Are folks in the Austin lobby starting to catch on that we at Empower Texans mean what we say about our mission and objectives?

I was recently entertained to read a blog post by Austin ethics attorney Andrew Cates entitled “Empower Texans – White Knight in Disguise?” Cates is a liberal Democrat and a lobbyist for the Texas Nurses Association who also blogs about Texas’ so-called “ethics” laws. I frequently disagree with his opinions, but his posts are generally thoughtful and interesting.

In his post about Empower Texans, Cates shuffles between praise for our legal and legislative strategy, party-line condemnation of our “distasteful tactics,” and musings about “3D chess.”

At one point, Cates remarks, “My God, what if [Empower Texans Board Chairman] Tim Dunn and Empower Texans are actually the ethical stalwarts of Texas?”

What if, indeed?

I get the feeling that it may be starting to sink-in for some in the Austin establishment that maybe – just maybe – we at Empower Texans are serious about cleaning up the Austin swamp and are about, as our name indicates, empowering Texans.

The party-line in Austin amongst the lobby and the court-jester media who help promote their agendas is that Empower Texans is just in it for ourselves and our supporters.

Frankly it’s not surprising the Austin lobby thinks this way. Most groups in Austin operate to gain access to the halls of power. But we’ve taken a very different track that leaves us frequently reviled by those in power who fear having their records exposed.

We are consistently fighting battles for the good of the community at significant expense. For example, in our six-plus-year fight against the Texas Ethics Commission, we have repeatedly passed on opportunities to make the case go away for just $500. For any self-interested organization, that offer would have been a no-brainer. But we’re interested in ensuring that Texans are free to petition their public officials without a government permission slip – as is their constitutional right.

When faced with a frivolous lawsuit designed to silence us—we fought back all the way to the Supreme Court. And now under the Sullivan standard, everyday Texans are guaranteed compensation if they are sued for criticizing their public officials.

Likewise, we are currently charting a course for how Texans should respond to frivolous political prosecutions that violate their First Amendment rights. When the Travis County DA appeared interested in abusing an obscure state law to silence our speech, we took them to federal court and put them on the record. The federal court concluded the statute didn’t apply and we were under no fear of prosecution.

Empower Texans is only perceived to have power because our agenda isn’t really ours – it’s the agenda of the people—those who hold the real power in our republic. And they, not us, are the ones winning battle after battle electorally, legislatively, and culturally.

Some might mistake our efforts to empower them as an exercise of our own ability, but if we tried to persuade the people to hold their elected officials accountable over issues of interest only to us we’d simply be tilting at windmills.

Rather than engage in a self-defeating effort to do more to wine and dine legislators than their competitors, some of the special interest lobby groups ought to take notice about the power of the people.

Take, for example, Cates’ organization. He represents the Texas Nurses Association. They are routinely victimized by the more powerful doctors lobby. To flip that script, they would do better if they worked to get nurses themselves more engaged in Texas politics. Or better yet, they should be appealing directly to the patients those nurses serve to advocate for better care.

As for us, we’re just trying to do our best to empower Texans to effectively govern themselves. We don’t fancy ourselves any sort of knights—the white variety or otherwise. But like the good guys in the westerns of old, we do try to wear a white hat and to fight for Texas values and for the good of all citizens. And we don’t wear any disguises.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.