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Loud and Proud

By Erica C. Barnett

JULY 24, 2000:  Texas proud? Hell, these guys are practically rabid. When the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sent out a tongue-in-cheek "travel advisory" warning people to stay away from Texas because of the state's embarrassingly low child immunization rate (below the national average of 80%, and less than 70% in Houston), Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy decided he wasn't about to sit by silently while Texas got smeared by a bunch of Bush-bashing, Yankee Democrats. So he called up a handful of his close, personal friends -- among them longtime political consultant Bill Miller and former state legislator Mark Stiles -- and posed a question: How would they like to form an ad hoc committee dedicated to protecting Texas' good name in the media?

Miller and Stiles -- along with former TNRCC director Dan Pearson, ex-health commissioner David Smith, and State Board of Education member Will Davis, Democrats and independents all -- said that would be just dandy, and last week, the Proud of Texas Committee was formed. The six men kicked off the group's PR campaign by sending letters to presidential hopefuls George W. Bush and Al Gore. The committee members told their home-state candidate they would work to prevent "misrepresentations presented in the media during a heated national election campaign" by "speak[ing] out when information presented in the media about Texas is incorrect." In contrast, their letter to Gore was a three-page-long critique of "misrepresentations by your campaign to the media," including statements Gore has made on education, criminal justice, and health care in Texas.

"This is just an ad hoc thing where we're going to watch and call bullshit on stuff that people are saying that's not right," Miller says. "There's a lot of things being said about the state that are unfair," particularly by Gore, Miller adds -- statements, he says, that are picked up, repeated, and amplified by the media.

"The media reports on those things and we're trying to help them figure out what's what," says Stiles. "I don't get upset if the Astros have a losing season anymore, but I do get upset about [misrepresentations of] Texas. This is really a great state. I think a lot of people are just jealous."

Levy says the committee won't spend any money and doesn't have any firm plans so far, other than to canvass the media to make sure they aren't portraying Texas in a negative or unfair light. "Basically, we threw a grenade and we're going to see where it lands," Levy says.

Does "Proud of Texas" -- which Levy is quick to point out is "a committee, not a campaign" -- have an agenda beyond keeping Texas' reputation untarnished? Levy insists the group is nonpartisan: "This is not about Bush, this is not about politics, it's about 'don't make Texas a tool for a re-election campaign, and don't make cheap shots,'" he says. But given the enthusiasm with which Levy's magazine has (however tacitly) supported Bush in his run for president -- and the players' clear interest in having the governor of their state elected to the nation's highest office -- we'll take the gamble that it isn't just the Lone Star State these six Texans are proud of.

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