HOUSTON — Ferdinand Frank Fischer, III would be a great name for a Mexican monarchist trying to reclaim the crown of Emperor Maximilian, but it’s a lousy name for an ambitious American politician from a Latino district of San Antonio.
That’s why Fischer ditched it years ago, trying on a couple of monikers before building a name for himself as Trey Martinez Fischer, politician on the rise.
The trick worked, as it has for so many starlets, but now he is easily startled by questions of authenticity and vanity. When he found out that Gov. Rick Perry had used the term “charlatans and peacocks” to describe a group of politicians – Fischer among them – who were threatening to impeach Regent Wallace Hall, he bristled.
At a public hearing in May, he harangued one of the recipients of Perry’s email, Regent Brenda Pejovich, to tell him just who Perry was talking about.
“You can’t take a guess on who the charlatan is and who the peacock is,” Fischer prompted. Pejovich refused, but there’s no mystery. If you take charlatan to mean a fraud, a fake, a phony, a pretender, or a flamboyant deceiver, then you could say the charlatan here is the man calling himself Martinez.
There’s no mystery why Fischer would want to pretend to be named Martinez. Sixty percent of the voting-age population in his district is Hispanic, and the percentage is even higher among Democrats. Six of the seven Democratic state representatives from Bexar County use Hispanic last names; the other five, as far as we know, have every right to do so.
Before he ran for office, Fischer was reportedly known as Tracy Fischer.
The question is why he’s been allowed to use the name Martinez on ballots for more than a decade, when Texas law requires candidates to use their real names, with an allowance for one legitimate nickname.
Even Kinky Friedman had to go by “Richard ‘Kinky’ Friedman” on the 2006 ballot for governor. If nothing else, the law keeps the candidate roster from sounding like a Key & Peele sketch.
Martinez is the maiden name of Fischer’s mother, Guadalupe Martinez Fischer. But Fischer was born Ferdinand Frank Fischer — the third after his father and his father before him. According to Southern custom for third in a line of namesakes, he got the nickname Trey.
Needless to say, there is no line of Martinez Fischers before him.
Ferdinand Frank Fischer is, apparently, still his name today. We asked Fischer whether he had changed his name recently (and a few other questions), but he ignored us.
Ferdinand Frank Fischer, III is the name on his children’s birth records and his attorney’s license. It’s the name on multiple deeds of property, including one from his own mother, and it’s the name on properties he owns in Bexar County. It’s the name under which he was convicted of driving while intoxicated as a young man in the late ’80s, and it’s that name on a lien against him released last year.
There are other documents where he mashes together bits of his real name and stage name – Ferdinand F Trey Fischer, III; Trey Fischer Martinez; Ferdinand Trey M. Fischer, III; Ferdinand Trey Frank Fischer, III – so that it’s always clear who the subject is.
What’s not clear is how he ever got his pseudonym on the ballot in the first place.
State law dictates that a “candidate’s name shall be printed on the ballot with the given name or initials first, followed by a nickname, if any, followed by the surname.” It forbids two nicknames, allowing just one “nickname of one unhyphenated word of not more than 10 letters.”
We asked Trey Trainor, an elections attorney and the former general counsel to the Texas Secretary of State (who also happens to be the third in a line of namesakes), if we were missing some provision of state law favorable to Fischer.
“No,” he said. “I agree with you that the law would not allow two pseudonyms. Ultimately, the arbiter would be the Secretary of State’s office.”
In cases where the nickname has been in use for a number of years – Kinky Friedman, state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson – the Secretary of State has allowed the nickname on the ballot, Trainor said. In others – gubernatorial candidate “Grandma” Strayhorn, Railroad Commission candidate “Major” Nelson – the nickname was disallowed as illegitimate, Trainor case.
In any case, under state law, a “nickname may not be used unless the candidate executes and files with the application for a place on the ballot an affidavit indicating that the nickname complies” with state law.
We were curious what Fischer has filed in his applications since 2000, when he was first elected. It doesn’t matter much, as there are two possibilities: either he failed to declare that he was using an assumed name, or he declared it and falsely swore that it complied with state law.
The forms are, unambiguously, public record and subject to the Texas Public Information Act. But they are kept by the political parties, according to Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State.
The parties are required to keep these forms on file for two years.
Watchdog.org requested these forms from the Bexar County Democratic Party two weeks ago. County Chair Manuel Medina acknowledged our request, but has refused to provide any records despite multiple follow-ups — and despite the fact that failure to provide access to public information is misdemeanor criminal negligence in Texas.
There’s supposed to be an “authority responsible for certifying the names of candidates,” but it doesn’t appear that anyone more impartial than the Bexar Democrats have ever had to make a decision.
“I don’t think our office has had to rule on it,” Pierce, of the Secretary of State’s office, said.
Trainor said that’s likely because nobody has challenged the name.
These facts about Fischer’s shifting identity may shed new light on some bizarre recent behavior.
In March 2011, Fischer was all over the news arguing against a voter ID bill that Texas was about to pass. He even gave a deposition in the suit over that law, Texas v. Holder, which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided in Texas’ favor.
His story was that his own mother would be one of those poor people disenfranchised by a requirement to show a driver license when voting.
“My mother doesn’t have one,” was his exact quote. The media lapped it up, as actual examples of this sort of disenfranchised voter are nearly impossible to find.
During Fischer’s deposition in the federal case, a lawyer for the state of Texas confronted Fischer with a current copy of his mother’s driver license. It was valid when Fischer had given his press conference, and it had recently been renewed until 2017. Fischer had lied.
The Dallas Morning News was the only newspaper to accurately report the incident. The Houston Chronicle buried it, and presented it as some sort of misunderstanding.
“In my mind, I believed that she did not have a driver’s license,” was Fischer’s response, according to a trial transcript. “In my mind, I believed that when she applied for a disabled placard for her vehicle, that they were made aware of her medical condition, and I did not know…” etc., etc.
Still, Fischer was adamant that the law would be a problem, and it may well be for him. If there is anyone genuinely invested in the principle that one shouldn’t have to prove his identity, it’s Fischer. In the days of slacker ID requirements, he registered to vote as Ferdinand Martinez Fischer, III.
Now how is he supposed to vote?
Jon Cassidy can be reached at @jpcassidy000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.