Now that our City Council, following today's final meeting (Dec. 15), is basically squared away until 2017, it's time to start worrying about the 85th Legislature. As my colleague Mary Tuma reported this week ("Naked City: Workman Files to Repeal Fair Chance Hiring," Dec. 15), one of the biennial occupations of the Republican-dominated state government is pounding into submission any upstart local initiatives that those rulers find objectionable. GOP legislators have a long tradition of bashing Austin rhetorically and legislatively, counterpointed by an only too common inclination for sticking around rather than heading back to the hinterlands between sessions.
In the present instance, District 47 Rep. Paul Workman has filed a bill to reverse Austin's innovative "Fair Chance" hiring ordinance which, as its name suggests, requires employers to delay inquiring about the criminal histories of applicants until a preliminary job offer is made. This modest attempt to provide a fair shot at employment for ex-inmates apparently strikes Workman as an unconscionable imposition on employer prerogatives; his HB 577 would prohibit cities from enacting such outrages – much as the Legislature also forbids local governments from increasing the minimum wage, for fear some fast-food worker might be deprived of the freedom of working for nothing, should she so choose.
By the time the session opens in January, there will be dozens of such filings – hamstringing union organizing, undermining school districts, obstructing mass transit, preventing environmental regulation, whatever the desires of local residents. The most common restrictions, of course, are on municipal taxation: state politicians who reflexively underfund schools and public services then restrict the means for local communities to fill the gap. This year state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, wants to lower the "rollback rate" on property tax increases from 8% to 4%, make rollback elections automatic, and forbid cities from suing appraisal districts (as Austin did) over what they believe are unfair valuations. The 8% cap already constrains city responses to population growth and rising costs – lowering it would inevitably result in cuts to public safety (the bulk of city spending) and all other services, or simply add annual rollback elections to other public expenses.
Bettencourt's SB 2 is enthusiastically supported by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, of course, whose list of legislative priorities includes not only this bogus "tax reform," but an obsessive focus on where Texans relieve themselves. Patrick's determination to somehow ensure that Texan bladders are emptied only in "the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificates" was recently skewered by Houston businessman Cort McMurray in the Houston Chronicle ("Gray Matters," Dec. 12). Years ago, McMurray discovered his own birth certificate mistakenly lists the wrong gender – although he never imagined he might need to brandish the document in order to be allowed entry into the "correct" bathroom. (He does brighten at the fond male presumption that the ladies' loo might at least be more sanitary than the average male refuge.)
I recommend McMurray's whole trenchant and hilarious column, which is particularly inventive in creating a litany of expressive new heroic titles for our Lite Guv, befitting his obsessions: "Lord of the Lavatory," "Pasha of Pee," "Wizard of the W.C.," "Potentate of Piddling," "Kaiser of the Crapper," "Fidalgo of Flush," "Baron of Bowel Movements," "Emperor of Evacuations," "Duke of Dooky." Let this serve as the beginning of a new Texas parlor game: We can all spend the next few months brainstorming newly alliterative cognomens for a Patrick who should forever live in infamy.
For starters, here's a couple more: Übermensch of the Urinal, Presiding Officer of Poo ... you get the idea.
Some readers might object that this column's political discourse is descending into the gutter, at least via its odoriferous conduits. I feel quite confident in responding: Patrick started it. As you may recall, Patrick followed the now-patented Donald Trump model of celebrity political aspiration: Beginning with a Rush Limbaugh-like Houston radio talk show, he ranted his way into the public consciousness, and learned from his bloviating mentors there was no claim too outrageous, no charge too inaccurate or vicious, to persuade listeners (and voters) of the evils of the Capitol and the futility of representative government.
He parlayed that shamelessness into a Senate seat, and then Republican primary voters found his airwaves-honed brand of reactionary demagoguery even more persuasive than that of his predecessor, David Dewhurst. (Remember "moderate" Dewhurst?) Like President-elect Trump (that baleful avatar), Patrick has discovered that there is no apparent limit to the credulity and malice of the average GOP primary voter, and once a politician leaps that low bar, there is no political limit on his ambitions.
We are about to enter uncharted and very treacherous waters in our political life. But Texans should be painfully familiar with the possibilities of an authoritarian, centralized government under an all-Republican, all-the-time administration. We've learned early and often, the hard way, that things can always get worse.
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