This is the second in a series of profiles on the four Democratic candidates for US Senate.
He's undeniably the most experienced and qualified candidate in the race on either side of the aisle, with a long record of concrete accomplishments in education and renewable energy. Now, voters will decide if US Senate candidate Paul Sadler can translate leadership and success on issues that matter to Texans into a winning campaign.
“People of this state need government that works, not dysfunction,” stated Sadler. “We need to elect people to the Senate that know how to solve problems, and that's my history and my record in the legislature. That's what I do best.”
Is there, in Texas, hunger for a problem-solver who embraces bipartisanship in the name of finding solutions and getting things done? The Sadler campaign may be our chance to find out if voters are willing to look beyond party identification and think about what qualities enable an elected official to actually get things done. Clearly, Texans know a thing or two about dysfunctional government. The chaos and trouble caused by the most recent legislative session — much of which is still ongoing due to redistricting and voter ID litigation — and the basement-level approval rating of Congress have arguably led to one of the highest levels of sheer frustration with representative government that we've seen in decades.
It's this frustration with partisan gridlock that Sadler looks poised to capitalize on, which fits well with his own history as a six-term legislator with a record of passing tremendous amounts of popular, bipartisan legislation. In our recent conversation about his Senate campaign, it was clear in his voice that he genuinely believes the people of Texas want a senator who is committed to solving problems and generating pragmatic results. Sadler served six terms in the house back in the 1990's, representing an East Texas district and working with legislators in both parties to pass a genuinely impressive slate of legislation. He made Texas Monthly's Best Legislators list five times, and won a long list of awards for his service to Texans.
What did he win the awards for, and how does he plan to win this election? Find out below the jump. Sadler was able to easily list few highlights of his career, and I got the sense that if I'd asked him to, he could have quoted some of his bills verbatim even to this day. In any case, his very impressive legislative highlights include:
- Co-authoring an update to the entire education code of Texas in 1995, known as the Ratliff-Sadler Act
- Passing an unfunded mandates bill out of subcommittee that saved $320 million per school district by eliminating unfunded mandates. The bill was rolled into a Senate bill and became law
- Passing the largest property tax cut in history of state in 1999, which gave teachers a pay raise and reduced taxes, all while increasing school funding by $3.8 billion
- Implementing a public school employee health plan, before which the State of Texas didn't provide health benefits to teachers or ISD workers
Sadler proudly noted that all efforts were genuinely bi-partisan bills, which passed on the floor with actual bi-partisan support. Granted, that was a time when less than a dozen seats separated the Republican and Democratic caucuses, but the point is well taken that Sadler was able to do quite a bit of good when both parties were able to put down their rhetorical and ideological swords and solve problems. Sadler is a firm believer in the concept, and says that bipartisanship simply must be there for our government to work, but that the potential of bipartisanship itself has a lot to do with the people we elect. “It sounds trite and worn out,” noted Sadler, but if we stop electing genuine leaders committed to solving problems, and instead choose only the most severe partisans, we end up with dysfunctional government. He stated, “If your sole purpose is to prevent the other party from being successful, then you end up with gridlock.”
While Sadler is concerned with many issues facing Texas and our nation — namely education, energy independence, and job creation — he said the biggest issue is one of leadership. When he left the State House, Sadler noted, they had passed a genuinely balanced budget that created a surplus. It's a far cry from the smoke-and-mirrors of the Perry regime, where our governor balances the budget with federal funds that he then campaigns against. Leadership, to Sadler, seems to be a focus on getting results and transcending simple partisan squabbling that stands in the way of progress. I can envision him serving as a Senator not unlike Jon Tester, the Democrat and farmer from Montana, who doesn't simply vote lock-step with the party, and emphasizes his genuine independent streak. Sadler writes on the splash page of his website, “Fiercely independent, the Texas spirit that demanded progress and solutions to our problems is still present today in all of us.” It's that independent, results-oriented attitude and commitment to the ideals of leadership that Sadler will rely on in this campaign, and use to differentiate himself from his opponents.
Sadler had harsh words for Dewhurst, whose lack of leadership was on display during the procedural battle over voter ID. Dewhurst had to enable the Senate to violate the two-thirds rule (which he did by passing a rule change in the 2009 session, and then used the rule change to pass the bill in 2011), the longest standing rule in the Senate, in order to get his way. Sadler doesn't approve of Dewhurst's willingness to override Senate tradition simply to appease his Republican political allies. “That's not leadership, that's not what the people want. It's a sloppy bill, poorly drafted, and can't even establish a problem they're trying to solve.” Granted, procedural Senate rules probably won't thrill the sporadic voters, but Sadler followed his criticism of Dewhurst's process by emphasizing, “The right to vote is of paramount importance. They took away the right to vote by breaking the rules and forcing their way. That's not leadership. That's not the judgement we need in the US Senate.”
Since leaving the State House, Sadler has been deeply involved in developing the wind energy industry in Texas, through his work as Executive Director of The Wind Coalition. The Wind Coalition is a non-profit association that promotes the development of energy from the clean, reliable, affordable and infinite resource across our southern states. The group has greatly helped increase wind projects across the region, and in turn create jobs generating renewable energy. The experience will serve Sadler well in the Senate, as his knowledge of the regulatory and legislative issues facing wind power will help contribute to the process of putting America on a path to energy independence.
It's clear in talking with him that Sadler's building a campaign designed to have a real chance of winning, in part by looking to tap into groups of voters that have been particularly harmed by the most recent legislative session — and thus by Dewhurst, the likely Republican nominee. Sadler plans to focus on mobilizing the education community, who should be particularly riled up after last session. “Texas has one of the largest public education systems in the world, and our Lieutenant Governor could not even fund our enrollment growth,” stated Sadler. “He won't even pay for the new kids in the system when we have $8 billion dollars in the Rainy Day fund. Parents and teachers should vote against him.” Citing strong Democratic numbers in our urban areas and the valley, Sadler then pointed out that the last time he was on the ballot in East Texas, he won 14 of 16 counties. “There's a practical way to get there,” stated Sadler. The issues he's championing not only appeal to the Democratic base, but also have the potential to motivate (or at least not alienate) the suburban independent voters on which our candidates must rely if we're going to win a statewide election. There's a clear argument to be made for Sadler and his ability to generate results.
Sadler said he'd been thinking about the race since Hutchison first announced her retirement. After serious consideration and discussion with his wife Sherri, Sadler entered the race in December after General Ricardo Sanchez announced he wasn't running. Initially Houston attorney Jason Gibson also entered the race; he has since dropped out, making Sadler the presumptive front-runner. Now, it's on to building a campaign team, waiting for a primary date, and getting down to the business of defining David Dewhurst on an extreme ideologue who lacks the leadership qualities necessary to serve in the US Senate.
I asked Sadler what his dream initiative or law would be if he was elected to the Senate. His answer tied to his most recent experience working in energy. He stated that one of the most pressing needs in Texas and across America is a clear path to building infrastructure for alternative energy. “If I could wave a wand,” he said, “I'd want to open up those pathways and have Congress authorize to build the infrastructure we need to increase wind and renewable energy.” It's good for the economy, creates jobs, and helps end our reliance on foreign fuel sources, he noted. “We need to move on it, and move quickly. Now, we're not moving fast enough.”
Sadler's campaign is moving very fast already, launching a petition urging Rick Perry and David Dewhurst to hold a special session to fund public schools. Dewhurst has even responded to Sadler's early shots fired, which further helps Sadler define himself as the leading Democratic candidate, and engage early with the likely Republican nominee. There's clearly a contrast to be made between Sadler's pragmatic, bi-partisan, results-oriented legislative career, and Dewhurst's kowtowing to the Republican base. But will the voters of Texas go for it? That remains to be seen.
This is part of a BOR series on Democratic candidates for US Senate. The candidates in the race are, alphabetically, Addie Dainell Allen, Daniel Boone, Sean Hubbard, and Paul Sadler.