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Goldman Sachs Is In The Eye Of The Campaign Storm

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — It’s not the biggest player on Wall Street in terms of political money. But Goldman Sachs is financial public enemy No. 1 in this year’s election campaign.

The giant investment bank has become the symbol of the excesses of Wall Street, cited both by liberals leery of deregulated banking and conservatives opposed to big banks and “crony capitalism.” And it’s being singled out for its ties to the political establishment because of two top contenders for the presidency.

Hillary Clinton, the front-running Democratic candidate, received $675,000 in speaking fees from the firm. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a top challenger for the GOP nomination, borrowed $500,000 from the firm to help finance his Senate campaign and then failed to reveal it on one of his legally mandated disclosure forms. Also, his wife, Heidi, is a managing director at the firm in Houston, although she is on leave.

Their rivals drive home the connections to angry, anti-establishment voters.

“I don’t take money from big banks. I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a recent debate with Clinton.

“Can you really reform Wall Street when they are spending millions and millions of dollars on campaign contributions and when they are providing speaker fees to individuals? … Secretary Clinton — and you’re not the only one, so I don’t mean to just point the finger at you — you’ve received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year.”

Goldman Sachs was the ninth-largest contributor among companies in the finance sector through the third quarter in the 2016 campaign cycle, according to opensecrets.org, a nonpartisan website that tracks money in politics. Goldman had $2.1 million in donations to candidates given by individual employees and a political action committee.

Goldman also has been the second-largest contributor through Clinton’s political career, donating $760,740 to her campaigns from 1999, when she began her race for the Senate, through the third quarter of the 2016 election cycle, according to opensecrets.org. The firm has contributed $43,575 to Cruz’s presidential campaign committee.

Goldman Sachs, like all financial institutions, wants to influence legislation and regulation, and it opposes additional taxes and the regulation of financial instruments.

Sanders often calls for reinstituting Glass-Steagall, the 1933 act that separated banking and investment in financial institutions. It was partially repealed in 1999.

Still, Goldman Sachs is not the only financial institution to contribute to politicians or to be a Washington player. So what is it about Goldman?

“It’s a metaphor for the highly aggressive investment bank. It’s the brand name for that kind of banking,” said Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at State University of New York at New Paltz. “It’s been around a long time. When you attack Goldman Sachs, you can attack all of Wall Street.”

Benjamin added that there is also an undercurrent with some people of anti-Semitism. “The names are identifiably Jewish,” he said, and there is still a tendency to refer to “Jewish bankers” in a way that suggests Jews have undue influence. Benjamin said he was sensitive to the point because he, too, is Jewish.

The candidates deny any quid pro quo.

Cruz has said he filed the information about the loan on his Senate personal financial-disclosure form and it was an oversight that he missed it on Federal Election Commission campaign forms.

In an interview in the Des Moines Register, Clinton defended taking the fees from Goldman Sachs. “Anybody who thinks they can buy me doesn’t know me,” she said.

Goldman Sachs is publicly, at least, not engaging in the debate about its outsized influence.

“Overall, I would say that we here at Goldman Sachs try not to let the noise of the campaign get in the way of getting our jobs done,” Andrew Williams, Goldman Sachs’ vice president of media relations, said in an interview. He had no comment on charges that the firm is looking to acquire influence with politicians. As for paying more than $200,000 per speech, he said, “We all want speakers who will interest our clients.”

(Lesley Clark contributed to this report.)

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A Goldman Sachs sign is seen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in the Manhattan borough of New York January 24, 2014.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

 

Ted Cruz’s Latino Heritage Not Seen As Part Of His ‘Political Persona’

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz has a Latino name. He has a Latino background. And he’s one of the few Latinos to have ever run for the presidential nomination of a major party.
But is he Latino enough?

The Hispanic community in his home state of Texas gave him some but not overwhelming support when he was elected to the Senate in 2012. And mostly Democratic Latinos nationwide are more wary than ever after Cruz’s relentless criticism of immigration reform and the new health care law.

His father is a Cuban exile, and the Republican senator from Texas touts his father fleeing Cuba during the revolution every chance he gets, which usually gets a rousing response from an anti-Castro audience.

In his presidential campaign announcement speech March 23, Cruz spoke of his father’s journey, an immigrant’s journey.

“Imagine for a second the hope that was in his heart as he rode that ferry boat across to Key West, and got on a Greyhound bus to head to Austin, Texas, to begin working, washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour, coming to the one land on Earth that has welcomed so many millions,” he said. “When my dad came to America in 1957, he could not have imagined what lay in store for him.”

The Cruz campaign released a video in Spanish and promises a push for Latino voters. “We will have an aggressive Hispanic outreach effort and have staff that are spearheading it,” said Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “Ted’s father, Rafael, will also be an active surrogate.”

But Cruz, whose mother is Anglo, has had a limited connection to the Latino community, which is largely Mexican-American and also largely Democratic.

“Running in the primary, Ted Cruz is not making any effort to appeal to Latino voters,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions.

Cruz’s attacks on issues favored by much of the Hispanic community, especially the Obama administration’s easing of immigration restrictions and the Affordable Care Act, have made him unpopular. In a Latino Decisions poll in November of more than 4,000 Latinos in ten states where Hispanics are a significant voting bloc, Cruz had a favorable rating of 31 percent and was viewed unfavorably by 39 percent.

Cruz’s birth certificate gives his name as Rafael Edward (“Ted” is a nickname), named after his father. The elder Cruz left Cuba on a student visa after having been arrested and tortured for his disenchantment with rebel leader Fidel Castro, whom he had initially supported. His last name is distinctive: “cruz” means cross in Spanish.

Ted Cruz was born in 1970 in Calgary, Alberta, where his parents were in the oil business. The family moved from Canada to Houston when he was small.

Cruz speaks passable Spanish; he has said he speaks “Spanglish.”

“He’s slightly more Hispanic than Jeb Bush,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, who added that he was only half-kidding.

A recent report that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is weighing a presidential run, had checked off “Hispanic” on a voter registration card caused a stir. Bush is considered a blue blood, the son and brother of former presidents from Texas whose family roots are from wealthy New England families. But Bush, who laughed off the incident as a mistake, speaks fluent Spanish and is married to a woman from Mexico.

Texas does not ask for race identification on voter registration, so Cruz’s self-identification is not so readily available.

“While Cruz is ethnically Hispanic on his father’s side, that is not part of his political persona,” said Jillson.

The Texas senator won his seat in his first political campaign in 2012 by appealing to the tea party in the state with his message of being a strong social and fiscal conservative.

He garnered 35 percent of the Latino vote in the general election, according to a poll by Latino Decisions, outperforming GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who got 29 percent.

But, said Barreto, who is also a professor of political science at UCLA, Cruz’s working against the immigration bill crafted by a bipartisan group of senators in 2013 cost him support.

“He himself comes from an immigrant family, and that creates bad feelings in the Latino community,” said Barreto. The bill, which set a path to citizenship, passed the Senate but was not considered by the House of Representatives.

“Ted Cruz is undeniably Latino,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Political Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Does he seem to be interested in appealing to the Mexican-American majority of the Latino population? Not so much. His career in Texas primarily has been focused on reaching out to conservatives.”

Photo: Ted Cruz via FacebookTed Cruz via Facebook

Troubles At Home For Some GOP Potential White House Candidates?

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As hordes of Republicans fan out across the country building support for possible runs at the 2016 presidential nomination, many might want to keep an eye on the home front.

Often, the people who know them best largely oppose their home state politicians running for president, or give them only tepid approval.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gets something of a Bronx cheer these days from constituents looking at his out-of-state travel as he positions himself for a run at the Republican presidential nomination.

Other likely GOP candidates — from Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush — aren’t feeling the love, either, from their own states.

“If a candidate is a current officeholder, to the residents of the state it’s, ‘If he’s running for president, he’s not spending time tending to what we elected him to do,’ ” said Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll in Princeton, N.J.

In New Jersey, a Monmouth University poll last week found that nearly two-thirds of Christie’s constituents say he’s more concerned about his political future than he is about the state.

Christie has a 47 percent approval rating among registered voters in New Jersey. “Christie’s ratings stabilized last spring after a big Bridgegate-related drop,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, N.J., referring to a scandal over a lane closure on a bridge that disrupted traffic. “But as his travel schedule increased and presidential speculation grew during last fall’s campaign, state voter opinion started to erode again, slowly but steadily.”

Voters also took a dim view of the governor’s trade mission to London last week, which 65 percent of New Jersey residents saw as a thinly disguised way to boost his presidential portfolio.

“There’s the old axiom, ‘You’re never a hero in your own backyard,’ ” said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. “People tend to be more critical of you when they know you better.”
In Florida, Rubio and Bush are looking hard at making presidential runs.

Home state politics is particularly challenging for Rubio, who has to decide whether to run for re-election in 2016 or the presidency. Florida law requires that he appear only once on the ballot.

A recent Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey of Florida residents found 57 percent thought Rubio should seek another term in the Senate, while only 15 percent said he should run for the White House. Among Republicans, 68 percent said Rubio should run for re-election, while 19 percent said he should seek the presidency.

“Some people would prefer he stay in the Senate because of his age,” said MacManus. Rubio is 43, and some political observers think he could defer running for president.

Bush, who’s been out of office since 2007 after serving two terms as governor, has recently ramped up his emerging presidential campaign. He leads other potential candidates among likely GOP voters in a New Hampshire poll by Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm released Sunday.

His home state is split. In the Mason-Dixon poll, 43 percent of Florida residents said he shouldn’t seek the White House, while 42 percent said he should. Florida Republicans, by 59 percent to 31 percent, do want Bush to seek the presidency.

Like Rubio, Paul is up for re-election in 2016 and has to decide which office to seek. And as with Rubio, Paul’s home state constituents might not be thrilled if he chooses the White House route.

According to a New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation survey released last April, 31 percent of registered voters in the Bluegrass State support a Paul presidential bid, while 34 percent prefer him not to run for president.

Perry, who just stepped down after 14 years as governor, has a different history and one that complicates his relationship with Texas voters. Popular as governor, he nonetheless embarrassed many Texans with his gaffe-ridden 2012 presidential campaign.

“Many people approve of his performance as governor,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “They don’t want to see a repeat of the 2011 debacle.”

According to a Rasmussen Reports poll of likely Texas voters last August, 54 percent approved of the governor’s job performance. Yet only 40 percent said they’d vote for him if he ran for president, while 46 percent said they would not and 14 percent weren’t sure.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic group in North Carolina, found in a poll last April that only 23 percent of Texas voters thought Perry should run in 2016 and only 34 percent of GOP primary voters in the Lone Star State wanted him to run.

Jones thinks Perry’s anticipated run “is a form of political redemption.”

There’s less opposition among Texas voters to Cruz running for president. In the reddest of red states, 54 percent of all voters in the Public Policy Polling survey were against Cruz running, but the state’s GOP residents do want the freshman senator to run in 2016, by 46 percent to 38 percent.

“Cruz is still of interest to an important slice of the Republican Party electorate,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Cruz was elected in 2012 in his first run for political office.

The ownership of candidates matters to those who know them best.

“Home state voters tend to get annoyed when their politicians are playing to a national crowd instead of taking care of the folks at home,” said Jim Williams, a Public Policy Polling analyst. “You don’t want to feel your elected officials are using you as a steppingstone for another office.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Perry: Change Must Come From Outside DC

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, possible GOP presidential candidates, courted conservatives Thursday in Washington by presenting themselves as chief executives with a vision.

Perry, the evening keynoter at the annual meeting of the American Principles Project, a conservative group, touted his experience in creating jobs in Texas, “the 13th largest economy in the world.”

But he told the enthusiastic crowd that it was not enough to be against the current administration.

“We must articulate what we are for,” said Perry. “And in that respect, as we look to 2016, we must remember we are not electing a critic-in-chief, we are electing a commander-in-chief.”

Perry said expanding energy production, reforming the tax code, reducing regulations, and providing an educated workforce were central to boosting the economy.

“Americans have become cynical that Washington can ever change,” said Perry. “And I am skeptical that an agent of change can come from Washington.”

Jindal used a luncheon speech to criticize Common Core, a set of educational standards that many conservatives have attacked as excessive regulation of local policy.

“Education is at the heart of who we are as a society,” said Jindal, and that should be determined locally, not by the federal government. He has sued the federal government over Common Core. Perry was an early critic of the program.

Both Republicans, who emphasized their track records as chief executives of their states, are looking at the 2016 race. Perry, in particular, is getting into campaign mode, trying to gain some momentum after the entry of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as a potential contender.

Earlier on Thursday, Perry named 83 high-profile donors, many from Texas, to the advisory board of RickPAC, his political action committee. He’s heading to New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, next week for a two-day swing.

Naming the donors was a way of signaling his potential fundraising prowess, at a time when Bush and others are wooing donors across the country and Perry is fighting an indictment at a crucial point in his campaign preparation.

Perry, who retired as governor in January after 14 years in office, lost a bid last week to have the two-count felony indictment against him dismissed. He was charged in August with abusing his office and coercing a public servant after he threatened to cut off funding for the Travis County public corruption unit if the district attorney in charge didn’t resign after being arrested for drunken driving. She refused to resign, and the governor vetoed the funding.

Perry is fighting the charges, saying they’re politically motivated.

“He’s under indictment, and that’s going to make it much more challenging for him to establish credibility,” said Bruce Buchanan, a presidential expert at the University of Texas, Austin. “It complicates a presidential candidacy.”

Perry underwent a style change last year, donning eyeglasses and abandoning cowboy boots (to help his bad back), which was seen as part of a bid to be taken more seriously. The Texan has been trying to erase the memory of his failed 2012 presidential campaign, famous for the “oops” moment during a debate when he forgot one of the three federal agencies he proposed abolishing.

“By the time the election was over, a significant amount of Republicans in Texas were shaking their heads at the governor’s performance,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

Perry has been prepping more for this campaign and at Thursday’s speech spoke about the next two years being “about a vision to restore America’s place in the world.”

He said that as governor he had helped secure the border with Mexico and he criticized the U.S. inaction in the Middle East.

Jindal, asked by reporters Thursday whether he’s running for president, said, “We’re thinking about it,” and added that he and his wife were talking and praying about it.

“If I were to run, it’s if I had something unique to bring to the race,” he said.

Photo: Denise Flores via Flickr

A Texas-Sized GOP Race For President

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — How many Texans does it take to run for president?

Well, five, apparently.

The Lone Star State, always ready with bragging rights and deep pockets, is laying claim to five Republican candidates with Texas connections who are testing the 2016 presidential waters.

“If you don’t have a Texas tie, you’re not running for president,” joked Bill Miller, an Austin consultant who advises both Republicans and Democrats.

Two of the potential contenders are immediately identified as Texans: the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, who exploded on the national scene after his surprise 2012 election; and the former governor, Rick Perry, who had a gaffe-plagued presidential campaign three years ago and stepped down as governor this month after 14 years in office.

But three others lay claim to Texas roots; in some cases, extensive ones.

Jeb Bush, 61, is a two-term former Florida governor, but a native Texan, a point that goes far with the state’s sticklers for being a true son of the Lone Star State.

Perhaps more importantly, he’s also a son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush. Jeb Bush was born in Midland, grew up in Houston and attended the University of Texas at Austin.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), 52, a son of former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, grew up in southeast Texas near Houston and studied at Baylor University in Waco.

The least prominent name on the 2016 potential contender list is Carly Fiorina, 60, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO and unsuccessful 2010 Senate candidate in California, who said last week she is “seriously considering it.”

Fiorina was born in Austin, and although she grew up elsewhere, would visit family in Texas.

With about 20 Republicans so far weighing whether to seek the nomination, Texas can claim a quarter of them.

“I think it’s good for Texas,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). “Since 2007 Texas has created 1.2 million net jobs and other states created 80,000 jobs. Texas is an economic boom town.”

But what is it about Texas that generates these go-getters? “It reflects a certain spirit and a certain flavor,” said Cornyn.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), a former Fort Worth mayor, said, it’s “because Texas has been such a huge success.”

So, is it a point of pride to have so many Texans or near-Texans running? “Absolutely,” she said.

Texans are famously boastful about the size and success of their state, even when it comes to politics.

Evan Smith, editor-in-chief of Texas Tribune, a nonprofit media outlet, said that he was going to have his staff give a special focus to the Texas-linked candidates. At a recent party celebrating the organization’s fifth anniversary, he stood in front of blow-ups of the five potential Texas presidential wannabes.

“It is fundamentally a race that runs through Texas,” he said.

Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri said, “It makes sense that national Republican leaders would draw from the largest Republican state. We are developing a bench for national leaders.” He added that there could be yet another name on the list, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), 56, who ran for president in 2012.

Since 2013, Santorum has been chief executive officer of EchoLight Studios, just north of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, which makes Christian films. That connection gives Santorum more of an asterisk than a place in line, but it may resonate with some donors.

And money, critical in the early campaign stages, is a Texas asset.

In the 2014 election cycle, Texas was the fourth largest state in contributions, with $143.4 million, 71 percent going to Republicans, according to federal data compiled by the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.org.

“Texas is one of America’s mega-states with enormous concentrated wealth that can easily support multiple candidates for president,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Probably all the Texas-linked candidates will have some state-based moguls in their corner.”

Bush can tap into the Texas network of his family’s supporters which has been active recently. His son, George P. Bush, won his first election in November, as the state’s land commissioner.

“The Bush name is synonymous with Texas,” said Munisteri.

Similarly, Paul can look to his father’s financial base, which, as admirers of the libertarian-leaning father and son, is a different group of donors from Bush’s establishment supporters.

Perry and Cruz have in-state financial strongholds, as well, with the governor having a core of business connections and the senator popular with the tea party and evangelicals. And Fiorina recently raised her profile in the state by campaigning for newly elected Gov. Greg Abbott.

But Munisteri said that “many people who play at the highest level will give to multiple candidates.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Senate Approves Sarah Saldana As Chief Immigration Enforcer

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly approved Sarah Saldana, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, on Tuesday as head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, despite opposition from her home state senators.

The 55-39 vote in her favor was particularly awkward for Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who had been a longtime supporter but reversed himself earlier this month. Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Cornyn said that he “regrettably” opposed Saldana’s nomination because she supports President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

Saldana’s confirmation this session of Congress was in doubt, given the backlog of nominations-in-waiting and the politics surrounding several of them. Ironically, it was Texas’ junior senator and Tea Party firebrand, Ted Cruz, who inadvertently helped smooth the way for her confirmation with a surprise parliamentary move last Friday night on the immigration issue.

Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) tried to force a Senate vote against Obama’s immigration plan. That gave Senate Democrats, who had agreed to a deal with the Republican leadership to recess until Monday, an opening to hold a rare Saturday session and move contentious nominations.

In a statement from the White House after the vote, Obama said, “With her years of experience enforcing the law … Sarah is the right person to lead the dedicated men and women at (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in securing our borders, keeping American communities safe and upholding our values.”

In his floor speech, Cornyn tried to make the vote about the president and not Saldana, the first Latina U.S. attorney in Texas.

“Based on her qualifications alone, we would be hard-pressed to find a person better suited to the job at customs enforcement than Sarah Saldana,” said Cornyn. “Unfortunately, the president changed everything.”

Obama issued an order last month that would defer deportations of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, including the parents of U.S. citizens. Opposition to it among Republicans has quickly become a core issue. They have criticized the action as unconstitutional and 24 states, led by Texas, are challenging it in court. A Pennsylvania district court on Tuesday ruled some aspects of it unlawful.

Cornyn introduced Saldana to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at her nomination hearing in September and praised her, words that Senate Democrats seized on during the floor debate. She did not have a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which both Cornyn and Cruz sit, which shares jurisdiction over the immigration agency.

But first Cruz, then Cornyn, criticized her written responses to questions from judiciary panel members that supported Obama’s legal basis for the executive action.

Democrats dismissed that line of argument. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said opponents were basing their criticism of Saldana on her agreeing with the president who nominated her. “That’s an absurd and completely illogical standard,” he said. “We judge nominees on their qualifications.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), chairman of the Homeland Security panel, said Saldana “is a true American success story.” Born in 1951 and the youngest of seven children, she came from “humble beginnings” in south Texas, Carper said. She went to law school, became a partner in a law firm and then a Dallas prosecutor in the office of the U.S. attorney.

The married mother of three was confirmed as U.S. attorney in 2011 with Cornyn’s support after House Democrats opposed her for her aggressive pursuit of corruption cases in Dallas government.

Saldana’s new position of assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security has been without a permanent occupant for 16 months.

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

Senator John Cornyn Campaigns For A GOP Majority And A Powerful Perch For Himself

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau (MCT)

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s re-election campaign looks to be in comfortable shape as Tuesday’s voting approaches, but the Texan is still pushing hard because as his party’s political prospects rise and fall, so do his own.

If the GOP wins enough Senate seats to wrest the majority from the Democrats, then Cornyn, currently the second-most powerful Senate Republican, could be on a path for even greater political authority.

An energized Cornyn is campaigning hard for a third term, crisscrossing the state before Tuesday’s midterm elections.

He is scheduled to be in Fort Worth on Wednesday, where he’ll appear at a rally with Texas Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.

Then the 62-year-old lawmaker is off to an event in his hometown, San Antonio.

His calendar is packed with back-to-back events until Election Day, despite a lackluster Democratic challenge from Dallas dentist David Alameel.

Cornyn is ahead by nearly 22 percentage points, according to an average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics, a nonpartisan website. But he’s also focused on the other race that matters: control of the Senate.

“Obviously, I’ve been paying attention to my own race, but I, fortunately, have had flexibility,” he said in an interview with McClatchy.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time and energy” helping candidates, he said. “I really would prefer to be in the majority. I haven’t been in the majority since 2008, and it isn’t a lot of fun.”

The party in power controls all of the Senate committees and calls the shots on what legislation — if any — is brought to a vote. Cornyn can now feel that a shift in power is almost in his hands. Republicans, who now hold 45 seats, need a net gain of six to take over the majority from the Democrats.

“I’m very excited about what’s going to happen,” Cornyn said. “I’m growing increasingly confident. We will pick up at least six (seats) and maybe more.”

As Senate minority whip, Cornyn is second in command to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whose own race for re-election next week is closer than his own. The Texan would like keep the whip’s post, which he has held for two years, if his party takes power in January. But he would have to stand for election by his fellow Republican senators when the parties choose leaders following next week’s voting.

With no challenge to his perch on the horizon, Cornyn is concentrating on growing the GOP ranks: bringing Republicans to Texas, traveling to other states, headlining fundraisers, connecting candidates to contributors, conferring on party messaging, and improving websites and get-out-the vote techniques.

“Texas is a big, generous red state,” said Cornyn. “I’ve hosted candidates at events, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, you name it, to get them the resources they need to be successful.”

According to his campaign consultant Brian Walsh, Cornyn has raised more than $3 million so far this cycle, including contributions from his own political action committee, for other Senate contests. In his own race, he has raised nearly $22 million and spent $18.3 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group.

The Texas senator has hit the road, traveling to battleground races in North Carolina, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Colorado and Kansas. He has a pretty consistent pitch.

“Usually I tell them, ‘This isn’t just a race that’s up to you and your state. This race is important to the country,’ ” he said.

Cornyn has a close personal tie to his party’s candidate in New Hampshire, Scott Brown, who in 2010 won a Massachusetts Senate seat after the death of Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. He was aided by a big assist from Cornyn, who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee at the time.

He thinks that Brown, who moved to New Hampshire after losing re-election in 2012, is going to pull it off again in his challenge to Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who has been leading in most polls. The spread is now within the margin of error, according to Real Clear Politics.

“It all comes down to turnout,” he said.

Cornyn is chairing the “Target State Victory Committee,” a joint project among the Republican election committees to raise $2 million to send to state parties for get-out-the vote efforts in targeted states.

Cornyn has contributed $350,000 from his leadership PAC to Senate candidates and national party committees. He helped raise an additional $1 million so far for 18 Senate candidates, said Walsh, his political consultant, including $113,000 for Colorado’s Rep. Cory Gardner, who is now leading Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in recent polls.

Another possible pickup is in Louisiana, where Cornyn raised $113,000 for Republican Rep.. Bill Cassidy, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. Currently a three-way race with a second Republican, Rob Maness, running with tea party support, the contest is expected to end up in a runoff between Landrieu and Cassidy, which appears to favor the GOP.

In North Carolina, he’s raised $80,000 for state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who’s in a tight race against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

Cornyn, a former judge, is typically low-key, and his appearance in Kansas on behalf of incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts was all but forgotten by the presence months later of his fiery fellow Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz, who stoked up a crowd for Roberts earlier in October.

Cornyn said that Cruz has his following, but for Texas’ senior senator, it’s all about the Senate. Cruz is laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run in 2016.

“In the Senate, the whip tends to have a good chance of becoming party leader at some point down the road,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election website at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

He noted that both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, and McConnell had both served as whips.

“It’s no sure thing,” Skelly said, “but it has been a road to leadership’s top spot many times before.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

The Castro Brothers: Changing Face Of Texas Politics And Beyond?

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — When Joaquin Castro was walking through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport recently, he got a familiar greeting: “Hey, Mr. Mayor.”

He smiled and quickly corrected the admirer. It happens a lot.

The “mayor” is his identical twin, Julian Castro, who was, until mid-July, the mayor of San Antonio.

But now the brothers are both in Washington, where Julian Castro is the newly installed secretary of housing and urban development and Joaquin Castro is a freshman congressman representing part of San Antonio.

“The good thing is some people call him ‘congressman,’ “Joaquin Castro said in an interview.

The Castro brothers are from San Antonio and are very difficult to tell apart, even for those who’ve known them for years. But they are more than a novelty.

Young, telegenic, articulate, the Mexican-American twins are emerging as the new face of the Democratic Party. Julian and Joaquin Castro just turned 40 last month and are already the most prominent Hispanics on the national political stage.

“They represent a new generation,” said Antonio Gonzalez, the Los Angeles-based president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a nonpartisan group. “I think they feel they have a brand. There is absolutely a niche — a Latino niche to be defined and filled.”

The growth of the Hispanic voting population, which trends largely Democratic, means Latinos are an increasing factor in key states like Texas, California and Florida. That’s a combined 122 electoral votes, nearly half of the 270 needed to elect a president.

Julian Castro was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where he was introduced by his brother. Now he’s even being mentioned as a running mate for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. His brother helped fuel speculation by endorsing Clinton last week.

Asked about the vice presidential chatter, Julian Castro said in an interview that he would not make an endorsement while he’s in the Cabinet.

“That’s very flattering, obviously,” he said. “I don’t believe that’s going to happen.”

His brother Joaquin joked that he’s worried that it will: “If my brother were to be vice president, I’d have to shave my head.”

As for their brand; it is also their birthright.

Their mother, Rosie Castro, who raised them on her own from the time they were 8 years old, was a well-known community activist in San Antonio while they were growing up, taking them to Democratic rallies, campaign events and political meetings.

“Rosie’s an extraordinary woman,” said Arturo Madrid, a humanities professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, who watched the Castro boys grow up.

“She’s solid,” he said. “She certainly brought up her sons to be players in the society.”

The boys, born in San Antonio, said they liked being taken to all the political events.

“It helped us develop a civic conscience,” said Joaquin Castro, who weighed the notion of public service while he was in college but wasn’t sure what job he wanted. “Julian knew he wanted to run for mayor.”

Julian Castro, in a separate interview, said, “My interest in getting into politics didn’t start until I went away from San Antonio.”

The twins left home together at 17 to study at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., near San Francisco, where they graduated. And together, they went on to Harvard Law School. They did not, however, room together.

Julian Castro said he was invigorated by the accessible politics of the cosmopolitan San Francisco Bay Area but still loved the comfort of family-friendly San Antonio.

“That’s when I got interested in public service,” he said. “How could you create a city that was a combination of the two?”

Julian Castro started running for San Antonio City Council while he was still in law school, holding his first fundraiser in Cambridge, Mass., among classmates for only $25 a person — an amount he now laments was too low.

After law school, the Castro brothers returned to their hometown to start their legal and political careers. A political life required a livelihood, since the entry-level political jobs they were looking at were part time. They were, naturally, at the same law firm for a time and then practiced law together.

Julian Castro won a San Antonio City Council seat in 2001; at 26 he was the youngest city council member in the city’s history. Joaquin Castro ran for the Texas House of Representatives and won in 2002.

It was the beginning of the rise of Latinos in Texas politics.

“Latinos are the future of the Democratic Party,” said Gary Segura, a political science professor at Stanford University and co-author of Latino America, a book on the Latino electorate, and a principal in Latino Decisions, a polling firm. “It is the fastest growing plurality of the population.”

According to Segura’s research, “in Texas, 30 percent of all eligible voters is Latino. In 2012 only 22 percent of all Texas voters were Latino.” Moreover, his work indicates that in 2012 a record number of Latinos turned out to vote and provided the margin of victory for President Barack Obama in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, a nonpartisan group, estimates that nationally, more than 7.8 million Latinos are expected to vote in the 2014 midterm elections, an increase of 1.2 million from 2010.

Republicans are keenly aware of the importance of the growing Latino vote and are honing a message to attract them, with an appeal based on lowering taxes and promoting small business.

“Many Hispanics share more of a value set with Republicans than Democrats,” said Ed Goeas, president of the Tarrance Group, GOP consultants and pollsters.

In Texas, municipal elections are nonpartisan, so the issues early on for Julian Castro were not party-driven. He made his move for mayor in 2005 when he was only 30, but he was narrowly defeated by an Anglo establishment candidate in a runoff.

He ran again in 2009 and handily won the mayor’s race, the first of three two-year terms that Julian Castro won before deciding to take Obama’s offer last spring to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Still, that first loss is not something that anyone in the Castro family has forgotten — especially Joaquin Castro.

“My brother’s the only one who’s lost a race between us,” said the younger twin, a little smugly, in the time-honored rivalry between siblings.

Julian Castro made his mark in five years as San Antonio mayor, promoting economic development and pushing for his signature program, “Pre-K for SA,” which funded citywide full-day pre-kindergarten programs through an increase in the sales tax.

“It was not easy — he prevailed,” said former Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX), who retired from Congress in 2012, opening a seat that Joaquin Castro easily won. “It was really a bold and ingenious thing he did.”

While Latinos in San Antonio gave both brothers a sizable political base, the twins are known for reaching out and taking a middle-of-the road approach.

“They really know how to build a coalition,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Washington-based Democratic political action committee.

Joaquin Castro worked on education issues in the Texas Legislature. In the U.S. House of Representatives, he recently introduced a bill based on his brother’s program in San Antonio: “Pre-K for USA.” It would allow local governments to apply to the federal government for pre-kindergarten grants, bypassing state governments.

Both brothers also have been vocal on immigration reform, maintaining that a path to citizenship is the best way to integrate undocumented immigrants who are already part of society.

Some Hispanic lawmakers have been disenchanted with Obama for delaying his promise of executive action on immigration reform — an action he said was necessary because of congressional inaction. The delay until after the elections was prompted by concerns of Democratic candidates in close races who feared the GOP would tag them with supporting amnesty.

But Joaquin Castro said, “I expect there’s going to be an expansion of DACA after the election.” The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program allows children brought illegally to the U.S. to stay without fear of being deported. Castro said he thinks the program will be expanded to include the undocumented parents of children who are U.S. citizens.

Some observers liken the Castros to Obama for their even-tempered style.

“Neither is a firebrand,” Segura said.

“The ‘it’ factor comes from their poise; their crossover appeal,” said Christian Archer, a Texas political operative who has managed campaigns for both brothers.

And it is clear they are not going to stay in their current jobs for a long time. Like any ambitious politician, each is looking for the next step up the ladder. Julian Castro, who like all Cabinet members serves at the pleasure of the president, is expected to be at HUD until the end of Obama’s term in January 2017. Joaquin Castro said he plans to remain in Congress, “not for too long, but for a bit.”

The expectation is that they will be looking at a home state race for governor or senator.

“One or both guys are going to be ready for a statewide run in Texas,” said George Shipley, a longtime Austin Democratic political consultant. “There’s a demographic inevitability.”

The twins are popular speakers in Latino areas, although they are not fully fluent in Spanish and have taken lessons. “I want to be fluent before I die,” said Joaquin Castro.

The two are extremely close, although they do not share a household in Washington, where both now work. They are in constant communication. “We talk once or twice a day,” said Julian Castro. “At least once a day.”

Each is married with one daughter, and Julian Castro’s wife is pregnant with a boy.

Gonzalez, the former congressman and fixture in San Antonio politics, sees both brothers as part of the future, even as presidential contenders.

“For Latinos, we really don’t have recognized national leaders,” he said. “It’s time this generation comes forward.”

Photo: Greg Hauenstein via Flickr

Nation’s New Arts Promoter-In-Chief Knows The Landscape

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The new offices of the National Endowment for the Arts are ultra-modern: A glass-enclosed, transparent, updated look that is exactly what the new chairman wants the once-controversial agency to be.

R. Jane Chu, well-regarded in arts circles though barely known by the general public, since June has been the top cultural official of the U.S. government, overseeing nearly $150 million in grants, encouraging artists and artistic activity, and promoting arts in a more welcoming climate than during the culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s.

She does not preside from the classic “corner office,” but rather from a sparse glass office, off a conference room, decorated with a single white orchid. But the conference room showcases something telling about the new chairman: one of her paintings, a colorful closeup of a rumpled quilt with an Amish double wedding band pattern.

It is a modern interpretation of a classic, which is very much what Chu is bringing to the job.

“There’s something symbolic about it,” she said of her painting.

Chu, whose first name is Rose but she goes by Jane, is a cultural powerhouse of her own. Slender, elegantly turned out in a subdued gray suit, the new face of American arts rocks a short, spiky salt-and-pepper hairstyle that at 56 she effortlessly pulls off.

Chu made her professional name in Kansas City, Missouri, where she was involved in the arts for 20 years. From 2006 until being confirmed by the Senate as the NEA chief in June, she was the president and chief executive of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Her resume covers the breadth of the arts. She is an artist, a pianist, and an educator with multiple degrees, including an associate of arts degree, two bachelor degrees, two master’s — one in business — and a doctorate in philanthropic studies.

Chu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was born in Oklahoma and raised in Arkansas with parents who spoke Mandarin. “I grew up navigating cultures,” said Chu, who speaks with a faint Southern accent.

And for the high-achieving Chu, it was the arts that were her “beautiful channel.” She loved drawing and painting — she still draws constantly — as well as playing the piano.

The NEA has needed diplomatic skills in the past, when it drew conservative fire for supporting controversial exhibits, such as one showcasing Robert Mapplethorpe, whose homoerotic photographs sparked cries to eliminate federal arts funding altogether.

After a period of relative calm in the 2000s, the NEA has had stable funding for a number of years, now at $146 million for fiscal 2014. The high point in the past 10 years was $167.5 million in fiscal 2010.

Chu is determined to debunk the persistent impression that the NEA promotes cultural elitism. The charge, and an alleged bias toward New York City, has dogged the agency. The NEA has a variety of programs, including a rural initiative and “Our Town” grants that are arts projects connected to community development.

In August, Chu toured Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where a $75,000 NEA grant will fund public art to decorate unsightly highway overpasses.

Some critics still maintain the federal government should not be in the arts business at all.

“Even Kickstarter raises more money for the arts than is available from NEA’s budget,” said Romina Boccia, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, referring to the crowd-funding site. “Federal funding for the arts is neither necessary nor within the proper scope of the federal government. … The NEA should be eliminated.”

Photo: Abaca Press/MCT/Olivier Douliery

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Nominee To Lead Federal Arts Agency Draws Bipartisan Support

By Maria Reciom, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The National Endowment for the Arts is so non-controversial these days that the Senate committee that oversees the federal agency approved its new chairman Wednesday on a voice vote with almost no discussion as senators raced off to other meetings.

Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, almost certainly will be the new NEA chairman when the full Senate votes on her nomination.

“There’s no controversy,” Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told McClatchy after the vote. “NEA has only been controversial among a certain subset; read: tea party. That’s a small slice of the Congress.”

That doesn’t mean the committee doesn’t display a partisan divide. The affirmative vote on Chu followed a divisive debate on an education bill for preschoolers that passed on party lines.

The arts agency, which has periodically raised conservative hackles for supporting controversial projects, is still at risk of being on the chopping block. While that has largely meant having its funding cut, the NEA has been operating at a stable $146 million budget.

Chu, 56, was not present at the committee and is not commenting until she is confirmed, said a Kauffman official. But the nominee, whose resume spans arts management, philanthropy and the performing arts, has drawn strong support among Senate Republicans.

“She’s an accomplished leader in Kansas City and we are fortunate to have her nomination,” Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the panel’s ranking Republican, said before the vote.

Her home-state senator, Roy Blunt (R-MO), issued a letter as part of the committee record praising Chu for being “uniquely qualified” to lead the agency.

After the hearing, NEA supporters sounded relieved.

“All I can say, happily, is that there seems to be bipartisan support and no controversies on the nomination process,” said Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, an arts advocacy group.

Chu has undergraduate degrees in visual arts from Nebraska Wesleyan University and in piano and music education from Ouachita Baptist University. She holds a master’s in piano instruction from Southern Methodist University, as well as a master’s in business administration from Rockhurst University and a doctorate in philanthropic studies from Indiana University.

The annual salary for the NEA chairman is $167,000, according to the agency’s office of public affairs. Chu’s salary from the Kauffman Center is $225,703, according to an IRS filing for the nonprofit.

The NEA has been without a chairman for more than a year, and stakeholders are anxious to have a new leader in place. While Chu will have support from Capitol Hill, the agency has tried to avoid pitfalls by distributing funds to all the states through targeted programs supported by grass-roots organizations.

“They did a better job of serving the whole country,” said Lynch.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Congress Considers Tax Breaks From Horse Racing To Stock Car Racing

By Maria Recio, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Horse racing may be thought of as the sport of kings, but the National Thoroughbred Racing Association says breeders and stable owners need a tax break just like everybody else.

Stock car racing has a regal status among its followers, but NASCAR has its hand out, too, as do taxpayers in seven states with no income tax who pay state sales taxes and are able to deduct them from Uncle Sam’s tax bill.

The three are among the strange bedfellows who benefit from targeted tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013 and that the Senate and House of Representatives are now looking to restore.

“I especially appreciate that (Congress) understands the continued importance of our industry and the contribution of the equine economy to job creation and added investment,” said Alex Waldrop, the president of the thoroughbred racing association

The Senate legislation, which is expected to be voted on on the floor this week, combines more than 50 of the so-called tax extenders Congress awarded at different times for different constituencies, everything from helping families to pay for college, homeowners to deduct mortgage expenses, business to benefit by giving away food inventory, and to hire veterans. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) included that provision with a bill called “Hire a Hero.”

The tax extenders bill would reinstate them for two years at a cost to the treasury of $85 billion. Supporters are facing some stiff opposition from the right and the left, who say they create favorites in the tax code.

“Congress is able to hide the true cost of these tax breaks by renewing them every two years,” Steve Wamhoff, the legislative director for Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal research center, said in a newspaper opinion piece. “But the truth is, if allowed to continue indefinitely, these corporate tax breaks will balloon the deficit by $700 billion over the next decade.”

The diverse interests that see their tax breaks as a matter of fairness make for a colorful coalition. They also have powerful patrons.

The entire bill is a tougher sell for Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). He wants to make the deductibility of state sales tax permanent, a huge issue for the Lone Star State, not just have it extended periodically. But other breaks trouble him.

Cornyn, the Senate minority whip and a Finance Committee member, said during a call with reporters that he supported many of the provisions but didn’t like that so many tax breaks were collected in one package.

“This is a terrible way to do business, and it’s going to produce a flawed product,” he said.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, prefers the case-by-case approach his panel is taking with the extenders. He’s confident that the House will make the sales tax deductibility permanent.

“Since it was reinstated in 2004, we’ve saved Texans $9.6 billion,” Brady said in an interview.

The NASCAR provision is also popular. The International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks — including in Kansas City, Kansas, Daytona Beach and Homestead, Florida, and Darlington, South Carolina — is an enthusiastic supporter.

“We spend $120 million to $150 million a year on capital improvements,” International Speedway Corp. spokesman Lenny Santiago said.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad
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