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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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Or perhaps this might help…

…since the last one didn’t seem to do the trick.

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Attention Texas legislators

This might help.

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Texas’ water infrastructure funding should not go down the drain [with video]

Following skirmishes on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives earlier this week which resulted in legislation tanking which would have put $2 billion in funding for much-needed water infrastructure, it came up on YNN’s Capital Tonight Tuesday. Here’s my take:

Water infrastructure, as an issue, stands on its own in Texas. It is a critical one, and if the legislature leaves it unfunded this session, it will create serious consequences for Texas’ future. They’re not growing any more water around here – the resource is, at best, a constant, and with recent droughts it’s not even that. This isn’t one of the Governor’s fake issues, designed to get him more support or make his friends richer. It’s a very real challenge.

Texas has a tripod of critical interests on the water front (pun intended, and I apologize). None of the three – energy, agriculture, and population growth – can be shortchanged. Energy exploration, an essential economic driver in Texas, takes a lot of water. Texas’ ever-growing population takes a lot of water. And the agricultural activity necessary to feed all that population growth three times a day takes a lot of water. If you shortchange any one of these, things start falling apart, and quickly. It takes a massive commitment to conservation, increased efficiency, and smarter management. Unless the water fairy unexpectedly shows up to save us all from ourselves, that all requires serious investment.

I respect the efforts of some of the House Democrats to leverage the issue in attempts to get more public education funding cuts restored, and I hope they succeed in restoring those cuts somehow. I even understand the misgivings of Tea Party Republicans against spending any money at all, even for the most legitimate of infrastructure investments – I completely get that your political base isn’t interested, and that the anti-government folks are on your ass.

But when it’s all said and done, I hope the legislature well-understands that funding the water plan has to happen. And I think most understand the consequences if it doesn’t.

You can watch this full episode of Capital Tonight here. And you can catch me on tonight’s episode on YNN in Austin at 7 pm. Give it a shot – we get into all sorts of interesting topics of interest to the policy- and politically-addicted.

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Bipartisan education reform? It could happen [with video]

Following up on my piece the other day about education reform, we continued the discussion last night on Fox news in Austin:


 
Here’s the original piece.

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Dan Patrick’s other ideas: are they worth serious discussion?

When Ann Richards was governor, she had a letter written by some long-past governor of the early 1900s hanging on her office wall, in which this forgotten (by me) governor was lamenting issues surrounding public education. It was amazing in that the issues about which this governor wrote were the exact same issues Governor Richards was grappling with generations later, which are also the same issues legislators and the courts are debating today.

Legislatures never solve public education issues; it’s a continuing process, not a single event. But given the stakes – the next generation – legislatures never stop plugging away at it, nor should they.

It’s easy for progressives to get disgusted with conservatives’ particular obsessions on education issues, mainly because of the laser focus on school vouchers a few of them maintain – which newly-minted Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick just announced is “the old word,” and has rebranded the “business tax credit.” Way to go, Senator – when the policy is crap and you’ve lost your public support, don’t give up – just re-name the crap.

Dan Patrick

Senate Public Ed Chair Dan Patrick

Vouchers have always been a bad idea, and no matter what they’re called in the future, they’ll continue to be a bad idea. They’re not even a conservative idea. If you give away taxpayer money to private schools with little or no accountability, that’s not conservative. And if you do so with effective accountability measures, the private schools don’t want the money. All this, against the backdrop of continuing to starve neighborhood public schools of even more of the funding the people in charge have already cut. No thanks. It’s no wonder that vouchers already appears to be on life support this session.

But I’ve been in the thick of what seems like a thousand legislative skirmishes over public education, and I’ve seen a lot of interesting ideas thrown under the bus, mainly because of progressives’ distrust of the conservatives proposing them. It’s understandable; when you have a big fat bill caption on a public education bill, myriad harmful floor amendments, including vouchers, can conceivably be slipped in, out of reach of Democratic efforts to stop them. Many a good, or innocuous, piece of school legislation has been killed or slowed, for fear of what the legislation doesn’t yet do.

But unless you’re ready to claim that you don’t think there’s any room for improvement in public education, sooner or later, Democrats in the legislative minority, and Republicans in the legislative leadership, are going to have to find a constructive way to work together and pass meaningful reforms that move the ball forward, while agreeing to take divisive issues such as vouchers off the table, at least for the purposes of discussing those other ideas.

Charter schools are a good example. I’m the odd Democrat who never really had a problem with the concept of charter schools, and I still don’t. There are some great ones out there doing fantastic work, among a population of students which was already in large part lost to the traditional public school system. There are also some terrible charter operations out there, bilking taxpayers and robbing kids of their future. I’ve long thought that the legislature’s inability to decisively deal with the latter, or foster more of the former, has a lot to do with a lack of trust between legislators and among stakeholders.

I bet most of those who oppose charter schools wouldn’t bother with it, if they knew that the state would shut a bad one down in a heartbeat. But currently, that doesn’t happen. And now, charter school advocates want to raise or remove the cap on the number of allowable schools. My first reaction when I heard about it was to roll my eyes and think, “they wouldn’t need to raise the cap if they’d shut down the bad actors in the system,” but I don’t think it’s true – there would still be more legitimate demand for additional charter schools than the current cap would allow.

Wouldn’t it be reasonable, however, to have a good-faith discussion resulting in legislation that really did quickly shut down crappy charter schools? And if the trade-off you had to make to get there would be to raise or lift the cap, wouldn’t that be worth it, or at least be worth the discussion?

If you’re one of those who is just by-God opposed to charter schools, you’ve already lost the war – they’re here to stay. Even President Obama supports charter schools. And once you’ve internalized that fact, it’s easier to concede that if they’re going to be around anyway, if you care about the students in these non-traditional public schools, you’d want to make sure the good ones get better and the bad ones get gone.

I’m pretty tired of progressive legislative strategies on public education often consisting of little more than seeking assurances from Republican bill sponsors that if Democrats allow a piece of legislation to move forward, the Republican will promise on a stack of guns and bibles that they won’t accept a voucher amendment later in the process. The strategy has worked well in keeping vouchers off the books, but there has to more to the public education debate; there has to be a better way to debate other ideas that might work well.

Legislators who are public education advocates should sit down with Chairman Patrick – like it or not, it’s his legislation, and his Senate committee. Figure out how to make a charter school bill work. Then figure out what else is on Patrick’s mind, and see what else might work. Because, clown-car hearings about sex ed and vouchers aside, just because a piece of legislation is carried by a voucher advocate, doesn’t necessarily make it a bad idea.

 

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Letters From Texas elementary school student project: an introduction in engaging in the legislative process

Hi kids! This website is usually for grown-ups interested in politics and government, but we here at Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters thought it would be fun to turn our attention to smart elementary school kids like you. Your parents and teachers have probably told you that part of being a good citizen is to pay attention to, and participate in, what your state government officials do to represent you!

Today’s topic: participating in the state legislative process. This fun project will encourage you to form your own opinion on a real issue being considered right now, let key legislators know what you think, and actively participate in the process. This will be fun!

Here’s a real-world situation that you can actually participate in: the legislative proposal that would ban text messaging while driving.

You see, many Texas legislators, led by State Representative Tom Craddick and State Senator Judith Zaffirini, believe that text messaging while driving should not be permitted. Supporters of the measure say that it’s very very bad, because a driver who is text messaging pays less attention to the road, and could cause a bad thing. Opponents of the proposal often agree that text messaging while driving isn’t a good idea, but also say that they’re tired of government telling them what they can and can’t do on so many fronts, and that some things should just be left to common sense

Extra credit: look up “libertarian.” You’ll read about examples of these people. Many of them are smoking what is called “weed.”

Assignment 1: What is your opinion about the text messaging while driving proposal? Tell us in one paragraph what you think, and why!

But merely having an opinion isn’t usually enough for full participation in your representative government – did you know that you can also affect how a proposal will read, and what the resulting law will require of good citizens like you? You can! Legislators have policy staff, and part of their job is to talk to good citizens just like you, and listen to your opinions! So you could actually call the offices of the authors of a proposal, and/or the legislator who represents your own neighborhood, and tell them what you think!

Here’s something to think about: text messaging while driving isn’t the only dangerous thing that a driver could be doing that prevents him from being a safe driver. There are many things that could distract a driver. Here’s one you might not be familiar with – it’s called “road head.”

In case that term is unfamiliar to you, have you ever been sitting in class, and you get very very sleepy after lunch, and your teacher is being extra-boring, and you could hardly stay awake? Remember as you sat in class fighting sleep, your head started getting heavy and drooping, only to jerk back up? Well, if you had been driving at the time, it would be called road head! I bet you couldn’t pay much attention to what your teacher was saying when you got that tired, could you? Can you imagine how dangerous it would be if you were driving? Road head is more common than you think. In fact, I bet you’ve been riding in a car, especially at night, and have noticed the silhouette of a head bobbing up and down in the car driving in front of you, haven’t you? That person was getting road head – they’re very sleepy and should not be driving!

In fact, you could go ask your dad right now if he’s ever gotten road head while driving – he might be surprised that you know about that!

textingIf you agree that a driver getting road head is even more dangerous than text messaging while driving, you could even call legislators’ offices and suggest that they amend the bill, insisting that they add prohibiting road head to the list of things that would be illegal! Remember – those legislators have policy staff whose job it is to listen to the opinions of good citizens, especially smart kids like you!

But be careful! A clever policy staffer might try to tell you that road head is already illegal, because it would fall under the already-existing rule against reckless driving. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and you can just reply “how is that different from texting while driving – isn’t that reckless too, so it’s already illegal?” They’ll have to acknowledge that you have a point, and then they’ll know how smart you are!

Assignment 2: call Representative Craddick’s office, and tell them that if they want to outlaw text messaging while driving, you think they should also outlaw road head. His policy staff is always very nice and polite to kids like you, and you’ll have a friendly conversation!

Extra credit: here’s a fun fact about Representative Craddick – even though his first name is “Tom,” and even though everybody knows that “Dick” is a nickname for “Richard,” lots and lots of people, mostly socialist Obama-loving kid bloggers, used to call Representative Craddick “Dick.” It’s a mystery worth asking about, and his staff would probably welcome the opportunity to tell you the fun story! So when you call, right after you tell Representative Craddick’s staff that he should outlaw road head, you can also ask how he got to be a Dick. It will make the conversation more fun for everybody!

Assignment 3: call Senator Zaffirini’s office too, because she’s the other legislative leader on this bill. Just like your conversation with Representative Craddick’s office, you can suggest that they add outlawing road head to the proposal!

Extra credit: here’s a fun fact about Senator Zaffirini and her office – they love to start working every morning very very early, much earlier than just about any other office in your state capitol! There might be an interesting reason why, so right after you tell Senator Zaffirini’s staff member that she should outlaw road head, you can ask the staff member why he comes so early!

Kids, this will be great! After you’ve finished with these assignments, next show-and-tell day, you can raise your hand, and you can tell the whole class that you’ve done all the research and have a big report on the dangers of road head. If your teacher seems startled, it’s probably because she’s so impressed that you took the time to educate yourself and participate in the legislative process!

Please stay tuned for future elementary school curriculum topics from Letters From Texas! The next lesson, coming soon: how to help out your teachers by safely and efficiently testing out your school’s fire alarm!

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Rick Perry state-of-the-state spoiler

Today near the lunch hour, Texas Governor Rick Perry is slated to deliver his state-of-the-state address to a joint session of the Texas Legislature.

But here, let me save you some time – I know you don’t want to cancel your lunch plans. You can thank me later.

We’ve all been through this before – Perry’s state-of-the-state has become like groundhogs day, just without the laughs.

First, he’ll brag on the Texas economy. It’s the best in the known galaxy, you know. He’ll take credit for it too. After all, the fact that the Texas economy is strong can’t possibly have anything whatsoever to do with the gumption and wherewithal of the Texas entrepreneurial spirit, or the fact that we have an abundant supply of cheap labor, real estate, international ports and other transportation, and natural resources in Texas, all of which predate Perry. Noooo, that’s not it – it’s All About Rick Perry.

Somewhere in there, he’ll call for more of the same. Probably a tax cut. He always calls for a tax cut. It gives them a little tiny stiffie when he calls for tax cuts.

He’ll also throw in some “Nixon goes to China” thing nobody’s expecting. Like the time he called for mandatory HPV vaccines. Or the time he called for privatizing the state lottery; that was a good one. The legislature always ignores his Nixon goes to China moment.

Perry makes remarks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington

Perry: please believe me?

He’ll complain bitterly about The Evil People In D.C., and blame them for everything Texans don’t like. I have no idea how he’ll blame them for the Astros’ dismal win-loss record, but I’m sure he’s working on it.

He’ll probably complain that the legislature hasn’t done nearly enough to control women’s bodies yet, so get ready for the thrill of a new proposal on that front. I’m sure he thinks y’all gals got way too uppity in the last election to suit him.

And most of all, he’ll say stuff to make you believe that he’ll stay relevant and run for re-election again. This should be taken with every ounce of the credibility you placed on his promises that he would never, ever, not in a million years, no-sir-ee-bob-tail, run for President. You should completely believe every word he says about his future political plans, because being surprised later when it doesn’t happen the way he says is much more fun.

So there you have it – now you can avoid canceling your lunch plans. I should bill you people for this incredible insight. This has been your Letters From Texas State-of-the-State preview.

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Political oddity of the day so far

I don’t even know what this means. But I do know that it’s very odd, and that until recently it was State Representative Jim Landtroop’s Facebook timeline photo.

Feel free in the comments section to share your thoughts on Mr. Landtroop’s symbolism, and/or your opinion of which controlled substances were involved at the time.

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Truth in advertising: J.M. Lozano director’s cut

Last week, State Representative J.M. Lozano (D R-Kingsville) released a campaign ad in which he’s talking to his adorable son, hating on Obama, and spouting the typical campaign rhetoric people spout when they’re desperately trying to win a Republican primary election. According to the ad, J.M. needs to be re-elected to protect his son from the diabolical Barack Obama, who is “ruining the country.”

We here at Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters decided a bit of political parody was in order. Here’s what we think J.M. really meant to tell his son:

[thanks to Greg Beatty]

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Time-saving tips for Texas Legislators

Legislators, about 20-30 of you will either be honored or disgraced today, when Texas Monthly releases their “10 Worst – 10 Best” legislators list. Counting honorable mentions and furniture, there will be more than a few people unhappy with their choices. Others of you will suddenly know the extent to which you never realized that the folks at Texas Monthly were freakin’ geniuses.

But lets face it – your staff is really tired. They really don’t want to write the statement from you, in which you react to your inclusion in this fine piece of journalism. So, as a service to you and your exhausted staff from Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters, Political Affairs Division, feel free to choose the appropriate choices on this suggested press release, and save yourself some time and trouble. Merely write in your name and your district number, circle the appropriate choices, and sent it out.

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 15, 2011

[Senator/Representative _________ ] Responds to Texas Monthly

(Austin) [your name here] said the following today, after Texas Monthly magazine announced [his/her] inclusion in their list of ten [best or worst] legislators:

“[I am disappointed in or I applaud] Texas Monthly for their [hack job or fine journalistic effort] in naming the ten best and ten worst legislators today.

“Fortunately, constituents in my district [already knew this worthless rag was full of crap or have long known of my legislative prowess]. I can think of no higher compliment than [for this liberal commie pinko travel magazine to disagree with my high-minded legislative priorities or for this fine magazine to recognize all that we have been able to accomplish this session].

“The good people of District ____ have long known [not to take their political advice from a travel rag, any more than they would take travel advice from a political magazine or that I have worked very hard on their behalf, and the positive results are apparent].

“It is truly a great reflection on my district that [this out-of-touch liberal Austin insider gossip rag trashed me or this fine conservative news publication has finally recognized my achievements].

“I would just add [my compliments to Texas Monthly for a job well done or that Paul Burka can suck a nut].”

# # #

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Redistricting Rorschach Test

The state House redistricting map is out, so this seems like as good a time as any to remind you that redistricting is not – we repeat not – a political process. It is never a process resulting in officeholders choosing their voters, but rather a purely altruistic exercise in which voters are given a fresh opportunity to choose their officeholders. Therefore, strange and illogical conclusions to this wonderful process are impossible.

There is a logical explanation for strangely-shaped districts. Those moving maps forward are simply concerned for our mental health. Thus, they have created this legislative rorschach test, so that it can be ascertained the extent to which we are, in fact, nuts.

It is in that spirit that we here at Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters present this House District Rorschach Test, in which you, the crap-reading public, are encouraged to add to the comments section the first thing that comes to mind when looking at these inkblots, which are actual proposed state House districts.

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:

Example 4:

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The Texas Republicans in charge: working hard for YOU.

Well, maybe not you specifically, but at least they’re working on behalf of somebody.

Key quote: “This is not just for rich people. You can get used yachts as well.”

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The Texas Legislature needs more days like this

Good-humored bipartisanship, with a beat Paul Burka can dance to.

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Headline of the day so far

While this headline doesn’t pertain specifically to the Texas House of Representatives, it might as well.

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