Monday when he came to Decatur, Mark Greene was looking for a place to hold a campaign fundraiser dove hunt this fall.
A few weeks ago, he spoke to the Decatur Lions’ Club. Not long after that he was back in town for Reunion, pitching washers with other Democratic candidates.
He’s on the campaign trail, working for votes as he seeks to outpoll longtime incumbent Kay Granger in November for the right to represent the 12th District in the U.S. Congress.
It’s an uphill battle, but Greene stays on message.
“I’m not one of these people who can leave something alone if I think it’s broken, and I think government is broken,” he said. “This hellish mess we call politics these days – we have a dysfunctional government.”
Greene was born in Amarillo, but his family moved to Fort Worth when he was 2. He graduated from Eastern Hills High School, served three years in the Army, started a construction business and earned a degree in journalism/public relations from UT Arlington, winding up back in construction as a contractor.
In 2000 he ran for Congress and “kind of just walked away” from his small company during the 18-month campaign. He got pursued by corporate headhunters and ended up going to work for them.
He did mostly construction- and energy-related recruiting, working with firms that deal in wind farms and high-voltage transmission systems. He spent the last couple of years in Mexico until a project he was working on got mothballed, and he returned to the U.S.
By far, political reform is his biggest issue.
“If not for that, I would be much less inclined to run,” he said. “It’s the most difficult issue to address, but every other problem we have comes back to this one.”
Greene’s talking points range from energy to water issues to immigration. But it all starts with reforming the way government does business.
“I’m not so much an issues person as an organizational person,” he said. “The machine of government needs to work, and it doesn’t right now. It’s totally broken.
“Right now, the government we have in Washington is not particularly more functional than the one in Iraq, in Afghanistan or in Somalia. It can’t legislate, it can’t regulate, it can’t govern.”
Greene said partisanship and money drive the system, and must be dealt with.
He supports a constitutional amendment to put the redistricting process into nonpartisan hands and end the gerrymandering that creates “safe” districts for career politicians.
“I used to think money was the biggest problem, but now I’m convinced that gerrymandering is the problem – whether the money was there or not,” he said.
Aside from the fact that redistricting basically costs Texas a legislative session every 10 years, with all the court fights and re-mapping that occur, Greene said having those safe districts removes the incentive for legislators in Washington, D.C. to work together.
“They draw these districts that are so uncompetitive that the representatives have no reason to reach across the aisle, to try and find some common ground where they can work together,” he said. “That’s what politics is supposed to be – the art of compromise. That just doesn’t exist.”
He also supports efforts to repeal the Citizens United decision, in which the Supreme Court struck down limits on political spending by corporations, associations and labor unions.
Without fixing those two issues, he said, it’s not likely there will be much progress in Washington.
“The patient has cancer, and a lot these other issues are broken bones and hangnails and contusions,” he said. “I want to fix the cancer. That’s No. 1.”
Water, energy and immigration reform
On water and energy issues, Greene is more moderate than many of his fellow Democrats.
He sees desalination – of brackish groundwater and, ultimately, seawater – as the most likely long-term solution. And he believes energy production and environmental issues do not have to be in conflict if government will play the role it was designed to play.
“Unlike a lot of my Democratic friends, I believe natural gas is an important energy source that we need to produce and can produce responsibly,” he said. “I don’t think we have to waste nearly the amount of water we waste, producing it, right now.”
He said the Texas Railroad Commission, as currently set up, is rubber-stamping, rather than regulating, the oil and gas industry.
“If the state of Texas would do its job in regulating this industry, there probably wouldn’t be a significant role for the federal government to play,” Greene said.
“I think we, as Democrats, are in the right place on this,” he added. “There’s a place for the average voter to say, ‘Hey, the Republicans are singing a song that I don’t like here – it’s just not that everything the oil and gas producers want to do is OK.'”
He also opposes Granger’s signature project – Fort Worth’s Trinity River Vision – which he says is not a water project at all but “an economic development project that happens to have a water feature to it.”
Greene believes it’s a waste of taxpayer money for something that is going to cost, rather than generate, water.
“If somebody’s going to throw a billion dollars at something in the Fort Worth area, I’d much rather it be to real water works, or to education, or to anything other than a private real estate, economic development project that’s not going to benefit the 682,000 constituents of the district,” he said.
As far as immigration reform and border security, he says Washington’s efforts have been a “huge, colossal failure.”
“Securing our border and establishing some kind of sound, viable immigration policy – that is the role of the federal government, one of the key things we’re supposed to do and clearly, they’re not going to address it,” he said. “It’s a serious deal. A country is hard-pressed to call itself a country if it can’t control its borders.”
He said border issues are complicated and did not just rise up overnight. In fact, the U.S. has played a role in creating the instability and crime south of our border, he said, and must play a central role in fixing it.
“We do need to control our border,” he said. “We need to know what is coming in and who is coming in, and we need to have a system to deal with that. And we need to have our visa program streamlined considerably.”
But to fix the process, you have to allocate the resources, he added – and he said Republicans dont’ want to allocate resources for anything.
“They’ll talk about everything, but they won’t pay for anything,” he said. “To put more people on the ground, to put better systems in place – these things cost money.”
He supports a guest-worker program, but not amnesty or a “special path” to citizenship for the 12-13 million undocumented immigrants currently in this country.
“But I don’t think their path should be blocked, either – assuming that we put a program in place that they can comply with and they pay their fines, go to the back of the line and all that,” he said.
The refugee crisis is another matter, he said, and one the U.S. played a key role in creating.
“Our failed drug war, our lack of attention to things going on down there, our waging proxy wars down there for 20 or 30 years, our sanctioning the overthrow of legitimate governments down there – we’ve trod heavy over Central and South America for over a century,” he said.
Now, as children and families seek to escape the violence, the U.S. cannot turn its back.
“They’re refugees,” Greene said. “They’re kids. And they’re not just coming to the United States, they’re going to Mexico, they’re going to Belize, they’re going to Costa Rica, anyplace they can go. They’re trying to get out. To sit there and suggest we throw them out without any sort of due process – that’s just inhumane.”
He said Granger “fumbled an opportunity” to show leadership on the issue.
“She’s been there long enough that she’s part of her party’s leadership,” he said. “She’s in a position to be part of the solution. She’s part of the problem.”