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Texas State Capitol in Austin, Tex.
Patrick Michels
Texas State Capitol in Austin

Gather round, boys and girls: The 84th Texas Legislature is close at hand. Our state, much as it did at the beginning of the 83rd and 82nd and 81st and so on and so on, sits at a crossroads. Down one side of the fork, we see a future of good government, long-term planning and legislative restraint. Down the other, we have … not that.

Monday was the first day bills can be filed for next session, an occasion which is now rung in annually by the filing of state Rep. Tom Craddick’s (R-Midland) probably-doomed-again push to make texting while driving illegal. Hundreds of bills have been filed so far, and some are predictable: Democrats are lining up to repeal anti-same-sex-marriage measures. Republicans are lining up to pass open carry laws. There’s a wide variety of technocratic fixes on both sides of the aisle. Here are a few of the stranger ones.

Newly elected tea party state Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) has produced an extraordinary oddity in Senate Bill 62, which would require the state’s comptroller to produce a detailed invoice totaling up the cost of illegal immigration to the state—and then would require the comptroller and attorney general to present the invoice together to the feds. If the federals don’t pay up, Huffines would have the state turn up the heat:

After the submission, the comptroller and the attorney general shall use every means available to collect from the federal government the amount requested by the invoice, including by withholding any payments of money this state owes to the federal government in a total amount not to exceed the amount requested.

And if the comptroller doesn’t go along with Huffines’ scheme and compile an invoice? Under the bill’s provisions, the comptroller’s office would have $25,000 of its funding cut every day. Huffines, apparently, thinks government should work mostly via extortion.

Just as thought-through is Huffines’ Senate Joint Resolution 6, a proposed constitutional amendment that would provide term limits for Texas legislators—three full terms for senators, and six full terms for representatives, or 12 years each. Odder are the provisions that would also impose a 72-month cap on the speaker of the House, as well as committee chairmanships, where accumulated expertise is generally considered an asset.

These bills have as much chance of surviving the Legislature as a polar bear in Death Valley, but it’s a fun confirmation that Huffines, like a number of new senators, isn’t going to develop a reputation for subtlety.

State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van), who pledged to deal a fatal blow to the specter of Sharia law in Texas a few months back, doesn’t have a bill along those lines yet: But he does have legislation to kill daylight savings time, ensure teachers can place the Ten Commandments in a “prominent position” in classrooms, and establish a 14-member “joint nullification committee” to determined which federal laws are unconstitutional and should be nullified in the state. OK, man.

There are more substantial bills, of course. Among them, state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) proposes raising the minimum wage to $10.10—though that measure has little chance of making it to the floor, either.

The most consequential bills filed yesterday have to do with the state’s revenue structure. The state’s tax base is growing, and legislators never fully restored the sweeping spending cuts they made in 2011. Which means they have money to play with—they can either restore funding to state services, or cut taxes yet again. From Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick on down, the latter impulse seems to have more momentum.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), who is climbing up the senate ranks as the new head of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, has a bill out that would raise the state’s franchise tax exemption to $5 million.

This “fiscally responsible approach,” Schwertner said in a statement, would provide tax relief while “still maintaining a balanced budget,” because it would only deprive the state of $880 million dollars in revenue each biennium. That’s a hefty chunk of change. But, Schwertner’s office says, it’s certainly more “responsible” than proposals that would “eliminate the franchise tax entirely.” Expect to hear a lot of that kind of reasoning this session.

Oh, and here’s a bonus: One fun subplot in Austin these last few months has been the efforts of the Texas Ethics Commission to enhance disclosure requirements for dark-money groups like the one run by Michael Quinn Sullivan, the conservative kneecapper and would-be powerbroker who’s been struggling mightily to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus.

In past sessions, state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) and state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) were key supporters of dark-money disclosure bills. Seliger’s proposal zipped along in 2013, until it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. Geren told the San Antonio Express-News in January his first bill this session would be about dark money disclosure, but neither he nor Seliger have filed one yet.

But incoming state Sen. Van Taylor, a Sullivan-aligned tea-party-type who’s replacing Ken Paxton in the upper chamber, proposes a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature authority to tweak and alter rules passed by state agencies. The Ethics Commission isn’t singled out—the wording of the amendment is broad—but just the other week, Van Taylor signed a letter condemning TEC’s rulemaking process, and it makes sense that the two would be related. It’s going to be a down-and-dirty session.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, center, with his son Johnathan Weisfeld-Hinojosa and daughter, Kriselda Hinojosa.
Sen. Hinojosa
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, center, with his son Johnathan Weisfeld-Hinojosa and daughter, Kriselda Hinojosa.

Kriselda Hinojosa recalls how she unintentionally came out to her father in sixth grade.

“He actually saw me kissing my girlfriend at the time,” Hinojosa said. “So he caught me, but he didn’t get upset. He never yelled at me or anything. He was always very open-minded. I’ve never heard him talk bad about the LGBT community.”

Over the years, the now-32-year-old Hinojosa said, her father’s acceptance has evolved into righteous indignation over the fact that his only daughter doesn’t have equal rights.  Two years ago, Hinojosa “eloped” to Las Vegas with her girlfriend for a same-sex commitment ceremony. When she returned to Texas, it hit home for her dad that their certificate means nothing in the eyes of the state.

In 2013, Hinojosa’s father, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), authored a bill to legalize civil unions in Texas. And on Father’s Day this year, he penned a heartfelt pro-equality letter to his daughter that was published in newspapers statewide.

On Monday, Sen. Hinojosa took his support a step further, introducing a bill to repeal Texas’ statutory ban on same-sex marriage on the first day of pre-filing for the 2015 legislative session. Hinojosa’s bill, SB 98, was one of several that were set to be filed that—if all were to pass—would have the combined effect of legalizing same-sex marriage in Texas pending a public vote.

“He says he’s proud of me, but I’m more proud of him,” Kriselda Hinojosa said. “He’s taking a risk, also, because he could actually lose supporters, but it doesn’t seem to phase him. He’s doing what he thinks is right.”

Hinojosa is also co-authoring a resolution with Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), SJR 13, that would overturn Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was approved by 76 percent of voters in 2005. To pass, the amendment resolution would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers, as well as a simple majority at the ballot box.

Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), filed a companion to Hinojosa’s statutory repeal bill in the House, HB 130, while Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), filed a companion to Rodriguez’s resolution, HJR 34. The statutory repeal bills filed by Anchia and Hinojosa would have no impact unless and until the constitutional amendment is repealed.

LGBT advocates acknowledge that the marriage-equality bills’ chances of success are slim to none in the GOP-dominated Legislature. But their introduction on the first day of pre-filing, coordinated by Equality Texas, could help alter the tone in advance of a session in which the LGBT community is expected to be on the defensive.

The bills also amount to a significant show of support as the issue of same-sex marriage continues to wind its way through the federal courts—an antidote, if you will, to a court brief signed by 63 Texas Republican lawmakers earlier this year that linked same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia.

That brief was filed by the Texas Conservative Coalition in support of Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott’s appeal of a federal judge’s February decision striking down Texas’ marriage bans as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia stayed his decision, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court has scheduled oral arguments in January. However, it’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the issue before the 5th Circuit gets a chance to rule.

Last week, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states, splitting with other circuit courts that have struck down similar laws. Attorneys for same-sex couples in the 6th Circuit plan to seek a review of the decision from the Supreme Court, which could issue a nationwide ruling that brings marriage equality to Texas as early as mid-2015.

Rep. Coleman, who’s filed bills to repeal Texas’ marriage amendment in every session since 2007, said Friday he’s optimistic that the high court will settle the issue once and for all.

“I have been fighting to repeal this ban ever since it passed in 2005, and it remains one of my highest priorities,” Coleman wrote. “The persistent advocacy from the LGBT community and allies have turned the tide in public opinion, and in this way we have already won: most Americans now support marriage equality (a huge turnaround in just a short period of time), and for the first time ever a recent poll found that more Texans support marriage equality than those who do not. Even the majority of young Republicans support marriage equality. When the Supreme Court has its say on this issue, it will do so in an environment that already supports marriage equality.”

Correction: The original story did not accurately reflect the authorship of the various bills. The post has been corrected. We regret the error.

avid-dewhurst-ballot
Jade Stanford/Twitter
A new champion appears to some Bexar County voters

What a week. What a country! From coast to coast, Americans spoke clearly to defend the principles they hold most dear: a higher minimum wage, legal marijuana, robust, diverse voter turnout and the conservative political leaders who share those values.

I.

But make no mistake as to what this election was really about. Tuesday’s results were absolutely a referendum on one man alone, who wasn’t even running in Texas:

avid_Dewhurst.”

Avid Dewhurst. An emphatic Dewhurst, a committed Dewhurst, a champion for these uncertain times.

While most Texans were casting their votes for either Greg Abbott or Wendy Davis, a dozen lucky Bexar County voters were offered a third way.

Avid Dewhurst. A man of such substance and grace that he is well-suited to the moniker “Mountain Dew.” A Dewhurst who will not equivocate, who will not yield, who will not leave for a snack or watch the clock run out when principle—whatever principle—is on the line. A man who does not just see jars of feces and tell someone about it later, but smashes them, then and there, with the gavel the people have placed in his capable hands.

Yes, though David Dewhurst may be but a memory in Texas politics now, Avid Dewhurst was making news on Election Day. At least 12 voters in Bexar County were served an electronic ballot with, instead of Greg Abbott, someone named “avid_Dewhurst.”

Actually, the machine’s manufacturer explained, avid_Dewhurst’s unlikely candidacy was due to a “faulty memory card.” But what is more likely, after all? That the fault lies with one computer’s memory, or that the fault, in fact, is ours?

We may disagree, but isn’t it, after all, only the terms of the issue that divide us, and not the issue itself?

II.

Consider the non-discrimination ordinance in Houston.

The move by the city of Houston’s outside legal counsel to subpoena sermons from five pastors—relating to the ordinance, “Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity”—made it clear what the ordinance is really about. And last weekend’s “I Stand Sunday” mega-prayer rally in Houston offered glimpse of where we’re headed. In a word: Nazis.

Author Eric Metaxas provided a historical perspective on the need to rise up against tyranny before it’s too late:

“If we don’t wake up and fight before then, we won’t be able to fight. That’s just what happened in Germany. And that’s the urgency that we have in America now. And people may think that’s incendiary or I’m being hyperbolic. I’m sorry—I wish, I wish, I wish I were. I’m not.”

RightWingWatch collected a few of the event’s greatest hits, like First Baptist Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, who explained that it was all in keeping with Satan’s longtime modus operandi that those in power today are attacking Christians by “trying to paint them as extremists.”

Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, national treasure and patron saint of truck stop novelties, offered some reassurance, and a keen understanding of what goes on in women’s bathroom stalls:

“For all you ladies in Texas, trust me when I tell you this. When you’re seated in your restroom, putting on your Maybelline, when I need to take a leak, I’m not going there.”

Robertson’s message was clear. Liberal spin aside, Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance is actually about one thing above all: letting men into the ladies’ restroom.

Sometimes a thing’s true meaning can be difficult to discern. Outsiders of questionable morals may try and twist the message to their own purposes.

III.

Consider, for instance, this T-shirt sold by the football team at Arlington’s Martin High School:

martin-football-t-shirt-2

An editorial in the school paper explained that, sure, we all get that the shirt is about turnovers and giving up the football, but hey, a reasonable person might—saving questions about the Native American mascot in a feather war bonnet for later—wonder whether the shirt’s humor here might play on something outside the game itself:

The shirt’s main message is to state the player’s idea that there is no need for the opponent to put up a fight in letting our team take the ball away from them. … But can this saying be easily misunderstood? Yes. Though it certainly was not the goal of the shirt, its slogan connoted rape culture.

Speaking with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ken White, the Martin booster club president, responded with swift sympathy and the outrage of great moral conviction:

“I have a wife, I have a daughter, I have a mother,” White said. “Our players have sisters and cousins. It’s unwarranted. Our kids deserve better, especially from our own school.”

Strong words. White was, of course, not suggesting that “our kids deserve better” than a rejected punchline from Chicken Soup for Clayton Williams’ Raunchy Cocktail Hour. He was defending the T-shirt after the school district banned it.

Yes, the outside world might see “Shhhhhhh, just let it happen” and think “rape joke” or even “insanely rapey“—but actually, White explained, it’s about team unity:

“It’s sickening to me that it was misconstrued.”

IV.

Consider another recent example of attempted nanny-state nannying in the private affairs of the market. KHOU reported this week on the persistent business of “murderabilia”—”souvenirs produced by and about notorious killers,” like James Byrd Jr. killer John King.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn has tried to shut down the business, but to little avail. Said Houston-based victim’s rights advocate Andy Kahan:

“The problem is enforcement. It’s virtually impossible to enforce a Texas law when you have a California dealer or any other dealer from another state selling items from a Texas inmate.”

KHOU spoke with murderauction.com founder G. William Harder, who’s upset because he’s been banned from visiting inmates in Texas. Crime victims may complain that the people who killed their loved ones are profiting off the crime, but Harder explained that, actually, his business is about the very bedrock of the American idea:

Harder, who proudly shows off photographs he’s taken with Charles Manson, argues he’s merely exercising his rights by serving an unusual niche of crime aficionados. Nothing, he said, separates him from an author writing a true crime book, a television network airing crime documentaries or a broadcast reporter covering a lurid murder.

“Just because a segment of society doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean you can tell me I can’t do it,” Harder said. “I understand that there’s victims attached to this. It’s a sensitive subject, but I don’t invite them. This is what this country was founded on: free enterprise and capitalism.”

migrant children
Eugenio del Bosque
Immigrant children deported to Mexico.

An 8-year-old boy was raped and sexually abused at the Artesia Detention facility in New Mexico but Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at the facility did little to stop the abuse, said Bryan Johnson an immigration attorney who is representing the boy’s family. As the number of detention beds for migrant children and families grows rapidly, including two facilities in Texas, advocates and attorneys worry that abuse is increasing too.

The boy is from El Salvador and came across the Texas border with his mother and younger brother this summer. The family was sent to the detention facility in July after his family sought asylum. A few days later the child was raped by an older boy at the facility, said Johnson. When his mother reported the rape to an ICE official he told her there was “nothing that could be done about it.”

“Obviously the abuser is a very troubled child,” Johnson said. “He was in the same dorm room with my client and it’s my understanding that he abused other children as well.”

Johnson said there are at least 200 children at the Artesia facility and that the game room and bathrooms, where some of the abuse occurred, are not supervised. “There were actually many witnesses the second time my client was abused and this time ICE actually called the local police,” Johnson said. “But the police never spoke with the boy or his mother about what had happened.”

Johnson said it was especially terrible that after the boy’s ordeal, ICE wouldn’t allow the family to be released on humanitarian parole to relatives living in the United States. An immigration judge intervened and asked ICE to reconsider its decision. “They were finally released on a $10,000 bond in October, which is quite a lot for a bond,” Johnson said.

This is not the first case of abuse reported in family detention facilities recently opened to hold families seeking asylum. In October, several Central American women reported that guards sexually abused them at the Karnes County detention facility run by the private prison contractor GEO Group. The company signed a contract to hold as many as 530 women and children at the South Texas facility.

A recent report “Locking Up Family Values Again,” by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Women’s Refugee Commission called the U.S. government’s rush to detain families an “inhumane practice.” Since the summer, the government has opened 1,200 beds at the Artesia and Karnes facilities to detain women and children. Another 2,400-bed family detention facility is slated for a 50-acre site just outside the town of Dilley, 70 miles southwest of San Antonio.

As long as children are held in detention there will be cases of abuse, Johnson said. The average age of children held at the Artesia facility is six. “There’s an inherent conflict of interest providing what’s best for children and keeping them locked up in detention,” he said.

Leticia Zamarripa, an ICE spokesperson, said in a statement that the agency notified the Artesia Police Department this summer upon being informed of an incident between two boys at the Artesia Family Residential Center.

Both boys and their mothers are no longer residing at the facility. Both families entered the United States illegally in early July; both were arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents and transferred to the facility. Last month, an immigration judge heard both cases, and ordered the release of both families.

ICE remains committed to ensuring all individuals in our custody are housed and treated in a safe, secure and humane manner. ICE has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or assault, and our facilities are maintained in accordance with applicable laws and policies. Accusations of alleged unlawful conduct are investigated thoroughly and if substantiated, appropriate action is taken.

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Connie Wilson
Courtesy of Connie Wilson
Aimee Wilson (center) and Connie Wilson (right) with their son Aidyn.

The state of Texas is now recognizing Connie Wilson’s same-sex marriage. In September, as the Observer first reported, the Texas Department of Public Safety refused to issue a driver’s license to Wilson, because her name was changed through a same-sex marriage in California. DPS says the policy is based on Texas’ constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriages.

After being denied a license, Wilson renewed her passport in her married name, based on the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages. Last Monday, Wilson returned to a different DPS office and used her passport to obtain her Texas driver’s license in her married name.

“Unbeknownst to them or not, they are recognizing that I have a name that was gained by same-sex marriage,” Wilson said. “Regardless of consequences, they’re still having to recognize that that is my name.”

On her first trip to DPS, Wilson presented her California marriage license to show why her name is different from the one on her birth certificate. After noticing that Wilson’s spouse’s name is “Amy,” a DPS employee refused to issue the license citing DPS policy.

However, DPS policy also states that the agency accepts passports to obtain driver’s license without any additional identification.

Wilson, who moved with her wife from California to the Houston area this summer, said her advice to same-sex couples relocating to Texas is simple: Get your passport and make sure it is renewed.

“Go the extra mile,” she said. “Just relieve yourself of any undue stress. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it’s a fact of life.”

In retrospect, Wilson said she thinks her story, which drew national attention, helped raised awareness about discrimination faced by same-sex couples. She said she faults not only the DPS policy but also the discretion apparently granted to DPS employees. She said she’s heard from others who’ve obtained driver’s licenses using same-sex marriage licenses, so she believes DPS employees decide what documents to accept.

“It’s human nature, we’re going to put our own belief system into that discretion,” Wilson said.

The issue of DPS discrimination against same-sex couples resurfaced last month, when out lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker suggested on Twitter that her daughter had been refused a license because she has two moms. DPS responded by saying the decision to turn away Parker’s daughter was based on insufficient documentation of her residency, not same-sex marriage. But the agency refused to elaborate, citing privacy concerns.

The mayor, whose daughter was eventually able to obtain her license, has also declined to elaborate on what took place beyond her tweets. But based on Wilson’s own experience, she thinks she has a pretty good idea.

“Within my mind, there’s no doubt she was pulled aside because of the fact that she has two moms,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who has children ages 1 and 4, said she sometimes worries about discrimination they might face as they get older. But she noted that she and her wife chose to move here.

“It’s a great place,” she said. “It’s a great state. California wasn’t perfect, either.”

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It’s another election season in Texas. Another year that we’re on track to maintain the nation’s most dismal voter turnout.

One difference this year is that voters are now required to present photo ID at the polls, the result of Republican-authored legislation ostensibly to deal with the diminishingly small number of voter fraud cases. It’s difficult to say what effect the voter ID requirement is having, though even some Republican state officials apparently knew that more than half a million registered Texas voters—disproportionately Hispanic and African American—lacked the credentials to cast ballots but didn’t bother to tell lawmakers.

One thing is certain: Very, very few Texans have gotten election identification certificates (EIC), the new state-issued form of photo ID for those who don’t have it—340 Texans, to be precise.

That’s less than two thousandths of a percent of Texas’ voting age population. That’s only a little more than one EIC for each of Texas’ 254 counties. And many counties haven’t had a single citizen obtain an EIC. Another way to slice the numbers: There are more licensed auctioneers (2,454) in Texas than there are people with EICs—more than seven times as many in fact. In Harris County, with more than 4.3 million people, a poverty rate of 18 percent and 70 percent people of color, there are 186 licensed auctioneers but just 21 EICs. There are more licenses for boxing judges in Lubbock County (4) than there are voters with EICs (3). There are more licensed elevator inspectors in Dallas County (35) than voters with EICs (28). And so on….

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Myrna Perez, deputy director of the voting rights project at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The information about the EIC has been dreadful. Nobody knows about it.”

There’s also the issue of cost and convenience. An estimated 400,000 eligible voters face round trips of three hours or more to get a photo ID from a Texas Department of Public Safety office, a fact noted by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her stern dissent from a recent ruling leaving Texas’ ID requirement in place for this election. Most people will need a birth certificate to get an EIC, which can be costly and time-consuming to obtain. And an EIC really comes into use a few times a year at most.

“You can’t use the EIC for anything other than voting,” Perez said. “It’s a pain in the neck to get and then you can’t use it for anything else.”

It’s possible that folks were able to obtain another of the seven approved forms of photo ID. DPS reports that it has received 1,850 inquiries about voter ID and “many of the individuals” already had the photo ID they needed to vote. But it seems much more likely that the paltry number of EICs so far means that significant numbers of people who would otherwise be voting, simply aren’t.

With so few EICs issued it’s hard to see any particular patterns in this geographic breakdown. Hidalgo County, one of the poorest and most Hispanic-heavy parts of the state, leads with a whopping 41 EICs. The other big urban counties share double-digit numbers of EICs, whereas rural counties show just a handful apiece—or none. According to DPS’ data, three quarters of all Texas counties—190—didn’t report a single EIC.

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 4.50.04 PM
Twitter

Do you remember the olden times, before Election? Fruit grew on every tree, and children’s laughter came from every hall and bough. There was brisket on every slab, a truck in every garage, and every Manuel was king. What a golden time it was—a gone time.

This is how we live now. This is our true-true, for another 4.5 days. Help us. Anybody. Help us?

Please?

1) After the election, we’ll be faced with a difficult task: We must rebuild. Fortunately, a friendly Japanese conglomerate has come up with a plan to connect Dallas and Houston with a high-speed train.

Now, Texas conservatives hate trains. Goddamn, do they hate trains. You wouldn’t believe how much they hate trains. But most of that hatred of trains is premised on the fact that governments usually have to spend money to build and maintain them, unlike highways, which are conjured by a paste made from pixie dust and black tar. But the Japanese rail proposal involves no public funds, so they’ll love it, right?

In steps Thelma Taormina, past-life Viking and current leader of the We The People Are The 9-12 Association, Inc./We Surround Them in Houston (real name). Taormina once gained fame for pulling a gun on a guy who tried to install an electrical “smart meter” at her home. But now she’s heard about the Far-Easterners and their train. She’s mobilizing. She knows what this is about: It’s the UN.

Everyone who has been on our mailing list for a while now knows that the plan for high-speed rail from Houston to Dallas is a part of a much bigger plan entailing Agenda 21, and a total deception to box us all in to the areas that the elite wish us to live.

Yes, the elite are coming to box us in—to… Houston and Dallas. Nothing says “New World Order” like Houston, a city which can’t even figure out how to use zoning laws. When fascism comes to America, it will swathed in Astros gear and carrying a rail pass.

2) Your humble correspondent has tried to record some of the weirder moments of this year’s nauseating electoral carnival ride, but I don’t think I’ve written or read a single thing stranger than Jonathan Tilove’s hallucinatory chronicle of his time at Greg Abbott rallies in Frisco and Abilene. (That might just be sleep deprivation talking, but I doubt it.) Abbott has come to travel the campaign trail and meet that great mass called “the people,” and Tilove, of the Austin American-Statesman, has tagged along. He meets some friendly fellows:

I arrived early for his appearance at Mattito’s Tex-Mex and was standing by myself amid the milling crowd, when a nattily attired man in sport jacket and tie approached me, looked me up and down, and with a look of disgust said something to the effect of “nice outfit.”

[…]

Unsure of where this was going, I mumbled some kind of apologetic, nondescript reply.

“It looks like you slept in it,” he said. And then, after another look at me, “How many nights?”

[…]

“Typical wacko,” my critic said to me, at me. He turned, walked a few steps away and posted himself. When I turned to look at him he trained a contemptuous glare at me.

Here’s the thing. Journalists—actually, I’m just going to single out male journalists here, though our XX-chromosomed companions are by no means universally excluded—are, as a rule, terrible slobs. Even when we look nice, we don’t look great. But Tilove, given his membership of a generally sad-sack cohort, is, I believe, an above-average sartorialist. I would testify to this belief in court.

I walked over to him and asked, “Did I do something to offend you?”

“Yes,” he said. “Breathe.”

My look betrayed my shock, and so he elaborated, just so I would know my shock was not misplaced.

“You are breathing my oxygen.”

Shaken, I walked away. I went into the men’s room and looked in the mirror. I looked pretty much like I always look, my attire no worse than usual.

From such simple encounters do existential crises emerge.

Solidarity to you, Mr. Tilove.

But that’s not even the weirdest thing that happened to Tilove as he tagged along with the Abbott campaign. In Abilene, Tilove meets a woman named Renee Higgins and her two friends. Comes the question: Fellas, what do you think about things?

“I didn’t have a problem with the liberals until this past six years and I’m sick and tired of everybody saying this is racism and this is not politically correct and I want to tell you, in my opinion, until we put God back in our schools, our homes and our government and our country, we are going to be under judgment,” Hayes said.

Sounds good. Renee, what did you ask General Abbott? A query about West Texas’ water infrastructure needs, perhaps? A critique of his higher education plan? An appeal against high-stakes testing?

Higgins also asked Abbott a second question, about reports she heard of the convicted pedophile murderer in a local prison “who wanted an eight-year-old little boy as his last meal.” “I said to him, ‘Is this a for-real deal, surely they wouldn’t do it,’” and he’s like, ‘No way that’s going to happen.’”

And she said it on camera:

We may not know much about the kind of governor Greg Abbott is going to be, but thanks to the diligent citizen journalism of Madam Higgins, we can say this much: He has taken a strong and decisive stand against cannibal pedophiles.

3) Elsewhere in Frisco news, here’s state Rep. Pat Fallon, whose most notable achievement in public life is a law which allows teachers to say “Merry Christmas,” telling a joke about how Wendy Davis is going to hell:

4) Up in Senate District 10, Democrat Libby Willis, in a tough fight with tea party organizer Konnie Burton for Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former Senate seat, has a new mailer out. It’s a great one. Here it is:

libby willis gay mailer

This, Willis boldy declares, is her vision for Texas’ future. In these hale and hearty fellows, we see the full flowering of the Democratic project here in Texas, in a way few candidates have been able to effectively communicate.

These obviously healthy guys have benefited enormously from improved access to health care across the state—they’re in tip-top shape. Policies that enable Texans to reap the rewards of our economic boom while building a social safety net have given these fine folks more disposable income, which they’ve spent on accessories and decorations, which in turn feeds the economy. The shirtlessness conveys a carefree and easy-going feeling. And yet at the heart of it, they embrace nominally conservative concepts and language so central to the state’s DNA, like “freedom,” and “marriage.”

The result: A happy, friendly, fun-loving state. Very well done, Willis campaign. Let’s flip it over:

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Oh. Wait—I don’t understand. Willis didn’t do it? What do Homosexual-Americans have to do with this?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
Patrick Michels
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announces his run for governor in San Antonio, July 14, 2013.

Of all the ways politicians can abuse their power, none is as serious as messing with voting rights. Corruption is troubling and can become endemic if left unchecked. Lying, especially under oath, weakens the bonds of trust in a democracy. Cronyism violates basic rules of fairness and leads to inefficiency in core government services. But tampering with the franchise is an offense against democracy itself. That’s why Greg Abbott’s successful efforts to shut down a voter registration campaign in Harris County are so troubling. Although the saga started unfolding four years ago, it only came to light in August, when The Dallas Morning News reported details of the criminal investigation and raid. I recently spoke with Fred Lewis, the man who headed up the voter registration drive and who is now accusing Abbott of a serious abuse of power. The effect, he said, has been to “criminalize” voter registration in order to “rally up the base.”

To briefly recap: In the run-up to the 2010 election, the tea party poll-watching group King Street Patriots began complaining about a voter-fraud conspiracy in Houston, linking ACORN, the New Black Panther Party and a new voter registration drive by Houston Votes, an offshoot of Lewis’ community organizing group Texans Together. In more innocent times, registering people to vote was seen as a dull but laudatory civic activity. But King Street Patriots saw a conspiracy, a threat. And, more importantly, so did Leo Vasquez, the Republican elected official in Harris County who oversaw the voter rolls at the time.

At a very unusual press conference in August 2010, Vasquez announced—alongside representatives from the King Street Patriots—that Houston Votes was behind an “organized and systematic attack” on the integrity of the voter rolls. Vasquez complained that many of the voter applications submitted by Houston Votes were duplicates or for people who had already registered—an almost universal feature of paid registration drives that rarely results in voter fraud. In any case, it turned out that Vasquez’s claim of 5,000 bogus applications was fancifully high. Nonetheless, Vasquez referred the case to the Texas attorney general’s office for an investigation.

Three months later, armed law enforcement officers dispatched by the AG’s office raided the Houston Votes office in Houston, and, two weeks later, hit Fred Lewis’ office at the Baptist Christian Life Commission headquarters in Austin, seizing computers and records. The raids were overseen by a 27-year-old investigator who developed a novel legal theory that Houston Votes had possibly committed felony identity theft by storing information collected from individuals in the course of registering them to vote. In October 2011, the investigation fizzled when the Harris County DA rejected the AG’s case for lack of evidence. Two years later, the AG’s office destroyed Texans Together’s computers and records, using a statute that deals with contraband. Lewis said he was never even notified. Though no charges were ever filed, Houston Votes’ database of new voters, its financial records, including a donor list, and Lewis’ personal files were destroyed.

Lewis, a veteran campaign finance attorney in Texas who founded Texans Together in 2006, said he didn’t even know the AG’s investigation had ended until he was contacted this past August by The Dallas Morning News—two years after the case had collapsed.

Though the case stalled, the armed raid and criminal investigation had an impact: Houston Votes lost its paid organizers, saw its funding crippled and its voter-registration efforts dwindle. Houston Votes had been on track to register 70,000 new voters in 2010, Lewis says. Because of the raid, it registered only about 25,000. Instead of bringing disenfranchised people into the system, the group was lawyering up.

Lewis, who worked as a lawyer at the attorney general’s office from 1989 to 1995, said he has warned colleagues to not even think about trying paid voter registration in Harris County. “They’ve criminalized voter registration in my view,” Lewis said.

Abbott has defended the investigation but also said he “didn’t know about it at the time it was going on.” The attorney general also strongly insinuated—despite the dead-end investigation—that Houston Votes had engaged in “some wrongdoing that was akin to ACORN-type political operations.”

Lewis said the episode suggests that either people at the top of the AG’s office wanted to shut down a voter registration drive or that the people running the investigation were zealots operating without supervision. “The problem was nobody was a professional, nobody was supervised, nobody said, ‘This is ridiculous, this is overkill, this is abuse, this is a bad precedent, this is not what we want to do in a democracy.’”

Texas has the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Is it any wonder why?

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