Capitol Letters

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
Patrick Michels

Most of the time I (semi-)accept the fact that I live in a red state where Republican primaries are bound to bring out the crazy. But sometimes I can’t help but look at the candidates and think: How did this happen? Who are these people? Where did they come from? And why are they here?

Welcome to the Texas lieutenant governor’s race. The incumbent, David Dewhurst, is running for reelection, pretending it’s the office he’s still interested in even though he really wanted that U.S. Senate seat that was ripped away from his very well-funded hands by Ted Cruz. So now Dewhurst is facing three challengers, three conservative white men each with his own brand of whacky.


Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, the “Consistent Conservative”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples
Patrick Michels
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples at the 2012 Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth.

While I’ll admit that Todd Staples has a leg up on foreign policy—he grew up in Palestine, Texas—lite guvs are rarely called upon to preside over the Middle East peace process. You can’t fault Staples for wanting to get out of the Department of Agriculture. There’s only so much you can do overseeing animal quarantine laws and pesticide safety. Which is probably why Staples decided to take on new responsibilities, like narco-terrorism. As a former rancher and a strong opponent of illegal immigration, Staples is a firm believer in securing the border, even if that means he has to get out there and build the freakin’ fence himself. The fence has become increasingly important because apparently Mexican drug cartels have declared war on Texas farmers and ranchers, which means they’ve declared war on our food supply. There is only ONE MAN who can save us from World War Z, and that man is Todd Staples… assuming the railroad commissioner doesn’t pull rank.

But there are things about Staples that will no doubt endear him to conservatives. He’s a champion of “traditional marriage” and as a senator he sponsored the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man, one woman and the Texas Legislature. He’s been a darling of the pro-life movement (whether or not he gets their nod in this race is anybody’s guess). Oh—and apparently Nolan Ryan is his statewide chairman. Which would be totally awesome if this race could be decided by whose statewide chairman has the most devastating curveball.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, “Hasn’t Thought of a Tagline Quite Yet”

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson
Patrick Michels
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at the 2012 Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth.

I really know nothing about Jerry Patterson. Is there anything to know about Jerry Patterson? What does a “land commissioner” do anyway, besides take selfies of himself all day holding a gun? A land commissioner is like a poor man’s agriculture commissioner. I do know that Patterson valiantly spearheaded the cause of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, of which he was a proud and vocal member, for Confederate vanity license plates a couple years ago. But unfortunately celebrating racist history is no longer politically correct. (Don’t worry. You can still display your Confederate flag decals next to your “Ted Kennedy’s car has killed more people than my gun” bumper sticker.)

State Sen. Dan Patrick, the “Authentic Conservative”

Sen. Dan Patrick
Patrick Michels
Sen. Dan Patrick delivers a passionate speech in favor of House Bill 2.

It’s difficult to find the words to describe Dan Patrick.

Well, there is one word: ultrasound. Mandatory ultrasound for any woman considering an abortion. Because he was once a woman considering an abortion and he wants them to learn from his mistakes. Patrick has had little time for anything but ultrasounds since 2007. He was Mr. Ultrasound before mandatory ultrasounds were cool. The legislation finally passed in 2011 and it’s been a party ever since. (Look for Dewhurst—“Defender of the Pre-Born”—to try and piggyback on this one but good luck with that. He couldn’t even stop a woman—a woman! —from filibustering an anti-abortion bill for 11 hours. And he’s afraid of being cornered by an unruly mob of women and killed by tampons.)

Dan Patrick makes no secret of the fact that he is a very godly man—so godly that he once walked off the Senate floor in protest of a Muslim cleric leading the morning prayer. He also wrote a book entitled The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read, about reading the Bible, which I assume is the First Most Important Book but it could also be The Hunger Games.

Still the chapters do seem rather compelling.

  • Excuse #1: “But Dan… The Bible Is Too Hard To Understand”
  • Excuse #2: “But Dan… The Bible Isn’t Relevant For Today’s World”
  • Excuse #3: “But Dan… How Do I Know The Bible Is True?”
  • Excuse #4: “But Dan… I Already Know Right From Wrong”

And my personal favorite: “But Dan…You’re Such a Dolt.”

Mr. Cruz Goes to Washington

Ted Cruz mid-speech
Photo source: facebook.com/tedcruzpage
Ted Cruz

Either I’m dead right, or I’m crazy!—Jefferson Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

If you haven’t heard, Senator-elect Ted Cruz is kind of a big deal in Washington. And he hasn’t even done anything outside of getting himself elected. But that hasn’t stopped folks from calling him a rising star in the party and the next Jim DeMint, which is apparently a compliment in Crazytown. DeMint’s the senator from South Carolina who gave up his seat to go run the conservative Heritage Foundation. He was also the founder of the Senate’s tea party caucus and a big supporter of Cruz, being one of the first national politicians to endorse him.

You can probably see where this is going.

Yes, a coveted leadership post in the tea party has opened up and Cruz is most likely salivating at the chance to prove that the uber-conservative wing of the Republican Party will like him just as much—if not more!—than his accomplished predecessor.

In a statement, Cruz said, “Jim DeMint is a friend and hero, and a patriot. In the modern era, no other person has had a greater impact reshaping the U.S. Senate, helping bring Republicans back to our conservative roots.” (Yes, this is a eulogy of sorts.) He went on to say that DeMint’s move to Heritage “confirms that Heritage will remain an intellectual powerhouse for decades to come.” Or, at the very least, a place where like-minded extremists can hold support group meetings.

Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post posited that the three most likely candidates to fill DeMint’s critical self-designated role as chief conservative are Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, but considering his ambitions Cruz may want to be cautious.

When your stock is so high everyone wants to be your friend. And if Cruz wants to leave the possibility of higher office open—something he might be well-positioned for in the coming years — he’d be well-served not to make any early enemies in the party.

So what’s a conservative hero to do, if not lead the tea party express even further into obscurity? How about being made vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee? As Politico noted, “It’s a high-wire act for the political neophyte. As an NRSC deputy, he’ll have to balance the political pragmatism of a quintessential inside-the-Beltway institution without tarnishing his brand as an anti-establishment constitutional conservative.” That is a rather delicate balance—sucking up to the establishment while reassuring the army of ideologues that he’s still one of them.

Here’s another balancing act to consider: How to play like a senator even though what you really want is to be president. He could take some tips from fellow Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who ran as a tea party candidate only to show up as a relative moderate, especially on issues such as immigration.

Keeping a high profile is key. Last month Cruz spoke at the conservative American Principles Project dinner declaring that the Republican party should rebrand itself under the banner of “Opportunity Conservatism,” which was immediately hailed as a brilliant successor banner to “Compassionate Conservatism.” (Meanwhile Josh Barro of Bloomberg ripped Cruz’s speech as “bonkers” and criticized his policy recommendations as “old conservative hobby horses” wrapped in shiny political marketing.)

But if the past is any indication Ted Cruz could be the perfect candidate to represent the Republican Party on the national stage. He certainly seems to think so.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at the DNC

Last Tuesday represented the official Republican Day of Reckoning, a stark and ridiculously belated realization that Republicans have little choice but to completely redefine the party and expand its limited base beyond the average white male, as heartbreaking as that may be. For far too long Republicans have callously ignored Latinos, blacks, women, young people, the middle class, immigrants, the 47 percent, anyone with a chronic health condition and those without second homes. But then Mitt Romney lost the Hispanic vote to the president, 71 to 27, prompting the GOP to rethink its strategy of self-deportation.

As much as Democrats would like to claim Republican losses as their own personal victories, they should be seizing this opportunity to reflect upon where they go from here, especially at the state level where 31 states still have Republican governors and 27 boast Republican-controlled legislatures, compared to 15 Democratic ones. In Texas there are currently 95 Republican House members and  55 Democrats. There are 19 Republican state senators, compared to 12 Democrats.  And here’s where it gets really scary—since the mid-1990s Democrats have lost 101 consecutive statewide races to Republicans.

So forget about the great GOP awakening. Now is the perfect time for Texas Democrats to figure out what the hell they’re doing. The default explanation for their dismal showing was that Texas is not just red but bloody red, a stronghold of the Republican Party and ruled with an iron fist by Pharaoh, forcing the Chosen Ones to wander aimlessly in the desert looking for manna from heaven. But now the shifting demographics coupled with a rather clueless opposition party should be working in their favor. In the meantime the only thing Democrats here seem to do is nominate bumbling statewide candidates who can’t do much better than 40 percent. Is that any way to boost morale in a defeatist party so used to losing it’s forgotten how to win?

Yes, there have been isolated victories in the form of really good candidates—San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, his brother Joaquin, the newly elected congressman (the heir and the spare, if you will), and Congressman-elect Pete Gallego who unseated Francesco “Quico” Canseco. But relying on the random strong candidate instead of building a solid state party infrastructure is like playing the political lottery. You’re just wasting your time and money fantasizing about hitting the jackpot in the form of yet another rising star.

Appearing on CNN last week Mayor Castro said optimistically that within the next six to eight years Texas could be a blue state, or at least a purple one. (I’m putting my money on mauve.) “I think when you have that groundwork and when you have the right candidates to excite folks then you’re going to start to see progress,” Castro said. In other words, first lay the groundwork, then groom the right candidate.

Texas Republicans staked out their territory long ago and are seeing some success with Latino candidates like Senator-elect Ted Cruz—who handily beat former legislator Paul Sadler—and their shiny new dynastic boy wonder, George P. Bush. This week George P. submitted paperwork declaring his intention to run for statewide office, causing Republicans to instantaneously swoon. (His father Jeb has hinted that he’s considering a bid for land commissioner. Dream big.)

The good news for Democrats is that Texas is one of four minority-majority states—38 percent Hispanic, 12 percent African American, 4 percent Asian American—and the vast majority vote Democratic. Republicans know that. In an interview with the New Yorker, Cruz warned, “In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat. If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House…the Republican party would cease to exist.”

That, of course, is every Texas Democrat’s dream. It’s high time for them to help make it a reality.

Gallego vs Canseco: ¿Quien es mas Catolico?

In Texas' 23rd Congressional District, Jesus has taken time out of his busy schedule to endorse the incumbent.

If you look at the campaign that’s being run against Pete Gallego, it’s your basic, standard tea party deal: ‘The government would mess up a two-car parade, and God is on my side.’—President Bill Clinton, October 25, 2012

Three Times They Said NO TO GOD.—Campaign mailer from Congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco on Pete Gallego and the national Democratic party

Last Thursday Bill Clinton turned on that old Clinton charm, which seems to work on everyone but his wife, to lend his support to Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego in his congressional race. The 23rd Congressional District is roughly two-thirds Hispanic and stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. Despite the best efforts of Republicans to redistrict minority Democrats right out of Texas—most notably Hispanic voters—incumbent congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco has been targeted by Democrats since 2010 when he narrowly beat Ciro Rodriguez.

The key issues in the campaign—Obamacare, the economy, energy, immigration and the DREAM Act, and that meddling EPA—have been rather predictable, given that this is a race between a tea party candidate and a fairly moderate Democrat. But some things you just can’t predict. Like, say, Jesus Christ taking time out of his busy schedule to endorse the incumbent.

It must have been a tough call since both candidates happen to be Catholic. But guided by his distorted version of faith Canseco decided to accuse his opponent of being a lapsed Catholic who embraces, if not encourages, abortions for young girls. A direct mail piece from Canseco’s campaign accused Gallego of “wanting to provide abortions for underage girls” (Gallego has voted for legislation requiring parental consent) and “wanting marriage to be between man and man” (Gallego supports civil unions but not same-sex marriage). The controversial mailer even featured an image of Jesus Christ, not that those heathen Democrats would recognize him. Canseco’s campaign manager Scott Yeldell went on to accuse Gallego of “acting like he stands up for the faith he abandoned years ago.” Seriously. Can we get some confirmation on Gallego’s Sunday mass attendance record and tithing? (As a fellow Catholic I’m more than familiar with the church’s teachings and its lack of patience for wayward parishioners.)

 

 

Canseco Mailer 1 of 2

Canseco Mailer 1 of 2

As a self-described devout Catholic we can only assume Canseco takes his moral cues from the Ten Commandments when he’s not consulting his stigmata. The second commandment forbids taking the name of the Lord your God in vain. Which probably doesn’t allow for slapping Jesus Christ on your hate mail. The mailer also breaks the eighth commandment, bearing false witness against your neighbor. I’ll give Canseco the benefit of the doubt and say he keeps amendments four through six. I can’t speak to the remaining five.

Responding to the mailers and Canseco’s many allegations, Gallego released a statement saying, “I have never seen a campaign use what to many of us is a beloved and holy image in such a crass and disrespectful manner.” But then this entire campaign season has been nothing if not crass and disrespectful. Gallego should take comfort in the fact that two members of the Holy Trinity are still undecided.

Could questioning someone’s Catholic cred really be an effective campaign tactic in a predominantly Hispanic district? Probably not. According to a new study on the Catholic vote conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Hispanic Catholics and other Catholic minorities have consistently voted Democratic. In the 2008 election 72 percent of Hispanic Catholics voted for President Obama. Attacking your Democratic challenger’s Catholic faith seems like a long shot and maybe even an act of desperation. On social issues the study also found that Hispanic Catholics express more support than opposition to same-sex marriage while they are evenly split regarding abortion. They also prefer big government and more government services, which could help Gallego considering that Canseco doesn’t even try to mask his disdain for the government, even while he serves in it.

Unless Gallego is caught covertly worshipping in a Methodist church in the next week, this race will remain a toss-up. Not surprisingly the most recent polls, one conducted by the League of Conservation Voters on behalf of the Gallego campaign and one conducted internally by the Canseco campaign, have come up with wildly different results.  Depending on which one you believe, Gallego is either up by five points or Canseco is up by 10 points. We’ll know soon enough who the Catholic swing voters decided to support.

God willing.

Ted Cruz Comes Home to the GOP Establishment

Ted Cruz inches (ever so slightly) over to the Republican establishment.
Ted Cruz
Photo source: facebook.com/tedcruzpage
Ted Cruz
PHOTO SOURCE: FACEBOOK.COM/TEDCRUZPAGE

Ted Cruz is where he is today—the next senator from Texas, barring any unforeseen circumstances such as being eaten alive by angry trolls—because of the tea party faithful. The true believers propelled Cruz to an unlikely victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who had the backing of the Republican establishment including one-time tea party favorite Gov. Rick Perry. With his uber-conservative positions on issues from health care (bad) to gun rights (good), coupled with his outsider cred, Cruz quickly became a renegade hero to the right. He owes them, big time.

So why does it seem like he’s tiptoeing away from them?

More extreme candidates like Cruz tend to morph into typical politicians once they get elected (see: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio) unless they’re complete whack jobs (see: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint). Despite his hardline views and fiery rhetoric, Cruz is not just another whack job—he’s a highly intelligent whack job. And a rising star’s political future is much more critical than answering to the outlandish needs and wants of a fringe group like the Tea Party Express. Cruz may be more beholden to the interests of his big financial backers, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, which successfully convinced primary voters that Dewhurst was a socialism-loving moderate.

But now that same moderate has hit the campaign trail for Cruz, his former foe, along with Perry. Of course, Perry was perfectly willing to switch his allegiance immediately following Dewhurst’s loss. In a statement he called Cruz “a force to be reckoned with: an excellent candidate and a great conservative communicator.” Both Sen. John Cornyn and retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison have been prominently featured at wealthy fundraisers for Cruz, presumably too rich for tea party blood. The heady days of Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity have given way to more low-key appearances.

Not that Cruz has given any indication that he would soften his positions, such as his harsh immigration stance and firm opposition to the DREAM Act (unless it applies to Canadians). Cruz will no doubt remain a conservative’s conservative, especially given that his party is increasingly lurching to the right. Not surprisingly, the National Right to Life Committee and the Texas Alliance for Life endorsed him this week for his anti-abortion credentials, including his defense of parental consent laws in front of the Supreme Court. Cruz has also received endorsements from more centrist groups such as the Texas Association of Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In an interview with conservative media outlet NewsMax, Cruz blamed Republicans in Congress for the national debt and said that there is a “second wave of new Republican leaders” coming to Washington who will make the “hard choices.” One can only assume Cruz considers himself one of those “new Republican leaders.” He added that he would, however, be willing to work with other senators.

Sure, he’ll throw a bone to his loyal base every now and again, like his recent tweet about the administration’s “assault on Constitution, 1st Amendment & religious liberty” and a few winking asides on state sovereignty and government-dependent hooligans. But just because you helped get a guy elected, doesn’t mean he’ll end up helping you.

 

PHOTO BY FORREST WILDER

Satan runs across the world with his doubt and with his untruths and what have you, and one of the untruths out there that is driven is that people of faith should not be involved in the public arena.—Rick Perry, September 19, 2012

You had to know that our long national nightmare wasn’t over quite yet. To the untrained eye, when Rick Perry dropped out of the race last January, he appeared to be damaged goods. The governor had run such a lousy and inexperienced campaign that he made Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain look positively presidential. So when Perry declared in August that he would “absolutely” consider another run, Texas pundits awoke from their self-induced slumber and began feverishly working on their Perry-in-2016 stories which, if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, will have to be repackaged into Perry-in-2020 stories. For whatever reason, journalists have created a carefully crafted myth around our governor that if the man could just form coherent sentences and take a refresher course on the American Revolution, he could win.

In order to run in 2016, however, Perry first has to win another term as governor so that he can run on his “record,” such as it is. A Texas Lyceum poll released last week found that only 29 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would vote for him, despite the fact that he currently enjoys a 56 percent approval rating. Two-thirds of likely Republican primary voters said they would first want to see who else is running. Like, anyone else.

Let’s assume for the moment that the man who Perry derided as a “Vulture Capitalist” (a Mormon, no less!) loses in November and Perry, buoyed by his loyal team of advisers and his personal yet extremely public relationship with Jesus Christ, decides to give it another go. Why would this time be any different? As I wrote in The Atlantic after Perry reluctantly “suspended” his campaign, it turned out that the problem was never about underestimating our good governor. It was overestimating him. Not even the tea party could save him, if they had wanted to. But perhaps there was a valid—even compelling—reason. According to a revealing new book by the Texas Tribune’s Jay Root, Oops! A Diary From the 2012 Campaign Trail, Perry advisers claimed that the reason their candidate performed so poorly is because he suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea. (Perry later explained that it “probably wasn’t a good diagnosis.” In other words, he really was just that bad.)

That said, Perry’s presidential campaign always looked and felt more like an evangelical prayer rally on steroids than a serious bid for the White House. Remember “The Response?” The declarations for days of prayer and fasting? His infamous ad decrying President Obama’s “war on religion” and support for gay members in the military? Despite the dubious outcome of running on his conservative religious credentials last time, there’s absolutely no sign that Perry would do it any different the next time around, if there is one. Speaking to Christian conservatives last month Perry declared that the separation of church and state is “the devil’s work” and spoke of the dire need to rally “Christian warriors and Christian soldiers.”

During the campaign Perry told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he can “no more remove my faith than I can that I’m the son of a tenant farmer.” Without his religious fervor, what exactly does Perry have to offer, aside from his unwavering beliefs that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, evolution is just a theory, secession is good, socialism is bad and debates should never, ever be televised?

For Perry to be taken seriously as a candidate in 2016, he would have to spend the next four years generating actual ideas and policies—or else figure out how to make his empty rhetoric seem more convincing, which would save a lot of time and effort. How could he possibly do that serving an unprecedented fourth term as governor in a state that values religious conservatism above all else? Rick Perry may very well be suited up for another war on religion but whether or not the Christian warriors—those same evangelicals who ended up backing Rick Santorum—will follow him into battle is another matter entirely.

PHOTO SOURCES: FACEBOOK.COM/PAUL.SADLER.311 & FACEBOOK.COM/TEDCRUZPAGE
Paul Sadler (left) and Ted Cruz

What you don’t do, is do your job as a legislator worried that some troll will come along 10 years later or 20 years later and try to run a campaign against you.—Paul Sadler, U.S. Democratic Senate candidate

Just so there’s no confusion, the “troll” in question would be Republican nominee Ted Cruz. For future reference this is what happens when debate moderators decide to “throw out all the rules.” Last night the two U.S. Senate candidates faced each other, literally, in their first of two debates to supposedly discuss the very real issues facing Texans. But it quickly turned into a brass-knuckle fight over who’s the biggest liar and who’s crazier, not who would be the better senator. Cruz and Sadler, both lawyers, are clearly more comfortable cross-examining a hostile witness than actually making a case. And this was definitely a hostile atmosphere.

Not that you could really blame Sadler for his overly aggressive attitude. The latest Texas Lyceum poll, released yesterday, showed Cruz leading Sadler 50 to 24 percent, and no Democrat has won state office here since 1994. Those are rather daunting statistics especially when your opponent has quickly become a virtual powerhouse in Republican circles who’s moved beyond “rising star” to actual star, commanding the attention of national party figures and even landing a primetime speaking role at the Republican National Convention. Although the former solicitor general has never held elected office, that’s a clear advantage in this political climate.

The candidates were a little better at staying on message when there were helpful charts in front of them. Referring to Mitt Romney’s comments that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on government, Cruz was asked whether he believes that Texans receiving benefits are victims. That would be the 38 percent of Texans who pay no income tax, the 27 percent who collect Social Security, the 14 percent receiving retirement benefits and the 14 percent receiving food stamps, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Cruz’s automated reply?

“President Obama and his administration are trying to get as many Americans dependent on government so that the Democrats can stay in power for perpetuity.”

To which Sadler responded, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” (This was just the first of a number of times that Sadler called Cruz crazy.) “You really are accusing the president of the United States of using a government program to manipulate people to not get a job, to be dependent on government for services?” Sadler asked. Of course not. As Cruz helpfully pointed out, he never once used the word “manipulate.”

On the issue of creating jobs, Sadler said he would take control of the national debate, which seems like an easy enough task, and Cruz said that he would remove barriers to small businesses: “What’s inherent in the ethos of Texas is we’re not looking for a handout.” Sadler saw this as another opportunity to pounce. “This idea that somehow Mr. Cruz is lecturing us on standing on your own feet, I find incredible,” he said. “You’ve spent most of your adult life working for the government and you haven’t created jobs, you haven’t owned your own business, I have.”

Cruz has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act “in its entirety” because it’s “designed to lead us to socialized care.” Not surprisingly Sadler called this the “worst legislative strategy you can possibly employ.”

Turning to immigration, the candidates were asked how they would handle the 1.6 million illegal immigrants living in Texas. Sadler supports a path to citizenship, a work permit program and the DREAM Act. Cruz said he supports a “staged approach” which would first involve securing the border. (Apparently this is as far as he’s gotten.) As for his opponent and his views on immigration, Cruz actually complimented him. “He is running a campaign with a great deal of courage,” Cruz said, “because he is running an unapologetically liberal campaign.”

Cruz also had an apology of sorts for Sadler. “I’m sorry you believe I’m a troll.” It’s always nice to end on a high note.

PHOTO SOURCE FACEBOOK.COM/DRMARKSHELTON
Rep. Mark Shelton

Incredible as it may seem there are still some issues that can rally bipartisan support. Take, for example, the federal Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act (SAFER), legislation that would help eliminate the backlog of an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits nationwide by allocating millions of dollars to perform DNA testing. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and passed last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, is essentially the same bill championed by Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) during the last legislative session and signed into law.

Not that you can blame Cornyn for wanting to make a similar effort. As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee he is faced with the formidable challenge of assuring female voters that his party really does care about women’s health and women’s issues and maybe even women in general. No easy task in the wake of Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s absurd comments on “legitimate rape” or the extreme language in the GOP party platform that allows for zero exceptions for abortion including in cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother—the same extreme pro-life position espoused by Paul Ryan. The war on contraception and family planning at both the federal and state levels has alienated women even more, at least if we believe un-un-skewed polling.

There’s little political risk involved in testing rape kits.

Unless, perhaps, you’re a conservative Texas House member in a close race for a state Senate seat. Like Cornyn’s legislation, Wendy Davis’ bill received broad bipartisan support. It passed unanimously in the Senate and all but eight House members voted for it, including Davis’ challenger state Rep. Mark Shelton.

(The other seven members voting no were fellow Republicans Leo Berman, Tom Craddick, Drew Darby, Dan Flynn, John Frullo, Tryon Lewis and Barbara Nash.)

Shelton’s opposition is especially puzzling considering that he’s been a pediatrician for 20 years. (His current title is director of pediatric infectious diseases at Cook Children’s Hospital but he’s still practicing full time.) A typical pediatrician’s patient population would include at least some adolescents—the age group that continues to have the highest rates of rape and sexual assault. To help physicians address the crisis, the American Academy of Pediatrics even issued guidelines on how to best deal with sexual assault victims and any associated legal implications, including reporting cases of statutory rape. According to the guidelines, pediatricians treating adolescent victims “should be trained in the forensic procedures required for documentation and collection of evidence or should refer to an emergency department or rape crisis center.” Such evidence would include rape kits.

Even taking Shelton’s extreme fiscal conservatism into account, Davis’s bill was found to have zero significant fiscal implication to the state. Some law enforcement agencies, however, including the San Antonio Police Department, expressed concern about a lack of resources to test the backlogged kits, which costs an estimated $1,000 per kit. The Fort Worth Police Department—in Shelton’s district—spoke in favor of the bill. One of Shelton’s supporters, Congresswoman Kay Granger, appeared with Cornyn in Fort Worth to show her support for the federal act. The Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas Health Science Center already provides assistance to Fort Worth police in reducing their backlogs. And in recent years, it’s been working. Out of 960 kits processed by the center 102 suspects were identified, which led to 47 arrests and 36 felony convictions. Still, as we reported earlier this year, some agencies have yet to comply with the law’s reporting requirements.

Although Dr. Shelton hasn’t historically been an advocate for women’s health issues, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be against helping victims of rape and sexual assault. But his thinking remains a mystery, as his staff couldn’t be reached for comment, despite leaving four messages over the past two days via email and phone. Maybe it was concern for local law enforcement. Maybe he just doesn’t like Wendy Davis. Or maybe he was overly tired and wasn’t aware of what bill he was voting on. There must be a perfectly reasonable explanation. We just don’t know what it is.

Last week Texas Republican heavyweights, from Gov. Rick Perry to Senate nominee and Latino rising star Ted Cruz, weighed in on the riots in Libya almost as quickly as Mitt Romney. The riots, triggered by an amateur soft porn-like YouTube movie depicting the prophet Muhammad in a derogatory way, have since spread across the Middle East, prompting Obama opponents to seize this ripe political opportunity to attack the president and his policies as completely inept.

Before even grasping the depth of the volatile situation—which left four Americans dead including the U.S. ambassador to Libya—Romney released a statement criticizing the Obama administration for its “disgraceful” and “conciliatory” response and accused the president of being an apologist, a popular Fox News talking point that comes in handy for nearly all areas of foreign policy. Sure, it might not be true but it’s an easy and surprisingly effective way to rally the Republican faithful and neocon hardliners. (Congressman Michael McCaul of Austin called on the administration “to end its timid foreign policy and suspend being an apologist for actions of the United States around the world.”)

In a hastily arranged news conference, Romney doubled down on his comments saying that it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” According to TIME’s Mark Halperin, Romney’s comments are “likely to be seen as one of the most craven and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign.”

The day after the killings at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Perry released a harsh statement saying that Obama’s “impotent foreign policy” and “shameful lack of leadership” contributed to the burning of an American flag in Egypt, which “helped to embolden our enemies in the region.” The governor also accused Obama of trying to “lead from behind” in Libya and “allowing Libyan rockets and artillery to be scattered to the terrorist winds.” In the past Perry has referred to Obama’s Middle East policy as simultaneously naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.

Few people are aware that Perry is actually kind of a big deal in the Middle East. While in Israel in 2007 to receive the Friend of Zion award, he boasted of the “special kinship” Texas has with the Israeli people, saying, “We are both independent-minded and self-reliant, and our history is grounded in strong stands against impossible odds.” (Cue secession talk here.)

As the Dallas Morning News reported, Ted Cruz saved his remarks for like-minded conservatives at last weekend’s Values Voters Summit, where he said that the president has weakened the U.S. and essentially abandoned Israel. Tough talk for someone who refers to himself as the “Cruz Missile.”

“There are radicals throughout the world—Islamic terrorists that would murder each and every one of us,” Cruz said. “And it says something that we have a President of the United States that is utterly unable to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorist.’ If memory serves, it wasn’t a random collection of Boy Scouts on those airplanes [on 9/11].”

Cruz added that “bullies and tyrants don’t respect weakness.” He should know.

But leave it to Congressman Louie Gohmert last Thursday to really work in the crazy:

“We have a leader who takes a minute and a half out on a big whoop-de-do campaign stop, to say ‘Wait, wait, wait, it’s been a tough week, we’ve lost some people … an ambassador. Ah, now back to the fundraising and the fun and the cheering for me.’”

Gohmert added that he wants a commander-in-chief who says, “You know what, you took out our people, we’re taking you out. And you’re going to learn, you don’t come after our people.”

Brilliant. I assume the Tyler congressman will be on the front lines.

PHOTO SOURCE: DEMCONVENTION.COM
Cecile Richards at the Democratic National Convention

Why are we having to fight in 2012 against politicians who want to end access to birth control? It’s like we woke up in a bad episode of Mad Men.—Cecile Richards at the Democratic National Convention, September 6, 2012

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.—Don Draper

This week’s Democratic National Convention showed why a majority of women voters say they’re for Obama. From equal pay to comprehensive health care to reproductive rights, the Democratic Party this election seems a lot less hostile to women than the GOP. There was no need for the first lady to pull an Ann Romney and proclaim like a cheerleader with a megaphone, “I love women!” In their party platform, Republicans can’t mask their utter lack of respect for women and their firm belief that women are completely incapable of making responsible choices.

As for the war on reproductive rights, Texas is quite literally ground zero. On Tuesday, the Department of State Health Services held a public hearing concerning the state-funded Women’s Health Program and the subsequent defunding of Planned Parenthood. The controversial ban, approved by the Legislature last session, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge before being appealed by Attorney General Greg Abbott.

In her remarks Wednesday night, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards praised the Obama for “trusting women” on everything from health insurance to contraception. (If elected Mitt Romney has pledged to cut all federal family planning funds to the organization.) Instead of focusing on abortion, which makes up a tiny portion—3 percent, according to its most recent annual report—of Planned Parenthood services, Richards expanded upon the organization’s overall mission to provide access to affordable health screenings and contraception.

But Texas can’t see beyond that 3 percent, despite the fact that current federal and state law already prohibit tax dollars from funding abortions. And many other states are following suit, with like-minded anti-woman initiatives such as mandating invasive transvaginal sonograms for women seeking abortions.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, Richards warned, “If you want to see what a Romney presidency might be like, look at Texas.”

The Republican party platform opposes abortion across the board, even in cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother. It also includes the so-called “human life amendment” (also known as the “personhood amendment”), which would overturn Roe v. Wade and possibly affect such fertility treatments as in vitro fertilization.

Meanwhile, as Bloomberg View columnist Margaret Carlson pointed out, the Democrats have removed the sentence “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare” from its party platform for the past two elections. Being pro-choice should never be confused with being pro-abortion. No one wants to see more abortions. But unfortunately the pro-life movement is also anti-contraception and anti-sex education (unless it’s abstinence-based), all of which leads to more unplanned pregnancies.

Of course, women’s health is broader than one organization or one issue. Almost every speech at the convention highlighted the Affordable Care Act and its impact on women regarding preexisting conditions, gender discrimination and preventive services. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, embraced the plan she called a badge of honor:

Before Obamacare, some [insurance companies] wouldn’t cover women’s most basic needs, like contraception and maternity care, but would still charge us up to 50 percent more than men. They said women who had C-sections or survived breast cancer or even domestic violence had “pre-existing conditions.” But this president made it illegal to discriminate against women… Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition. That’s what change looks like.

It’s hard to argue with that, no matter where you stand on abortion.

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