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Forrest for the Trees

Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco.
Office of the Governor
Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco

Beneath the compassion expressed by Texas’ top elected leaders for the Central American kids pouring over the border lurk some dangerously uninformed, untenable and inhumane proposals.

Rick Perry, for example, has mixed empathy for the kids with calls to action that could lead to even worse suffering for the unaccompanied children and their families. Wendy Davis has inexplicably called for a special session of the Texas Legislature to deal with the situation, which would probably be as productive as those special sessions on abortion.

By treating what is arguably a refugee crisis like a national security threat—with the attendant calls for sealing the border and ratcheting up exaggerated fears of disease and “Amnesty!”—it’s inevitable that we’d end up with a martial approach.

Following a visit to a Border Patrol detention facility in McAllen, Rick Perry penned an op-ed this week that is uncharacteristically interested in human suffering but ultimately amounts to so many crocodile tears:

The first thing I saw was a boy crying. Terrified and sobbing against the window of the holding cell, he couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13. The room was full of other young boys, their curious eyes peering out at us as we walked by. These were the ones who made the trip alone.

[...]

The very real human consequences of our country’s lax border security and muddled immigration policies huddled right there, under an open shelter in the stifling Texas heat.

Anyone with a heart, including Perry, would be moved by the sight of some very brave, and one assumes, very scared kids, who’ve just made a dangerous trek thousands of miles to a foreign country, only to find their lives as precarious as ever.

The governor also struck a thoughtful, if vague, note on the general outlines of the problem:

This is a complex situation and a growing humanitarian crisis that will require a multifaceted solution.

All well and good. But what does Perry propose?

The U.S. needs to act decisively. First off, the federal government needs to make it crystal clear that attempting to cross our border illegally simply isn’t worth the considerable risk. People in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and elsewhere who are considering making the trip need to know that they will be immediately sent back to their country of origin when they’re detained, not sent to various locations across the United States or placed in the care of loved ones.

[Emphasis mine]

Although the context does not make it entirely clear, it appears that Perry is proposing that immigrants from Central America be immediately deported back to their home countries. According to immigration attorneys, this would be illegal, untenable and reverse this nation’s recognition of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and others who have a legitimate claim to remain in the U.S.

“That’s just flat wrong,” said Dan Kowalski, an immigration attorney in Austin. “The only people who are being sent back immediately are those who agree to be sent back. … That can’t happen under federal law. You’d have to get Congress to change the statutes. We also have one or two treaty obligations.”

Typically, unauthorized immigrants caught at the border—if they’re not prosecuted first—are put into deportation proceedings and will, if they stick it out, be ordered to appear before an immigration judge. No attorney is provided to them. There are a number of reasons why a judge might allow an immigrant to stay: She’s a bona fide asylum-seeker, she’s a victim of violence and can help U.S. authorities solve a crime, she’s a refugee, etc.

The unaccompanied kids from Central America, in particular, could have compelling claims. A recent United Nations report, based on interviews with 404 minors who entered the U.S. in the past few years, found that 58 percent “were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.”

Barbara Hines, who directs the immigration law clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote in an email that the Central American children are afforded “special protections under the law and may qualify for reunification with family in the U.S., special immigrant juvenile status or asylum, depending on their circumstances. Second, under our international law obligations, incorporated into the immigration statute, a person fleeing persecution may not be returned to his or her own country if he/she establishes a fear of persecution. So clearly not everyone can be sent ‘immediately back’ as Perry claims.”

There’s also the glibness of Perry’s solution. If you care about these kids, then you have to care about what would happen to them if you booted them back over the border. Melissa del Bosque reported extensively in 2010—where was Rick Perry then?—on the fate of Mexican minors who are deported back to Mexico. Some of them, abandoned, become victims of violence or rape, fall into the hands of cartels, or meet fates we’ll never know. Others, desperate to flee the violence and poverty of their homes or eager to reunify with family members in the U.S., will attempt to cross over and over again. “Where I come from,” one 15-year-old Mexican boy told Melissa, “we’re not afraid to die.”

And what does Wendy Davis have to say about the “humanitarian crisis” at the border?

In a letter to Rick Perry, she mostly echoed the Republican-led effort, including the deployment of Texas law enforcement to the border. She did suggest that “adequate food, shelter, clothing and healthcare are equally important” but proposed a special session of the Legislature to take up how to pay for it—an idea that was roundly condemned and mocked by immigrant advocates. John-Michael Torres, an activist in Mission in the Valley, wrote on his blog that a “special session would open the legislature to a flood of anti immigrant bills. We’d see a repeat of 2011, when more than 90 anti immigrant bills were introduced.”

Davis also called on Obama to provide “a sufficient number of [immigration] judges” to provide for “immediate hearing[s]” for the Central Americans. How such judges could be found, trained, deployed to the border and provide due process in adjudicating complex claims “immediately” she didn’t explain.

This also didn’t sit well with activists. “So basically a call for more immigration judges without a call for additional legal aid means a faster deportation process,” wrote Torres, who helped organize a “Facebook bomb” of Davis’ Facebook page in response. “So she wants to deport them back to the extreme violence they’re fleeing. WTF.”

But after Torres and his group, La Union del Pueblo Entero, targeted Davis, her campaign pointed them to a letter she had sent Obama on June 23rd. The letter is very similar to the one that she sent Rick Perry but with one key difference: She asked Obama to provide for attorneys ad litem for the kids in addition to more immigration judges. I’ve asked the Davis campaign for clarification on why this wasn’t included in her widely touted letter to Perry.

Kids crossing the border alone is not a new issue. Folks on the front lines have been struggling with this vexing phenomenon for years. Politicians who show up during a crisis moment proffering quick-fix solutions will do more harm than good. It’s easy to express some cheap form of empathy. It’s much harder to come up with real solutions. On that thought, I’ll leave you with what Melissa wrote in 2010:

If government leaders could rise above the divisive politics, they could stop this humanitarian crisis. Mexico and the United States have binational accords and a repatriation program to protect migrant children, yet neither country ensures they’re safely returned home. The U.S. Border Patrol and the DIF could set up a database to monitor children at risk to prevent them from ending up on the streets. The U.S. Congress could pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a family reunification process to prevent children from being dumped in Mexican shelters. The Border Patrol already has a congressional mandate to screen for vulnerable kids and refer them to U.S. agencies that can help, yet advocates say it’s not being done. One thing is for certain: Until politicians on both sides of the river eradicate the poverty that uproots these families, children won’t stop coming. Even if the United States puts soldiers on the border and spends billions on fences and high-tech equipment, they’re not going to stop the exodus.

Texas GOP Convention 2014
Timothy Faust
Texas GOP Convention 2014

For connoisseurs of WTF—I’m looking at you trolls—there is but one ur-text, the guiding document from which all others emanate, and are compared to. And though it is based on immutable laws of nature and God, it is nevertheless a living document too, revised every couple years by a gathering of wise men and women, who puzzle and debate over the text with the passion and intensity of a gathering of Talmudic scholars. I am of course referring to the Texas Republican Party platform.

The Texas GOP convention is meeting this week in Fort Worth and one of the most important items of business is revising the Platform—a task that is taken very, very seriously by many of the delegates. The Platform isn’t binding on Republican elected officials (though some in the grassroots would like it to be) but it matters for symbolic reasons. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into the id of conservatism. The folks who write it are the true believers and this is their wish list, their vision of a world that conforms to their ideals and beliefs. The Platform (I’m capitalizing “platform” in honor of The Platform’s RANDOM use of Capital Letters) is also contested ground: the turf on which the GOP’s various factions fight, usually over brown people and immigration.

This year’s Platform debate features a reprise of sorts from last year, when less xenophobic, more practical GOP-ers jettisoned a part of the platform that ranted at length against amnesty and undocumented immigrants. The reformers instead fashioned something grandiosely named the “Texas Solution,” a rather vague and untenable guest worker program that was nevertheless widely praised in the media because it seemed at least somewhat tethered to reality.

The anti-amnesty crowd this year wants to delete the “Texas Solution”—an updated version of which cleared the temporary Platform committee—and that fight is likely headed to the floor of the convention for a public fight.

Meanwhile, what’s in the Platform at this point? Here are some of the items that caught my eye in an early draft that leaked Wednesday.

Unlike the 2012 Platform, this year’s Platform takes on climate change—or what the GOP calls “climate change”—that international, multi-decade conspiracy among thousands of scientists and governments to artificially increase the planet’s temperature in order to secure that sweet, sweet grant money.

While we all strive to be good stewards of the earth, “climate change” is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives. We urge government at all levels to ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or “climate justice” initiatives.

The Platform committee has left in its unequivocal opposition to the United Nations’ diabolical Agenda 21.

The Republican Party of Texas should expose all United Nations Agenda 21 treaty policies and its supporting organizations, agreements and contracts.

They also are freaked out about various international commie plots to control the kiddos: CSCOPE, Common Core and “UN Inclusion.”

We oppose use of a national or international core curricula in the State of Texas (i.e. Common Core, CSCOPE, UN Inclusion, etc.)

They like the 10th Amendment (God-given states’ rights) and the 2nd Amendment (God-given gun rights). But the GOP is not too happy with the pesky 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators, like, say, Ted Cruz.

The draft Platform calls for the “full repeal” of the 17th.

Return the appointment of U.S. Senators by the State Legislatures.

The Platform addresses socialism: It’s bad. Against it.

Socialism breeds mediocrity. America is exceptional. Therefore,
the Republican Party of Texas opposes socialism, in all of its
forms.

Note: If America is exceptional and socialism isn’t (since it’s mediocre) therefore Barack Obama has not plunged America into socialism. QED.

The Platform has arguably gone backwards on The Gay Issue, at least in one respect. The draft actually endorses the wholly discredited, cruel and laughable-if-it-wasn’t-so-damaging “reparative therapy” racket that attempts to turn gay people straight.

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin.

Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values. We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.

Oh, wow, The Platform endorses “a woman’s right to choose…”

We strongly support a women’s [sic] right to choose to devote her life to her family and children.

The UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every nation on the planet except for Somalia, South Sudan and the United States.

We unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Well, it goes on like this for 40 pages. The copy I have does not appear to be written in crayon but you can look for yourself.

WA Parish coal plant
The W.A. Parish coal plant in Ft. Bend County

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its long-awaited carbon pollution rules targeting coal plants. For President Obama and those increasingly concerned about the threat of climate change, the proposal could not be more welcome. It finally tackles global warming by proposing fairly concrete greenhouse gas reductions and pushes carbon kingdoms like Texas—the nation’s top carbon dioxide emitter—to build on successes with renewable power, energy efficiency and conservation.

Texas will have to come up with a plan to cut the rate of greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent by 2030, relative to 2012 levels. Nationally, EPA expects a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from electricity generation by 2030, compared to pre-Recession 2005 levels. (Yes, the figures are confusing… more on that later.)

Although the 645-page proposal goes to great lengths to describe the flexibility and generous timeline granted to the states, Texas industry and political leaders are unlikely to play nice. When it comes to the Obama EPA and Texas, nothing is easy.

Gov. Perry has long been an ally of the Texas coal industry. In 2006, he issued a rare executive order—later struck down by a judge—”fast-tracking” 11 coal plants that were being delayed by grassroots opposition and legal challenges. In mid-May, Perry accused Obama of waging a “war on coal” and labeled the EPA a “den of activists.”

When, in May, the White House released an alarming scientific survey of global warming ravages already underway, the state environmental agency’s official response was to worry about how responding to climate change would “result in greatly reduced use of coal,” and to declare that purported higher energy costs were “the true environmental impact of the war on coal.”

And 29 members of Texas’ congressional delegation, including five of the 12 Democrats, signed a letter arguing that “climate change policy should be directed by Congress.” (That policy appears to be “do nothing.”)

The Texas Association of Business took a Chicken Little approach today. “This plan will also cause the cost of electricity to skyrocket, so, if you manage to keep your job you may not be able to afford to keep the lights on,” said the association’s CEO, Bill Hammond, in a statement.

The Clean Power Plan, as EPA has dubbed the proposed carbon rules, would give states two to three years to draft a plan, and largely leaves the details of how to achieve the reductions in greenhouse gases to the states. States could focus on building out renewable energy, making fossil fuel plants more efficient, setting up a regional cap-and-trade system, reducing energy consumption through energy efficiency and conservation, or, more likely, a combination of methods.

Still, the rule is expected to fall heavily on the embattled coal industry.

“The interesting thing about this rule is that it’s very targeted,” said Al Armendariz, a former regional EPA administrator in Texas who’s now with the Sierra Club. “It’s not going to affect our refineries; it’s not going to affect the chemical plants along the Gulf; it’s not going to affect the oil and gas fields. … It’s focused on the largest, most polluting sources of electricity, which in Texas are our coal-fired power plants and in particular those that burn lignite.”

Armendariz calculates that the six dirtiest power plants in Texas—all of them coal—account for more than 30 percent of all the carbon emitted, about 83.8 million tons, in Texas’ electricity sector. The Martin Lake plant in East Texas, owned by TXU, alone emits almost 7 percent of carbon emissions, out of the 118 power plants in the state.

“I suspect that what’s going to happen is that a small number of power plants are going to be phased out and be replaced with renewable energy,” Armendariz says.

But the reductions wouldn’t all have to come from directly cutting pollution from power plants. For example, Texas could get credit for cuts from energy efficiency improvements on homes, like weatherizing or more efficient appliances, or rolling out “demand response” measures such as programs that idle big power producers during those hot summer days.

Texas could also benefit from trends already powering a partial decarbonization in the utility sector.

For all the talk of a “war on coal,” regulations attacking the fuel source for its outsized contribution to mercury, smog, soot and greenhouse gases have only been a partial reason for the industry’s decline. Increasing competition from renewables—and in Texas, that means largely wind power—and the dramatic drop in natural gas prices have been perhaps an even bigger factor. There’s no better illustration of that than the colossally bad bet made by private equity firms when they purchased Energy Future Holdings (previously TXU) in 2007. Their bet was on the price of natural gas remaining high, which would have made profitability of that company’s fleet of coal and nuclear plants a very attractive investment. Instead, natural gas prices plummeted and EFH is now in bankruptcy proceedings.

San Antonio’s city-owned CPS Energy decided in 2011 to shutter one of its coal plants years ahead of schedule, making up the difference with wind, solar and energy efficiency—a decision the utility is now crowing about. Austin Energy is considering if, and how, to wind down its own coal plant.

And lots of coal plants are coming up for mothballing or retirement anyway. As the EPA rule points out, by 2025 the average of the coal fleet will be 49 years old and 20 percent of the plants would be more than 60 years old.

In other words, market forces are hard at work making coal obsolete, in the U.S. at least.

Michael Webber, a widely-respected energy professor at UT-Austin, told the Austin American-Statesman that the EPA rules are “a hug from Obama to Texas” because natural gas will gain so much.

In a sense, the carbon rules are pushing the energy sector in a direction it’s already headed, like a driver tapping the accelerator on a car that’s rolling downhill.

It’s also not clear how drastic the cuts would actually be. The 39 percent reduction required of Texas may sound like a huge number but it’s based on an emissions rate—pounds of carbon emitted per unit of energy—not the total tons of carbon. Texas will have to reduce its carbon intensity and experts are still puzzling out how that would translate into overall greenhouse gas reductions from the utility sector. Nationally, EPA expects carbon emissions to fall by 30 percent by 2030 but did not prescribe the exact tons of carbon per state.

Still, it’s likely that Texas officials will resist every step of the way. When the EPA ordered states to start issuing greenhouse gas permits for major industrial sources, Texas was the only state to refuse to comply, causing the feds to take over and delay the issuing of permits.

I asked a top Environmental Defense Fund attorney what she expected from Texas. She said that that greenhouse gas permitting program was instructive.

“At the end of the day industry stakeholders went to the state and said we want you to have this authority and not the EPA,” said Megan Ceronsky, EDF’s director of regulatory policy. “My assumption is that the same thing will happen here.”

Rick Perry shakes hands with a Toyota executive in 2009
RickPerry.org
Rick Perry shakes hands with a Toyota executive

Rick Perry’s office refuses to release any information about the $40 million it’s offering Toyota to relocate to Texas, despite providing the Observer with similar information last year for a $12 million grant to Chevron.

The Observer and the Houston Chronicle both filed open records requests with the governor’s office after Perry announced in April the $40 million incentive grant to Toyota from the Texas Enterprise Fund. The governor’s office promotes the Enterprise Fund as a “deal-closing” program that helps bring jobs to Texas. But in some cases evidence suggests that the fund does little but line the pockets of companies planning to move to Texas anyway. For example, the Observer reported last year Chevron already had plans to develop an office tower in downtown Houston, provided scant justification that it was considering other locations in its application and told the governor’s office that it planned to use the $12 million grant to pay for employee relocation perks.

It would be interesting to know if something similar happened with the Toyota grant. Especially since company executives have said the $40 million Texas Enterprise Fund grant had little to do with the relocation from California to Plano.

In an open records request, I asked for Toyota’s application, for the contract between Toyota and the state, and for any other related documents. The request was nearly identical to the one I filed for documents related to the Chevron deal in July. But unlike the Chevron request, the governor’s office refused to release anything other than a handful of news clips. Instead, it sought an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office about whether it can keep the records hidden. Perry’s attorneys argue that releasing any information before the deal is finalized “would seriously disadvantage Texas by allowing other states to directly approach this entity with competing incentives.”

Now, it’s not unusual for a Texas agency to ask the attorney general to rule on open records matters. And it’s not unusual for government agencies to try to keep government documents secret on the basis of competitive harm.

But the rationale a Perry spokesperson gave to the Houston Chronicle on Friday is peculiar.

In a similar case, details on the state’s $12 million TEF grant to Chevron, including the company’s application, were released to the Texas Observer late last year.

“It’s not uncommon for us to announce the incentive offer without a finalized contract, or prior to finalization of the local incentive package,” Nashed said. “The Chevron contract was released post AG ruling.”

That last sentence—“The Chevron contract was released post AG ruling”—is simply not true.

My Chevron request was filed on July 16, and the governor’s office released 400 pages of information to me on July 30, before any attorney general ruling on my request. (You can view the entire set here.) Among those documents were several versions of the agreement between Chevron and the state of Texas, including a “draft execution copy.” The attorney general did issue a ruling in September, and the governor’s office released additional documents, such as an economic impact analysis, but the contract had already been released.

Nashed, the Perry spokesperson, wrote in an email that she was referring to Chevron’s application, not the contract itself, in the Chronicle article. “The statement in the Houston Chronicle should have read ‘the Chevron contract application was released post AG ruling’,” she wrote.

She also said that the main difference between the Chevron and Toyota cases is that the Chevron contract was executed on the day of my July request. But in the Toyota case,  she wrote, “our office had not finalized the deal with Toyota.”

But the documents released to the Observer in the Chevron case didn’t include a finalized contract with signatures. All the contract versions were stamped “draft” and some included numerous revisions and comments in Microsoft Word.

The Chronicle also noted that officials with the city of Plano “were not concerned about releasing the details of their own local incentive offered to Toyota.”

The Toyota deal was a triumph for Perry. He scored—and then trumpeted—headlines like the AP’s from April 30: “Rick Perry Scores Big Win As Toyota Moves Headquarters To Texas.”

Toyota relocating to Texas is a big win—but it’s not clear what role, if any, Rick Perry or his Enterprise Fund played in it. The government documents that Perry’s office is refusing to release might help us answer that question out.

Bob Hall
Facebook/Bob Hall
Bob Hall

On Tuesday night, a political unknown named Bob Hall upset three-term state Sen. Bob Deuell, a conservative Republican from Greenville, in a GOP runoff. It was one of the least-followed, but most triumphant, victories for the tea party grassroots. But who’s Bob Hall and what does he believe? In speeches and interviews he’s given in the past year—many of them available on YouTube—Hall espouses far-right views, traffics in dark conspiracy theories and expresses a variety of tea-party antipathies.

He doesn’t understand “why the [immigrants] who are coming here want to turn it into a country like where they came from.” He thinks Obama is using public schools for “communist indoctrination.” He thinks bike paths are part of a United Nations plot. He believes a “confederation of states” can nullify federal laws. He thinks Bob Deuell was controlled by Satan.

Thanks to an extremely low turnout, Hall beat Deuell on Tuesday by a scant 300 votes. There’s no Democrat in the race, so come January, Hall will likely represent North Texas in the Texas Senate.

It’s a quick rise to political prominence in a state Hall has lived in for only five years. In 2009, Hall moved from Florida to East Texas, just as the tea party was bursting onto the national scene. A veteran of the Air Force and licensed pilot who’d recently sold his business helping companies secure government contracts, Hall retired with his wife to a quiet community for pilots and aviation enthusiasts near Canton that features a runway and hangars. But then he became politically active, as he’s frequently told tea party groups around the state, when Barack Obama began plunging America into a dark socialist nightmare.

Hall, 71, quickly became an adept organizer and assumed leadership of the Canton Tea Party, one of many active tea party groups in that conservative part of the state. A fan of American and Texas flag shirts, Hall combined his bona fides as a businessman and military veteran with an ability to articulate the many passions of the far right: Agenda 21, CSCOPE, an obsession with debt, anti-immigrant sentiments and a hatred of RINOs and anyone not sufficiently conservative.

Despite railing against lobbyists and special interests on the campaign trail, Hall was largely funded by two PACs loaded with special-interest money. Seventy-five percent of his $314,000 haul came from Empower Texans PAC, which is run by right-wing enforcer Michael Quinn Sullivan and his benefactor Midland oilman Tim Dunn, and the North Texas Conservative Coalition, a PAC largely funded by Carl Westcott, a Dallas developer and entrepreneur.

(Hall did not respond to requests for an interview.)

In the Senate, Hall will join a growing caucus of tea party activists—Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, Don Huffines of Dallas, Van Taylor of Plano, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and possibly Konni Burton of Fort Worth, if she beats Democrat Libby Willis this fall—who are redefining what it means to be conservative and taking the state into uncharted political territory.

If there were ever any doubst about the strength of the tea party grassroots in Texas, Hall’s victory over Deuell should lay them to rest. It proved that it’s nigh impossible to be too conservative—or too embracing of the bugaboos of the far right. It proved that it’s not a deal-killer to be accused, as Hall was, of domestic violence or have racked up $165,000 in tax liens over 20 years of unpaid federal taxes. When Deuell made an issue of Hall’s past, Hall told a tea party radio program that “Satan must have a stranglehold on [Deuell].”

Deuell was by no rational calculus a “liberal” or even a “moderate.” As The Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey has noted, he was once—just a decade or so ago—considered a “crazy right-winger,” a doctor who opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest. But, occasionally, he took positions that evidently didn’t square with the grassroots. For example, Deuell championed legislation legalizing clean-needle exchanges for drug addicts, a public health-driven proposal that’s been embraced by at least 30 states.

Hall mocked the idea. “Do they get sick using the needles? Yes they do,” he told a group of voters in Rains County in October. “But do they also get sick by using bad drugs. So is our next step to provide them state-provided drugs so they don’t get bad drugs. The next thing to do is to hand out handguns to bank robbers.”

A bill that Deuell co-sponsored pushing the Texas Department of Transportation to adopt a “complete streets policy” that would give greater emphasis to pedestrians and bicyclists was actually part of a sweeping United Nations plot.

It was “an Agenda 21 issue that would’ve required bicycle paths on all of our highways in Texas,” Hall said.

(No matter that the bill would have done no such thing.)

“Now, folks we built highways for automobiles. Automobiles paid for those highways, and if you’ve been around any communities where they’ve put in the bicycle paths traffic is a nightmare.”

But Hall really took Deuell to task for sponsoring a bill that tried to sort out some very tricky end-of-life issues by balancing the medical judgment of doctors against the rights of patients and their families. The bill actually extended the period of time families could dispute a medical decision to end medical treatment and it was supported by groups like the Texas Medical Association and some pro-life groups, including the Texas Alliance for Life. But Texas Right to Life, an influential and hardline anti-abortion organization that frequently attacks Republicans, protested it as an unconscionable breach of pro-life values. Hall went even further in his campaign.

Bob Deuell
Bob Deuell

“If it had passed… it would have codified—that is, made it law in Texas—medical death panels just like you’ll find in Obamacare,” he told a group in Emory. “That’s hard to imagine but it would have.”

It’s hard to find an issue on which Hall doesn’t stake out an extreme right-wing position. But he does have a tiny bit of nuance on secession: He’s against it… but is for the old idea—last advanced during school desegregation—of nullification.

“We have the power of nullification but we don’t use it,” he said at an October candidate forum in Emory. “Instead we go with lawsuits. I think with a confederation of states agreeing to work and doing the same thing we can achieve similar goals.”

On eliminating property taxes: “I think the more we move toward a total consumption tax the fairer it becomes. I think the issue of us renting our property from the government, which is all we’re doing as long as we pay property taxes.”

On immigration: “ think we need to be looking at how we can shut down the candy stores, the attractions that bring them here.”

On immigrants: “The reason America achieved so much in such a short time period was the American exceptionalism. It was not like the countries people came from. It was no Ireland, it was not England, it was not Germany, France, Italy any of these countries. It was America, and as such it offered opportunities they did not have. I don’t understand why the people who are coming here want to turn it into a country like where they came from.”

On Common Core: “It is every bit as bad as CSCOPE or worse. It is true communist indoctrination of our kids, no question about it.”

On Wendy Davis: “The one thing we can hope for is that the message of being the baby killer will resonate with enough people that they won’t buy into it. Those are strong words but that’s exactly what it is.”

On democracy: “I think we’re sliding into Gomorrah… If we do not change what we’re doing by changing the leaders when we go to the ballot box, our children and grandchildren may be having to change their leaders with the ammo box.”

The man who said all that will—thanks to the support of a little more than 3 percent of the voting age population—represent Senate District 2 in the state Senate. He won’t come up for re-election until 2018.

Speedy Roo, the mascot of the payday loan lender Speedy Cash, in an Austin advertisement.
Jen reel
Speedy Roo, the mascot of the payday loan lender Speedy Cash, in an Austin advertisement. Staff photo.

Over the last five sessions, state lawmakers have done almost nothing to regulate payday and title loans in Texas. Legislators have allowed lenders to continue offering loans for unlimited terms at unlimited rates (often more than 500 percent APR) for an unlimited number of refinances. The one regulation the Texas Legislature managed to pass, in 2011, was a bill requiring the 3,500-odd storefronts to report statistics on the loans to a state agency, the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner. That’s at least allowed analysts, advocates and journalists to take stock of the industry in Texas. We now have a pretty good handle on its size ($4 billion), its loan volume (3 million transactions in 2013), the fees and interest paid by borrowers ($1.4 billion), the number of cars repossessed by title lenders (37,649) and plenty more.

We now have two years of data—for 2012 and 2013—and that’s allowed number-crunchers to start looking for trends in this pernicious, but evolving market.

In a report released today, the left-leaning Austin think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities found that last year lenders made fewer loans than 2012 but charged significantly more in fees. Specifically, the number of new loans fell by 4 percent, but the fees charged on payday and title loans increased by 12 percent to about $1.4 billion. What’s happening, it appears from the data, is the lenders are pushing their customers into installment loans rather than the traditional two-week single-payment payday loan or the 30-day auto-title loan. In 2012, just one out of seven loans were multiple-installment types; in 2013, that number had risen to one out of four.

Installment loans often charge consumers more money in fees. The total fees charged on these loans doubled from 2012 to 2013, to more than $500 million.

“While this type of loan appears more transparent,” CPPP writes in its report, “the average Texas borrower who takes out this type of loan ends up paying more in fees than the original loan amount.”

The average installment loan lasts 14 weeks, and at each payment term—usually two weeks—the borrower paying hefty fees. For example, a $1,500, five-month loan I took out at a Cash Store location in Austin would’ve cost me (had I not canceled it) $3,862 in fees, interest and principal by the time I paid it back—an effective APR of 612 percent.

My anecdotal experience roughly comports with statewide figures. According to CPPP, for every $1 borrowed through a multiple-payment payday loan, Texas consumers pay at least $2 in fees.

“The big issue is that it’s costing a lot more for Texans to borrow $500 than it did before, which is kinda hard to believe,” says Don Baylor, the author of the report. He says he thinks the industry is reacting to the likelihood of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “coming down hard” on single-payment payday loans, which consumers often “roll over” after two weeks when they find they can’t pay off the loan, locking them into a cycle of debt. Installment loans, despite their staggering cost, have the advantage of being arguably less deceptive.

Defenders of the payday loan industry frequently invoke the platitudes of the free market—competition, consumer demand, the inefficiency of government regulation—to explain why they should be allowed to charge whatever they please.

But it’s increasingly apparent from the numbers that the volume of loans, the staggering number of storefronts (3,500)—many located within close proximity to each other—and the maturation of the market has not lead to particularly competitive rates. If anything, as the 2013 data indicates, fees are becoming even more usurious and the whole cycle of debt problem may be deepening as longer-term, higher-fee installment loans come to dominate.

Indeed, a recent Pew study of the 36 states that allow payday lending found that the states like Texas with no rate caps have more stores and far higher prices. Texas, which is a Petri dish for unregulated consumer finance, has the highest rates of any state in the nation, according to the Pew study.

“I think that has bedeviled a lot of people in this field,” Baylor says. “You would think that more choices would mean prices would go down and that’s simply not the case.”

There is no competition, at least on prices.

Don Willett
Don Willett

The case titled State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado is one of thousands of civil forfeiture suits each year in which the state faces off against “One Pearl Necklace” or “.39 acres” or “One Gold Crucifix.” A used-car salesman in Houston, Zaher El-Ali, had sold the Silverado, on credit, to another man, who was later arrested for drunk driving and cocaine possession. El-Ali held title to the vehicle while the man paid off the truck. He had nothing to do with the crimes. But that didn’t stop local law enforcement from seizing the vehicle as “contraband” and filing suit against the truck (thus the strangely titled lawsuit). If El-Ali wanted to keep the truck he would have to hire an attorney and prove that he was an “innocent owner”: a legal standard higher than the one faced by criminal defendants.

El-Ali found himself in the same preposterous situation as countless Texans every year—seriously, the record-keeping is so bad, we don’t know how many people are affected—ensnared in the state’s shamefully baroque civil-forfeiture laws. It’s been amply documented that some local prosecutors and cops use the laws to run sophisticated shakedown operations, seizing cash, cars, jewelry and other property from innocent people, especially black and Latino folks, and funding their operations with the profits. Some law enforcement agencies derive almost 40 percent of their revenue from civil forfeiture, with virtually no checks or oversight.

In the East Texas town of Tenaha, the district attorney oversaw a particularly Dickensian operation: Local cops would stop out-of-town drivers on the flimsiest of pretexts to look for cash, DVD players, cell phones, anything of value. The DA would threaten drivers with criminal charges, even promising to have state authorities remove kids from parents unless they waived rights to the property.

A class-action lawsuit uncovered that the proceeds from this highway robbery—an estimated $3 million between 2006 and 2008—were paying for popcorn machines, donations to a local Baptist church and bonuses for law enforcement key to the operation. Meanwhile, the DA was handing out light sentences to those caught with drugs, or laundered money, in exchange for seizing their assets.

El-Ali chose to fight the seizure on fundamental grounds. Rather than mount an “innocent-driver” defense, El-Ali challenged the constitutionality of putting the burden of proof on him to prove his innocence. He lost at both the trial and appellate level, and the suit landed last year at the Texas Supreme Court. You’d think that Texas’ highest civil court—overseen by nine conservative Republicans—would be sympathetic to a case that turns so pivotally on property rights and the relationship between individuals and the state. After all, the court has adopted an increasingly fundamentalist view on property rights over the past decade. In rulings on the ownership of groundwater, the power of eminent domain and the right of access to public beaches, a majority of the court has embraced a view that enshrines private property rights as essential to “freedom itself,” as the court put it in one recent ruling.

But in El-Ali v. Texas, the court declined to review the case, pointing to a 1957 decision—the last time the court weighed in on civil forfeiture. The collective yawning of the majority didn’t sit well with three of the justices. Justice Don Willett, in a scathing dissent signed by two others, ripped his colleagues for punting. Willett bangs all the conservative gongs, quoting James Madison and Edmund Burke and opining that the case “evokes less Chevy than Kafka.”

“Forfeiture 2014-style is not forfeiture 1957-style 21st-century practice merits 21st-century scrutiny,” he wrote, noting that the vast expansion in the use of civil forfeiture occurred after the Legislature broadened the statute’s scope in 1989 to include a grab-bag of felonies and misdemeanors, and allowed cops and courts to split the profits. “In the quarter-century since, we have yet to revisit the protections due in such proceedings.

“A generation ago in America, asset forfeiture was limited to wresting ill-gotten gains from violent criminals. Today, it has a distinctive ‘Alice in Wonderland’ flavor, victimizing innocent citizens who’ve done nothing wrong.”

There’s something beyond hypocrisy here. It’s not just that we live in a political moment in which Texas Republicans speak of little else than liberty, property rights and government overreach. It’s the sense that the state, particularly the criminal justice apparatus, as currently constituted, has become predatory, preying on the weak and forcing them to pay for it, too.

David Dewhurst's "Let it Go" ad

Not that long ago, one of David Dewhurst’s campaign officials told me that Team Dewhurst knew they were probably going to lose to Dan Patrick in the lieutenant governor runoff, but were going to start spending Dewhurst’s personal fortune to “burn the place down.” I didn’t realize he was talking about self-immolation.

There’s plenty to attack Dan Patrick on. He’s a smug radio-talk show wing-nut who thinks God is whispering in his ear and is so vain that he once wrote a book called The Second Most-Important Book You Will Ever Read. But Dewhurst has been almost totally inept at landing any punches. You can tell he really loathes Patrick, but the more vicious the attacks, the more Dew stumbles. Dew is Wile E. Coyote and Patrick is the smirking roadrunner running on the far-right of the road.

First, there was this ad. It’s impossible to look away from and yet it’s so startlingly weird and vengeful.

Then there was the debate. There’s plenty to chew on and Chris Hooks gives a great blow-by-blow. Dewhurst and Patrick tangled over whether he (The Dew) had chicken at a steakhouse—that was about the level of the discourse.

But the WTF line of the night, to my mind, was Dewhurst’s attempt to harpoon the white whale with a barbed line. Just kind of out of thin air, he goes:

“Do you have snake oil for the hair loss, too, Dan?”

As the some of the Cro-Magnons in the Texas House say when the lady legislators are debating… Meoooowww!

And this week Louie Gohmert (fun fact: Gohmert was class president at Texas A&M and that’s an Aggie joke that needs no punchline) has achieved a rare feat, a Triple Louie—three unrelated WTF comments in as many days.

On Wednesday, he reacted to the release of the 800-page National Climate Assessment, which documents the growing ravages of climate change in painstaking, heavily footnoted detail by reaching into the comments section of, say, Breitbart.com.

“Apparently this climate change was global freezing back in the 1970s. Then global warming and then, when it quit warming, now it’s climate change.”

On Thursday, at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Gohmert accused a Comcast executive of conspiring to keep Glenn Beck off the air. And, of course, this being Louie Gohmert, Al Gore, Sharia law and other apparitions made an appearance in his tale:

“And it was reported that Al Jazeera wanted to get their Sharia law push into the United States, and they were willing to pay big bucks….but they wouldn’t do the deal unless Comcast was willing to keep them in its list of networks provided. So it was reported Comcast agreed, so Al Gore got all that oil and carbon based money. Then, that kept Glenn Beck off the air. Of Comcast.”

Some people say Gohmert’s kinda dim. But that is a story as convoluted as a Russian novel; only a supple mind could keep it straight.

Then, on Friday, he smote Godwin’s law a mighty blow, comparing a growing acceptance of LGBT folks to the “Nazi takeover of Europe.”

“So it is amazing that in the name of liberality, in the name of being tolerant, this fascist intolerance has arisen. People that stand up and say, you know, I agree with the majority of Americans, I agree with Moses and Jesus that marriage was a man and a woman, now all of a sudden, people like me are considered haters, hate mongers, evil, which really is exactly what we’ve seen throughout our history as going back to the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe.”

It’s almost like Gohmert’s being forced to wear a pink triangle. Poor guy.

Speaking of Nazis… Kesha Rogers. She’s the LaRouche Democrat who, despite the best efforts of the state Democratic party, made it into a runoff for U.S. Senate. Rogers is running on an “Impeach Obama” platform. She was in the Valley this week, rounding up votes from the anti-Obama, industrialize-the-moon Democratic voting bloc.

“The president has earned his Hitler mustache,” she said Thursday, adding that the comparison stems from supposed similarities between Obama’s signature domestic legislation, the Affordable Care Act, and a Nazi euthanasia program.

Partisan affiliations aside, Gohmert and Rogers seem to have a lot in common. The only difference is Gohmert’s serving his fifth term in Congress.

WA Parish coal plant
W.A. Parish coal plant

The new federal climate assessment, which came out Tuesday, tells us what we (should) already know. But does it in great and alarming detail, linking what’s already occurred to what else is in store. In short: Climate change is here. We’re already feeling the effects. And things will get much worse without a concerted effort to reduce emissions globally.

For Texas, which is lumped in with the Great Plains region, the National Climate Assessment finds that the state is getting hotter, exacerbating droughts. Precipitation patterns are changing, with more infrequent but heavier downpours. And sea-level rise is putting low-lying coastal communities like Galveston and Houston at increased risk of storms and loss of habitat.

The report, of course, was greeted by Texas politicians and regulators with the usual fact-free distortions and obfuscation we’ve come to expect. (More on that later.)

It’s a compelling report and the website presenting the findings is well worth your time. Here are a few visuals that tell the story.

First, a little scene-setting… The increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, is driving the increase in global temperature averages.

Global temperatures and carbon dioxide, 1880-2012
Global temperatures and carbon dioxide, 1880-2012

 

 

Average temperatures have risen across the U.S. since the late 19th century, with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The hottest year on record for the contiguous United States, including Texas, was 2012.

 

Climate CS_Net_Change_in_Ann_Temp_12910_v11
The colors on the map show temperature changes over the past 22 years (1991-2012) compared to the 1901-1960 average for the contiguous U.S., and to the 1951-1980 average for Alaska and Hawaii. The bars on the graph show the average temperature changes by decade for 1901-2012 (relative to the 1901-1960 average). The far right bar (2000s decade) includes 2011 and 2012. The period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade in every region. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 
The assessment uses the record hot and dry summer of 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma as an example of how “extreme climate events resulted in cascading effects across energy, water, and land systems.” In Texas, the summer of 2011 was 5.2 F hotter than normal, with more than 90 days of 100-plus days in parts of the state. 

 

 

climate WEL_days_above_100_13605_V4 climate WEL_texas_scatter_plot_V3

 

 

We can expect more brutally hot days—a quadrupling of days in the southern part of the Great Plains by mid-century—and higher temperatures across the board in the future, especially under higher-emissions scenarios. (Throughout the report, the authors relied on two different projections: The “lower emissions” scenario assumed a “substantial reduction” in greenhouse gas emissions and a temperature increase by the end of the century of 3 to 5 F; the higher emissions scenario assumed continued increases in emissions, leading to a 5 to 10 F increase by 2100.)

 

 

climate CS_projected_temperature_change_sres_V7
Figure 2.8: Maps show projected change in average surface air temperature in the later part of this century (2071-2099) relative to the later part of the last century (1970-1999) under a scenario that assumes substantial reductions in heat trapping gases (B1) and a higher emissions scenario that assumes continued increases in global emissions (A2). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

The number of warm nights will also rise, increasing water losses in lakes and streams, heat stress and demand for air conditioning.

 

 

climate GP_warm_nights_projected_V4
The number of nights with the warmest temperatures is projected to increase dramatically. The historical (1971-2000) distribution of temperature for the warmest 2% of nights (Top: about seven days each year) echoes the distinct north-south gradient in average temperatures. By mid-century (2041-2070), the projected change in number of nights exceeding those warmest temperatures is greatest in the south for both the lower emissions scenario (B1) and for the higher emissions scenario (A2). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Rainfall patterns are changing too.

 

 

climate CS_Net_Change_in_annual_Precip_12909_v9
The colors on the map show annual total precipitation changes for 1991-2012 compared to the 1901-1960 average, and show wetter conditions in most areas. The bars on the graph show average precipitation differences by decade for 1901-2012 (relative to the 1901-1960 average). The far right bar is for 2001-2012. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Texas has always been drought-plagued, but increasing heat and projected changes in rainfall patterns likely means longer dry spells.

 

 

Figure: Change in Maximum Number of Consecutive Dry Days Caption: Change in the number of consecutive dry days (days receiving less than 0.04 inches (1 mm) of precipitation) at the end of this century (2081-2100) relative to the end of last century (1980-1999) under the higher scenario, RCP 8.5. Stippling indicates areas where changes are consistent among at least 80% of the 25 models used in this analysis. (Supplemental Message 5 and Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate, Key Message 3). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).
Figure: Change in Maximum Number of Consecutive Dry Days Caption: Change in the number of consecutive dry days (days receiving less than 0.04 inches (1 mm) of precipitation) at the end of this century (2081-2100) relative to the end of last century (1980-1999) under the higher scenario, RCP 8.5. Stippling indicates areas where changes are consistent among at least 80% of the 25 models used in this analysis. (Supplemental Message 5 and Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate, Key Message 3). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

We can also expect seasonal changes in precipitation. Spring, in particular, may be significantly drier across Texas.

 

 

climate CS_seasonal_precip_projections_A2_V5
Climate change affects more than just temperature. The location, timing, and amounts of precipitation will also change as temperatures rise. Maps show projected percent change in precipitation in each season for 2071-2099 (compared to the period 1970-1999) under an emissions scenario that assumes continued increases in emissions (A2). Teal indicates precipitation increases, and brown, decreases. Hatched areas indicate that the projected changes are significant and consistent among models. White areas indicate that the changes are not projected to be larger than could be expected from natural variability. In general, the northern part of the U.S. is projected to see more winter and spring precipitation, while the southwestern U.S. is projected to experience less precipitation in the spring. Wet regions are generally projected to become wetter while dry regions become drier. Summer drying is projected for parts of the U.S., including the Northwest and southern Great Plains. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Soil moistures are decreasing, a major hurdle for farmers trying to coax crops from the soil. Parched land will be a growing problem, in particular, in areas like the Panhandle, where farmers are transitioning from the depleting Ogallala Aquifer to dry-land crops.

“Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years,” the assessment states.

 

 

climate CS_soil_moisture_v9
Average change in soil moisture compared to 1971-2000, as projected for the middle of this century (2041-2070) and late this century (2071-2100) under two emissions scenarios, a lower scenario (B1) and a higher scenario (A2). The future drying of soils in most areas simulated by this sophisticated hydrologic model (Variable Infiltration Capacity or VIC model) is consistent with the future drought increases using the simpler Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) metric. Only the western U.S. is displayed because model simulations were only run for this area. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Finally, sea levels have been rising inexorably, with an acceleration since the 1970s. Because of all the heat that’s already in the system, oceans will continue to rise for millennia. But by how much and how quickly is dependent on how much more carbon is pumped into the atmosphere. The assessment projects that oceans are likely to rise 1-4 feet by the end of the century, but the report does not rule out an increase of six feet. Much of the Texas coast—including barrier islands like Padre and Galveston, that protect the mainland from tropical storms—is only a few feet above sea level. And sea-level rise will not be uniform. In some areas, like around Galveston-Houston, the ground is sinking as well.

 

climate CS_SLR_scenarios_v8

**

And what is the response from Texas’ top officials to this sobering report?

Gov. Rick Perry: He’s refused to say anything. “Gov. Rick Perry’s office did not respond to a request on Tuesday to describe his policy for preparing the state for climate change and reducing its impact.”

Notably, Perry once wrote that the planet is actually cooling.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn: He didn’t address the report directly, but also avoided putting himself squarely in the denial camp.

“I am not one that denies that human beings have an impact on the environment. But I am sure not willing to put the federal government in charge of trying to micromanage the environment for the United States of America, nor for us to drive up the price of energy for people on fixed income, like seniors and people of modest means, by putting restrictions in place that other nations are not.”

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith: He’s the chair of the House Science Committee, so what do you think his take was?

“This is a political document intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions.”

And, finally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:

The environmental agency seems mightily concerned about the coal industry.

“There has been no significant global warming in more than 15 years, although carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. It is clear that the science of global warming is far from settled.  Regulatory policy cannot be set without firm guidelines and the proven cause and effect that would dictate policy. The NCA global warming policy will result in greatly reduced use of coal for energy generation. This will impact the reliability of the electrical grid, and will also increase energy costs.  It will particularly impact energy prices for those who can least afford it, such as the elderly and the poor.  This is the true environmental impact of the war on coal.”

 

Just for the record, here are the top 10 warmest years on record globally, according to NOAA (not in rank order):

2013 (tie)
2012 (tie)
2010
2009 (tie)
2007 (tie)
2006
2005
2004 (tie)
2003 (tie)
2002
1998

 

State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)
State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)

When I called state Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) a week after his narrow loss in the Democratic primary, he wanted me to promise one thing.

“I want you to make it clear that above all things that in my obituary I want it to say not just ‘leading liberal,’ not just ‘avid environmentalist,’ but ‘probably the only pacifist to serve 18 years in the Texas Legislature.’” Because being a liberal and an environmentalist in the Lege isn’t tough enough.

For the almost two decades he’s served in the Legislature, Burnam has been the patron saint of lost causes, the unyielding liberal, the Quaker, the director of the Dallas Peace Center who believes it’s “always bad public policy to start a war.”

First elected in 1996, Burnam’s background was in community organizing and the anti-nuclear movement. At the time, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy hailed him as a “loud, obnoxious liberal.”

There are typically two types of politicians—the pragmatists and the true believers, those who work inside the system and those who work outside it. Burnam is undeniably the latter. He never passed many bills, but he always stood up for issues he thought were important, no matter how unpopular.

Burnam waged battles few other Texas Democrats would even bother with: abolishing the death penalty, legalizing same-sex marriage, instituting a state income tax, doing something, anything, about climate change. Every session he filed these bills and every session they were dead on arrival. That’s Lon, for better or worse—bound to principle and bound to lose, usually.

Burnam’s most famous losing cause was his vote against electing Midland Republican Tom Craddick as speaker of the House in 2003. Burnam was the lone “no” vote—a move that got him exiled to the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Plenty of Democrats (and some Republicans) didn’t want to see Craddick made speaker, but they went along with the winning side. Burnam says it was more than a protest vote. “I think we needed to begin immediately the resistance to his reign as speaker,” Burnam says.

But perhaps no moment better illustrates Burnam’s time in the Lege than a scene on the floor of the Texas House on April 2, 2003. Those were the early days of the Iraq war, and the House wanted to pass a jingoistic resolution blessing the war on terror and praising President Bush’s “patience, leadership, and will.”

Burnam was one of just three Democrats to oppose the resolution. As he argued from the back microphone that the Iraq war was illegal and immoral, dozens of legislators gathered at the front mic in a show of force in support of the motion. The dissent was a lost cause—the resolution passed 136-3—but Burnam felt it was the right thing to do. “People are just chickenshit,” Burnam says. “I can’t tell you how many of my Democratic colleagues said, ‘I wish I had the guts to do that.’”

Being right doesn’t count for much in politics, though let’s give credit: the Iraq war was a disaster and many conservatives would come to regard aspects of the war on terror as another manifestation of government overreach. Craddick lasted just three sessions and then was overthrown by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

Still, Burnam’s insistence on sticking to principle cost him the ability to pass many bills. “The last 10 years since then has kind of been like the French resistance against occupation,” he says.

Instead, Burnam says, he embraced his outsider status to do the dirty work his colleagues couldn’t—his version, perhaps, of realpolitik. “One of the things people will miss about me is my willingness to kill a bill on principle,” he says. “It’s a role that fell to me.”

In the March primary, Burnam lost to his opponent, Ramon Romero Jr., by 111 votes—a victim, he says, of Republican redistricting and “identity politics.” He’s filed suit to try to overturn the election, arguing that Romero signed people up to vote by mail using illegal means. The lawsuit is a long shot at best… which is, of course, fitting for Burnam.

When I talked to him in March, before he’d filed the lawsuit, there was a tinge of bitterness to his post-primary analysis. “It’s a different constituency, and I couldn’t make the transition fast enough because in part I couldn’t become Hispanic,” he says.

Burnam won’t rule out running for office again, and if his lawsuit doesn’t pan out he plans to return to the Capitol as an activist.

“I started out trying to save the world, but it’s real clear to me the world doesn’t want to be saved,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.”