After his father died, Stockman started thinking seriously about running for office. The new shoo-in Republican district was tempting, but he didn’t want to run without the support of an old friend: Donny Ferguson, his current communications director. Ferguson is soft-spoken and reserved but “a brilliant strategist,” according to the congressman.
In the speaker’s rooms, Stockman reminisces about Ferguson’s decision to work with him on the race.
“He’s never gonna win!” Stockman remembers hearing. Then he addresses Ferguson. “But then you started doing the studying, and that’s when you got real excited. I’ll never forget, you were over in the corner there. You’re going, ‘Steve, this is a gimme! This is easy!’”
They ran against eleven opponents in the primary, made it to the runoff, and won. That puzzled some insiders. One Texas Republican consultant says that Stockman is “sort of a mystery” and that his “master stroke” was betting that the primary was winnable.
The consultant says the campaign was thrifty, reusing some “Re-Elect Congressman Stockman” signs from the 1996 race. Ferguson says they ended up spending just $1.67 per vote.
“I can’t imagine how someone would ever get to the right of [Stockman],” says David Guenthner of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Ferguson and Stockman weren’t on their own, though. Stockman won endorsements from Citizens United and Gun Owners of America in the primary. He’s also been closely allied with Evangelical leaders. Before entering the public sphere, he was arrested, and officers found cellophane-wrapped Valium in his underwear. He was also homeless for a bit, before converting to clean living and Christianity. So, in a way, he’s the archetypal Southern Baptist success story.
And since coming to Washington, he’s been a bit of a firebrand — that’s what you get labeled if you start making noise about impeachment before the president has even introduced new gun-control legislation.
“That’s one of the reasons why I liked him in the primary, why we supported him in all his races,” says David Bossie, president of Citizens United. “Because, you know, look, you need people to come up here and shake it up.”
And shake it up he has. “His disposition is to rock the boat whenever and wherever possible,” says Guenthner. On Stockman’s first day in office, he voted “present” instead of voting for John Boehner to be reelected speaker. Less than two weeks after being sworn into his second freshman term, he issued a statement threatening to file articles of impeachment if the president used executive orders to restrict gun rights. (He dialed that threat back a bit in another statement, which said that “impeachment is not something to be taken lightly. It is a grave and serious undertaking that should only be initiated in a sober and serious manner. It should be reserved only for most egregious of trespasses by the President.” But still.) And, of course, he invited Ted Nugent, who underwent a Secret Service investigation after making veiled threats toward the president, to the State of the Union; Stockman defended the invitation in part by calling Nugent “very articulate.”
Was Bossie expecting him to start off which such a veritable bang?
“Ah, no,” says Bossie. “However, I’m pleasantly surprised!”
Many of his constituents seem to feel the same way. Ben Stinsman, the political director for the Harris County Republican party, says the congressman has connected with the people he represents and has “vocalized what a lot of people sometimes were feeling.”
“When he speaks to them, it doesn’t sound like this fancy Washington talk,” Stinsman says. “It sounds like someone who is their neighbor here in southeast Texas.”
So aficionados of said fancy Washington talk might need to get used to the congressman whom Bossie says is “an easygoing Texan, until you cross Texans.” Thanks to some good redistricting karma, Steve Stockman might, finally, be here to stay.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.