Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
About Chris Cillizza  |  On Twitter: The Fix and The Hyper Fix  |  On Facebook  |  On YouTube  |  RSS Feeds RSS Feed

Insider Interview: Matt Angle's Lone Star Mission

The last week has been a busy one for Matt Angle. He's been fighting two simultaneous battles -- the first against the 2003 Texas congressional redistricting plan that drove his former boss from the House, and the second against the architect of that strategy -- Rep. Tom DeLay (R).

Can Matt Angle reverse Republicans' 2003 redrawing of Texas's congressional districts? (Photo courtesy Matt Angle)

Angle isn't a household name to casual political observers, but he -- perhaps more than any other Democrat in Texas -- is responsible for the aggressive stance the party has taken toward DeLay and other Lone Star State Republicans since the 2004 election.

A longtime political operative for Texas Democratic Rep. Martin Frost, Angle watched as Republicans rejiggered Frost's Dallas-area 24th District two years ago, forcing the powerful Democratic lawmaker to choose one of several unsavory districts in which to seek reelection in 2004. Frost ultimately chose the 32nd, which was held by Rep. Pete Sessions (R). In the most costly House election of 2004 (more than $9 million was spent by just the two candidates), Frost was defeated 54 percent to 44 percent -- one of four Texas Democrats to lose House seats in November 2004 (one other switched parties, and another retired).

On the outside looking in for the first time in more than two decades, Angle decided to form the Lone Star Project in early 2005, a federal political action committee that would serve as a fact-checker on the Republican Party on both the state and national levels.

"My belief was that -- particularly in Texas -- you had a situation where you had the Republican leaders failing," said Angle. "[They were] not just failing as political leaders but as leaders generally. My thought was to not just complain but to show people exactly why there was a problem."

Angle keeps the group's goal focused -- no national advertising campaign, rather it's all about "political and some policy analysis that is research-based," in his words.

Angle quickly got a chance to prove his mettle when Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle began looking into potential fundraising abuses by the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC), an offshoot of DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority federal PAC (ARMPAC).

At issue is $190,000 in corporate contributions by TRMPAC to the Republican National Committee in 2002, and the RNC's subsequent donation of that same amount of money to seven candidates for the Texas state House. Under Texas state law, corporate contributions cannot be made to state legislative races. Prosecutors have alleged that TRMPAC officials -- several of whom have close personal and professional ties to DeLay -- essentially sought to launder corporate contributions through the RNC.

Angle sprung into action, using the Lone Star Project as an information clearinghouse for all things DeLay. The organization "particularly became relevant as the unethical activities of Tom DeLay came more to light," Angle reflected. "Because I had followed that closely I knew quite a bit about what DeLay has done as it related to TRMPAC."

DeLay was ultimately indicted last fall by Earle on a charge of criminal conspiracy in relation to the TRMPAC donation. As a result, DeLay was forced to step down from his position as House majority leader (the chamber's second ranking post) and faces a serious reelection fight in his suburban Houston 22nd District. DeLay faces a four-way Republican primary tomorrow and must win more than 50 percent of the primary vote to avoid an April 11 runoff against the next-highest GOP vote-getter.

If, as expected, DeLay wins the nomination, he will face two former congressmen in the November general election. Former Rep. Nick Lampson, another Democrat who lost in 2004, is the likely Democratic nominee; former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, who lost to Lampson in 1996 after just a single term in Congress, is plotting a run as an independent.

"DeLay is badly, badly damaged and the damage has not ended," said Angle. "I have every reason to believe that if he survives the primary he could lose in November in a district that is heavily Republican."

DeLay's ultimate political undoing could well be the result of the 2003 redistricting that he helped engineer, which slightly lowered the number of Republican voters in his own district, that he both engineered and helped push through the state legislature.

The redrawing of Texas's congressional lines came after Republicans gained control of the state House in 2002, giving them the chance to revisit the map drawn by a federal panel after the then-divided legislature deadlocked in 2001. Angle helped spearhead the appeals to that map, which were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last Wednesday.

In the lead-up to the court hearing, Angle worked donors and the press in an attempt to convey the importance of redistricting in the political process. On the day the court heard oral arguments, Angle organized two press conferences to bracket the event. In the morning, the Lone Star Project sponsored a talk with a group of state and national lawmakers from Texas.

After the hearing, Angle convened another gathering, this time with Paul Smith, the attorney who argued the Democrats' case, and Gerry Hebert -- the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, which included the League of United Latin American Citizens and other groups. Frost and former Democratic Reps. Max Sandlin and Ken Bentsen attended the briefing. Smith and Hebert expressed optimism that the Court would invalidate either part of or the entire map, but The Post's own Charles Lane was skeptical about that prospect in his story the next day.

The budget for Angle's operation is miniscule when compared to some other political action committees in Washington. For the last six months of 2005, the Lone Star Fund (the fundraising arm of the Lone Star Project) brought in just $10,000 and ended the year with a meager $1,200 on hand.

Angle insists he never envisioned Lone Star as "a huge political operation," and its small size certainly creates a David vs. Goliath struggle against the Texas Republican Party, whose officials control every statewide office and 22 of the state's 32 congressional districts.

Angle remembers a time when Texas was so dominated by Democrats that the party primaries were the only races that mattered. That pendulum has nearly swung all the way to the opposite side now, with intra-party squabbles among Republicans generally more competitive than general elections -- especially in statewide contests.

What facilitated that 180-degree turn? According to Angle, it was a series of Democratic presidential nominees beginning in 1984 with Walter Mondale and stretching all the way through the Clinton administration who were "not acceptable" to Texas voters. Those candidates led moderate and conservative Texas Democrats to abandon the party in droves in the 1980s and 1990s. The transformation was made complete when Gov. George W. Bush was elected president in 2000.

The Democrats' road back to majority status in the state is not a short one, said Angle. He pointed to the 2010 gubernatorial race as a statement contest for the party. Between now and then "there has to be an intellectual transformation in Texas," Angle said. "Democrats have to re-earn the voters' trust."

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 6, 2006; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  House , Insider Interview  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Weekend Fix
Next: Frist's Quiet Trip to S.C.


Bobby Wightman-Cervantes
"It will not end there - here in South Texas where we know the truth - Martin Frost and Tom Delay are the same person -"

I invite you and anyone else who believes this Trash to go to the record.

Posted by: comeon | March 8, 2006 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I will be a great day when Delay is gone. But the change in how to get voters is trying to find out what they want and then trying to get it for them. If Demoncrats keep doing the same ole same ole and want to see change that is the defination of insanity. We must see that the issues of the 40's don't win the election of the 21 century. Enuf said.

Posted by: reececonrad | March 6, 2006 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Oh Chris, you biased schizophrenic opinator - last week the kool-aid drinkers were calling you a Republican hack today you are a liberal hack -

so long as the kool aide drinkers on both sides are calling you biased then you must be doing your job

BObby Wightman-Cervantes

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | March 6, 2006 6:13 PM | Report abuse

In the lead-up to the court hearing, Angle worked donors and the press in an attempt to convey the importance of redistricting in the political process

What a joke! A left-wing group manipulates the press. This fool doesn't even describe it as a liberal group, but a "federal" committee. The only FIX Chris knows is how he tries t fix media coverage to favors dems. At least the blogoshere is laughing at him. To pretend you are not bias is a sad bit of dementia. Have someone, that one person you know who isn't a die hard liberal, read anything your write and ask them to guess your politics. The WaPo has become so irrelevant except as an example of media bias no one wonders why the readership is spiralling down.

Posted by: Karen | March 6, 2006 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Janet: you are absolutely right. I was taking the column at face value but you reminded me of the real truths behind these seismic changes in the electorate.

Unfortunately, the GOP has already been successful in dumbing down a large block of the electorate to the point that they will believe anything they are told. The best proof of this will be in '08 when whomever the GOP anoints is accepted without question by the GOP faithful. I recall asking several GOP'ers back in 2000: "why is Bush better than McCain?" The only answer: a shrug.

Wielded by the unscrupulous (think Rove, Darth Cheney or Adolf Hitler) blind acceptance is a powerful tool, one that cements loyalty without thought or a second look.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 6, 2006 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Carl Leonard,
It's amazing that you would say that Hillary should be "serving time with her so called husband". What for? Your assanine statements only serve to illustrate the fact that republicans are hypocrites. I wonder if you and the other kool-aid drinkers would say the same thing about George Bush. Doesen't he deserve to go to jail for lying to congress and the american people, and for breaking the law by illegaly spying on american citizens? NOoooooooo....of cousre not....b/c he's a Republican. Republicans always spout nonsense crap about the 'Rule of Law', but when they have the chance to back up their words with action, they show their true colors. People who make such comments show that the republican party is the pinnacle of stupidity and hypocrisy.

Posted by: Ohio guy | March 6, 2006 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Carl Leonhard, it's Rove who's been pushing Hillary as the Dem candidate in 2008, which the GOP would understandably love. But I'm guessing you either knew that and are trolling, or you're the typical down-market, kool-aid drinking, hay-seed ignoramus who passes for a GOP voter these days.

Posted by: karl's buddy | March 6, 2006 2:55 PM | Report abuse

First I have a comment for Judge Crater. Per my mother, the exodus from the Democratic party to the GOP is a matter of white-flight. LBJ knew that his actions to promote civil rights would have repercussions with the white-vote in the south. In my opinion, good-riddance. Let the GOP take all the homo-phobes, bible-toters and racists.

The area where we must concentrate our resources is on education. The only means to open the minds of the ignorant to tolerance is through education. Bush and the GOP have consistently cut funding to higher education. The GOP flourish when they push their propaganda to ignorant sheep (I mean voters). We must improve the educational system, this is the only way to ensure that the future of the US is democracy, rather than continued hypocricy.

Mr. Angle is on the right track. We must fight corruption with the truth.

Posted by: Janet from Texas | March 6, 2006 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Dear Editor.
The democrat party is ceating a terible diservice to the American voters. They are pushing Hillary Clinton for President. She should be serving time with her so called husband. Is the party blind?
They both prove if you are in politics crime does pay.

Posted by: carl leonhard sr. | March 6, 2006 1:22 PM | Report abuse

The David and Goliath analogy is a good one and can work if Matt maintains the faith. These things do go in cycles, cycles that can last a lifetime. As Texas Republicans now begin the process of eating their own young, opportunities for qualified candidates who run as Democrats and who identify with the "little people", will increase. Dick Morris correctly identified immigration reform as a bellweather issue for Texas political party alignment in the future. Interestingly, Mr. Bush may protect his party from itself on this issue while he is in office. After that I am predicting that the national Republicans will figure out a way to make Matt Angle look like a prophet from Texas.

Posted by: Mike from Austin | March 6, 2006 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Judge has it right - Democrat Bill Richardson has become incredibly popular in West Texas even though he is from NM - my ticket is Bill Richardson/Barak Obama - the Republicans will poo poo their pants

I will say thought - Republican Senator Susan Collins from Maine could put a Bill Richardson ticket into a tail spin -

in a race between Richardson and McCain, Richarson would bury McCain alive in Texas -

People want positive moral leadership and not this everyone who does not comply with the ten commandments is going to IDAHO -

Imagine a candidate who makes a promise on a hand shake and keeps it - this is what the people want -

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | March 6, 2006 11:01 AM | Report abuse

"What facilitated that 180-degree turn? According to Angle, it was a series of Democratic presidential nominees beginning in 1984 with Walter Mondale and stretching all the way through the Clinton administration who were "not acceptable" to Texas voters."

I very much doubt that Hubert H. Humphrey was an 'acceptable' candidate to most Texans in 1968. Apparently, they have been unhappy ever since LBJ lost the nomination in '68.

Were they really that unhappy with Clinton at the beginning of his terms in office? Were Clinton's numbers >60% everywhere but Texas? Hard to believe.

My bet would be that a southern centrist could definitely make a run for it in TX. The fact that the GOP isn't going to nominate another texan will weaken the turnout below 2000 and 2004 levels. An attractive Democratic candidate will dampen the GOP turnout; crossover voting is too much to hope for everywhere except around Austin.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 6, 2006 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Great profile. I have worked with Angle in the past and he is as good as they come. Smart, tough and principled.

It should also be noted that he was the last DCCC Exec Director to pick up seats both in 1996 and again in 1998.

Posted by: Fix Fan | March 6, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse


Getting the facts straight - anyone who knows my posts here knows I have been fighting hard to wake up the TExas Democratic Party - it may be too late -

First let me say, on Wednesday morning we will know who the Democratic will be who will run against Gov. Rick Perry - we must win this battle - if the US Supreme Court forces another session on redistricting - which seems likely a Democratic in the Governor's House will mean 3-8 additional Democrats in the US House of Representatives -

Wake up Howard - the race in Delay's district is important - the Race for Governor is life and death for the Texas and National Democratic Party -

On Wednesday morning the money must start to flow to the Texas Democratic Candidate for governor- and Washington - stop the stupidity stop sending limited money to Radnofsky - we need the money for the Governor's race.

It will not end there - here in South Texas where we know the truth - Martin Frost and Tom Delay are the same person - the Democrats are going down fast -

In the race for the 38th District for the state legislature - the lead candidate in terms of money is Eddie Lucio III - although he claims to be a Democratic most of his money is coming from Conservative Republican organizations including from the same man who funded the Swift Boat Veterans.

The Republicans are now running their candidates as Democrats and the Democratic leadershiup in Austin is helping expedite the process of destroying the last vestages of the Democratic Party. Howard Dean and company need to demand the resignation of the Texas Democratic Party Chair now or relinguish Texas to the Republicans

Unfortunately for Texas and the National Democratic Party no one is in charge who can lead a battle based on a moral imperative (I mean positive morality - not negative morality where everyone ends up in Idaho)Stand for equality, freedom, honor etc In Texas the entire leadership of the TExas Democratic party is so corrupt they cannot speak to honor or integrity with a straight face.

Those in the know know that Ronnie Earle is as corrupt if not more corrupt than Tom Delay - in the end the people of Sugarland Texas (Delay turf) may realize this and let him slide -

Here in South Texas we know all too well what happens when a morally corrupt Democratic Party takes control - the decision of the Texas Democrats to ignore this issue could mean that Delay survives why replace one morally defunct person with another?

Democrats to win need to take a stand against the money - they will never do this because they are taking the money as fast as the Republicans -

The Democrats complainting about the money is like Claude Raines in Casa Blanca saying "I'm shocked I'm shocked there is gambling going on in here" and then the waiter gives Claude Raines his winnings for the night.

Yes I know kind of disjointed - my point is - two fold - [1] the Delay race is meaningingless in the bigger picture - at best winning the Delay race could mean winning the battle but losing the war because the Texas Democratic leadership and Howard Dean fail to understand that you cannot win on the back of Tom Delay alone - the TExas Democratic Leadership needs leadership - it needs someone who can win the hearts and minds of the people of Texas based on positive morals - honor, integrity etc -

Second, while we focus on Tom Delay the Republicans are now running their candidates as Democratics in Democratic strongholds - if there is another redistricting the question becomes how will these DINO's (Democrats in Name Only) vote? They will vote to redistrict Democracts out of the State of Texas.

It will be sad if the Delay Race turns out to be the redistricting the Republicans need to outflank the Democrats by running Republicans as Democrats and then redistricting Democrats out of existence in Texas.

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | March 6, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Chris, how could you write something nice about a Democrat? All the Internuts depend on you to only promote Republicans. You are causing massive cognitive dissonance!

Posted by: Silent Cal | March 6, 2006 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Redistricting is amongst the most important causes for the partisanship that has reached intolerable levels in Washington. DeLay is a big big part of that.

Posted by: Change PoV | March 6, 2006 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes, where are you?

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 6, 2006 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Kudos to Mr. Angle. There is no reason that Democrats should just surrender such a large and important state as Texas. Especially as its demographics continue to change. The Democrats can be competitive there and he's setting a good example by making a stand.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | March 6, 2006 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Kudos to Mr. Angle. There is no reason that Democrats should just surrender such a large and important state as Texas. Especially as its demographics continue to change. The Democrats can be competitive there and he's setting a good example by making a stand.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | March 6, 2006 8:24 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company