Republican challengers to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have been making a meal out of an incident during Texas Senate debate on tightening abortion clinic regulations.
One example: In an interview on Lubbock’s KFYO-AM, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said, “The current incumbent lieutenant governor went out for drinks during the legislative session when that bill was originally on the Senate floor.”
Staples made clear in the interview that that he wasn’t referring to the night state Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered abortion restrictions, June 25-26, but to earlier debate over the same measure, Senate Bill 5, in the first summer special session called by Gov. Rick Perry. Under Democratic fire, the proposal perished in that session, but it passed into law in a second special session.
Not all versions of the claim about Dewhurst’s whereabouts have been so clear.
On a website launched Aug. 16, 2013, by state Sen. Dan Patrick (who, like Staples, is a Republican challenging Dewhurst for the lieutenant governorship) comic cat videos illustrate “the night that will live in Texas political infamy” — Davis’ filibuster — with captions claiming that Dewhurst “was out having a glass of wine with a political consultant friend” on “the night of the important pro-life bill debate.”
Another Republican challenger, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, alluded to failed leadership and “vanities like expensive steak dinners with overpriced consultants,” according to a July 12 news blog entry by The Dallas Morning News.
Staples raised the issue again at a Sept. 16 debate, according to a Houston Chronicle news story posted that day, which quoted him as saying, “You don’t go out to eat and drink with lobbyists when there are issues on the floor of the Senate that you are supposed to be dealing with.”
It’s not uncommon for legislators to step out and grab dinner when work runs late, nor for the lieutenant governor to hand off the duty of presiding over the proceedings to a senator. So, what exactly happened on the night in question?
As the Senate debated amendments late on June 18 before voting to send the abortion proposal to the House, Dewhurst chaired most of the evening session and also watched over the final vote. In between, he stepped out for a time — newspapers reported that tweets placed him at a steakhouse eight blocks from the Capitol — and he confirmed to reporters when he returned that he’d been at Austin Land and Cattle. “No steak,” though, he said, and didn’t answer a question about whether he’d had any wine.
Reporters and Legislature-watchers registered surprise that Dewhurst would depart during debate on an issue he had urged Perry to add to the agenda.
Staples campaign spokesman Kent Sholars emailed us the Morning News blog post and a June 24 San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle news story. We looked at those and other news accounts, tweets, Senate journals (which document floor proceedings) and video of the relevant debate.
We asked Dewhurst’s campaign staff for comment, but didn’t hear back.
What we did find confirmed Staples’ statement except for the claim that Dewhurst had “drinks”; reports were mixed on that score, and we found no definitive firsthand evidence. For example, the Morning News blog post said Dewhurst had decided “to slip out for a glass of wine,” but the blog entry didn’t cite a source for that statement.
The Morning News also reported, “Dewhurst didn’t eat. As his spokesman Travis Considine noted two days later, he presided over most of the debate and was confident colleagues could soldier on during his brief absence.”
One of the reports said that, at the restaurant, Dewhurst met up with political consultant Rob Johnson.
We tried to contact Johnson but didn’t hear back. He was Dewhurst’s chief of staff from 2006 to mid-2009, when he became manager of Perry’s re-election campaign, then managed presidential campaigns for Newt Gingrich and Perry before starting a political action committee to boost Dewhurst’s U.S. Senate bid in 2012.
Senate journals for June 18 show Dewhurst presided over the floor proceedings from 12:20 p.m. to 1:39 p.m., then gaveled the Senate back in at 5:39 p.m. to take up the abortion measure. Dewhurst called for a break at 8:54 p.m., according to the journal, and Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, took over the duties of presiding from Dewhurst as debate resumed at 9:15 p.m. The Senate adjourned at 10:15 p.m. and was called to order again by Dewhurst at 11:09 p.m. After voting to approve the measure, the Senate called it a night at 11:45 p.m.
Staples said, “The current incumbent lieutenant governor went out for drinks during the legislative session when that bill was originally on the Senate floor.”
Dewhurst has said that he stepped out to a restaurant during part of a lengthy Senate debate on abortion legislation June 18. But Staples did not prove he had drinks, and we found no such confirmation. It’s really not on us to prove his claim.
Given that going “out for drinks” has connotations that just aren’t supported by the available evidence, we rate Staples’ statement as Half True.
Statement: Says David Dewhurst “went out for drinks” during Senate debate on abortion bill.