Steve Stockman’s Campaign Office Is A Good Metaphor For His Career
Yesterday TPM published photos taken by the city of Webster, Texas when they inspected and condemned Steve Stockman’s campaign headquarters (trigger warning, the pictures are pretty nasty). Stockman, a Texas Twitter troll who returned to Congress in the Tea Party wave, had volunteers and campaign staff sleeping in a dusty and dilapidated former motorcycle garage with substandard wiring and plumbing. And the more we learn about Stockman, the more he resembles his campaign headquarters.
Stockman, who was homeless for about six months during his early twenties and claims that he found religion while eating pizza and watching television with his future wife, “never seemed to be able to find steady work until he managed to get himself elected to Congress.” When the Houston Press published an article about his disastrous first term in Congress in 1995, Stockman’s incoherent political vision boiled down to an unthinking, unblinking anger at government for messing with his good time.
In a remarkable little confessional that appeared in the June 11 Dallas Morning News, Stockman revealed to Richard Whittle of the paper’s Washington bureau that he had whiled away his post-adolescence in Michigan as a drug-taking, ne’er-do-well “partier” who shook his young booty at “the Tull concert, the Yes concert, the Who concert, the Stones concert.” (At last, I thought as I read Whittle’s story: an elected official whose youth I can relate to.) Stockman was even popped for drugs, and the congressman’s version of the story is such a priceless bit of Stockmania that it bears repeating in detail: Reporting for a weekend stay in jail for a traffic violation, the future member of the House banking committee was strip-searched by ——-ers, who discovered three Valiums hidden in a cellophane cigarette wrapper that was stowed in his underwear. Stockman told Whittle that his girlfriend had tucked the Valiums in his drawers to make his jail stay bearable. He was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance.
Stockman’s first term in office ought to have been his last. Stockman had made plenty of fans among the paranoid gun owning demographic by spewing Vince Foster conspiracy theories and attacking the Clinton administration over gun control. His ravings became a joke inside the Beltway, but his freshman term foreshadowed a trend in Republican politics that would eventually lead to government shutdowns and sequesters.
Stockman, it turns out, has been the most extreme example of the politician without portfolio: a man with no past, few ties, and a just-say-no ideology. That has meant, in a federal government facing tax, welfare, and health-care reforms, not to mention the maintenance of order in the post—cold war era, an allegiance to . . . abdication. The freshmen have usually been linked to the Republican right-wing fringe—to the rabid, gun-toting fundamentalists—but they have more in common with the people who call talk radio programs: Isolationist, uninformed, and impulsive, the freshmen have not been as concerned with traditional questions of more versus less government as they have been with less government versus no government at all. Devoted to getting their way, these freshmen—and their leader—have created one of the most divisive congressional terms in history. (In January, over the vehement objections of many freshmen, the Republican leadership and Clinton agreed to spending measures that would temporarily reopen the government.)
Not surprisingly, the freshmen in general and, most notably Stockman, have received nothing but contempt in more-seasoned quarters on Capitol Hill. “A complete nut” was the way one political reporter described him. “Off the reservation,” said another. “An embarrassment,” according to one congressional aide. “Not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree,” asserted a Democratic party operative. Republicans who defend Stockman assert that he has been treated unfairly because of his outspokenness. “He’s vocal in his convictions,” said fellow congressman Lamar Smith. Others don’t even try to defend him: “He’s a Republican,” said Edward Chen, the vice chairman of the Harris County Republican party. “As a Republican, he’s on our ballot. And that’s about the situation.”
As the Texas Monthly reported in 1996, Stockman’s actions “weren’t venal as much as they were careless, the actions of someone who just couldn’t be bothered with rules.” The Houston Chronicle found problems in his resume, and the Federal Election Commission investigated his campaign contributions, one of which he was forced to return when the “donor” turned out to be four years old. Stockman learned nothing from any of that. Recently, the Houston Chronicle could not find Stockman’s “Presidential Trust” in any public nonprofit databases, and the IRS could not confirm the organization’s nonprofit status. In November of 2013, he was forced to fire two staffers for making prohibited contributions. Then he was hit over irregularities in his nonprofit financial reporting, and for housing volunteers in a campaign headquarters building that was unsafe for human habitation. Then in the week before Christmas, we also learned that Indian casino cash has been filling Stockman’s campaign coffers. Paging Jack Abramoff?
The Federal Election Commission has questioned four donations U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman received after he introduced a bill that would allow an American Indian tribe in East Texas to open a casino.
Stockman, who is challenging incumbent John Cornyn in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, introduced a bill in March that would give gaming rights to the Alabama-Coushatta tribe in Southeast Texas.
Then, in April and July, his campaign collected the four donations in question — two totaling $5,100 from an Arizona resident and another $5,000 in two donations from a California Indian group. Both donors credited Stockman’s support of the casino for their support.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the Federal Election Commission sent Stockman a letter Dec. 20 asking about allegedly “excessive donations.” The letter says Stockman’s campaign needs to refund about half the money or revise its accountings within 60 days of receiving the donations, a period that apparently has run out.
The Washington Post also reported yesterday that several endorsements Stockman claims on his Senate campaign website are fraudulent.
Redistricting added to Stockman’s challenges, and he lost to a Democrat in 1996. In very practical terms, Stockman’s return to Congress in 2012 has closely resembled his first stint in office: in 1993, he demanded Janet Reno be indicted for premeditated murder after the Branch Davidian disaster at Waco. In 1995, he expressed sympathy with the Oklahoma City bombers. Upon returning to Congress in the Tea Party wave, Stockman immediately invited Ted Nugent to attend the State of the Union speech and then tried to impeach President Obama over gun legislation. He has still learned nothing and has not changed his habits. After all, his friends in the gun lobby are delighted by his bombastic trolling, and they can overlook his constant improprieties as long as he keeps annoying the liberals on Twitter with absurd bumper stickers and jokes about “liberal tears” as gun lubricant.
But in the 16-year gap between his two terms in office, while he was running his sketchy nonprofit organization, one story about Stockman stands out to us. Some time after his defeat at the polls, Stockman went on to work for Morton C. Blackwell’s conservative Leadership Institute, where he found new ways to push the envelope. Ben Wetmore, an associate of Andrew Breitbart who also worked for the Leadership Institute, credits Congressman Stockman with purchasing equipment for James O’Keefe. In his latest book, O’Keefe confirms that Stockman purchased the first computer used in the ACORN operation. Andrew Breitbart’s empire was built on the “success” of a defamation campaign that Stockman helped to start.
In many ways, Stockman’s strange career has enjoyed a larger influence than he deserves. He became the archetype for know-nothing Republicanism long before there were “tea parties” to put a populist face on the Koch brothers’ agenda and cheer for gridlock. Stockman’s campaign office is a perfectly appropriate metaphor for his career; tawdry, Jerry-rigged, continuously afoul of laws and regulations, it is a wonder that Steve Stockman’s office-holding has not been shut down as well. He cannot survive inspection, so it is no wonder he wants to shut down the government. How else could someone so sloppy expect to win a Senate seat from John Cornyn, much less keep it?