By Jane Mayer
The New Yorker
Last week, Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s prosecutorial style of questioning Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Defense secretary, came so close to innuendo that it raised eyebrows in Congress, even among his Republican colleagues.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, called Cruz’s inquiry into Hagel’s past associations “out of bounds, quite frankly.”
The New York Times reported that Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, rebuked Cruz for insinuating, without evidence, that Hagel may have collected speaking fees from North Korea.
Some Democrats went so far as to liken Cruz, who is a newcomer to the Senate, to a darkly divisive predecessor, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose anti-Communist crusades devolved into infamous witch hunts.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, stopped short of invoking McCarthy’s name, but there was no mistaking her allusion when she talked about being reminded of “a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such-and-such a date,’ and of course there was nothing in the pocket.”
Boxer’s analogy may have been more apt than she realized.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Cruz gave a stem-winder of a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally in Austin, in which he accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there. Cruz attended Harvard Law School from 1992 until 1995. His spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request to discuss the speech.
Cruz made the accusation while speaking to a rapt ballroom audience during a luncheon at a conference called “Defending the American Dream,” sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit political organization founded and funded in part by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.
Cruz greeted the audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as “the most radical” president “ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)
He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of Cruz, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.”
The reason, said Cruz, was, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were 12 who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”
“We are puzzled by the senator’s assertions, as we are unaware of any basis for them,” Robb London, a spokesman for Harvard Law School, told me.
London noted that Cruz had contributed “warm reminiscences“ of the school by video for a reunion of Latino alumni.
“We applaud the fact that he has pursued public service, as so many of our graduates have done. We are also proud of our longstanding tradition of freedom of speech and the robust range of views and debates on our campus,” London said.
Harvard Law School Professor Charles Fried, a Republican who served as President Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general from 1985 to 1989, and who subsequently taught Cruz at the law school, suggests that his former student has his facts wrong.
“I can right offhand count four ‘out’ Republicans (including myself) and I don’t know how many closeted Republicans when Ted, who was my student and the editor on the Harvard Law Review who helped me with my Supreme Court foreword, was a student here,” Fried said.
Fried went on to say that unlike Cruz, or McCarthy — who infamously kept tallies of alleged subversives — he had never tried to count Communists.
“I have not taken a poll, but I would be surprised if there were any members of the faculty who ‘believed in the Communists overthrowing the U.S. government,’” he said.
Under the Smith Act, it is a crime to actively engage in any organization pursuing the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Fried acknowledged that “there were a certain number (12 seems to me too high) who were quite radical, but I doubt if any had allegiance or sympathy with anything called ‘the Communists,’ who at that time (unlike the 1930s and ‘40s) were in quite bad odor among radical intellectuals.” He pointed out that by the 1990s, Communist states were widely regarded as tyrannical.
From Fried’s perspective, the radicals on the faculty were “a pain in the neck.”
But he says that Cruz’s assertion that they were Communists “misunderstands what they were about.”
It may be that Cruz was referring to a group of left-leaning law professors who supported what they called Critical Legal Studies, a method of critiquing the political impact of the American legal system.
Professor Duncan Kennedy, for instance, a leader of the faction, who declined to comment on Cruz’s accusation, counts himself as influenced by the writings of Karl Marx. But he regards himself as a social democrat, not a Communist, and has never advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government by Communists. Rather, he advocated widening admissions at the law school to under-served populations, hiring more minorities and women on the faculty, and paying all law professors equally.
Sounding like a disappointed professor, Fried said that Cruz’s willingness to label the faculty Communist “lacks nuance.” He said he remembered Cruz well, as “very bright, very hard-working and very conservative, in a well-mannered, agreeable way.”
So he said, “This surprises me. It suggests he’s changed.”
So too, perhaps, has the U.S. Senate.
The Big Bend Regional History Fair was held Monday at Sul Ross State University. Winners in each category will now advance to the state tournament in Austin, May 4-5.
Winners on Monday included:
Junior Group Exhibit
1st place – America’s Reaction to the Vietnam War. Jessie Garcia, Jaci Garcia, Ignacio Santillan, Sergio Rangel, Valentine, teacher Bianca Porras
2nd place – The Turning Point of Sierra Leone. Chad Ritcheson, Cody Willard, Terlingua, teacher Betina Kearnes
Junior Individual Exhibit
1st place -- The Great Schism: Revolution in the Church. Taylor Luttrell-Williams, San Vicente, teacher Nola Lafayette
2nd place – Leonardo Da Vinci: A Revolution in Thought. Max Iannom, Fort Davis, teacher Sara Pittman
Senior Group Exhibit
1st place – The Iron Highway of Texas. William Roberts, Jalen Chriesman, Abrianna Carrasco, Robert Montalvo, Micaela Fuentez, Sanderson, teacher David Carrasco
2nd place – The Interstate Highway System: The Roads of the Future. Luis Garza, Joseph Carrasco, Christopher Birkenfeld, Marco Fuentez, Sanderson, teacher David Carrasco
Senior Individual Exhibit
1st place – Cuban Revolution. Jarrod Rodriguez, Alpine, teacher Emerald Sharp
Senior Group Documentary
1st place – Counterculture of the 1960s: A Revolution in America. Delicia Mendoza, Emily Kidder, Reagan County, teacher James McKinzie
Senior Individual Documentary
1st place -- The Titanic: Revolution, Reaction, and Reform, Edgar Montoya, Presidio, teacher Roberto Lujan
2nd place – The Video Game Revolution, Austin Smith, Alpine, teacher Emerald Sharp
Junior Group Documentary
1st place – Suffrage. Hailey Powell, Morgan Ewells, Alpine, teacher Karen Gallego
Junior Individual Documentary
1st place – Evolution of Fashion, Tessa Schreiber, Fort Davis, teacher Sara Pittman
Junior Individual Performance
1st place – Indian Schools: The Beginning of Change. Daisey Taravez, Reagan County, teacher James McKinzie
Senior Individual Interpretive Web Site
1st place – Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Alayna Ramirez, Alpine, teacher Emerald Sharp
Senior Group Interpretive Web Site
1st place – Reaction to Segregated Public Schools: Blackwell, Marfa, Texas. Nicole Campbell, Cayenne Webb, Adriana Rangel, Amelia Santillan, Valentine, teacher Bianca Porras
Senior Individual Historical Paper
1st place – The Smart Phone: A Revolution in Communication. Jose Sosa, Crane, teacher Ray Ifera
American History Award - $50, Junior Group Exhibit, Bobbie Roberts, Nicole Wilson, Sarah Machado, and Jeremiah Tijerina, Alpine, teacher Karen Gallego
Black History Award - $50, Junior Group Exhibit, Keith Winters, Luciana Rios, Terlingua, teacher Betina Kearnes
Texas History Award - $50, Senior Group Exhibit, William Roberts, Jalen Chriesman, Abrianna Carrasco, Robert Montalvo, Micaela Fuentez, Sanderson, teacher David Carrasco
Trans Pecos Award - $50, Senior Group Interpretive Website, Nicole Campbell, Cayenne Webb, Adriana Rangel, Amelia Santillan, Valentine, teacher Bianca Porras
Women in History Award - $50, Senior Group Exhibit, Paola Lozano, Sarai Meneses, Larissa Lopez, Presidio, teacher Roberto Lujan
World History Award - $50, Senior Individual Exhibit, Jarrod Rodriguez, Alpine, teacher Emerald Sharp
Outstanding Regional Entry - $50, Senior Group Exhibit, Blake Duschatko, Patrick Hillery, Alpine, teacher Caroline Fox
Junior Best of Show - $75, Junior Individual Exhibit, Taylor Luttrell-Williams, San Vicente, teacher Nola Lafayette
Senior Best of Show - $500 SRSU Scholarship, Senior Individual Documentary, Edgar Montoya, Presidio, teacher Roberto Lujan.
Alpine Democrat and State Rep. Pete Gallego confirmed today that he is running for U.S. Congress.
The Daily Planet first reported Wednesday that Gallego was expected to announce his candidacy the day after Labor Day.
In a phone interview today, Gallego told the Daily Planet he will officially enter the campaign for the 23rd Congressional District’s seat on Tuesday.
The Democratic primary already has three declared candidates, including former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who was defeated in 2010 by the current congressman, Republican and Tea Party favorite Francisco “Quico” Canseco. Both Canseco and Rodriguez live in San Antonio, as do the other two declared candidates.
One other Democrat, John Bustamante, has said he will enter the primary. Bustamante, a San Antonio lawyer, is the son of former Bexar County Judge Albert Bustamante. The elder Bustamante represented the 23rd Congressional district from 1985 to 1993.
Another Democrat, Manny Pelaez, a San Antonio lawyer and trustee of VIA Metropolitan Transit, had said a couple of weeks ago that he planned to enter the primary. He has since withdrawn his name. Pelaez said he got lots of encouragement at home from others in San Antonio but that Gallego has locked down most of the important supporters west of Bexar County. That sets up as a "cage match," as he put it, between Gallego and Rodriguez, and with others, Bustamante.
When I talked to him today (Thursday), Gallego said: “I think I have proven that I can bring two sides together. I have a reputation as a person that all sides can trust.”
Gallego, who has been one of the few stars in the Democratic Party in the past few years, has often been named in speculation about statewide and/or higher office. In fact, in 2008, when it appeared that the Democrats might retake the Texas House, Gallego had the votes to become speaker of the House … if that had indeed happened.
In our discussion today, Gallego also vented his frustration and sadness at a political atmosphere that is ill-serving the American public. If you’re looking for a metaphor, he said, “think of the [current state of U.S. politics] as a car with the ‘check engine’ light blinking.”
“We need to start electing people who put patriotism before party” and ideology, he said.
Later, Gallego said, “We have a system where things are so bogged down and … I’ve reached a frustration level where I felt I had to do something. I’ve never had this kind of frustration level before.”
I asked him if there was one moment, one thing that finally made the decision for him – after all, his name has been bandied about for the 23rd District’s seat since Canseco took it away from Rodriguez.
Gallego thought a moment and then told a story about a recent function he attended at McDonald Observatory. There were a lot of important people at this function, but it was also the type of function where those attending brought their kids, mostly young children. The kids were given an exercise to do, obviously relating to astronomy and the stars, and, Gallego said, “I watched those kids working together, figuring out the rules, coming up with a plan and executing the plan. And I asked myself, ‘Why is that a bunch of 6-year-old kids can figure out how to accomplish their goals but our government can’t do the same thing?’”
Despite his frustration, Gallego said he “is excited about the prospect of running. I tend to work very hard [in a campaign and this won’t be any different.] It will be a challenging race,” particularly since 40 percent of the votes are in San Antonio, where all the other candidates live.
Gallego has good name recognition throughout the state and in San Antonio. And his Texas House district is a solid base for him. “One hundred percent of my [state House] district is within the 23rd Congressional District.”
Despite being a member of the minority party in the Texas House, Gallego has been a leader in the past few sessions of the Texas Legislature.
In this past session, dominated by the Tea Party frenzy, Gallego was one of the few Democrats who actually chaired a committee; he’s also one of the few Democrats in the Texas House who was able to sponsor and pass legislation.
Gallego is an Alpine native, graduate of Alpine High School and Sul Ross. He received his law degree from the University of Texas.
Should Gallego win the primary (or whoever wins the Democratic primary), he will be facing an incumbent (Canseco) who will not necessarily be easy to run against because of the huge amounts of money already sent his way by Republican and Tea Party activist groups. However, given Canseco’s record of voting against such things as Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, it should be fairly easy for Gallego to differentiate himself. Canseco has also been unbending in his approach to the party line, even at the expense of allowing the government to function.
The 23rd District is one of the largest in Congress -- larger than many states, stretching from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso.
Canseco, who upset Rodriguez in the November 2010 elections, didn't get much of a safety margin in the latest redistricting maps. Congressional District 23 is Republican on paper, but it's attractive to Democrats who think they can bring in enough voters — especially in a presidential election year — to hold Canseco to one term.
Gallego first won election to the Texas House in 1990 and has chaired various committees and also been part of the Democratic leadership, doing time as head of the House Democratic and the Mexican American Legislative Caucuses. That's made him known to state and national Democrats who might be willing to help him in a congressional contest.
Officially, Nov. 12, 2011, is the first day to file for a place on the primary ballot. Dec. 12, 2011, is the last day to file for a place on the ballot.
The 2012 primary will be on Tuesday, March 6. If a runoff is needed, that will be held on Tuesday, May 22. The general election will be Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Feb. 6, 2012, is the last day to register to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary. Oct. 9, 2012, is the last day to register to vote in the general election.