Point Austin: Through the Lege Looking-Glass
Alice’s tea party was never as mad as the Lege this session
You can't make these things up. Kicking off his gender purification campaign Monday at the Texas Public Policy Foundation – a think tank purportedly devoted to smaller government – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick compared Senate Bill 6, his heroic Defense of the Toilet Stalls, to the quintessential Texas foundation myth: the Battle of the Alamo. "Today, on this day," Patrick declared, "189 people sacrificed their lives at the Alamo because they believed in something" (Texas Observer, March 7). My best guess is, gender-specific latrines were fairly near the bottom of the rebels' priority list, but maybe they were ahead of their time on this indispensable Republican wedge issue.
At any rate, Patrick allowed that the current epic contest is not exactly on the same scale as the War for Texas Independence, at least in terms of personal risk. "We're not asked to give our lives," he told a crowd of supporters and reporters. "We're not asked to grab our guns. [That's a different bill. – M.K.] We're just asked to go cast courageous votes." There is little more comically absurd than the notion that enforcing institutional discrimination and public humiliation against transgender people – estimated at fewer than 1% of the U.S. population – requires "courage" on the part of public officials.
Patrick's press conference was reportedly full of such nonsense. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, spoke of calling upon three friendly pastors for spiritual reinforcements, "because I believe that this country is founded on Judeo-Christian values," which apparently include genital checkpoints at public restroom doors. Nevertheless, the enemy is as crafty as Santa Anna and his minions, said Kolkhorst's Senate colleague Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston: "She has been taking a lot of slings and arrows from a lot of liberal media." The Mexican army reportedly had actual cannons, but you get the idea.
The besieged Texians were supported by yet another Lite Guv, Dan Forest of North Carolina (Motto: "More Reactionary Than Texas"), calling them to arms in "a battle for Western civilization." Onward, Christian soldiers, marching off to ... guard the urinals.
A Litany of Errors
The Chronicle goes to press a day early this week, and as I write Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of people have assembled before the State Affairs Committee to testify on SB 6. Meanwhile, the House is holding hearings on public school finance, a subject Patrick has dismissed as too burdensome for a regular legislative session. To say Patrick has his priorities out of order is an extreme understatement: Filed between the General Appropriations bill (SB 1) and the Kolkhorst Potty Purity bill are Bettencourt's property tax hammerlock for cities (SB 2), Larry Taylor's private school voucher bill (SB 3), Charles Perry's anti-immigrant "sanctuary cities" bill (SB 4), and Joan Huffman's minority-targeted Voter ID bill (SB 5). (It takes the GOP all the way to SB 8 to get around to requiring women to bury and mourn fetal tissue ....)
As it happens, last week Houston Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman filed his "Sandra Bland Act" (HB 2702), an omnibus bill named in honor of the young woman who died in a Waller County jail in 2015 because of petty but vicious police abuse of power. The bill would regulate arrest procedures, reduce racial profiling, limit arbitrary arrests, and enhance the availability of mental health resources to state and county jails. It's a lengthy list, but there's not a single item on it that is not much more urgently needed than a Defense of Bathrooms bill – nor than most of the first dozen low-numbered bills that are priorities of Patrick's Republican-dominated Senate.
Presuming Coleman's bill gets a Senate sponsor and a hearing, no doubt some of these sections will be split out or amended, with an even longer shot to arrive on the Senate floor ... then to be sniffed over and discarded by the Senate majority. Priorities, you understand.
Battle for the Bottom
It's not exactly news that the Texas Legislature's biennial to-do list is filled with bills that shouldn't be discussed in rational company, let alone enacted into law. The "bathroom bill" and "fetal remains" bill are just extreme examples of the Lege's upside-down sense of what matters to most Texans, and of what is most important for the state's economic development, political equality, public safety (for all Texans), and our quality of life.
But in our polarized political times, following upon the extremely partisan gerrymandering that was institutionalized in full force under former Texas Congressman Tom DeLay, the only check on Republican extremism is ... the threat of getting "primaried" from the right – meaning even further Republican extremism. Unless Texas voters begin to radically transform their voting habits, generating substantial increases in turnout and consequent support for candidates who reject the cockeyed nuttiness that is too often the norm at the Capitol – the career of Dan Patrick being a prime example – we're in for more long bouts of political idiocy. Pardon my unarmed presumption, but I don't think that's what the heroes of the Alamo had in mind.