We thought maybe we’d write this week about Cornyn challenger Dwayne Stovall’s TV ad attacking someone he’s not running against as a “box turtle.” (Hey, I thought Phil Gramm had rights to that name!) We thought maybe we’d call attention to the Democrat running for Harris County DA on a stop-prosecuting-domestic-violence-so-much platform.
We thought we’d write this week about David Dewhurst welcoming the spawn of Andrew Breitbart to Texas with a letter praising Breitbart Texas for “applying the time-tested techniques of investigative reporting.” (Nothing screams “investigative reporting” like putting anarchist-turned-FBI-informant-turned-tea-partier Brandon Darby in charge of your publication and running articles like “7 Amazing Reagan Quotes that Capture America’s Current Condition.”) But, really, this week belongs to one man.
Ted Nugent wasn’t born in Texas but he got here just as soon as he was tired of chasing underage girls, shitting his pants to avoid the draft (allegedly!) and establishing his intellectual bona fides with such classic rocks hits as “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.”
With those accomplishments on his resume, naturally he became a sought-after public figure.
Although he promised in 2011 to “either be dead or in jail” if Obama was re-elected, instead Uncle Ted has put his heart and soul patch into politicking for Texas Republicans and drawing clicks for media outlets. (Here he is on “Texas Monthly Talks”; here he is trying to justify the Trayvon Martin killing to the Texas Tribune.)
He’s called Hillary Clinton a “two-bit whore” and Barack Obama a “chimpanzee,” “a piece of shit” and “a subhuman mongrel” (a term employed by Nazis and Klansmen). He’s been known to use the n-word and has basically been saying things like this for decades.
If he’s not a racist and a misogynist, then no one is… So what does it say about the politicians he pals around with?
He’s the treasurer for former state Rep. Sid Miller’s bid for agriculture commissioner. (By the way, aren’t Ted and Sid just the picture of the GOP’s outreach to women and minorities?)
He and Rick Perry go hunting together and the Nuge played at Perry’s inauguration in 2007.
Congressman Steve Stockman (still sounds weird putting those three words together) can’t get enough of the guy.
Ted Nugent: Put Steve Stockman in charge of GOP http://t.co/zcSXkgrmuK
— Rep. Steve Stockman (@StockmanSenate) January 23, 2014
And then there’s Greg Abbott, who invited Nugent to appear with him at campaign events in Wichita Falls and Denton this week. The Nuge didn’t say anything WTF-worthy on the campaign trail—though he did call Greg Abbott his “blood brother”—but his labeling of Obama as a “Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel” had even Rick Perry, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz (sort of) condemning the remarks and distancing themselves from Uncle Ted. Good rule of thumb: If those guys are uncomfortable with your rhetoric, you might have gone too far. And late update: Even Ted Nugent is uncomfortable with Ted Nugent’s remarks.
But what about Greg Abbott? Why did he invite Ted Nugent to join him onstage after the Wendy Davis campaign and the media pondered whether that was such a good idea? What did he think of Nugent’s ugly comments? Other than running away from a CNN reporter, he’s really not said much. Per the AP:
“I can’t comment on them, because I don’t know what he said.”
In a courtroom, pleading the Fifth might work. In politics, not so much.
Three former professors filed a federal lawsuit late Thursday morning against the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, escalating a two-year battle over tenure rights between faculty members and the schools.
The two schools—one a state-funded university, the other a community college—are splitting after a 20-year partnership that’s become strained in recent years as the separate entities argued over budgets and other decisions.
As the Observer reported in May, the separation has left some faculty members without the jobs they’d been guaranteed years earlier. Others have been re-hired but without tenure. The schools announced their separation in November 2010, but aren’t scheduled to completely split until August 2015.
Last year, laid-off nursing professor Karen Fuss-Sommer told the Observer: “I’m a dedicated employee, have been a dedicated faculty member of our institution from the day I stepped on that campus, and this is how it ends for me.” Now, she’s one of three former faculty members suing to get their old jobs back, with tenure, at Texas Southmost College, along with back pay and benefits.
According to the terms of the schools’ original partnership, if the schools ever split, Texas Southmost could re-hire the faculty given a pink slip from UT Brownsville.-Tenured faculty who’d been with the schools since 1992 would be guaranteed similar jobs with tenure at Texas Southmost.
But that’s not what happened when the schools began their divorce.
Last year, UT-Brownsville President Juliet Garcia told the Observer her school had to cut staff to match a student body projected to shrink as the schools split. UT Brownsville has shed more than 360 of its 518 faculty members so far (the school is also in the midst of combining with UT-Pan American into the new UT-Rio Grande Valley).
This week’s lawsuit, filed with the help of the Texas Faculty Association and the Texas State Teachers Association, came after a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation resulted in a “right to sue” letter saying the schools refused to cooperate with the commission to mediate charges of discrimination.
A TSTA press release said Fuss-Sommer, Juan Antonio Gonzalez and Dorothy Boven were fired using a process that gave non-tenured faculty members priority over tenured faculty, and went against University of Texas System rules. The suit claims that process was especially hard on faculty members over age 40, and was an “artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barrier to employment.”
“All tenure is a right to due process and you can’t be let go without good cause,” Texas Faculty Association Executive Director Mary Aldridge told the Observer. “They didn’t do either. These people have been there for decades and they just washed them.”
Although Texas Southmost has hired Fuss-Sommer, Gonzalez and Boven according to the original partnership agreement, the professors no longer hold tenured positions and have taken a pay cut. The three have lost retirement benefits, including health and life insurance policies and, the suit claimed, suffered “damage to both their professional and personal reputation.”
It’s been seven months since Wendy Davis’ filibuster brought national attention to reproductive rights and women’s healthcare in Texas, and the next legislative session is almost 11 months away. Now is normally the time for the interim doldrums, when legislative committees talk shop about policy issues in poorly-attended meeting rooms. That’s not what happened at yesterday’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing, where an effort from pro-choice and Democratic groups to mobilize the orange-shirted mob from last summer produced a sizable turnout. Committee chair state Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) debuted a new defense against Democratic criticisms: Women’s health care in Texas, Nelson argued, is better than it has ever been. That didn’t sit well with the orange crowd, who would note that the new abortion restrictions Nelson and her GOP colleagues passed last summer were not on the day’s agenda.
Nelson told the committee’s audience, which spilled into two overflow rooms, that she’d asked for women’s health to be added to her committee’s interim charge—a list of items they’re supposed to research for next year’s legislative session—because she cares about the issue.“Texas women should have access to family planning,” she said, touting money she helped win for programs last session. In the past, though, Nelson has repeatedly voted for the sweeping cuts to family planning that necessitated the new money in the first place. It was a rhetorical tack that made her look a bit like a kid who’s glued-up a shattered cookie jar.
For those who’ve forgotten: In 2011, a budget crisis (and conservatives’ desire to strip funding from Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide array of non-abortion related health services) led the Texas Legislature to take a hacksaw to family planning. State funding dropped two-thirds, an apocalyptic cut for a government program. As a result, 76 women’s health care clinics closed, resulting in widespread disruption to the delivery of health services. In short, the cuts wrought chaos.
In 2013, the budget got a little better, and cooler heads prevailed. The Legislature injected more money into family planning programs, and set up a (messy) framework to disburse new state money. That’s the line Nelson projected today—women’s health care in Texas is “now funded at record levels” and “Texas has the capacity to serve more women than ever before.” The interim charge, Nelson read, called on the committee to “build on previous legislative achievements.”
The state’s new system hasn’t been tested or studied—the 2014-15 biennium has barely started—but Nelson was intent to deem the new framework an unparalleled success, and seemed frustrated that anyone would question it. Of past cuts, she would only refer to the “difficult budget year” in 2011.
“One of the things I want to do today is set the record straight,” she said. “It bothers me that we’re misleading Texas women into believing services aren’t available to them.”
Kyle Janek, the executive commissioner of the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, agreed that critics weren’t seeing the whole picture. “Just because government doesn’t do it doesn’t mean it doesn’t get done,” he said.
But at times, the hearing took on an odd tone that felt a bit like a press conference. The committee’s invited witnesses had a lot to say about the excellence and due diligence of the state’s health programs, but were empty-handed when Sens. Royce West and Jose Rodriguez asked more probing questions. Witnesses had relatively little to say about the state’s abysmal teen pregnancy rate, or maternal mortality, which quadrupled between 1996 and 2010. (Texas’ has a higher maternal mortality rate than Iran, and we’re roughly tied with Saudi Arabia.)
As midday approached, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who played a starring role in the HB 2 filibuster, held a press conference in the outdoor rotunda, steps away from the hearing room, to talk about the state women’s health program with a number of invited guests. Planned Parenthood had helped drive orange turnout at the event, and a number of supporters stood around with signs. Representatives from Texas Right to Life stood on the second-story balcony.
Abortion may have been a forbidden topic in the HHS hearing, but Van De Putte was happy to talk about it. “You don’t reduce the number of abortions in the state by reducing access,” she said. “You do it by making it unnecessary in the first place.”
Van de Putte and Davis, so closely identified with the HB 2 filibuster, have had a tightrope to walk. Embrace abortion rights too openly, some say, and they’ll lose votes. But Thursday’s turnout—dozens of people waited more than seven hours to give public testimony to the committee—and the wild enthusiasm with which the crowd greeted Van de Putte, is a reminder of how keenly felt and important the issue remains to Texas Democrats. Fifty-one witnesses signed up to testify on the subject—they had to wait more than seven hours to do so, and gave testimony for two more before Nelson closed it down for the day.
Three national media groups—the Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel—published the results this week of an eight-month investigation into air pollution problems in South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale. Much of what they found won’t be shocking to Texans. We call it bidness as usual: regulators and legislators captive to industry; citizens either comfortable with the downsides of massive oil and gas production or too afraid to protest; and an alarming lack of attention paid to those suffering from fracking-related toxic emissions. After spending so much time here, the reporters probably didn’t need a Texas Tech political scientist to tell them that “the health issues faced by people who live in drilling areas… simply don’t carry enough weight to counterbalance the financial benefits derived from oil and gas development.”
I spoke with David Hasemyer of InsideClimate News and he said his big takeaway for the rest of the country is in a word: “beware.”
“There are so many unanswered questions,” he said. “We took on the issue of emissions, of air pollution. And it’s cautionary because there’s so very little known about either the short-term or the long-term consequences of these emissions. … Somebody needs to start developing a baseline now of human health and then studying what’s happening with these emissions.”
In an accompanying piece, the reporters recount the many ways that government, industry and even ordinary citizens made reporting the story difficult. Railroad Commissioner David Porter agreeing to an on-camera interview with The Weather Channel then bailing at the last second. Operators refusing to offer on-the-ground tours of facilities or even refusing to answer questions.
My favorite example, though, is the description of dealing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, an agency that has all the public and media relations finesse of a Soviet politburo.
The agency responsible for regulating air emissions—the TCEQ—refused to make any of its commissioners, officials or investigators available for interviews. Instead, we had to submit questions via emails that were routed through agency spokespeople. It’s unclear if the spokespeople passed our questions along to the agency’s experts.
*When a reporter called TCEQ field inspectors at their homes—a commonly used reporting technique—TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow left the reporter a message saying, “Under no circumstances are you to call our people and harass them at home.” Morrow also blocked the reporter from approaching the agency’s chairman, Bryan Shaw, at a public meeting in Austin.
David Hasemayer, of InsideClimate News, told me he found the approach unusual.
“They would not talk to us, even their media people would not talk to us,” he said. “They were wholly unresponsive to talking to us and engaging in a give-and-take type of conversation.”
Indeed the whole story is riddled with “declined to comment” breadcrumbs that lead, for me at least, to the conclusion that our out-of-state friends were probably a bit dumbfounded at how little the industry, and its servants in government, care about engaging with pressing public health questions.
Hyde, now the TCEQ’s executive director, through an agency spokeswoman declined to comment.
Asked how the agency dealt with the polluters, Clawson did not respond.
Granado did not respond when asked why the plant had so many emission events last year.
Covert did not respond to interview requests.
The reporters wrote that the Eagle Ford Shale, which stretches from near Laredo on the border northeast for 400 miles into the eastern fringe of East Texas, “has yet to become part of the national conversation on hydraulic fracturing—fracking—in contrast to, say, Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale or North Dakota’s Bakken.”
Indeed, many Texans, I’d wager, know little about the Brush Country counties—DeWitt, Karnes and Webb among them—that form the epicenter of the shale. They’re sort of neither here nor there. I grew up in DeWitt County. People from the Valley don’t consider it South Texas. It’s too far from the coast to be part of that world. And it’s remote enough from a big city—San Antonio is closest—to be pulled into an urban orbit. This forgotten slice of Texas, until recently at least, was sparsely populated, lightly developed and insular. The Barnett Shale, underlying in part the affluent, relatively dense suburbs of Fort Worth, has received much more attention, even as drilling and production in the Eagle Ford Shale has soared to staggering levels.
The whole piece is worth reading but some parts stood out for me:
- While it’s widely known that the Eagle Ford Shale isn’t comprehensively monitored for toxic emissions from fracking activity, the story reveals that TCEQ knows just how inadequate its monitoring system is. The reporting team obtained a memo from January 2011 that’s quite candid: “The executive director has extensive records of underestimated or previously undetected emissions from oil and gas sites. These are not isolated instances but have occurred statewide and indicate a pattern.” The agency runs just five permanent air monitors in the vast region—and those are geared for quantifying emissions that could impact San Antonio’s air quality—and has no plans to add more.
- The Railroad Commission and TCEQ rarely issue penalties. Of the 217 fines levied by the Railroad Commission in 2012, the average was less than $9,000.
- The Texas Legislature has increased the maximum penalty that TCEQ can levy from $10,000 per violation to $25,000, the agency hasn’t exactly seized its new authority. Of the 117 fines issued between January 2012 and October 2013 related to oil and gas production, operators paid less than $25,000 in more than three quarters of the cases.
- A significant number of the complaints from folks living in the Eagle Ford Shale are probably related to hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, a dangerous oilfield gas that’s particularly prevalent in some sour spots of the shale.
- The Texas Legislature, led by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) and Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), hamstrung a modest TCEQ program that would’ve imposed more stringent pollution control rules on oil and gas operators. The legislators effectively made it difficult, though not impossible, for TCEQ to apply its own rules to the Eagle Ford Shale in the same way the agency had in the Barnett Shale.
Welcome to Texas, y’all.
When a normally buttoned-down Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst dons a bulletproof vest and poses next to a machine gun on the Rio Grande, it can only mean one thing—it’s Republican primary season.
For the four Republican candidates vying to occupy the state’s second-highest office, including incumbent Dewhurst, talking tough on border security is a tried and true campaign strategy. Waging war on the border might sway fickle Republican primary voters but it almost always alienates the majority of border residents.
Take for instance Dewhurst’s photo op on the Rio Grande in late September: While the 68-year-old Dewhurst posed for photographs on a Department of Public Safety armored gunboat, the agency was in the midst of its three-week “surge” along the border, called “Operation Strong Safety.” The surge featured DPS roving checkpoints throughout Hidalgo County, that created havoc in local communities. Businesses saw a reduction in customers, school attendance declined and local legislators received dozens of phone calls from panicked residents afraid that family members would be detained at the checkpoints and deported. “People are too afraid to go out,” Juanita Valdez-Cox, an immigrant advocate and executive director of La Union del Pueblo Entero, told the Observer at the time. “Many families here have mixed citizenship. The parents may not have documents but their children are U.S. citizens.”
After much public outcry by border residents and some legislators, DPS Director Steve McCraw said he wouldn’t conduct the checkpoints again without legislative authority. Still, two months later, Dewhurst praised Operation Strong Safety during a press conference and said the state should spend $60 million on a “continuous surge to substantially shut down our border.”
For his part, rival candidate Todd Staples has been beating the border war drum for years as Texas agriculture commissioner. In 2011, he commissioned two retired generals to do an $80,000 military assessment on security along the Texas-Mexico border. The generals referred to border cities in their report as a “sanitary tactical zone” where military operations can push back “narco-terrorists.” Another candidate, state Sen. Dan Patrick, has warned of “illegal invasions from Mexico” and pledged to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities. At least Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has taken a more nuanced approach. He’s all for armed soldiers at the border, but he’s also for armed citizens throughout the state. “The fact that many Texans feel comfortable with only police carrying guns isn’t normal, historically speaking,” he wrote in a recent editorial for the San Antonio Express-News. “Armed citizens shouldn’t be alarming in a free society.”
Gregg Barrios, the San Antonio playwright, poet, journalist, and occasional Observer contributor, is taking his new play, I-DJ, to New York City, where it will kick off the FRIGID New York Festival later today. I-DJ is one of the first original San Antonio plays to run in a commercial New York City theater venue, and Barrios is duly excited. “It’s quite an honor to have my work at this year’s FRIGID New York. Of the thirty companies selected, most are from New York City, a few are from Canada, but we’re the only one west of the Mississippi,” Barrios says. “That speaks volumes in my playbill.”
The seedling of the idea that would become I-DJ was planted when Barrios worked as an arts journalist during the early 1980s in Los Angeles, where he covered the city’s recording industry, including Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ A&M Records. In I-DJ, A&M artists constitute the soundtrack for the life of gay Mexican-American DJ Amado Guerrero Paz, aka Warren Peace, whose story traverses both the Vietnam War and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. “He tells his story through the music that emerged from Alpert’s A&M Record label,” Barrios says. “The Carpenters, Chris Montez, Joan Baez, The Police, Peter Allen, and briefly, the Sex Pistols. The music is a character that comments, disagrees, and soothes Warren as he tells his story.”
In the original version of the play at San Antonio’s Overtime Theater, Warren, played by Rick Sanchez, tells his tale against a backdrop of music, film clips and a wall plastered with graffiti by San Antonio artist Supher. As B.V. Olguin describes the play in the San Antonio Current, “Call it a cross-cultural, multimedia dog pile.”
Though some elements of the dog pile didn’t make it to New York (Supher’s graffiti wall, for one), the play should find a warm welcome at FRIGID; the festival’s mission is to offer participants total artistic freedom and to provide venues for work regardless of content, form or style. “FRIGID New York prides itself as an open and uncensored festival,” Barrios says. “We had the creative freedom that many other curated festivals shy away from. It also is a smaller [festival] with only 30 productions, so you don’t get lost in the crowd of shows. And best of all, FRIGID gives us 100 percent of our box office.”
First, I-DJ had to raise the funds to get there, and Barrios says he’s thankful for the support of I-DJ’s home stage, the Overtime Theater, and the wider San Antonio theater community. “The response from the local community has been overwhelming. Four theater groups—the Overtime, the Playhouse, the Woodlawn Theater and San Antonio College—have contributed with in-kind services, fundraising and cast and crew,” Barrios says.
“The best part about going to do this particular show,” Barrios says, “is that it tells a Mexican-American story. That’s a real rarity in New York theater, and even locally. It isn’t often that Mexican-American actors have the opportunity to do Latino parts. The play also speaks to the underserved LGBT community,” Barrios says. Plus, “The fact that our local team will get to see how a play is produced in NYC is a rare opportunity for them to get a taste of what working actors who come to NYC in search of a career in theater have to endure, and perhaps weigh their options when pursuing their own dream. That experience alone is priceless.”
The FRIGID Festival runs through March 9, and features five performances of I-DJ at the Under St. Marks Theater.
Last Friday in Dallas’ Oak Lawn neighborhood, a former college football player, a global expert on walkable cities, a 57-year-old Ethiopian immigrant and a U.S. congressman gathered outside a Chinese restaurant. Facing a row of TV cameras and reporters, they took turns praising the new health insurance options available since Obamacare took effect, and urging their uninsured neighbors to enroll in a plan by March 31—the deadline to get health insurance before facing a tax penalty.
The press conference was part of a nationwide blitz in the weeks before the deadline, led by groups like Organizing for Action and Protect Your Care, which are trying to stoke enthusiasm for President Obama’s signature health care law, and encourage new insurance enrollment.
“I’m determined to do everything that I can to make sure that the Affordable Care Act is implemented successfully,” Congressman Marc Veasey said.
It’s a particularly monumental task in Dallas. From that press conference at Mr. Panda’s Restaurant and Bar, it’s just a few minutes’ drive north to George W. Bush’s ritzy Preston Hollow neighborhood. Just a few minutes to the south or west of Mr. Panda’s, and you’re in U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey’s Congressional District 33, home to more uninsured people than any district in the country.
It’s pretty well known by now that Texas has the nation’s highest uninsured rate, thanks in part to Gov. Rick Perry’s refusal to expand Medicaid coverage. One in four Texans lacks health insurance, too often turning treatable health problems into a death sentence.
Veasey’s district, a new one created in the latest round of redistricting, is a sort-of barbell-shaped expanse from West Dallas to Fort Worth. It’s home to Dallas’s trendy Oak Cliff neighborhood, the Dallas Cowboys, and more than 265,000 people without health insurance. Nationally, it’s not in the top 10 in unemployment, food stamps or percent of people below the poverty line. But its 38 percent uninsured rate is the nation’s worst, according to 2012 U.S. Census data.
That’s somewhat surprising. U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela’s rural district in South Texas has a higher poverty rate, though not by much. Troubled areas like South Dallas or Houston’s Fifth Ward are better known around the state. But Veasey’s district owes its distinction to some combination of cartographic chicanery in redistricting, and a recent trend of rising suburban poverty.
“When the economy starts getting bad, the ones that I represent are usually the hardest hit,” Veasey told the Observer last week, when asked why he thought his district had the nation’s most uninsured. The suburbs and older urban areas Veasey represents are 65 percent Latino and 15 percent African-American. The 33rd District includes manufacturers like Bell Helicopter, which has laid off hundreds of workers in the last year.
Other organizers at the press conference lauded the new reports that more than 207,000 uninsured Texans had signed up for health insurance since the new law took effect. Jason Roberts, an Oak Cliff urban planning evangelist who ran against Veasey in the 2012 Democratic primary, said the law helped him get coverage for his recovery from testicular cancer, which he wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. Lemlem Berhe said she was able to retire without worrying about how she’d pay for her new health insurance plan.
After delivering messages for the cameras in English and Spanish, folks from Organizing for Action went door-to-door to encourage people in Veasey’s district to get insured. They’ve got a long way to go.
Brianna Brown, who heads the Texas Organizing Project’s healthcare outreach in Dallas County, was also at the press conference. Her group runs phone banks, sends volunteers door-to-door, and holds workshops to explain the new law. Statewide, she says they’ve reached 420,000 people to explain the new law and encourage them to get insured. As the March 31 deadline approaches, people have started inviting them to give workshops explaining the law.
“I think that sense of urgency that you had to create before—I think it’s human nature to procrastinate—has been replaced with a very organic sense of urgency,” Brown says.
She says the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid has made her job much harder, because so many of the uninsured people in West Dallas, Irving and Oak Cliff—areas Veasey represents—are working families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, too little for new federal subsidies on the marketplace, but still have trouble affording private health insurance.
“That’s been the challenge. Especially for families that have never had health insurance before, and have thought this would be an avenue to access health care,” she says. After hearing about people in other states getting subsidies for their health insurance, she says, they’re disappointed to learn they won’t get that help in Texas.
Democrats are making hay out of Greg Abbott’s event with Ted Nugent in Wichita Falls yesterday, and it’s easy to understand why. In almost any other state, Nugent’s long history of extreme racist, sexist and violent rhetoric would make him politically radioactive, and he’d be kept at a distance from campaign events by armed guards. His embrace by Abbott is symptom of a deeper dysfunction in the state’s conservative base. But it’s a dysfunction that goes deeper than Abbott—Nugent’s grubby handprints are all over races in Texas. Somehow, he’s established himself as a bit player in a political scene in which candidates will do anything—anything—for conservative legitimacy.
Former state Rep. Sid Miller, a GOP candidate for agriculture commissioner, wanted the Nuge bump so badly Miller made him his campaign treasurer. U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman touts his support—and though Nugent didn’t endorse him, Nugent’s decision not to endorse Cornyn either made headlines. In November, he told a radio station that he was routinely contacted by major Republican figures around the country, saying that he “works closely with Ted Cruz” and did the same “with Scott Walker’s team in Wisconsin when he took it away from the hippies. I’ve worked with different sheriffs and different attorney generals. I work closely with Greg Abbott and Governor Perry in Texas.”
That may be empty braggadocio, but consider that mild-mannered Mitt Romney actively solicited Nugent’s endorsement as a big part of his plan to energize conservatives.
Who’s Nugent, exactly? He’s the 1970s shock rocker who recently called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” and a “piece of shit” who should “suck on my machine gun.” In 2012, he won himself a visit from the Secret Service when, at the NRA’s annual convention, he swore that he would be “dead or in jail by this time next year” if Obama won re-election. He called Hillary Clinton a “worthless bitch,” and other female politicians “fat pigs” and “dirty whores.” He’s bragged about sleeping with underage girls. He wrote that immigrants “should be treated like indentured servants,” and called Trayvon Martin a “dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe.” He thinks “there are black mobs across America that are guilty of the worst racism since the Klan,” and argues African-Americans can fix “the black problem” if they just put their “heart and soul into being honest, law-abiding, [and] delivering excellence at every move in your life.”
Here’s what he told High Times magazine in 1977 about how he dodged the draft:
I got my physical notice 30 days prior to. Well, on that day I ceased cleansing my body. No more brushing my teeth, no more washing my hair, no baths, no soap, no water. Thirty days of debris build. I stopped shavin’ and I was 18, had a little scraggly beard, really looked like a hippie. I had long hair, and it started gettin’ kinky, matted up. Then two weeks before, I stopped eating any food with nutritional value. I just had chips, Pepsi, beer-stuff I never touched-buttered poop, little jars of Polish sausages, and I’d drink the syrup, I was this side of death, Then a week before, I stopped going to the bathroom. I did it in my pants. poop, piss the whole shot. My pants got crusted up.
See, I approached the whole thing like, Ted Nugent, cool hard-workin’ dude, is gonna wreak havoc on these imbeciles in the armed forces. I’m gonna play their own game, and I’m gonna destroy ‘em. Now my whole body is crusted in poop and piss. I was ill. And three or four days before, I started stayin’ awake. I was close to death, but I was in control. I was extremely antidrug as I’ve always been, but I snorted some crystal methedrine.
He told a similar story to at least one other magazine, but later cleaned up the tale by saying he’d received a student deferment instead. (Though his records show he did fail his physical.)
Now, no one’s begrudging Nugent’s right to be an immoral, hateful asshole. Plenty of great artists are assholes. But you won’t see Woody Allen stumping for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and you won’t see R. Kelly posing with California’s Jerry Brown. It’s amazing that so many Texas GOPers are willing to bear-hug Nugent. We’re a long way from the party of William F. Buckley.
Abbott’s team more or less copped to employing Nugent cynically—a senior aide told CNN they were “only bringing on the gun rights activist to help spur voter turnout among the base.” (How much Abbott really needs to juice turnout for a primary in which he’s basically unopposed is unclear.) But using Nugent this way communicates to “the base” that he’s a serious figure and should be taken seriously—it makes the Nugent problem worse. Nugent’s getting more from this than Abbott is. And if you’re hoping for the Republican Party in Texas to straighten out and ditch the stranglehold of the fringe, that’s a crying shame.
A group of Denton residents launched an effort Tuesday to outlaw fracking within the city.
If the Denton Drilling Awareness Group succeeds in getting the ban on the ballot and if Dentonites pass the measure in November, Denton will become the first city in Texas to make fracking illegal. Cities in other states have already passed similar laws, but Denton would be the first with existing fracking permits to do so.
The possibility of a city in Texas—a state that accounts for one-third of U.S. natural gas production—making it illegal to frack is sure to rattle the industry. Dallas passed a de facto ban on fracking in December when it adopted prohibitive setback requirements for natural gas wells, but it still didn’t outright make fracking illegal. And Dallas isn’t Denton.
Denton sits atop the part of the Barnett Shale formation that’s richest in natural gas. The county is the fourth-highest producing within the Barnett Shale. It has 275 active gas wells within its city limits (Dallas didn’t have a single active gas well within city limits when it passed the de facto ban) and another 212 wells in the extraterritorial jurisdiction within five miles of city limits.
Nineteen operators own those gas wells. EagleRidge Energy, whose wells have been at the center of the debate between residents and city government, owns at least 107 active wells. The Observer contacted Mark Grawe, the chief operating officer and executive vice president at EagleRidge, but he refused to comment on the proposed ban. Asked how many gas wells EagleRidge operates in and around Denton, he said “in the hundreds,” and asked what percentage of its natural gas production is concentrated in the city, he only volunteered “a majority.”
Denton Drilling Awareness Group member Cathy McMullen moved to Denton when natural gas wells started springing up around her home in Decatur. She and her husband found homes for their farm animals and relocated to Denton with their rescue dogs, thinking they’d escaped drilling. But soon, a drilling rig went up 1,500 feet from their house.
“We were shocked because we’re in town, we’re next to a hospital and next to a city park so we thought they’ll never drill here,” she says. “Then they started drilling here and I told my husband, ‘That is my line in the sand. I’m not going anymore, we’re just fighting it.’”
Dentonites who support the fracking ban don’t expect it will be an easy battle, but they say they had no choice but to resort to a voter-adopted ban. Sharon Wilson, who has been organizing in Denton for five years, says residents have been trying to get city government to pass reasonable restrictions on natural gas drilling for years. The City Council passed a revised gas drilling ordinance last year, but residents were unsatisfied because it left out key protections such as prohibiting open pits, compressor stations, flaring and other measures they requested.
The ordinance also provides an important loophole. Energy companies can’t put new drills within 1,200 feet of homes, but that setback doesn’t apply to developers building new homes. Developers can build near existing gas wells, which energy companies can then return to redevelop, or re-frack. That’s what happened in a Denton neighborhood recently, where EagleRidge Energy bought existing gas wells and began operating them even though they are only 250 feet away from homes. In that case, the developer pledged to disclose the gas well locations to future homebuyers, but in general that isn’t required.
“The last straw was when they decided to allow fracking so close to the Vintage neighborhood,” Wilson says. “It’s been a horrible, horrible experience for these people … We had no choice, we were backed into a corner and the only way to protect families and future generations was to try to get it banned.”
The group has to collect 571 signatures in 180 days to get the ordinance change on the ballot. Wilson and McMullen are confident they can get the signatures easily because so many residents have complained about emissions, noise pollution and dropping property values, but whether a majority of voters decides to back the measure is another matter.
If they are able to muster enough support, the ordinance could still face legal challenges. In Dallas, a company with gas drilling permits sued the city after it passed the de facto ban, and in Colorado, the state joined oil and gas groups in suing the city of Longmont for its voter-adopted fracking ban. In Denton, the City Council can amend or repeal the ordinance even after it’s passed.
“And then we’d have to do the process all over again, which we’ve already decided we would,” McMullen says. “If we have to do this process 50 times we will do it.”
It’s only the beginning of a long battle for many of the cities attempting to ban or significantly restrict urban fracking, but what happens in Texas in the coming months (or years) will likely have an impact beyond the state’s borders.