September 25th, 2006
Allen Vaught knows a thing or two about overcoming long odds and governing in a challenging environment. He recently returned to Texas after serving in Irag with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. While in Iraq he commanded one of the first units to enter Fallujah and helped to rebuild that city and win the hearts and minds of its citizens. He also taught the legislative process to folks trying to build democracy in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Bagdad. His service in Irag was cut short when a convoy he was traveling with was hit by an improvised explosive device and small arms ambush. He was sent home with a Purple Heart and a fractured back which was injured in the fight.
Vaught, an attorney who specializes in fighting for victims of environmental pollution, now wants to apply some of what he learned in Iraq to the Texas legislature. He’s running against incumbent, and arch-conservative, Bill Keffer, in suburban Dallas District 107.
But first, Vaught needs to make it to the legislature, and in order to do this, he needs to beat an incumbent Republican in a district that voted 58% for Bush in 2004. It is undoubtedly a challenging district for a Democrat, but many politicos are starting to see this race as a true “dark horse” – a possible win in a presumably hostile environment. In fact, Speaker Craddick recently issued an emergency call to the calvary – uh, the business lobby – to get an infusion of cash to Keffer’s, so far, anemic campaign. Apparently, Keffer has been taking Vaught and the district for granted.
Also, things may not be as hostile as the numbers indicate. Allen says, “I’ve been knocking on doors in this district all year – we’ve knocked on several thousand doors since the primaries – and I’ve talked to Republicans and moderates throughout this district. I continually meet people who say they’ve never voted for a Democrat in their life, but they’re voting for me.”
Anecdotal evidence aside, Vaught’s campaign has also done field polling that tells them many of the voters in his district have a strong independent streak. Recent state polls also indicate that Governor Perry is not very popular in this district which could hamper Republican turnout. Also, the second largest VFW center in the state is located in the district, an obvious plus for Vaught.
And then there’s the not so small matter of Bill Keffer’s voting record and radical ideology. A Grover Norquist protégé, he’s always looking for something to drown in the bathtub – public schools, state parks, children’s health insurance.
“A lot of people confuse Bill Keffer with is more moderate brother Jim (who’s also a House member). People didn’t know he was as far out of the mainstream as he is,” says Vaught.
How far out of the mainstream? Well, it turns out that Bill Keffer use to write a column for a local newspaper where he was given free reign to bludgeon readers with his radical views. According to Keffer, “The demise of the public schools has fallen on the heels of federal courts mandating integration about as directly as any example of cause-and-effect in social policy in American history.” That’s right, in Bill Keffer’s world, the last good days of our public schools was when they were segregated.
On the TLCV scorecard, Keffer managed a 15% voting record in 2005 and a big fat ZERO in 2003. This past session he voted against increasing state requirements for renewable energy supplies (vote #13 on our scorecard). Realizing that DFW struggles with enormous air quality issues, and hey, more clean energy might actually help, eight of his fellow Republicans from the DFW area voted against him on this Republican sponsored amendment. It ultimately passed, no thanks to Keffer.
He also filed and introduced a bill which would create a new government agency designed to keep people from suing polluters. It was intended to protect oil and gas companies accused of wrongfully polluting land during oil- and gas-related activity. The bill prohibits a landowner from bringing suit for remediation or damages without first filing a complaint with the Railroad Commission. Looks like Keffer’s conservative mantra is “Small government unless my big donors ask me to expand it for them.”
O.K., so the district needs a change in leadership, but what does Allen Vaught have to offer voters – specifically, conservation-minded ones.
“I grew up on a ranch in Wise County that’s been in my family since the 1870’s. Richardson State Park is nearby. My family supported and donated to that park, it’s always meant a lot to us. My Dad was a staunch conservationist with regard to wildlife. We did a lot a land management to facilitate habitat. This is just the way I grew up.”
So far, Vaught’s campaign has delivered the goods. He was one of the first candidates in North Texas to call for an end to Perry and TXU’s fast-tracking of 16 coal-fired power plants.
“When our region is faced with growing air quality problems it does not make sense to expedite the permitting procedures for these coal plants,” Vaught said. “We need to slow down and answer some important questions: How will these plants affect our region’s ability to meet the EPA’s 2010 ozone standards deadline? Are there cleaner alternatives available? How much carbon dioxide will these coal plants pump into our air?”
Vaught suggested that this is not only an environmental issue but also an economic development issue, “Dirty air is bad for business — it drives up healthcare costs; makes it hard to attract skilled employees; and causes other industries to carry more of the burden of improving the area’s air quality.”
Vaught also thinks polluters ought to actually be held financially accountable when they screw up. And he wants Dallas to address its long term water needs, but not before the city’s enormous and out-of-whack consumptions rates are also confronted. Going back to his family’s personal relationship with Richardson State Park, “It’s shameful what’s happened to the condition of our state parks. These are our state’s natural treasures, where many kids learn about nature for the first time and where family values and memories are created and solidified. Texas can do better.”
We can do better, and we need Allen Vaught in the legislature to help.