doggett.
Narvaiz may not be able to show greater concern for veterans than Doggett has, but she could enlist the assistance of a cadre of veterans, all identified by hats, signs, and buttons as “Veterans for Narvaiz.” These folks would need to be available for pictures and videos wherever Narvaiz is campaigning, so that no picture of her appears without an identifiable “Veterans for Narvaiz” campaigner by her side or right behind her. As long as these people don’t have to say anything, Narvaiz may be able to convey the appearance of concern for veterans, which may convince a few people to vote for her.
Finally, Narvaiz may be helped by studying Doggett’s voting record carefully to find areas where she can distinguish herself. For instance, Doggett voted for Obamacare. Given the poor start to that program, Narvaiz could extoll the virtues of a program like Medicare, which has reduced the health care hassles for all seniors, and suggest that she is the sort of compassionate moderate who favors making one of life’s basic necessities available somewhere other than emergency rooms.
I’m sure that there are many other ideas that would help Narvaiz’s campaign. If I think of any others, I will pass them along.
LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney. © Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San MarcosEmail | Print