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WTF Friday: Ban Everything!

Don Huffines approaches Peak Dallas
DonHuffines.com
Don Huffines approaches Peak Dallas

And now on this day, gathered WTF faithful, let us turn to our brother, the late great Bill Hicks, for a few words on Creationists:

But get this, I actually asked one of these guys, “Ok, dinosaur fossils—how does that fit into your scheme of life?” 

He said: “Dinosaur fossils? God put those here to test our faith.”
“I think God put you here to test my faith.”

Sady, Hicks didn’t live long enough to have his faith tested by Don Huffines, a Dallas multi-millionaire tea partier opposed to taxes and government (unless it’s taxes and government he can control and profit from, natch)—and the next state senator from white, whiter, whitest Dallas. Huffines, who looks a bit like Dan Quayle’s brother from another mother, may have finally achieved Peak Dallas (Exhibit A: this family portrait/J. Crew catalog). But, more to the point, Huffines is an out-and-proud creationist. He wants Texas public school-kids to be taught creationism, dammit. As he told KERA this week:

“I certainly think all students should be aware of creationism. They should be aware of that, absolutely. Teaching it as a science, it should be taught on equal footing.”

Speaking of creationism, there must be something in the water down in Glen Rose. The town of 2,000 is home to the Creation Evidence Museum, a nuclear power plant (coincidence) and at least one local pol with some interesting ideas. Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy flagged a letter in the local paper this week penned by one Eric Bolanger, former candidate for Glen Rose mayor. Now in the political food chain, a failed small-town mayoral candidate probably ranks somewhere around phytoplankton—but Belanger has some sound advice for remaking the “dinosaur just waiting to die” that is the Texas GOP. Key message: Don’t be like the Marxist-Democrats with their minority outreach!

Until the GOP understands this fact: our modern day immigrants are not the same as our past and that they do not hold the same values, the GOP has condemned themselves to history.

Equality and diversity have been sponsored by the Democrats and are not the way to victory, but defeat.

Mainstream Republicans like John McCain just talk about “building the dang fence.” Bolanger wants to do it—and he’s got a plan.

We the people of Texas MUST form a 501c3 trust whose goal is to build a huge private cement wall on private land – from Brownsville to El Paso. Government will NOT stop our nation from becoming a Guatemala. Only “We the People” can.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, the liberty-loving folks can hear the distant footsteps of fascism coming in the form of a proposed fee on single-use plastic bags, which are better known at WTF HQ as #freedombags. According to Dallas City Councilman Rick Callahan:

“Let’s just ban everything. That what this sounds like.”

“Ban Everything”: Someone please put that up as a bumper-sticker on CafePress.

And, finally, let’s end with the poetic Twitter musings of state Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington). First, he got those two Castro brothers—Julian and what’s his name—mixed up in defending Buc-ee’s from the boycott that ensued after the chain’s owners announced their support for Sen. Dan Patrick’s lieutenant governor bid. It was Joaquin the congressman, not Julian the mayor, who called on people to boycott Buc-ee’s, or as Zedler calls it, Bucks-ee’s.

Also: Is it such a good idea to fill a store up with gasoline while you’re buying beef jerky? Maybe banning everything isn’t such a bad idea.

The Prodigal Paul Returns (To Texas)

Texas will be playing a critical role in the 2016 Republican Primary—and Rand Paul is laying his groundwork.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, left, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, right, pose with Sean Hannity.
Facebook
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, left, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, right, pose with Sean Hannity.

Some presidential hopefuls like to play coy with their intentions—not Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. A little less than two years out from the New Hampshire primary, Paul gave Washington Post reporter Robert Costa a look at his burgeoning national fundraising infrastructure—Paul is “the first Republican,” Costa writes, “to assemble a network in all 50 states as a precursor to a 2016 presidential run.” Paul, dogged a bit by the cultural memory of his father, longtime Texas congressman Ron Paul, is trying to establish himself as a legitimate and serious presidential contender well in advance of his run.

One odd thing about this year’s primary elections: Kentucky’s junior senator, Paul, has been more active in Texas legislative elections than Texas’ junior senator, Ted Cruz. Cruz decided early he wouldn’t be making endorsements in contested primaries. (Though there’s been no shortage of Texas pols implying they have his support.) That may be principle—he said he thought the voters should decide, not him—or it could be a neat solution to the tricky problem of whether to endorse establishment figures like John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell, who wield great power in the GOP but are not well-loved by Cruz’s base. (That’s an issue that’s posed some difficulty for Paul.)

Cruz abstained, but Paul made his mark in the Texas primaries. He was perhaps the most important supporter of Don Huffines, the prodigious self-funder who narrowly defeated state Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas). Paul made national waves when he traveled to Texas to campaign for Huffines, who he described as a longtime family friend. Paul’s support of Huffines brought other benefits—Glenn Beck campaigned for Huffines in turn.

Paul has supported other Texas candidates. Here’s the slightly odd video message he made on behalf of state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), a tea party favorite who was in the middle of a race that briefly appeared competitive.

Paul, of course, has a strong personal connection to Texas. He grew up on the Paul family homestead in Lake Jackson, and went to Baylor University. But his activity in Texas is interesting for a couple of other reasons.

In 2016, the state will be playing a more important role in the Republican presidential primary than it ever has before. The GOP has tried to streamline and shorten its primary calendar, and the first four contests—New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina—have been pushed to February. March 1 will see the process open up, with primaries in other states. Texas is one of them. It’ll be the first big state, and a huge electoral prize.

Moreover, the rules of the 2016 Texas primary are tricky—meaning the state could be a rich vein of delegates for multiple candidates in a crowded field. If any one candidate receives at least 51 percent of the state’s primary vote, he takes all the state’s delegates. But that’s unlikely given how early Texas is in the primary calendar—things usually don’t shake out that quickly. If no candidate wins a majority, all of the candidates who win more than 20 percent split Texas’ large pool of delegates—meaning that candidates who might not be able to win the state’s primary outright have a healthy incentive to compete.

Rand Paul notched an important victory when Huffines beat Carona. And by endorsing figures like Stickland, he’s making an appeal to the state’s conservative base. He’ll face competition. Unusually, the 2016 contenders feature four candidates with connections to Texas: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who’ll have a healthy network waiting for him in the state if he chooses to run.

The four could face figures like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, who would seem to have little organic appeal to Texas conservatives. When Texas played a small role in the 2008 nomination contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, it felt like an unusual event. Paul’s endorsements foreshadow a much brighter spotlight on Texas.

familyfoto
Photo from Sheriff Trevino’s Facebook page.
The sheriff and his sons (from left to right) Juan Carlos and Jonathan

Embattled Hidalgo County Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño—one of the border’s most powerful law enforcement officials, whose office has been roiled with allegations of corruption—formally announced his resignation Friday.

Scandal has dogged Treviño since ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI arrested his son Jonathan Treviño, a former Mission police officer, in December 2012. Since at least 2006, 30-year-old Jonathan Treviño had run a street-level narcotics task force called the Panama Unit in Hidalgo County. In March 2013, Jonathan and other officers associated with the Panama Unit—including five Hidalgo County deputies—were indicted for “conspiring to possess with intent to distribute” cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.”

For years, according to law enforcement sources, the task force had ripped off local dealers then resold the drugs for a profit. (The Panama Unit members pled guilty in 2013 and are still awaiting sentencing.) The news that the sheriff’s own son had been running a corrupt drug task force—while he lived with the sheriff—was shocking for many Rio Grande Valley residents. But it was only the beginning of the scandal that would roil the sheriff’s office.

Shortly after the Panama Unit bust, James Phil “JP” Flores, who ran the sheriff’s Crime Stoppers program, and 47-year-old warrants deputy Jorge Garza were also indicted along with Aida Palacios, an investigator with the district attorney’s office. According to federal indictments, the drug conspiracy centered on local drug dealers Fernando Guerra Sr. and his son Fernando Jr.—also indicted—who helped set up fake drug stings with the corrupt cops to rip off other local dealers and then sell their drugs.

In March 2013, I wrote about the sheriff and his troubles in a story called “The Shadow of the Son.” The sheriff, who runs one of the largest law enforcement agencies on the U.S.-Mexico border with 763 employees and a $44 million budget, had won his last re-election with more than 80 percent of the vote and had been tapped by the Department of Homeland Security as an adviser on border security. But since his son’s indictment and arrest, his 42-year career has been shadowed by allegations of corruption in his agency. Deputies and former deputies told the Observer that Treviño had forced employees to work on his campaigns or be demoted. Deputies were also forced to buy and sell tickets to fundraisers to pay off his campaign debt. Many of the deputies said that one of the sheriff’s commanders, Jose “Joe” Padilla, served as an enforcer for the sheriff, making sure that deputies carried out his wishes. In December 2013, Padilla was arrested on a seven-count indictment for drug trafficking and money laundering. He is still awaiting trial.

Throughout these many scandals, the sheriff has refused to resign. He’s continuously defended his record and said he had no knowledge of his son’s actions or the corruption in his agency. After Padilla was arrested, Treviño posted on his Facebook page: “Even though I consider him a friend and political supporter, I am not complicit in any illegalities whatsoever. People in all walks of life that know me and my reputation can attest to that.”

But last Friday the sheriff’s longtime chief of staff Pat Media retired. Rumors swirled in the Rio Grande Valley last week that Treviño would quickly follow in her footsteps. Today the sheriff alerted supporters on his Facebook page that he was indeed stepping down:

“Attached is my letter of resignation that serves as notice for my retirement. I do this with a very heavy heart but it is in the best interest of the County of Hidalgo and my family. Please take the letter and it’s contents for face value. Rumors run abound but they are rumors until they become fact. I would sincerely like to thank you for your support in good and bad times. These are the times when you find out who your true friends are. I have always counted on you and will continue to do so as you will with me…Thank You and God Bless You. Sheriff Lupe Trevino”

But the travails of the sheriff aren’t over yet. Many wonder whether the FBI is still investigating him and his agency and whether there will be more indictments. Commander Padilla’s trial will more than likely be set for the summer. Whatever comes out in the testimony will only further damage Treviño’s tarnished tenure as sheriff.

The Parallel Apartments
by Bill Cotter
McSweeney's
500 pages; $25.00
The Parallel Apartments
by Bill Cotter
McSweeney’s
496 pages; $25

Trying to describe The Parallel Apartments is like trying to pat your head while rubbing your stomach while reciting the alphabet backwards. In his sophomore novel Bill Cotter deploys a broad and complicated cast of characters, all of whom are riddled with budding psychoses. There’s the aspiring serial killer, the infertile baby-crazed lunatic, the sex-bot madam, the matchmaking hermaphrodite, and, at the center of it all, the collage-obsessed chronic masturbator. These and more come together briefly as residents of the book’s eponymous Austin tenement. Based on their quirks, and the title’s reference to the location of their intersection, it would be easy to label the book black comedy.

That would be a gross oversimplification. Even the weirdest and wackiest members of Cotter’s menagerie play second and somewhat discordant fiddle to the book’s true focus: the estrangement of three generations of Austin women and their paths toward reconciliation.

Charlotte, Livia, and Justine Durant have issues, to put it mildly. Justine, unintentionally pregnant in New York City, finds her way back to her hometown to decide whether to keep her baby. She’s also searching for answers regarding her own origins after a homeless woman cryptically informs her that Livia, who always told Justine she was adopted, is actually her birth mother. Livia and her own mother, Charlotte, are no longer on speaking terms for undisclosed reasons.

There’s a lot going on here, but if a cohesive theme emerges, it’s motherhood. The Parallel Apartments is a bizarre catalog of women who have babies but don’t want them and women who want babies but don’t have them, and how these predicaments leave mothers and daughters and childless women emotionally (and often mentally) crippled. It would be far easier to label the book a farce if these depictions weren’t so heartbreaking, and readers may be left wondering whether Cotter is trying to say something about childbirth (and if so, what?), or if it’s just another of his many fictive obsessions.

The mixture of satire and seriousness is what makes The Parallel Apartments so confusing; Cotter continually convinces us that his characters are jokes, then pulls the punch-line out from under us, leaving readers flat on their backs, bewildered. This constant subversion of expectations is also what makes the book an intriguing, if emotionally disorienting, read.

Every now and then ambition impedes cohesion. Too often the saga of the Durant women is interrupted by supporting characters, rather than complemented by them. And after the 15th scene of Justine masturbating, eye-rolling is justified, if not outright demanded. The book is peppered with self-indulgent geographical nods to Austin, and these unnecessary references to Bass Concert Hall, Airport Boulevard, the U.T. Tower and other Austin icons make the writer seem worried that readers might forget where the book is set, or, worse, that its author is an authentic Austinite.

But even as Cotter labors to present Austin as weirder than it actually is, and even as his characters do abominable and ridiculous things to themselves and to one another, I found myself pitying, even rooting for, his band of bawdy misfits. For each of the plot’s points of despicable nonsense, there’s a counter-instance of unexpected kindness, all filtered through Cotter’s conflicted mix of mockery and compassion. The result is both horrific and heartwarming, no matter how difficult to describe.

5th Circuit Abortion Ruling: Road Trips Aren’t that Bad

Legal battle over Texas abortion restrictions likely headed to Supreme Court.
A woman holds up a plastic baby as pro-choice demonstrators chant in the Capitol rotunda.
Patrick Michels
A pro-life demonstrator holds up a plastic baby at the Texas Capitol in July.

In a move that surprised no one, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the constitutionality of Texas’ new restrictions on abortion clinics. In doing so, the conservative appellate court handed a victory to the anti-choice phalanx in Texas who trumpeted the decision as good news (Rick Perry), a victory (Texas Right To Life) and a vindication of the Legislature’s careful deliberations (Greg Abbott).

It was widely expected that the 5th Circuit would side with the state. In October, the court allowed the most controversial provisions of Texas’ new abortion law—which state Sen. Wendy Davis famously filibustered last summer—to take immediate effect, granting an emergency request from Abbott before the justices had even heard oral arguments. That was a clear signal that abortion-rights groups weren’t likely to win.

Still, yesterday’s ruling is disappointment for abortion providers. They argue that the two provisions of the law they had hoped to overturn in this legal challenge have already caused considerable turmoil. In particular, the requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals has led to the closure of at least 10 abortion clinics since last fall, providers say. Women seeking abortions in rural areas like the Rio Grande Valley, the Panhandle, and in vast swathes between El Paso and Interstate 35 must now travel greater distances.

But the appellate judges weren’t convinced that the need to travel further to access abortion was a big deal. At the oral argument in January, Chief Justice Edith Jones observed that the roads between the Rio Grande Valley and Corpus Christi were flat and uncongested. It seemed beyond Justice Jones’ imagination that a Texas road trip might not be an adventure—or more than a minor inconvenience—for a woman with a full-time job, child care responsibilities or visa restrictions that confine her to the lower reaches of the Rio Grande Valley.

The court’s ruling reprised this assumption by noting that the journey from the Valley to the nearest abortion clinic in Corpus Christi takes only three hours. Moreover, the judges added, these women are exempt from the mandatory 24-hour wait because they live in rural areas, so what’s unduly burdensome about that?

In another curtsy to the joys of the Texas road trip, the judges note in their ruling that women don’t lack access to abortion clinics, because major providers still exist in Austin, Dallas, Houston, El Paso, Corpus Christi and San Antonio. Yet the opinion overlooks the  reality for many women whom this ruling will affect. Before the law was implemented, low-income women were already making difficult economic decisions to pay for their abortions. They were pawning their belongings or skipping their rent to save money. The closure of abortion clinics in all but major urban areas makes accessing abortion even more difficult for poor women in rural areas.

The last legal hope for Texas abortion providers is the U.S. Supreme Court. So far, the plaintiffs in the case—the Center for Reproductive Rights, The Planned Parenthood Federation and The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas—haven’t confirmed that they will appeal. However, both sides expect the case to end up before the nation’s highest court. Indeed, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion about whether the bill should be delayed while the Fifth Circuit deliberated and that at least four members of the high court would be willing to consider law’s constitutionality, regardless of what the appellate court ruled.

Meanwhile, another more dramatic provision of the law looms. By Sept. 1, all remaining abortion clinics in Texas must upgrade their facilities to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical care centers. Abortion providers note that the upgrades are so expensive that only six clinics in Texas may survive.

No doubt, the state of Texas will trumpet this outcome as a victory for women’s health and safety. Poor women without the means to traverse Texas’ winding highways may not agree.

Austin Energy's solar farm in Webberville
Solar Austin
Austin Energy's solar farm in Webberville

One of the most inexorable and (buzzword coming…) disruptive trends in the energy world has, for some time, been the precipitous decline in the cost of solar. Like other renewable energy technologies, solar power has obvious environmental and climate benefits but hasn’t necessarily been competitive, in strict market terms, with fossil fuels. That’s changing very rapidly—even in Texas.

Two recently announced solar projects in West Texas show how solar is becoming more than just a niche source of energy.

First, there’s Austin Energy’s brewing deal with SunEdison for a 150-megawatt solar project in West Texas. The size of the project is significant. It’s enough to power 14,000 homes and represents the second-largest solar project in Texas, following a 400 MW installation commissioned by CPS Energy, San Antonio’s city-owned utility. But the more salient fact is the price. Although the exact figure has not been released, it’s somewhere around 5 cents per kilowatt-hour—perhaps the cheapest price in the U.S. ever. A nickel per kilowatt-hour is impressively low.

For comparison’s sake, Austin Energy’s 30-megawatt solar farm just east of Austin in Webberville priced in at 16.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. That was just a few years ago. The typical residential customer in Austin currently pays about 10-11 cents per kilowatt-hour and it’s thought that the SunEdison project will slightly lower electricity rates for Austinites. Finally, and perhaps most important, the solar project is cheaper than building a new natural gas plant, when considering the costs of each over the life of the facilities.

Austin Energy received “a substantial number of bids” totaling 1 gigawatt all under 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour, said Michael Osborne, one of the gurus of the renewable energy industry in Texas and, until recently, a special assistant at Austin Energy.

“If you can aggressively price solar below [5 cents per kilowatt-hour] that is going to be a revolution,” Osborne said at a recent Solar Austin gathering. “Solar at that price is going to beat natural gas anytime.”

Osborne attributes cheap solar prices, in part, to the maturation of the market. “Solar is the new wind,” he says. Texas, of course, is a global leader in wind power but in the early years the Texas wind industry was buffeted by engineering problems, timid investors and questions about how to fit wind—with its fickle nature—into the grid. Similarly, solar developers now enjoy more sophisticated financing options, cheaper construction costs and just the general benefits of experience. “The same thing happened in the wind business: It’s a sign of the market maturing.”

The other first-of-its-kind project to be announced this year is FirstSolar’s Barilla Solar Project, a 22-MW array in Pecos County. To date, virtually all of the solar deals in Texas have been driven by the renewable energy goals of city-owned utilities. FirstSolar’s Barilla project is different; it’s a “merchant” plant that will have to compete in the open market. The developer will build the plant without a firm deal in place and then try to sell the power to an array of customers.

“The merchant plant is a really big deal,” said Stan Pipkin, CEO of Austin-based Lighthouse Solar. “It’s price-based and market-based.”

Osborne projects that 200 to 300 megawatts of merchant solar will be built in the next year or so.

Still, some in the renewable energy business think solar still has a ways to go to close the gap. In the utility world, the concept is “grid parity”—the almost-talismanic threshold at which a budding energy source can produce power equal to or cheaper than what’s coming off the grid.

Or, in layman’s terms, it’s when solar (or wind or geothermal, etc) officially kick coal, nuclear and natural gas’ ass.

Shalini Ramanathan, vice president for origination with RES Americas, points to wholesale prices in ERCOT, which hover around 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, a fair sight lower than the levelized cost (5 cents/kWh) for even the cheapest solar.

“My sense is that solar is getting closer than ever to grid parity but it’s not quite there yet,” she said.

But that gap is deceptively large. For one, notoriously volatile natural gas is the prime driver of wholesale electricity prices in ERCOT. If the fracking bonanza fizzles or natural gas exports overseas pushes the commodity price of natural gas higher, electricity prices will rise too. Renewables on the other hand provide price certainty decades into the future.

“Uncertainty in the ERCOT market could be part of the appeal of solar and wind,” Ramanathan said. “It’s so obvious that sometimes developers don’t pitch it this way: But once you build it, the fuel is free. It can provide a really good hedge against power prices from fossil sources increasing in the future.”

Wind power received a huge boost from Texas government when the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. George W. Bush (that hippie!) signed legislation establishing mandates for utilities to purchase green energy. No such concession has been made for solar in Texas, even though the resource offers the same environmental and economic benefits and is arguably the most obvious solution to the specter of brownouts on the ERCOT grid. The tea party’s anti-government grip has made public policy of this sort a non-starter. Still, if solar can assert itself in the market, the industry may have a sunny future in Texas.

For the second consecutive year, a Texas Observer reporter is a finalist for the most prestigious award in magazine journalism.

The American Society of Magazine Editors announced this morning that Observer staff writer Emily DePrang is a finalist for a 2014 National Magazine Award.

Emily DePrangEmily is nominated in the reporting category for her two-part series on police brutality in Houston. She’s a finalist along with reporters for The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Harper’s, Outside and The Atavist. The winner will be announced at a banquet in New York City on May 1.

The National Magazine Awards, or Ellies, are considered the Pulitzer Prizes of the magazine industry. This is the third Ellie nomination in the Observer’s 60-year history, and the second in two years. The Observer’s Melissa del Bosque was a 2013 finalist in the reporting category.

Emily’s stories—“Crimes Unpunished” and “The Horror Every Day”—published in the July and September issues of the Observer, were the result of eight months of reporting. The stories exposed that the Houston Police Department rarely disciplines officers for misconduct and abuse. Over a six-year period, officers who left crime scenes, falsified reports, mauled suspects and shot unarmed citizens were allowed to keep their jobs and are still patrolling the streets of the nation’s fourth-largest city. Emily found that between 2007 and 2012, Houston cops were involved in 550 shootings of people and animals. The department deemed every one of those 550 shootings justified, including the killing of a wheelchair-bound mentally ill double amputee who was armed with only a ballpoint pen.

Emily’s reporting was picked up by CNN, the Houston Chronicle and The Huffington Post, among others.

Congratulations to Emily! This is one of the most prestigious honors in journalism and well-deserved recognition of her work.

And congratulations to our staff and everyone who helps this little magazine in Texas produce some of the best journalism in the country.

Alongside other test reform demonstrators outside the State Capitol, Chamness carries the only sign urging all-out boycott.
Patrick Michels
Anti-testing advocate Edy Chamness outside the Capitol in 2013.

The appointed days of STAAR testing are nearly upon Texas schoolchildren, and on Tuesday the Dallas Morning News marked the occasion with a look at the state of the opt-out movement in Texas.

These are the folks who keep their kids out of school on test days, in protest of the public school system’s insatiable desire for test prep and data. To the opt-outers, it’s a form of civil disobedience in a system they say has made it hard to get their voices heard any other way. By depriving schools of their kids’ test scores, they’re hitting The Man where it hurts.

I covered that movement in the Observer‘s February 2012 issue, profiling Austin’s Edy Chamness, a mother and a former teacher whose frustration with Texas’ test love turned her into an activist on the fringes of the school accountability debate.

In Tuesday’s story, the News calls Chamness “perhaps the best known opt-out parent in Texas,” and she offers one explanation as to why her cause hasn’t exactly taken off: “Parents don’t want to teach their kids how to question authority.”

But the News‘ Jeffrey Weiss rounds up a few more notable tales of opting out, like this one:

Maeve Siano of Celina is one of the few North Texans who has quietly been willing to refuse the tests for her children. Last year, the mental health therapist decided the tests and associated preparation and stress were more likely to damage her son than help him. Celina ISD officials weren’t happy, she said.

“Their reaction was begging and pleading and threatening us that he would be held back,” she said.

Finally, she said, school officials put her son at a desk, placed a test in front of him and had him write “refuse” on it.

The highest-profile new case is certainly that of Kyle and Jennifer Massey, who announced their plans to opt their fourth-grade daughter out of the tests at Waco ISD, in a letter they posted online. In the letter, they list their concerns about the state’s testing regime, saying, “We are not making this decision simply to ‘avoid’ a test, but rather to exercise our rights to ensure that Hillcrest PDS does not force [our son] to take part in school activities that are contrary to our moral and ethical beliefs.” (Read the full thing below.)

The letter made the rounds among education bloggers and activists. The education historian Diane Ravitch, a leader in the responsible-testing movement, reposted the letter with this note:

[The Masseys] want for their child what “the best and wisest parent ” wants for his own children: a full, rich, creative, liberating education, one that prepares him for life in a democracy, not endless drill and practice for tests that are prepared thousands of miles away, whose sole purpose is to rate their child, his teachers, his principal, and his school.

Update at 12:20 p.m.: Austin education activist Mike Corwin passes along a note Austin ISD posted Wednesday reminding parents that, despite what they’ve heard, “Parents may not have students opt out of testing. While AISD and others might be empathetic to some of their feelings, by law there is no “opt out” for students.” Irate parents may take solace, at least, that the possibility of empathy might exist!

I’d reached out yesterday to hear more from Edy Chamness, and only just heard back. She confirms her son, who’s next to her in the photo from our story last year, won’t be taking the 6th grade STAAR this year. Her daughter, she says, has opted out of public schools entirely—in favor of a private school where, she writes, “Everyday starts in a circle with a tap of the gong, lighting of a candle and a moment of silence. We love it.”

It underscores a larger point about the recent resistance to standardized testing here in Texas: lawmakers only really responded to criticism of the state’s testing regime after they started hearing from wealthier and suburban parents. The resistance—and even a lawsuit—from minority groups go back decades.

 

Abbott 2.0
Screenshot
Abbott 2.0

Greg Abbott’s campaign has more money than God and an ample talent pool—but he may want to check on his IT department.

For more than a week, senior members of Abbott’s campaign staff have been trying to get the word out about a new attack website they’ve paid for—WhereIsWendyDavis.com. Attack websites—repositories of opposition research that campaigns will build separately from their own pages—are common. They’re usually sleek, well-designed, and well-stocked with mud ready to be slung.

The better ones are designed to “go viral,” with compelling content that your politically active aunts and uncles will feel compelled to forward to you. Supporters of John Cornyn made a great one in his campaign against Steve Stockman (though, alas, it now looks like it’s been taken down.) Lieutenant governor hopeful Dan Patrick has been lighting up the campaign with his attack sites, which are some of the best and strangest of the cycle so far.

It came to be Abbott’s turn. His communications director, Matt Hirsch, announced Abbott’s new site’s launch last week. Click on the link—and it’s an unfinished, grey, shapeless blob with virtually no information. That’s weird. A “Full site coming soon” tag is on the page’s top left. OK, so they jumped the gun. The site wasn’t finished, but they wanted to get it out there. That’s unusual, but Abbott was having a rough week, so it’s understandable.

Since Hirsh first tweeted about it, Abbott’s campaign and many of its senior staffers have been tweeting and making a lot of noise about the site. They really want people to see it. But it’s still unfinished. On Wednesday afternoon, the site was still mostly blank. “Full site coming soon,” the top left says. “Copyright 2013 Texans for Greg Abbott.” (The site was created in 2014, some two weeks ago.)

The look of the thing—monochromatic, heavy on text—may evoke the old-school Netscape internet, but the content isn’t great either (yet?). There’s an embedded Google Maps app with pins across the United States where Wendy Davis has held fundraisers, but it’s so small and cramped that you can’t tell what you’re looking at.

None of this would be too weird, except the Abbott campaign keeps pushing it. As I was writing this post, Abbott’s campaign tweeted it out again. Is this inside baseball? Kind of. Will it matter in November? No. But, man, it’s weird. It’s kind of a rookie move. Hell, even the site somebody made for hapless no-money Democratic Ag Commissioner hopeful Jim Hogan is in better shape.