The Austin Chronicle

TFN Looks at the Lege Demagogues

By Lee Nichols, February 13, 2009, News

With 31 senators and 150 representatives at the Legislature, it really can be hard to tell the players without a program. Fortunately, if you're concerned about the influence of the religious right on Lone Star politics, the Texas Freedom Network has just provided one. (The TFN is a nonpartisan nonprofit that monitors and tries to counter the religious right.) "The 81st Legislature: Change at the Cap­itol?" provides Lege-watchers with 45 pages of info on the prominent Bible-thumping lawmakers during this spring's session; past legislation on the issues of vouchers, sex education, stem cell research, and textbook adoptions; an examination of the 2008 Texas Republican Party platform; quotes from religious-right figures that will have you slapping your forehead at best and taking the Lord's name in vain at worst; and a review of major Texas religious-right organizations.

Although there's no shortage of Christian conservatives in the Capitol, this year's report focuses on nine of the most infamous and influential: Gov. Rick Perry; Reps. War­ren Chisum, Allen Fletcher, Charlie How­ard, David Swinford, and Randy Weber; and Sens. Craig Estes, Dan Patrick, and Tommy Williams.

Perry gave TFN more fodder for its report in December just before the session started, when he declared his support for legislation allowing Texans to have specialty license plates reading "Choose Life." "It has sometimes been hard to tell whether Gov. Perry sees himself as the state's chief executive, its chief Christian evangelist, or both," reads the report. Williams and Patrick followed, with headlines of their own on the second day of the session, albeit not on a religious issue – they spearheaded a successful charge to suspend the Senate's venerable "two-thirds rule" specifically on bills promoting voter-identification laws (aka voter suppression and, more specifically, Democrat suppression). There's little doubt they'll soon start dragging the cross around the Senate floor.

Among many other moments of infamy during his first (2007) session, Patrick, a radio talk show host from Houston, left the floor when a Muslim imam led the Senate in prayer. This session, TFN points out, Patrick has filed measures requiring a woman seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound of the fetus and listen to a doctor describe its development, removing the statutory cap on the permitted number of charter schools, and "gutting" public school standards on class sizes, energy efficiency, and training for school emergencies. Williams has proposed a private school voucher program for students with disabilities – which TFN sees as a wedge to opening larger voucher programs – and while the bill forbids discrimination based on "race, color, or national origin," it does not do so for religion.

Other highlights include slams on Howard for a 2007 law requiring public schools to turn official functions into "limited public forums" allowing for prayer and even evangelizing, providing sectarian headaches for school officials. "Perhaps Howard doesn't particularly care about problems he creates for public schools since he has home-schooled his own children," says the report.

TFN has been heavily involved in the recent evolution fight before the State Board of Education and thus strays a bit outside the Legislature to comment on that, as well. Among the more eye-rolling items are quotes from SBOE Chair Don McLeroy – "Is understanding of evolution 'vital' to the understanding of biology? No." – and SBOE member David Bradley: "I'm sorry. This critical thinking stuff is gobbledygook." And how can we forget Austin's representative on the SBOE, Cynthia Dunbar: "I believe it will be a planned effort by those with whom [President Barack] Obama truly sympathizes to take down the America that is a threat to tyranny."

See the TFN report at

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