Superficially, the Republican race for state Representative Dan Branch's Park Cities/Preston Hollow seat started off positive. Here you had three intelligent, accomplished young professionals politely agreeing with each other on how best to shape Texas' future. Their few apparent distinguishing features -- I've been endorsed by LeVar Burton! Holy crap I have a good looking family! -- were kind of adorable.
A fraction of an inch beneath the surface, though, things got ugly quick. Anonymous tipsters peddled little clumps of dirt -- Chart Westcott has a probationary law license, perhaps maybe because he's a drunk; Morgan Meyer was arrested in college and lied about it to The Dallas Morning News. Someone even passed along a photo purporting to show Court Alley, who didn't make the May 27 runoff, double-parked in a handicapped spot in Preston Center.
But the pockets in the race were too deep and the egos too big for such mud-slinging to stay hidden. As the runoff approaches, the race has degenerated into a brutal exchange of personal attacks of the type that tend to be the exclusive purview of grade-school playgrounds and political campaigns.
Westcott, newly armed with the Don Huffines campaign team that successfully deposed Texas Senate fixture John Carona, fired off the first public volley, attacking Meyer for being employed by a law firm (Bracewell & Giuliani) that supports Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.
An accompanying website -- whoismorganmeyer.com -- repeats the charge and adds the cardinal sins of being a trial lawyer (Westcott is counsel for his father's company and thus doesn't have to dirty his suits in courtrooms); of working with a law firm that has clients (e.g. "Trial Lawyer Morgan Meyer's firm helped its clients pocket $13.2 billion from Obama's stimulus programs"; "Meyer's firm helped Spanish company Cintra turn Texas' State Highway 130 and State Highway 121 into controversial toll roads."); and taking a pragmatic approach to illegal immigration ("certainly [we] want them to be taxpaying members of society if they are here," Meyer says on an audio recording, which Westcott defines as "amnesty.")
The site also brings up Meyer's aforementioned arrest. Meyer's explanation -- that he was a sober but cocky law student in Virginia who got mouthy with a cop and refused to submit to a Breathalyzer -- is at least plausible, given that he was acquitted of criminal DWI charges and had his record expunged.
So, for that matter, is Westcott's explanation of his probationary law license (i.e. that he gave up drinking several years ago but felt morally compelled to admit his former alcoholism on his application to the state bar), not that it stopped Meyer's campaign from plastering the Internet with ads directing readers to an ominous description of the situation on chartonprobation.com.
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Meyer also returned fire on the tenuous claim that he's cozy with Democrats, pointing out (on a URL registered especially for the purpose. naturally) that Westcott and his family have made donations to California Governor Jerry Brown. This, by extension, clearly means that Westcott "supports Obama-style policies like federal funding for abortions, increased welfare funding and the most liberal taxing policies in the nation."
Then, in an ironic little coup, Meyer convinced the state of Virginia to charge Westcott with a misdemeanor for disclosing his expunged criminal charges.
At this point, with the supply of plausible attack URLs dwindling, serious-minded voters might be tempted to throw up their hands. We'll just make a couple of quick observations. One is that, recent salvos notwithstanding, Meyer has established himself as the pragmatist in the race, much less eager than Westcott to mouth conservative dogma. The other is that every 8-year-old knows the tried-and-true method of adjudicating these types of disputes: Westcott started it.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.