Election

A Look Back on Five Utterly Embarrassing Moments from the Midterm Election Season in Texas

Voters will cast their ballots on Tuesday in the midterm elections.
Voters will cast their ballots on Tuesday in the midterm elections. Getty Images
Eccentricity is as Texan as a deep-fried Oreo, but this midterm election season has offered a staggering number of ridiculous moments.

With voters around the country heading to the ballot box on Tuesday, the Observer looks back on a few of the most absurd moments in the 2022 election season. From the primaries until now, and in no particular order and in an entirely non-comprehensive fashion, here are some of the best (worst):

Matthew Dowd, reputed 'white male Christian'

Matthew Dowd threw in the towel early, but he did so for reasons that sparked an awful lot of laughs and derision. Initially hoping to clinch the Democratic nomination for Texas lieutenant governor, Dowd called it quits all the way back in December.

“When I first announced, the only other candidate was a white male Christian,” Dowd said upon resigning. “A diverse field is now emerging in the Democratic primary for this office. I do not want to be the one who stands in the way of the greater diversity we need in politics.”

Predictably, his explanation prompted some backlash. Some commended his move, but here’s how many read it: A candidate of color couldn’t possibly beat Dowd, a “white male Christian,” so he wanted to even the playing field.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson even jumped into the mix, tweeting that he was “confused and a little disturbed” by Dowd’s logic.

Dallas City Council member Adam Bazaldua also took a turn at the plate, blasting Dowd for his “micro-aggression at its finest” and asking whether we’re meant to conclude that “the only chance a woman or BIPOC candidate has to win is by eliminating white Christian candidates as a choice.”

In the end, Mike Collier, a verified white male, ended up winning the spot, and he’s leaned into his past life as a Republican in a bid to unseat Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Shelley Luther, generally speaking

When it comes to Shelley Luther, the Dallas hair salon owner whose entire political claim to fame rests on the fact that she refused to shut down during the height of the pandemic, it’s a slog trying to pick just one moment.

After losing her 2020 primary bid to join the Texas Senate, Luther threw her name out there again when she tried to run in the Republican primary for House District 62 earlier this year.

No doubt, it’s hard to stand out for bigotry in a state where the governor and everyone on his team refer to migration as an “invasion.” But Luther managed to rise to the top for a brief instance when she called on the state to bar Chinese students from attending universities.

“Chinese students should be BANNED from attending all Texas universities,” she wrote in a now-deleted tweet initially posted in January. “No more Communists!”

She went on to insist Texas taxpayers shouldn't be "subsidizing the next generation" of Chinese Communist Party leaders.

Never content, she later went on to say that transgender kids made her “not comfortable.”

“I am not comfortable with the transgenders, um, the kids that they brought in my classroom, um, when they said that this kid is transgendering [sic] into a different sex,” Luther said in February at a candidate forum in Fannin County.

“That I couldn’t have kids laugh at them,” she added, apparently suggesting that other students should feel free to mock their transgender classmates.

Who can say why, but Luther didn't end up winning her primary.

The Abbott family solicits your prayers

It wasn’t exactly a campaign-related incident, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is kind of always on the campaign trail, right?

In January, the governor's office called on the faithful to join in when it announced the Governor’s Response Against Child Exploitation (GRACE) initiative would host the second annual “Week of Prayer to End Human Trafficking.”

"I invite Texans of all faiths to join us in prayer and action so that we can put an end to human trafficking once and for all,” Cecilia Abbott, the governor’s wife, said in a statement at the time.

No one doubts the horrors of human trafficking, but prayers might not cut it when it comes to eradicating the criminal industry. After all, if prayers did the trick, why would Texas have needed a second annual week of pleading for divine intervention to end the scourge of human trafficking?

Apparently, Abbott himself doesn’t actually think prayers are enough. Otherwise, you’d have to wonder why he’s dropped billions of dollars into Operation Lone Star, a controversial, state-led border crackdown that’s had seriously questionable results.

Ted Cruz apologizes over the Capitol riot

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has made a name for himself as someone who jumps ship when the moral waters get rough. That was definitely the case when the Texas Republican apologized – and apologized and backtracked and apologized – for initially condemning U.S. Capitol rioters.

After supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Cruz emerged as unequivocal in his condemnation. In fact, he described the people who ransacked and vandalized the Capitol and attacked police officers as “domestic terrorists.”

But Cruz soon ran into a problem. Most Texas Republicans – his constituents, that is – didn’t see the Capitol riot the same way he did. Nor did national right-wing pundits like Tucker Carlson of Fox News.

After reiterating his disapproval ahead of the riot’s one-year anniversary, Cruz caught backlash from Carlson and other talking heads. Rather than stand his ground, the senator went on Carlson’s show and apologized for his “sloppy” and “frankly dumb” phrasing. (Carlson didn’t seem to buy it.)

As if one wet-mouthed display of groveling wasn’t enough, Cruz went on to continue rewriting the history of his publicly stated views on the Capitol riot.

Last month, in an interview with Fox’s Mark Levin, Cruz accused anyone who described the riot as an “insurrection” of parroting “complete political garbage” and engaging in “partisan spin.”

You must wonder why no one asked Cruz whether it was really more biting to describe the riot as an “insurrection” than dubbing it, say, a “domestic terror attack,” as he initially did.

Capitol riot defendant running for state House

Speaking of the Jan. 6 events, Texas briefly had its own Capitol riot defendant running for state House in the Republican primary.

Mark Middleton, who was arrested months after his alleged involvement the U.S. Capitol riot, later ran in the primary election for the Republican slot in District 68, a portion of the state that stretches from parts of the Texas-Oklahoma border all the way down to the northern tip of Hill Country.

Middleton and his wife had allegedly traveled to Washington, D.C., to help stop the supposed steal, and on the day of the riot, they were caught on body cam footage clashing with police officers, federal prosecutors later alleged.

Middleton went on a tour of right-wing gatherings, stopping at several spots outside his district. Much of his platform seemed to hinge on the fact that he'd been present on Jan. 6.

Speaking to the Observer during his primary campaign, Middleton explained his reasons for running: “It wasn’t on my radar to run now … I wanted to get the J6 stuff behind me, but on the same token, as a Christian, as a studier of God, and as a follower of God, he sometimes works in ways we don’t expect.”

In the end, God did work in ways Middleton probably didn't expect. David Spiller, the incumbent state representative in District 68, won the nomination.
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Patrick Strickland is the former news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's worked as a senior reporter at Al Jazeera English. His reporting has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.

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