From Chris Bell’s governor campaign in 2006, to Farouk Shami’s in 2010, to Kinky Friedman’s race for agriculture commissioner are just a few of Jason Stanford’s travels in Democratic political circles.
He is a political hired gun, a devout Democrat who does opposition research and often message development for candidates in Texas and elsewhere. This year, he’s got candidates for governor in Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Georgia and Mississippi, and for Congress in Florida, Pennsylvania, California and Texas.
He ran former U.S. Rep. Bell’s 2006 race for governor. Last November, he signed on with Houston hair magnate Shami, not as campaign manager, but as a spokesman. Stanford, recently remarried and father of two young sons, didn’t want to live in Houston for the campaign.
Three weeks later, Shami fired Stanford and campaign manager Joel Coon, whom Stanford had recruited. The tart-tongued consultant said the firing was an ego blow, but otherwise a relief.
“Farouk Shami likes to surround himself with yes-men,” Stanford said. “And there were some things I just couldn’t say ‘yes’ to.
“He wanted every day to be in front of cheering crowds chanting his name. And that was not an effective press strategy,” Stanford said. “He was frustrated after a week because his schedule wasn’t packed. I’ve never been so relieved to be relieved.”
Another Democratic candidate for governor, author and humorist Friedman, tried to hire Stanford, but Shami had already booked him. Friedman in 2006 had gotten 12 percent for governor as an independent, plus some barbs from Stanford along the way.
In 2006, Stanford said of Kinky: “In politics, you try to accumulate friends and avoid enemies, but Kinky, in the course of this campaign, accomplishes the opposite.”
After Stanford joined Shami, former Houston Mayor Bill White in December switched from the U.S. Senate race to governor. Friedman and Hank Gilbert quit the governor’s race to face off for agriculture commissioner, and Friedman hired Stanford.
“I’m not just working for Kinky because I like his (mystery) books, and adopted a dog from (his dog rescue facility near Medina),” Stanford said. “I like him because Kinky has a rare chance to win a dow
n-ballot statewide office.”
Stanford, who turns 40 on Thursday, March 11, majored in Russian at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon “because I wanted to be a spy – but then the Cold War ended.” After a semester abroad in Russia, Stanford worked for an English-language newspaper, edited by Texan Billy Rogers.
“When I got sick of being cold, he opened the door for me in Texas,” Stanford said.
The campaign was the 1994 re-election effort of then-Gov. Ann Richards – run by Mary Beth Rogers, Billy’s mother. Stanford became deputy press secretary, doing research.
It turned out to be a very bad year for Democrats -Newt Gingrich led a Republican capture of the U.S. House of Representatives that year – and Richards lost to Republican George W. Bush.
In 1996, Stanford was helping a Democratic effort to castigate Republicans, and especially Gov. Bush. But, Stanford said, then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democrat, became a Bush admirer, and helped shut off money to his would-be critics.
“That was when it was impolite to be a partisan Democrat,” Stanford said. “We didn’t have a state party willing to criticize a governor of the opposite party.”
at, “I couldn’t find a job in Democratic politics in Texas, so I started an opposition research firm,” Stanford said. “Our first big client was Jim Hodges, who won the ’98 governor’s race in South Carolina.”
Stanford now has five full-time employees and three interns. Besides politics, his firm also does research for corporations, in “business versus business” fights.
He’s helped elect or re-elect two dozen members of Congress and several governors, Stanford said — “over 200 campaigns in at least 40 states.”.
He’s watching closely this year to see whether the Tea Party’s “incoherent rage” of the Tea Party can help Democrats make it back from the wilderness.
Stanford started in Texas in 1994, a big-time anti-incumbent year. But not like 2010.
“In ’94, as Democrats went south, Republicans headed north,” Stanford said. “This year, everyone’s headed south.”
Tuesday, Shami got 13 percent to White’s 76 percent. Friedman’s chance was indeed rare, with just under 48 percent.
Stanford predicted Gov. Rick Perry would be the GOP nominee, which he is, his 51 percent dodging a runoff by just over 16,000 votes.
Stanford thinks Perry may have it tough this fall, as an incumbent in an anti-incumbent year.
We’ll see in November if he’s right.
Dave McNeely’s column is syndicated across Texas. This appeared in the Port Arthur News, among other newspapers.