The Stockman Syndrome

The Stockman Syndrome
Orange’s next Congressman is mainstream again

by James Shannon
Business Journal

Absent a cataclysmic event of almost unimaginable proportions, Steve Stockman will be the representative in Congress for the new 36th District, which includes all of Orange County. That means those billboards that say “Re-elect Congressman Stockman” might actually be true again by the time the dust settles in November – a mere 16 years after Stockman was defeated following his single term in Congress.
Stockman, then 39, first made political history in 1994 when he unseated 42-year incumbent Congressman Jack Brooks, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and former LBJ protégé. It’s pretty much been all downhill from there until this recent campaign. Democrats who had been caught flat-footed by Brooks’ defeat in 1994 rebounded two years later as Nick Lampson defeated Stockman, who had wandered in the political desert ever since. He lost Congressional elections in 1996 and 2006; in between, he sandwiched in an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission.
After first announcing he would run for Ron Paul’s District 14 seat, Stockman changed plans at the last minute and filed for the new District 36. He finished a close second in the GOP primary, then in the runoff handily dispatched political novice Stephen Takach, the first-round leader who had pumped nearly $750,000 of his own money into the campaign.
So what has changed for Stockman this time around?
In his first term in Congress, Stockton was swept in alongside the Contract with America group whose provocative freshman class installed movement leader Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House. Their attempts to change the status quo in Washington met with some initial success, but when they managed to shut down the entire federal government, a majority of citizens believed they went too far. Political observers said the reaction to that overreach propelled a wounded President Bill Clinton to re-election in 1996 and led to the ouster of Gingrich.
Stockman, buoyed by the early euphoria of the Contract movement, soon had to deal with suggestions he too had overreached. In an article that appeared under his byline in Guns & Ammo magazine, Stockman suggested that the burning of the Branch Davidian compound was staged by President Clinton and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to justify the ban on assault weapons. “These men, women and children were burned to death because they owned guns that the government did not wish them to have,” the article read.
In a recent interview with the Business Journal, Stockman ruefully admitted the Guns & Ammo incident had taught him a lesson: “Don’t let a staff member write an article and put my name on it.” But the damage was done.
Flash forward to 2012, and the political landscape has been altered.

Stockman Syndrome

The term “Stockholm Syndrome” – or capture-bonding – refers to a psychological phenomenon in which hostages develop positive feelings toward their captors, as happened during a five-day hostage crisis at Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1973.
It can be argued that the Stockman Syndrome is actually the reverse of the Stockholm version. A sizeable group of East Texas voters are convinced they are being held hostage by the federal government – specifically the administration of President Barack Obama – in many ways both subtle and profound. This view is constantly reinforced by Fox News, political blogs and even mainstream GOP officials like Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Mitch McConnell.
In that context, the views espoused by Stockman that may have been seen as extreme by many voters in the past seem more plausible today – but not because he has moved toward the political mainstream. Rather, that mainstream has shifted significantly to the right – particularly in Texas and even more so in East Texas.
This suggests Stockman’s brand of conspiracy theory politics might not make him even the most outlandish member of Congress from East Texas.


Despite his erratic history and focus on cultural issues, Stockman is essentially a conservative, pro-business Republican who espouses limited government.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Ennis) is a climate change denier who once blocked the bipartisan Combating Autism Act of 2006, reportedly because he rejected that there could be environmental causes of autism, and he apologized to BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward, accusing the White House of a “$20 billion shakedown” of BP after the company reached an agreement to establish an escrow account to pay the claims of people harmed by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Tyler) recently endorsed Rep. Michelle Bachman’s suggestion that a top aide to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was a sleeper agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Previously he had warned of pregnant Muslim women coming to the U.S. to give birth to what he termed “terrorist anchor babies” who would grow up and commit acts of terror against Americans.
Stockman grinned at this suggestion and called Gohmert “a friend who has contributed to my campaign.” He has offered his own assessment of the current administration: The Stockman campaign website advertised “Obama Barf Bags” for contributors willing to pay $10 dollars.
To be sure, this 2012 model presents a more reserved candidate. Stockman, now 55, no longer seems like the wild-eyed radical described in print accounts during his previous term in Congress. His smile is ever-present, as seen in our cover illustration taken from a campaign photograph when the candidate visited a Burger King in Jasper, and he is nattily attired in a neat suit and tie. His website lists his support for securing the border and a federal balanced-budget amendment, and opposition to gun control, abortion and gay marriage.
He appears to be sticking to safer issues recently, weighing in on behalf of the Kountze cheerleaders whose school principal banned them from displaying banners with Bible verses at football games.
In a statement, Stockman said, “The Kountze superintendent who is limiting the freedom of expression of these kids should probably start packing his bags. This is not San Francisco or New York. This is East Texas, where people still love Jesus and don’t like liberals who try to take away their Constitutional Rights.”
To his credit, Stockman has not tried to run away from his past. In a biography posted on his campaign Facebook page, he described his life in 1980 as a college dropout who became a homeless drifter eating from garbage cans and sleeping atop a concrete pillar in the Fort Worth Water Gardens. He said he cleaned up his act, earned a degree in accounting, discovered religion, and eventually challenged Brooks.
In a recent interview with KBMT Channel 12, he mentioned he his past homelessness but preferred to talk about his missionary trips to help the less fortunate. At a campaign event at a restaurant in Houston, he was represented by his wife, Patti, who told those in attendance her husband was on a missionary trip to Africa.
Stockman has few obstacles in his current path to the House. His opponent is Democratic nominee Max Owen Martin, a pilot and small business owner from Clear Lake City. His campaign website proclaims Martin “The Sane One in the Race,” but he might question his own sanity on Nov. 6. His views are not ambiguous: “It is encouraging to see the economy improving day by day, due to the policies of the Democratic Party and its president, Barack Obama,” said Martin. He has been endorsed by various AFL-CIO groups in the district, the Houston Association of Real Estate Brokers, Galveston Bay Area Sierra Club and the Orange County Democrats.
Libertarian Michael Cole, an educator at Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School, will also be on the ballot.
In the political calculus of 2012, that makes Stockman the prohibitive favorite. Despite his erratic history and focus on cultural issues, Steve Stockman is essentially a conservative, pro-business Republican who espouses limited government.

This article originally appeared in the October issue of the Greater Orange Business Journal

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