Tom Schieffer did something Wednesday no other statewide candidate has ever done.
Unprovoked and nearly 7 months away from the primary (an established election date), Tom Schieffer became the first statewide candidate to sit down with more than half of the Burnt Orange Report staff to discuss every facet of his campaign.
We talked policy. We talked about George Bush. We talked about the Texas Rangers and his service abroad.
We met at Progress Coffee next to our office. We each bought our own respective caffeinated beverages. Tom Schieffer picked up a couple Dublin Dr. Peppers. With three campaign staff in tow, the eight of us went back to the Burnt Orange Report office and immediately got to questions.
The discussion started with Schieffer's stance on expanding broadband and his experience on the campaign trail. We talked about the need to expand access to education and how Rick Perry's aggressive push to become more right-wing hurts the business community (more on that later). To note, Schieffer supports the idea to expand high speed and broadband access to rural and exurban parts of Texas but doesn't have a set plan.
After about 30 minutes we finally got to the series of questions most of our readers are most concerned about– Schieffer's relationship with George W. Bush and/or the Republican Party.
It is clear from talking with Schieffer he is not and has never been a Republican.
Schieffer points to a few of his experience to highlight his long time Democratic credentials. First, Schieffer said he has voted in every Democratic primary since the 1970's. Second, according to Schieffer, in April 2001, when he went to the White House and State Department to fill out the paper work to become an ambassador to Australia, he made it a point to identify himself and his partisanship as Democrat on the forms he filled out. While he served as an Ambassador to Japan, Congressman Henry Waxman from California asked Schieffer and the state department to produce any and all documents that identified communication between the embassy and the political department of the White House (read Karl Rove). After nearly two weeks of searching, Schieffer says the embassy found zero documents.
He makes it a point to say he didn't work as a Democrat or Republican but instead as a person who loves his country and was given an opportunity to serve his country.
The passion and sincerity in his explanation is hard to deny.
Schieffer went on to talk about the multiple times he has been to the White House during the Obama administration to help the state department. Again, he spoke of the situation as a service to his country and not as a partisan obligation.
Why all the questions about Schieffer's democratic credentials?
Since announcing he was exploring a potential Gubernatorial run in March, Schieffer made it clear he voted for his friend and business partner George W. Bush. His unapologetic support for Bush has left some Democrats scratching their heads.
Rather than rehashing why he voted for Bush (we already know the answer) or pushing him on the issue, we simply asked how that plays into his campaign and outreach.
Schieffer made it a point to talk about how he was right on the issues and Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison were simple two more examples of Republican failures.
Yes, it was a pass, but he isn't wrong.
Schieffer supports the expansion of mass transit within Texas to connect at least the urban cores. He is right on education and working to lower tuition costs for families in need. He is right on using federal money to help keep small business owners from being forced to pay for the brunt of the recession.
After an hour conversation, we are confident that Schieffer will be a champion of core Democratic issues. His positions on education, health care, and transportation are strong, and he understands the need for Democrats to have a seat at the table before redistricting occurs in 2011. We did not meet with the candidate who we will certainly vote for in March's Democratic Primary, but we all left our meeting convinced that Tom Schieffer is sincere and passionate, and that he has strong Democratic credentials. However, without a campaign manager and a better developed campaign infrastructure in place, he is going to struggle to accumulate the financial resources and grassroots support to get past March.
The fact that the conversation has shifted, at least in our minds, to, “would we want him to win?” to “how could he win?” is important. We want to support strong Democrats, but before we do, we need to know that they are strong Democrats. Schieffer convinced us of that. Now the challenge will be how he builds a campaign infrastructure that can convince the rest of the Democratic primary electorate before March.