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How those political 'scorecards' in your mailbox don't really add up

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, left, and challenger Armin Mizani of the Keller council.
State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, left, and challenger Armin Mizani of the Keller council. rmallison@star-telegram.com

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione's voting record on abortion is a perfect 100 percent.

But that's not good enough for some Republicans anymore, and it's led to one of the more remarkable splits in Texas politics.

This weekend, Roman Catholics will be told at Mass that parishes should distance from West Texas-funded Texas Right to Life.

Texas' Catholic bishops cite “concerns” that the group's voter scorecard for the March 6 primary elections is not a “fair analysis” and that lawmakers who consistently oppose abortion “have been opposed by Texas Right to Life.”

“In 43 years of activism, I've never known the parishes to take such a strong stand,” said Mansfield Republican Kyleen Wright, a hard fighter against abortion as president of a different anti-abortion group, Texans for Life.

“The pro-life movement is very diverse now, but it's still driven by very faithful Catholic volunteers and donors. For a lot of people, this makes a big difference.”

In a letter to be read at mass, bishops write: “We urge parishes not to participate in their activities or allow the organization to use parish sites.”

Catholics are urged to support pro-life groups that are more “respectful.”

“We want to make sure that our parishes are not assuming that we are in agreement with this organization,” said Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Austin-based Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

The scorecard in part prompted the letter, she said. (Capriglione and also Marshall Republican Chris Paddie have perfect scores from TRTL, yet the Texas Right to Life PAC endorsed challengers Armin Mizani of Keller and Garrett Boersma of Marshall.)

The bishops' letter says Right to Life's picks are “not based on a fair analysis of a legislator’s work, but rather upon whether the legislator has followed voting recommendations.”

Since 2015, Houston-based Texas Right to Life has worked openly with Empower Texas, the West Texas oilmen's mad-money machine behind the Freedom Caucus.

The group now has enough money to attack anyone. Even the Catholic bishops.

Last month, Cisco drilling equipment millionaires Dan and Farris Wilks gave the Texas Right to Life PAC $1.25 million for campaigns.

The result has been the political equivalent of giving the Westboro Baptist Church protesters a bunch of money.

The Texas Right to Life PAC and Empower Texans have wallpapered districts with mailings opposing Empower Texans' political enemies, even Republican lawmakers with high ratings for their voting records on abortion.

In a Feb. 1 endorsement of Mizani, a Keller City Council member, the Texas Right to Life PAC warned against growing too close to an “Austin establishment” and said Capriglione “has fallen short of our high expectations.”

This is a lawmaker with a 100 percent score.

After 2013, when lawmakers regrouped and passed new abortion restrictions over then-state Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster, “I thought our pro-life lawmakers would need protection from abortion-minded people,” Wright said.

“But no — we have to protect them from Texas Right to Life saying they're not pro-life enough.”

In Amarillo, columnist Jon Mark Beilue of the Amarillo Globe-News wrote Feb. 17 about how Texas Right to Life is attacking Panhandle conservatives based on one particular vote — whether they would allow abortions in cases of “severe fetal abnormalities” that would be immediately fatal at birth.

“There are always set-up votes typically on the budget and bills like this — hot-button, red-meat topics — that get these crazy amendments,” state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, told the Globe-News: “You take a principled vote and you know it’s going to cause you headaches. … You can see them from a mile away.”

Much of the conflict is over whether Texas should focus on passing laws that might survive federal court review, or try to impose stricter restrictions that would probably be overturned in court.

“Part of the dispute,” the bishops wrote, “is rooted in Texas Right to Life’s rejection of incremental pro-life reforms. … An incremental reform is one which improves the current situation but does not reform the status quo as much as we might desire.”

In the last session of the Texas Legislature, Empower Texans urged lawmakers to consider a bill by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would make abortion a crime and openly defy federal rulings or enforcement.

“Some of their goals are not well-founded in law,” said Joe Pojman of the Austin-based Texas Alliance for Life, another active anti-abortion group along with Wright's group.

In a Saturday statement, Texas Right to Life called the bishops' letter “politically motivated” and said the group's goal is to defeat the “liberal House leadership” of “lukewarm incumbents.”

On my thermometer, there is nothing lukewarm about a 100.



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