John Jay Myers owns the Free Man, a Cajun joint in Deep Ellum. He also runs a wholesale embroidery business, has a "deep, deep mistrust of the government," would like to legalize medical marijuana, and thinks we should bring all the U.S. troops home. And he believes Texans are being denied a chance to hear his views in a planned October 2 debate for U.S. Senate candidates on WFAA because of unfair standards for inclusion.
"The Belo-owned --" he begins during a recent phone conversation. He pauses. "Are you guys Belo-owned? Don't tell me you are. No? The Belo-owned media don't like to have alternative parties in their debates."
Myers is running for U.S. Senate, against two better-known and (much) better-funded challengers, Republican Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz and Democrat Paul Sadler. His campaign is planning the protest for Wednesday morning in front of WFAA's headquarters on Young Street, saying that the five criteria WFAA uses to determine who should be included in its debates are unfair, and per the Facebook event invite, "meant to specifically keep out opinions other than those of the two major parties."
According to an email sent by Carolyn Mungo, WFAA's executive news director, to Myers' campaign, the criteria for inclusion are as follows:
- Receives significant levels of public support in independent public opinion polls (e.g. 15 percent, which is the minimum used by the Commission on Presidential Debates).
- Has received substantial campaign contributions from varied sources.
- Has received a substantial level of votes in prior elections for the same or comparable office.
- Expected to be reported by news agencies in election night returns.
- Has received significant news coverage from a wide range of media outlets.
Myers' campaign contends that he has indeed raised a substantial amount of donations, relatively speaking. According to campaign reports, Cruz has raised about $8.8 million and has $1.45 million cash on hand. Sadler has about $139,000 and has a little less than $31,000 cash on hand. Myers says he's raised $11,000; the data we consulted on Open Secrets reports $6,139, with $5,591 cash on hand. Those numbers are from June 30.
Considering that many Libertarian campaigns haven't raised squat, Myers says, "$11,000 at $25 a pop is reasonable. None of that was put in by ourselves." (The other third-party candidate, Michael Louis George, has a little over $86,000, all of it provided by one Michael Louis George.)
Myers' campaign also says neither Sadler nor Cruz meet the polling requirements; polling data on this race is pretty sparse. Cruz has never run for office before, meaning, obviously, he hasn't received "a substantial level of votes" in prior elections, unless you count the Republican primary.
"There seems to be a partisan double standard here," Myers' campaign manager wrote in an email to Mungo, "With no clear guidance regarding exactly how many criteria must be met and to what degree."
Carolyn Mungo had no comment on the planned protest Monday morning. "Our criteria has been in place for quite some time," she told us, "The criteria we've used for debates for the past several years." She denied, too, that any candidate would have to meet all five conditions to be included. "We never said anyone has to meet all the criteria," she told us, not very warmly. "No. That was never communicated."
Neither the Myers camp nor WFAA is saying outright that he's being denied entry into the debate. Mungo points out that in a previous debate, this one for the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary, a third candidate ended up securing an invitation after all.
"Debbie Medina was not initially on our debate list," she says. "As the election progressed, it became apparent that she would be allowed into the debate."
Myers is no stranger to running for office, or to being virtually ignored while he does so. In 2009, he ran for City Council in his home district, District 7, against current council member Carolyn Davis and six other people.
"Rudy Bush covered the whole thing," Myers recalls, referring to one of the Dallas Morning News' City Hall reporters. "Nice guy. Never mentioned us or mentioned that we had a chance." After the election, in which Myers pulled fourth place among the eight candidates, he says, "Rudy emailed me and said, 'We had no idea you would do this good. Had I known, I probably would have talked about you more.'"
In 2010, Myers ran for U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions' seat, garnering a bit more press coverage from Rudy Bush , but not much elsewhere (including us). "We ran into the same thing" as during the City Council race, he says. "We had no idea the press would ignore us."
During this Senate run, his campaign is getting a bit more aggressive. He's been crisscrossing Texas in an RV with five volunteers, giving stump speeches in the DFW area, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Nacogdoches, Tyler, and Mount Pleasant. At every stop, he says, he's drawn "50 or so people, even with the news pretty much denying we exist."
In Houston, he says, they parked the RV outside of the Channel 2 news station, "because they said they didn't want to interview us. We stuck our signs in the yard, pulled our tent out, got all the guys out, all five volunteers, put our seats up and said, 'We're actually sitting right here, so if you come out and interview us that'd be appreciated.'"
"Yeah," Myers says. "A cameraman and a reporter came out. We never actually saw the interview. But they did do the interview."
"This race has gotten so weird," he says reflectively, "that it seems like I'm the ultimate candidate, I'd say, for the broad base of Americans. I'm fiscally conservative. I don't believe the government should be spending our money, because they use it to fund more wars. On the other side of that, I'm socially tolerant. I don't care what you do with your life. I don't care who you marry. I think that's where most Americans sit. I believe that to be true."