- By Ken Herman American-Statesman Staff
Out of a sense of fairness (a new thing I’m road testing), I didn’t tell you this prior to primary day for fear it might unfairly hurt Gov. Greg Abbott’s chances of winning renomination over GOP foes Secede Kilgore and Barbara Krueger.
But now, with Abbott having captured 90 percent of the GOP vote, it can be told: Our governor has been accused of criminal activity at a local supermarket. Turns out I was an eyewitness to the alleged offense, which also involves state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin.
An official complaint has been filed by Candace Aylor of Austin, an unsuccessful candidate (fourth place, with 7.4 percent of the vote, in a five-candidate field) for the Democratic nomination to challenge Workman in November.
Her complaint was filed with Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos and names Abbott as the “respondent” and lists “unknown” in the space for his nickname. (For future reference, I’ve heard Abbott refer to himself as “Hell on Wheels.”)
Aylor’s allegation: “On the morning of Feb. 20, 2018, a voter contacted me to inform me that State Representative Paul Workman and Governor Greg Abbott were witnessed electioneering within 100 feet of the exterior door to a polling location. This was confirmed through photo and video captured by the voter, and then again later in the day by the many news crews on scene to capture a press conference being held by the candidates in which they made statements requesting votes. Campaign signs for Paul Workman were also noted to be displayed repeatedly and prominently within 100 feet of the exterior door.”
(FYI, I also captured it on video. If you’re reading this online, the video should be up at the top of this.)
Aylor says the two Republicans “committed the offense of ‘electioneering near a polling place.’”
First, I love the word “electioneering.” Let’s all try to use it more often. As in, “Hey, that Beto O’Rourke is electioneering his brains out.”
Second, the Texas election code says a person commits the offense of electioneering near a polling place if he or she electioneers “during the voting period and within 100 feet of an outside door through which a voter may enter the building in which a polling place is located.”
The scene of this alleged crime was the Randalls at West Slaughter and Brodie lanes. The event was a press conference after Abbott voted inside the store. There’s no doubt he and Workman electioneered. “If you live in the state representative district of Paul Workman, vote for Paul Workman,” Abbott said.
The question is whether it was within 100 feet of the outside door through which a voter could enter that particular supermarket/polling place.
As I recall, Abbott’s electioneerers seemed careful to set us up outside the 100-foot zone of electioneering intolerance. But I took no measurements. I’m going to start bringing a yardstick to these things so I can be prepared to make a citizen’s arrest if needed. (Quick question: Is there really such a thing as a citizen’s arrest?)
In conjunction with her complaint, Aylor attached a statement from Catina Voellinger, the “voter” mentioned in the complaint. Voellinger was shaken by what she saw that day at that Randalls where she had gone to pick up sample ballots.
“I was absolutely shocked by this disregard for the law,” Voellinger wrote. “What I saw, as a constituent of this district I felt like this kind of tactic is intimidating. As low as you can get. We lose our republic without the democratic election process.”
Yes to that last sentence. Probably not to the one just in front of it.
Voellinger reported that she brought the situation to the attention of the election judge on duty who “nervously walked outside with me and mistakenly informed me that they are within their rights to do this because it is 100 feet away from the ‘main’ entrance and that as the campaigning was taking place in front of a ‘secondary’ entrance this was lawful and prudent.”
So that’s the facts as we know them from the complainant. FYI, electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500 and unending public scorn.
I was going to head back to that Randalls to measure the distance from the door to where Abbott and Workman held their press conference, but now that we’re talking about a main entrance and a secondary entrance it would be beyond my legal expertise to figure out which door I should measure from. This is why God gave us lawyers.
Again, I held off from reporting this before the primary for fear that a pending criminal complaint against Abbott might affect the election. I later realized my folly when it turned out that GOP voters have great tolerance for candidates accused of crimes. Indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton, facing charges more serious than electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place, got 100 percent of the GOP primary voters in coasting to renomination over nobody.
The complaints against Abbott and Workman now are pending at the secretary of state’s office. I’ll update you as warranted. One more thing: Secretary of State Pablos is an Abbott appointee.
I’ve got one more update for you: Kudos for a job well done by GOP voters in Travis County’s Precinct 212 where Sutton Hamlin was re-elected as precinct chairman.
More importantly, those voters didn’t elect challenger Robert Morrow, the former sort-of-accidental GOP county chairman and 2016 write-in presidential candidate. Morrow was not elected president. And if he had been, he would have been even more nontraditional than the nontraditional guy who got the White House gig.
If Morrow’s name doesn’t ring a bell, look it up.