Cruz Poster Boy Is Denton County Sheriff Who Threatened Transgender People

Sen. Ted Cruz, a man who loves cops
Sen. Ted Cruz, a man who loves cops Mike Brooks
Sen. Ted Cruz has a new initiative up and running in his re-election campaign against U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, blasting his challenger for his supposed animosity toward police and touting Cruz's own deep ties to law enforcement. One of the cops prominently featured by Cruz has a backstory worth paying attention to, and not in a good way.

Cruz's campaign is based on a line of attack first broached by the senator during his debate with O'Rourke last month.

In an ad, Cruz blasts O'Rourke for, in the senator's words, calling law enforcement the "new Jim Crow."
Cruz has also trotted out endorsements from 96 Texas sheriffs, all Republicans.

At the risk of distracting from the sheriff who's going to be the star of this little story, let's take a look at the background for Cruz's declaration about O'Rourke.

In September, during a town hall for students at historically black colleges and universities at Prairie View A&M, O'Rourke made a lengthy statement about the inequities of the U.S. criminal justice system.

“That injustice, to many more people here than I know firsthand, continues to persist today,” O’Rourke said. “That system of suspecting somebody solely based on the color of their skin. Searching that person solely based on the color of their skin. Stopping that person solely based on the color of their skin. Shooting someone solely based on the color of their skin. Throwing the book at that person and letting them rot behind bars solely based on the color of their skin. It is why some have called this — I think it’s an apt description— the new Jim Crow."

O'Rourke is clearly talking about the injustices that have built and festered in the criminal justice system over the 140 years or so since the end of Reconstruction, but to hear Cruz tell it, O'Rourke's statements are nothing more than an attack on Texas' police. The senator said it at the debate, and he's repeated it in the weeks since. In the ad, he clips everything but O'Rourke's last sentence to make his point. Setting aside validity, or lack thereof, of Cruz's argument, the vessel with which he chooses to make it is worth a second look. Sixteen seconds in, the ad cuts to a Fox News segment featuring Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree. Murphree, a signatory to the endorsement letter, says that O'Rourke's "rhetoric is divisive and insulting and, most of all, dangerous." According to Murphree, there has been a war on police officers "over the last several years."

It's a dubious sentiment — according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, officers have been killed in the line of duty in about the same numbers since a decline in the late '70s — from a controversial sheriff.

"I feel I have made my position clear that I am not targeting transgenders but concerned about predators taking advantage of the [bathroom] policies." — Tracy Murphree

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Murphree is best known for comments he made during his 2016 campaign in Denton County, when he said that he would assault any transgender person who used a public restroom his daughter was also using.

“This whole bathroom thing is craziness I have never seen.” he said in April 2016. “All I can say is this: If my little girl is in a public restroom and a man, regardless of how he may identify, goes into that bathroom, he will then identify as John Doe until he wakes up in whatever hospital he may be taken to. Your identity does not trump my little girl’s safety.”

Murphree later apologized for his comments but failed to follow through on a promise to meet with Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

“I feel I have made my position clear that I am not targeting transgenders but concerned about predators taking advantage of the [bathroom] policies,” Murphree wrote in an email backing out of the meeting. “I really have nothing else to add.”

The Cruz campaign did not return a request to comment on Murphree's statements. 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young