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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

The Associated Press just dropped a big story about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who seven years ago posed for the above photograph taken in the Collin County Jail. I’ll return to that county in a bit, but first here are some highlights from the AP. Just the facts:

Bad guys go free: “In the small town of Gatesville, the fallout [from disorganization in the AG’s office] was felt this month with the collapse of cases dubbed ‘Operation Fallen Angel.’ Six of the people indicted last year on allegations that they were involved in a scheme to force teenage girls to ‘exchange sexual contact for crystal methamphetamine’ are now free. ‘It’s absolutely broken. It’s just broken. You don’t do it this way,’ Republican District Attorney Dusty Boyd said of the attorney general’s office, which took over the cases from his five-lawyer team. “I made the mistake of trusting them that they would come in and do a good job.'”

Staffing shortages: “One prosecutor said he quit in January after supervisors pressured him to withhold evidence in a murder case. Another attorney signed a resignation letter in March that warned of growing hostility toward LGBTQ employees. By August, records show the division over human trafficking cases—a major emphasis in Texas, where more than 50 migrants died in the back of a trailer in June—had a job vacancy rate of 40%.”

Hanky-panky: “[I]n autumn 2020 … eight of Paxton’s top deputies accused the attorney general of using the office to help a political donor who employed a woman with whom Paxton acknowledged having had an extramarital affair. The deputies all quit or were fired after going to the FBI, which opened an investigation that remains ongoing.”

Insanity: “Tom Kelly Gleason, a former ice cream company owner whose father gave $50,000 to the attorney general’s legal defense fund [and who was hired in a senior role], … was fired less than two months into his new job as a law enforcement adviser. Paxton’s office has not disclosed why, but three people with knowledge of the matter said Gleason included child pornography in a work presentation at the agency’s Austin headquarters. The people said Gleason displayed the video—which one of them described as showing a man raping a small child—in a misguided effort to underscore agency investigators difficult work.”

I’ll stop there. You should read the entire AP story. It leads one to wonder about Abraham George, chairman of the Collin County Republican Party. Here is how George assesses Paxton’s first two terms: “He’s been one of the greatest attorneys general for the state of Texas and one of the most conservative ones in the entire country.”

If you agree with George, then Paxton deserves a third term. Election day is Tuesday, November 8.

Politics

Dallas Young Republicans Embrace a Troll

Tim Rogers
By Tim Rogers |

By now I hope you are aware of the concept of Alex Stein. He’s a local guy who does his best to look like Tucker Carlson, sound like Alex Jones, and live large in his father’s Highland Park duplex. D Magazine published a story about him in our May issue, wherein we explained how he was using open-mic time at public meetings to troll municipal bodies and catapult himself onto a national stage. Stein wanted to be a reality TV star; he has settled on this.

So when I heard last month that the Dallas County Young Republicans planned to have Stein speak at one of their meetings, I emailed the group’s president, Chad Cohen, who is an SMU Cox grad and managing partner of Lone Wolf Oil, which doesn’t appear to have a website. I asked Cohen to confirm whether his group planned to host Stein. Cohen wouldn’t answer the question and wanted to know why I was asking. I told him I didn’t have a high opinion of Stein and was curious why the Dallas County Young Republicans would entertain his comments.

In part, Cohen replied: “I’m not going to share information regarding any of our upcoming speakers. I will tell you that our organization is committed to hosting a broad array of speakers with a diverse set of viewpoints. One of the fundamental tenets that we hold as Republicans and as conservatives is that the free and open expression of ideas is vital to the preservation of democracy. We welcome engagement with conflicting viewpoints that promote a climate of ideological independence.”

Cohen wouldn’t speak to me on the phone. I suppose engaging with my conflicting viewpoint was a bridge too far for him.

Our Matt Goodman reported Monday on a recent meeting of the city’s Transportation Committee. As FrontBurnervians have come to expect from Matt, his post about the future of I-345 was measured and fair and well-reported. He quoted council members on the committee as they struggled with the complicated subject of what to do with the 1.7-mile elevated highway, and he got feedback from outside folks such as the director of The Congress for the New Urbanism.

But there was one issue with Matt’s report: when it came to talking about how much delay in traffic would be created by replacing the highway with a boulevard, after reporting that a TxDOT engineer said a boulevard would add 40 to 50 percent to travel times in the corridor, Matt cited urban designer Patrick Kennedy’s competing conclusion, writing: “It would actually be about a five-minute delay.”

At which point I took to Twitter and said, “The city of Dallas is about to piss its future away to save 5 minutes of drive time.” Then I tweeted a thread along the same lines, saying the city was “bending the knee to TxDOT,” even bringing up the ghost of Wick Allison in the process. Man, I was heated.

Politics

Alex Stein: Do Not Share

Jonathan Auping
By Jonathan Auping |
Alex Stein
Lesley Busby

A reality show called The Glass House debuted on ABC in June 2012. Contestants lived together in a house while an online audience manufactured drama by voting on which activities would occupy their time for a given episode. One of those contestants was Alex Stein, a twentysomething Dallas native. In the first 20 seconds of the show’s first episode, Stein looked into the camera and said, “America, should I turn into the most epic villain in the history of reality TV?” He later shared his strategy: “Nobody in this house is going to do what I do. Because I got no shame.” 

Stein was the first contestant voted off the show, which was canceled after one season, and he went on to appear in two more reality shows. Now 36 years old but with the same preppy, boyish appearance—brown hair swooped to the side, he could pass as a younger brother to Tucker Carlson—Stein has found a new way to get attention. He has become a conspiracy-spouting QAnon stunt troll.  

You probably saw the viral video of him at an open microphone portion of a Dallas City Council meeting in February, wearing scrubs and rapping about the COVID-19 vaccine. “All day long, I want to vaccinate your mom. I want to stick it deep in your arm,” Stein rapped to the baffled council members. Dallas Morning News City Hall reporter Everton Bailey Jr. first elevated the video to social media (as of early April, it had racked up 3.6 million views in Bailey’s tweet), and from there it spread to such news outlets as the Daily Mail and Newsweek

This one will take some time. Don’t think you’re going to read it on your phone while you’re waiting for the light to turn green. A couple of days ago, ProPublica and FRONTLINE dropped a joint operation titled “Building the ‘Big Lie’: Inside the Creation of Trump’s Stolen Election Myth.” It runs about 7,000 words. And it starts in Dallas in 2020, in the office of Lewis Sessions, a lawyer and the brother of Rep. Pete Sessions. Lewis’ guest is a man from Venezuela, the former chief of security for Hugo Chávez. The man says he knows how the Democrats used voting machines with corrupted software to steal the presidential election.

No matter that this bogus claim was easily disprovable and that Republican operatives did, indeed, disprove it (before touting it as true). That misinformation became the foundation for the lie that two-thirds of Republicans still to this day believe.

Find the time. Read the whole story.

The pugnacious former Dallas city councilman got a little less than 18 percent of the votes in his bid for Precinct 2 of the Dallas County Commissioners Court. The full results: Andrew Sommerman got 10,021 votes; Michelle Ocker got 10,929; Kingston got 5,245; and Tom Ervin got 3,081.

Sorry. Just wanted to beef up our election coverage.

Politics

Sandra Crenshaw Is Back!

Tim Rogers
By Tim Rogers |
Image
Photo courtesy Sandra Crenshaw

Sandra Crenshaw and FrontBurner go way back. In 2008, she was serving as a precinct chair in a presidential election. Some stuff went down. We wrote about it. Crenshaw jumped into the comments and wrote a 3,000-word account of her actions that involved a reference to Mountain Dew as “cactus juice,” which got its own entry on Urban Dictionary. Then, in 2014, after the Morning News endorsed Crenshaw in her bid for House District 110, we reported that an affidavit for an arrest warrant two years earlier had described how Crenshaw had rented a Nissan Versa from a Budget car rental near Love Field and refused to return it for three months. Her nephew said she was living in it. When the case was dismissed in 2013, court documents indicated Crenshaw was “mentally ill.”

You know what Crenshaw did when we reported all that? She wrote us a long note admitting that she’d had mental health issues. “There is a joke among genealogists that the easiest way to get research for your family tree is to run for office,” she wrote. “I believe and know now that the greatest way to bring exposure of the plight and discrimination against the mentally ill is for the mentally ill to run for office.” You can read the rest of her letter here.

So yeah. Sandra Crenshaw. I thought she was brave to publicly confront what she was dealing with. That was the last exchange I had with her, eight years ago.

Then this morning I saw that she’d gotten more votes than any of her three opponents in House District 100, the sprawling, gerrymandered district that Mayor Eric Johnson once represented. (The previous representative, Jasmine Crockett, is headed to a runoff for Eddie Bernice Johnson’s longtime congressional seat, in U.S. District 30.) Of the 8,428 ballots cast, Crenshaw got 2,883 or 34.2 percent. She’s now in a runoff with Venton Jones, a real estate agent endorsed by the News who got 728 fewer votes than Crenshaw.

That this is the first story specifically about what happened yesterday in the District 100 race (as far as I can tell) is a depressing reflection of the current state of local news media. I mean, according to her latest campaign filings, Crenshaw, who is her own treasurer and has no campaign website, accomplished this upset with just $500. By contrast, Jones spent about $20,000. This is awesome. Jones spent something on the order of $9.30 for every vote he got; Crenshaw spent 17 cents.

I gave her a call to ask how she did it.

Mayor Eric Johnson will today appoint Lynn McBee as the city’s workforce development czar, a topic that was foundational to his 2019 campaign.

McBee is the CEO of a statewide network of STEAM schools for girls, a board member for the Bridge homeless shelter, a philanthropist, until recently co-CEO of EarthX, and third-place finisher in the 2019 mayor’s race. During his campaign, Johnson called workforce development his “number one priority.” But the pandemic derailed efforts on that front. Only recently has his strategy come into focus, and McBee will be charged with pulling it off.

“I know there is a huge need in construction trades and warehousing and healthcare. Now, how do we let people know about these opportunities?” McBee says. “I’ve heard too many people say we can’t find nurses, we don’t have people that are technically trained enough. … Those jobs are there.”

Johnson commissioned a report in April about the city’s workforce. It was released in November and puts numbers to what was largely anecdotal: majority White, college-educated Dallasites hold the jobs that pay the most, while Black and Latino residents are disproportionately likely to earn $32,000 or less each year.

The mayor is nervous that automation might wipe those jobs out in the coming years, but the report signals something deeper. The city and its partners haven’t done enough to recognize the disparity in its workforce. These entities have failed to organize resources to provide education that could help elevate families out of poverty.  

According to the report, just 40 percent of all jobs in Dallas pay more than $32,000 while also offering “positive or stable future growth.” The report defines a “family-sustaining wage” as $42,000 or more annually. White workers hold 54 percent of these jobs, a little less than double the total share held by Latino (16 percent) and Black (15 percent) workers. According to U.S. Census data, the median income for a family of four in Dallas is $86,200.

“We got here because of decisions that were made 10, 20, 30 years ago,” McBee says. “This is how it plays out, right? If you don’t give people access to opportunities, if you don’t give them the resources, then guess what happens. This is what happens.”

Local Government

Philip Kingston Files to Run for County Commissioner

Matt Goodman
By |
Image
Courtesy Philip Kingston.

Former Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston is running for county commissioner. This has been an open secret since late last month, but it seemed to become less hush-hush this week; it has bookended more than a few conversations I have had since Monday. Kingston made it official today and filed the paperwork with WFAA’s Jason Whitely in tow.

Kingston, an attorney by trade, lost his District 14 council seat in 2019, felled by a banker and a father and a former SMU football player named David Blewett, whose platform was basically that he was not Philip Kingston. He sat out the next cycle, and Paul Ridley, Kingston’s former plan commissioner, beat Blewett to win the seat in May.

Kingston says he didn’t have any plans to run for anything until he got wind of how the county commissioner’s court was redrawing its districts. Each of the options showed that Kingston’s Belmont Addition home in East Dallas would no longer be in District 1, which was represented by the Democrat Theresa Daniel. He would now be in District 2, the sole seat on the Commissioners Court held by a Republican—J.J. Koch.

“I can’t be represented by somebody like that,” Kingston told me Thursday afternoon. “It’s not OK. … There hasn’t been any particular showing of competence on just basic policy accomplishments for the betterment of the people of Dallas.”

There he is.

New to North Texas

Red State of Mind

Peter Simek
By Peter Simek |
paul and brenda chabot
Elizabeth Lavin

Here’s the story that Democrats like to tell each other in Texas: according to the 2020 Census, over the past decade the state grew by roughly 4 million new residents. North Texas added 1.2 million. Much of this increase has been driven by people moving here, with about 687,000 of these new Texans—17 percent of the state’s total population increase—coming from California. These liberal transplants are helping to turn Texas blue.

Not so fast.

There is one aspect of the infrastructure spending bill that is being batted around in Washington that both political parties appear to agree on: spending billions on America’s roads will boost the economy. Of the $579 billion in proposed new spending, roughly 19 percent is earmarked for roads, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required). That same report points out both Republicans and Democrats are bullish on the impact that plowing that kind of dough into the country’s roads will have:

President Biden last week touted the agreement as delivering “higher productivity and higher growth for our economy over the long run.”

Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who helped craft the deal, said last moth that the plan would “increase our productivity as a country.”

The problem is much of the research around the impact of highway infrastructure spending shows that it doesn’t produce much long-term economic productivity. In fact, as careful observers of the history of North Texas’ development might know, spending money on roads promotes some short-term economic gains, though over time it tends to merely redistribute growth with no real net increase in GDP.

Politics

Poll: Should We Raise City Council Salaries?

Peter Simek
By Peter Simek |

On Tuesday, I argued that it was past time we gave the city council a raise. Better pay equals better candidates. It means people can run for office that can’t run for office today because they have jobs and families and lives. It means that we can better avoid things like over representation by millionaires, mayors who need second jobs, and bribery scandals. It doesn’t cost that much, and it would make our government run better. So why not?

In the comments to that post, former council member Philip Kingston gave some context to the debates that swirled around the horseshoe the last lime council got raise:

. . .my first motion was to go to $100K for council and $200K for mayor with an automatic increase indexed to inflation. Rawlings wouldn’t back anything higher than $80K for mayor and asked me why it should be higher to which I said so not every mayor looked like him. The council members terming out would support ANY raise that took effect immediately, and Carolyn Davis even mentioned making it retroactive. The north Dallas reps wouldn’t support any increase that took effect immediately, but would support even $100K if it went into effect after everyone who voted on it was off of council, which is another of the 300 motions I made that day. End of the day we wound up with $60K not indexed. . .

But what do you think? Should Dallas elected officials receive a raise, and if so, how much? Vote after the jump.