The Shadow Party: How a Washington-Based Liberal Activist Is Trying to Turn Texas Blue (Whether Texans Want It or Not)
Since Republicans took majorities in the Texas legislature and captured all the statewide offices in 2003, Texas has earned a reputation as a solidly Republican state in which no Democrat stands a chance of winning anything worthwhile. Or so it would seem, but the fact is Republicans don’t now and have never held a majority of elected offices across Texas since Reconstruction. Democrats still hold a narrowing majority of offices statewide, and that’s true even after several dozen local level Democrats switched parties and became Republicans this year. Hundreds of Democrats have switched parties over the past few election cycles, bringing Republicans closer to parity and bringing these officials in line with the state’s conservative majority. The highest profile party switcher of this cycle, state Rep. Chuck Hopson of east Texas, extended the Republicans’ majority in the state House to four seats, 77-73. But even that is a narrow majority at a very high level in a state with such a strong Republican reputation. And thanks in part to an out-of-state political operation, Democrats have actually made gains in Texas over the last couple of election cycles.
Texas’ Republican reputation has coincided directly with its rise to economic dominance, and with good reason. The Republicans have tried to live by three simple rules. They are 1) keep taxes low, 2) keep regulation fair and predictable and 3) don’t set up government as the be-all-end-all for every problem. Democrats loudly disagree with all three.
Texas must be doing something right. About 1,200 Americans pull up stakes and move to Texas each week, and companies as diverse as Facebook and Caterpillar have expanded here at a time when the national economy is still reeling from the recession. Texas is also rapidly urbanizing along the I-35 corridor that runs down the middle of the state, and has become both the nation’s leading energy exporter and a major high-tech hub. After redistricting next year, Texas could gain as many as four or five new seats in Congress. The Lone Star State’s voice will grow in Washington, and for the already threatened Democrats here and in D.C., Texas has become a prize that’s too big to continue ignore.
It’s against this backdrop that the Democratic capo Matt Angle operates. Angle has built one of the most sophisticated financial and activist operations networks anywhere in the country. Angle's Tangle was built to pursue a singular goal: turn Texas blue whether the voters here like it or not.
Matt Angle declared his goal in 2005 when he launched his Lone Star Project: Elect a Democratic speaker of the Texas House, and elect a Democrat to statewide office. Notice there’s nothing in there about bringing better government to the state, or representing the people’s wishes, or creating a climate that fosters economic growth. To Angle it’s all about partisanship and power and the looming redistricting, and he has pursued his goals with a ruthlessness that is rarely seen even in Texas politics. Well, not at least since 2000, when the Democrats who were then a dying majority redistricted themselves into majorities that the state’s voters were no longer giving them. Rather than run on issues -- Democrats in Texas lose on those -- Angle is on a seek and destroy mission targeting Republicans in the state House on up to the governor's mansion.
Most Texans would probably be shocked to learn that the man whom Texas Democrat operative Glenn Smith recently described as “the de facto state [Democratic] party right now” isn’t even in Texas most of the time. The media here has certainly done little to explain who Angle is or what he's up to. But according to an article published in Roll Call in early 2010, Angle runs his Texas operation out of a row house in Washington, D.C. From that Washington lair, Angle directs operations at the Texas Democratic Party by controlling its purse strings via a massive slush fund left him by the late Fred Baron, a Dallas trial lawyer primarily known for asbestos lawsuits and for helping John Edwards cover up his relationship with his then campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter. That fact alone strongly argues against any notion that Baron left his money to Angle for any real good-government purpose, and at the same time lays waste to any idea that Angle even cares about good government. He is a partisan who cares about power. Baron reportedly left Angle as much as $10 million, a cache Angle has used to replicate what has been called the "Colorado Model" and operate the Texas Democratic Trust. That fund is among the Texas Democratic Party’s primary sources of income, as is Lisa Blue Baron -- Baron’s widow. Angle uses the Trust to fuel projects like the Lone Star Fund, the Lone Star Project, and the Texas Justice Fund, while he uses his relationships with former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost staffers like Container Store heiress Aimee Boone to keep the Texas Democratic Party and its nominal chairman under his thumb. Roll Call also reported that Angle uses the Baron fortune to keep himself at the center of a web of Democratic intrigue, and to enrich himself.
For example: According to state and federal campaign records, the Lone Star Fund (Treasurer Matt Angle) pays rent to E St. Properties for use of the Capitol Hill row house (owned by Matt Angle), pays Angle & Associates Inc. for consulting services (about $100,000 between 2004 and 2007) and has donated about $20,000 to the Texas Democratic Trust (Treasurer Matt Angle). The Texas Democratic Trust since 2005 has paid Angle & Associates more than $1.2 million for consulting services, travel reimbursements and rent, and it pays retainers as much as $7,000 a month to a variety of political consultants and researchers who also work for the Texas Democratic Party, the Lone Star Trust or other affiliated organizations.
According to Texas Ethics Commission reports, available online, Angle has personally made over $700,000 from the operation. And nepotism is part of the program.
Two of Angle’s organizations, the Lone Star Fund and the Texas Justice Fund, are also listed as clients of a consulting firm run by Angle’s bother, J.D. Angle.
- Key – Lone Star Project – Angle’s online attack vehicle
- Texas Trial Lawyers Association – Houston trial lawyer and Democratic bankroller Steve Mostyn’s organization, pushes against sensible tort reform on behalf of trial lawyers
- Texas Freedom Network – anti-Christian organization run by Cecilia Richards
- Back to Basics PAC – Texas version of MoveOn.org, bankrolled by Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, has launched extreme attack ads on Republican Gov. Rick Perry
- Texans for Public Justice – nominally nonpartisan watchdog funded by Soros and Heinz-Kerry that attacks Angle’s chosen targets
- Texas Democratic Trust – Angle’s massive slush fund, left to him by John Edwards’ benefactor
- Texas Democratic Party – under Angle’s control from Washington
- Texas Progress Council – left-wing PAC that funds Democratic candidates
Because of his position as the Texas Democratic Party’s shadow chairman, Angle exerts a great deal of influence over several left-wing groups across Texas, some of which pass themselves off as non-partisan. Among those is Texans for Public Justice, a group that claims to be interested in “tracking the influence of money and corporate power in Texas politics.” That interest is decidedly one-way: TPJ never takes on Democrat operatives like Angle, and in media hit after media hit, is always on his side. This makes sense when you take a look at who funds TPJ: Open Society Institute (George Soros, whose fortune also directly funds candidates even at the local level in Texas) and the Tides Foundation (Teresa Heinz-Kerry, among many others). Scratch the surface of most “nonpartisan watchdogs” in your state and you’ll probably find the same money sources, and perhaps a similar network of activists and groups. They are Soros’ “Shadow Party.” TPJ is a left-wing front masquerading as a nonpartisan watchdog.Somehow the mainstream media in Texas consistently misses the fact that TPJ never takes on Democrats, about anything, ever. Ditto for “non-partisan” groups like the Texas Freedom Network (founded and run by Cecilia Richards, daughter of the late acerbic Democratic Gov. Ann Richards) and the Texas Values in Action Coalition (TEXVAC), both of which have been very active in the 2009-2010 election cycle dredging up and amplifying attacks on Republicans, which then get major interest from the mainstream media.
The Angle operation hunts as a pack. It starts when Angle and his operatives manufacture an ethical charge against a vulnerable Republican. The allied groups, Texans for Public Justice, TEXVAC, and Back to Basics PAC, generate a flurry of press releases decrying the evil Republican. Mainstream media dutifully reports and amplifies the charge, quoting the spokesmen with the furrowed brows at the Angle-allied groups. A Democratic candidate, funded and controlled by an Angle ally, Houston multimillionaire trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, waits in the wings while the Republican crashes and burns.
This model was used to great effect in Colorado a few years back, and Angle has replicated it for deployment in Texas, refined it, and added a new weapon in the form of Mostyn (more about him in a future article), who by the time we get to November will have funded half a dozen of these groups and a couple dozen Democratic candidates including gubernatorial nominee Bill White, all to the tune of $3 million out of his personal fortune. Don't worry, though, his hurricane lawsuits have netted him so much that he won't miss it.
Angle’s immediate targets are Republicans, but ultimately, his target is Texas as a whole. Texas is one of the few large states with an economy that manages to create jobs, and is one of the few states run by leaders who don’t see a tax increase as the solution to every problem. This was hammered home when, in 2002, lame-duck Democrats in the legislature saddled the incoming Republican majority with a $10 billion budget shortfall as a way to force them to institute a state income tax. The Republicans chose to cut spending instead, keeping the state’s tax burden among the lowest in the nation. If Angle’s Tangle were to succeed and return Democrats to power, there’s no reason to expect them to do anything but roll back the Republican success story here, and push Democratic statism on Texans who year after year say with our votes that we don’t want it.
I'll close with this thought. Angle's efforts brought the Democrats to within a couple of seats of taking over the Texas House in 2008. Chances are he'll lose ground this year, but as long as he has the Baron money to spend he isn't going away. If his model of left-wing activism succeeds in Texas, it will be replicated in other states, if it hasn't been already. If it succeeds in Texas, one of the most naturally conservative states in the country, it can succeed just about anywhere else. Keep an eye on the "watchdog" groups quoted in the media where you live whenever a Republican is under fire. Research those groups and find out who funds them. Chances are, there's Soros and other out-of-state money involved, and there may be a Matt Angle spinning webs behind the scenes, too.
Update: Dan Riehl finds an Angle-like operation at work in Nebraska, and warns us that complacency elsewhere will be fatal. He's right.
Update: Michele Samuelson's Blue Dot Blues provides extensive detail about Steve Mostyn, the other major Shadow Party operator in Texas. Mostyn has made a pile of money off of mold lawsuits in the early 2000s (which drove Texans' home insurance through the roof), and then off of lawsuits after Hurricanes Ike and Rita. Those hurricane lawsuits had the effect of draining the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency while making Mostyn fabulously wealthy. He's now using that money to fuel the Shadow Party alongside Matt Angle. Read the Blue Dot Blues post. It's far more of an eye-opener than, say, this MSM softball interview with Mostyn.