The six percent

Today’s a big day for Democrats in the state legislature. And at the end of the day, they’ll probably think they won a big one.

Thankfully, they’re working hard to kill a bill which, if it passed, would be among the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. In fact it’s probably unconstitutional.

The bill outlaws most abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy (that’s most of the “probably unconstitutional” part – the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade is generally agreed to protect abortion rights until about the 24th week), requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic, requires clinics to meet standards so strict that it would close all but a few clinics in Texas, and requires that abortion-inducing medications be taken in the presence of a doctor. Proponents of the bill claim it’s about improving women’s health, but can neither point to a current related problem nor identify how their bill solves it.

The fact that doctors’ professional organizations oppose the legislation would normally be enough for most Texans to conclude that the Texas Legislature is practicing medicine without a license.

But there’s nothing normal about this “special” legislative session, and there isn’t anything about this issue aimed at “most Texans.” There’s also nothing normal about the way the Republican leadership has handled it – which brings me back to the top: at the end of the day, Democrats will probably think they won a big one.

But are Democrats winning, or is it more that Republicans are losing?

In light of a million trillion pronouncements from all manner of Republican leadership that this is magically The Most Important Issue In The World, consider the following:

— Governor Rick Perry (who exclusively controls the agenda of a special session of the legislature) didn’t add abortion legislation to the agenda until they were well-into the special session.

— The presiding officer of the Senate, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who aggressively pushed Perry to add the issue to the agenda, spent at least a week of the 30-day legislative session in Europe. (Perry didn’t add it until after Dewhurst returned)

— The presiding officer of the House, Joe Straus, adjourned the House of Representatives for a two-week period of the 30 day session.

All of the above contributed to where we are today – the last day of the special session – during which it is likely that Senate Democrats led by Wendy Davis of Fort Worth will kill the legislation via filibuster, following heroic efforts by House Democrats over the weekend to slow down the process and put the bill in range of Davis’ efforts.

I hope this legislation is dead by the end of today. The whole situation would be laughably wacky, except that if the bill passes, it will kill women. It wouldn’t make abortions less necessary for the women who need them, it would just make them less accessible. It would make illegal and dangerous back-alley abortions more likely, and make life-threatening outcomes inevitable. To the extent it prevents any abortions, it doesn’t make affordable prenatal care any more accessible by the women forced to continue their pregnancies. It does nothing to make day care for these children more affordable, and nothing to improve the quality of the public education these children deserve.

But I’m not going to change any minds with this piece. What I can do is point out the truth behind this shady process.

The fact is, the Republican leadership has done just about everything they could do to mishandle the legislative session, leading to the Democratic minority being in range of killing the bill. And I’m glad they are, since advocates of the policy aren’t representing mainstream Texans in their efforts – they’re playing to a very limited crowd: Republican primary voters.

Republican officeholders are terrified of their own primary voters. Aside from the stray post-redistricting election here and there, the vast majority of Republican incumbents who lose their re-election efforts do so in the Republican primary – in most district elections and statewide, Democrats have been little threat to them. The pro-life stance in the abortion debate is the big motivating issue for only one voting segment: Republican primary voters.

So who are these voters? Of the 25 million people who live in Texas, it amounts to fewer than 1.5 million people. That’s about six percent of Texans.

Six percent. That’s the entire audience Republican officeholders are playing to, while the other 94 percent of Texans look on as spectators to this sham. That six percent are also the folks who have been electing all the statewide officeholders around here for almost 20 years, since the only two things a candidate has to do to get elected statewide in Texas are to win in the Republican primary, and to not get hit by a bus until after the general election.

Both the safety and liberty of Texas women are being sold down the river for the sake of that six percent. The legitimately important issues of concern to mainstream Texas families stay on the back burner for the sake of the six percent. And virtually all the public utterances of the Republican leadership in Texas are aimed squarely at attracting the six percent.

And that’s exactly how things will continue around here until Democrats win a statewide election, and Republicans suddenly remember the other 94 percent. There are 23.5 million Texans Republicans haven’t had a conversation with in 20 years.

But the longer Republicans pander to their precious six percent, the more likely it is that Democrats will be back in the game sooner rather than later. The lack of leadership around here isn’t indicated by Republicans mishandling the clock. It’s best indicated by them ignoring the 94 percent.

Thank the House Democrats for their amazing round-the-clock efforts in the last few days in slowing down this legislation. Be grateful for the Senate Democrats standing strong and united yesterday in blocking the rule suspension which would have greased this bill through. Cheer on Senator Wendy Davis today as she hopefully carries the ball over the finish line and kills this bill.

But then, after all that, don’t be surprised when the Republicans immediately call a do-over, and legislators are back in Austin for a second special session.

Because, dear 94 percenters, the other six percent must be catered to.

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