Democrat has uphill race for Hutchison's Senate post
Democrat has uphill race for Hutchison's Senate post,
By JOE HOLLEY, HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Published 08:26 p.m., Monday, January 2, 2012
For beleaguered Texas Democrats, famished for a statewide victory after more than a decade of wandering winless in the wilderness, the promised land includes the confluence, someday, of Hispanic demographic growth and a charismatic, young Hispanic candidate. (Think San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.)
Until that happy moment, Democrats occasionally have placed their faint hopes on an Hispanic candidate with either money or notoriety or both (think Laredo oilman Tony Sanchez) or on an old pro who won a race or two in times past. (Think the oft-mentioned John Sharp.)
In the race to replace Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is not seeking re-election in 2012, party poobahs thought they had the former, until retired Gen. Ricardo Sanchez dropped out shortly before the recent filing deadline. Now they have the latter, a former six-term Texas House member who hasn't held office since 2003, who has little statewide name identification and whose last race was a losing effort in a runoff election for the state Senate in 2004.
5 foes in primary
Paul Sadler, a plaintiff's lawyer who represented an East Texas district from 1991 to 2003 and who developed a reputation during his years in Austin as a savvy politician and an expert on school finance, filed two days after Sanchez announced his intention not to run. (Houston plaintiff's lawyer Jason Gibson, a political neophyte, is among six other Democratic candidates, in addition to Sadler.)
Sadler, 56, knows the odds are stacked against him, not only because he's a Democrat in a fervid red state but also because he won't have the money to match the $30 million his likely Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is prepared to spend.
No matter, Sadler said during an interview in the book-lined study of his spacious home on the edge of Henderson, in Rusk County. "I know these people," he said, referring to Dewhurst and the other Republican candidates. "I can do better than they can."
The experts doubt he will get the chance.
"The next U.S. senator will be decided in the Republican primary," said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. Sadler's "only hope is that the candidate does something so atrociously wrong that it disqualifies him in the eyes of the voters. Realistically, I think there's virtually zero chance of Sadler winning."
"He's a natural politician and was an excellent House member, well thought of, fair," said Austin-based political consultant Bill Miller, "but it would be very tough to win the race. It's tough being a Democrat in Texas."
Sadler is undeterred.3
"I know the people of this state are pretty independent, if you can get them to sit down and pay attention and look," he said. "I mean, we elected a Republican, John Tower, when there wasn't a statewide Republican. We elected Bill Clements governor of Texas when there wasn't a statewide Republican. This state will look at individual candidates, and they will vote for the person they think will best represent them."
Sadler was already a multimillionaire plaintiff's attorney when he ran for the House in 1990. As chairman of the House Public Education Committee from 1995 to 2003, he rewrote the entire education code in 1995 and engineered the passage of a $3.8 billion education package, which, at the time, included the largest property tax cut in the history of the state.
He worked closely with then-Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, and Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democrat. "I love the fact that I served in the House when we had a Republican governor and a Democratic speaker," he said. "We had a divided government and still were able to accomplish things."
Sadler considers Gov. Rick Perry a friend and is in touch with him regularly, but he all but despairs about the education cuts the governor and the Republican-controlled legislature pushed through in the most recent legislative session.
"It has been very difficult for me, after working so hard in office to increase funding for public schools, to see the devastating cuts being made to the most important pillar of our democracy," Sadler said in his announcement statement. "The problems facing our country and our state are just too important to trust in the hands of people who don't believe education should be a priority."
Education would be a priority issue for him in Washington, as well, Sadler said, although his perception of the federal government's role in the public school strays from Democratic orthodoxy.
"Education historically has been a local and state issue, and fundamentally there's a reason for that," he said. "It's because we know -and there's empirical data that supports it - that successful schools are not tied so much to economic status as tied to parental and community involvement in those schools."
Although Washington has a role, he said, key decisions must be made at the local level, so that parents and the local community can have their say.
Health care will be another key issue; it's one Sadler knows well. In 2001, his son Sam nearly died in a car crash. Sadler left the Legislature at the end of his term, and for three years he and his wife Sherri helped their son learn to walk and talk again.
"Let me tell you something," he said. "I've experienced our health care system when my child's life was on the line."
'I can do better'
He has nothing but praise for the quality of care his son received at Children's Hospital in Dallas, but he said he was troubled by the disparity between his son's care and those not so privileged. The president's health care reform, he said, is a step in the right direction, although he doesn't agree with every provision.
"We have the greatest health care system," he said. "It is not accessible to everybody. And it should be. ... To say that this system doesn't need reform is sticking your head in the sand."
Since 2008, Sadler has been executive director of the Austin-based Wind Coalition, a nonprofit association that promotes the development of wind energy. Chances are, he'll still be with the coalition after November 2012 or he'll be practicing law. "He'll have his work cut out for him just getting out of the Democratic primary," political scientist Jones said.
Sadler insists that Texas voters are willing to listen, even if he isn't Dewhurst or some other Republican. "The people of Texas want somebody that cares, that understands human problems, that understands their difficulties," he said. "I can do better than he can."