David Panton backs close friend Ted Cruz for US president

BY RICHARD BROWNE Business editor browner@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

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AS Jamaica welcomes US President Barack Obama on his first visit to the island, former Jamaica Labour Party senator David Panton is backing Republican candidate Ted Cruz to become the next American president.


Republican senator Cruz became the first US politician to announce his candidacy for the American presidency recently. Widely viewed as an ultra-conservative, he has the full support of his close friend, Panton -- now chairman of his own PCH holdings, an investment company based in Atlanta, Georgia.


Outside of politics, Obama, Cruz and Panton all share at least one thing in common -- they worked for the prestigious and influential Harvard Law Review. Obama was the first black president of that institution, while Panton was the second, and Cruz was a primary editor.


"I support Ted's candidacy not only because of our close friendship, but because I believe he has the bold, consistent, principled leadership that America needs. He is also the most brilliant person I know," Panton told the Jamaica Observer.


Politically, Panton has donated more than US$150,000 to Cruz in various capacities -- when he was running for the Senate, and to support his bid for the presidency.


Panton, a former Rhodes Scholar and the first head of Generation 2000 (G2K), the group of young professionals affiliated with the JLP, believes that much of what the media has reported about Cruz is wrong.


Cruz and Panton started their friendship decades ago, when they were roommates first at Princeton University in New Jersey (for four years) and then at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (for one year).


The two were also debate partners, and were named the number one team for the American Parliamentary Debate Association, with Cruz declared the number one speaker and Panton number two.


At Princeton, both were involved in student politics. Panton first entered student politics at Belair School in Mandeville where he won election as president of the student council. He built upon that victory at Princeton, by winning election as the president of the Undergraduate Student Government. Meanwhile, Cruz was chairman of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC), where we worked closely on undergraduate student affairs.


Cruz was also elected president of the Cliosophic Society, a conservative political organisation at Princeton, and appointed Panton as his whip (deputy). Both worked closely on conservative politics on campus.


As President Obama gets ready for his first visit, Cruz has visited Jamaica on several occasions -- including as the guest speaker for a G2K event, where former Prime Minister Edward Seaga was present, and also spoke.


Cruz also attended the wedding of Panton to current minister of youth, Lisa Hanna. Cruz is godfather to their son, Alexander, and he came to Jamaica to attend the christening. Panton was Cruz's best man at his wedding to Heidi Cruz.


Cruz has also invested in Jamaica, and was a partner in the firm that Panton, Nigel Clarke, and Jeffrey Hall formed to invest in the Caribbean.


"I speak with, and see Ted frequently as a close friend, but deliberately do not discuss his campaign strategy," Panton told the Business Observer.


"As an active supporter of a SuperPac that supports him, I am not able to discuss campaign strategy with him.


"Unlike the media portrayal of him as a firebrand, Ted is one of the kindest and most caring people I know. He cares deeply about other people and making a difference in their lives, as he did in mine, as a loyal friend, strong supporter, and committed mentor.


"When I was elected as president of the Harvard Law Review, my first call was not to my parents or family members, but to Ted, who at the time was clerking for Judge Michael Luttig, prior to his clerkship on the Supreme Court, as the first Hispanic clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist," Panton said.


Although the first out of the blocks, Cruz currently has an approval rating of only about two per cent among the presumed Republican candidates. But that in itself may not overly concern him, as when Cruz ran for senator in Texas, he was also at two per cent in the polls -- and joked that the margin of error was three per cent.


Cruz ran against the establishment, his opponent being David Dewhurst -- the multi-millionaire incumbent lieutenant governor of Texas, who was endorsed by the governor, Rick Perry, and most of the Republican establishment in Texas.


But, like Obama, Cruz ran a grassroots campaign that focused on the base, and, even though he was heavily outspent, he defeated Dewhurst in a run-off by 14 points and won the general election by 26 points.


During that election he received about 40 per cent of the Latino vote on the same ballot where Latinos gave then-candidate Mitt Romney 27 per cent of their vote.


"I believe that -- like when the voters of Texas got to know Ted, the person, not the caricature -- the American people will also eventually recognise that as a Hispanic with a Cuban father who fled oppression, and as a principled, experienced, eloquent advocate for the Constitution, he has the background, skills, and abilities to be an outstanding president of the United States," Panton said.


"It may come as a surprise to many Jamaicans -- but it is a fact on public record -- that Ted was the only US senator (Republican or Democrat) to attend the funeral of the late Nelson Mandela, a funeral Ted said publicly he was honoured to attend.


"I was very proud of his principled position, despite the criticism from several people in the base who opposed his attendance.


"Although many believe that he does not compromise, it is telling that one of the very few, if only, bills in the past six years to have passed both houses of Congress, and be signed by President Obama, with unanimous, bipartisan support was introduced by Ted, and co-sponsored by liberal Senator Chuck Schumer," Panton said.


That bill was approved by the US Senate to ban Iranian Hamid Aboutalebi from entering the Untied States to take up a post as Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. Aboutalebi was said to have been involved with the Iranian student group which held more than 50 American embassy staff as hostages during the 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Tehran.


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