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Hooks on Politics

Rick Perry Showcases Bush-on-Steroids Foreign Policy

In London, the Texas governor urges the West to have "moral clarity" on the Middle East but offers few suggestions.
Rick Perry
Patrick Michels
Rick Perry speaks outside the Travis County courthouse Thursday, August 19, 2014.

Gov. Rick Perry is running for president again, and presidential candidates need Issues on which to take Strong Stands. So Perry has decided to build his run for president around foreign policy, and particularly, around the growing, all-enveloping catastrophe in the world’s most complex and politically intractable region—the secondary effects of the Syrian Civil War, and the rise of the Islamic State.

Perry—he of the oops, remember—will wade waist-deep into a conflict so clockwork-complicated and massive in scope that people who have been studying the neighborhood their entire lives can’t even figure out what’s going on any given day. He will provide perfect, Windex-wiped clarity, and demonstrate his great capacity for strategic thinking. This sounded like a great idea to someone on Perry’s team.

So on Tuesday, the governor found himself in London, in front of a crowd at the Royal United Services Institute, a distinguished think tank that has served as a place for discussion of defense issues since the Queen’s strongest foe was the Prussian Army. RUSI advertised that Perry would “analyse the challenges the United States and Western allies face in confronting threats to the international community in the twenty-first century,” a pretty comprehensive subject for a 40-minute address. Of course, Perry didn’t meet that promise—his speech was devoid of policy proposals or much analysis—but he did tell us a lot about how he thinks about the world.

America should plunge itself headlong into the civil wars now happening in the Middle East. We should “defend the lives of innocent Muslim people” just like we did in “Iraq and Afghanistan.” Dissent within the county should be curbed, because it causes moral “confusion” which inhibits our ability to do battle with our foes.

Perry’s foreign policy as outlined in his address is the doctrine of bright colors and high contrast—like a methamphetamine-boosted mash-up of speeches from the George W. Bush era. Perry told the British policy analysts that the Western coalition had to “hold nothing back if it will better assure our security,” without saying what would better assure our security. As for the jihadis, Perry said, “in all our conduct toward this enemy, there can be no illusions and no compromise of all that we are defending.”

We’re fighting, Perry said, for “the rightness and truth of the values of the West.” It was those values that led the West to protect “innocent Muslim people. Whether in Iraq or in Afghanistan or Syria today, or back in the 1990s in Kosovo.” The West’s humanitarian actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were part of what made criticism of the West so distasteful, he said.

“There are always people ready to insist that our societies could stand some improvement too—that we have our own injustices to correct. Such a posture of moral equivalence is seen now and then on the left,” Perry said. It’s a posture that “pretends not to see the most basic of distinctions. The shortcomings of Western democracy, and the systemic savagery” of groups like ISIS “all get mixed up as one,” he continued, describing it as a sickening “attitude of cultural relativism.”

Doubts about the course of the United States, and about the wisdom of intervening abroad “reflect a kind of deep confusion, at a time when moral clarity is at a premium,” he said. Later: “Without confidence in the truth and goodness of our own values, the great moral inheritance of our own culture, how are we going to deal with the falsehood of theirs?”

It’s a really bizarre sentiment, and not one that seems to accurately characterize what’s happening in the country right now, where’s there’s no great love for ISIS but a great deal of honest disagreement about what to do about the group. Open societies have always liked to believe that they benefit from debate and diversity of opinion—that they have strength, while closed societies and totalitarian movements ultimately break. But according to Perry, only purity and unity of thought will allow us to confront the current threat.

When Perry turned to the issue of Muslim assimilation in Europe, the language got stronger. “Suddenly, there are these closed enclaves in great cities,” Perry said, “where you have to be a fellow fanatic, or at least a fellow Muslim, to enter.” He added: “Of course, we all know who’s especially unwelcome in these nasty little no-go zones—a Jew.”

Forceful action had to be taken, Perry said, soundingly momentarily like a member of the European far right. “To every extremist, it has to be made clear: We will not allow you to exploit our tolerance, so that you can import your intolerance,” he said. “You will live by exactly the same standards the rest of us by, and if that comes as jarring news: Welcome to civilization.”

Western values, Perry says, helps “instill a yearning and a hope to be better and to do better by others” and “see the worth and the goodness of everyone.” Few others in the world hope for a better world for their children or see the universal value of human life. “You don’t find all that in every tradition,” Perry said. “Its abundance in our Western tradition is to be cherished, tended, and protected.

Perry may think moral confusion is the supreme danger to the United States, but moral clarity can be considerably more deadly. We know that we don’t like ISIS. The Islamic State is not good. But how to oppose them? This was not a subject of Perry’s talk.

Look briefly at a very small part of the current situation in the Middle East. The United States has spun the roulette wheel and determined that our best current ally is the Kurds. But there is no such thing as “the Kurds.” There are Turkish Kurds, Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds and Iranian Kurds, and each of those four groups can be dissected and divided several ways. Each have complicated relationships with each other, experience significant internal political disagreements, and exist in a difficult-to-outline set of concentric circles of alliances with neighboring states, armed factions, criminal groups, global oil companies and international powers.

Right now, there’s a serious risk that the civil war in Syria and Iraq could spill over into Turkey, where the government may be relaunching a decades-long military campaign against the Kurdish PKK. There, no “moral clarity” is possible.

The Obama administration has been coolly detached and utilitarian in its use of American military power, and reluctant—until recently—to engage in bloodthirsty hyperbole. Come 2016, will Americans be looking for a return to Bush’s certainty? Or will they want to stay far away from the big brawl?

Maybe Perry will sound better at this the more he does it. At RUSI, it sounded rough. He concluded by striking the pose of the unctuous Anglophile.

“You British always sound so darned smart and refined, no matter what you’re saying,” Perry said, concluding his speech. “And it’s not just because of your many cultural exports: from James Bond and Julie Andrews to Simon Cowell and One Direction.”

He continued: “We Americans feel this affinity, and we admire you as we do no other nation, because of who you are and what you stand for.”

Perry thinks he’s figured out what America stands for. If he’s right, it’s going to be a bloody decade.

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The Wheelchair Ad

It's not as bad as you've heard, but it may not have been smart.
Greg Abbott greets his family onstage Sunday
Patrick Michels
Attorney General Greg Abbott is greeted onstage by his wife Cecilia and his daughter Audrey after he announces he's running for governor in San Antonio.

 

By now, a tremendous amount has been written about the ad the Davis campaign released last Friday. But since the campaign is continuing to focus on issues raised by the ad this week, including at a press conference in Fort Worth this morning, it’s worth saying a bit about it. Here’s the ad, in case you missed it:

It’s the first five seconds of the ad that are getting all of the attention. The ad starts with a picture of an empty wheelchair. Abbott, of course, is disabled. The voiceover begins with an extraordinarily odd opening line: “A tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then, he’s spent his career working against other victims.”

The rest of the ad is a recitation of points that Davis has hit Abbott with in the past, encapsulated by the idea that Abbott is an “Austin insider,” and Davis is “working for all Texans.” A number of headlines roll by on a black background under menacing music: One of them relates to the Kirby vacuum company rape case, the subject of Davis’ first ad. One of them relates to the case of Christopher Duntsch, an appallingly incompetent doctor who killed and injured patients and whose hospital was protected from liability by tort reform laws. The point: Greg Abbott got his, then helped keep that privilege from others. He’s a hypocrite.

When the ad was released, the internet erupted in outrage. What to make of it all?

It’s possible to think a lot of the criticism of the ad is silly and overheated while still finding the ad itself harmful to the Davis campaign. When the ad dropped late last Friday—never a good time for clear-headed analysis—a critical mass quickly formed on Twitter, as national pundits passed the ad back and both.

To pick one extreme example among liberal commentators, Ben Dreyfuss at Mother Jones shot pretty wide of the mark when he wrote that the ad was “basically calling Abbott a cripple,” and accused the Davis campaign of saying that “Greg Abbott is unfit to serve because he is handicapped.” I can’t find that in the ad. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake called the spot “one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see.” It’s not even the nastiest ad in this race—for my money, that distinction still belongs to Davis’ first ad, a sleekly exploitative spot that used a grimly allusive true-crime reenactment to turn the story of a horrific rape into a political cudgel with which to bash Abbott.

But if some of the criticism was overblown, there’s a defense of the ad from Davis supporters that misses the mark. The ad is about Greg Abbott’s hypocrisy, and nothing else—they say that the press and others who highlight the treatment of Abbott’s accident in the ad are being willfully obtuse. But with a political ad, as with anything else a person creates and puts into the world, the perception of the thing is indistinguishable from the thing itself. You can’t say what a thing is and wall it off from the interpretation of others. Politics is about managing popular perceptions. And if a large number of people find something to be in poor taste, there’s probably something to that.

Would it have been possible to use Abbott’s accident to highlight his hypocrisy on tort reform in a better way? Probably. It might have been better to avoid altogether, but it seems possible that the Davis people could have approached the subject of Abbott’s accident more delicately. One problem with the ad, it seems to me, is that a viewer might take the message that there was something nefarious about Abbott’s original lawsuit. The sinister opening flashes the headline “Abbott could receive $10.7 million” on screen as the narrator stresses the word “millions,” as if he was describing the illicit use of a private jet.

Have you seen that ISIS ad that Dan Patrick started running last week? As ridiculous as it was, Patrick’s talk about ISIS only took up the ad’s first four seconds. They led with it because it was punchy and they knew it would get attention. Davis’ campaign did the same thing, and it worked, although it may not be the kind of attention they were hoping for.

Is it possible the ad’s high profile will help Davis? Well, it’s helped give her message a boost. The ad has been watched more than 375,000 times as of mid-day Monday—it’s the most-watched video her campaign has produced so far. But a lot of the viewers will be watching it because of the mass condemnation.

At the press conference this morning, Davis was introduced by two disabled-rights supporters and an advocate for the rights of sexual assault victims. The event was partially a defense of the ad, and partially an opportunity to re-emphasize talking points in front of what was presumably a larger audience than normal.

Southern Methodist University law student Lamar White, who is disabled, opened the press conference with a strong condemnation of Abbott’s career as it related to the defense of victims’ rights. “Why does he deserve justice and they do not?” he asked. “I’m grateful to the Wendy Davis campaign for reminding people” of Abbott’s actions.

Victims’ rights advocate Livinia Masters said much the same, emphasizing that Abbott “rightly sought justice for himself,” but “turned his back on others who sought the same justice.”

Another disability advocate, Laurie Oliver, had stronger words: “Shame on you, Greg Abbott. Your hypocrisy makes you unfit to be governor.”

When Davis took to the stage, she emphasized that Abbott had “rightly” sued following his accident, and that she was “glad” he won his case. “He deserved justice for the terrible tragedy he endured,” Davis said. “But then, he turned around and built his career working to deny the very same justice he received to his fellow Texans rightly seeking it for themselves.”

Again: “Greg Abbott has built a career kicking down the ladder behind him,” Davis said. “We need to call this what it is: hypocrisy.”

In the end, it’s hard not to come away from this episode reflecting on the demoralizing race we’ve had so far. Neither of these campaigns seem to be inspiring many people. Abbott’s ads have been relentlessly, painstakingly empty—even the ads ostensibly about policy say little of value about what kind of governor he’d be, a question for which we still have few answers.

And Davis’ ads have been relentlessly negative. I find it hard to believe that many Texans know very much about what kind of governor she’d be, even now. Maybe both are running the smartest plays available to them—but it’s not exactly a good sales pitch for civic engagement.

Dan! Dan! DAN! THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!
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Dan! Dan! DAN! THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

We’re nearing the second half of October, which means one thing. Spooky specters and grave ghouls abound. Wizards and wraiths walk the land. Sinister “visitors” seeking power and riches appear, seemingly from nowhere, to darken the path of the normally blissfully unaware average Texan. Detritus from the paranormal forces, engaged in their never-ending battle, cloud storefront windows and residential lawns.

Suburban citizens, frightened half to death already by the proliferating clouds of contagion to our north, and the heathen zombie army to our south, steel themselves in their homes to face the army of doorbell-ringers arriving with the same terrifying query: “Are you planning to vote on November 4?”

1) Earlier this week, Dan Patrick, full-time biblical scholar and hobbyist candidate for lieutenant governor, posteth some wise words on Facebook. No, seriously, here they are:

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But a couple days later, the pot and salvia smoke had ventilated out of Patrick’s campaign headquarters, and cooler heads prevailed. That hippie bullshit had to go, man. So on Wednesday, we got a peek of Patrick’s first TV ad of the general election, featuring a very high concentration of fear-of-man, practically weapons-grade. Turns out everyone’s favorite new jihadi militia, the Islamic State—personally backed by Sheikha Leticia al-Vande al-Putte—has already made short work of Arkansas and is coming across the border to exterminate whatever small portion of the state’s residents survive the Ebolapocalypse. (In fairness, Van de Putte’s disturbing and problematic new ad probably made this line of attack inevitable.)

Patrick got made fun of for his ad, which is understandable. But later: Vindication. GOPer Duncan Hunter, California’s first action-doll congressperson, went on Fox News with gasp-worthy news. The border patrol had caught “at least 10” ISIS fighters. Even Greta Van Susteren seemed to have a hard time swallowing it, but it was good enough for some. They’re coming. The dream is real. Patrick posted the story on his Facebook page. It’s been shared more than 2,500 times, and has more than 500 comments. Here’s a sprinkling:

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 11.23.04 PM

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 11.21.59 PM

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 11.21.03 PM

Then, Hunter’s story fell apart. The Department of Homeland Security called it “categorically false.” Hunter’s spokesperson meekly offered that his office had “evidence from reliable sources” that “foreign nationals” who may “not technically be ISIS fighters” but were “suspected” of doing something naughty “had been captured.” OK. Patrick, ashamed to have accidentally sowed the seeds of panic and fear with bad information, holding himself to a continually high standard, took down the post imme—hahaha, no, sorry, I kid. I kid.

But that little flap aside, he’s doggedly working on the real issues:

Dan Patrick
October 4 · Edited
I had a lot of comments on what did fried sweet tea taste like, how is it made, & why did I try it.

1. I tried it because my grandson wanted me to try it. All grandparents
understand.
2. It tasted like a warm fried donut with a cool liquid inside that taste just like sweet tea.
3. I have no idea how to make it but one of our commenters, Brenda, supplied the answer. By the way it was actually very tasty.

Deep Fried Sweet Tea – The South’s #1 beverage has been deep fried! Home brewed sweet tea is blended into a custard filling. The custard is given a graham cracker crust, deep fried, & topped off with homemade sweet tea syrup. The crispy, golden graham cracker crust gives way to a warm & gooey center that’s packed with sweet tea flavor.

Dan Patrick 2014—Crispy, golden graham cracker crust; warm & gooey center; sweet tea flavor. (No Mexicans.)

2) Up in Senate District 10, GOP candidate and tea party organizer Konni Burton has a new ad out this week. It’s a little weird. Normally in these things, the goal is to make a candidate seem warm and friendly—no matter how cold, robotic, tired, angry, hungry and unwittingly alienated from his or her true self by late capitalism they might be. But Burton never speaks, even to say “I’m Konni Burton, and I approve this message.” No one shown in the ad speaks, unlike her opponent Libby Willis’ more lively ad, which features, at least, a character of sorts. Is Burton trapped in there?

The entire thing consists of B-roll, dental office music, and a slightly off-putting voiceover that issues proclamations, like “Active in her church,” and “Konni Burton will eliminate wasteful spending.” It’s like a video stock photo. It’s a tea party lullaby.

But in its unadulterated banality, it somehow gives the impression that something terrible—something grim and unknowable and vast—lurks just below the surface. I took a stab at pairing the video with a more fitting soundtrack.

Here’s Konni Burton looking at things:

yeah these are nice... haha
yeah these are nice… haha
finally copped those new prince albums... i mean, damn, girl
finally copped those new prince albums… i mean, damn, girl
spending.... it's bad, in my opinion
spending too much…. it’s bad, imho
i mean sure the trailer looks good. but every pt anderson movie since boogie nights has been a massive letdown. first you've got...
i mean sure the trailer looks good. but every pt anderson movie since boogie nights has been a massive letdown. first you’ve got…

Fortunately for Burton, she’s running on more than being an attentive listener. Old people vote a lot, and Burton wants them to vote for her, a lot. What’s something old people don’t like? Being murdered.

KB Mail piece 1

Are you a grandmother in the Fort Worth area? Do you remember how that family doctor you go to sometimes jokes about how much he’d love to buy your house? He’s coming for you. You’re in his goddamn sights and you probably won’t win in a footrace. Only Konni Burton can make sure you’re still drawing breath for Kaitlyn’s bat mitzvah.

It’s fear-mongering on a level that’s kind of awe-inspiring. It makes other GOP pols seem lazy. ISIS? Sharia law? Muslims in general? Black people? Ebola? Benghazi? The cartels? Screw all that noise—Konni Burton has identified the real threat. It’s doctors. You will never feel safe again.

Vote or die.

3) Ken Paxton is going to make Greg Abbott look like Clarence Darrow.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.11.53 AM

Don’t worry, Texans. These frightening folk are gonna go back in the closet just after Halloween—but the sequel, which starts in January, is going to be a positively defrightful thing. By which I mean to say…

THE END?

OK, but what's their position on Medicaid Expansion?
YouTube
OK, but what's their position on Medicaid expansion?

The next lt. governor is going to have a lot of serious problems. The public education system has been weakened and tarnished by years of cuts and legislative meddling, and the transportation system is running out of money, even while the property tax-heavy tax structure in Texas has reached a breaking point. We might be on the verge of a taxpayer revolt—but without the strong government services to show for it.

Hospitals are clamoring for Medicaid expansion, while many doctors are dead-set against it, and the poor are left to suffer. At some point, the lt. governor is probably going to have to help broker a new model for public education financing, thanks to the courts—one of the most difficult things the Legislature ever has to do, a task Solomon himself would have trouble with. And he or she is going to have to tackle all of that at a time when every statewide official is new, and with a lot of new senators besides.

So naturally, Dan Patrick’s first general election ad opens with the Islamic State:

There was a fun period of time after the primary runoff where people hoped Patrick might be moderating his public profile. The debate was one datapoint, but I think we can safely dispose of that dream now.

Breitbart Texas: Clay Jenkins is Going to Give You Ebola

Context-light reporting on Dallas' Ebola problem leads to a Child Protective Services report filed against the Dallas County Judge.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
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Clay Jenkins

Crisis, that old broad, brings out the best in people. It also brings out the worst in people. Consider the single Ebola case that’s caused so much panic in Dallas. On the one hand, you’ve got Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. On the other, you’ve got Breitbart Texas.

People are losing their minds about this Ebola thing, and a lot of fear and anger has been directed toward the family Thomas Eric Duncan was staying with when he got sick. The terribly unlucky people, quarantined in their own apartment, have been isolated and stigmatized by the world even though they haven’t shown any symptoms of Ebola—and in fact, helped identify the reason for Duncan’s illness after the hospital failed to do so, possibly saving lives.

To reassure the people of Dallas, and as a gesture of compassion, Jenkins paid the family a visit at their apartment last Thursday, and then came back the next day to personally drive them to new donated lodging away from the public’s glare. On the advice of experts, he didn’t wear protective clothing. Christine Gorman, the health and medicine editor of Scientific American, called Jenkins and Dallas County HHS head Zachary Thompson “heroes.”

Jenkins and Thompson (and others like them whose names I don’t know) are heroes to me because they took compassionate action based on facts and not unfounded fears. Ebola is scary enough without trying to make things worse than they are.

Gorman’s right. Misinformation in the face of a possible health crisis is a terrible thing, and dangerous. Straight talk and straight deeds should be lauded. As Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey said, the “fear of this could be more damaging to this community than the virus itself.”

But in fairness, there’s another take on what Jenkins did—a very hot take. That take is: Clay Jenkins has Ebola now, and we’re all going to die, and not just at the end of our natural lives, but probably pretty soon. Because Clay Jenkins is going to give you Ebola.

The fun started on Friday, when Breitbart Texas ran a story with a charming title: “NAIVE LIBERAL TEXAS JUDGE ENTERS EBOLA APARTMENT WITHOUT PROTECTION.” Resident Breitbart virologist Bob Price knew the truth, and saw through the science-man lies: Jenkins was in great danger, and so was the public. Price implies that Jenkins can now spread Ebola to anyone he touches, even without showing the sickness himself.

No explanation was given Thursday night for the Judge’s appearance at the apartment. It is not known at this time if the Judge will cancel any public appearances where he would normally be shaking a lot of hands after being inside the still contaminated apartment without protection.

This is bad information for a couple of reasons. We should keep Duncan in our thoughts, but his illness poses very little danger to the rest of us—even if more people who were around Duncan eventually get sick. Ebola is difficult to transmit, and not contagious until a person shows symptoms. In a rich country with a good public health system, isolated cases are relatively easy to contain, unlike really deadly diseases such as the flu. That’s according to the people who have dedicated their lives to studying infectious disease.

As far as that apartment goes: According to the Centers for Disease Control, Ebola can stay alive on dry surfaces for a couple hours, and in expelled body fluids for several days, but the family has gotten past that point. No one has gotten sick. They could still get sick, but they won’t be contagious until they show symptoms. And they’re being checked twice a day to ensure they’re not.

After his first trip, Jenkins returned to drive the family to the house where they’ll wait out the quarantine, then showed up to a press conference at “the same building from where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot President John F. Kennedy,” Price writes helpfully. He again implies Jenkins is an idiot, reeking of disease:

Jenkins bragged to the reporters that he was “wearing the same shirt” he wore while he was in the apartment that had been exposed to the Ebola virus and while he was driving the family who had slept for days on the same mattresses the Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, had been sleeping. He slept on all three mattresses in the apartment for at least two days while he was symptomatic. Jenkins then very proudly stated he was going home to his wife and nine-year-old daughter.

A day later, the cheerful conclusion. One of Breitbart’s loyal readers saw the bit about the 9-year-old daughter, decided she could die soon, and clamored to take action. He or she filed a report with Child Protective Services. No, really. This person was so proud that they took pictures of the report, and sent them to Breitbart, which dutifully wrote it up. “EXCLUSIVE: CPS COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST TEXAS JUDGE OVER DAUGHTER AND POTENTIAL EBOLA EXPOSURE,” reads the story’s headline.

The concerned citizen said he felt Jenkins’ conduct was inappropriate when he unnecessarily exposed his child to potential danger. “I am doing this because I am concerned about the child,” the complainant said, “and I am concerned for the children in her school who might become exposed if the virus were to spread.”

Again—that’s not how Ebola works. The courageous anonymous complainant keeps digging:

“There seems to be a lot of dispute about how the disease is transmitted,” he continued. “I was very concerned that he would take this unnecessary risk with his own daughter for what appears to be his own political purposes.”

A lot of dispute! After quoting the anonymous person who thinks no one understands how Ebola travels—a wholly idiotic, wrong and dangerous idea—it would have been very easy to include information from experts about Ebola transmission.

This did not happen. Instead, the piece says the family members could still get sick—at which point they would be a transmission risk, though let me again emphasize that hasn’t happened yet—and raises the possibility that Jenkins faces, under the child endangerment statute, “termination of [his] parental rights.”

That seems as unlikely as the appearance of Black Death in Deep Ellum, but it’s still a nice demonstration of the consequences of a feedback loop of misinformation. What if—God forbid—there’s a more serious outbreak of Ebola somewhere in the United States down the road? Breitbart has helped spread damaging misinformation about the disease that does nothing but harm. “If people with the sniffles convinced they have Ebola start overfilling the Dallas-area’s already stressed emergency rooms,” Time magazine notes, in a piece about Jenkins and the consequences of wrong-headed disease panic, “perfectly treatable infirmities could become more lethal.”

One thing that’s necessary for good journalism is empathy. Without it, reporting can be a powerfully destructive activity, a terrible act of violence. It can rip people apart from each other, frighten and harm, and alienate whole communities. The best journalists know that and struggle with it. The worst are unaware, or don’t care, and it’s hard to say what’s worse. Imaging writing something that sics Child Protective Services on a father for no good reason while burdening a trauma-afflicted family with a greater stigma—or reducing the sacred, lost life of a border-crossing immigrant to the headline: “ANIMALS FEAST ON BODY OF DEAD MIGRANT.”

But the most basic, important element of journalism is a commitment to accuracy and a relative sense of fairness. Why spend so much time thinking about Breitbart Texas? Well, it’s not just a fringe publication. There’s an unbelievable amount of paranoia and fear floating around this state, looking for hosts. Breitbart feeds on that, multiplies it, and returns it to the ether. It’s the primary news source for a lot of people who don’t read news. It’s bad for us.

As of mid-day Tuesday, the three Ebola pieces cited above boast almost 1,600 comments, a swamp of contagion I will leave to you to explore.

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Attorney General Greg Abbott
Patrick Michels
Attorney General Greg Abbott at a campaign event.

We have just four weeks before Election Day, and realities are clicking into place. Monday was the last day new voters could register. And Tuesday served as one of the last checkpoints in the money race, as 30-day financial reports were released online.

The reports, which track fundraising and spending from July 1 to Sept. 25, show more similarities with the last round of reports than differences. In the marquee governor’s race, Greg Abbott continues to hold on to a massive war chest—he has more than $30.1 million in cash on hand, even though he’s spent more than $17.6 million and raised only $7.8 million in the last three months. It’s a superhuman sum. His report spans some 2,706 pages.

Davis’ finances are more complicated, in part because the campaign’s effort is split into three groups—but the campaign reports some $5.7 million in cash on hand split across four committees. That’s a little more than a fifth of Abbott’s sum. In spending, though, Davis has been keeping better pace with Abbott.

The campaign itself reports $6.8 million in contributions, plus another $1 million in in-kind donations, similar figures to Abbott’s haul. Battleground Texas, the campaign’s field arm, took in a little over $2.6 million, while spending $2.9 million. Battleground has only $473,000 remaining as of Sept. 25. Davis has never been able to compete with Abbott on a purely financial level, and the gap would seem to be growing. At the same time, as the race nears the finish line, opportunities for Abbott to spend that money diminish.

Together, it’s likely that Davis and Abbott will collectively raise more than $100 million this election. That’s a staggering sum, but it’s still likely to fall short of the $125 million raised and spent by Democrat Tony Sanchez and Rick Perry in 2002 but only because Sanchez spent out of his personal fortune.

In the lt. governor’s race, Republican Dan Patrick is better-positioned than Democrat Leticia Van de Putte, but his advantage is much less than Abbott’s. Patrick has $4.3 million in cash on hand compared to Van de Putte’s $2.2 million. He outraised Van de Putte $4.26 million to $3.1 million. But Van de Putte outspent Patrick more than 2-to-1 in the last three months—she spent $1.75 million, while he spent $804,000.

In the attorney general’s race, where Ken Paxton is biding his time till victory against Sam Houston, Paxton has almost 13 times as much money in the bank as Houston does, and raised more than 15 times as much money.

Up in Ft. Worth’s Senate District 10, things are more interesting. Democrat Libby Willis is fighting an uphill battle to save Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former seat for the Democratic Party against tea party organizer Konni Burton. This summer, Burton’s fundraising was kind of lackluster, but most people assumed money would pour into her campaign from the usual GOP donors at the last minute.

That hasn’t happened, and Willis has gotten a massive boost from Back to Basics PAC, a campaign finance vehicle heavily underwritten by Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, the state’s biggest Dem donor. On Sept. 12, Back to Basics wrote Willis a $500,000 check—an enormous sum for a legislative race—bringing her contributions for the period to a little under $734,000. She spent just under $331,000, and has almost $475,000 remaining, with $88,000 in outstanding loans.

Burton’s numbers are comparatively anemic. She took in a little over $335,000, spent only $140,000, and has just over $200,000 left—plus $255,000 in outstanding loans. But there’s a strong possibility GOP donors will now race to match Mostyn’s money.

Money’s an important part of these campaigns, but it’s not everything. Battleground is talking up their success at building the Democratic volunteer base: According to its latest statement, 31,000 volunteers “have made 3.9 million phone calls to voters, and reached out to voters at the doors more than 1.2 million times.”

What effect will all that have? We’ll see in a couple weeks. But there’s some reason to think it’s made an impact. As the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday, the number of registered voters in the state’s five most populous counties has increased 2 percent since 2012—though that still doesn’t keep pace with population growth, at 2.6 percent. In majority Latino Bexar County, voter registration numbers is 3.6 percent higher than 2012. In 2010, during the last midterm election, the number of registered voters in the Texas’ five biggest counties actually declined from the previous cycle. Texas being what it is, higher voter registration numbers will almost inevitably help Democrats.

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Gov. Rick Perry and GOP House candidate Charles Perry pose for photos in 2010.
Abby Rapoport
Gov. Rick Perry and GOP House candidate Charles Perry pose for photos in 2010.

Recently, state Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) got himself elected to a state Senate seat. He’s replacing Robert Duncan, who was well-regarded as a pragmatic dealmaker, and will be missed by the people who like to see the Legislature pass bills. (Some do not.) In the special election that Perry won, he was strongly backed by groups like Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans. He didn’t seem like he’d be one of the most extreme new senators. Maybe Perry wouldn’t be that guy. When dealing with the Texas Legislature—a frequently demoralizing experience—it’s important to keep an open mind, lest our hearts calcify.

Yesterday, Perry got sworn into office, and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal was there.

After placing his hand on the Bible and taking the oath of office, state Sen. Charles Perry compared what he called the “spiritual battle” brewing across the nation to the Holocaust.

God has a place in the government, Perry explained in his inaugural speech as he vividly recalled a recent trip to a concentration camp in Berlin.

Well, that’s probably taken out of context. I bet that—

“There were 10,000 people that were paraded into a medical office under the guise of a physical. As they stood with their back against the wall, they were executed with a bullet through the throat. Before they left, 10,000 people met their fate that way,” Perry said.

“Is it not the same than when our government continues to perpetuate laws that lead citizens away from God? The only difference is that the fraud of the Germans was more immediate and whereas the fraud of today’s government will not be exposed until the final days and will have eternal-lasting effects.”

Hm. Well, sometimes politicians say extreme stuff like that, but when you get down to where the rubber meets the road they’re more thoughtful. I bet when we get to the start of the session that Perry will be more—

His biggest challenge will be the “spiritual battle for the spirit of this nation and the soul of its people,” he said.

When he gets to the capital, abortion and same-sex marriage will be at the forefront of discussion, Perry said.

“Roe v. Wade condemned 55 million innocent and defenseless souls that cried out for righteousness from a God who is just — we will answer for that as a nation,” Perry said, later noting that he has made clear his stance on gay marriage.

OK, but I bet Perry’s surrounding himself with thoughtful people that—

Also recalling a trip to a concentration camp, Pastor Jeff McCreight of Rock City Church compared abortion to the estimated 11 million people who died at the hands of the Nazis.

“The value of human life is continually being attacked by a 41-year-old Holocaust called abortion, which makes Hitler look like a humanitarian,” McCreight said.

That “attack” is why McCreight said Perry’s swearing in ceremony was so important.

If Dan Patrick wins the lt. governor’s race, can we call his Senate the “Salvation Army?”

At the second of two governor's race debates, Wendy Davis seemed a great deal more relaxed and comfortable.
KERA
At the second of two governor's race debates, Wendy Davis seemed a great deal more relaxed and comfortable.

 

If you only have time to watch one of the three major debates this election cycle, you should make it tonight’s debate in Dallas. If you’re pulling for Wendy Davis to do well, you’ll enjoy it. But it’s worth watching because something strange happened tonight: Like the sky opening up after a monsoon season of turgid talking points, Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott actually took each other on tonight, to a certain extent. And against all odds, something approximating a discussion about policy took place. Call it the Miracle at KERA.

True, the bar was low after the last debate—the state’s first real gubernatorial debate since 2006. (And in Texas, the bar is pretty low anyway.) And we didn’t get off to a promising start—the first question from the panel of moderators asked how Davis and Abbott would respond as governor to the discovery that a man in a hospital in Dallas has Ebola. Both candidates are anti-Ebola, a devastating blow to the state’s pro-disease caucus. “We want to make sure that this Ebola disease does not spread any further,” said Abbott, sagely.

But things got better. Davis and Abbott grappled with each other on two wide fronts—the first, over ethics issues. Davis was asked about her legal work, which she rebuffed and went through the list of accumulated attack lines about Abbott’s tenure as AG. (She gave a stronger refutation of the conflict-of-interest charge after she was pressed.)

But when Abbott was asked (at about 19:45 in the video) about accusations his office helped hide incompetence and mismanagement with Gov. Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund, he didn’t handle it very well. He offered that the recently issued audit of the fund didn’t single him out for criticism. “From the beginning of my campaign I’ve been questioning this very fund,” he said. (Perhaps, one suspects, because he knew how badly it was being run.) He tried to turn the question back to Davis, but she beat it back forcefully. As to the question of why Abbott’s office helped hide non-existing TEF applications from reporters, he couldn’t really answer.

On the issues, Abbott and Davis made stark distinctions. Neither could really answer a question about how they’d fund their education plans, though Abbott at least had a dollar figure for student spending that made it appear that he had given it some thought. But Davis hit Abbott hard. It was ludicrous, she said, for Abbott to keep saying he would make Texas schools No. 1 while defending huge cuts to funding and refusing to commit to providing more resources.

“Mr. Abbott, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth,” she said. “You say you want to make Texas No. 1 in education. You cannot accomplish that goal without making the appropriate investments.”

On immigration, Abbott committed, after some pushing, to not vetoing a bill from the Legislature that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented migrants. There’s been a question about how Abbott would interact with a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Killing in-state tuition is one of Patrick’s top priorities, and Abbott’s on board, apparently.

But the best part of the debate might have been the discussion over Medicaid expansion—at about 29:30 in the video above. Medicaid expansion is, quite literally, a matter of life and death, one of the most serious issues in the race. If Medicaid isn’t expanded in Texas, a quantifiable number of people will suffer and die—unnecessarily. But it hasn’t come up in the race as much as it might.

Abbott said he’d ask the feds to give Texas its Medicaid dollars as a block grant to be spent as the state sees fit, which few think is a realistic possibility. He assured listeners that he “wouldn’t bankrupt Texas” by imposing on Texas the “overwhelming Obamacare disaster.”

Davis laid out a forceful argument for Medicaid expansion. “I have to laugh when I hear Mr. Abbott talk about bankrupting Texas,” she said. “Right now Texans are sending their hard-earned tax dollars to the IRS, $100 billion of which will never come back to work for us in our state unless we bring it back. As governor, I will it bring it back. Greg Abbott’s plan is for you to send that tax money to California and New York.” Abbott’s rebuttal left Davis smiling from ear to ear. The whole fairly long exchange is worth watching.

Abbott didn’t have a bad night, per se—though there were a couple of awkward moments that’ll likely be circulating in the coming days—but Davis had a very good one. Will it matter? By the end of the debate, Abbott was already referring to himself as a governor in the present tense—something his campaign’s social media guys didn’t feel the need to correct.

Davis can leave the debate stage of the race feeling pretty good about her performance. There’s just a little over a month to go.

This is your family on fossil fuels...
Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case, Cover Page
This is your family on fossil fuels...

This is a blog about Texas politics, so let’s talk about textile factories in the north of England, and the strong message they send about the total inability of our state’s most significant policy organ to handle cognitive dissonance. Bear with me for a second. (Or for a few minutes.)

Last week, Houston played host to a high-profile conference on energy issues, convened by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which no less a source than Wikipedia describes as a “think tank.” It is the most influential such entity in Texas. The group, with the help of a great deal of corporate money, has the ear of the governor and much of the Legislature. What its legion of analysts say and do matters a great deal to the way Texans live. Sometimes they do valuable work. Sometimes they do bad work.

This being Texas, a respectable think tank needs Big Ideas about energy. The group’s message for the most part—and the message of the Houston conference—is that fossil fuels are Good, and we should use more of them. Even global warming is good, if you look at it in the right light, if you were to stipulate that it’s even happening, which it isn’t.

At TPPF, this wholesome message is mostly propagated these days by Kathleen Hartnett White. Before TPPF, White led the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from 2001 to 2007. If you lived in Texas in the last decade, it was White’s ostensible responsibility to safeguard your lungs and general well-being, and to carefully weigh and balance those concerns against the demands of economic development—a weighty responsibility.

White has become an energy analyst at a fascinating time. Here’s the crux of Texas’ problem: We’ve discovered a new ocean of gas and oil under the state, which can make a significant number of people here—and to a lesser degree, our cash-strapped state in general—very rich. At the same time, the scientific community is more sure than ever before that burning those fuels will hurt us in very real ways. Some of us can live large now, but many others will pay a heavy price.

How can we navigate these complex questions? Into the rain-sodden arena of doubt drives White, in a coal-rolling Humvee upon which another Humvee has been delicately stacked, like a pair of mating dragonflies. Other conservative thinkers have questioned the economic efficiency of renewable energy. That meeker argument is becoming less powerful every day—even though White still calls renewable energy “parasitic,” unlike, one supposes, the heavily subsidized fossil fuel industry.

White’s flooring the gas pedal. Her magnum opus, “Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case,” takes the position that burning coal and oil is in fact a moral imperative. Coal and oil—cheap energy—led to modern prosperity, White writes, and turning away from them will reduce access to prosperity here and across the globe, with grave consequences.

...and this is your son on solar.
Fossil Fuels: The Moral Case, Page 3
…and this is your son on solar.

It’s an odd argument partially because it’s hard to say what it stands in opposition to. As a contribution to a policy discourse, its existence only makes sense if you believe—as many do, apparently—that environmentalists desperately desire to tear down the power grid and return the human race to agrarian penury.

The question of balancing prosperity with environmental responsibility in poor parts of the world has been a constant subject of debate and discussion in the environmental movement for decades. And the role that coal played in the story of the industrial revolution isn’t exactly contested territory. Furthermore, coal’s role in the creation of modernity says nothing about our ability to find new sources of prosperity—if we, with our amazing ingenuity, built the combustion engine, why can’t we build a better one? Renewable energy is already bringing electricity to parts of the world that have never really had it before—in places like Tanzania, solar panels are a much better option for rural communities than connecting to the inefficient, poorly maintained national power grid.

But White’s been getting a lot of play with the paper—she’s done the rounds with it this summer. White was the star at the climate conference last week, where Rick Perry deigned to speak. And she’s proud of it: When White presented her paper at the Heritage Foundation in June, she told the crowd that writing the paper led her to “some fascinating books,” and that her curious wanderings included the discovery of “a jillion papers in academic journals.”

But her footnotes come from a mix of places: They range from the British tabloid The Daily Mail, an authoritative source on nothing, to the 17th century English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. White re-reads Hobbes’ Leviathan and concludes that his theoretical concept of a pre-society, pre-government “state of nature” accurately depicts “preindustrial conditions for the average person.” Hm. There are actual journal articles—mostly from other think tankers. But there’s also reference to less auspicious sources.

The paper contains extensive block quotes and citations from The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, a 2011 popular science book by Matt Ridley—otherwise known as Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, a Conservative Party member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. In some circles, Ridley is most famous for helping to tank the British bank Northern Rock, where he served as chairman. Northern Rock’s spectacular implosion in 2007 was one of the precipitating events of the global financial apocalypse. Several years later, Ridley was awarded the Manhattan Institute’s Hayek Prize, for his ongoing contributions to the unimpeachable cause of the free market. In other circles, Ridley is most famous for his viral Ted Talk, “When Ideas Have Sex.” Ridley gave a keynote at the Houston conference.

But in lieu of a longer dissection of the paper, let’s consider White’s weirdest extrapolation of her argument. On page 17, she notes that the abolitionist movement in Britain happened concurrently with coal-fired industrial growth, and posits that the rise of factories “indeed increased and institutionalized compassion.”

In a post on TPPF’s website called “Energy and Freedom,” she expands on her case:

First harnessed in the English Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels spawned unceasing economic growth-an unprecedented productivity of most benefit to the poor until then consigned to poverty and enslavement across the world.

In 1807, the British Parliament finally passed William Wilberforce’s bill to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. In the same year, the largest industrial complex in the world powered and illuminated by coal opened in Manchester, England. Thus began the century-long process of converting mankind’s industry from the power of muscle, wood, wind, and water to stored solar energy in fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels dissolved the economic justification for slavery.

There’s some bad history in this passage, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a beautiful distillation of a worldview that shuns complexity in all forms.

Sure, there’s a discussion to be had about the reasons for the success of abolitionism in England. Was it a political and social movement, emerging from the Enlightenment, which succeeded in advancing a moral case, or did it happen merely for economic or practical reasons? At any rate, black Britons like Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano, who were seminal figures in the movement, were active decades before the period White describes. The major first touchstones in the eventual abolition of slavery in the British Empire happened either well before the industrial revolution, or at a point when the industrial revolution was in its absolute infancy.

But the key thing: In tying the abolition of the slave trade to the growth of industrial Manchester, White gets it exactly backwards. The fossil-fueled industrial revolution she’s describing didn’t “dissolve the economic justification for slavery,” it made slavery more lucrative. It made slavery worse.

Here’s why: the new factories in England White describes were producing manufactured goods. Incidentally, many of them—along with many of the touchstones of the industrial revolution, like James Watt’s steam engine—were financed with money from the slave trade. But those factories, most of which were producing textiles, needed raw materials. Foremost among those raw materials was cotton.

Manchester’s new ability to make cheap clothes for the English working class meant that the factories needed a lot more cotton—so demand for the blood-drenched crop exploded. Manchester’s industrial growth was enabled by slavery—something people in the north of England are well aware of. And it fed slavery, too. True, Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807—but they kept slaves in the colonies until 1833. Afterward, they depended on American slavery. When the fruit of American slavery was finally disrupted at the points of the bayonets of the Army of the Potomac, Northern England plummeted into depression.

As industrial Manchester grew, the American institution of slavery ballooned in scale and scope. In 1800, American slaves produced 156,000 bales of cotton—in 1860, they produced more than 4 million bales. From 1790 to the start of the Civil War, the American slave population likewise multiplied from 700,000 to 4 million, due in large part to new industrial efficiency facilitating demand for cotton—including American contributions like the cotton gin.

Take the words of South Carolinian Thomas Cooper, who warned the British about the price of abolition in 1838. “Every slave in a southern state is an operative for Great Britain. We cannot work rich southern soil by white free labour,” Cooper wrote, “and if you will have Cotton Manufacturers, you must have them based upon slave labour.”

So White got it exactly backwards: The coal-fired industrial revolution exacerbated the problem of slavery. Does that mean that fossil fuels are evil? No, that would be extraordinarily silly—as silly as saying the opposite.

What it does show is that development is a double-edged sword. Things are almost never wholly good, or wholly bad. They’re complicated. They embody complex trade-offs. They have unintended consequences. That’s what the people of Texas asked White to consider when she was the head of TCEQ.

The environmental problems we face today—they are vast, and time for consequential action, knowledgable people tell us, is running short—are very complicated. Texas, as a capital of sorts for global energy development, has an outsized role to play in either our success or failure to cope with them. The people of the state deserve better than meager propaganda. At last week’s summit, in the belly of downtown Houston, White and colleagues got the space to explain to some of Texas’ more powerful people that “America’s energy is the right and moral solution” to the world’s problems.

Modernity—medicine, travel, leisure—is a nice thing. Slowly cooking the planet is not so nice. Helping us navigate trade-offs—taking the measure of the good and the bad of an issue, and finding a path that takes the most of the former and the least of the latter—is the highest possible service intelligent people in public life can render. If think tanks have any role to play, it’s that. But don’t go looking for it at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-12-at-1.59.23-PM-759x518
Legislative Budget Board
A handy how-to guide to the state budget.

These months of committee hearings in the run-up to the next session of the Texas Legislature are like the dropping of a bomb. The hearings started, months ago, with the view from 30,000 feet, and the limitless possibilities of the unborn 84th in all its tea party splendor. As time goes by and we get closer to the end of the year, legislators will still have moments to consider the big, abstract questions of state government, but the features of the terrain below are starting to come into view. When January 13, 2015 hits—zero hour—time will compress, deadlines will appear and the legislators will be left with a bloody, sticky brawl.

The most important of these meetings are the get-togethers of the Senate Committee on Finance, which, guided by its new-ish chair state Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), will face the unenviable task of cobbling together a budget. The committee has been meeting intermittently to get an idea of the contours of the state’s fiscal situation, with the help of the Legislative Budget Board. Today, the committee members heard from the LBB on the major items in the state budget—education, transportation, Medicaid, etc. The board’s packet, for those interested, can be found here.

Here’s the key thing: The Legislature is going to get a fairly substantial pot of new money next session. The economy is going swimmingly, tax revenues are up and there’s a small fortune in oil and gas revenue heading in the Capitol’s direction. That boon has left some wondering what they can get for it.

GOP lt. governor nominee Dan Patrick, who hopes to take control of the Senate in January, will want to have his own fun—his first year with the gavel will be a time for him to leave his mark. He’s talked about altering Texas’ tax system—he’d like to see sales taxes displace the state’s property tax structure. And he’d like to develop a voucher program to help kids in public schools go to private schools. If he wants to do either of those things, it would help greatly to have a surplus in his back pocket.

But look more closely at the emerging state budget, as the committee did today, and the fiscal picture is not quite as rosy. The major pieces of the budget pie—public education, health and human services, higher education, transportation—already aren’t in great health and are going to need quite a bit more money next session just to hold steady. To simply keep up with enrollment, the state’s public education system is going to need $2.2 billion more—and that’s without any funding increase. It seems unlikely in the short- to medium-term that Texas is going to get back to pre-2011 funding levels, when the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public ed.

There’s trouble in the higher education and Medicaid budgets too. Higher ed spending still lags levels from prior to deep cuts in 2011. Today, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) asked what it would take to fully restore funding. The Legislative Budget Board representatives said they’d get back to her. On Medicaid, state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), the new chairman of Senate Health and Human Services, worried that 720,000 “eligible but unenrolled” people could sign up for Medicaid, significantly increasing costs.

Nelson, Schwertner’s predecessor on Health and Human Services, talked a bit about the need to further squeeze the state’s Medicaid program for savings. (No one really considered the possibility of accepting federal money.) “It’s eating up—it’s squeezing out everything else,” Nelson said. “We can’t do anything about caseload. It is what it is.” So more cost containment measures were needed, the reduction of “fraud and waste.” It’s unclear how much money can be realistically recouped that way, especially after years of those efforts.

On the question of transportation, senators were told that the system needed $5 billion more just to keep things at the current level of congestion—$1 billion of that just for crumbling roads in the oil patch.

State Sen. Robert Nichols, chair of Senate Transportation, told the committee that the amount of money the Texas Department of Transportation was spending for “debt service is greater than what we’re adding in terms of new [transportation] capacity.” Nelson: “That’s crazy.”

Last session, the Legislature narrowly passed a proposal to divert half of the oil and gas tax revenue going into the so-called Rainy Day Fund to state transportation funding—about $1.2 billion a year. The constitutional amendment goes to the voters as Proposition 1 on the November ballot. Getting that legislation through the Lege was like pulling teeth, yet much more might be needed. State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston): “It’s amazing that with Prop 1, we’re only doing a third of what they expect us to do.”

Eighteen members of the 2015 class were present today: 15 sitting senators, plus probable future senators Van Taylor, Paul Bettencourt and Bob Hall. With the new senators in mind, perhaps, Whitmire took two extended interludes to tout the benefits of the two-thirds rule, which Dan Patrick has promised to nuke when he gets to office.

The two-thirds rule requires the consent of 21 senators to bring a bill to the floor—it’s long been leverage for Democrats, and Patrick wants a more pliable chamber. If the rule is retired, Dems have nothing—and the Senate will look a lot more like the contentious special sessions of last summer. But Whitmire tried to sell the room on the rule from a different angle.

“Rural members need a two-thirds rule to make sure we provide for services like farm-to-market roads,” he said. “If you want to make sure you have a state transportation system” that services all parts of the state “you better have a budget 21 senators can support.” If the rule was eliminated, he said, and the state faced a transportation hole of billions, you’d see urban senators from Houston and Dallas conspiring to cut funding for rural roads to keep their own highways paved.

Nelson chided him for going off-topic, but he returned to it later to say much the same thing. In the audience, Charles Perry, recently picked by voters in a special election to represent Lubbock in the Senate, seemed to nod his head along with Whitmire’s exhortation, while Van Taylor, who’ll soon represent suburban Plano, seemed to shake it. On the right flank of the panel of sitting senators, Sens. Eltife, Schwertner and Hancock chuckled at Whitmire. Were they laughing because of Whitmire’s charm and insistence, or because they knew it was futile? We’ll find out in January.

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