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The day that I actually wholeheartedly agreed with the NRA – the Penis Compensation Caucus is un-Texan

It may come as some surprise to regular readers of these pages (are there any regular readers of these pages?) that I am not necessarily against open carry of handguns as a public policy.

I’m absolutely certain that position will come as a surprise to the number of my NRA fans (that number may well equal zero), who probably did not fully appreciate this piece I wrote on gun control for Texas Monthly a while back.

But no, open carry doesn’t particularly upset me. For one thing, if responsibly crafted, the law wouldn’t put a single new gun on the streets – it would merely change the way concealed weapons permit holders are permitted to carry the guns they’re already carrying.

I do believe, however, that the concept of open carry for handguns is highly situational, a conclusion easily reached based on my dual residences in Austin and in far West Texas. For example, I doubt many people would so much as bat an eye if somebody walked down the streets of Marathon, Fort Davis, or Alpine, located north of the Big Bend, with a handgun strapped to his belt. But if instead of walking down main street in Marathon, that same person was walking down Congress Avenue in Austin, some people would certainly be startled, and many would question the propriety of that.

So no, assuming that an open carry bill limited open carry permits to those already carrying through a CHL, and gave cities and counties an opt-in provision (we ARE for local control, aren’t we?), I’d probably fall asleep so fast I wouldn’t have time to oppose the bill. Apparently Democratic candidate for Governor Wendy Davis doesn’t disagree either.

But do you know what’s even more surprising than people like Wendy Davis or me not opposing open carry laws? The fact that the NRA has come out in opposition to those nutty open carry activists who keep popping up around Texas, armed to the teeth with assault rifles and showing up in fast food restaurants and other retail stores, accomplishing little other than frightening folks and making everybody uncomfortable. I call them the Penis Compensation Caucus.

The NRA has now called their activities “outright foolishness.” And I couldn’t agree more, because those activists only manage to demonstrate that they are both bullies and cowards. Assuming there’s some difference between a bully and a coward, that is.

Here’s more of what the NRA said:

To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary.  It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.

As a result of these hijinx, two popular fast food outlets have recently requested patrons to keep guns off the premises (more information can be found here and here).  In other words, the freedom and goodwill these businesses had previously extended to gun owners has been curtailed because of the actions of an attention-hungry few who thought only of themselves and not of those who might be affected by their behavior. To state the obvious, that’s counterproductive for the gun owning community.

More to the point, it’s just not neighborly, which is out of character for the big-hearted residents of Texas. Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners.  That’s not the Texas way. 

I couldn’t agree more, NRA – it’s just not the Texas way. But never fear – no matter what the NRA says, open carry activism promises to be alive and well later this week in Fort Worth, where such fools plan to be in attendance, complete with their penis compensation instruments, at the Republican State Convention.

Yee-haw, y’all.

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Wendy Davis for Lieutenant Governor? No.

I really wish Wendy Davis would decide on her political plans, so that everybody can stop being an expert on the decision that I trust she’s more-than-smart enough to make for herself. And frankly, when she gets done mulling over her future, I hope she ultimately decides to run for Governor. I’ll certainly support whatever decision she ultimately makes; almost all Democrats, and more than her fair share of independent voters ultimately will.

But what I wish more than anything is for progressive activists to stop believing that her running for Lieutenant Governor is somehow a neato keeno option. It’s not.

For one thing, the first Democrat to win a statewide race since before today’s college freshmen were born is probably going to do so by completely changing the dynamic of the election. That’s more difficult to do down-ballot, for several reasons. But while I feel strongly about that factor, it’s arguable, as evidenced by all the people who constantly argue about it.

Here’s a structural factor which really isn’t arguable: the real powers of the Lt. Governor are not vested in the state Constitution; they’re given to the office by the members of the Texas Senate themselves when they pass the Senate rules. So, all those times that journalists have written that the Lt. Governor is arguably the most powerful office in State Government? That’s just the Senators handing over that power. Absent the rules that a simple majority of the Senators pass at the beginning of a legislative session, Lt. Governors would essentially be reduced to breaking tie votes in the Senate (which seldom happens) and waiting for Governors to die, be indicted, or be elected President, so the Lite Guv can move into the mansion. Other than that, they’d be coloring, cutting, and pasting in a really nice office.

We have all watched for several years as the Republicans in charge in the Senate have consistently changed the rules to win. When they couldn’t pass a 2003 mid-decade Congressional redistricting bill when Tom DeLay ordered them to do it, they just changed the rules which would have required a two-thirds vote to debate legislation, and they bypassed the Senate Democrats who opposed it. After the associated Democratic quorum break petered out, they passed the redistricting bill. They said at the time they’d never do this for anything else other than redistricting bills. But several years later when they couldn’t pass voter photo I.D. legislation over the objections of the Senate Democrats, they made a special rule just for that bill, and passed it too. Most recently, this summer when they couldn’t pass their anti-abortion legislation, they did away with the two-thirds rule to pass that as well. Then when Wendy Davis began her filibuster, the Republicans immediately made it clear that they’d ignore generations of Senate precedent regarding filibuster traditions and germaneness rules to silence her.

Is there any doubt in your mind that this bunch would change the rules again if Davis was elected Lt. Governor, to ensure that her leadership was minimized? Of course they would. The Senate would simply move to a majority leader system, in which the Republican Caucus chair would run the business of the Senate, leaving a Lt. Governor Davis in a largely-symbolic job, with little power and few staff. She would not determine which bills are called up for debate. She would not appoint committee chairs. They certainly wouldn’t let her control parliamentary rulings, like the ones which silenced her during her filibuster. They’d probably do away with the two-thirds rule altogether, although frankly I think they might as well do that anyway, since the Republicans have made it clear that their definition of the two-thirds rule amounts to “you can have your two-thirds rule, as long as I have my two-thirds.”

Incidentally, I also believe the Senate may well change the rules in the event Dan Patrick wins his race for Lt. Governor. One can count on one hand the number of Senators who trust Patrick. So this isn’t entirely partisan – you can’t blame the Senate majority for an unwillingness to hand over their power to somebody they don’t trust.

None of the above breaks new ground. I’ve been talking to any reporter who would listen about this, and so have others, including Matt Angle, who is one of Senator Davis’ close confidants. But the chatter continues.

I get it – there’s a certain “the shoe’s on the other foot now” symmetry to the notion of Davis’ election to the very office most responsible for silencing her during her filibuster. It’s the office most responsible for the fact that the Texas Senate, once a proud and honorable institution, is nothing special anymore. But the idea just doesn’t work.

Wendy Davis could be the first candidate for statewide office Democrats have seen in a very long time who ultimately proves to be viable, or she could opt to run for re-election to her state Senate seat. But no matter where she lands, the structure of the office almost certainly means that it won’t be as a candidate for Lt. Governor.

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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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Republican pundits’ tortured logic, and the horse they rode in on

First, let me get some disclosures of my own out of the way, so I can earn my seat at the high road table.

The vote fairy won’t be visiting Texas on Tuesday. There will not be a surprise winner in the U.S. Senate race here. There are no big upsets in store in any Texas state Senate race anywhere, except one – the only question mark is the Davis-Shelton race in Fort Worth. There are few state House races up for grabs – if you’re a Democrat who doesn’t live in the maybe 8-10 districts which are in play, your hopes and dreams will be shattered. Only two of Texas’ Congressional seats are in serious question – the ones in which Democrats Nick Lampson and Pete Gallego are running. And wish it as hard as you’d like, but of Texas’ 38 electoral votes, Barack Obama will be earning exactly zero of them on Tuesday.

If you don’t live within some of that prized real estate in Texas I just described and had hoped for a better outcome, sorry to disappoint you. Take solace that miracles – and accidents – do happen. Maybe your beloved candidate will be the recipient of one. Or maybe I’m just full of crap. But I doubt it, and now I’ve said what I honestly believe.

With that unpleasantness out of the way, now that I’ve demonstrated that I’m capable of acknowledging likelihoods even when they aren’t great news for my Party, what the hell is up with the national Republican pundits?

Over the last couple of days we’ve been treated to the most tortured logic I’ve seen in recent years out of them, all with the goal of them maintaining their ability to end their sentence with, “…and that’s why Mitt Romney will win.”

These pundits use “anecdotal evidence.” You know who uses evidence like that? Those who don’t have statistical evidence.

The statistical evidence they do use consists mainly of pulling outliers out of the pile of battleground state polling, using national polling to justify something – anything – specific about a given battleground state, or even isolating single crosstabs from some of the very same well-established polls those same pundits otherwise discount as “hopelessly skewed.” Today I even noticed one Republican using as “a promising trend” an isolated crosstab from a poll taken shortly after Obama’s first, disastrous, debate – when it’s clear from subsequent research that this “trend” reversed itself a week later.

To justify saying that which they already know is so utterly unlikely, they are hedging their bets by mentioning, “…well, but of course, the hurricane might have slowed Romney’s momentum.” Perfect target, that hurricane: it’s a factor beyond the control of any of the Republican pundits – some of whom raised and spent millions of dollars of rich peoples’ money and promised that for their investment they’d get a US Senate majority and the White House – which they can point to after Tuesday night and blame. Rove, late last week, was the first one I noticed using the storm as his big asterisk, but over the weekend I’ve noticed other pundits adopting this adorable little baby as their very own to love and hold as well.

Continuing to lie about what you really think is a lot easier than crediting the President’s team for having an effective message and sticking to it. It’s easier than admitting that the Democrats in targeted states are mopping the floor with Republicans on the ground game. It’s certainly easier than blaming Mitt Romney for embracing a far-right message, or blaming the Tea Party nutjobs who not only forced him there, but are also responsible for knocking more mainstream US Senate candidates off in the primaries, leaving the Republican Party with embarrassing losers.

What Democrats need to do – both in Texas and Nationally – is continue doing what you’re doing: get out the damn Democratic vote. What we should do is pretend we never heard the Republicans lie about what they think will happen, and pretend you never read how I responded. Because the GOTV activity – all of it – counts for something. In some areas of Texas, it counts for just about everything.

But don’t be fooled as the unintended recipient of the Republican pundit machine message – they’re just doing CYA duty for all the rich guys they pried money from. They’re creating the Wednesday morning narrative that starts with “Romney would have won, and we’d have a majority in the Senate, if only [fill in the blank with weather reports, or anything else not in the control of the SuperPAC you just gave millions to].” And their narrative ends with “and that’s why it’s not my fault.”

Democrats, continue to work your hearts out to win every one of these elections; you haven’t developed a narrative that ends that way. Your only remaining choice is to do everything doable to win whatever elections you’re working on.

 

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We’re takin’ this show on the road: D/FW

North Texas/Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex folks -

Mark your calendars for November 5.

Actually, first mark your calendar for October 21, because remember that nut who predicted the rapture earlier this year, only it turns out he was full of it? Yeah, well, he’s rescheduled his little rapture for October 21. So yeah, that’s the date we can all join hands in bipartisan unity and ridicule people who pretend to know about such things.

But after that: mark your calendar for Saturday, November 5, because that’s when Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters will be taking this little clown car act on the road, where we’ll be featured at an event benefitting the Texas Democratic Party, and honoring the lovely and talented Wendy Davis, State Senator from Fort Worth.

That the event will be held at the amazing Dallas World Aquarium, along with all the endless associated fish puns, would be enough. That the event honors Wendy Davis would be enough. That the event benefits your Texas Democratic Party would be enough. That the event features me would be…well, probably not enough.

But get this: the event also features Dallas Senator Royce West, who is not only smart and entertaining, but whose voice always leads all blind people everywhere to fully believe that Barry White is in the house.

So don’t be a cheap-ass – order your tickets to this dinner event online now. Then get your friends to do the same, because you know how much you hate walking into a room and realizing you don’t know anybody.

I’ll see you in Dallas! (assuming that rapture guy is full of it, again)

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