In a letter distributed June 12 to delegates to the Republican Party of Texas state convention, David Barton of Aledo depicts allies of Joe Straus of San Antonio, the GOP speaker of the Texas House, as too likely to help Democrats.
Among nearly 20 points he raises: “Straus lieutenants (Reps.) Dan Branch and Jim Pitts are helping Ellen Cohen against her Republican challenger, doing events with her in her district.” Background: Branch and Pitts, supporters of Straus for speaker, were appointed by him to chair major committees.
To back his Branch charge, Barton pointed us to 25 photos posted online in March by Cohen, a Houston Democrat. The photos, arrayed under the header “Higher Education Forum,” include a shot of Branch, R-Dallas, standing at a lectern in front of a slide headlined “Planning For A Budget Shortfall.”
Barton later elaborated in an e-mail: “It is not (standard operating procedure) to do such events in settings in which Republicans help make a single Democrat look favorable to her constituents -- especially when it is in the midst of the campaign cycle rather than the policy/legislative cycle.”
Branch and Cohen each told us that Cohen, a member of the House Higher Education Committee, invited Branch, the committee chair, to speak to residents at a public forum on Feb. 25. Branch said whenever a member of the higher education committee extends such an invitation, he’s got to give it consideration, and that he and Cohen took pains to keep the forum non-political.
“I told her I didn’t think it would be helpful to do it once the general election process was in place,” said Branch. The forum took place before Cohen’s Republican opponent, Sarah Davis, was nominated in the March 2 primary.
“Most Republicans who understand the facts will realize I did the right thing,” Branch said. He also said he has not endorsed Cohen: “I have not campaigned for her, I have not given her a contribution.”
What of Republican Pitts helping Cohen? Barton pointed us to a Web post by Cohen’s campaign inviting visitors to a 90-minute “Appropriations Forum” on May 6 featuring Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, on which Cohen sits.
Cohen writes in the Pitts-related post: “I respect Chairman Pitts’ leadership and value his insights as we are face critical days of current cuts and budget shortfalls. I appreciate his willingness to travel to Houston and be a part of this forum.”
Pitts told us he might have erred by agreeing to speak at the forum in an election year. “I didn’t go there to help Ellen, that wasn’t the purpose. But I learned my lesson. I am going to be very careful. My timing probably should be before a primary, or even before people file” their candidacies in December and early January before the primaries.
Pitts said Davis’s husband approached him after he spoke to question his remark that “Ellen and I have our hands full next session”-- implying Pitts expects Cohen to win re-election. “I did say that; I guess I’m guilty,” Pitts said.
Kent Adams, the GOP nominee’s husband, later told us he took note of Cohen campaign signs outside the Pitts’ engagement and campaign literature at the Branch event.
Tammi Wallace, Cohen’s chief of staff, said the signs were put up so audience members could find their way in.
Adams said Cohen campaign workers and campaign literature were at both events. Wallace said there was no literature as such, though campaign-funded constituent survey cards were put out and Cohen campaign staff members attended the forums “because the campaign staff is expected to pitch in and do whatever they need to do to help out.”
Would Pitts accept invitations to speak at forums hosted by Democratic House incumbents facing Republican challengers this November? “I would pass,” Pitts said. “I don’t want to send the wrong signal. I would go any place (to speak) but I don’t want to do it with a Democrat and I’m not going to do it for any Republican against an incumbent Democrat.”
His rationale: He’ll need the support of members of both parties to advance the next state budget. “We’ve got to pass a bill,” Pitts said.
Are Branch and Pitts “helping” Cohen against her GOP opponent by speaking to her constituents, as Barton claims? Adams, Davis’s husband/campaign manager, said that Cohen obviously intended for the GOP speakers to boost her campaign, but few people turned out for Branch, he said, and tax talk at Pitts’ stop was off-putting. “They were inconsequential,” he said.
For her part, Cohen characterized the appearances by Pitts and Branch as informational instead of political. “The story to me is the fact that two Republican chairs of committees I serve on willingly agreed to come in and educate my district,” she said.
What we find: Barton’s statement accurately refers to the GOP House members appearing at events with Cohen at her invitation, in her district. But the two forums weren’t political rallies--and even her opponent’s campaign manager saw no boon for Cohen.
We rate Barton’s statement Half True.