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Trivial Pursuits in Texas

Trivial personalities decomposing in the eternity of print.

— Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

Forget substance.  It’s all about the trivial.  The more significant the issue, the more significant the trivial becomes.  It all comes to mind when one considers the issues in which the trivial has been introduced in order to deflect attention from the substantive.  Consider Chris Christie and Wendy Davis.

One of the great comic operas of today is in New Jersey.  The libretto is taken straight from the Nixon years-what did Chris Christie know and when did he know it.  It pertains, of course, to the closure of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge.  The lanes were reportedly closed in retaliation for the failure of Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, to support Mr. Christie’s bid for a second term as governor of New Jersey.   The instructions to close the lanes were sent to David Wildstein at the Port Authority, by Mr. Christie’s former aid, Bridget Anne Kelly. Mr. Christie, denied knowledge of the instructions to close the lanes. In initial reports it was stated that the man who ordered the closures was one of Mr. Christie’s friends in high school but Mr. Christie promptly denied that.  He acknowledged having been in high school at the same time as Wildstein but said:  “David and I were not friends in high school.  We were not even acquaintances in high school “Lest anyone misunderstood that, the Governor also said: “You know, I was the class president and athlete.  I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.” A little research helped him remember a bit more about David. In late January the governor’s office sent out a two-page memorandum that sought to discredit David.  Among other things, it alleged that while in high school David had brought suit over a school board election, and had also been “publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior. ” The remembrances of things past are trivial but, the governor hopes, will cast doubt on David’s credibility.

The governor’s attacks on David Wildstein were partly in response to the peculiarly unlawyer like letter sent to the press by Wildstein’s lawyer.  In the letter the lawyer said there was evidence the governor was complicit in the lane closures.  He forgot to say what the evidence was.

Meanwhile, in Texas the trivial has overshadowed the race to see who will replace Governor Rick Perry.  That race, it will be recalled,  is between Greg Abbott, a Republican and Wendy Davis, a member of the Texas legislature and a Democrat.  (Although each of them faces a primary each of them is certain to win.) Wendy became famous when she conducted an 11 hour filibuster to block the Texas legislature’s attempt to further restrict abortions in that state.

Mr. Abbott has served for 5 years as the Texas Attorney General.  During his tenure he has sued President Obama 27 times.  In campaign speeches he often says his routine is that he goes into the office, “I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”  He has sued the EPA 17 times in opposition to air quality standards and greenhouse gas emissions.  He doesn’t think carbon dioxide is a pollutant since it is emitted by humans.  (He has expressed no opinion on flatulence.)  He has sued the Department of Health and Human Services four times and the Justice Department twice.  Himself a paraplegic, he has argued in court against the requirement that cities be required to provide wheelchair access to buildings on the grounds that the Americans With Disabilities Act is unconstitutional.  Those are just a few of the suits he has brought against the government.

Wendy Davis will probably not be elected as Texas’s next governor.  Since she is running in Texas she probably wouldn’t be elected irrespective of what was disclosed last month.  The disclosures, however, further dim her chances.  They do not concern anything that pertains to the welfare of the citizens of that state.  They do not pertain to what she might do as governor, questions that would seem important in electing a governor.  They pertain to trivial misrepresentations made by her about events in her life that took place many years ago.  They pertain to her description of her life as a young mother, descriptions that generated sympathy for the difficulties she encountered in getting to where she is now.  Many of those events we have learned, were exaggerated or untrue.  They are also irrelevant. She was not divorced when she was 19.  She was separated at age 19 and divorced when she was 21. She said she lived in a mobile home following her divorce but it turns out that was only for a few months.  She said she financed her own undergraduate education with grants, loans and scholarships and then went on to Harvard Law School.  She didn’t disclose that her husband paid her tuition at Harvard.  She will not be elected because Texans wouldn’t want to have a governor who lied about how long she lived in a trailer or how old she was when she got divorced even though non-Texans view those things as trivial.  They’d rather have a governor who is wrong on all issues of substance but has not misrepresented his background.  As New Jersey already has, Texas will end up getting exactly the kind of a governor it deserves.

Christopher Brauchli is a lawyer living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

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