By Gallagher & Schleicher
The latest clash in a long-running war that threatens the progressive movement in America took place Aug. 13, 2018 in a courtroom in Waxahachie, Texas. The Trump administration was not a party to this fight over who would be on the ballot to replace Republican Congressman Joe Barton. In fact, Barton’s former chief of staff, now the Republican nominee for the November general election, referred to the lawsuit as being “like manna from heaven.”
With Rep. Barton retiring from Congress after a selfie of his privates went all too public, and a political climate in which Democrats are at a highwater-mark of enthusiasm, it might seem an ideal time for a progressive to retake this district that straddles the boundaries of East and West Texas adjoining the Dallas area. From the district’s creation in 1875, with Gustave Schleicher as its first representative, it sent Democrats to Congress for more than 100 years until Phil Gramm resigned, then won re-election as a Republican.
The current lawsuit against the May Democratic Party runoff winner, Jana Lynne Sanchez, was not brought by the Republican nominee, nor the Texas Republican Party, nor national GOP. Instead the loser of the Democratic primary runoff — Ruby Faye Woolridge — sued, alleging fraud in signatures collected to get Sanchez on the primary ballot and absentee ballot fraud as to the runoff. Whether Republicans or Democrats, the ears of citizens properly perk up when they hear allegations of election fraud. After all, a democracy without fair elections is by definition no democracy at all. But a closer look at the claims here reveal them to be not about sanctity of the ballot but instead a sore loser and a destructive war by progressives against progressives.
The claim of invalid signatures to get on the ballot was filed months after the legal deadline for such a challenge. It relied on the testimony of an expert witness who 10 times wrote that her preliminary findings would have to be compared to actual voter signatures on file with election officials. That comparison never happened. In a series of unfortunate events that might be summarized as The Manchurian Consultant, a contractor working for Sanchez’s campaign left to work for the Woolridge campaign at least as early as January 2018. Only after the March 2018 primary did that consultant purportedly raise to Woolridge allegations of improprieties in the Sanchez campaign’s gathering of signatures to get on the ballot.
When Woolridge’s expert did her preliminary review of the signatures for signs of improprieties, guess who she found to be the primary culprit? That very same staff member who had gone from the Sanchez campaign to Woolridge’s. Yes, the very campaign staffer who brought the purported dishonesty of the Sanchez campaign to Woolridge’s attention was herself the source of some 85 percent of the signatures questioned by Woolridge’s own expert. Further confirming the frivolous nature of the suit, even if all signatures questioned by Woolridge’s expert were thrown out, Sanchez still had more than the 500 minimum.
Woolridge’s claims of absentee ballot fraud turned out to be just as frivolous. Having lost the runoff by more than 715 votes, Woolridge offered the sworn testimony of not even a single voter about fraud. Instead Woolridge recounted one voter telling Woolridge (i.e., hearsay) that she tried to vote but was told (hearsay-within-hearsay) she was shown to have already voted absentee. Woolridge jumps from that story to speculate that there must have been widespread fraud that would justify a new runoff election. If a single error (whether in that voter’s memory of whether she already voted by mail or in an election office’s records) were sufficient to toss an election, no election would be safe from an endless cycle of do-overs.
Thankfully Texas has a law aimed at protecting its residents from frivolous lawsuits impairing their ability to engage in free speech on matters of public concern. We are not aware of this Citizens Participation Act ever having been applied before to a suit alleging election fraud, but it is difficult to imagine a more appropriate fit. Running for Congress is one of the riskiest and costliest ways of exercising free-speech rights — and most effective if successful. Sorely lacking a legal and factual basis, Woolridge’s suit seemed aimed more at ensuring Sanchez would lose the general election to her Republican opponent than getting Woolridge on the ballot.
The judge apparently agreed, awarding in favor of Ms. Sanchez and against Ms. Woolridge $3,000 in attorney fees and an additional $1,000 in sanctions. That ruling likely puts to an end this particular battle in the civil war among progressives, but skirmishes rage on elsewhere. Mere mention of Bernie or Hillary on Facebook and the scabs are ripped off the wounds, with bloodletting aplenty.
From elsewhere comes news of the New York Democratic primary defeat of congressional incumbent Joe Crowley by Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We see that election as a result of a healthy debate about how far left (or not) the party should move and observe that the ultimate answer may be different in different congressional districts. If the tent is not big enough for former supporters of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it is not big enough to win national elections. President Trump has survived, with an assist from St. Petersburg, by dividing along ethnic, racial and religious lines. If progressives insist on further dividing themselves, they will have done Putin’s work for him.
Those on the left are often heard these days suggesting the United States is sliding into authoritarianism. If one is to accept this premise as true, one also must consider that Hitler lost the 1932 German presidential election with only 30 percent of the vote in the first round and 37 percent of the vote in the runoff. He nonetheless took power by destroying institutions and political parties across the spectrum. His opponents no doubt had great arguments for why their differences were too important for them to work as allies. They took those arguments to the grave.
If the situation is as momentous as the left suggests, then the need to work together is equally critical. Whether Democratic Socialists or Blue Dog Democrats or even Republicans who have abandoned their party in an effort to save it from Trumpism, time for attacking one another has run out. Whether motivated as Woolridge appears to have been by revenge, or by conspiracy theories that Bernie lost other than due to getting fewer votes (including a profound lack of support in the African-American community), or due to an unwillingness to accept rejuvenation from new national voices such as Ocasio-Cortez’s, progressives are Trump’s greatest asset. At least, so long as they continue to battle one another rather than standing together against his neo-nationalism. United we stand; divided we fall.
David Gallagher is a transplanted Texan, living and working in London, England, and tweeting @TBoneGallagher. David Schleicher is the attorney for the Jana Lynne Sanchez campaign in the suit described above. He can be found at www.gov.law. This piece originally appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald on August 19, 2018, where the Davids are on the Board of Contributors.