Conservative Coalition Caught in Anti-Porn Ring!

Legislators vow to crack down on Internet child porn, even where it doesn't exist.

Conservative Coalition Caught in Anti-Porn Ring!
Illustration By Doug Potter

With the state budget now $7 billion in the hole and the 78th session of the Legislature just a few months away, Texans should brace themselves for even more than the usual seasonal political grandstanding: bills full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, and costing even less. One of the first such salvos was fired Aug. 15 by a group of legislators associated with the Texas Conservative Coalition, said to be founded on the principles of "limited government, individual liberties, free enterprise, and traditional family values." Presumably it was only the latter principle that motivated Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, Elizabeth Jones, R-San Antonio, and most redundantly of all, Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, to call a press conference to impersonate The Simpsons' Helen Lovejoy in a choral performance of "Won't Somebody Please Think About the Children!"

The reps had gathered to denounce child pornography, particularly "virtual child pornography," since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the portion of the federal Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 making it a crime to create, distribute, or possess virtual pornography is unconstitutional. The statute "prohibits speech that records no crime and creates no victims by its production," ruled the court, and "prohibits the visual depiction of an idea -- that of teenagers engaging in sexual activity -- that is a fact of modern society and has been a theme in art and literature throughout the ages."

Like Justice Antonin Scalia, who snorted at the notion that Romeo and Juliet or Lolita ("A great work of art!" he sneered) might be declared illegal under the statute, the collected Texas conservatives vowed to "make sure," said Rep. Jones, "that any child pornography law protects our children from being exploited and that it is enforceable." But when pressed by reporters to describe what sort of legislation they had in mind, the House members were more than a little vague, referring only in general to San Antonio Congressman Lamar Smith's proposed "Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act" as a possible model. To enforce Texas' existing anti-pornography laws, they want continued priority funding for the Attorney General's Internet Bureau -- but earnestly declined to endorse Internet tax legislation (e.g., on presumably lucrative pornography Web sites) which might help provide those funds. "This particular group of conservative legislators does not support any new taxes," intoned Wohlgemuth.

Moreover, the Web-porn statistics the group distributed to the press seemed, well, a little wonky. Police authorities were said to estimate that anywhere from 40% to 62% of child molesters had downloaded Internet porn, that one Texas porn Web site alone had 250,000 subscribers, and that more than 100,000 such sites exist on the Net. By Naked City's admittedly very rough calculations, those hysterical numbers could work out to something like 1 billion child molesters running amok among us. Even allowing for a 50% or even a 75% discount on downloaders-as-molesters-in-waiting, that's a whole lot of potential molesters. Asked about those numbers, Wohlgemuth was not amused. "Even if there are only a very few child molesters," she responded sternly, "we take it very, very seriously." (The press conference had been hastily timed to follow a recent Web site porn bust in Corsicana, although that penny-ante operation was apparently run out of a full-time tattoo parlor -- no doubt, by Corsicana standards, an opulent den of iniquity.)

Also signing on to this noble effort were a couple of Republican reps who couldn't make the press conference in person. G.E. "Buddy-- West of Odessa sent an encouraging message saying he's been diligently working on this issue ever since last year, when the then-Odessa police chief was arrested for viewing and possessing child pornography. (Can't be too careful.) And Waxahachie's Jim Pitts also sent his congratulations to his colleagues for "working so hard to protect the children of Texas."

As Naked City recalls, the last time Rep. Pitts spoke at large on the topic of Texas children was a few sessions ago, during the Bush administration, when he filed a bill that would've authorized the death penalty for offenders as young as 11.

We're certain he was just thinking about the children.

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