Did Texans elect Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate because of his name -- or in spite of it?
Best bet is that his name made little difference to voters attracted by the Senate campaign he vigorously ran against President Obama.
The Democrat in the race to succeed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison might have been former Texas House Rep. Paul Sadler, but Republican nominee Cruz stayed on the president's case. He accused Obama of waging "an unrelenting war on jobs," said the Affordable Care Act -- the Obamacare Cruz fervently wants to repeal -- already has caused companies' insurance costs to skyrocket (even though the law isn't fully implemented), and claimed the administration has engaged in abusive environmental enforcement and destructive energy policies.
What Cruz accomplished shouldn't be ignored. He became the first Hispanic-surnamed U.S. senator from Texas and arguably the highest-profile Republican Latino to win a statewide race.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala (also a Republican) won Tuesday, too, but she faced only a perennial-candidate Libertarian. It's notable that she received 4,679,315 votes (78 percent of the 5,993,061 ballots cast in her race), which is more than the 4,456,599 Cruz got (56.63 percent of the 7,869,166 ballots cast in a four-person race).
But what's the significance of Cruz's ethnicity? It's largely a historical footnote, not any kind of indicator about Republicans' general appeal to Hispanics.
Cruz, who was born in Canada, doesn't appear to publicly embrace his paternal heritage much more than to tell how his father, who once fought on the side of Fidel Castro and then opposed him, came to the United States from Cuba with $100 to his name and washed dishes to help pay college expenses.
Nothing wrong with that. The efforts of Cruz's parent enabled him to attend a church-affiliated school in Houston, then he went on to Princeton University and Harvard Law. He clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, worked in the George W. Bush administration and the Texas Attorney General's Office and made more than $1 million a year as an appellate lawyer in Houston.
He has run in some elite circles, unlike many Texas Hispanics.
But he'll have to represent them -- along with all other Texans -- when he gets to Washington.
Cruz wants to tackle regulatory reform and tax reform and entitlement reform and spending reform and other big-picture crusades.
Let me humbly suggest that his constituents would benefit most from coherent and reasonable attention to a couple of key areas: immigration and education.
These are not "Hispanic" issues; they are American issues.
For instance, immigration isn't merely about those who've entered the U.S. illegally. Business people -- whom Cruz says he wants to champion -- need a stable supply of workers to pick seasonal crops and perform other work that immigrants primarily have done for years. Young people who have grown up in this country and persevered in their education would normalize their immigration status if federal law offered a path.
Cruz's answers on immigration tend to be "secure the border" and "no amnesty." But those are more slogan than workable strategy.
Similarly, his notion of abolishing the U.S. Education Department and giving states federal education aid through block grants ignores the fundamental question of how to best help schools improve so they can graduate those well-prepared workers the "job creators" need. States like Texas, and individual school districts, have come to rely on federal assistance because of their own funding shortages.
Too much federal intrusion can be counterproductive, as No Child Left Behind has shown. But on something as essential as education, should Washington merely be an ATM for the states?
Finding solutions will require more than sloganeering about "common sense conservative principles."
Let's hope now that Cruz has won, he sees an ineffective Congress as a worse problem for Texans than a Democrat in the White House.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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