When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference next week in Washington, it won’t be a keynote, it’ll be a coronation. Sick of sellouts, movement conservatives have fallen hard for Cruz. The Red State blog dubbed him a “national hero” and a “great patriot” for his first two months in the Senate. Retired Sen. Jim DeMint vouched for Cruz as the real deal:
“He’s proved himself an effective advocate for the founding principles that made our nation great: personal freedom and responsibility, local control and adherence to the law as it is written, not the way some politicians wish it was written,” wrote DeMint.
Cruz’s new allies say that he didn’t go to Washington to make friends, but the question remains whether his fiery rhetoric comes from personal conviction or is calibrated for the political advantage he now enjoys. CPAC attendees might want to read a brief Cruz wrote as a private attorney in 2009 before they anoint him as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. In the brief, Cruz extolled the virtues of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as the stimulus, and cautioned Texas against flouting federal law, two positions he’s contradicted as a politician since then.
In 2009, Texas closed a $6.6-billion budget deficit with $6.4 billion from the stimulus. The Texas House wanted to spend $155 million of the stimulus to give retired teachers one-time $500 checks. Senate Republicans who opposed the payments inserted language into the final bill requiring the Attorney General to issue a “conclusive opinion that such one-time payments are constitutionally and statutorily permissive” before the state could cut the checks.
That kicked off a months-long process during which interested parties could submit legal briefs to the Opinion Committee in the Office of the Texas Attorney General. The Texas Retired Teachers Association hired the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to lay out the legal case in favor of the extra money. Morgan, Lewis had previously represented the teachers’ pension system. Cruz worked at the firm then but, more importantly, he had been Solicitor General at the AG’s office beforehand and knew how the place worked.
The Opinion Committee was in for a couple surprises when it received Cruz’s brief on July 20, 2009. One member speaking privately to avoid professional retribution thought it odd that Cruz, a conservative Republican then exploring a race for Attorney General, was representing teachers. Perhaps more surprising was how pro-stimulus and pro-Washington Cruz’s legal reasoning was. For a senator who loves the anti-Obama limelight, Cruz’s 2009 brief could not have been more pro-stimulus had it been written by the Democratic National Committee.
In the memo that he alone signed, Cruz argued that rejecting payments to retired teachers “would risk frustrating the purposes of federal law to stimulate the economy and invest in education.” Allowing them “affords a clear public benefit.”
“Further, the one-time payment will impact commerce and the economy by infusing cash into the economy,” Cruz wrote.
Ruling against the teachers’ payments “would also frustrate and obstruct the accomplishment and execution of Congress’ full purposes and objectives…and arguably give rise to federal preemption,” wrote Cruz, meaning that a conflict between Texas and federal law would negate the former.
He reached the opposite legal opinion on Obamacare a year later when he ran the Center for Tenth Amendment studies and was well into his political career.
Cruz shifted his ambitions to the Senate after Kay Bailey Hutchison announced her retirement. He has yet to take a political position at odds with the Club for Growth, the FreedomWorks super PAC or the Tea Party Express, all of which poured millions into delivering his upset win.
He won support in the conservative movement by campaigning against “big-government ‘stimulus’ programs that have consistently failed to generate jobs.” Now he’s relaxing into his new role as senate rebel, tweeting last month, “Unhappy birthday to stimulus! What does $1 trillion get you? Millions fewer jobs & higher unemployment than promised!”
Despite his seeming sincerity, it looks like Cruz has been following the money all along.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @JasStanford.