It should come as no surprise that the already rancorous race for lieutenant governor deteriorated even further last week when reports surfaced that businessman, turned radio talk show host, turned politician Dan Patrick received treatment for mental health issues some 30 years ago.
Patrick, a state senator from Houston and the front-runner in the May 27 Republican primary run-off, has been locked in a vicious battle with sitting lieutenant governor David Dewhurst.
But Dewhurst, who is fighting with tooth and nail for an unprecedented fourth term, has vehemently denied complicity in the records release.
Instead, the responsibility was quickly claimed by another of Patrick’s political rivals, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who finished dead last in the four-way March primary.
According to the Texas Tribune, a defiant Patterson confirmed Dewhurst’s claim, saying “[He] has asked me to cease distribution of this information. He also asked me not to run against him for Lt. Gov. I didn’t really give a damn what David wanted then, and I don’t give a damn now.”
The almost tabloid-esque records release has an icky quality to it, even in a campaign as noxious and unrelenting as this one. For millions of Americans, mental health problems are a serious issue, one that is profoundly private and often difficult, particularly given the stigma attached to those who suffer and seek treatment.
But the fact remains that however distasteful some observers might find the release of mental health information, the details of Patrick’s condition were not disclosed through any nefarious process.
Indeed, they have long been part of the public record, in testimony and sworn depositions from a civil suit filed by Patrick against an individual and the Houston Post in the late 1980’s.
The real issue worth considering is the relevance of this information to voters.
The suggestion that treatment for depression three decades ago (or ever) might disqualify a candidate from seeking a position of public trust is one not likely to resonate with an electorate increasingly sensitive to issues of mental health.
The prickly Patrick may even get some sympathy, calling into question the political calculus that motivated such an audacious tactic.
When the dust settles, Patrick’s platform and record will come back into focus, and they already speak volumes about his qualifications and fitness for duty — much more than this latest disclosure ever will.