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Battle in Houston Suburbs--Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher v. GOP Cong. John Culberson

Corrupt Lone Star GOP Congressman John Culberson—It’s Time for Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher to Oust Him September 16, 2018

The terms “governing” and GOP constitute an oxymoron. Unless you believe that government exists to create and maintain a culture of corruption. Apparently, many House GOPers seem to think that governing is all about crudely increasing one’s own monetary fortune at the expense of the people they’re supposed to represent. Demagogue Donald, his relatives, and appointees, have, of course, set a “shining” example for their House lackeys. Remember Donald’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of special interests? We now know that “draining the swamp” in “Donald World” means —adding tons of fetid water where he and his corrupt GOP malarial mosquitos can breed more and more illegal monetary sums from top lobbyists and cronies. Several House GOPers have been afflicted with similar virulent cases of corruption malaria that recently made headlines. Remember NY GOP Cong. Trump stalwart Chris Collins? On 8/08/2018, Cong. Collins was indicted in federal court on 13 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, and false statements stemming from an alleged insider trading scheme centered on an Australian pharmaceutical company, Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited. According to the 30-page indictment, Collins received email information about a failed multiple sclerosis drug trial from that company’s CEO that he passed on to his son and others, so that they could sell stock in this company before this information became public (CNN, Orden, 8/08/18). On 8/21/2018, 5th term San Diego, CA- area GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter, another Trump loyalist, was indicted along with his wife in federal court on 60 counts, for using more than $250,000 in campaign funds for personal purposes. Hunter was charged, among other things, with buying clothes at a golf club shop and billing them to his campaign as “balls for wounded warriors (latimes.com, 8/27/18, Smith, J., nytimes.com, Collins, 8/24/18).” Hunter was also charged with using campaign funds to pay for the family bunny’s airline ticket (latimes.com, Lopez, S., 9/05/18, Christopher, T., 9/05/18, shareblue.com).

On 8/27/2018, Texas Democrats, based on research compiled by the Democratic Congressional Committee (DCCC), filed complaints with the Federal Elections Commission and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics against Houston GOP Congressman John Culberson, another Trump supporter. The complaints challenge nearly $50,000 in campaign spending since 2004 on books, coins, Civil War memorabilia, and other collectibles, some reported as “donor gifts.” Cong. Culberson has reported selling as much as $1.3 million in antiques and collectibles since 2010 which he claims he did as a “personal hobby,” not an investment asset. Since Culberson called his collection “personal,” he has not been required to publicly detail this information in congressional disclosure reports. Culberson claimed that all of the contested spending was either “research material” or “modest gifts” to campaign contributors and volunteers over the 19 years he’s been in office. Culberson was attacked by Democrats for investing in the same Australian biotech stock company, Immunotherapeutics, at the center of the insider trading charges brought against Chris Collins. Culberson bought into that company in 2017 and sold his stock at a loss before that company’s share price plummeted to pennies on the dollar (Diaz, 8/27/18, houstonchronicle.com). The complaints also spotlight Culberson’s use of campaign funds in 2009 to pay for a $375 membership in the TX State Rifle Association, and a $309 purchase at the Black Hills Institute, which sells and rents fossils. Culberson, who has questioned the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, claimed that his buying and renting fossil materials “helped give him a better understanding of changing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” Fred Wertheimer, president and CEO of the non-partisan watchdog group “Democracy 21,” stated that there are “plausibility problems to argue you didn’t buy these for investments, but you sold them for more than a million dollars (houstonchronicle.com, Diaz, 8/27/18).” Who is Cong. Culberson?

Ninth-term GOP Congressman John Culberson (62) currently represents TX’s 7th Congressional District (CD). The Lone Star 7th is centered in West Houston and its suburbs. This CD includes Houston’s Uptown District, the city of Bellaire, and West University Place (“West U”). The 7th’s CD’s Hunter’s Creek Village is the wealthiest community in TX, with nearby Bunker Hill and Piney Point not far behind. Energy, insurance, health care, and retailing bolster the 7th. The Galleria, one of the country’s largest malls, draws more than 26 million yearly visitors. Most of Houston’s business and professional elite reside in the 7th . (Barone & CQ 2014 Political Almanacs).

The 7th is the descendant of the district that elected H.W. Bush to Congress in 1966, the first GOPer to represent Houston in the House (Barone 14). The 7th CD has been in GOP hands for five decades. Politics, however, does not remain static. After the 2012 redistricting, the redrawn 7th became a majority-minority district for the first time. A sizeable Hispanic population is now largely concentrated in areas along Highway 6 and southwest Houston. Whites currently constitute 45% of the 7th’s population. There is also a black and Asian American presence. According to former Culberson staffer Tony Essalih, voters from more-“left-leaning” cities, including NY, Chicago, LA, Boston, and D.C. have also moved into the area while the old Anglo GOP voters are dying (houstonpublicmedia.org, Schneider, 2/19/18, See Barone 14). In 2012, Romney took nearly 60% of the vote. In 2016, many of the highly educated normally GOP voters in the 7th were turned off by crude Demagogue Donald and his trade and immigration stands. Hillary won the 7th by a 1.4% margin, 48.5% -47.1% (centerforpolitics.org, Sabato’s Crystal Ball). The Lone Star 7th is one of 25 GOP-held House seats that Hillary took in 2016 and is expected to be among one of the House’s most competitive elections in Campaign 2018. “Politico” listed the TX 7th as one of the “top 10 House races to watch in 2018 (“Politico,” 12/25/17).” The 4/2017 Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) gave the 7th an R+7 lean. However, in 8/2018, the Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” rated the congressional race for this seat a “Toss-Up,” while “Inside Elections” with Nathan Gonzales called this race a “Tilt Republican One.” In 2016, Culberson handily won re-election by 12.4 points. Despite his 2016 race and his previous “slam-dunk” wins, Culberson is now very vulnerable.

On 5/22/2018, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher won her primary run-off to take on Culberson. Former Culberson staffer Essalih stated that in the year of the #MeToo” movement, should a woman get the Democratic nomination, “that’s going to make it tougher for Culberson (Schneider, houstonpublicmedia.org).” Essalih believed that Culberson will suffer from voters still upset about their slow recovery from Hurricane Harvey (See, houstonpublicmedia.org). This election will, additionally, be a referendum on Donald Trump, who remains very unpopular. Even without the heavy hostility to Trump, Essalih and most pundits agree that the president’s party usually loses 30-plus seats in the House (See, houstonpublicmedia.org). Remember, Dems need a net 23 seat gain to take back that chamber.

Even without the corruption charge hanging over him, Culberson’s record as a Trump lackey should not help in the college-educated affluent 7th. Culberson initially endorsed Ted Cruz for President. After the GOP convention, Culberson backed Donald. He never commented about Trump’s sexist Access Hollywood tape. Culberson has voted with Donald 97.8% of the time (shareblue.com, Christopher, 8/30/18, “The Hill,”4/17/15, texastribune.org, Svitek, 10/09/16). Culberson is anti-choice. He is for repealing Obamacare, and is for building the wall on the Mexican border, a Trump obsession (votesmart.org). Culberson, for all his talk about “studying” fossils to “understand” global warming, strongly rejects the scientific consensus on climate change and claims scientists have falsified the evidence (Hiltzik, latimes.com, culberson.house.gov, 12/14/09). Why be surprised? In 2016, climate-change denial/polluting Koch Industries gave Culberson $10,000 in campaign contributions (opensecrets.org).

Houston resident and native Lizzie Pannill Fletcher graduated from St. John’s School. Pannill Fletcher graduated from Keynon College in 1997. After working several years, including at Houston’s Alley Theatre, she received her law degree from VA’s William and Mary in 2006. While in law school, she was elected editor-in-chief of the school’s law review. In 2006, she began practicing law at the powerhouse Houston Vinson and Elkins firm. A few years later, she joined a 50-person Houston firm that focuses on business litigation and became the firm’s first female partner. She represented Houstonians from diverse business and social backgrounds. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America and a Texas SuperLawyer (lizziefletcher.com). She was a co-founder of Planned Parenthood Young Leaders in 2000. As a volunteer attorney, she helped dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline. She is a board member of Writers in the Schools (WITS) and deals with many young Houstonians. After speaking with many Houstonians in the 7th CD, she agreed with them that it was time to replace Cong. Culberson with someone who really represents their city in welcoming newcomers, pushing science, and helping their neighbors. Pannill Fletcher’s campaign emphasizes jobs, infrastructure, and the economy. She also has a detailed plan to rebuild Houston after Hurricane Harvey’s disastrous flooding, including constructing more reservoirs, revising floodplain maps, and ensuring federal projects are completed in time and on budget. Pannill Fletcher has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, former Dem. Cong. Chris Bell, and Roe v. Wade attorney Sarah Weddington (Pannell Fletcher for Cong., Home, 1/28/18, “Houston Chronicle”).

As of 7/2018, Pannill Fletcher has raised more than $2 million, with 75% of these funds coming from TX and 68% of them from Houstonian-area residents (houstonpublicmedia.org). Yes, in what is looking like a Democratic “wave” year, there are grounds for cautious optimism. However, this is still a GOP-leaning area in “Red” TX and nothing is “in the bag.” A recent NY Times/Siena College Poll gives Culberson a 49%-46% edge with 5% undecided (nytimes.com). Bet on national GOPers and other “Red sugar daddies” like the Kochs to bolster Culberson’s campaign with oodles of dollars. Yes, Pannill Fletcher has a majority-minority district, but Hispanic and young turn out has previously been poor. She will have to turn out these groups “big time” to win. And, remember, Hillary barely won this district in 2016 when Donald was on the ballot while Culberson skated to victory. The 2018 contest against incumbent Culberson will be no “cake-walk.” Pannill Fletcher will also need cross-over GOP voters which will require at least $1.5-$2 million, and probably more. And some of these GOP voters Pannill Fletcher is aiming for will “never vote for a Democrat,” according to Rice University political science professor Bob Stein (See Schneider, houstonpubicmedia.org, 2/19/18). TX Democrats and those nationwide must continue to come to Pannill Fletcher’s financial aid and help her with a strong get-out-the vote drive. Corrupt/crooked Culberson does not represent the real Houston 7th CD. On 11/06/2018, it is time for Culberson to go and for Pannill Fletcher and fellow “Team Blue” members to take back the House. In a 9/13/2018 speech in Cleveland, OH, former Pres. Obama said it all to a fired-up Democratic base, “The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference…Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes… I need you to come through. But more importantly, the country needs you to come through… You’re the only check on abuses of power, it’s you and your vote (huffingtonpost.com, Visser, 9/13/18).”